Culturally Inclusive Pedagogy: Empowering Responsive and

By: Linda Dale Bloomberg

Linda Dale Bloomberg holds the positions of associate director of faculty support and development, and full professor of education in the School of Education, Northcentral University, San Diego. Dr. Bloomberg received her doctorate in 2006 from Teachers College, Columbia University, where she completed the AEGIS Program in Adult and Organizational Learning. Her new book is titled Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners.


In 2021 I published Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to Engage Adult Learners, with the focus heavily on ensuring equity and inclusion. As I write in my book,

Inclusion represents the extent to which individuals feel valued, respected, encouraged to participate fully, and able to be their authentic selves. Inclusive pedagogy describes curriculum and teaching approaches that encourage learners to have a sense of belongingness… Addressing diversity and inclusion—to support the growth of all learners—is something that should be infused throughout your teaching practice right from design and development of a course, through implementation and assessment. We can work toward a more inclusive educational experience when we take the time to understand our learners’ contexts and their unique needs through the relationships that we build with them.  Inclusion is rooted deeply in the democratic principles of both justice and opportunity, and educators have a responsibility to ensure that all learners can fulfill their goals of completion. Toward this end, every learning experience should offer full equity and inclusion for all learners. (p. 123)

By 2045, the United States will become a majority-minority society, with less than 50% of the population being non-Hispanic Whites (Frey, 2018). Adult learners today are also more diverse than ever before in various ways (Schaeffer, 2019). Educators at all levels will increasingly need to understand and appreciate diversity, recognize and acknowledge the role of sociocultural factors, and develop the knowledge and skills that would allow them to be inclusive in their approach and teach ethically and responsibly in a world characterized by complex diversity.  No other time or place in history has brought together such a diverse array of cultures, backgrounds, and identities. However, with that diversity comes a great deal of responsibility for educators, who must be able to communicate effectively with learners of multiple cultural backgrounds, and also empower their learners to celebrate diversity.  And, as learning environments continue to become increasingly globalized, educators must seek to reduce barriers to education in order to provide a high quality of education for all learners, regardless of their background, social and cultural contexts, or past educational and life experiences.

The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota defined culture as “shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a cultural group while also distinguishing those of another group” (CARLA, 2009, p. 1). It is important to recognize that cultural diversity is not only based on ethnic or national differences. Within any culture there are also regional differences, differences of upbringing and differences of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and ability.  Individuals from different cultures engage in and expect different communication practices and behaviors during interactions in learning or work environments. It is vital therefore for educators to be aware of how an individual’s life experiences and social and cultural contexts may shape their relationship with learning and with their instructors.

Culturally Responsive Education

It is important to realize that people from different cultures may learn in different ways. As such, we need to proactively create learning experiences that recognize and acknowledge developmental diversity; that is the different ways that individuals think and learn. Attending carefully to developmental diversity–like all forms of diversity–is one important way that we can create an environment of support and challenge that can reach and inspire learners with different needs and learning preferences.  Culturally responsive education is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires educators to learn deeply about the intersectional identities of their learners and to move beyond simplified or tokenized acts of diversity and inclusion, and to foster spaces where adults can first reflect on their own identities, biases, and lived experiences. We begin building relationships by working on ourselves, and reflecting on and examining how our personal and cultural experiences inform our teaching practices and biases. Developing cultural awareness and selecting culturally responsive teaching materials are two key strategies, supported by research, that help educators to create and sustain inclusive learning environments:

Developing cultural awareness

When educators understand more about their implicit and explicit biases, it helps us to identify and address how these biases impact practice. The Guide for Culturally Responsive Practice, developed by the Learner Variability Project, is an excellent tool that can help educators reflect on their own experiences so that they can engage in productive conversations with their students, colleagues, and communities.

Selecting culturally responsive teaching materials

Curricular decisions affect the lived experiences of students daily. Curriculum is a powerful lever that can cultivate identity, criticality, intellect, skills, and joy for learners and so the goal is to seek criticality and representation of culturally and historically marginalized identities. For learners to recognize their own communities in the texts they are taught or self-select is critical to the personal engagement that drives deeper learning. Diversity in literature reflects a dynamic intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, economic condition, religion, and more. Moreover, literature can also be a tool to support students to engage not only the complexities of our diverse human condition but also our shared realities and experiences. As new equity-focused professional development programs emerge to help educators better center the identities of their students, it will be important to explore:

  • The learner mindsets of educators
  • Educators’ experiences during these professional development programs
  • The impact of this learning on their selection of curriculum and use of culturally responsive teaching materials and strategies
  • The impact of this professional learning on students’ sense of belonging and achievement

Work intentionally to create an environment that includes and values all learners! Especially during unstable or unpredictable times, stress is elevated, with many learners facing a variety of challenges that can impact motivation, concentration, engagement, and performance.  At its core, culturally responsive education is about meaningfully centering the identities of students to elevate and celebrate their past, present, and future, in order for them to remain engaged in their learning, and meet their potential in school, at work, and in the community.

Reflection questions

  • How do teachers who do not share the same race or cultural identity as their learners approach and sustain culturally responsive practices?
  • What do you learn about yourself through your teaching experiences?
  • What instructional decisions do you make when developing and/or selecting curriculum and learning experiences for learners of diverse and intersectional identities?
  • What structures and strategies do you use to understand the home cultures of your students? How, if at all, is this interwoven into your curriculum and teaching materials?

References

Bloomberg, L. D. (2021). Designing and delivering effective online instruction: How to engage adult learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

This publication was nominated for the 2021 and 2022 Division of Distance Learning (DDL) for the Association of Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), one of the premier international organizations for instructional design and ed-tech. Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, University of Minnesota (CARLA). (2009). What is Culture? Retrieved from http://www.carla.umn.edu/culture/definitions.html Frey, W. H. (2018). Diversity explosion. Brookings Institution Press. Shaeffer, K. (2019). The most common age among whites in US is 58- More than double that of racial and ethnic minorities. Pew Research Center.  https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/30/most-common-age-among-us-racial-ethnic-groups/


Photo by Brett Jordan from Pexels