How to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom
When was the last time you felt included at work or in the classroom? How about excluded in the same settings? Most of us can probably recall being on both sides of the spectrum depending on the topic and our own perspectives.
Most communities are made of people representing a range of genders, socio-economic status, ethnicity, family structures, race, educational levels, age, etc. While we may share experiences – take learning online, for example – our perspectives of this topic will vary. This is because of the lived experiences that have shaped our view of the world. If you have not had a positive experience with online learning, it can be difficult to relate to a report from someone who has truly enjoyed their experience with it.
So how do we remain open to someone else’s experience when we are convinced our own experience is true? One thing to keep in mind is that even when you have knowledge about a certain topic, your experience is yours alone. If you want to be supportive of others, you must allow yourself to hear them and their experiences. Here we examine why cultural responsibility is critical, how to put it into practice, and Ashford commitment to his effort.
What is a Culturally Responsive Classroom?
According to Ashford Faculty member Dr. Newton Miller, to have cultural awareness or to be culturally responsible means to be aware of your own bias while also acknowledging other people’s needs.
Culturally Responsive teaching is a method that takes into consideration the students’ cultural background when teaching and developing curriculum. Communicating with students and their families, helps instructors have a better understanding of the student’s cultural background, which can help the entire class process knowledge differently.
“It means to create a safe environment for students to share and talk about their needs," he adds.
I try to keep this in mind when I find myself generalizing my opinion. I try to remind myself: “this is coming from their lived experiences and I want to be careful about my judgments.”
If I fall into the false idea that I know better, I am not giving the other side a chance to have a voice, and I am not creating an inclusive conversation. I must allow for that voice to be heard!
Why is Creating a Culturally Responsive Classroom Important?
Ashford recently hosted the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) in which one of the presenters, Dr. Laura Rendon, talked about the importance of cultural awareness and diversity in the classrooms to foster student success. This included faculty and leadership levels. She shared that when we see people that look like us, in those higher positions and see an integrated curriculum, we fight the impostor syndrome and feel a sense of belonging.
Dr. Rendon also spoke about the importance of employing validation as a tool to empower students to believe in themselves and know that they matter and have a voice. In her address, she quoted the 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report, which cites more than 30,000 college graduates who shared that if they had a professor who cared about them as a person, and got them excited about learning, that their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled.
Further, the Equity and Mental Health Foundation (EMHF) indicated that current events and cultural movements also have a significant impact on the college community even when the students are not on a physical campus.
How to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom
Whether you are an instructor or a student, being culturally aware and inclusive in the classroom means that you are encouraging, sharing, and being considerate of different perspectives without judgment. When someone is sharing, you should consider where that speaker is coming from and the experiences he or she is sharing in relation to the message.
By remaining aware of different communication and learning styles, you can dig further into that space of listening for what is being said, rather than reacting to what you are hearing from your own experience.
We can all support a culturally responsible classroom by facilitating conversation and holding all participants accountable for professional communication and avoiding attempts to exclude those who might have a different perspective from the majority.
Additionally, educating yourself about what the other voices are sharing is a good practice and shows your commitment to remaining culturally aware. This demonstrates that you are aware that you might have a difference in opinion, and that you allowed yourself the opportunity to expand your knowledge about other perspectives. Expanding your own growth does not mean your own experiences are less valuable, however. Rather, it means you are embracing the opportunity to learn more about experiences you have not lived or that you are not familiar with but wish to support.
Ashford’s Commitment to Cultural Inclusivity
Being culturally aware implies allowing space for someone to connect and share without minimizing their perspective.
Ashford places great emphasis on cultural awareness and has support services available to help you expand your horizons. Some resources available to our students include:
- CHAMPS: Ashford’s Peer Mentoring program promotes success by connecting mentees who need additional support with mentors who are interested in developing their leadership and marketability.
- Student organizations: Ashford has a robust offering of more than 20 online organizations that range from a Student Veterans Organization to the Online Psychology Club.
- Career Services: Ashford students and alumni are encouraged to seek assistance with resumes, job searches, and career planning.
- Military: Ashford University has a number of resources for active duty and veterans of the U.S. military.
Make a Commitment
Your life experience is no more or less valid than mine. Our lived experiences are our own to have, to share, to expand, to cherish, and to use to connect with each other. When we feel connected, we feel understood and valued. Let’s commit to supporting each other in growing our network and net worth by connecting with one and other, and embracing our global community.
You can start by joining Ashford Connections, our Facebook group where students share and support each other during their time at Ashford.
Written by Lupita Lance, Ashford University student advocate. Lupita completed her M.S. in Education with a concentration in Multicultural Community Counseling through the Community Based Block program (CBB) at San Diego State University and has completed trainings on Communication Across Barriers through the Poverty Institute, Equity and Inclusion through RISE, Student Success through the Online Learning Consortium, and Mental Health First Aid through Mental Health America.