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Center for Instructional Support

Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Schools and Classrooms

Across Massachusetts, our students are becoming increasingly diverse. Our education system is steeped in norms, traditions, and a lens that too often do not reflect and may not be supportive of this diversity. All students, families, and communities should have access to schools that are inclusive of, responsive to, and reflective of their cultural backgrounds.

The resources on this page define cultural responsiveness, addresses its importance in our schools and classrooms, and provides examples of schools engaged in efforts to advance this work.

It is critical to recognize that, regardless of the terminology used, the goal of this work is for educators to have the knowledge and capacity to serve all students well. In order to be highly effective, educators must develop an authentic understanding of the students and adults in their school communities, ensure that their students' experiences in school are affirming of who they are and what they bring to the school community, and unpack how their own culture impacts their worldview and approach.

What Is Cultural Responsiveness?

Cultural responsiveness is an approach to viewing culture and identity as assets, including students' race, ethnicity, or linguistic assets, among other characteristics. Zaretta Hammond, a leading scholar on cultural responsiveness, explains that it is "a way to use culture to build trust and relationships with students as well as develop the cognitive scaffolding that builds on the broader knowledge students already have so that they can become competent, independent learners."1 We know from the research and from students and families that when educators are responsive to students' cultures and identities, students will have stronger relationships with educators, better learning experiences, and better outcomes.2 It is important to note that, while relationship building is necessary for cultural responsiveness, the ultimate goal is increasing student achievement.

Cultural responsiveness is essential for all students in the classroom, regardless of their background, culture, or identity. Educators should promote a school and classroom environment that is not only respectful of all cultures, but one that leverages student culture to improve and deepen learning. As Gloria Ladson-Billings explains, "A next step for positing effective pedagogical practice is a theoretical model that not only addresses student achievement but also helps students to accept and affirm their cultural identity while developing critical perspectives that challenge inequities that schools (and other institutions) perpetuate." In order to do this, educators must be aware of bias and how it impacts the adults and students in the school community. Further, they should embrace asset-based practices that make an explicit commitment to sustaining the cultural identity of students, families, and communities, while proactively investigating barriers and challenges they face. For more information, see our full definition for Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Schools and Classrooms, and read examples of this work at schools in the Commonwealth below.


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Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Schools and Classrooms Definition
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Culturally Responsive Reusable Learning Object (RLO)

Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Schools and Classrooms Profile Series

This series of profiles highlights programs, schools, and districts that are leading efforts in Massachusetts to establish Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Schools and Classrooms.

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Cambridge Public School District
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Putnam Avenue Upper School
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Cambridge Street Upper School
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Holyoke Public Schools — Holyoke High School Programming

1 Zaretta Hammond, What the Experts are Saying Download PDF Document

2 Hammond and Jackson, 2015; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Ferguson, et al, 2008. Download PDF Document

Last Updated: October 9, 2020

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