Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain

The first key area of culturally responsive teaching is increasing our own awareness of how deep culture is encoded in the brain. One’s culture programs the brain to process data and affects learning relationships.

It simply means a research-based approach to teaching using the student’s customs, characteristics, experiences, and perspectives as tools for better classroom instruction.

According to Sharroky Hollie, the director of the nonprofit Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning, it’s not just about thinking of ways to validate and incorporate a student’s racial background into the classroom. It’s not about thinking of students in a one-dimensional, stereotypical way. 

Culturally responsive teachers must also consider the student’s gender, age, socio-economic status, whether they live in the suburbs or a rural area, and more.

It can also be said to be a kind of teaching that helps students to color see themselves and their communities as belonging in schools and other academic spaces, leading to more engagement and success.

Two of the biggest challenges teachers struggle with when first embracing CRT, are understanding the role culture actually plays in instruction and how to operationalize culturally responsive practices. 

They worry that they have to learn 19 different cultures — everyone’s individual customs, holidays, foods, and language which is not true.

Our brains are wired to make connections and it’s easier for them to learn and store information when we have a hook to hang it on. That hook is background knowledge and culture is the cognitive scaffold.

In this article, we will give you ideas and essential components of culturally responsive teaching.

5 Ideas About Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain

1. Firstly, culturally responsive teaching isn’t a program or set of is a mindset. That means it’s equally important to do the ongoing “inside-out” work to build your social-emotional capacity to work across social, linguistic, racial, and/or economic differences with students and their families.

2.  In culturally responsive teaching, teachers are often confused about how culture plays a role. They need to recognise the cultural orientation that is called “collectivism” They think they have to mention race, ethnicity, or cultural artefacts like ethnic food, music, or literature differently for every different group.

Meanwhile,  a key starting point to making cultural responsiveness manageable is to organize instructional activities around collectivist cultural principles — group harmony and interdependence. 

3. The first thing you should know is that culturally responsive teaching is never the same as social justice education. Most times people also use multicultural education for culturally responsive teaching even when they are clearly different.

They may be similar but culturally responsive teaching is not about diversity training rather it focuses on building the students’ brains.

4. Culturally responsive teaching is grounded in social and cognitive neuroscience. Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions.

They remind us that if a student doesn’t feel heard or seen, then it leads to increased stress which will impair the brain’s function. To be able to create a conducive environment for students, stress hormones should be lowered.

Must Read : Why Multicultural Education Is Crucial In Our Diverse World

When Did Culturally Responsive Teaching Start?

Culturally relevant teaching was made popular by Dr Gloria Ladson-Billings in the early 1990s. The term she created was defined as one “that empowers students to maintain cultural integrity while succeeding academically”. 

Ladson-Billings was tired of the commonly held narrative that Black children were deficient and deviant, and that there was something wrong with them.

Instead, she wanted to find out what was right with Black children, their families, and their communities. To do so, she researched the practices of effective teachers of Black students.

For about two years, Ladson-Billings observed teachers who were identified by both principals and Black parents as being excellent.

The teachers had different ways of teaching, but they all had high expectations for their students and fostered academic success.

Components Of Culturally Responsive Teaching

Gay’s research shows five essential components of culturally responsive teaching: 

1. Teachers need to include multiple perspective in their directives and contextualize issues with gender, ethnicity and, class 

2.  Reconsider your classroom setup. 

Take inventory of the books in your classroom library: Do they include authors of diverse races? Is the LGBTQ community represented? Do the books include urban families or only suburban families? Beyond your classroom library, consider the posters you display on your walls and your bulletin boards, too. 

In order to build a safe environment where students can take risks in their learning and engage in self-and peer assessment, we have to genuinely care so deeply for their success, accepting nothing less than high achievement and holding them accountable to reaching their goals.

“These are all small changes you can make to make your classroom more culturally responsive,” Childers-McKee says.

3. High expectations for all students. Teachers should help students achieve academic success while still validating their cultural identities.

4. Having a good knowledge of cultural diversity is very important for teachers, they should be able to identify various racial and ethnic groups, and traditions, and incorporate that knowledge into their instruction.

5. An appreciation for different communication styles. Teachers should understand different communication styles and modify classroom interactions accordingly.

For example, many communities of color have an active, participatory style of communication. A teacher who doesn’t understand this cultural context might think a student is being rude and tell the student to be quiet

6. Reflecting on students’ individual strengths by using an asset-based approach to learning, you can determine how to use students’ interests, skills, and responsibilities from outside the classroom to guide classroom instruction. 

Students’ cultural experiences, knowledge, and languages can be significant assets in the classroom, creating rich learning experiences for culturally diverse students and their peers.

Frequently Asked Questions 

1.  What is the connection between culturally responsive teaching and the brain?

Culturally responsive teaching builds students’ brain power by Improving information processing skills using cultural learning tools.

2. Who created culturally responsive teaching?

Gloria Ladson-Billings

3. Why is it important to be a culturally responsive teacher?

It helps teachers and students understand different perspectives, appreciate each other’s strengths, and build empathy.


Culturally responsive teaching enables students to be better human beings and more successful learners.

Also, culturally relevant teachers need to use strategies that facilitate learning more often.

Schools that provide culturally relevant and responsive instruction report higher levels of community engagement and academic achievement.

 We hope you enjoyed this article.

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