Why Is Culturally Responsive Instruction Important?

In Illinois, while only 54% of students are Caucasian, 89% of the teachers are Caucasian (Harris, 2011). In large urban districts like Chicago, the difference is even more pronounced: 90% of the students are students of color and 62% of teachers are Caucasians. For the Record: Teacher Diversity Education programs across the country are now recognizing the importance of cultural competence. These need is reflected in Professional Teaching Standards at both national and state levels. This inclusion can, in part, be attributed to No Child Left Behind legislation, which measures the achievement of various sub-groups. Since culturally responsive teaching pedagogy impacts learning, it benefits all stakeholders to realize the importance of cultural competence. Currently, the majority of states refer to "diverse students" within their Professional Teaching Standards framework.

I. Resources for Professional Educator Standards in Illinois

llinois State Board of Education Professional Educator Standards

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

II. Introducing Culturally Responsive Instruction and Teaching as well as Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

The following video clips are designed to provide a brief introduction to culturally responsive instruction and teaching as well as culturally relevant pedagogy. Before viewing the following videos, please complete the brief anticipation guide. Simply identify the following statements as True or False.

1. Teachers' responsiveness to students' culture has an impact on learning.
2. Cultural responsive pedagogy allows teachers to use students' cultural background in all aspects of instruction.
3. Culturally responsive teaching only benefits students who are not members of the predominant cultures.
4. You cannot be a culturally responsive teacher unless you have already determined your own biases/prejudices.
5. Cultural Responsive Pedagogy requires the school to adapt to the students instead of the students adapting to the school.

"Culturally Responsive Instruction and Teaching Basics by Renae Azziz Ed.S., NCSP"

"Introduction to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

1. Based on the video clips, revisit your anticipation guide. Did any of your responses change? Why or why not?
2. Reflect on your prior exposure to Culturally Response Instruction. Was it addressed in your teacher preparation program? How was it addressed? Was it helpful in your current position? Why or why not?

III. Facing Cultural Competence Dilemmas - WWYD (What Would You Do?)

Research demonstrates that novice teacher turnover is much higher in schools designated as "high needs". These teachers are confronted with a variety of situations that cause them to feel "out of their element". While the brief samples below are based on real examples from schools, it is important to note that there is nothing that can appropriately prepared you for every single situation that may occur. It is the sincere hope of the contributors that the scenarios below will stimulate thought and discussion that encourage courageous conversations that provide understanding of the values of the larger school community in which you serve.

ACTIVITY: Take a few minutes and choose the scenario that fits your current environment (i.e. elementary or high school). Be honest with yourself to respond to the questions following the scenario.


You are teaching in a middle class suburban school district and have a class of 25 first graders, all of whom are reading at grade level. During the first week of school, you receive a transfer student who has never attended school. He is six and does not know his alphabet. As you look at the enrollment papers and address him, he does not respond to his name. After saying his name three times, you finally ask him his name. He tells you that his name is "Man-man", which is obviously a nickname. You sigh, irritated that you have a child that not only cannot read or write but one who doesn't even know his legal name! Two days later, you are approached by his mother at dismissal. She is angry because according to "Man-man", you don't like him.


1. What are two biases present in this scenario?
2. After your initial interaction with the child, what are some things you need to determine immediately for ensure his success?
3. Who are key school staff members who can assist you?


It is your first day teaching sixth grade at an urban elementary school that has a population of which approximately 97% of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. You are the same race as the students, yet your personal socioeconomic status compared to that of your students is vastly different. Your prior teaching experience has been in affluent suburban districts and you are anxious to appear organized and in control. You greet your students and immediately present your classroom rules. You hear colleagues raise their voices to get the students attention, so you do the same. Students begin to yell at each other and several students use profanity. Immediately, you send several students down to the main office with a note stating that they are disruptive to the learning environment.


1. What erroneous assumptions were made in this scenario?
2. How might these actions determine the tone of future student interactions in your classroom?
3. Is it safe to automatically imitate the behavior of your more seasoned colleagues? Why or why not?


You teach an Advanced Placement course at a highly competitive high school. The student population is approximately 8% African American and the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch is less than 25%. As you review your roster for the upcoming year, you notice that approximately three African American students are registered to take your class. Since you are aware of the achievement gap between the Caucasian and African American students in your school, you immediately write out short notes to those students, scheduling a meeting with them after school so that you can offer support. The notes are delivered to the students’ homerooms and to your dismay, none of the students show up for the meeting. When you check with administration, you learn that all three students have requested schedule changes and no longer wish to take your class.


1. What do you think happened?
2. Was there a stereotype that prompted your actions?
3. How do you think your actions were perceived by the students? How do you think your actions were perceived by administration, one of whom is African American?
4. What are some actions you can take to rectify this situation?

All three scenarios are examples of what can go wrong when culturally responsive teaching is not taking place. While the actions were not malicious, the teacher’s lack of cultural competence in that particular situation, created a barrier that had a negative impact on the teacher’s ability to share the content with students. There are numerous formal definitions of cultural competence, but for the sake of the activities on this website, it refers to an individual’s knowledge of and respect for cultures and traditions difference from his/her own. This applies not only to the cultures and traditions of the students served, but also those of colleagues, volunteers, community members and administrators within a particular school community.