In the News: A Guide for Teachers to Understand Their Students’ Cultures

[April 6, 2017] Educators are constantly challenged to examine their own cultural beliefs, values and biases. Learning about other cultures, and those of your students, should be part of that process.

Here is a six-step quick guide to exploring and respecting the cultural backgrounds of your students, as written by Matthew Lynch of

1. Gather a wide base of knowledge about other cultures. This is one of the most critical steps that you as a teacher must take to educate students in a culturally responsive way.

2. Don’t just limit yourself to book learning. There is something to be said for genuine interaction and discourse with members of students’ cultures.

3. Use your knowledge to understand your students better. Yes, it’s true that book knowledge about diverse cultural groups can come in handy when you’re designing lesson plans and educational materials. But taking it one step further, you can often interpret your students’ attitudes and behaviors a lot better if you know more about the cultures t which they belong.

Traditional teaching environments force students from those and other groups to modify their thought and behavior patterns to fit standard European-American norms or else face academic and behavioral consequences. However, in a culturally responsive classroom, the onus is instead placed on the instructor to learn about and adapt to the cultural intricacies of the students that they teach.

4. Avoid stereotyping. This is a big problem that often occurs when you are beginning to learn about other cultures.

To avoid this, engage in a rigorous examination of the general cultural practices of your students. This is the beginning of the personal dimension of culturally responsive pedagogy: learning about the specifics of students’ cultural backgrounds and how those cultural patterns and beliefs can be most positively expressed in a real classroom setting.

And how can you do this, exactly? Read the next step.

5. View each student’s culture as a dynamic and individualized concept. Remember this: a person’s culture represents the sum of many spheres of influence, including context within history, gender, age, religion, family relationships, group memberships, cultural beliefs and practices, historical context and level of education. Therefore, to avoid stereotyping, the educator must view each student as possessing a personalized culture instead of as a member of a homogenous group.

6. Finally, use classroom assignments as a primary window into your students’ beliefs. Writing assignments can play a significant role in gathering information about student thought patterns and tendencies. Interviews with family members, assignments asking students to write about learning experiences that occur outside of school and assignments involving family stories and traditions all can play a significant role in discovering information about a student’s cultural heritage. Students’ parents can often be solicited as sources of useful personal information and visiting the neighborhoods where diverse students live can help give educators an idea about the level of social support present and the types of challenges student might face outside of the classroom.

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