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Public education has always struggled to meet the needs of all learners, and what is most troubling is that the historic inequities in educational opportunities and outcomes have consistently fallen along lines of socioeconomic status identity including race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, and cultural background. One response designed to address these inequities is the adoption of asset-based pedagogies.  Multicultural education, culturally relevant education, and culturally responsive teaching practices forefront student culture in the development of curriculum and the delivery of instruction. Culturally responsive educators view students’ cultural differences as assets in the learning process. Research suggests that when teachers are well-equipped to foster inclusive and equitable classrooms, students from marginalized backgrounds show higher rates of academic achievement, motivation, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. 

While the ideas underlying culturally responsive teaching have been around for decades, there has been a renewed push to develop teachers’ in this area. Virginia’s new licensure requirements around cultural competency are one example of this. 

But, what does it mean to develop as a culturally responsive educator?  And what are the professional development activities that get you there?  

This webpage is designed as a resource for educators that are interested in learning more about culturally responsive teaching. The content of this page is a result of the MERC Action Research Teams for Culturally Responsive Teaching (ARTCRT) program, a federally funded project to design, implement and study professional development to support culturally responsive teaching. The project is a collaboration between the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC) within VCU’s School of Education, and two regional school divisions: Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) and Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS).  Since the summer of 2019, the ARTCRT program has worked with teams of teachers (approximately 40 in total) from two high schools in Chesterfield (Monacan and Meadowbrook) and two middle schools in Henrico (Quioccasin and Tuckahoe). To learn more about the program, click here.

Below is information about culturally responsive teaching organized by a series of questions: (1) What is culturally responsive teaching? (2) What does research say about the impact of culturally responsive teaching on students? And (3) What advice do teachers have for those interested in culturally responsive teaching?  These sections include the perspectives of teachers in the ARTCRT program, the ideas of middle and high school students from the schools where the teachers work, and references to research about culturally responsive teaching. The page ends with a set of questions meant to help educators reflect on the development of their own dispositions and practices toward a culturally responsive stance.  It is our hope that this webpage will be used as a resource for individual educators, schools, and school divisions across the region, state, and country.

What is culturally responsive teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching forefronts student culture in the development of curriculum and the delivery of instruction. Culturally responsive teachers affirm and validate students' diverse backgrounds, create classroom environments in which all students feel equally valued and held to high expectations, and connect lessons to real-world issues and student interests. Below are definitions from two of the most renowned scholars of culturally responsive teaching, Geneva Gay and Zaretta Hammond. 

“An educator’s ability to recognize students’ cultural displays of learning and meaning making and respond positively and constructively with teaching moves that use cultural knowledge as a scaffold to connect what the student knows to new concepts and content in order to promote effective information processing. All the while, the educator understand the importance of being in a relationship and having a social-emotional connection to the student in order to create a safe space for learning” (Zaretta Hammond, 2015, p. 15)

“Using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively. It is based on the assumption that when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of references of students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly” (Geneva Gay, 2002, p. 106)

As part of the program we convened a student group to share their ideas about culturally responsive teaching and why it is important to student success.  Click the images below to see infographics the students created to capture their discussions.


To hear more student perspectives on this topic, check out the podcast below where students share their advice for teachers interested in becoming culturally responsive teachers.


What does research say about the impact of culturally responsive teaching on students?

There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that culturally responsive teaching impacts a wide range of student outcomes. This includes improved:

Motivation and interest in content: Math, Science, Social studies, English language arts, English as a Second Language

(Civil & Khan, 2001; Ensign, 2003; Dimick, 2012; Coughran, 2012; Martell, 2013; Christianakis, 2011; Hill, 2012; Savage et al., 2011; Wortham & Contreras, 2002

Positive identity development

(Irizarry & Antrop- González, 2007; Robbins, 2001

Graduation rates

(Cabrera et al., 2014

Grade point average

(Dee & Penner, 2017)

