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The Essence of Culturally Responsive Teaching

With the ever-increasing diversity of our students, it's important that teachers are aware of the assets they bring to the classroom. By incorporating culturally responsive teaching strategies, teachers can help all students succeed academically.

The essence of culturally responsive teaching is a deep knowledge of your students. This includes understanding their heritage, families, and traditions.

Recognizing Diversity

One of the most important components of culturally responsive teaching is recognizing students' diversity. This includes their age, gender, race, socioeconomic status and language.

Students who feel that their classroom is a safe space to discuss important social issues are more likely to be engaged in learning. This can include discussion of racial injustice, inequality and community-police relations, among other topics.

Encourage students to bring in a family photo or item that represents their culture for the class to see. This can be a great way to foster a detailed discussion about cultural background, traditions and beliefs.

Make sure the classroom incorporates books, music, flags and other media that showcase different ethnic groups. This can help students recognize the value of their heritage and make connections to academic content.

Integrating Multicultural Content

Teachers using culturally responsive teaching make sure students can relate course content to their own backgrounds. This allows students to be more engaged with their learning, which in turn leads to higher test scores.

Educators should be aware that many of the concepts of culturally responsive teaching are similar to academic concepts like critical race theory and racial equity. Unfortunately, sometimes these academic concepts are confused with each other and even misunderstood.

For example, some educators think that to be culturally responsive, they must mention culture and ethnicity all the time. But true culturally responsiveness goes much further than that. It requires the teacher to truly understand the culture of each student in their classroom, and then use those assets for instruction. For example, the verbal creativity and story-telling often used by students of African descent can be leveraged to enhance writing skills.

Language Considerations

A teacher who values cultural responsiveness should also understand how language works within a particular culture. For example, in some African American cultures, verbal creativity and story-telling during informal social interactions is seen as a gift and contribution and should be incorporated into classroom learning.

Additionally, a teacher should be aware that language is prone to interpretation and must teach students about the cultural context of their learning so they can interpret it accurately. This may include fostering a detailed discussion of topics such as community-police relations, environmental concerns and women’s rights.

In addition, a teacher should encourage students to talk in their native language and use words in a way that is natural for them. This can be an important part of building classroom community.

Global Perspectives

Many studies have promoted the importance of global perspectives within the teaching environment. Developing these skills helps students understand how the academic content they learn relates to real-world events.

It is important to foster a detailed discussion of global issues and how they relate to the students’ culture, community, and worldview. Such discussion could include attitudes like open-mindedness and tolerance; a respect for diversity; an awareness of one’s own cultural biases; empathy; and social responsibility.

Teachers can encourage this development by integrating global perspectives into the learning experience in a variety of ways, from exploring global environmental issues in science to discussing social media trends in Spanish or German class. Some textbooks now include global perspectives in their lessons, and online resources are available as well.

Respecting Traditions

Culturally responsive teachers understand that students’ cultures and traditions are assets to learning. They celebrate and respect those backgrounds by sharing stories, activities, and classroom resources that connect to students’ interests and experiences.

For example, a teacher who knows that a student's parents were geologists in their home country could foster a detailed discussion of rock formation and erosion by asking the student to research her family history and share what she finds with classmates. Teachers who practice culturally responsive teaching also make an effort to know their students, including learning how to pronounce their names.

Finally, educators who practice culturally responsive teaching are aware of their own group memberships—which include age, sex, social class, and religion—and are cognizant that those groups can create biases. They recognize those biases and strive to change them.

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