From Personal to Systematic: Strategies of Culturally Responsive Practices

By Jori Ruff, Herb Kohl Fellow and Elementary ELL Specialist

Geneva Gay (2000) defines cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing as using the cul­tural knowl­edge, prior expe­ri­ences, and per­for­mance styles of diverse stu­dents to make learn­ing more appro­pri­ate and effec­tive for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these stu­dents. Our pre­sen­ta­tion “From Per­sonal to Sys­tem­atic: Strate­gies of Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices” will high­light how the Bara­boo School Dis­trict has imple­mented cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices (CRP) at all lev­els in order to meet the needs of ALL stu­dents to close the achieve­ment gap and increase engagement.

In our pre­sen­ta­tion, we will dis­cuss how know­ing one’s self can help to influ­ence teach­ing prac­tices that are cul­tur­ally respon­sive and that can begin to close the achieve­ment gap for stu­dents. Par­tic­i­pants will dis­cover how to lever­age essen­tial ele­ments in The Daniel­son Frame­work for Teach­ing to advance cul­tur­ally respon­sive ped­a­gogy. They will also learn how to apply local resources to strengthen the per­sonal, instruc­tional and sys­tem­atic strate­gies of cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices. Our goal is that par­tic­i­pants will leave the pre­sen­ta­tion with a deeper under­stand­ing of how and why cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices pos­i­tively influ­ences teach­ing and learning.

When the Bara­boo School dis­trict first began work on imple­ment­ing Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Teach­ing prac­tices, many edu­ca­tors asked the ques­tion Why? Why is this impor­tant? Why do we need to change? We will spend a por­tion of our pre­sen­ta­tion talk­ing about why our dis­trict chose to focus on Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices. From Response to Inter­ven­tion to the Daniel­son Frame­work for Teach­ing, CRP is a crit­i­cal attribute to sup­port stu­dent growth and engage­ment. Dur­ing the begin­ning stages of imple­ment­ing RtI, it became clear that build­ing edu­ca­tor and admin­is­tra­tor under­stand­ing of CRP was essen­tial in the suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of RtI. As our diverse pop­u­la­tions con­tin­ued to grow, the dis­trict saw the need to pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment in meet­ing the needs of diverse learners.

Dur­ing the 201213 school year, our dis­trict uti­lized Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment to staff empha­siz­ing cur­rent dis­trict ini­tia­tives: engaged time, ques­tion and dis­cus­sion tech­niques, learn­ing tar­gets, and for­ma­tive assess­ment. A coworker and I were tasked with devel­op­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion about Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices. Our group met three times over the course of a year for 90 min­utes. A new cohort of teach­ers par­tic­i­pated dur­ing the 201314 and 201415 school years.

Another rea­son why our dis­trict felt it was impor­tant to pro­vide pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment around the topic of Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices was State Super­in­ten­dent Tony Evers’ Pro­mot­ing Excel­lence For All 2017 ini­tia­tive. Wis­con­sin has the widest race-​based achieve­ment gaps in the nation (Mul­vany, 2013). The results from the 2013 National Assess­ment of Edu­ca­tional Progress (NAEP), often called the “Nation’s Report Card,” showed no other state had wider gaps in both of the assess­ments aligned with Agenda 2017 (fourth-​grade read­ing and eighth-​grade math­e­mat­ics). Fur­ther, no other state had wider gaps in fourth-​grade math­e­mat­ics and eighth-​grade read­ing. State Super­in­ten­dent, Tony Evers, cre­ated a spe­cial task force as part of his Agenda 2017, to address the achieve­ment gaps of our stu­dents of color, eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents, stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties, and Eng­lish Lan­guage Learn­ers. The Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Pub­lic Instruc­tion cre­ated a report, Pro­mot­ing Excel­lence for All, high­light­ing strate­gies to sup­port diverse learn­ers. Dur­ing our pre­sen­ta­tion, we will high­light strate­gies from this report that we have incor­po­rated within the Bara­boo School District.

