Strategies for Embracing Culturally Responsive Teaching

Jan 20 / Joel Medley
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Blog Synopsis

What does it mean to be culturally responsive? The field of education has worked on this question for decades, and a universally accepted definition is still lacking. One thing agree upon, however, is that culturally responsive teaching involves awareness of the context in which you are teaching and being intentional about how you use that cultural knowledge to support your students' learning. In this blog, we will share a few strategies for culturally responsive teaching—and why you should use them.
Make Your Curriculum Relevant to All Learners

When creating a unit plan, it is important to establish relevance for your students. One way to do that is by ensuring the content you teach is culturally responsive.  Below are two categories and a series of "self-check" questions you can ask to help shape the content:

  • Ensure the curriculum is culturally relevant: Does it reflect the community? Is it inclusive of all kinds of people? Are there any biases in place that might cause someone to feel alienated or excluded?
  • Ensure the curriculum is relevant to each student: Will the content motivate and help them grow as learners? Or, will it bore the students causing disengagement from schoolwork?  How does this help bridge the gap between their current and future?  If students don't see application beyond the classroom, they may lose interest quickly—and never return!

    If you need support in this area, check out the free CRI series offered by the Stride Professional Development Center - especially the final course.  

Take Full Advantage of Every Occasion to Support Cultural Heritage 

To effectively leverage culturally responsive instruction, use multiple occasions to promote cultural heritage. The holiday seasons or special months are some of the best times for this strategy.  Considering the cultural backgrounds in your classes, use their rich histories and contributions to modern culture as starting points. For example:

  • Have students write about their family traditions around Christmas or New Year's Eve/Day (these are not just "American" holidays). You can also have them discuss these customs with family members who may be invited to the class —it will give them a chance to share their stories with others!
  • Share what this holiday season looks like in other countries to see how it is celebrated internationally.  This worldwide perspective opens up multiple avenues for learning while also providing students a global perspective.

Reflect On Your Own Identity and Culture

It's important to reflect on your identity and culture because of the influence upon your teaching and how it shapes interactions with students. Employees of color are more likely than their white counterparts to report feeling isolated in their schools. This sense of isolation can make it difficult for teachers from underrepresented communities to find common ground with other faculty members who may have different life experiences.

Be Aware That Language Can Be a Barrier

It is essential to understand that students may not fluently speak your language; and, as such, you must scaffold supports to help them bridge the gap.  For example, if you are teaching about the American Revolution and its historical context, then you should start with vocabulary attached to more modern examples.  This creates a frame upon which additional content can be structured.  

The bottom line is that culturally responsive teaching takes additional time and effort; yet, it is worth that commitment.  Here's the value - you can make a difference with even the most minor steps. Once you know yourself and your students, you can more authentically and meaningfully teach for the benefit of all students.  
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