How You Can Be A More Culturally Responsive Educator

Linda Hasunuma, Ph.D.
How You Can Be A More Culturally Responsive Educator

What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

A culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy provides opportunities for students’ own family experiences, cultural heritage, intersectional identities, and unique lived experiences to be sources of strength and knowledge in their learning experiences. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) developed the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy to show how educators can help close racial disparities in educational outcomes. One of her key insights was shifting from deficit- to asset-based models to draw upon the different lived experiences of minority students.


Culturally responsive teaching practices value students’ personal experiences and cultural backgrounds as strengths and assets (Gay, 2018, p.32). Building on Ladson-Billings’ work, Geneva Gay finds that teaching practices that give ethnically diverse students learning experiences that are more relevant to their lives, deepens their engagement and learning (Gay, 2010). These practices help create learning experiences that are more affirming, validating, and representative of the lives of students. Culturally responsive teaching also involves examining ourselves as educators for our own cultural biases, the class climate, the nature of relationships with other students and the instructor, and the course content.  


Why It Matters

Attempting to understand other cultures, particularly those at play in the lives of your students, prepares teachers to be alert to the differences at work in classrooms and to respond with care and empathy. For example, how many religious observances require fasting which might impact the performance of some of your students? Beyond making appropriate accommodations for religious holidays, culturally responsive teaching recognizes that the ways students interact with adults and authority figures, what constitutes appropriate gaze or eye contact, vary across cultures. Consider the simple act of speaking up in class - teachers grading students on participation need to consider the possibility that interjecting or volunteering one’s opinion will come more easily to some than others based on culturally learned habits.


These teaching approaches are relevant and more necessary than ever because of the well-documented change in undergraduate demographics. According to a new report by the American Council on Education, Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report, students of color made up just 29.6 percent of the undergraduate student population in 1996, increasing to 45.2 percent in 2016. The greatest increase was in Hispanic and Asian students. And this change is not going away: the National Center for Education Statistics says that students from ethnic minority groups make up 50% of the pre-K-12 population, our future college students (Pew 2019).


How to Be A More Culturally Responsive Educator

Culturally relevant pedagogy helps teachers nourish a student’s sense of belonging which are critical for motivation, engagement, and learning outcomes. Who your students think they are matters, so why not ask them? A simple pre-course survey can invite students to share more about their backgrounds and provide a pathway to a one-on-one conversation.


Another way consists of thinking about your syllabus as a message as well as a roadmap. What message does it send to students of different cultural backgrounds? How do your course content, activities, assessments, and policies reflect an asset-based understanding of the diversity of your students? As you think about your syllabus and course design, consider going through these exercises, adopted from Jenny Muniz’s Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Reflection Guide:


  • Reflect on One’s Cultural Lens  - How does your identity and your students’ identities shape your values and perspectives?
  • Recognize and Redress Bias in the System  - Do your course content and policies address bias at the individual and systemic levels?
  • Draw on Students’ Culture to Shape Curriculum and Instruction - Do your assignments allow your students to see themselves and others? Do you evaluate your materials for historical accuracy, cultural relevance, and multiple perspectives?
  • Bring Real World Issues into the Classroom - Is your course content relevant to your students’ lives and communities?
  • Model High Expectations for All Students - Be aware of negative stereotypes and how and to whom you communicate your expectations.
  • Promote Respect for Student Differences  - Is your learning environment safe, affirming, respectful and inclusive of all students?
  • Communicate in Linguistically and Culturally Responsive Ways - Reflect on your verbal and nonverbal communication, reduce communication barriers, and be respectful of other communication norms in the cultures your students come from.

If you would like to learn more about how you can apply these frameworks in your own classes, we invite you to set up a consultation with a Faculty Developer at the CAT.



Gay, Geneva. Culturally Responsive Teaching : Theory, Research, and Practice. 2nd ed. Multicultural Education Series (New York, N.Y.). New York: Teachers College, 2010.


Ladson-Billings, Gloria. “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” Theory Into Practice, 34, no. 3 (1995).


Muniz, Jenny. Culturally Responsive Teaching. New America. Washington, DC 2018.


Linda Hasunuma is Assistant Director of Temple's Center for the Advancment of Teaching.

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