Culturally responsive teaching is an unexpected gift from the COVID-19 pandemic. Educators have expressed an increased desire to develop instructional strategies and practices that establish and sustain a culturally inclusive environment. Unfortunately, the path towards an inclusive classroom culture is not always clear.
Of late, I have been pleased to see teachers embrace, often unknowingly, the tenets of culturally responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teaching is a pedagogy that is grounded in the teacher’s ability to help students connect the content and curriculum to their individual cultural context (Fuhrman, 2020). Teachers have a better understanding of their students’ cultural context because the pandemic has required them to slow down to connect with their students in unique ways. Grasping their students’ contextual background allows teachers to create lessons that connect the material and curriculum to student experiences in more comprehensive ways.
Teachers have more diverse classrooms today than ever before, and students have different backgrounds, customs, and languages. While minority students are culturally distinct, their differences are often treated as deficiencies. However, minority students come to the classroom with various aptitudes and prior knowledge, like other children, but these skills often differ from majority culture students and are often deemed useless or unimportant. The curriculum often devalues and neglects to respond to the aptitudes our students of color contribute. Consequently, instruction needs to change in order to build upon cultural experiences and tap into prior knowledge by bringing in examples, hooks, authors, and stories that reflect the cultural diversity of the classroom.
During the pandemic, teachers and administrators have been more inclined to set aside the pressures of state standards and benchmarks to focus on connection with their students. Because true empathy only happens with proximity, I have witnessed teachers draw near to students, entering into their stories of loneliness, fear, and loss. Our students are resilient, beautifully so. Many are not only surviving but also thriving by God’s grace. The foundation for culturally responsive teaching is ultimately biblical because it requires a renewed biblical focus of comforting others with the comfort of the Lord (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) which happens by entering into the stories of students of color and understanding their cultural background and how it impacts their educational experiences.
Culturally responsive teaching is important because it acknowledges that we are called to minister to the whole child, and cultural background is an essential part of how God created us. We honor the student and their Creator by connecting curriculum and material to the unique ways that God has made them. The Educators Team at Understood (n.d.) write:
Culturally responsive teaching is a research-based approach that makes meaningful connections between what students learn in school and their cultures, languages, and life experiences. These connections help students access rigorous curriculum, develop higher-level academic skills, and see the relevance between what they learn at school and their lives. (para. 1)
Teachers can easily incorporate culturally responsive teaching into their pedagogy and daily practice by implementing these easy guidelines by the Educators Team at Understood (n.d.).
Grappling with COVID-19 has set a precedent for implementing strategies and practices that establish and sustain an inclusive culture. In future publications we will dive into these specific tenets in more detail. While it does require intentionality, it is incredibly attainable to incorporate culturally responsive teaching into your daily practice.
Fuhrman, R. (2020, September 15). Learning to recognize and celebrate students’ cultural experiences. Edutopia.https://www.edutopia.org/article/learning-recognize-and-celebrate-students-cultural-experiences?gclid=Cj0KCQiA6t6ABhDMARIsAONIYyzosH1OR_5UdYw7At9h1q238d-VpAJtEScCAzheLI2W_lHpLtP5_cUaAnQYEALw_wcB
Educators Team at Understood. (n.d.). Culturally responsive teaching: What you need to know. https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/for-educators/universal-design-for-learning/what-is-culturally-responsive-teaching