Search form

Ask Dr. Lynch: Culturally Responsive Classroom Management

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 Kristin G. asks:

I am a teacher in a culturally diverse elementary school in New York City. How can I create a culturally responsive environment for my students? What does classroom management look like in a culturally diverse environment?


Kristen, thank you for your question. I applaud your efforts to create a culturally responsive environment for your students. To begin, consideration of classroom management techniques is critical when building a culturally responsive learning environment. It is imperative that the instructor have a good grasp of culturally dependent interpersonal behaviors. Otherwise, it is possible that behaviors that are considered normal within the scope of a student’s culture will be misinterpreted as a behavioral problem or learning disability.

In general, it is likely that conflicts between teacher and students will arise if the teacher has not educated him- or herself about cultures and accompanying behavior patterns.

For instance, many Asian children are taught by their community that it is a sign of disrespect to look an adult in the eyes. On the other hand, in the European American community, it is considered a sign of disrespect if one doesn’t look the speaker in the eyes. If a teacher is not sensitive to such nuanced cultural differences, s/he may interpret a sign of respect in entirely the wrong way.

To further illustrate, consider the standard style of discourse in a European American classroom. Students are expected to sit quietly in rows of desks and absorb information that their teacher chooses to share with them. If a student wishes to participate, he is required to indicate this by raising his hand and waiting patiently until given permission to communicate. 

On the other hand, in the African American culture, interaction is more assertive and straightforward. If an African American student blurts out the answer to a question without permission, a teacher in a traditional classroom would be likely to mistake profound interest in the material for deleterious rule-breaking. If the teacher quashes such culturally normal behavior, it serves to inform the student that her style of discourse is “wrong,” while the instructor’s style of discourse is “right.”

Instead of engaging in authoritarian classroom management techniques, an instructor in a culturally responsive classroom creates a caring, nurturing bond with students. In this environment, students think twice about jeopardizing their relationship with the instructor by making poor behavioral decisions. Potential methods for building rapport with students include spending time on connectedness-building games over the first few weeks of class, starting up conversations with students outside of class, and starting the class in a welcoming manner, despite whatever behavioral problems may have occurred during the last meeting of the class. This kind of amicable partnership between student and teacher tends to foster an optimal learning environment.

A key principle of culturally responsive classroom management is explicit instruction about rules, delivered in a caring way. If students fail to adhere to a rule, contact is initiated in a caring fashion. The instructor should consider that children do things for a reason and that it is the instructor’s job to determine the reason. Is it due to a culture clash? Is it a reaction to a perceived power differential or social injustice? If so, the rule itself may need to be revisited.

Creating a culturally responsive classroom can be challenging, but the results are well worth the effort. If you use the strategies that I have outlined in this column, you’ll be on your way to a well-managed, culturally responsive classroom.


Related resources

Join the Discussion on Bullying
EdWorld School Climate Page
EdWorld Bullying Prevention Resources Page


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.

Education World®    
Copyright © 2012 Education World