Culturally Responsive Crossroads

by Jim McLure, Professional Development Specialist

Oh summer…summer is a time of relaxation, of fun, of culture and community for Southeastern Wisconsin. The area is truly a celebration of many different cultures and communities. It comes alive with fireworks, festivals and warm days with great friends.

For many educators, summer is also a time for deep reflection. We think about the past school year and brainstorm ways we can improve our practice and design better experiences for our students, parents, colleagues and stakeholders. We begin to make plans for how we can add an even greater value to the experiences that accompany being a part of the community of learners that we call our classroom or school. We each bring with us our own personal story and experiences, each rich in value for ourselves and others. The dedication and vision of an educator or school leader to make a space for each individual to shine and become a part of a collective, where the whole becomes even greater than the sum of it’s parts, is truly at the root of Cultural Responsiveness.

The very basis of Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices are often confused or compartmentalized into decorating the classroom with flags or taking a month out of the school year to recognize a certain heritage. Although these efforts are based from a place of good intention, they often fall short of what James A. Banks called the “fourth level of integration of multicultural content.” According to Gloria Ladson-Billings, in her book, The Dreamkeepers, some of the most important aspects of Culturally Responsive Teaching are:

  • Positive perspectives on parents and families
  • Communication of high expectations
  • Learning within the context of culture
  • Student-centered instruction
  • Culturally mediated instruction
  • Reshaping the curriculum
  • Teacher as facilitator

This list can help us begin thinking about how a culturally responsive classroom can greatly improve our efforts to build a personalized learning environment. Certainly there are many Personalized Learning Elements that play a part in building the type of community that we would want for our own children or would want as a part of our very own learning experiences,  but Cultural Responsiveness is an element that enhances and interacts with the other elements of the Honeycomb Model in a manner that can have an incredible impact on classroom and school culture, specifically the quality of the relationships within. I am inclined to wonder if viewing elements, such as a learner profile, through a culturally responsive lens, might improve the learner experience and feel. Would incorporating culturally responsive practices into co-invention of a customized learning path be a starting place to begin the work where Personalized Learning and Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices cross paths? What message might students receive if the learning space and physical environment allowed for each student to have a place to share what it is that they bring to the community? I am willing to bet that by allowing students to become a valued member of their own classroom community, that they might view the experience of a neighborhood or community service project in a very different light. The ways in which the learner or staff experience can be improved through demonstrating to them that they are valued is simply unlimited.

This summer, I am left with many thoughts about how a personalized learning environment is naturally a great fit for a culturally responsive classroom community, but wonder if a learning environment can truly be considered personalized, without being culturally responsive.


Banks, J.A. (1999).  An Introduction to Multicultural Education (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The Dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co.

Image: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / smarnad