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Culturally responsive pedagogy

Culturally responsive pedagogy is a teaching principle that calls for teachers to respond to the cultures that are represented in their classrooms. This sense of cultural responsiveness is both a theoretical framework that guides teachers in their daily decision-making processes, as well as a pedagogical approach that teachers need to commit to integrate into the different learning areas and segments of teaching and learning (Rychly & Graves, 2012). Culturally responsive pedagogy is a student-centered mindset that honors students’ cultural backgrounds (Samuels, 2018). Culturally competent teachers take note of teaching styles and classroom practices that cater to the diverse cultural groups represented in their classrooms (Partnership for Public Education, 2017), and by doing so, they affirm their students’ value and promote student success, both in the classroom and outside the classroom.

Teacher characteristics

Culturally responsive pedagogy is imperative in today’s multicultural, multilingual and highly diverse classrooms around the world.  How does this translate into the classroom?  What does it look like, sound like and feel like? What roles do teachers play in making this a daily reality?

Rychly and Graves (2012) list four essential teacher characteristics that are necessary for culturally responsive teaching. These are: 

  • Caring and empathetic

Caring and empathetic teachers demonstrate awareness, appreciation and knowledge of diverse cultures.  Because they place value on each culture, they hold high expectations for every student and find ways to help each one reach their full potential.  

  • Reflective about their beliefs regarding people from other cultures

Reflective practice is a necessary element in becoming culturally competent educators. Setting aside time and opportunity to get to know your students, their cultural backgrounds and their unique qualities not only builds community, but it also helps increase student motivation in learning. 

  • Reflective about their own beliefs and able to articulate their personal worldview

Teachers who take time to reflect on their values and cultural experiences and understand how their own cultural beliefs impact their teaching will be more successful and effective in employing culturally responsive pedagogies. 

  • Knowledgeable about other cultures

Having substantial background knowledge about other cultures brings about a broader perspective and deeper understanding to help teachers engage with their students in meaningful and relevant ways.

Culturally responsive instructional practices enhance student engagement and enrichment, and promotes success for all students by tapping into students’ wealth of experiences and cultural strengths (Villegas & Lucas, 2007 as cited in Samuels, 2018). “Educators who acknowledge and understand cultural differences are better suited to promote parent and family engagement” (Partnership for Public Education, 2017, p. 2). 

Figure 1: Image from

From Involvement to Engagement

Schools and families both aspire for stable and consistent home-school connections. When schools and families come together in a partnership, it leads to positive student outcomes, considerable gains in academic achievement among students (Baker, Wise, Kelly and Skiba, 2016), decrease in behavioral problems (Weingarten, Zumeta Edmonds & Arden, 2020) and better communication between parents and teachers.

Parent involvement and parent engagement, although similar in many ways, differ in that parent engagement seeks to move beyond the traditional ways that parents participate in their child’s education. Parent involvement typically involves being physically present in school activities, such as attendance in parent-teacher conferences and joining school-sponsored activities. On the other hand, parent engagement is about inviting parents to be equal partners with the school by listening to what parents are saying, establishing a community of trust and respect, and having high-quality teacher-parent interactions (Baker et al., 2016). Using a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS), Weingarten, Zumeta Edmonds and Arden (2020) highlight multidirectional communication as a key element in having successful relationships between the schools and families. Multidirectional communication means that there is always a flow of relevant information between the school and families throughout the year.  Important information is shared in a timely manner, and parents are given ample time and opportunity to respond or give feedback.

Featured Digital Tool: EPIC

EPIC (EPIC, https://www.getepic.com/) is a digital library that offers over 40,000 books, audiobooks and learning videos to our youngest learners up to students 12 years old. Other than English, EPIC also offers books in Spanish, Chinese and French. Teachers can create personalized libraries or collections of books to cater to students’ individual learning needs and reading levels.


  • EPIC is a tool that can be used by students both at school and at home and using multiple devices.  There are different ways that students can read on EPIC. Students can simply read a book, just like they would read a book that is in their hands.  Students can also use the Read-to-me feature, where they listen to the book being read to them while tracking the words on the page. A third way for students to read books is by listening to audiobooks. EPIC books can also be downloaded so your child can enjoy reading while offline. 
  • EPIC for Parents: EPIC has a Parent Dashboard for their child’s account. Parents can use this to participate in their child’s reading journey. Using the dashboard, parents can access the books that their kids have read at school, while monitoring how many books their child reads and how much time they spend on reading. Parents can also keep track of the genre of books that their child chooses to read and get weekly updates. This is useful for seeing patterns in reading and identifying books that are of high interest to their child. Parents can also personalize their child’s library by filtering out specific books or content. 
  • EPIC for Educators:  Teachers can personalize collections of books and assign them to a single student, a group of students and the whole class. Teachers can choose books by genre, by topic or by reading level. I can easily connect a book on EPIC and link it in SEESAW, which is a classroom app that we use with our students to assign work.


  • The free version of EPIC is only available during the school day.  There is a paid version that parents can avail of, which allows their child to access EPIC all day everyday.
  • Students are not able to create libraries on their own.  Teachers create the libraries and then share them with their students.
  • Students are not able to give reviews or any feedback about the books that they read. It would be great to have such a feature added. 


Baker, T. L., Wise, J., Kelly, G. & Skiba, R. J. (2016). Identifying barriers: Creating solutions to improve family engagement. School Community Journal, 26(2), 161-184.

Karatas, K. (2020). Contributions of culturally responsive elementary school teachers in the education process, Excellence in Education Journal, 9(1), 97-120. 

Partnership for Public Education. (2017). Promoting Culturally Competent Teaching. https://www.cei.udel.edu/ppe/Documents/Briefs/Promoting%20Culturally%20Competent%20Teaching.pdf

Rychly, L. & Graves, E. (2012) Teacher Characteristics for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Multicultural Perspectives, 14(1), 44-49, DOI: 10.1080/15210960.2012.646853

Samuels, A. J. (2018). Exploring culturally responsive pedagogy: Teachers’ perspectives on fostering equitable and inclusive classrooms. SRATE Journal, 27(1), 22-30.

Weingarten, Z., Zumeta Edmonds, R. & Arden, S. (2020). Better together: Using MTSS as a structure for building school–family partnerships. Teaching Exceptional Children, 53(2), 122-130.

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  1. Thank you for this post Chelly. The part that struck home for me was when you said teacher should be “Reflective about their own beliefs and able to articulate their personal worldview”. This is something that I am continually trying to work on and your post serves as a wonderful reminder. I also really like how you defined the difference between parent involvement and engagement. My question is, as we invite parents to engage, how do we make sure that they accept the invitation?

  2. It is an excellent post! I am impressed with the statement saying from involvement to engagement. Parents’ engagement plays a pivotal role in their child’s education, it is challenging though to shift involvement to engagement. Therefore, I agree that multidirectional communication is a must to succeed the relationships between the schools and families. Thanks for sharing!

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