Why is Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching Important?

Kathryn Starke
Kathryn Starke
Professional development expert and National Urban Literacy Consultant; M.A. in Literacy and Culture
A diverse group of young students works on a geography project at a table in a school library.

What is Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching?

Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching is an emphasis and awareness on providing instruction to support the developmental learning process of children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching focuses on recognizing and understanding key aspects of each student in the classroom such as:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Culture
  • Sexual orientation
  • Social class

What is Linguistically Responsive Teaching?

Linguistically responsive teaching focuses more on a student’s:

  • First language
  • Native language
  • Home language

The framework of responsive teaching, and open education, allows educators to use a culturally aware, non-bias lens to help create a welcoming learning environment that is fair, equitable, supportive, engaging, and motivational for every child in the classroom and the school.

When schools celebrate each child’s story and background and promote respect for each child’s cultural background and differences, communication and collaboration increases. This model positively enhances the teaching and learning experience for everyone.

Why is Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching Important?

This instructional practice recognizes that a bias currently exists in the educational system and needs to be addressed to successfully level the playing field for all children.

When educators understand that each child comes to the table with their background knowledge, their own story, their own culture, and sometimes their language, lessons can be planned implemented that motivate and reach all students rather than just a few students. The implementation of high expectations and rigor should be put in place for all students to have the opportunity to achieve academic success.

A classroom should be a safe space that encourages and supports the potential of every student. A child’s zip code should never determine the type of education they receive in school. It is so crucial that every child feels heard, valued, and validated in school.

Each child should be allowed to educate their peers and teachers as well; culturally and linguistically responsive teaching allows all of this to happen, which in turn, allows all students to thrive. 

How can Teachers Help Foster Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching?

Culturally Responsive Projects

Teachers can help foster culturally and linguistically responsive teaching from the first day of school by encouraging children to get to know each other. Celebrate student names and study the origin and meaning, talk about family traditions, and ask students to teach their class about their ancestry or heritage in a creative way.

Some examples include sharing a recipe, teaching a dance, or singing a song representing a particular culture or ethnicity. All classroom teachers can provide a high quality, culturally responsive experience for all students. Schools provide certified teachers for students who qualify as English Language Learners; this is a specific example of linguistically responsive teaching.

Diversified Literature

Children’s literature is an effective way to foster culturally and linguistically responsive teaching. A strategically created diverse children’s book collection should represent every age, gender, religion, ethnicity, social orientation, and culture of the students in the classroom. In this manner, students see themselves in text, but they are also seeing their classmates, peers, and neighbors represented.

Children’s books can also be used to teach real-world issues and global awareness. Many textbooks and digital platforms have been more recently developed and published around the basic principle of incorporating diverse text and real-world issues. Social studies units and history lessons from kindergarten to twelfth grade allow teachers and students to incorporate culturally responsive teachings to truly understand a specific individual, event, historical period, or era in history.

Empathy and Understanding

These lessons can help us make learning more relevant and be powerful teachable moments for current events. Critical race theory is a current buzzword that is being used in the American public school system to analyze the role of race in society.

This should not be confused with culturally responsive teaching, which emphasizes the importance of understanding how to support all students in diverse populations by identifying each child’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Teachers can use this information to help every student, despite their background, achieve their full potential.

How can Administrators Support Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching?

Administrators determine the culture and climate of a school. They can instantly and easily create a community that celebrates and supports the families in their school by highlighting the cultures and languages of the families enrolled in their school community through themed nights, presentations, and assemblies.

Host Diverse Speakers and Events

Inviting guest speakers into the building for community learning events or a monthly “parent university” will help support culturally and linguistically responsive teaching. Inviting translators to the school during parent-teacher conferences, meetings, or events and translating newsletters to support the languages represented in the school are also powerful examples of this. Another example is implementing faculty book clubs on the topic to increase honest communication and discussion.

Ongoing Professional Development

Administrators can consider adding ongoing professional development to support diversity, equity, and inclusivity. This is another easy way for administrators to support the growth of their faculty and staff in this area. A district-wide academic calendar that reflects the cultural and religious holidays and beliefs of all the families in the community can really make an impact.

Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Curriculum

Finally, administrators at the central office level can collaborate to create a curriculum that supports culturally and linguistically responsive teaching across grade levels K-12 within the community. When schools and districts consider culturally and linguistically responsive teaching, all students benefit and excel.

Interested in widening your scope and contribution to culturally and linguistically responsive teaching? Check out our available dual language and reading/literacy graduate programs and take your next step today!

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