Three Steps to Becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher

students sitting around a table
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Author: Essie Childers, Education Professor at Blinn College – Texas

Let’s take a moment to step away from facts around student retention, building facilities, growing partnerships and enrollment numbers. Albeit, those topics are truly important and can be found on any college or university’s agenda. What about adding to the agenda expected classroom experiences to promote student learning. The secret is out—instructors are at the “front door” to facilitate student learning; they also help promote retention and build enrollment. How? This is possible when instructors become culturally responsive teachers.

What IS Culturally Responsive Teaching?

“Culturally responsive teaching occurs when there is respect for the backgrounds and circumstances of students regardless of individual status and power, and when there is a design for learning that embraces the range of needs, interests, and orientations in a classroom” (Ginsberg and Wlodkowski 2009). Being able to celebrate different cultures encountered in our classroom creates a golden opportunity for both teachers and students to have courageous conversations and ensures a learning environment that is warm and inclusive in which students can become confident, competent learners.

Getting Started on Your Journey to Cultural Responsiveness

There is no magic wand to make instructors culturally responsive. However, I would like to suggest a few things from Gingsberg and Wlodkowski’s model: “The Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching.”

1.) Establish inclusion. Create an environment in which the learners and teachers feel comfortable, respected and connected to one another. One way this can be done is to pronounce a student’s name correctly the first time. If you mispronounce their name, apologize and ask for assistance.

It is also helpful to get to class early to greet the students as they enter the classroom—and with a smile. Before jumping into the topic of the day, take a few moments to chat about the weekend, a culture event that is coming soon, or how their classes are going. These brief conversations allow the students to feel as if they belong in the class.

2.) Show Your Personality. Instructors develop practices that have personal relevance, underscoring volition or choice. When I was in college back in the 70’s, I looked for people in my textbooks and readings that I could relate to. Needless to say, I did not find very many people in which I could recount. In making your assignments, give students a choice in the selection of the reference material. In one discussion forum, I ask students to choose a music video that motivates them to excel in school. After posting their chosen link to the video on the discussion board, students write a reflection journal regarding their video for classmates to read and respond. This provides instructors with insights about students’ values and goals and gives the student an opportunity to share a part of their cultural beliefs.

3.) Engender competence. Instructors develop practices in which the student realizes they are learning something that is valuable to themselves and their community. Culturally responsive teaching encourages small-group participation. One of my favorite assignments is to allow each group to teach a lesson. Small groups help students realize the importance of interdependence and appreciate that each person in the group has value, unique skills and talents. It is not uncommon for the groups to bond and meet outside of class for coffee and other activities.

What to Expect

We know that students come into our classrooms with a variety of viewpoints and identities that cannot be checked at the door. As a culturally responsive teacher, one must look for ways to help all students connect, engage and feel comfortable in the classroom. When the secret is revealed that your classroom is welcoming, inclusive and respectful of cultures, everyone will want to be in that class. What a wonderful opportunity we have as educators to celebrate and appreciate a diverse community of competent learners.


  • Ginsberg, M. B., & Wlodkowski, R. J. (2009). Diversity & motivation: Culturally responsive teaching in college, Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Watch this video about creating a diverse and inclusive environment in the classroom from the 17th Annual Economics Teaching Conference.