In May 2018 I wrote about Culturally Responsive Teaching. To be a culturally responsive teachers we ourselves must be culturally competent. According to The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “cultural competence means to be respectful and responsive to the health beliefs and practices—and cultural and linguistic needs—of diverse population groups. Developing cultural competence is also an evolving, dynamic process that takes time and occurs along a continuum.”

What is a Culturally Responsive Teacher?

Let’s start this school year by reidentifying the definition and importance of being a culturally responsive teacher. The Diversity Toolkit: Cultural Competence for Educatorssays, “Cultural competence is the ability to successfully teach students who come from a culture or cultures other than our own. It entails developing certain personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, understanding certain bodies of cultural knowledge, and mastering a set of skills that, taken together, underlie effective cross-cultural teaching and culturally responsive teaching.”

Below you find a calendar of opportunities and ideas on how to be responsive to our students’ cultures throughout the first half of the school year.


Create an open and inviting classroom where students will feel safe to share thoughts by changing the very first thing you do in a school day – taking attendance. Instead of a standard roll call, use this opportunity for your students to learn more about each other while you help them to build a community of learners.

Lizanne Foster of, writes in Building Community with Attendance Questions, that she takes attendance with quick getting to know you questions, “What was the best part of your summer,” “What is your favorite food.” As the school year progresses she stretches her students minds and ask more philosophical questions like, “What is the color of silence.” This gives the students an opportunity to have open discussions that don’t necessarily have a correct answer, therefore removing some of the stress of a traditionally class discussion. This also provides students the opportunity to share about themselves and learn about each other. Foster reminds us, “Because learning is fundamentally a social and emotional experience, achieving this sense of we is critical before students fully engage in classroom activities. A sense of ‘we’creates safety and makes it more likely that a student will risk moving out of his or her comfort zone to try something new — and ultimately to learn.”


During October we have the opportunity to dress up in costumes and become anyone we want to be; a president, a vampire, a ghost, a queen! As teachers, before we can identify our students in their costumes, and before we can effectively teach our students; we need to know who they are,  and know our students beyond just their test scores. We need to know them as people. Getting to know our students increases our ability to effectively meet the unique needs of all of the learners in our classrooms.

Jennifer Gonzalez writes in A 4-Part System for Getting to Know Your Studentsthat, “The biggest paradigm shift in my teaching career was the day I found out one of my students was homeless. Robert was talkative, academically average, fooled around a little too much. Some weeks he turned in good work, and other times he didn’t.” She continues that once she learned from a counselor that the student was homeless her entire perspective on Robert changed. Gonzalez next realized that she needed to give this opportunity to all of her students. If she could get to know her students as individuals should could tailor her instruction and management to meet the needs of all of the learners in her classroom.

Scholastic offers five additional ways to get to know your students here: If you have unique ideas for getting to know your students please share them in the comments.


November provides an opportunity to practice gratitude. Thanksgiving is a fantastic opportunity to bring every child’s culture into the classroom. First, as educators, we can be grateful for our students and the learning that they bring to us. When we get to know our students we become the learners. Throughout my own teaching career I have been very fortunate and have had the opportunity to learn about a variety of countries and cultures from the perspective of my students. When we can give our students the opportunity to share their family traditions about food, harvest, and gratitude we provide them the opportunity to know each other better, to be valued and welcomed, to learn about the differences and their similarities. There are a variety of suggestions on how to incorporate these practices, specific to Thanksgiving, in your classroom from the Lee & Low Books blog located here.


December brings unique opportunities to be culturally responsive to the needs of our students. Various holidays from a variety of cultures and religions fall in December so it is particularly important to remember that not all of our students celebrate the same holidays and traditions. This doesn’t mean ignoring the fun festivities that happen in December, it just means that we need to be responsive and respectful. The Department of Education has a blog postthat suggests sharing with students how various winter holidays are celebrated around the world. Lisa Ann Williamson from Teaching Toleranceoffers ideas on balancing all of the students religions and traditions in your classroom. She suggests working to create a culturally inclusive classroom. Our classrooms mirror our society, so we must look for ways to integrate our students cultures. We must be certain that our classrooms and classroom materials are diverse and reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our classroom, and we must work hard at getting to know our students.


As you and your students return to school this year, I hope you will take the opportunity to provide a culturally relevant classroom. This will give you the chance to learn about different people and cultures and will create an open and welcoming learning environment where all students are held to high expectations and given an equal opportunity to achieve. Later in the year we will look at more opportunities throughout the remainder of the school year. Stay tuned!

Author: Heather Bickley, Professional Development Manager, Catapult Learning