Beyond Now

How are we to become culturally responsive educators in this generation?

As we know, teaching involves a lot of work and sacrifice, with the rewards not often seen until well after students leave our classes. In this generation of I-Pods, X-Boxes, cell phones, assessment, and funding concerns, it is very easy to ask why a focus on teaching to the traits of diverse learners will make a difference. Society has made it appear on the surface that issues related to race and culture do not exist anymore, but a closer look at recent public schools statistics will reveal evidence to the contrary:

• As of 2001, the school population of Hispanic Americans was projected to increase by thirty percent, Asian and Pacific Islanders by thirty-nine percent, African Americans by eight percent, and Native Americans by six percent (Crandall et al. 2001).

• In many large public city school systems, seventy to eighty percent of the students are either Latino or African American (Henry and Kasindorf, 2001).

• Mexican American students, who represent ninety percent of all Hispanic students, are increasing at a rate almost ten times greater than the overall population (Scribner, 1999).

• Urban teachers report that over fifty percent of their students have problems that the typical classroom teacher is unable to help them with (Haberman, 1995).

• The high school dropout rate is close to twenty-two percent for Hispanic Americans, and eleven percent for European Americans (National Education Association, 2001).

• In 2004, a report by the Indicators of School Crime and Safety reported that twelve percent of students reported that someone at school had used hate-related words against them (i.e., derogatory words related to race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender, or sexual orientation). This same report noted that thirty-six percent of students saw hate-related graffiti at school.

These issues don’t even scratch the surface of the types of situations that we will have to focus on as health and physical activity professionals. Our classes are in the middle of serious changes. How then can we help become change agents? Let’s explore some strategies.

First, we as individuals need to become aware of our own cultural background. Ask yourself how your values, beliefs and customs influence your attitudes and behaviors. Often, we see culture through one lens much as if we were looking at a singular building in a skyline from close range. The whole building can’t truly be appreciated in the skyline until we take a few steps back to see how it fits.

Additionally, we need to understand that there are no right or wrong cultural beliefs. Beliefs from different cultures, whether we agree with them or not are merely different, and we have no right to impose our “truths” on those beliefs. We can however, offer opinions to be discussed.

Another point of emphasis should be placed on making an effort on knowing who are students and their families are and where our students come from. This can be difficult given the size of many of our classes, but it is not impossible. Our students should be known to us with names and not numbers.

To that end, we should consider every action which is performed in our learning environments as marketing. If we want to sell the idea of health, physical activity, and an overall better quality of life to students, we need to definitively know who are target audience is. We need to constantly ask ourselves how we going to get our product out to the most number of people possible. If people don’t know what we do, then we need to educate them instead of letting them walk around in a daze of ignorance.

Culturally responsive practitioners are aware that they need to try to accommodate the needs of learners in the best way possible, without taking away from the goals of the class. These accommodations may mean that we have to “go the hard way” with people, which is to say that we must be willing to make that extra effort to make sure our environments are inclusive. Considerations should be made as to how cultural events, religious needs, and holidays can be instituted in our classes so that our lessons can be impactful. Also, instances could exist where we need to enlist the help of those who are bilingual if we are not proficient in the language of the learners entering our classes.

Above all, we should strive to highlight the commonalities in our differences and become more student-centered, instead of teacher-centered. Effective instructional strategies for all learners include the following:

• Connecting student’s prior knowledge to new knowledge
• Setting high expectations
• Instituting a positive classroom climate (signage, rules, consequences)
• Finding the purpose of what is to be learned and explaining benefits
• Using interactive teaching strategies
• Grasping the “teachable moment”
• Allowing for students to participate in planning instruction, as appropriate
• Using culturally familiar speech and points of reference
• Empowering students to make change


Understand that you will not be able to meet the needs of all students for each activity, every day. The key is in the effort. For some learners, the attempt at trying to ensure a successful experience for them is appreciated. Also, keep in mind that you, the practitioner, must demonstrate the will and drive to put these considerations into action- nothing will work unless you do.

Often we view differences in learning as problems inherent in the students themselves, rather than a flaw within our pedagogy. Unfortunately, many teachers ignore culture and its impact on learning both in “content” and “style,” rather than devising methods and techniques through which culturally diverse individuals can compete on the same footing (Nuby, Ehle, & Thrower, 2001). When teachers fail to recognize cultural differences among learning styles, students may react in negative ways to instruction (Ladson-Billings, 2001).

Lack of understanding is not always the fault of the teacher. Many of our teacher education programs fail to provide the kind of experiences that allow prospective teachers to develop the skills necessary to identify and address the learning styles of diverse groups.
Not surprisingly, this leaves many of us uninformed about cross-cultural differences and how to employ culturally responsive pedagogy.

Teachers are faced with limited information regarding diverse cultures and linguistic patterns other than their own and know that this limitation negatively affect their students’ ability to become successful learners (Montgomery, 2001). In order for us as practitioners to be effective with diverse students, it is crucial that that we recognize our own worldviews- in order to understand the worldviews of our students (McAllister & Irvine, 2000).

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