Culturally Responsive Practices in Education: Breaking Through Bias to Bolster Instruction and Engagement

Concurrent Session 2 & 3 (combined)
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Culturally Responsive Teaching recognizes the importance of acknowledging and incorporating learners’ cultural references into all aspects of learning. This interactive, results-driven workshop reviews the stages of cultural responsiveness, assesses implicit biases which preclude cultural responsiveness, and constructs a ready-to-use action plan for implementing culturally responsive practices into instruction.


Dean of Career Readiness and Workforce Solutions | Idea Generator | Author & Storyteller | Behavior-Based Wellness Specialist

Additional Authors

Served in higher online education for 9 years and started my career as a classroom analyst as I wrapped up my Masters of Arts in Teaching. Throughout my tenure, I advanced into a faculty training role which grew into a leadership role overseeing faculty training, quality monitoring and faculty administration and accreditation. My passions center on leveraging data to inform decisions that improve faculty growth and student outcomes.

Extended Abstract

Culture is central to learning and plays a role not only in communicating and receiving information, but also in shaping the thinking process. A pedagogy that acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates all culture offers enriched and equitable access to education for learners. Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of acknowledging and incorporating learners’ cultural references into all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings,1994)[1].

This workshop reviews the stages of cultural responsiveness, assesses implicit biases which preclude cultural responsiveness, develops a deep understanding of cultural responsiveness and its relation to one’s implicit biases, and constructs an action plan for implementing culturally responsive practices into instruction.

The stages of cultural responsiveness – Awareness, Understanding, Reflection, and Responsiveness – allow us to begin the process of walking through and into the lives of our friends, family, neighbors, students, and even strangers, especially those who we believe to hold differing or opposing views, beliefs, and lifestyles.  By organizing cultural perspective into meaningful and digestible patterns – much the way we organize the process of grief, change, and development – we can collectively reach an apex of being culturally responsive.

The culmination of experiencing these stages is our opportunity to respond to both our individuality and our universality, our collective experience, our togetherness. Culturally responsive practices are the opportunity to jointly weave our collection of stories. 


Cultural responsiveness requires that we become familiar with what we believe to be different.  It compels us to recognize the factors that create or emphasize difference, including policy and legislation, systemic practices, and cultural or societal norms.  Those events, circumstances, and experiences – often outside of our control – shape the beliefs and biases that we hold to be true within ourselves. Awareness of these our beliefs and what shapes or impacts those beliefs is paramount to developing culturally responsive teaching practices. Through our own self-awareness, we can help others to develop their awareness of biases that preclude development and growth.   


Culture is much more than the collection of our visible behaviors. Culture also includes the underlying mindsets and core values that are not always visible. The key is to take the time to understand each other. These visible and invisible factors work to create a symbiosis across social groups. 

Whether individuals or groups have similar or opposing views, these views amass to define our societal norms and expectations. For many, these norms and expectations are defined and upheld through laws, customs, and traditions.

It is important to note that biases are not always or completely negative. Our brains help us to organize our biases. For example, a positive bias can help to find relatable characteristics or behaviors. They help us to develop patterns and in doing so, they save the brain time and energy through repeated action. For example, someone who makes certain dietary choices can spot patterns to more easily identify what is generally acceptable for them to eat, rather than reading every label or inquiring about the ingredients of every dish. Similarly, our biases are engineered to keep us safe – they are our brain acting instinctively to protect us from danger. However, bias becomes negative when it is based on flawed logic that leads to incorrect conclusions or results in harmful, unfair, or unjust decisions. 

Halo Effect vs. Horn Effect

Our beliefs may not necessarily be harmful, but our actions, reactions, or inactions because of our beliefs may be harmful. A halo and horn effect can occur when we transpose a belief or impression from one reasonable area to influence another.

A halo effect is “the name given to the phenomenon whereby evaluators tend to be influenced by their previous judgments of performance or personality (Bethel, Knapp 2010).[2]” The halo effect, which is a cognitive bias, can possibly prevent someone from accepting a person, a product, or a brand based on the idea of an unfounded belief of what is good or bad.

For example, a hiring manager has an open position that requires a lot of interaction and energy, as well as a high degree of digital literacy. Subconsciously, they may begin screening resumes for candidates who are young professionals based on indicators such as year of graduation. Unfortunately, the manager excluded certain older, qualified candidates from their consideration based on their unconscious bias. Conversely, a hiring manager may have certain biases or preconceived notions that create a concern about the work ethic of younger generations and therefore omit younger, qualified individuals from their consideration set.

It is incumbent upon us to not only understand how our beliefs and biases are formulated but also to reflect on how they influence our behaviors.  


Once we are aware and understand underlying causes of bias, we can begin to reflect on how it affects our daily lives and decisions, our actions, reactions and inactions, and how they might look different with this new perspective. One might begin to recognize the pain, conflict, or challenged experienced by another person – recognizing the emotions and/or experience of others is sympathy.


Beyond sympathy lays empathy. Empathy is the process of feeling or experiencing another person or group’s difficulty. Although two people may have had very different experiences, one person can exercise their empathy to imagine, and to a certain extent, feel the feelings that resulted from that event through the process of reflection. Furthermore, beyond that one event, empathy creates an occasion for the whole person to be seen. The Latin phrase Cura Personalis translates to ‘care for the entire person,’ suggesting that we acknowledge and provide individualized attention to the holistic needs of others.


Once we are aware, understand, and have reflected upon the need for others to be seen as whole, we can now determine an appropriate response. The stages should compel us to respond by creating a sense of equity as opposed to focusing on fairness.  Fairness assumes that each person should require or deserves the same response, whereas equity responds to each individual’s needs. Removing the barriers that reduce a person or group’s access to what most others have is a critical component to providing an equitable environment.

Becoming Culturally Responsive

Being culturally responsive is an intentional practice. Change occurs when we spend time and energy to become attuned to the needs of others, to deconstruct a belief and have the courageous willingness to consider a different perspective, or to accept that the beliefs of another person are just as valid, genuine, and necessary as one’s own, so long as they are beneficial to the collective good.

Level of Participation:

This interactive workshop offers a variety of ways in which attendees will engage with each other. Participants will spend the majority of the workshop working together in small groups after completing their own personal implicit bias assessments (“Project Implicit”). In their small groups, attendees will first collaborate to jigsaw content on the topic of culturally responsive practices in education. Groups will be able to consume the content either via viewing a PowerPoint presentation or by reading a white paper.

Next, group members will engage in guided discussions on the topic of culturally responsive practices in education, and groups will be asked to share out to the other groups. Finally, groups will work together to develop action plans to address identified bias and to celebrate the group’s discovered opportunities to incorporate culturally responsive practice into their instruction.

Session Goals:

Upon completion of this workshop, attendees will be able to:

  • Recognize their own implicit associations and biases as related to gender, age, and race 
  • Identify essential strategies for embracing cultural responsiveness 
  • Practice ways to strengthen cultural awareness for workplace and instructional practices 


[1] Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co.

[2]  Bethel, Ann; Knapp, T (2010). "Halo Effect". Dictionary of Nursing and Research. 4th edition.