What is Culturally Responsive Practice?

Culturally responsive practice considers how to engage students in the learning process, both cognitively and emotionally, through an understanding of how their identity and perspective is shaped by their culture and community experiences (Muñiz, 2019). Though culturally responsive practices often focus on aspects of racial identity, they should encompass many different aspects of a person’s identities including native language, gender, and able bodiedness as well as aspects that may be less visible such as mental health and learning disabilities.

Why does it matter?

Culturally responsive practices provide a lens through which educators can identify practices that promote equity and foster a Sense of Belonging for each student. Understanding different cultural frameworks can provide insight into how and where implicit bias shows up in classrooms and curricula and help teachers push back on dominant narratives that have historically and systematically excluded students. Though there are a number of rich approaches to equity in education, culturally responsive practice is unique because it’s learner-centered, whole child approach taps into students’ funds of knowledge and builds cognitive and emotional capacity for productive struggle, supporting them in becoming independent learners.

What do teachers need to know?

School settings can be either a source of adversity or a supportive environment, promoting belonging. Students who report a stronger Sense of Belonging in school typically have greater self-efficacy and academic success. When teachers develop their own cultural awareness, they can establish trusting relationships and design learning environments that incorporate students’ cultural practices which fosters a Sense of Belonging and can mitigate Stereotype Threat and Adverse Experiences. This is the starting point,—the real goal of culturally responsive practice is to cultivate a learner mindset that allows each student to become the driver of their own learning.

How does it intersect with learner variability?

Understanding learner variability helps dispel the myth of an “average learner” and acknowledges that each student has a unique set of strengths and challenges. Recognizing how these affect students differently in various contexts can help teachers forge pathways to provide each student with a more customized learning experience. Even when we apply a culturally responsive lens, students will respond differently and require different supports. Looking at the science behind learner variability helps us understand how learner factors such as Sense of Belonging and Stereotype Threat are connected to cognition, Motivation, and academic content. Being aware of these factors and connections between them empowers teachers to tailor culturally responsive strategies to address the learner variability in their students while creating a supportive environment for them to excel. Similarly, helping students understand their own learner variability is a critical step in cultivating student agency and building a culturally responsive classroom where each student can thrive.

Examples From the Field

These featured resources highlight the intersection of Culturally Responsive Practice and Learner Variability.

Additional resources that you can use to further your knowledge, mindsets, and skills


Go Further With this Topic


Muñiz, J.. Culturally Responsive Teaching: A 50 State Survey of Teaching Standards. (New America)

Hammond, Z. Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin Press. 2014.