As Christian educators, loving our students unconditionally is paramount. However, showing our students Christ’s love in a diverse classroom where students interpret our words and actions through varying cultural perspectives can be challenging.
Having taught for fifteen years in a public school where I was the minority, I know this from experience. During my first year, I experienced some culture shock. However, my passion for teaching students whose cultures differed from mine grew a little more each year as I learned how to love each student in my classroom.
Now, I use my experience to help other Christian educators (and future educators) learn how to use culturally responsive teaching strategies to minister to all of their students.
Over the years, the following strategies have helped me create culturally responsive learning environments:
- Build a sense of community in the classroom through positive and effective communication. Educators can start by creating and modeling a culture of respect for all students. Then, teachers can foster an engaging learning environment where students learn communication skills that promote a safe and secure space for diverse learners. Positive student-to-teacher and student-to-student communication fosters a relational learning community where students feel comfortable sharing their ideas and beliefs.
- Foster the connections between home and school. Educators can intentionally build relationships with their students’ families by designing opportunities for them to connect with the school and contribute to the classroom culture. For example, teachers can establish a “student of the week” schedule that allows each student to share things about his or her family, heritage, and culture with the class and even invite family members into the classroom. For older students, teachers could host a “career day” and invite family members to come in and share about their career/job with students.
- Set high expectations for all students while providing adequate support for them to learn. Many times, teachers make the mistake of allowing their feelings of empathy to lower academic expectations for students, especially those viewed as disadvantaged learners. Lowering standards out of empathy only fuels the flame of deficiency and helplessness. However, providing academic challenges and the necessary scaffolding to successfully achieve goals is one of the greatest gifts teachers can give to their students. Helping all students achieve academic success every day will build their self-efficacy and inner drive to learn.
- Intentionally seek diverse resources for instruction. Teachers can help students make connections between materials they can identify with and their own cultural experiences. For example, teachers could incorporate literature that reflects the racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds of the students within the classroom. Linking students’ frames of reference to learning activities that engage their critical thinking, inquiry, and collaboration skills increases content mastery and validates individuals and their heritages.
By intentionally providing instruction that allows each diverse learner to connect to the learning environment, feel validated, and achieve success, Christian educators effectively share the love of Christ—a love that overcomes all cultural barriers—with their students.
Dr. Nancy DeJarnette serves as the Director of Accreditation and Assessment at Liberty University’s School of Education. Dr. DeJarnette has served in teacher preparation in higher education for the past 16 years. Previously, she taught in both middle and elementary schools.
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