Attendance and engagement

(Dee & Penner, 2017; Feger, 2006; Zirkel, 2008

Critical analysis skills

(Aguirre & Zavala, 2013; Dimick, 2012; Gutstein, 2003; Morrell and Duncan Andrade, 2002)

Credits earned

(Dee & Penner, 2017; Zirkel, 2008)

Standardized test scores

(Cabrera et al., 2014; Johnson & Fargo, 2014; Mette et al., 2016; Powell et al., 2016; Rodriguez, et al., 2004; Zirkel, 2008

Academic self-confidence

(Hubert, 2013; Zirkel, 2008)

Intergroup relations, perspective-taking, and empathy

(Fulton, 2009; Robbins, 2001; Zirkel, 2008)


What advice do teachers have for those interested in culturally responsive teaching?

After two years of participating in the ARTCRT professional development program, we thought it would be valuable to document what we learned in the form of advice for others interested in taking the journey towards culturally responsive teaching. To capture our collective learning we conducted brainstorming sessions with the teams from each of our schools and then organized the advice that was generated into three overarching themes. We then hosted a podcast on each of the three themes with teachers from the project. In addition, we hosted a podcast with two members of the student voice group coordinated by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.


Abstract · Advice for Culturally Responsive Teachers: Learn, Unlearn, and Take Risks 

In this episode we discuss the importance of professional reading, self-awareness, and continuous reflection for developing as a culturally responsive educator. Guests include Jesse Senechal (MERC/VCU - Host), Victoria Parent (English/Language Arts Teacher, Monacan High School - Chesterfield), Clarissa Adkins (English/Language Arts Teacher, Meadowbrook High School - Chesterfield), and Ricky Ellestad (Math Teacher, Monacan High School - Chesterfield).


Abstract · Advice for Culturally Responsive Teachers: Share Ownership of the Classroom
Abstract · Advice for Culturally Responsive Teachers: Share Ownership of the Classroom

In this episode we discuss the importance of learning from students and centering student voice in the classroom and curriculum. Guests include Fantasy Lozada (VCU/MERC - Host), Elizabeth Murray (Social Studies Teacher, Tuckahoe Middle School - Henrico), Brewster Brown (School Counselor, Tuckahoe Middle School - Henrico), Shannon Macaulay (English/Language Arts Teacher - Meadowbrook High School - Chesterfield), Vicky Brucker (English/Language Arts Teacher - Quioccasin Middle School - Henrico)


Abstract · Advice for Culturally Responsive Teachers: Sustaining the Work of Culturally Responsive Education

In this episode we discuss the importance of building a community of culturally responsive teachers at your school, and taking the long view when doing this work. Guests include Hillary Parkhouse (VCU/MERC - Host), Heather Dawson (English/Language Arts Teacher, Quioccasin Middle School - Henrico), David Glass (Social Studies Teacher, Meadowbrook HIgh School - Chesterfield), Kevin Socha (Dean of Students, Meadowbrook High School - Chesterfield), and Jenny Smith (English/Language Arts Teacher, Quiocccasin Middle School - Henrico). 


Abstract · Advice for Culturally Responsive Teachers: What the Students Have to Say

In this episode, students share their thoughts on the importance of culturally responsive teaching and why it is important to their success. Guests include Winfred Walker (MERC/VCU - Host),Cyndi Young (MERC/VCU - Host), Abigail Tailor (Monacan High School - Chesterfield), and Matthew Cherici (Monacan High School - Chesterfield).


Reflection Questions

Having reviewed the content above, consider the following questions. 

What makes culturally responsive teaching different from just generally good teaching? 

Why is self-awareness related to your identity important for culturally responsive teaching? 

How could you learn more about the cultures and identities of your students? 

How could you leverage your students' unique cultural assets as conduits for learning? 

Considering your school context and your curriculum content, how could you make your instructional practices more culturally responsive? 

Based on what you learned about culturally responsive teaching presented here, what do you imagine are the biggest challenges when implementing?