Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning (CRTL) is a foundational approach to instruction based on the understanding that culture is central to learning. Culture informs how students communicate, think, learn, and interact. As such, ensuring classrooms are culturally responsive is an integral part of creating learning environments that are effective for all students.
Often, CRTL is thought of as a way of being responsive to students of color and therefore only applicable to teachers working with diverse populations. While this is certainly an important aspect of CRTL, it is not the only consideration. For teachers working with mostly white or monocultural populations, adopting a culturally responsive approach enables students to build an appreciation and understanding of perspectives that are different from their own.
So, is Culturally Responsive Teaching for everyone? The answer is a resounding yes!
By laying a culturally responsive foundation that honors diverse student backgrounds and experiences, teachers create the conditions in which meaningful learning can take place.
Why it's important
Historically, the educational system has valued certain cultures over others, promoting biases in curriculum and instruction that have largely ignored and devalued the cultural identity of many students. When students feel excluded and unseen, they intuit the message that they are not valued in the learning environment, which can have negative implications on their learning, mindset, and overall success down the road.
For students who are part of the historically promoted culture, a lack of exposure to other viewpoints perpetuates and reinforces the dominance of white normativity. It is essential that teachers expose and acknowledge both the historical and ongoing implications of white privilege as a foundational step toward developing students' commitment to and ability to take action against social injustice. When teachers establish a culturally responsive classroom, they ensure that students have both the historical context and appreciation for different perspectives to empathize and engage respectfully with those from other cultures.
At BetterLesson, we believe that the best and most direct antidote to our country's current state of division and inequality is education. By integrating topics of cultural inclusion throughout every child's K-12 experience, we can develop thoughtful and compassionate students who will graduate to become informed and empathetic citizens. We feel it is incumbent upon all educators to embrace a culturally responsive approach to teaching so that all students develop values of respect and appreciation of diversity.
What success looks like
Creating a culturally responsive classroom and addressing all elements of a curriculum are not mutually exclusive endeavors. When a classroom is truly culturally responsive, all students will be more engaged and ultimately more successful.
Naturally, the day-to-day specifics will vary across grade levels, content areas, and contexts. However, there are some common threads that exist across all culturally responsive classrooms:
Students feel safe and trust the individuals in the classroom community, allowing honest and open conversations to occur.
Students feel respected, protected, and empowered to be who they are.
Curriculum and content is inclusive of multiple perspectives.
Students have opportunities to share their opinions, values, ideas, and dreams with one another.
Teachers take time to understand students so that they can make connections to the world in ways that feel respectful and relevant to students.
Teachers thoughtfully plan content choices to engage students in relevant, deep thought.
Teachers reach out to families in a culturally respectful manner.
Community members are empowered as valued contributors to learning.
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