#82 – Best Practices for Teaching to and with Each Student’s Identity: The How of Culturally Responsive Teaching with Dr. Geneva Gay

Unpacking Education March 9, 2022 32 min

Join us for this episode as we continue our conversation about culturally responsive teaching with our guest, Dr. Geneva Gay. We will build upon the foundation that we set in our first episode, where we defined culturally relevant and responsive teaching and explored why it’s so important in our classrooms. This week, we take things one step further and discuss how we can put these concepts into practice in order to maximize each student’s potential.

Dr. Gay explains that a safe environment is one of the keys to unlocking academic potential for marginalized students. As these students listen to their teachers asking them to engage in classroom activities, many of them are thinking, “I have to believe you will respect my dignity and you will honor me before I’ll be willing to engage in this risk called learning.” For marginalized students to be willing to take a risk and learn, we must first make them feel safe and accepted.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Educators must get to know their students in order to make instructional decisions that build students’ [. . . ] identities.

Shelly M. Jones, Ph.D, mathematics educator


The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore this topic in more depth:

How Do We Maximize Student Potential Through Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Teachers can maximize students’ academic potential through the implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices. In this episode, we discuss how teachers can get started, including the importance of a safe and inclusive learning environment as well as the validation of often overlooked skills and strengths that students bring to our classrooms. The following are some of the highlights from our conversation with Dr. Gay:

  • How can supporting students’ identities support academic learning? Dr. Gay explains how it all begins with relationships. She summarizes the student point of view: “If you don’t recognize a student as a human being, they won’t engage in your learning task. A precondition for me taking a risk engaging in this academic task is you engaging in me as a person.” She goes on to further describe the student mindset: “I have to believe you will respect my dignity and you will honor me before I’ll be willing to engage in this risk called learning.” She also discusses how even the most marginalized students come to class with skills and talents that we must uncover in order to unlock their academic potential.
  • How can teachers engage with students’ cultural identities? Teachers need to create genuine partnerships with students. We must send the message: “We are in this business of teaching and learning together.” As part of this approach, we must teach students how to be teachers. Part of this process involves students sharing their own cultural experiences and how those experiences relate to the academic lesson being studied. This allows us to be learners of their cultural experiences.
  • What practices negatively impact marginalized students’ identities? Two key ideas rise to the top during this conversation. First, don’t spotlight diverse kids by calling them out as experts on themselves. They represent themselves and not everyone who is part of their cultural experience. Second, Dr. Gay explains that we must “stop focusing on the exceptional individuals in different ethnic groups. That’s marginalizing. Not everyone is going to be a genius.” This practice sets an unrealistically high bar, which sets students up for failure.
  • How can a multiculturally responsive approach improve student engagement and academic gains? Establish and honor student strengths before moving to areas of weakness. Dr. Gay points out that “competence builds competence” and that many students are already competent in their home cultures before they ever come to school. As teachers, we need to find ways to respect those competencies and bring those talents into the classroom curriculum. We must bridge student talents from outside of school to the skills we want them to learn in school. This allows students to approach new learning from a perspective of strength rather than deficit.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How can you support student identities in your classroom, and how might this support academic learning?
  • How can you create learning partnerships with your students?
  • What practices might negatively impact the marginalized students in your classroom?
  • What are the potential classroom benefits of being multiculturally responsive?

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