Cultural Responsiveness within the Educational Institutions?

cultural education healing kultchafi Jan 20, 2023
Kultchafi CRT in the Classroom

Cultural RESPONSIVENESS within the Educational Institutions?

This paper is written after discussions with many First Nations people who expressed their concerns about the education system.

Cultural Safety is the finished product being discussed in many Institutions, Organisations and Companies. The tool that is being used is to have a Reconciliation Action Plan – but unfortunately, we often see that the organisation for want the reasons do not show any tangible outcomes. It's a tick box exercise to please policies and a good marketing ploy. Still, the reality is there is no change because a policy does not transform individuals into becoming culturally responsive.

What is required is a journey toward Reconciliation in Action. A need to transform systems, transform staff, and transform how we do our practice.

 Creating a Culturally Safe Education Institution and the system must ensure that the service provided to First Nations peoples in Australia is mutually beneficial, empowering, and relevant, considering the differences in World Views, power differentials, and cultural nuances.

 We have endeavoured to provide a few key strategies that will assist Educators and the community to consider and hopefully implement to ensure a culturally responsive education sector.

Cultural Responsive Teaching in Schools

For decades, researchers have found that Educators (teachers) in schools have undervalued the potential for academic success among students of First Nations, setting low expectations for them and thinking of cultural differences as barriers rather than assets to learning.

The education institutions seek to limit classroom discussion on race, gender, and sexuality—this work is caught in the fray. Some Educators have inflated cultural responsive teaching with other teaching strategies approaches that includes diversity, equity and gender neutral. This form of approach is then written as legislation and could stifle efforts toward equity in schools, such as policies that can help First Nation students.

Education systems and schools practice cultural awareness, not cultural responsiveness but an overly simplified version. For example, for some Educators, having an ethnic group acknowledged by a schools one-off events or celebrate an ethnic day or adding diverse books to their classroom library sufficiently affirms students’ culture in education. But cultural responsiveness in teaching needs to be deeper and more critical; it must have its roots within the Aboriginal Terms of Reference. And Cultural Philosophical Ethos.

Too often, Educators think students of First Nations need to see themselves to feel motivated and do the work, so they’ll incorporate diverse books into their classroom or syllabus—but not change anything to the content or their way of instruction. * Considering cultural responsiveness as an add-on to their regular instruction instead of a fundamental shift in their pedagogy. *

Another common teaching trait is focused on deficit-based thinking and label all First Nations that students are slow, dumb, disruptive, argumentative and not capable to receive instructions.

Cultural responsiveness in teaching means using students' customs, characteristics, experiences, and perspectives as tools for better classroom instruction. When students are allowed to use their lived experiences and apply their knowledge and skills, it will be more meaningful, have a higher attention to learn, apply and retain.

This empowers students to see their worth and belongingness within the schools and other academic spaces, leading to more engagement and success.

It is essential for students to learn about culture, especially First Nation culture, which refers to a group of people's customs, languages, values, beliefs, and achievements. Their lived experiences influence how they understand and make sense of the world and is integral to who they are as learners.

First Nations student attendance numbers have increased, but most schools are organised around the mainstream culture of white Australia (English colonialism). he culture that many students experience at home and in their communities is not always represented at school—or is described in a stereotypical way.

It is proven that Educators are just as likely to have racial biases as non-Educators, and those biases tend to influence their expectations for their students and their ways of managing their classrooms.

Educators’ racial biases can also result in decreased access to advanced coursework and, higher rates of suspensions, lower expectations for First Nation students than they do for non-First Nation students, and those can turn into “self-fulfilling prophecies” when students internalise them or when Educators change their approach to students because of their mindsets.

In 2022 schools are still places where white norms are considered the curriculum's default standard, behavioural expectations, linguistic practices, and more.

Society and all facets of social engagement, social interactions, technology, learning, and connectedness with the world around us have moved to the 21st Century, but our education system of knowledge and Educators are still in the old era days,

Therefore, we are expected to adhere to white middle-class norms and ignore our own cultural ways of being. These should be explored, honoured, and nurtured by Educators.

Educators engaging in culturally affirming practices across subject matters, including mathematics and science, will increase the students' ability to understanding, apply the academic skills and concepts.  For instance, high school math and physics students could learn about how a boomerang is made for it to return to the thrower or use other datasets applicable to their communities that bring up questions about justice and injustice.

Teaching within cultural responsiveness would increase the student's motivation, interest in content, and perception of themselves as capable students, among other benefits.

