Facilitating Culturally Responsive Learning Experiences as a School Principal

The effect of globalization and the fight for racial and cultural inclusion has caused a tremendous societal shift in the past decades. Naturally, this shift is also evident in student bodies across the United States. Classrooms are becoming increasingly more diverse, and students are learning about cultures different from their own. As a result, most U.S. educators will likely teach a large percentage of students from varying backgrounds and cultures — and all school professionals should be well versed in culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP).

The benefits of the CRP method are clear. With equitable treatment of students, more pupils from diverse and/or marginalized backgrounds can succeed academically and feel represented, eventually leading to a larger change in the scenery of universities and the overall workforce. However, there are many parts to reaching that goal, and while teachers do have a direct hand in this effort, principals are often a driving force.

Responsive Pedagogy

Matthew Lynch from The Edvocate defines culturally responsive pedagogy as “a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world.” Professionals can approach CRP in three different spheres: institutional, instructional and personal. Essentially, it’s about dismantling inherent biases that teachers and educators may unknowingly carry and perpetuate.

According to Lynch, the first steps of CRP that each educator can take is “exploring one’s own culture, learning about other cultures, and learning about students’ cultures.” As a principal, one can foster this exploration by making space for teachers to reflect on their cultures and how they differ — but are not better — than others.

For example, it’s not the global norm to grow up in an English-speaking household. Therefore, one shouldn’t assume that an English-speaking student will better achieve academic success compared to non-native English speakers. In that regard, Larry Ferlazzo from EducationWeek suggests that we “elevate the students’ culture and native language” instead of treating them as weaknesses. He reflects that “it is likely that most collective experiences that are a part of the school culture are conducted in English. As a result, we must make efforts to assure emerging bilingual students that first language has value and will benefit the student’s literacy life as they become more proficient in English.”

Adjusting Curricula

However, reassurance is not enough; to successfully implement culturally responsive tactics, principals must divest from the traditional school curricula and add methodologies and content sensitive to CRP. It’s not only about the what but also about the how.

“Teachers should ensure that varied and frequent active learning techniques are being used. This can include discussions, group work, experiential learning, debates, presentations, and team projects, to name a few,” write Meena Singhal and Sudeepa Gulati for Faculty Focus. Educators and school leaders should present activities and lessons “in multiple ways to address the varied learning styles of students, and learning support or scaffolding should be incorporated to gradually build upon the skills that students have acquired.”

Advanced training in principalship that emphasizes culturally responsive school leadership can equip professionals to run strong school systems. Youngstown State University’s online Principal Certificate program has a course titled Culturally Responsive Leadership that explores how CRP “is a philosophy to facilitate student engagement and academic success by incorporating student cultures, experiences, and identities into the curriculum so that students and teachers can become co-creators of classroom knowledge.”

As the educational leader, a principal is responsible for upholding the values of a school. They should, therefore, acknowledge that culturally responsive strategy and educational equity is ongoing work. Principals should be role models and should always be aware of the changes in the field and on the topic. And above all, principals must listen and cater to the needs of students.

Learn more about Youngstown State University’s Principal Certificate online program.

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