How to Develop a Culturally Responsive Classroom

Culturally responsive classrooms benefit all students, but they are especially critical for urban schools. Understood, a non-profit that supports students who learn and think differently defines culturally responsive teaching as “a research-based approach that makes meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages, and life experiences.”

With a Master of Education in Curriculum and Teaching, educators will be better prepared to apply culturally responsive teaching methods to serve the needs of urban learners. Here are ways that educators can approach this process:

Lead by Example

Teachers are leaders who set the tone for their classrooms. They are responsible for creating inclusive, culturally responsive learning environments that foster success for all students. Open Society Foundations cites research that shows inclusive, context-appropriate education yields better outcomes for students.

Teachers who design their curriculum and instruction methods should approach them through the lens of inclusivity and culturally responsive practices. As Open Society Foundations notes, this includes building lessons around “locally relevant themes and contributions by marginalized and minority groups.” This helps students build connections between what’s taught in the classroom and their lived experiences. Such integration is crucial to the learning process and to making learning relevant and engaging for marginalized students.

Foster Mutual Respect Within Families and Communities

In culturally responsive classrooms, respect is not unidirectional. Rather, respect flows between all parts of a school community among students, teachers, administrators and families. A culturally responsive approach sees marginalized students’ backgrounds not as deficits but as assets. It respects their cultural knowledge and unique skill sets and seeks to empower students to bring those skills to the classroom.

Culturally responsive teaching seeks to understand and appreciate students’ families and cultural heritage. It sees those backgrounds and experiences as resources, often called “funds of knowledge.” Building on the research work of Vélez-Ibáñez and Greenberg in the 1990s and Gonzalez, Moll and Amanti’s work in the subsequent decade, educators now broadly understand funds of knowledge to be the cultural accumulation of skills, knowledge, assets and modes of interaction.

Employ Restorative Practices

Restorative practices, derived from the concept of restorative justice, are a new lens through which many educators are approaching student discipline and classroom management. In an article for Education Week, California high school teacher Larry Ferlazzo explains: “It’s viewed as an alternative to the typical punish/suspend method of discipline that has been historically used, and which has also been found to disproportionately punish students of color.”

Rather than emphasizing fast punishment, restorative practices encourage students to take responsibility for actions and thoughtfully consider the impacts of their choices on themselves and others. Practically, restorative practices can take the form of one-on-one meetings, goal setting, group discussions and personal written reflection. But no matter the form, the goal is the same: “to empower students to learn from unacceptable choices, to understand their impact, and to grow personally in their ability to make more sound decisions and resolve problems,” as Dr. Sheila Watson put it for Education Week.

Restorative practices are a component of culturally responsive teaching that puts students’ needs and capabilities front and center. An advanced education degree focused on educational partnership models and inclusive learning environments could be just what you need to refine your skills and propel your career.

Learn more about Fitchburg State University’s Master of Education in Curriculum and Teaching (Non-Licensure) online program.


Education Week:
Response: How to Practice Restorative Justice in Schools
Ways to Implement Restorative Practices in the Classroom

Open Society Foundations: The Value of Inclusive Education

Understood: Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction: Funds of Knowledge

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