Culturally, Socially, and Personally Responsive Teaching

In many successful elementary, middle, and high schools, NCUST has observed examples of teachers using their cultural knowledge of their students “as a scaffold to connect” their students’ knowledge, background, and experiences with the challenging content they wanted all their students to learn. Similarly, NCUST has observed teachers using their knowledge of students’ personal and social situations to achieve the same goal. Thus, we label the practice we observed as “culturally, socially, and personally responsive teaching. The attached tool will illustrate excellent resources you can use to add to your library collection.  

From Research to Practice

Culturally Relevant Books is a compilation of books by award winning authors who represent the rich culture and diversity of Black students. These books can serve as touchstone texts which can be used for multiple purposes to build a positive transformational culture where all students feel included, valued and appreciated for their inherent worth and brilliance.


Culture matters. Hammond (2015) explained, “Culture, it turns out, is the way that every brain makes sense of the world… The brain uses cultural information to turn everyday happenings into meaningful events” (p. 22). Lessons are never culturally neutral. Lessons can be structured in ways that make it easier or more difficult for students to make sense of concepts.”

Hammond (2015) defined culturally responsive teaching as: an educator’s ability to recognize students’ cultural displays of learning and meaning making and respond positively and constructively with teaching moves that use cultural knowledge as a scaffold to connect what the student knows to new concepts and content in order to promote effective information processing. All the while, the educator understands the importance of being in a relationship and having a social-emotional connection to the student in order to create a safe place for learning. (p. 15). In Hammond’s definition, through culturally, socially, and personally responsive teaching, educators deepen their students’ clarity about important concepts. As well, they enhance the focus on understanding and mastery and reinforce powerful messages about the extent to which their students are valued and capable.

Similarly, Ginsberg and Wlodkowski (2000) explained, “Because the socialization of emotions is influenced by cultural experiences, the motivational response a student has to a learning activity reflects this influence and its associated complexity” (p. 43). 

Researchers have determined that teachers who utilize culturally responsive teaching practices are more likely to help their students succeed academically. For example, Howard (2001) and Ladson-Billings (2009) examined the pedagogical practices of highly effective elementary teachers who taught African American students in urban settings. The teachers consistently used culturally responsive pedagogy, designing lessons featuring challenging academic concepts in ways that were relevant to, sensitive to, and responsive to the cultural differences of students.

Gay (2010) described four aspects of culturally responsive teaching: caring, communication, curriculum, and instruction and argued that underachieving students from various racial/ethnic groups would achieve much more if teachers taught to and through their students’ personal and cultural strengths, prior accomplishments, and experiences. Delpit (2005) and Gay (2010) described the importance of teachers’ knowing the cultures of the students they serve, so that they might provide more effective instruction. Many teachers in high- performing urban schools made deliberate efforts to learn about their students and their students’ families. By learning about their students’ traditions, values, language patterns, interests, pastimes, routines, and aspirations, teachers learned what their students were most eager to read, what their students loved to eat, what their students would stay up late to play on their technological devices or watch on television. Teachers learned what piqued the interest of their students and they developed, designed, or modified lessons accordingly.

Teaching Practices from Americas Best Urban Schools

Authors of Teaching Practices From America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. Perez, 2019 pgs. 39-47) write, “At high-performing urban schools, teachers begin with the assumption that all of their students can learn challenging academic concepts if they find ways to present information that respond to their students’ cultural, social, and personal strengths, interests, and needs. Working with their colleagues, teachers strive to prepare lessons that will build connections between their students and the standards they want their students to learn. We observed teachers in high-performing urban schools developing and teaching lessons designed to respond to their students’ cultural backgrounds. In addition to broadening the curriculum (what is taught) to encompass information students would perceive as culturally relevant, teachers also adapted instruction (how they taught) so that they better responded to the cultural strengths and interests of their students.”

Authors of When Black Students Excel (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Stanley J. Munro, Jr., 2023 pgs. 11-13) write “To build bridges of understanding, educators at the six featured NCUST award winning schools taught in ways that exemplified culturally responsive teaching. Culturally responsive teaching includes aspects related to caring, communication, curriculum, and instruction (Gay, 2010). When we care about students, we seek to know and understand their backgrounds, interests, concerns, strengths, and needs. Delpit (2005) emphasized the importance of teachers knowing the cultures of the students they serve, so they might provide more effective instruction. Gay (2010) argued that students would achieve much more if educators taught to and through their students’ personal and cultural strengths, prior accomplishments, and experiences. Teachers who utilize culturally responsive teaching recognize that their students are more likely to develop deep understandings of concepts if they see how the concepts connect to their lives, experiences, background, and culture.”

Leadership in America's Best Urban Schools

Authors of Leadership Practices in America’s Best Urban Schools (Johnson, Joseph F., Jr.; Cynthia L. Uline; Lynne G. write As teachers in our award winning schools pursued challenging academic objectives, they planned and delivered lessons that resonated with their students. Students were more likely to understand and master lesson objectives because they saw connections between the lesson content and their interests, backgrounds, cultures, and prior knowledge. Students were less likely to perceive new concepts as foreign and more likely to believe that they had the capacity to master new objectives. Gay (2010) described this type of teaching as culturally responsive pedagogy. Teachers provided instruction that was responsive to, and reflective of, the cultures and backgrounds of the students served. Such culturally responsive/relevant teaching practice “hones and develops the knowledge and skills each student already possesses, while at the same time adding new knowledge and skills to that base” (Delpit, 1995, p. 67). Teachers who employ culturally responsive teaching strategies build strong connections with each of their students (Ladson- Billings, 1994). As teachers endeavor to inspire their students, listen actively to their contributions, understand their difficulties, and expect them to always do their best, these relationships flourish (Kunjufu, 2002).”

Concourse Village Elementary School
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