Culturally responsive pedagogy

As part of the Rainbow Nation, we often get to experience a variety of cultures, races and religious beliefs in one classroom. Being mindful of this enables us as teachers to make teaching more relevant. Where you teach will influence how you teach, as each culture has its own traditions and needs. Being an effective teacher means that you will have to adapt to the culture of each school and group of children in front of you. 

Each culture has its own habits, likes and dislikes, and interests. What this means for education is that we need to change our approach to speak to each culture, ensuring that we are on the same level of understanding and thus optimising learning by inclusiveness. Including different cultures means that our pedagogy needs to be changed to focus on creating a situation where different cultures can thrive. 

All of this sounds almost impossible as we sometimes deal with a multitude of different cultures in one classroom. It is therefore important to remember that there are often cultural similarities in each class, whether it is pupils’ social-economic status, area, environment, or other similar examples. And while we rejoice in our similarities, we can simultaneously celebrate each other’s differences, creating curiosity and respect among our young people, and ourselves. 

How to be culturally responsive in your teaching

  1. Reflect on your own culture
    Who you are, where you come from and what you believe will have a massive influence on how you teach. We all have our individual teaching styles, but being mindful of how different the kids in front of you are teaches you to be more sensitive to their cultures. This will also have an effect on how you deal with the various caregivers of your learners.
  2. Change or adapt content
    It is important that our learners’ backgrounds are taken into consideration when creating content. Get to know your students. Learn about their backgrounds, beliefs and struggles. Talk to your learners about their traditions and also include the other teachers in the conversation when getting to know about the community and their various obstacles.

    Family dynamics can also be included in culture. This means that it might be normal in a specific culture for the children to be raised by other family members instead of their biological parents. If you keep saying things like ‘Will you ask your mom …’ it may have a negative influence on the learner. 

    Including names and real situations in word problems or comprehensions will also go a long way. Consider the location of your school and the cultures your students come from. What are common names used? What are common experiences in this area?

    It is also important to focus on the challenges of specific communities. If illness is caused by bad hygiene, use it in your teaching. Projects also need to be relevant. A project about keeping the ocean clean is not as pertinent in Johannesburg as it will be in Durban.

    The opposite also applies in this step. Include videos and examples of other cultures across the world to illustrate how different we are and that this should not be something to separate us, but to unite us.
  1. Keep the conversation open
    Create an environment where your students are comfortable to ask questions or add examples. This also means that your students will be curious when something is different to what they are used to and then asked to learn. You as the educator should also show interest and ask learners if there is something about their culture that you don’t fully understand. This can also help the learners in respecting each other and each others’ differences. Learners should feel that they can share their ideas and feelings without being judged.

    To get your learners to engage in conversation, you will have to build a relationship with them. This means that you need to know them, get them to trust you and feel loved and cared for by you. When this is established, they will be more likely to follow your example and treat other learners in the same way.
  1. Demonstrate shared learning
    Teachers need to show that they are still learning by being interested in what their students have to say. Children learn more effectively if they are part of the learning process. Learning from them and learning from each other creates an environment where learners feel accepted and safe. They learn to take each others’ feelings and viewpoints into consideration and to be more respectful towards each other.

    Learners can be asked to teach a concept that they know more about or they can make use of techniques such as the flipped classroom to show what the class’s different cultures entail. Using different ideas and approaches will teach learners to solve problems using their differences.

    We need to use different cultures in all of our subjects and classes, but we also deliberately need to teach different cultures to our learners in subjects like Geography or Life Skills.

It is a big responsibility that we have on our shoulders, to ensure that we use a culturally responsive pedagogy in our classrooms, but it doesn’t have to be a problem. It should rather be a decision to change our set beliefs and learn with our students. It is not impossible to have a healthy multicultural classroom where our learners are non-judgemental with a positive attitude towards the class’s different views. The solution is to be proactive and adaptable and to demonstrate that being an effective teacher does not mean that you know everything – but rather that you have respect for each child, and you never stop learning. 


Wilmari Pretorius is an Afrikaans educator in Gauteng. She has a BA in Language and Culture and has obtained a postgraduate teaching certificate from the University of Stellenbosch. She is passionate about two things: Afrikaans and children. In her five years in education, she has realised that a lot of time and creativity is needed to motivate learners to learn. From this sprang her love for technology.

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