A more urgent sense of what is happening to minority students in the classroom should prompt us to more closely examine the kind of teaching that will be most effective for these students regardless of the ethnicity and cultural background of the teacher.

(Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 102)

Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy (CRRP) has taken different forms and different names since its introduction in the mid-1970s.  Names such as culturally responsive education (Cazden & Leggett, 1976), culturally appropriate pedagogy (Au & Jordan, 1981), culturally congruent pedagogy (Mohatt & Erickson, 1981), culturally relevant teaching (Ladson-Billings, 1992), and culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2000) all use different terminology and present different nuances, but all promote the importance of recognizing, acknowledging, and in various ways including the range of cultures that exist in any classroom.  Throughout the evolution of CRRP, few (if any at all) have suggested that educators shouldn’t be culturally responsive; the question is, what does being culturally responsive look like in an education setting?

The development of culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy can be seen as an amalgamation of the variety of practices and pedagogies explored over the years.  Using these theories and models, the Ontario Ministry of Education (the Ministry) developed a model of what should be included in the mindset of a culturally responsive educator.  The model outlines six traits:

  1. Socio-cultural consciousness;
  2. High expectations;
  3. Desire to make a difference;
  4. Constructivist approach;
  5. Deep knowledge of their students;
  6. Culturally responsive teaching practices. 

In a series of videos hosted by The Learning Exchange that outline cultural responsiveness, the Ministry emphasizes culturally responsive education as recognizing, embracing, and utilizing intercultural exchange that every person faces by the nature of interaction with other people. The Ministry states that culture is about ways of knowing and can be seen as a resource for learning. What this indicates is an acknowledgement that students do not arrive to school as blank slates and do bring with them experiences, perspectives, and voices that need to be actively incorporated in the creation of knowledges, which, if culture is about ways of knowing, therefore contributes to the creation of a classroom culture. 

Housed in the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and headed up by a team including CRRP leaders Dr. Nicole West-Burns and Jeff Kugler, the Centre for Urban Schooling (CUS) created the Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy Initiative, which developed PowerPoint presentations and resources to help educators develop and implement CRRP in their schools and classrooms. The Ministry attempts to use results from the CUS initiative to adjust CRRP, and continues to encourage the development and implementation of CRRP to help fulfill the Education Equity Action Plan.

After the Ministry presented its model for CRRP in 2013, 13 of 72 Ontario school boards volunteered to implement CRRP into their schools and classrooms. In early 2018, the Ministry invited Ontario school boards to participate in the 2018-2019 cohort of a CRRP capacity building session led by West-Burns and Kugler. The ongoing challenge to implementing CRRP is that cultures are ever-changing. As CRRP should underpin practices, the pillars of CRRP as outlined by the Ministry should be applicable to any classroom. However, because of the cultural flux, gaining a consensus on what these pillars are has been debated for decades, and adaptations continue. 

While cultural responsiveness is still being experimented with in educational practices, there are researchers and practitioners taking the CRRP discussion in different directions, and some who critique CRRP, suggesting a need for a new conversation.  The concept of culturally relational education (Donald, Glanfield, & Sterenberg, 2011) is gaining speed, bringing new dynamics to the conversation.  The “relational” element offers better acknowledgement of the relationships between cultures where cultures are not static and influence each other in the ways they are made and re-made.  Paris (2012) proposes the use of culturally sustaining pedagogy that focuses on fostering linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism.  The argument is that current education policies, CRRP included, may aim to recognize the range of cultures in a classroom, but the direction continues toward a monocultural and monolingual education environment.  Sleeter (2012) believes that culturally responsive pedagogy is marginalized for reasons that include faulty and simplistic understandings of what the pedagogy is, as well as fear by the dominant (white) culture of losing power.  While Sleeter’s position is not so much a critique of CRRP as it is a highlighting of barriers, the development of CRRP is influenced by those barriers and, seemingly, this relationship has not been sufficiently explored in order for CRRP to successfully navigate its opposition. 

Moving forward in education, in acknowledging the critiques of CRRP, the point is not to discard CRRP.  What must be done is adapt CRRP to meet the flux of culture and education.  This October, for example, the University of Ottawa’s Teacher Education Program will be collaborating with Ottawa school boards to host a Lead Associate Teacher Day that is focused on CRRP.  On this day, educators who engage with the education of Teacher Candidates will participate in a day of presentations, discussions, and activities that will explore the possibilities and limitations of CRRP in order to better share knowledge and practice with the teachers of tomorrow.  

Written by Mark Currie.

Mark Currie

Mark Currie is a PhD Candidate and Teacher Educator in the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. He is a recipient of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Award and focuses his research around public pedagogies, sociohistorical space, and enacting antiracisms. He is also an Equity Knowledge Mobilizer at RSEKN.