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What Is a Culturally Responsive Learning Environment?

In the last decade, U.S. schools have experienced a rapid increase in ethnic and racial diversity. According to the Pew Research Center’s findings, more ethnic and racial diversity exists in America today than in years past, and the U.S. is projected to become even more diverse in the future, with no single race or ethnic group holding a majority by 2055. Immigration is largely responsible for this change. The country’s foreign-born population has nearly tripled from a mere 5 percent of the total in 1965 to 14 percent today.

Given America’s increasingly diverse makeup, a culturally responsive learning environment is not only inclusive but also essential.

Being culturally responsive consists of using cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and frames of reference as well as understanding diverse students’ learning styles to make learning more effective and relevant. A cultural separation between teacher and student can lead to poor self-concept, discipline problems and poor academic outcomes for diverse students.

A culturally responsive learning environment offers the following benefits to students:

  • Reduced behavioral problems.
  • Stronger bonds with their teachers and the school.
  • Enhanced learning.
  • Increased self-esteem.

How to Promote Culturally Responsive Learning

Educators can choose from the following approaches:

Learn to recognize and make room for similarities and differences among students, eagerly acknowledging and viewing individual and cultural differences in a positive manner. This positive identification can be a basis for productive communication and tailored teaching strategies. The teacher can model and reinforce social skills, including respect for others and cross-cultural sensitivity.

To encourage social interaction, correlate classroom teaching to cultural norms. Create assignments that require group interaction to develop the social skills and problem-solving abilities of students.

When asking questions or giving directions, factor in different wait times for a diverse group. A teacher who moves on to the next lesson too quickly may falsely assume, based on a lack of responses, that certain groups of students do not understand the lesson or are unresponsive.

Learn to be sensitive to the cultural acclimation required of immigrant students. Realize that minority students with differing family and community cultures must constantly adapt as they transition back and forth between school and home. Acknowledge that mental transitions may be hardest when the school week starts, after students have spent the weekend at home.

Assist parents in developing the skills to understand and work with the educational system in the United States. Without this information, many minority parents may not feel capable of negotiating the system on behalf of their children. Teachers can help by choosing one-on-one conversations with minority parents over written or digital communications.

Embracing the strengths and acknowledging the varied needs of our increasingly multicultural, multilingual population of learners requires a major shift in our current school practices. The culturally responsive teaching practices outlined above can help establish a learning environment that sets all students up for success.

A master’s degree in educational leadership can provide you with the knowledge and skills you will need to create and foster culturally responsive learning environments. It is considered an essential credential for leadership roles in schools. Equipped with an M.Ed. degree, you can apply for the position of principal or assistant principal in private and public schools.

Learn more about LSU Shreveport’s M.Ed. in Educational Leadership online.


Pew Research Center: 10 Demographic Trends That Are Shaping the U.S. and the World

ASCD: Research Matters / Creating Culturally Responsive Schools

TeacherVision: Strategies for Teaching Culturally Diverse Students

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