What is Culturally Responsive Teaching? 2023 Guide with Examples and

Published On: April 3rd, 2023·By ·

Over the past few decades, diversity in American public schools has shifted. Student experiences, upbringing, and cultural backgrounds have changed because of the increase in the enrollment of ethnic minority students.

Due to this increasingly diverse classroom environment, educators must adopt a culturally responsive teaching style to meet the needs and support the success of all students. 

Culturally responsive teaching is a critical approach to education that recognizes and values the cultural backgrounds and experiences of all students. 

This approach involves creating an inclusive learning environment by implementing culturally responsive pedagogy.

In this article, we'll explore everything educators need to know about culturally responsive teaching. We’ll explore the history, benefits, and strategies for implementing this approach in the classroom.

What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching is an educational approach that values and incorporates the customs, characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of all students.

The technique uses these cultural differences as a tool for better classroom instruction. It helps  to create an inclusive, equitable, and effective learning environment for all. Culturally responsive teaching students from minority communities see themselves and their communities as belonging in schools and other learning spaces. 

The teaching method aims to connect students' cultural experiences with academic content and to help them see the relevance and value of what they are learning. 

Culture refers to the customs, languages, values, beliefs, and achievements of a group of people.

Students' culture and lived experiences influence how they understand and make sense of the world. It’s integral to who they are as learners.

Culturally responsive teaching recognizes the significance of these factors. It’s based on the belief that by creating a culturally responsive learning environment, students are more likely to engage in the learning process and achieve greater academic success.

The History of Culturally Responsive Teaching

The concept of culturally responsive teaching has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

That was when advocates for educational equity and social justice called for greater recognition and understanding of the cultural experiences and perspectives of students from historically marginalized communities.

In the 1990s,  Gloria Ladson-Billing introduced culturally relevant pedagogy, which culturally responsive teaching stems from. Gloria Ladson-Billings is an education researcher and professor. 

For about two years, Ladson-Billings observed teachers whose principals and Black parents had identified as excellent. 

She noticed that the teachers had different ways of teaching, but they all had high expectations for their students and fostered academic success. 

In her findings, Ladson-Billings distilled the commonalities in those teachers’ beliefs and practices into the framework of culturally relevant pedagogy. 

She defined culturally responsive pedagogy as a model that “not only addresses student achievement but also helps students to accept and affirm their cultural identity while developing critical perspectives that challenge inequities that schools (and other institutions) perpetuate.”.

Culturally Responsive vs. Traditional Teaching Methods

When educators use traditional teaching methods, they may default to teaching literature by widely accepted classic authors adhering to widely accepted interpretations of the text.

Culturally responsive teaching, on the other hand, is different and it can be combined with other teaching strategies. It acknowledges that there’s nothing wrong with traditional literature but incorporates texts from other parts of the world.

The table below highlights the main differences between culturally responsive teaching and traditional teaching methods.


Culturally Responsive Teaching Traditional Teaching Methods
Centered around recognizing, respecting, and incorporating the cultural background of students Ignore or minimize the cultural differences of students.
Takes a student-centered approach where the teacher adapts to the needs and experiences of the students Often teacher-centered where the teacher decides what and how the material should be taught.
Uses real-world examples and experiences that are relevant to students from diverse backgrounds Use examples that may not be relatable to all students
Prioritizes building relationships and community in the classroom Focus primarily on the delivery of learning material
Uses multiple forms of assessment that are culturally appropriate and fair to all students Rely on standardized testing and grades.


Benefits of Culturally Responsive Teaching

More and more teachers are embracing culturally responsive pedagogy to teach diverse student populations. They find it more powerful in connecting and reaching all students.

We’ll now look at the benefits of culturally responsive teaching and its impact on both students’ and educators’ performance.

1. It increases expectations for all students.

Culturally responsive teaching helps increase the expectations of all students by creating a learning environment that is inclusive, respectful, and supportive of their cultural identities.

When teachers take the time to understand and appreciate their students' cultural experiences and perspectives, they can engage them more effectively in the learning process. 

Better classroom engagement leads to higher student motivation and a sense of belonging. This  increases students' expectations of their own abilities and what they can achieve.

By creating a classroom culture that values and respects cultural diversity, teachers can also help reduce stereotypes and biases that negatively affect students' self-esteem.

2. It helps schools to meet all students’ needs.

Culturally responsive teaching helps schools meet the needs of all students by creating a learning environment that values the cultural and linguistic diversity of the entire student population.

By incorporating students’ cultures, languages, and experiences into the curriculum, schools can help to close achievement gaps and improve the educational outcomes of students from historically marginalized communities.

When students see their cultures and experiences reflected in the curriculum and classroom activities, they are more likely to engage and be motivated to learn. This can lead to higher student motivation, improved attendance, and better academic performance.

In addition, exposing students to a range of perspectives and cultural experiences can help to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to solve problems from multiple perspectives.

3. It maintains cultural competence.

Culturally responsive teaching helps maintain the cultural competence of educators. Since it focuses on inclusivity,  teachers strive to deepen their understanding of the cultures and experiences of the students they serve.

In the process, the educators undergo a process of self-reflection where they examine their own cultural biases, beliefs, and attitudes. They become self-aware of how their own identity and experiences impact their teaching practices.

