Creating Culturally Responsive Classroom Management Practices


Culturally responsive classroom management describes the approach to leading a classroom that supports all students by building upon cultural awareness. With the learning environment changing, classroom management is evolving as students and teachers are in different school settings. 

In-person learning, virtual classrooms or some hybrid of the two will inform the way teachers strategize on establishing classroom expectations. A critical part of that is considering policies and procedures that are culturally responsive to the students. This is an opportunity for teachers to learn about their students’ home life, learning styles, most effective learning modalities and past experiences to inform their classroom structure.

Let’s take a moment to define some terms related to this topic. This will help us to understand how classroom set up can be both complex but necessary to best serve all students equally.

Critical Definitions

Culturally Competent: The ability to understand, communicate and engage with people across cultures with different beliefs and practices.

Culturally Responsive: Being aware of varying cultural identities and perspectives and the ability to learn about and from different cultural references that inform group norms and how you engage.

Classroom Management: The set of structured tools and practices related to learning in a classroom (virtual and in-person) that include norms, expectations and consequences.

Behavior Reinforcements: A set of values and rewards that frame standards for behavior expectations. A structured school plan and constant reminders of expectations are helpful tools in setting up these reinforcements.

Learn more about how to improve Classroom Behavior Management in your school

Let’s take a step back. Last school year ended with some major changes to the classroom schedule as school environments abruptly changed to virtual learning. I imagine that some teachers needed some time to rethink their classroom norms and adjust to support student learning via a web platform. Teachers and parents worked to maintain the established relationships and adjust to the new learning environment while upholding their classroom standards. For most that meant changing or adding to their expectations. 

Here are some prompts to help you reflect on your classroom management plans:

What do I need to know about myself?

It is helpful that teachers are able to reflect on their own identity and biases. Think about how your lived experiences, race, gender, etc. inform how you engage with your students. This reflection could be a way to process how you interpret student behaviors. Perhaps behaviors that you are observing may be a culturally different response and may not need a referral. Misinterpretation of behaviors can lead to escalated consequences. To avoid this, take some time to understand how race, gender, power and privilege impact yourself and your teaching practice.

How can I embrace cultural diversity? 

Think about the students in your classroom. Consider some authentic ways to learn about their families and lived experiences. Invite students to share about family dynamics, cultural traditions and ways they resolve conflict or show support. Using this information, you can develop a plan that welcomes various approaches for student engagement. For instance, invite student parents or guardians to share important messages about family dynamics, rewards or ways they encourage their students. This information could inform your strategies for sharing expectations and providing consistent support as students work to meet those expectations.

How can I evolve my behavior reinforcements?

By advancing your understanding of student identities and culture, you can enhance current behavior reinforcement. Think about how students express themselves, or how they interact with different age groups or perhaps the language they use to affirm others. By learning about these differences in your students, you can set up plans that use similar language and approaches. 

This is not the opportunity to make a judgment about how the student determines behavior choices but instead to celebrate their identities by sharing positive language or actions that create a culture of inclusiveness. For instance, if a student comes from a family that publicly celebrates when something good happens, perhaps you can adjust reward systems so that they aren’t directly to the student but invites other classmates to share in the celebration.

The goal of classroom management is to provide safe and effective learning spaces that not only encourage student voice and advocate for choice but welcome diversity in thought. Cultural identities and lived experiences inform student identities. Reflect on the languages used in the home or the ways families and communities engage and keep that in mind when creating a plan for classroom management. You want to ensure students are not feeling targeted by rules or expectations but instead feel welcomed to be themselves in your learning space.