7 Steps to Become a Culturally Responsive Teacher

 | Teaching House Nomads Blog

Culturally responsive teaching is an approach adopted by educators to integrate consideration for students’ various cultural backgrounds in their teaching approach. It is built on the theory that students of all ages find greater success in schooling when taught in a fashion that is more inclusive and embraces diversity.

Culturally responsive teaching has its roots in critical pedagogy, challenging traditional power relationships in education and focusing on empowering students to question and challenge the status quo. It also asks educators to examine their own assumptions and biases, and to be aware of how these might impact their students.

When teaching English as a second language, classrooms are often filled with students from different backgrounds and cultures. In this article, Teaching House explores some strategies and advice on how to become a culturally responsive teacher.

How Do Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies Differ from Traditional Teaching Methods?

Traditional teaching methods encompass a dynamic where educators fully control the direction of the classroom, are seen as the experts on all matters discussed and adhere to the set curriculum alone. Students' individual traits are not considered, and they are each expected to absorb the information provided in the same fashion, building the knowledge necessary to perform well on standardised testing.

Culturally responsive teaching, however, sees this methodology as outdated and ineffective. As classrooms become more diverse, the students within them need modern instruction that includes cultural and individual experiences, reflecting our current social context.

Examples of Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies

Within a classroom, culturally responsive teaching strategies can take many forms, including:

  • Studying literature from both ‘traditional’ authors, like Shakespeare, Dickens and Bronte, as well as those from other cultures across the world.
  • Creating contextual learning opportunities, such as enquiring what students might think historical figures would say if they were alive today.
  • Incorporating popular culture, such as music and movies, into classroom content to better engage students’ interests.

How Can You Be a More Culturally Responsive Teacher?

Modern teachers must be culturally responsive to create an inclusive learning environment for all students. While there might be some initial confusion as to how best to proceed, there is several ways that teachers can become more culturally responsive in their classrooms, including:

1. Assess Your Own Behaviour & Personal Biases

The first step towards becoming a more culturally responsive teacher is to recognise that your own culture may influence how you address your classroom. Become consciously aware of your own views and how they might impact the way you interact with and teach your students, directing your behaviour and addressing any personal biases. 

From here, you can work to set your mindset towards a more culturally inclusive environment, extending beyond any interactions with both your students and their families.

2. Become More Familiar with Your Students

Getting to know your students on a personal level is another key aspect of being a culturally responsive teacher. Learn about their cultures, backgrounds, and prior experiences. You don’t need to interview them on every aspect of their life, but be mindful of the perspectives they bring to discussions, and engage in doing your own research.

3. Encourage Your Students to Utilise Their Prior Knowledge & Cultural Capital

‘Cultural capital’ is a term used to describe the skills, knowledge, and experiences that students bring with them to the classroom. A common example of where cultural capital is so prominent is when ESL students are present in an English language classroom, and their teacher will introduce creative strategies to utilise their experiences for better contextual learning. These culturally responsive teaching strategies can often be found in coursework for teaching English as a second language.

Encouraging your students to activate their cultural capital creates a more culturally responsive learning environment. By utilising prior knowledge and experiences, students will feel more valued and included in the classroom.

4. Reorganise Your Classroom Arrangement

The way your classroom is arranged can also impact the level of cultural responsiveness in a learning environment. If possible, try to rearrange your classroom in a way that is more inclusive of all cultures. Show everyone matters and ensure all students feel seen. You can go as far as including posters, materials and flags that display different languages, cultures, and representations of LGBTQ+ communities, or even something as small as including books from authors worldwide. You should also be mindful of awareness and accessibility for students with disabilities, both mental and physical in nature.

5. Ensure Your Classroom is Known to Be Free of Judgement

While this might seem subjective, make efforts to create a classroom environment with a zero-tolerance policy around judgement. Ensure it is clear to your students that all cultures are to be respected and valued in your classroom. When confusion or misunderstanding around possible differences arise, encourage discussion and education amongst students, placing a curiosity and openness above any forms of ridicule or friction. Together, both educators and students can work to develop a more inclusive and responsive learning environment for all.

6. Adapt Your Current Teaching Methods to Include Culturally Responsive Strategies

Modern educators should review and adapt their current teaching methods to include culturally responsive strategies. While it can be daunting to divert from traditional curriculums and resources, doing so will identify the differences among students, as well as their own strengths and preferred learning processes.

Ask whether any ongoing activities or lessons in your classroom fail to benefit all students, or at least don’t permit participation from everyone. By adapting your teaching methods, you will be better able to meet the needs of all students in your classroom.

How Can an English Language Teacher Learn More About the Cultures of Their Students?

Are you currently teaching English as a second language, or have ambitions to start? Take advantage of our CELTA online& DELTA courses to introduce the theoretical and practical skills you need to become a more culturally responsive teacher for your students from different nationalities.

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