April 9, 2024

Models That Embrace Culturally Responsive Teaching

By Transcend
Concourse Village Elementary

Students walk through our school doors with a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experiences. By leveraging these assets, schools can foster more inclusive learning environments, leading to increased student engagement, a stronger sense of belonging for all, and academic achievement. 

All educators can be culturally responsive, but many schools are not yet set up to do this well. Luckily, schools don’t need to start from scratch. Learning from other successful models can provide inspiration, provocation, and the building blocks needed to move toward culturally responsive teaching. 

Read on to learn more about culturally responsive practices and how models featured on the Innovative Models Exchange use them to better serve all students. 

What Are Culturally Responsive Practices?

Culturally responsive practices affirm students’ diverse backgrounds and perspectives. These asset-based practices purposefully center traditionally marginalized communities in classroom instruction, drawing upon students’ prior knowledge and nurturing their multifaceted cultural identities. 

Decades of research show that culturally responsive practices, when used effectively, can support students’ understanding of and engagement with academic concepts, boost motivation, cultivate a range of skills that support their academic success and lifelong learning, and more. 

5 Critical Components for Culturally Responsive Teaching

Geneva Gay’s research identifies five critical components to effectively engage in culturally responsive teaching: 

  1. Exhibit a strong knowledge base about young people’s cultural diversity and identities
  2. Prioritize culturally relevant curricula 
  3. Hold high expectations for all students
  4. Work to understand and appreciate different communication styles
  5. Use multicultural examples in the classroom 

Exhibit a Strong Knowledge Base about Young People’s Cultural Diversity and Identities 

When educators have a deep understanding of students’ cultural diversity and identities—their values, beliefs, traditions, and stories—they can create classroom practices that celebrate and leverage these assets. In the Rites of Passage Program from The Brotherhood Sister Sol (BroSis), Chapter Leaders—adults who facilitate weekly sessions and serve as trusted long-term mentors—wear many hats, often acting as case workers. To do this effectively, chapter leaders exhibit, and continue to build, a strong understanding of young people’s identities. 

Prioritize Culturally Relevant Curricula 

Culturally responsive teaching prioritizes curricula that reflect the rich diversity of their students’ backgrounds. This means incorporating a wide range of content and fostering a learning environment that reflects multiple perspectives on race, class, gender, and more. By grappling with these complex issues, students develop critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of the world around them. High Tech High’s Liberatory Project-Based Learning model positions young people as the central agents in their education, providing avenues for all students to connect their projects to their identities and examine social issues. Students use their life experience to deepen learning, develop open-ended questions relevant to their lives and world beyond school, ideate and critique, share their work with important community members, assess their work, and engage in rigorous reflection. 

“Students’ lived experiences are foundational to the learning that happens in and outside of schools,” says High Tech High’s Interim CEO, Dr. Diana Cornejo-Sanchez. “By diving deeper into their selves, we believe that students can then dive deeper into understanding the complexities of the world around them.”

Hold High Expectations for All Students

In culturally responsive teaching, educators believe in all students’ ability to achieve at high levels, and they partner with young people to ensure their success. Educators show care by making decisions that center students and their communities, validating who students are, and fostering community among students. The Calculus Project equips students with a comprehensive suite of supports so they can take and excel in AP mathematics courses. Students are grouped into clusters to drive a sense of belonging where it feels safe to collaborate, make mistakes, and help one another master the content. Teachers intentionally nurture this culture. 

“Our high expectations of hard work and commitment over time is a catalyst for creating this environment. Not because it is solely driven by the teacher, but because the teams of students have high expectations for each of its members,” says The Calculus Project Founder and CEO, Dr. Adrian B. Mims Sr. “Through our professional development teachers work to create a climate where teaching and instruction comes from within the students’ teams and not solely from the instructor.” 

Work to Understand and Appreciate Different Communication Styles 

By seeking to understand and appreciate the diverse ways students express themselves, educators create a richer learning environment. Recognizing how students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences influence their communication styles allows teachers to tailor classroom interactions that empower every voice to be heard. The Bridges to Academic Success model—a comprehensive approach to building language, literacy, and content skills for newcomer students—centers students’ lived experiences and past learning to enable mastery of new content. Through the Language Experience Approach, for example, students engage in a shared experience, partake in informal conversations to make connections and communicate their ideas, and then have their oral language transcribed into print by their teacher to describe their experience of the content in academic vocabulary. To facilitate such an experience, teachers at Bridges must understand and honor the rich assets their multilingual learners bring into the classroom. 

“Bridges emphasizes the importance of integrating and drawing upon home language as a resource in the classroom,” says Dr. Lisa Auslander, Bridges for Academic Success’ Principal Investigator and Senior Project Director. “This is exemplified when students work together in home language pairs; directly with the teacher or another adult in the classroom; or, for example, [though] references to home language in the physical classroom environment.” 

Use Multicultural Examples in the Classroom

Incorporating a range of multicultural examples in classroom instruction allows students to make connections and build on prior knowledge. These examples should be reflective of students’ diverse backgrounds and avoid communicating stereotypes or centering a “single story.” To this end, Roots ConnectED’s Anti-Bias Education model creates purposeful opportunities for students to listen to each other’s perspectives to deepen understanding and connection. Instead of relying on a single person to represent an entire group’s experience or perspective, students work to understand experiences from multiple points of view, which helps build empathy. 

“We make sure that in our work, we have practices where we can ask questions like: ‘Whose voice is missing? What perspective may we not have access to? How do we ensure we can understand a perspective that may be different from what is in the room?’ so that even if varied perspectives may not be present, we are developing the critical practice of asking the question and listening to the responses,” says Sahba Rohani, Executive Director of Roots ConnectED. 


The Innovative Models Exchange has several models that feature the critical components for culturally responsive teaching: 


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