THE BLOG

Classroom Management in a Culturally Responsive Environment

12/16/2011 02:50 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2012

Consideration of classroom management techniques is critical when building a culturally-responsive learning environment. It is imperative that the instructor have a vast body of knowledge regarding culturally-dependent interpersonal behaviors or else it is possible that behaviors that are normal within the scope of a student's culture will be misinterpreted as a behavioral problem or learning disability. In general, it is likely that conflicts between teacher and students will arise if the teacher has not educated themselves about the culture and accompanying behavioral patterns.

For instance, many Asian children are taught by their community that it is a sign of disrespect to look an adult in the eyes. On the other hand, in the European American community it is considered a sign of disrespect if you don't look someone in the eyes when they're speaking to you. If a teacher is not sensitive to such nuanced cultural differences then they may interpret a sign of respect in entirely the wrong way.

To further illustrate, consider the standard style of discourse in a European American classroom. Students are expected to sit quietly in rows of desks and absorb information that their teacher chooses to share with them. If a student wishes to participate then they are required to indicate this by raising their hand and waiting patiently until they are given permission to communicate their thoughts.

On the other hand in the African American culture, interaction is much more assertive and straightforward. If an African American student blurts out the answer to a question without permission, a teacher in a traditional classroom would be likely to mistake profound interest in the material for deleterious rule-breaking. If the teacher quashes such culturally normal behavior then it serves to inform the student that his style of discourse is "wrong" while the instructor's style of discourse is "right."

Instead of engaging in authoritarian classroom management techniques, an instructor in a culturally responsive classroom creates a caring, nurturing bond with their students; such that the students think twice about jeopardizing their relationship with the instructor by making poor behavioral decisions. Potential methods for building rapport with students include spending time on social-building games over the first few weeks of class, starting up conversations with students outside of class, and starting the class in a welcoming manner despite whatever behavioral problems may have occurred during the last meeting of the class. Such an amicable partnership between student and teacher tends to foster an optimal learning environment.

A key principle of culturally responsive classroom management is explicit instruction about rules in a caring way. If students fail to adhere to a rule, contact is initiated in a caring fashion. The instructor should consider that children do things for a reason and that it is the instructor's job to figure out what that reason is. Is it due to a culture clash? Is it a reaction to a perceived power differential or social injustice? If so, the rule itself may need to be revisited.