The education world is full of discussions about improving cultural responsiveness, but what does that mean and how important is it?
When I talk about culture, I mean norms, beliefs, and behaviors that are passed down from generation to generation – things that explain why students answer questions the way they do, or why would they feel uncomfortable looking when you look them into their eyes. These aspects of culture are the most misunderstood in the teacher-student relationship, and often lead to the biggest problems students encounter in the school discipline system. Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) aims to bridge the gap between teachers and students by helping teachers understand the cultural nuances that can lead to broken relationships, which ultimately lead to a breakdown in achievement and efficiency of the student as well.
Zaretta Hammond writes in her book, “Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain,”, “Many culturally and linguistically diverse third-grade students are a year or more behind in reading.”. CRT is one of the most powerful tools for students to find their way out of this achievement gap. That alone makes cultural responsiveness one of the most important things you can learn right now.
Beginning with it
The first step to being culturally responsive is to conduct an internal audit—yes, you read that right, an audit: digging deep into ourselves, identifying and naming things we don’t see or want to talk about. Our experiences along the journey of life have formed stereotypes that then become implicit biases. These casual, unconscious attitudes influence how we interact with students and their parents, and how we choose courses, assess learning, and plan instruction.
Culturally responsible teachers must also understand the socio-political environment in which schools operate and dare to challenge the status quo. Students need to understand the systems that surround them in the school. Give them background information and don’t be afraid to talk about difficult problems that your school may not be able to solve. In addition to Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and Brains, another great resource is Affirming Diversity by Sonia Nieto. The most important part of this job is being willing to do something different and get different results to improve academic performance.
Take some time to ask yourself difficult and past questions on exams and reflect on current practices. Do you work in an intensive care position in a classroom – a position that combines high expectations with empathy and compassion? Are your students meeting high standards, regardless of their socioeconomic status or background?
Have your past interactions with people of a particular ethnicity affected your ability to communicate with the parents of your students? Find out in your lesson plan where you might allow your implicit bias to prevent you from pushing your students to perform at their best. Answering these questions can be difficult, but to effect change, you must identify and uncover the roots of your teaching practice.
The Further Steps
What books do students read? Do they have a say in what they read, where they sit, how they interact?
Holding students accountable not only for their learning but also for their environment is another important part of CRT. One strategy for fostering a student-centered environment is for students to develop a course agreement that answers the question “How will we be together?” Asking students to answer this question gives them insight into how their culture shapes how they want to feel respected, heard, safe, and included in the classroom and how they interact with each other and with you. Not only does this reinforce their sense of belonging, but the way they present themselves at school every day and all their outside experiences are valuable.
Finally, think about your lesson plan. You’ve taken the time to reflect and deal with your own biases that might get in your way. You redesigned the classroom environment to reflect the voices of students, their different cultural needs, and their choices. Now let’s have fun. Let’s take an example:
- Analyze the use of literary techniques and imagery in music videos using current songs that students may enjoy. Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” is awesome. Even better, instead of assigning a song, ask students for their suggestions.
- Students are encouraged to develop social media campaigns to promote their favorite causes and have them bring the evidence they find to the classroom to discuss the role of social media in social change.
- Zaretta Hammond shares three simple strategies you can use to make any theme more culturally appealing.
- Watch and discuss documentaries like Race: The Power of Illusion.
Our students need us now more than ever, and we must roll up our sleeves and do what we can to close the achievement gap. Cultural learning is a step in the right direction. The result is a student body that loves learning, excels academically, and has faculty who are responsive to their needs.
The cultural responsiveness of the teacher encourages students to feel a sense of belonging and helps them create a safe space where they feel safe, heard, respected, and challenged.
About the article
Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) aims to bridge the gap between teachers and students by helping teachers understand the cultural nuances that can lead to broken relationships, which ultimately lead to a breakdown in achievement and efficiency of the student as well. In this article, we discussed how to get started with Culturally Responsive Teaching, one of the most effective methods of teacher-student interaction, and a good mode of creating a healthy classroom environment.
Digital Marketer with over 15 years of experience. Certified Digital Marketer and Educator by Google, HubSpot, and many other companies. An ex-employee @uber and @zomato