When schools make students have some ownership, i.e some belonging or connectedness to the school and they see their voice is being heard then positive outcomes in quantitative and qualitative measures are achieved.

Strategies to implement a Cultural Safe environment in teaching:

Cultural responsiveness Educators must consider the student’s gender, age, socio-economic status, location - city, urban, rural and remote.

Critical strategies for Educators must include:

  • Have a diverse classroom - full of books featuring characters and images representing various ages, genders, ethnicities, and other types of diversity.
  • Contextualise issues within race, class, ethnicity, and gender to understand different communication styles and modify classroom interactions accordingly
  • many First Nations communities have an active, participatory kind of communication. An Educator who doesn’t understand this cultural context might think a student is being rude and tell the student to be quiet. The student may then shut down.
  • They should help students achieve academic success while still validating their cultural identities
  • They need to share the achievements and expertise of people from First Nations in every subject area.
  • Include multiple world views when discussing historical and contemporary events, including those from oppressed groups often left out of the narrative.
  • They should understand different racial and ethnic groups’ cultural values, traditions, and contributions to society and incorporate that knowledge into their instruction.
  • They should connect students’ prior knowledge and cultural experiences with new knowledge.
  • Please encourage students to draw on their prior knowledge and cultural experiences to connect to the academic content.
  • It should involve a deeper reimagining of classroom codes of conduct. In some students’ cultures, talking while someone else talks show how invested and engaged they are in the conversation; a culturally responsive educator will find avenues that will allow verbal overlap within their classroom ather than seeing it as rude or worthy of discipline. 
  • Allow students with their world views to express their own critical consciousness, to critique and analyse societal inequities.
  • Invest in learning more about First Nations Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. Educators either work with First Nation communities and students or teach about First Nation Peoples; the reality is that they probably didn’t learn very much in their education. And some of what they might have known [about the culture] might be incorrect or have stereotypes or misconceptions
  • Build relationships with First Nation parents, elders, and the Native Title groups to learn as much as possible from their experiences. Be a good listener and partner in all things related to the educational lives of that community’s children.
  • They must create and design their classroom within cultural responsiveness; hopefully, that honours and accommodates all the various learners.


The main issue that makes working in this space so tricky is that we have so many First Nation groups in Australia and the Torres Strait Islands, and they’re all very different.

 It’s important not to think of us as a homogenous group. The efforts of Educators really must be community-based. *

The goal should be to become community centred. You would need to consider the steps you need to take for to get there, build bridges, and gain the community's trust.

And it’s essential for Educators to take that long path, to recognise, include, and invite parents, families, community leaders, and elders. Bring them into committees, volunteer for things, and for them to have a active role within the school community and some of those critical decisions that impact the overall well-being of a community.

Community engagement is critical; cultural responsiveness in teaching can be most clearly seen in the relationship that Educators have with their students, that they have with the greater community, or [their students’] families and caregivers; when there's a lot of communication and dialogue and allowing their families and caregivers their is a higher chance of engagement and sustainability.

Educators must consider how cultural responsiveness is in their teaching, the instructional strategies they employ in the classroom, and what they teach—how inclusive our everyday textbooks, additional materials, and our lesson plans are.

I hope this paper allows you to think about education and how we can transform it into a cultural safe that will empower and educate all students with honesty, truth, and compassion.

I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.  


Aronson, Brittany and Laughter, Judson. “The Theory and Practice of Culturally Relevant Education: A Synthesis of Research Across Content Areas.” Review of Educational Research, Vol. 86, No. 1. (2016)

Gay, Geneva. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice. New York: Educators College Press (2000).

Gay, Geneva. “Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching,” Journal of Educator Education, Vol. 53, No. 2 (2002).

Hammond, Zaretta. Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin (2014)

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 32, No. 3 (1995).

Paris, Django. “Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy: A Needed Change in Stance, Terminology, and Practice.” Educational Researcher, Vol. 41, No. 3 (2012).

Paris, Django and Alim, Samy H. “What Are We Seeking to Sustain Through Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy? A Loving Critique Forward,” Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 84, No. 1 (2014).

Paris, Django. “Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies and Our Futures,” The Educational Forum, 85:4, 364-376 (2021).

Coverage of race, opportunity, and equity is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation at Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

A version of this article appeared in the May 11, 2022, edition of Education Week as What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

 Gloria Ladson-Billings (2014) Culturally Relevant Pedagogy 2.0: a.k.a. the Remix. Harvard Educational Review: April 2014, Vol. 84, No. 1, pp. 74-84.

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