Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally Responsive Teaching

As an administrator, I had the experience of having a conversation with a student who had been written up by a teacher.  The teacher stated that the other students complained about him having a bad odor.  She stated she spoke with him and now, he not only had the odor, but was playing music interrupting the lessons. She said she was at her wit’s end. She didn’t want to write it up but it was getting progressively worse and interfering with the learning in the class.

I called him to my office and opened the discussion: “Young man, tell me what’s going on.”  

He responded, “I’m not playin the music; it’s the other kids.  She just thinks it’s me.”  

“Why would she think it's you; are you doing something to give her the impression that it’s you?”  

“It’s the kind of music. It’s probably music she thinks only I listen to. Every time she turns her back to write on the board, they play the music and she starts to yell at me. I keep telling her it’s not me.” 

I asked him to sit with my secretary while I spoke to his mother regarding his odor.  I asked her if she was aware of an odor or scent her son had.  She responded, “No.”  I asked if she was aware of any cologne he may use. She said no again, and added,  “I do pray and burn incense over him before leaving for school.”  

That was an “Aha” moment for me and something I knew his teacher didn’t know. He was a student from Southeast Asia and his mother was doing what she does for all of the children in their family everyday before leaving for school.

The teacher assumed he was playing the music because the music was from Southeast Asia.  They were playing it to tease him which resulted in the teacher assuming it was him, causing her to write him up.  In the end, the student was exonerated and the ones playing the music were disciplined and their parents notified (The student chose not to file a HIB report).

I had a serious conversation with the teacher who was embarrassed to know she exacerbated the bullying and deeply apologized to the student for her role in making him feel worse. I shared that this was a teachable moment and she must open a discussion about cultural nuances and similarities in her classes.

hands showing cultural bias

According to Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, “Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning.”  Student learning, cultural competence, and socio-political consciousness are important to the advancement of culturally responsive teaching.

4 Best Practices For Culturally Responsive Teaching

Below are four best practices when considering cultural competency or culturally responsive teaching:

  1. Get to know your students (provide opportunities for students to share their individual cultures). One way to do this is by giving out a student survey that incorporates questions on students’ backgrounds..
  2. Recognize areas where the cultures of the students can be incorporated into the lesson. For example, when creating lessons or choosing texts, ask yourself if there are authors or topics that speak to varied cultures.
  3. Allow students the opportunity to discuss their cultural similarities and differences when it arises. Activities that speak to culture open the door for rich student conversations.
  4. Self-reflect and identify your biases. As hard as we all try, each of us has some sort of bias of which we may or may not be aware. Be honest with yourself about your biases and work on overcoming them.

Students will benefit from feeling valued, understood and safe when we show that we care and are interested in them, their lifestyles, and cultures.  

If you want to learn more about culturally responsive teaching, contact Inspired Instruction to bring a professional development workshop to your school!


Lason-Billings, G. (May 1994). What we can learn from multicultural education research. Educational Leadership, 51 (8), 22-26.

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