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Culturally responsive learning or culturally responsive pedagogy are two of the most widely used “buzz” phrases in educational circles. Yet, having a clear understanding of what Gay (2001) and Ladson-Billings (1990) espouse remains a mystery for many educators. The two scholars never intended their work to be replicated across all ethnic groups, but instead intended the principles of their work to be adapted to each learning environment.

Scholars champion the significance of teachers learning about their students and families and how they fold into the broader community to develop an understanding of how their students come to know (Erickson, 2010). Students and their families culture are too often viewed as deficits instead of funds of knowledge by educators causing teachers to resist the benefits of infusing culture into their teaching practices. Gutierrez & Rogoff (2003) claim that “A widespread assumption that characteristics of cultural groups are located within individuals as “carriers” of culture—an assumption that creates problems, especially as research on cultural styles of ethnic (or racial) groups is applied in schools” (p. 19).

Practitioners that view individuals as carriers of culture run the risk of believing that the characteristics of the individuals are fixed and thus, are inherent to the entire group.

Defining culture is an essential component of creating culturally responsive learning environments. Some researchers describe culture as beliefs or behaviors that are transfer between generations through participation and application of both traditional and contemporary values (Demmert and Towner, 2003; Guitierrez and Rogoff, 2003; Carter, 2010). Understanding both traditional and contemporary values is a vital component of defining culture. Lee (2010) believes that culture is based on the values and worldviews shared by the members of the community.

Western Scholars investigating the phenomenon of culture experienced a paradigm shift when the word race was replaced with the word culture causing the advancement of a strength-based understanding about culture instead of the primitive deficit-based thinking associated with race (Onorato, 2017; Erickson, 2010). The ever-changing definition of culture has caused a misunderstanding about the importance of culture by teachers who commonly blame their inability to effectively communicate with their students or fail to understand why parents lack school connectedness (Ladson-Billings, 2006 b).

The researchers at IINII use a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help the school community identify both contemporary and traditional values that are the basis for defining what culture means for individual learning environments. The interactive process helps school leaders and teachers gain a deeper understanding of their students and the community they serve, resulting in better school connectedness. To learn how you can create a culturally responsive learning environment that honors your school community, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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