1) Commit to knowing your students well — academically, socially, and emotionally. Learn about their families, cultures, and interests. Ask questions, talk with parents, community members and colleagues, read books, watch movies, listen to music. Make home visits, or create opportunities for students to share and celebrate their family traditions and cultures (and never underestimate the power of the positive phone call home). Be aware of different worldviews, and learn about the ‘collectivistic-individualistic continuum’. Be explicit and talk to your students about ‘code-switching’ – the choices we make in how we talk and present ourselves. Help students to know when and why it is appropriate, while valuing their home culture and language.
2) No matter the subject matter, build on your students’ life experiences and consistently bring them into the classroom. Current, real world examples help students connect to the curriculum, allow for deeper engagement and help students make connections with their individual, community, national, and global identities. The classroom can be a space for students to develop and explore their ‘socio-political consciousness’ (Gloria-Ladson-Billings, 1994).
3) Create a classroom learning community. Encourage students to care for one another and be responsible for each other inside and outside of the classroom. Provide consistent routines that help students feel valued and safe, and accountable to one another. Design a safe and welcoming classroom environment—students respond cognitively and emotionally to classroom aesthetics. Whenever possible, aim for natural light, moveable chairs and desks, and ample space to highlight student work and cultural artifacts. Let students know that the classroom space is theirs to create together.
4) Hold high academic standards and expectations for all of your students, and enthusiastically encourage all students to reach those standards and beyond. Treat all students as competent and developing—focus on fostering a ‘growth mindset’. Design lessons with your most underserved students in mind.
5) Understand your own cultural identity, and its consequences. Rigorously examine your cultural behavior patterns, especially when it comes to classroom management and discipline. Be yourself with your students – honest, caring, and human.
The National Equity Project provides a range of services to districts and schools aiming to be more culturally responsive. Learn more here.
“All instruction is culturally responsive. The question is: to which culture is it currently oriented?” - Gloria Ladson-Billings