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Ask Dr. Lynch: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is an associate professor of education at Langston University. Dr. Lynch provides expert advice on everything from classroom management to differentiated instruction. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Beverly C. asks:

I am a veteran educator who has been teaching for over 30 years. Yesterday, my principal observed one of my classes and at the end of the school day, she told me that I should incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy into my lessons. I have heard of culturally responsive pedagogy, but I don't exactly know what it entails or how to incorporate it into my lessons. Can you help?

ANSWER:

Beverly, I know that change can be a difficult thing to embrace, but if you incorporate this teaching method into your lessons, your students will definitely benefit. Culturally responsive pedagogy is a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world.  Culturally responsive pedagogy is divided into three functional dimensions: the institutional dimension, the personal dimension and the instructional dimension. 

The institutional dimension of culturally responsive pedagogy emphasizes the need for reform of the cultural factors affecting the organization of schools, school policies and procedures (including allocation of funds and resources) and community involvement. The personal dimension refers to the process by which teachers learn to become culturally responsive. The instructional dimension refers to practices and challenges associated with implementing cultural responsiveness in the classroom. 

Given that a majority of teachers hail from a middle-class, European-American background, the biggest obstacle to successful culturally responsive instruction for most educators is disposing of their own cultural biases and learning about the backgrounds of the students that they will be teaching. The processes necessary for preparing to teach in a culturally responsive classroom can be broken down into three general categories: exploring one’s own culture, learning about other cultures and learning about students’ cultures.

Before seeking out knowledge about the cultures of the diverse students that they will be teaching, educators must first investigate their own heritage, upbringing, and potential cultural and racial biases. A common side effect of being raised in the dominant European-American culture is the self-perception that “I’m an American; I don’t have a culture.”

Of course this is view is thoroughly inaccurate; European-American culture simply dominates social and behavioral norms and policies to such an extent that those who grow up immersed in it can be entirely unaware of the realities of other cultures. A related misconception that many teachers labor under is that they act in a race-blind fashion; however, most teachers greatly overestimate their knowledge about other cultures, which manifests itself in a lack of cultural sensitivity in classroom management and pedagogical techniques. 

Fortunately, initial cultural biases can be overcome via hard work and reflection. The necessary element for discarding pre-existing biases is a willingness to go through a process of rigorous self-appraisal in order to learn what needs to be changed to teach in a culturally responsive fashion. A good way to start this process is by writing down reflections about family history, upbringing, and interpersonal relationship styles and then comparing how one’s experience may differ from the experience of a person raised in a different culture.

Eventually, the focus of this reflection must turn toward one’s ideas about racism and bias. The culturally responsive educator should reflect on the fears, stereotypes and biases they have about individuals who are different from them. Once the educator can recognize that his/her own personal tastes are not objectively better than those favored by other cultures, s/he can begin to investigate and appreciate the traditions and values of those cultures.

In this column, I have provided you with strategies and techniques that you can use to become a culturally responsive educator. Contrary to popular belief, you can teach a veteran educator new tricks. Beverly, if you use culturally responsive pedagogy in your classroom, not only will your students achieve more academically, but you also will gain a valuable skill. Good luck to you, and thank you for your years of service as an educator.

 

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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