Self-reflection helps teachers identify areas for growth and improvement to better practice culturally responsive teaching.

4. It helps students feel valued and empowered.

Culturally responsive teaching helps students feel valued and empowered by creating a learning environment that respects and incorporates their cultural backgrounds.

The teaching approach recognizes the unique perspectives that every student brings to the classroom and seeks to integrate those into the learning process. 

By doing so, students feel that their backgrounds and experiences are valued and recognized as important. This leads to an increased sense of belonging and engagement in the classroom.

When students feel valued and empowered in the classroom, they are more likely to participate and have positive relationships with their teachers and classmates.


Elements of Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally responsive teaching consists of several essential components that educators must be aware of. For example:

  • A strong knowledge base about cultural diversity: Educators should strive to have a deep understanding and appreciation of the diverse students' cultures and backgrounds in their classrooms. They should be aware of their own cultural biases and work on challenging them to interact better with students.
  • Culturally relevant curricula: The curriculum must incorporate all students' diverse backgrounds and experiences. This involves using texts and activities that are representative of a wide range of cultures.
  • High expectations for all students: This shows students that their teacher believes in their potential to succeed, regardless of their cultural background or prior experiences. It helps create a culture of excellence in which all students are challenged to reach their full potential. 
  • An appreciation for different communication styles: This helps prepare students for success in a diverse world. They learn to value and respect diverse communication styles, which helps them develop cross-cultural communication skills that will serve them well in their future personal and professional interactions.
  • The use of multicultural instructional examples: When teachers are explaining concepts during learning, they should use examples from different cultures. They should also create opportunities for students to share their cultural heritage with their classmates.

Examples of Culturally Responsive Teaching

There’s no single formula for teachers to introduce culturally responsive teaching strategies in their classrooms. However,  teachers can incorporate the following examples to achieve a culturally responsive classroom:

  • Have a classroom full of books depicting characters and images representing various cultures, ethnicities, ages, and other forms of diversity.
  • Share the achievements and expertise of people from different ethnic groups in every subject area.
  • Include multiple perspectives when discussing historical and contemporary events. Especially those from oppressed communities who often feel left out of the narrative.
  • Encourage students to discuss and analyze social inequalities to promote critical consciousness.

Culturally responsive teachers can also tweak the classroom codes of conduct. For instance, talking when someone else talks may show how invested and engaged they are in the topic.

Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies

Educators should implement the following culturally responsive teaching strategies to create a more inclusive classroom environment.

1. Activate students’ prior knowledge.

Educators can activate students' prior knowledge by engaging and letting them build on their existing experiences, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds. 

Doing so creates a positive learning environment and encourages students to appreciate their identities and experiences.

Students see the relevance of the learning material to their own lives.This encourages student engagement and motivates them to keep learning.

2. Make learning into a contextual experience.

Teachers can turn learning into a contextual experience by asking students to share personal stories or experiences that relate to the topic being studied. 

This will help students see the topic's importance in relation to their own lives. It helps them grasp and retain information better because it fits into their cultural background and perspectives.

Teachers can also make learning a contextual experience by asking students to research the roles of their communities in historical events.

3. Motivate students to leverage their cultural capital.

Educators should motivate students to leverage their cultural capital. This will go a long way in helping students appreciate and be proud of their cultural identity.

They can achieve this by incorporating cultural celebrations into the curriculum or creating special events that celebrate the cultural diversity of the classroom.

By doing this, students will see value in their uniqueness and appreciate their peers’ perspectives and backgrounds.

4. Rethink your classroom setup.

The physical environment of the classroom can have a significant impact on students' learning experiences. 

A culturally responsive classroom setup is inclusive and respectful for all students, regardless of their cultural background.

Teachers can encourage students to rearrange furniture to create flexible and collaborative spaces to work together. This can include using round tables, flexible seating, and group work areas.

They can also incorporate culturally diverse images and symbols to make everyone feel valued and welcome.

5. Build relationships.

Building relationships with students is a critical component of culturally responsive pedagogy.

Educators should make an effort to understand and appreciate students' cultural backgrounds. This involves asking students about their culture and traditions and incorporating these into the curriculum.

Culturally responsive educators should respect and empathize with all students and their cultures. This means listening actively, avoiding stereotypes, and being open-minded and non-judgmental.

Educators should also create a safe and inclusive environment for all students to build relationships. For instance, they should set clear expectations for respectful behavior, promote diversity, and address any instances of bias or discrimination.

By incorporating these strategies, educators can build strong relationships with students in a culturally responsive classroom. 

This can help students feel valued and respected and ultimately lead to improved academic outcomes and a more positive learning experience.

Creating a Culturally Responsive Society

Teachers shape and mold future leaders, thinkers, and citizens of the world.  They provide students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in their future careers and personal lives.

Teachers are responsible for fostering cultural understanding and respect among students. By incorporating diverse perspectives, experiences, and traditions into the curriculum, they can help students appreciate and understand different cultures. 

This can develop a sense of empathy and compassion for others. It can also improve classroom engagement and a more positive student learning experience.

If you’d like to understand and implement culturally responsive teaching, take a look at the professional development courses available for you.

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