How to be a Culturally Competent Educator

In today’s diverse and multicultural classrooms, teachers encounter students with many abilities, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds and world views. It can be difficult to connect or empathize when we interact with someone, including students or parents, who we see as different from us.

It is not possible for students to succeed academically unless they feel safe. Building trust and rapport is at the core of cultural responsiveness and culturally competent teaching

Here are research-based strategies for creating a more culturally responsive classroom:

Express Interest

There is an increase in rapport when students believe that they’re heard by their teachers.

Teachers can demonstrate a connection and interest in their students with nonverbal methods. Pay attention when children are speaking and nod at appropriate moments, acknowledge student’s sharing, smile, and use eye contact.

Create Fun

Another approach to building rapport involves making time for fun activities during classroom sessions. Lesson plans can be designed to engage students with games, humor, or creative activities. Teachers can keep the classroom learning environment enjoyable by encouraging expression and laughter. Be sure to join in the fun too!


Students can feel an increased connection and rapport when teachers let down their guard, just a little bit, to share with students their human (less-than-perfect) side. This should be done while maintaining professional boundaries and might include:

Talking about an experience learning a new skill (eg. cooking, sports, art, etc.), difficulties encountered, and why it was a challenge. Consider sharing the new skill with the class.

Being open about the fact that learning can be challenging, provides a platform for students to talk about and be open about their own learning challenges.

Tell Stories

Storytelling is one of the most successful approaches used by teachers in classrooms across the world. This strategy can be used across age groups, grade levels, and curricular content.  

Stories from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds have their own appeal and charm. When students take opportunities to share folk tales or tell about family history experiences, they establish relational connections with one another.

Teachers might use these narratives as jumping off points that illustrate concepts or build upon ideas intertwined throughout the learning process.

Provide Quality Feedback

The process of sharing and receiving knowledge helps build rapport in the classroom. Following are successful strategies used by teachers for providing quality feedback.

  • Deliver in soft tones spoken with kindness.
  • Select times for interaction that are focused and without distraction.
  • Show students how they can improve their work to align with expected standards.
  • Use specifics when describing areas for improvement.
  • Employ sensitivity to intellectual and cultural backgrounds of students.
  • Remain on topic regarding work being assessed.
  • Schedule on-going cycles for review at pre-determined regular intervals.
  • Communicate clearly by choosing intentional language.

As you experiment with different methods of increasing cultural competency, observe and document your results. This data can be used to determine the best ways to continue strengthening learning partnerships in the classroom. 



Ellen Paxton

About the Author
Ellen Paxton is a respected expert in education and best known as the Chief Learning Officer of Professional Learning Board. As a two-time National Board Certified Teacher, Ellen has successfully published and customized online professional development courses and Learning Management Systems for 20 years to help teachers meet their state continuing education renewal credit requirements. Through, and Ellen has established solutions and maintained partnerships with several accredited universities, higher education institutions, teachers’ unions and state Departments of Education while setting strategic direction that makes a difference and overseeing implementation of popular online PD.