Culturally Responsible Practices in Schools

Culturally Responsible Practices in Schools

How can schools offer cultural relevancy and responsiveness to youth?

Through a process of self-reflection and careful observation of their instructional style, educators can detect ways in which their practices understandably embody their own beliefs and customs, and ask themselves: Am I reacting negatively, in an unfair way, to a behavior that is simply unfamiliar to me?

Relatedly, educators can acknowledge school staff's own personal and community histories, including racial/ cultural histories, to consider how our backgrounds cause us all to make numerous assumptions about what behavior in school is normal and desirable.

Educators could be trained in other culturally competent classroom management strategies including:

  • Recognizing one's own ethnocentrism (the tendency to see one's own cultural norms as neutral, universal, normal, and correct)
  • Developing knowledge of students' cultural and community backgrounds as they experience them
  • Understanding broader social, economic, and political context demonstrating a commitment to building caring classrooms.

Additionally, educators can become aware of implicit bias:
Implicit bias operates outside of conscious awareness, yet it has a very real impact on decision-making. Implicit bias may also fuel negative reactions to students' hair, dress, speech, or even body language, in a way that can break students' positive relationships to school.

Finally, educators can avoid snap judgments by way of self-reflection:
Educators who become aware of the subtle ways implicit bias can affect decision-making can learn to slow down when they realize that they are perhaps making snap judgments, asking themselves whether they have considered the whole context when they respond to students.


How can schools pursue bias-free discipline and respectful interactions with youth?

Educators can create opportunities for staff to critically reflect on how stereotyping and implicit bias can affect students in their schools:

  • Through analysis of school discipline data, educators can identify whether students of varying races or other social groups routinely receive different sanctions for similar rule infractions.
  • Educators can review typical disciplinary responses and ask tough questions about when and whether those responses are appropriate, truly necessary, or effective, and whether they are applied equally to all students. They can use school discipline data to launch discussions on how educators' reactions to students from various race, gender, disability, and sexual identity groups might be contributing to discipline disparities.
  • Educators can examine key discretionary decision points in discipline and utilize a multi-step check and balance or screening procedure before issuing discipline referrals for more subjective offenses, such as "insubordination" or "defiance."
  • Educators can learn about the structural nature and historical context of racism, in part to understand that racism is a historic creation rather than a personal flaw; they then can consider how implicit bias affects decision-making. [School staff might take the Implicit Association Tests (IAT) and discuss the results].


How can schools handle conflict in equitable ways?

Some conflict in schools is inevitable. However, it is possible for schools to handle conflict in equitable ways--with clear, fair, and consistent enforcement of rules, a focus on helping both students and educators to learn skills in constructive resolution of conflict, and through re-engagement and reparation of trust and community for all those involved in disputes. When discipline problems arise, schools can engage in equity-driven approaches:

  • Inquiry into the Causes of Conflicts: Use regular equity-focused inquiry to target "hot spots" of disciplinary conflict or of differential treatment for particular groups and to identify remedies.
  • Problem-Solving Approaches to Discipline: When discipline issues arise, aim to uncover what fuels the behavior or student-teacher conflict and address the identified needs.
  • Recognition of Student and Family Voice: Explicitly involve students and families in resolving conflict, especially the perspectives of youth and their caregivers.
  • Re-integration after Conflict: Systematically bring students back into a community of learners after conflict has occurred.


How can schools conduct equity-driven inquiry to intervene in discipline patterns involving youth?

To intervene in existing discipline patterns as well as to prevent unnecessary discipline, educators can review discipline data regularly to conduct equity audits:

  • At the school and district level, educators can track and disaggregate discipline data by offense type, teacher/school, location of offense, referral to law enforcement, and whether students receive a school-based ticket or arrest. Unnecessary referrals to law enforcement are a major contributor to the "school-to-prison pipeline," the literal tracking of students (even if unintentionally) into the justice system.
  • Analyze discipline data intersectionally (meaning consider students who belong to multiple subgroups simultaneously) to identify how school discipline is impacting subpopulations (for instance, research suggests gender non-conforming students of color are particularly over-disciplined, often after bullying).
  • As with preventative analysis, educators can investigate important discretionary points in the discipline process to figure how best to intervene. For instance, they can closely examine the specific reasons why students are being referred for "defiance," "disrespect," or "insubordination." Then, educators can refine these more subjective categories by describing more specific behaviors regarding the nature of the offense (e.g., used inflammatory language toward adult). Then, educators can consider which consequences for the specific "offense" are actually merited with exclusion from instruction being used as a last resort.


How can schools use problem-solving approaches to respond to conflict and support youth?

A problem-solving response includes the following:

  • Inquiry into the "why" of the behavior or incident
  • Inquiry into family or situational issues that may be aggravating behavior
  • Provision of a period of reflection for student and school staff member
  • Facilitation of a restoration process that allows for student voicing of their experience (including disputants and those affected in the school community)
  • Provision of appropriate services for those students suffering from traumatic events or other more serious mental health issues


How do schools involve students and families in school discipline?

Conflict resolution programs and restorative justice programs systematically integrate student and family voice (e.g., their perspectives and participation) after an incident has occurred. Student accountability is achieved when students and all parties involved take responsibility for their actions, recognize the impact of their actions on others, and offer ways to repair the harm. By implementing conflict resolution or restorative justice programming, schools stay attuned to whether the programming systematically includes the voices of marginalized students and their families.

Source: Gregory, A., Bell, J., & Pollock, M. (2014). How Educators can Eradicate Disparities in School Discipline: A Briefing Paper on School-based Interventions. Discipline Disparities: A Research-to-Practice Collaborative.