Culturally relevant teaching

Culturally relevant teaching

"Culturally Relevant Teaching is a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes."[1]

First introduced by Dr.Gloria Ladson-Billings in 1992 as "culturally relevant teaching," and now also referred to as "culturally responsive teaching," these terms are becoming more widely known and accepted in the education field. For example, the U.S. Department of Education's equity assistance centers, such as the Equity Alliance at ASU help states, school districts and schools to establish the conditions for equitable educational outcomes for all students, using cultural responsiveness as one of the measures of the needed capabilities of teachers, principals and school communities as a whole. Many leading scholars have added to the quality research and study Dr. Ladson-Billings originally published. According to John Uzo Ogbu, "A culturally relevant pedagogy must provide a way for students to maintain their cultural identity while succeeding academically".


Tenets of Culturally Relevant Teaching

  1. "Students whose educational, economic, social, political, and cultural futures are most tenuous are helped to become intellectual leaders in the classroom."
  2. "Students are apprenticed in a learning community rather than taught in an isolated way."
  3. "Students' real life experiences are legitimized as they become part of the "official" curriculum."
  4. "Teachers and students participate in a broad conception of literacy that incorporates both literature and oratory."
  5. "Teachers and students engage in a collective struggle against the status quo."
  6. "Teachers are cognizant of themselves as political beings." [1]

Characteristics of Culturally Relevant Teachers

  1. Believe all students can achieve
  2. Maintain empathetic caring relationships with students, parents, and the community
  3. Base their design of learning experiences on the cultural identities (e.g. race, gender, socioeconomic background, primary and secondary language in the home, values orientation) of their students.
  4. Believe in shared knowledge between teachers and students and the co-creation of classroom culture.
  5. Help students make connections between community, national, and global identities.
  6. Address pressing social needs of their students as entry points of learning (e.g. what is our community profile and how does it compare to others, what could our community look like if everyone worked together for a common vision, how can you contribute back to your family and society using what you know, etc.)

Cultural Responsiveness in Context

Many methods and theories, such as: Multiculturalism, "multicultural awareness," "cultural appropriateness," and "cultural compatibility," are concerned with tolerance and acceptance of diverse students and the challenges of accessibility to resources and learning opportunities in school. These approaches do not go far enough toward the transformation of society and schooling, according to the proponents of cultural relevance and responsiveness. Culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy goes further in its focus on participatory social action towards social transformation. In contrast to methods that treat culture as a characteristic of "us" versus "them," cultural responsiveness and relevance promotes the idea that society and communities are interdependent and made better when all of us are included in the discussions, solutions, and visioning of the future.

Data on the disproportionate representation of groups in special education [2], and those with language differences [3]for example, are signs that the educational system is "out of balance" and is treating one group as a "them." Cultural responsiveness in teaching, leading the school, and engagement in the community requires taking an active inquiring role in examining these sorts of data and taking action based on the data.

Cultural responsiveness as an educational systems change agenda, calls attention to the needs of all children, especially to lift up, recognize and value those whose culture is NOT the dominant one in "schooling as we know it;" and urges teacher education programs to teach and prepare their student-teachers for working in diverse classrooms. Principals can learn to coach teachers in culturally responsive practices and can access free public resources such as those at LeadScape, developed with support from the U.S. Department of Education, to engage in the needed changes.

A leading scholar in culturally relevant teaching Geneva Gay states, "The validation, information, and pride it generates are both psychologically and intellectually liberating."[4]


When a culturally relevant teacher is confronted with a situation in which his/her students do not understand a text, because the text's information is so completely removed from their own lives and experiences, the teacher would remove the text and using different examples or materials would teach to the student's knowledge base.


  1. ^ a b Ladson-Billings, Gloria (1994). The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. Jossey-Bass Publishing.
  2. ^ Kozleski, E. B. and S. Zion (2006) "Preventing DISPROPORTIONALITY by Strengthening District Policies and Procedures - An Assessment and Strategic Planning Process." National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt) Volume, DOI:
  3. ^ Artiles, A. J. and B. Harry (2006) "Addressing Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Student Overrepresentation in Special Education: Guidelines for Parents." National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt) Volume, DOI:
  4. ^ No author identified. Culturally Responsive Teaching

External links

Coffey, Heather (2008). Culturally Relevant Teaching.[1]

No author identified. Culturally Responsive Teaching.[2]

Similar terms include: Culturally Appropriate; Culturally Congruent; Culturally Responsive; and Culturally Compatible

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