Teaching Q&A

Q&A: What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

By Kaylee Domzalski — November 17, 2021 3 min read
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Mandy Smoker Broaddus is a practice expert in Native education at Education Northwest, which provides education support services to schools, districts, and communities. She’s also a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. Through her work, she provides technical assistance and professional development in schools, tribal colleges, and at the state level. Here, she outlines the importance of culturally responsive teaching for all students. The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

To start out, what is culturally responsive teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching or culturally sustaining teaching is really about what we teach and how we teach diverse populations. It’s a combination of pedagogy, curriculum, actual instructional delivery, but also the attitudes and beliefs I think that we bring to the classroom. And really it’s about a responsibility to know, understand, respect the various backgrounds, cultural heritage, sociopolitical [orientation]—whatever it is students bring to the classroom—and to have an awareness of that and to utilize students’ prior knowledge, which comes from their families and their homes and their communities.

What does this look like in practice?

I think culturally responsive teaching can be most clearly seen in the relationship that teachers have with their students, that they have with the greater community, or [their students’] families and caregivers; and when there’s a lot of communication and dialogue and really inviting in what parents, caregivers, and families know about their children, and also knowing how to use that in a student’s learning life. I think relationships are very central to all of this.

I would also say [culturally responsive teaching] is demonstrated in just the way the classroom looks, how it’s designed, how the environment is; hopefully, it’s one that honors and accommodates all the various learners that are present. I think it’s also demonstrated in how we teach, the instructional strategies that we employ in the classroom, as well as what we teach—how inclusive our every day textbooks, additional materials, and our lesson plans are.

How can Native American issues be incorporated?

For a majority of educators that are either working with American Indian communities and students or teaching about American Indians, the reality is that in their own education, they probably didn’t learn very much. And some of what they might have learned [about the culture] might be incorrect or have stereotypes or misconceptions. I think part of an educator’s role is to really invest in learning more about American Indians and Alaska Natives, in general.

But, then, also if you work within a particular Native community, build relationships with parents, elders, the tribal government to really learn as much as you can from their experiences. Be a good listener and a good partner in all things related to the educational lives of that community’s children.

How can schools start to develop this approach?

Part of what makes working in this space so difficult is that we have so many tribes in the United States, and they’re all very, very different. It’s really important not to think of us as a homogenous group. The efforts of educators really have to be community based. I think the goal should be to become community centered. You can either jump right into that or, in some cases, it’s probably more likely that you’ll need to take certain steps to get there, to build bridges, and to gain the trust of thecommunity.

And it’s really important if you’re going to take that longer path, to recognize, include, and invite parents, families, community leaders, elders. Bring them into committees, to volunteer for things, to really play an active role in the life of the school. But also to be involved in some of those important decisions that go on and impact the overall well-being of a community.

See Also

Tyler Sumpter graduated from the Sapsik’ʷałá master’s program at the University of Oregon in the spring of 2021, and began her teaching career at Quileute Tribal School in La Push, Wash., this fall.
Tyler Sumpter graduated from the Sapsik’ʷałá master’s program at the University of Oregon in the spring of 2021, and began her teaching career at Quileute Tribal School in La Push, Wash., this fall.
Kaylee Domzalski/Education Week

Coverage of equity, culturally responsive teaching, and the Native population is supported in part by a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, at www.mmt.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


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