by Julie Z. Russo 


1.     Teachers are the most important factor determining whether children will succeed in school.

There is no one-size-fits-all model of the perfect teacher, yet this professional has the capacity to significantly improve the lives of the children within the classroom as well students’ future prospects for success. Teaching styles range dramatically from structured and formal to enthusiastic and relaxed, however the most effective teachers share attributes: they care deeply about their students’ success and communicate this concern in authentic ways, they create equitable classrooms where students perceive they are being treated fairly and kindly, and they insist on academic excellence acquired through intellectual discipline that is about engaging with their classmates to create learning communities and critical thinkers. According to more than two decades of research and observation, Gloria Larson-Billings argues that culturally relevant pedagogy led by inspiring teachers is absolutely necessary for training the next generation. Their abilities are particularly needed to improve the prospects of African American males and children who have not been well-served by schools in the past, Larson-Billings said.  


2.     Cognitive development that improves reasoning and learning is the most important goal in culturally responsive classrooms.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) in classrooms functions at a superficial level in classrooms when it stops after diversity in the classroom is acknowledged but then overlooked. This approach may include a teacher acknowledging bias, but then failing to change biased behavior in terms of teaching strategies and interactions. CRT stops short when students share their diverse perspectives on a subject but fail to think critically by analyzing how knowledge is often constructed as a result of dominant social perspectives. In order for there to be intellectual progress in the classroom, culturally responsive teaching must reinforce learning concepts. This means teaching concepts orally to appeal to diverse learners whose cognitive development is strengthened by oral traditions. This means playing games –not to be an entertainer—but to support learning that is more aligned with the way young learners enjoy learning. This means interrupting bias such as ridiculing and demeaning and calling it out for what it is: mean and hurtful. This means breaking automatic negative associations and replacing them with positive roles models from marginalized communities. In Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Hammond advocates for all these teaching practices with an emphasis on collectivism and deep learning.


3.     Students need to hear that they are smart and can excel at whatever they put their minds to in order to graduate and succeed in the workforce. 

Imagine a school where students feel like they are winners every day, a school they are proud to attend, and where they find adults who genuinely care about what happens to them. This is a culture of ownership: students' take responsibility for their behavior, their grades, and for their relationships, and they feel like they are important and have a purpose. Often, we hear from students about what their school lacks: lackadaisical staff who insist on students keeping quiet and doing work and who frequently send disrupters to detention rather than trying to determine (not by embarrassment and reprimands) ways to help a student fit into the class culture. Called “warm demanders” by Larson-Billings, fine teachers have aptitudes that are more likely to earn their students respect, according to Lisa Delphit. She describes the following teacher qualities as key:  knowledge of the culture and communities where students come from (African American teachers often have this advantage), a demeanor that reflects genuine concern, and the responsibility to be a role model and mentor. With this demeanor the teacher does not accept poverty or a difficult home life as an excuse for student failure, and pushes “relentlessly” for students to excel, said Delphit, emphasizing that teachers today will serve as the lifeline for African American students tomorrow.


4.     A five-pronged approach related to multiculturalism at school is needed in order for students of diverse backgrounds to benefit. 

Using the acronym CKPEE, teachers and school staff can more readily identify the five-pronged approach defined by James Banks needed to create a more inclusive and intellectually provoking curriculum and environment for students of diverse backgrounds. Content that illustrates a variety of cultures and perspectives; Knowledge construction that enables students to know, question, and interpret a variety of sources of information; Prejudice reduction so that racial, ethnic, and cultural differentiation is reduced while democratic perspectives are encouraged: Equity Pedagogy that draws on the linguistic and cultural strengths and learning styles of diverse classroom participants; and Empowering School Culture that extends multicultural practices beyond the teacher’s classroom to school-wide practices by administration and staff to create an equitable culture.


5.     Arts in the school empowers students to better understand and appreciate themselves and the diverse perspectives of their peers 

Just as beauty and truth are subjective, curriculum in school is always personal to the recipient. Knowledge is formed through all the senses—seeing and hearing the dominant ways of learning in traditional classrooms—with the student forming perceptions of the world based on stimuli. Emily Styles argues for curriculum at school to function as a window and mirror of a multicultural world with the mirror serving as a reflection of students’ personal identities and the window serving as a way of expanding on students’ visions to those of their classmates and the larger world. The arts including music, painting, poetry, and fiction are a conduit for students to explore race, identity, and culture from diverse perspectives in order to develop sensitivity and appreciation for the environment, gender variation, individuality, and minorities. The arts help create more equitable classrooms as students learn to analyze and interpret curriculum from a broader spectrum of competencies and experiences.




1.     Banks, J.A. (1995). “Multicultural education: historic education development , dimensions and practice in Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. New York, NY: Macmillan.

2.     Delphit, L. (2012). Multiplication is for White People. New York, NY: The New Press.

3.     Larson-Billings, G. (1995). “But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy.” Theory into Practice. Volume 34, No. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. 

4.     Hammond, Z. (2017) quoted from Cult of Pedagogy article accessed at 

5.     Styles, E. (1988). “Listening for all voices.” Summit, NJ: Oak Knoll School Monograph.