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Center for Instructional Support

Culturally Responsive Teaching & Leading

Culturally responsive teaching and leading is great teaching and leading. It happens in classrooms, schools, and districts that foster and support students' diverse backgrounds, identities, strengths, and challenges to deepen their learning, build their understanding and respect for other cultures, and address systemic inequities.

The resources on this page define cultural responsiveness, address its importance in our schools and classrooms, include professional development tools supporting culturally responsive teaching and leading, and provide examples of schools engaged in efforts to advance this work.

What is culturally responsive teaching and leading?

Cultural responsiveness is an approach to viewing students' culture and identity (including race, ethnicity, multilingualism, and other characteristics) as assets, and creating learning experiences and environments that value and empower them. As conceived by leading scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings and informed by an evolving body of research, culturally responsive teaching and leading promotes three outcomes supporting student learning:

  • Academic achievement: Educators hold high, transparent expectations for all students, and support the development of students' academic skills and identities as learners.
  • Cultural competence: Educators understand culture's role in education, their students' cultures, and their own identity and biases to 1) affirm students' backgrounds and identities and 2) foster their ability to understand and honor others' cultures.
  • Sociopolitical awareness: Educators and students partner to identify, analyze, and work to solve systemic inequities in their communities and the world.

All students in Massachusetts need and deserve culturally responsive teaching and leading. See the resources below for more information.

Additional Resources

Why is culturally responsive teaching and leading important?

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 to strengthen student learning and achievement.

How can educators work towards culturally responsive teaching and leading?

Educators must do a combination of technical and adaptive work1 to engage in culturally responsive teaching.

  • Technical work includes learning the skills, tools, and language to enact culturally responsive teaching and leading practices. The professional development resources below may support this technical work.
  • Adaptive work includes ongoing learning and self-reflection. For example, educators must be aware of their own biases and how they impact the adults and students in the school community. Further, educators should embrace an asset-based mindset and make an explicit commitment to sustaining the cultural identity of students, families, and communities, while proactively investigating and working to address barriers and challenges students may face.

Resources for Professional Development

1 Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers, 1998; Martin Linsky & Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership on the Line, 2002.

Last Updated: June 8, 2021

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