Reinert Center Pilots New Program on Culturally Responsive Teaching


by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Next week, the Reinert Center will launch a pilot for a new program focused on helping SLU faculty and graduate student instructors design and teach courses in ways that are culturally responsive.  While the particular emphasis for the pilot is on engaging international students more inclusively, the concepts of “culturally responsive teaching” are relevant for all teachers and aligned with the literature on effective pedagogical practice more generally.

The Culturally Responsive Teaching Academy

The Culturally Responsive Teaching Academy is an intensive instructional development experience for SLU faculty and graduate students who teach courses with high concentrations of international students or who just wish to learn more about working effectively with students from a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.  It combines a four-day summer institute with monthly meetings of the Academy cohort during the fall semester and discussions as needed in the spring.

Participation is limited and by department chair / program director nomination only.  Faculty participants are designated Culturally Responsive Teaching Fellows; graduate student participants are designated Culturally Responsive Graduate Fellows.  The 2015 cohort has been set and begins its work next week.

So, what is “culturally responsive teaching”?

“Culturally responsive teaching” is teaching that demonstrates awareness of the ways in which the norms and values experienced in the classroom – by both teachers and learners – are shaped by culture.  Students come to our campuses with all kinds of experiences and only-half-understood “rules” for what teaching and learning look like in the university setting. From classroom engagement, to faculty/student interactions, to writing and research: the norms of academic culture look different depending on when and where the teaching and learning is happening.  And academic culture is a “culture” – though it’s easy for many faculty and graduate students to forget that because we are so steeped in it.  (Of course, for faculty and graduate students who come to American universities from other educational cultures, that fact is likely more visible.)

From design to implementation, culturally responsive courses make explicit and visible for all students the assumptions and expectations instructors have for those courses.  This is important, not just for international students, but also for first-generation and other students from traditionally under-represented groups, as well as returning adult students, veterans, and others who come back to the classroom after having been steeped in workplace, military, and family cultures.  The more inclusive and explicit we are at the point of designing courses, the more likely we are to be responsive – rather than reactive – to the differences among our students.

The concept of culturally responsive teaching (or pedagogy) was born out of educators’ desire for more truly inclusive learning experiences in increasingly multicultural classroom settings (especially in urban schools). Gloria Ladsen-Billings and Geneva Gay are the names most associated with its early years.  More recently, the concepts have begun to appear in the literature on international students’ experiences in Western / U.S. classrooms.

While there’s much more that may be said about culturally responsive teaching, there’s also just the simple fact that, as an early Ladsen-Billings article title proclaims, the practices are “Just Good Teaching!”


Gay, G. (2010). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Practice, and Research. 2nd edition.  New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Ladsen-Billings, G. (1995). “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Theory into Practice (34:3). Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University. Pp. 159-165.

Lin, S. & Scherz, S.D. (2014). “Challenges Facing Asian International Graduate Students in the US: Pedagogical Considerations in Higher Education.”  Journal of International Students (4:1). Pp. 16-33.