What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Posted: April 11, 2017 by Lindsey Nagorski

I love this quote by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. especially in terms of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT).  To me, it sums up what Culturally Responsive Teaching is… all of us with our different learned experiences working and maneuvering together in the same boat.  Typically, when I’m speaking to other individuals regarding CRT I like to start off with why it is so important for today’s educators.  In today’s post though I thought I would start off a little differently.  I thought I would start by explaining what Culturally Responsive Teaching is… because I can see in my colleagues across the country that many already know why we need it.  I see teachers on a daily basis who love their profession and students and want nothing more than to see them succeed, but despite their best efforts things are still not going as well as they could… or worse, things are going horribly wrong.

But alas, I can not resist providing you with a tiny little bit of background information…

Other than the Indigenous people of the United States we (or our ancestors) have all arrived here by “ship”.  The time period in which we arrived on American soil as well as the purpose for coming (voluntary vs. involuntary) has had a large impact on our experiences- especially within educational institutions.  We are all trying to navigate an antiquated, and racially biased institution together- our boat, which unfortunately is not set up for all to be successful.

When colleagues ask me what I’m doing differently in my class, or how I manage certain things, my answer is almost always CRT.  While still very much a work in progress, I have been studying and utilizing Culturally Responsive techniques (formally) since the summer of 2013.  I began attending a series of professional development on the topic that was provided by my district and presented by Dr. Sharroky Hollie.  More on this later!

So what is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

One of my graduate professors Amy Bergstrom Ed.D, professor at the College of St. Scholastica once stated to myself and my colleagues “there is no formula for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, there is no do a, b, c, and d and suddenly you’re culturally responsive.  Its vast, and its deep and wide.  And its organic because it changes based on context… “

Geneva Gay, one of the leaders in Culturally Responsive Teaching defines it as “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students.   It changes the traditional understanding of the achievement gap by shifting focus away from the perceived student deficits and puts them towards school deficits.”  It requires teachers to respond to differences in students’ communication and learning styles by evaluating and changing their own management and teaching techniques.

I like to think of CRT as accessing students prior knowledge (also explained in the video below)… not just their content knowledge, but their cultural knowledge as well.  Then, we can build upon that knowledge and teach our students how to be situationally appropriate.  We use a variety of management techniques and protocols for responding and discussing that both validate our students learned cultural experiences and build new experiences that they will be able to draw from and utilize later in life.

In order for Culturally Responsive Teaching to be successful the following criteria are non negotiable.

  • The belief that ALL students can learn
  • An open mind and willingness to change
  • You need to know who you are
  • You need to know who your students (and families) are
  • You need to know what and how you are teaching

The following video from Teaching Tolerance does a great job at introducing the concept of Culturally Responsive Teaching:

If you are interested in learning more please stay tuned!

In the meantime you may also want to check out these resources:








[convertkit form=5043722]