To describe the disposition and beliefs of culturally relevant instructors 

To give examples of what culturally relevant pedagogy looks like in the classroom 


Culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy is a larger field of study that operates under the assumption that teaching practices and dispositions of educators need to facilitate the growth of all students (Ladson-Billings, 2014; Paris, 2012; Gay, 2018). It is a field that believes an educational debt is owed to those who have been systematically oppressed at both the K-12 level and within higher education (Ladson-Billings, 2006). It is international in scope and seeks to embrace learners on a global scale (Heringer, 2019). The dispositions and teaching practices that undergird culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy have been well-studied and research increasingly suggests that the pedagogy not only ensures that marginalized and/or underrepresented students learn more but that they also feel a better sense of community and connection in the classroom (Aronson & Laughter, 2016).  Culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy is practiced here at Lafayette College. 

What culturally relevant and responsive educators think about students and do in their classrooms:

All students have the capacity to succeed in their course. 

Example: Instructors use backward design and learning activities to scaffold material so that students coming from diverse backgrounds can access material.

All students deserve high quality learning opportunities where they can engage, fail and try again. 

Example: A course has low-stakes, formative assessments where students have the time to try and get feedback from their peers and instructor before they are given higher-stakes summative assessments. 

All students are multidimensional and bring assets from their differing cultural backgrounds that can enhance the class environment. 

Example: Students have a chance to showcase themselves and their backgrounds through assignments, classroom discussions and classroom activities. 

Example: Instructors allow students the chance to explain concepts in their own way and give them time to make sense of course material in class in order to bridge a student’s cultural foundation with the teachings in a course. 

All students deserve the chance to be critical of their social and political surroundings. 

Example: Students have a chance to speak up and debate knowledge that is deemed commonsense or question the origin of a content’s assumptions. 

Example: Students have access to real-world and meaningful problems that they can tackle with content knowledge from the classroom. 

All students deserve a classroom space that contests discriminatory beliefs. 

Example: Students engage in the production of a classroom constitution that clearly delineates social norms and expectations. 

Example: Instructors reflect on their own biases and work to combat them through their daily interactions with peers and students. 

Example: Instructors tackle issues of discrimination as they arise by discussing the transgression in ways that seek to restore the classroom and attend to the harm that was caused. 

All students deserve space for their first language. 

Example: The instructor encourages students to think in multilingual ways and allows students to use their first language when English cannot suffice for an explanation of course concepts (e.g. when there is no equivalent English word). 

Example: The instructor modifies jargon and idioms so that texts, lecture notes and class content are easily accessible. 

Example: The instructor encourages monolingual, domestic students to use clear and accessible language and explain cultural references. 

All students deserve to learn and grow from one another. 

Example: The instructor allows time and space for students to share about themselves, their culture and their beliefs with one another. 

What culturally relevant and responsive educators think about knowledge and learning: 

Knowledge is an ever-changing terrain that can be impacted by students and instructors alike.

Example: Students and instructors work side-by-side through different in-class assignments and out-of-class research projects or college initiatives. 

Example: The instructor encourages students to carve out their own understanding of the tenants of a curriculum and allows students to change or expand on knowledge that already exists in any given content. 

Learning is not a linear process but consists of tangled paths of understanding that are transformational instead of predictable. 

Example: Instructors encourage learning from failure and acknowledge when new knowledge is created by students. 

All knowledge is ideological and some knowledge bears traces of colonial and oppressive histories. 

Example: Instructors seek out inclusive content and curricula in their courses that allows for rich discussions around how knowledge was created, whether or not that knowledge is harmful to different communities of people and how students and instructors alike can engage with creating more equitable knowledge. 

Example: Instructors look for research projects or new lines of thinking that will assist in breaking with oppressive structures 

Case Study 1:

The First Day of Class: An instructor begins class with an upfront discussion on the history of knowledge production in their particular discipline (where did the field begin, who are the biggest names, what was true before but no longer considered true now). This discussion encourages students to think about who the leaders in the discipline are and how knowledge has changed over time. Student are then encouraged to answer the following questions:

  1. What excites you about the course?
  2. What do you imagine this course will be about? 
  3. What kinds of things would you like to learn in this course?
  4. What are you worried about?  

They are also asked questions about who they are, where they come from and what they find most unique about their personality. 

Students give the answers to their instructor and the instructors then look at their course material and think about creative ways they can weave some of the students identities into the course curriculum. They also think of ways to quell the worries they see surface in the student questionnaires. 

Case Study 2:

Discussions: In discussions, students are encouraged to share their personal understanding of the content and relate it back to concepts that they know from their upbringing. They are continually asked the following questions:

  1. Have you seen this concept in real life? Here at Lafayette? In your hometown or the places you have lived? 
  2. Would this concept be useful in solving a problem that you see? 

Case Study 3: 

When Things Get Heated: Instructors are upfront at the beginning of the course and explain what counts as racism, sexism, etc. (e.g. when one homogenizes or stereotypes a group according to race or gender). They seek out opportunities to have uncomfortable conversations by using restorative justice frameworks to set up class discussions and to address transgressions as they arise. 


Positioning your students’ cultural background as an asset rather than a deficit can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment. It can also, in turn, ensure that all students get access to the knowledge they need and leave the course feeling as though they are intellectuals in their own right. 


Aronson, B., & Laughter, J. (2016). The theory and practice of culturally relevant education: A synthesis of research across content areas. Review of Educational Research, 86(1), 163-206.

Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. Teachers College Press.

Heringer, R. (2019). The Pertinence of a Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in Internationalized Higher Education. International Education Studies, 12(1), 1-9.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in US schools. Educational researcher, 35(7), 3-12.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: aka the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74-84.

Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational researcher, 41(3), 93-97.