After devel­op­ing a strong under­stand­ing of why incor­po­rat­ing Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Teach­ing Prac­tices is so crit­i­cal to stu­dents’ achieve­ment and engage­ment, par­tic­i­pants will have the oppor­tu­nity to iden­tify spe­cific attrib­utes about them­selves as edu­ca­tors and how these may pos­i­tively or neg­a­tively impact their inter­ac­tions with stu­dents. Mahatma Ghandi said “You can­not under­stand oth­ers until you begin to under­stand your­self.” Know­ing our­selves is an impor­tant part of under­stand­ing our biases and being able to work with stu­dents who have back­grounds dif­fer­ent from our own.

Mov­ing for­ward, par­tic­i­pants will be intro­duced to ways in which they can be more cul­tur­ally respon­sive in their instruc­tion. Instruc­tional strate­gies will be shared from how to set up a class­room to ques­tions to think about while plan­ning instruc­tion such as: Do I con­sis­tently begin my lessons with what stu­dents already know from home, com­mu­nity, and school? Par­tic­i­pants will also engage in activ­i­ties to under­stand how cur­rent class­room prac­tices can alien­ate stu­dents thus dis­cour­ag­ing them from feel­ing accepted at school. Par­tic­i­pants will leave the ses­sion with strate­gies and resources they can imple­ment imme­di­ately in order to make their instruc­tion, class­rooms, and schools more cul­tur­ally responsive.

Finally, we will dis­cuss how the Bara­boo School Dis­trict cre­ated a Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tices Pol­icy and future steps we are tak­ing to con­tinue this impor­tant work. In the Spring of 2015, after a few years of pro­vid­ing pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment about CRP dur­ing Pro­fes­sional Learn­ing Com­mu­ni­ties, the Bara­boo School Dis­trict began cre­at­ing a Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Prac­tice pol­icy. The hope is was that this pol­icy would guide dis­trict, school and cur­ric­u­lar deci­sions. Dur­ing the 201516 school year, a cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing prac­tices work­group com­prised of teach­ers and admin­is­tra­tors was cre­ated to revise the pol­icy and to become invested stake­hold­ers in the impor­tance of this work. After revi­sions, the pol­icy was shared with staff mem­bers and feed­back was encour­aged. In May of 2016, the pol­icy was pre­sented to the board and received unan­i­mous approval. The Bara­boo School Dis­trict cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing prac­tices work­group and RtI lead­er­ship work­group have been com­bined for the 201617 school year to cre­ate a Social Equity Workgroup.

In the Bara­boo School Dis­trict we believe that every­one has a basic human need to belong and feel accepted; that teach­ers need to take the time to get to know their stu­dents in order for them to be suc­cess­ful in the class­room. Cul­tur­ally respon­sive prac­tices address the needs of all our stu­dents and pre­pares them to be not only cit­i­zens of Wis­con­sin, but of the world. At the end of this pre­sen­ta­tion we hope that par­tic­i­pants will leave with the under­stand­ing of how to begin and/​or sus­tain sim­i­lar work in their own districts.


Gay, G. (2000). Cul­tur­ally Respon­sive Teach­ing: The­ory, Prac­tice, & Research. New York: Teach­ers Col­lege Press.

Hol­lie, S. (2012). Cul­tur­ally and Lin­guis­ti­cally Respon­sive Teach­ing and Learn­ing. Hunt­ing­ton Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Mul­vany, Lydia. 2013. “Black Stu­dents Near Bot­tom in Nation on Bench­mark Math, Read­ing Test.” Mil­wau­kee Wis­con­sin Jour­nal Sen­tinel, Novem­ber 8. Retrieved from

Evers, T., PhD. (2014). Pro­mot­ing excel­lence for all : A report from the State Superintendent’s Task Force on Wisconsin’s Achieve­ment Gap (Bul­letin No. 15016). Retrieved from The Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Pub­lic Instruc­tion web­site:

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