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Practitioner’s Perspective: The Need for Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices

Nyla Bell's staff photo

MAEC’s Senior Equity Specialist, Nyla Bell, reflects on her experiences with culturally responsive teaching practices and makes the case for the need to incorporate culturally responsive pedagogy in all schools.


How does culturally responsive pedagogy support students of color?

To quote Gloria Ladson-Billings, culturally responsive teaching is just good teaching. One major reason why culturally responsive pedagogy is important to students of color has to do with how learning occurs. There is clear and longstanding consensus among learning scientists and education scholars that learning occurs when the student makes connections between existing ideas and information, to new information and ideas. The lived experiences and cultures of students is where much of this “existing information” richly resides. When the cultures of students are largely absent from their schooling experiences, as has historically been the case for many students of color, those students are placed at an academic disadvantage, to put it mildly. In contrast, a culturally responsive pedagogy lovingly centers and deeply values the lived experiences, identities, and cultures of diverse students and their communities, in a way that doesn’t involve cultural stereotyping, cultural appropriation, or a deficit paradigm.


Tell us about your experiences with culturally responsive teaching practices.

My undergraduate and graduate school academic training was grounded in a canon of education scholarship centered on multicultural, asset-based, culturally responsive, critical, and revolutionary pedagogies from the late ’80s through the first decade of the 2000s. Some of those scholars include bell hooks, Jonathan Kozol, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, Sonia Nieto, Deborah Meier, Howard Zinn, Jeannie Oakes, Geneva Gay, Gary Orfield, and many others.

When I entered the classroom as a Black educator of predominantly Black youth, my intention was to teach in a way that centered the lived experiences of my students and their communities, and helped them make sense of the inequities in their environment and world around them.

Now, as an Equity Technical Assistance (TA) Provider, culturally responsive education is a mainstay of my TA practice, and of the equity TA field generally. I often work with education administrators and teachers to identify what it means to be culturally responsive inside and outside of the classroom.


Why does culturally responsive teaching matter right now?

Being culturally responsive is essential to effectively serving the academic and social-emotional needs of students. Schools need to be places that recognize and embrace the identities and lived experiences of their students, particularly those from underserved communities. Recent critiques aim to undo the advances made over past decades towards realizing equity and culturally responsive education in schools, and attack any effort that addresses the needs of youth of color, queer youth, and immigrant youth. For educators who are in difficult situations, I urge you to find your allies. Join a group with other educators who have the same commitment to culturally responsive education and equity. If such a group doesn’t exist, create one! Use it as a space where you can support each other.


The Center for Education Equity (CEE) at MAEC is inviting members of our advisory board, partners, staff, and other colleagues to share their views on current equity issues. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect CEE’s views or those of the Department of Education and we do not necessarily endorse any products or resources they promote.


The MAEC blog is designed to engage hearts and minds of school and district leaders across the country to engage in issues that you have identified as being essential in education. Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.

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