Civics Education Resource Site

Culturally Responsive Teaching to Promote Anti-Racist Classrooms

"A culturally relevant teacher is…someone who understands that we’re operating in a fundamentally inequitable system."

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Researcher


Culturally responsive teaching can engage learners whose cultures and experiences are often excluded from the standard curriculum. Just like anti-racism work, culturally responsive teaching is action-oriented. Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a goal, a practice, a method, a value. It is not a checklist item or "program".

Culturally relevant education goes beyond celebrating Black History Month or providing ethnic studies.1 Gloria Ladson-Billings, CRT foundational researcher provides three pillars of culturally relevant teaching:

  • Academic Success
  • Cultural Competence
  • Sociopolitical Consciousness

Culturally responsive teaching is an asset-based approach to student achievement, curriculum, and teaching. How do we reframe questions, assessments, and success in our schools and in our classrooms such that Black students, Latino students, and low-income students are thriving?

Anti-racism is the process of unlearning racist ideas; co-learning new ways of seeing the world; engaging in the challenging work required to make meaningful change; enacting policies that manifest the changes needed to make our communities equitable for all. Culturally responsive classrooms are justice-oriented classrooms by default. In most cases, culturally responsive classrooms are part of the larger anti-racist effort to fight systematic oppression that shows up in the education system, the curriculum, and in the engagements between students, teachers, and the parent community.

Read more about culturally responsive teaching in this New America study on 50 State Survey of Teaching Standards.

"It's not just endorsing or validating the culture kids come with; it's giving them access to at least one other culture, so they leave school at least biculturally competent. You are covering not just black or brown kids, but white kids; white kids should not go out into a very international, global workforce and only understand themselves or their culture."

Gloria Ladson-Billings

Our schools are plagued with the same structural and institutional racism present in our larger society; therefore we must actively engage in the work required to make schools more racially equitable and democratic. Culturally responsive teaching, when executed with intention, is one practice that cultivates more equitable learning experiences for all students.

Educators must push themselves to take the LEAP:

  • Learn about the peoples and the histories of the community you are serving in
  • Expect and pursue successful academic experiences for every student
  • Add and infuse historical narratives that decentralize whiteness and white conquest
  • Provide students with opportunities to critique structural racism and fight local inequity

Centering Identity And Culture

"As long as we are not ourselves, we will try to be what other people are."

Malidoma Patrice Somé

Tip: Create an environment where students are expected to thrive and excel academically without losing their own cultural and linguistic identity.

Questions to consider:

  1. What voices and perspectives are missing in the curriculum? Where can I find them?
  2. How can I center a student’s identity, culture, or language to good teaching practices?
  3. What measures can be put in place to prevent students of color from being “othered” in the classroom?

For Starters…

  1. Be intentional about the narratives and resources you bring into your classroom.
  2. Provide space for your students to explore their own identity so that it produces positive outcomes.
  3. Provide space for white students to learn from and about black and non-black people of color.

The Anti-racist Educator

"To be antiracist is to think nothing is behaviorally wrong or right — inferior or superior — with any of the racial groups. Whenever the antiracist sees individuals behaving positively or negatively, the antiracist sees exactly that: individuals behaving positively or negatively, not representatives of whole races."

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Tip: Engage in your own anti-racism journey and the continuous process of self-assessment.

Investigate the racial inequities that exist across race and access to quality education:

  • Institutional racism shows up in the ways in which our schools are funded. The EdBuild 23 Billion report displays the gaps in funding between white and non-white schools across economic class breakdowns.
  • Redlining (lending practices that discriminate against marginalized groups) contributes to the systematic denial of resources to black and brown communities and low-income communities. Redlining and its stealth impact on Education.
  • Watch Dr. Carol Anderson break down the systematic refusal to invest in schools and black communities in retaliation to Brown v. Board of Education. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation's Divide.

Continue to engage in their own personal anti-racism journey and self-reflection:

Questions to Consider:

  1. How am I continuing to evaluate my own understanding of race and cultural identity?
  2. How does structural racism impact the conditions and circumstances of the lives of the students in my classroom?
  3. How is justice in the United States experienced differently for different groups?

Journal Prompts for Anti-racist Reflection:

  1. How have I participated in normalizing white culture at the expense of other cultures?
  2. I want to learn, how can I walk in love and empathy instead of defensiveness and judgement?
  3. Who are the people in my professional learning network? Are they mostly white? Are there any black and non-black people of color?

A Place for Race in the Classroom

"You have to get over the fear of facing the worst in yourself. You should instead fear unexamined racism. Fear the thought that right now, you could be contributing to the oppression of others and you don't know it. But do not fear those who bring that oppression to light. Do not fear the opportunity to do better."

Ijeoma Oluo

Tip: Provide opportunities for students to engage in discussions on race, justice, and equity.

Although schools do not deliberately teach students about race, students bring their ideas about race with them from home and continue to learn about race through their engagements with peers. These resources can assist educators with tools and strategies for discussions about race in the classroom.

Justice-Oriented Classrooms: Social-Emotional Learning and Civics

"The paradox of education is precisely this; that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated."

James Baldwin

Tip: Realize your role in centering the humanity of your students as imperative for fighting injustice and inequity.

Tip: Create conditions for students to develop the skills necessary for critiquing and changing cultural norms, values, and institutions that produce inequity.

Questions to Consider:

    1. Am I leveraging social-emotional learning as a tool to police student behavior or to connect with student needs?
    2. How can I leverage social-emotional learning as a vehicle for mutual respect amongst students, between teachers and students, and between teachers and parents?
    3. How is justice in the United States experienced by different groups? What are examples of engaged civic actors fighting injustice? What can I learn from their effort to aid in the fight against injustice experienced today?

Additional Resources

Webinar: Culturally Responsive Teaching to Promote Anti-Racist Classrooms

Hashtags to Follow



Fray, L. (2019) 74 Interview: Researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings on Culturally Relevant Teaching, the Role of Teachers in Trump’s America & Lessons From Her Two Decades in Education Research.