A group of people joined together facing a chalkboard

Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) practices have gained traction over the past decade as educators strive to understand the increasingly diverse backgrounds and needs of their students. Now, amid ongoing unrest over racial injustice in the United States, CRT is even more in the spotlight.

As part of the progress toward cultivating anti-racist systems, some have suggested educators should be evaluated on their implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices. The question is: How do you evaluate culturally responsive teaching?

In a series of upcoming blogs, the Network for Educator Effectiveness will offer some ideas around the implementation and evaluation of culturally responsive teaching. But we want to be upfront: Evaluation of CRT isn’t easy. Implementing CRT strategies requires a deep, multi-faceted commitment from the school community, and if you’re just getting started, it takes time – sometimes years – before evaluation of these practices is recommended. Educators need time to learn, take risks, and practice CRT before evaluation should occur.

We want to be equally clear in saying: This is important and worthwhile work, and you have to start somewhere.

So, before we talk evaluation, let’s lay the groundwork for simply getting started with culturally responsive teaching.

What is culturally responsive teaching?

Researchers established in the 1990s that, to be effective, a teacher must possess knowledge about students’ lives outside the classroom. Additional research shows educators must adapt their teaching to the ways their students learn. The greatest potential for achievement is reached when the cultures of home and school connect. The opposite is also true: Ignoring cultural backgrounds and expecting students to adapt to dominant cultures can lead to low student achievement.

Culturally responsive teaching has been defined as the process of using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences and performance styles of students to make learning more appropriate and effective. Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings says culturally responsive instruction “empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes.”

Culturally responsive teaching includes all facets of teaching – curriculum, classroom climate, classroom management, instructional strategies, and family involvement.

Getting started with culturally responsive teaching

If you haven’t done so already, the place to start is building an awareness of CRT practices and an understanding of implicit bias. Before they can become culturally responsive to students, educators need to know themselves well, identify their biases, and work to challenge those biases within themselves.

Understanding Implicit Bias

We all hold biases, and many of them are unconscious. Even individuals who consider themselves open-minded and respectful of all differences hold implicit biases. Biases by themselves don’t make us bad, but we must work to continuously check them and challenge them because they become problematic when they impact our dealings with others. It takes deep introspection to examine our biases and work toward “unlearning” those biases – and that work is a lifelong process.

cartoon communicating importance of checking yourself for stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination

As you embark on this work to identify your biases, keep in mind a few key points (from As Diversity Grows, So Must We):

  • Inequities are not, for the most part, a function of intentional discrimination but rather a function of systemic discrimination. You are not “bad” because you have biases; biases are natural and are perpetuated by systems. (Watch a helpful explainer of systemic racism)
  • Educators of all racial and cultural groups need to develop new competencies and pedagogies to successfully engage our changing populations.
  • White teachers have their own cultural connections and unique personal narratives that are legitimate aspects of the overall mix of school diversity.

Identifying and Challenging Implicit Bias

Like most things, the first step for change is to build your awareness of your implicit biases. Project Implicit is a wonderful resource from Harvard University that includes more than a dozen implicit bias tests. The tests measure how long it takes an individual to classify different concepts or attributes with different groups of people. The tests develop an understanding of your attitudes and beliefs around the topics, and this is a great start for building your awareness of your unconscious biases.

Build empathy. Ask questions about students’ lives outside of school. Get to know them and their unique challenges. See your students as more than members of an ethnic or cultural group but as individuals who are a sum of their own traits and characteristics. Research shows that increasing empathy is more effective than simply trying to be objective in ensuring fair treatment for students. In fact, training teachers in empathy has been related to decreases in classroom behavior issues.

Practice mindfulness. Incorporating mindfulness into the classroom can decrease stress and reduce bias for both students and teachers.

Develop cross-group friendships. Expand your circle of friends to include those from other groups. Doing so can help to decrease bias, and an added benefit is that students who see their teacher making cross-group friends are more likely to do the same.

Where do we go from here?

After educators have examined their personal biases and started working to actively challenge them, the next step is to begin examining and revising teaching practices. For some strategies to implement respectful cultures in the classroom, read Establishing Respectful Relationships with Students Requires Intentional Interactions Over Time.

Evaluation is a final step of CRT. When you come to this stage, consider these Four Indicators to Evaluate Culturally Responsive Teaching.

Follow the NEE Advantage blog for more on topics related to culturally responsive teaching.

To explore CRT more, review these additional resources:

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.