News Icon

Unwrapping the Gifts of Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Early Learning Classroom

December is often seen has a time of “Ho! Ho! Ho! Happiness” in early learning that includes stories, activities, treats and even gift-giving.  One of the BIGGEST and ENDURING gifts that early learning educators can give their learners (and families) is to commit to culturally responsive teaching as a daily practice! Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain defines culturally responsive teaching as, “An educator’s ability to recognize students’ cultural display of learning and meaning making and respond positively and constructively with teaching moves that use cultural knowledge as a scaffold to connect what the student knows to new concepts and content in order to promote effective information processing. All the while, the educator understands the importance of being in relationship and having a social-emotional connection to the student in order to create a safe space for learning.” (p. 15)


Let’s look at how The Framework for Teaching focuses on this critical aspect of teaching through the use of Common Themes. The Framework’s Common Themes and their implications are essential to supporting each child’s early learning success!



Equity is the primary Common Theme and is supported by the others. Teachers strive for excellence, but “a commitment to excellence is not complete without a commitment to equity.” Each student deserves access to world-class teaching and to learning environments that promote joyful inquiry, intellectual rigor, and reflection.


Culturally competent teachers create culturally responsive and inclusive learning environments that move beyond surface level attention to cultural differences and foster a sense of belonging by embracing and giving power to diverse points of view.


Excellent teachers hold and communicate high expectations and ensure access to rigorous content for all students. Teachers also demonstrate high expectations by encouraging productive struggle and tenacity.


Learners do the learning, and excellent teachers understand the cognitive and social-emotional development of students in ways that support their creation of appropriate learning environments and opportunities.


Classrooms are comprised of individuals with unique characteristics and needs. For this reason, excellent teachers ensure that goals and tasks have the potential to challenge students at different levels and with different needs.


Excellent teachers create the conditions for students to assume responsibility for their own learning. Student agency may be fostered through a variety of different school models and instructional approaches but is essential to successful teaching and learning.


Now, let’s consider “unwrapping” gifts for culturally responsive teaching in early learning through some resources aligned to the Common Themes of The Framework for Teaching:

First Gift: Videos and Resources for Culturally Responsive Teaching

  • Theme of Equity can be seen through the classroom’s environment and learning activities that are all student-developed and facilitated through a literacy-rich, thematic-based approach
  • Theme of Cultural Competence is supported through morning meetings that foster a shared belief in the importance of learning, social acceptance and positive interactions
  • Theme of High Expectations encourage students’ Plan-Do-Review learning plans that can be personalized, often starting orally and then moving to include drawing and writing
  • Theme of Developmental Appropriateness can be seen in these teaching vignettes that focus on accountable talk and high expectations for “just right” learning challenges
  • Theme of Attention to Individual Students is fostered through a learning structure that 1) supports student ownership of classroom routines, 2) individual student choice, 3) independent and student-to-student ownership of learning, and 4) large group adaptations through alternative seating, student-interest aligned activities, and adapted language supports
  • Theme of Student Assumption of Responsibility is modeled through teacher-student interactions regarding high quality work and the teacher’s perseverance in supporting students to productively struggle in important learning


Second Gift: NAEYC’s Culturally Responsive Practices that Support Young Learners

This article provides five culturally responsive core strategies to promote positive teacher relationships with young children in preschool and minimize challenging behavior: learn about children and families, develop and teach expectations, take the child’s perspective, teach and model empathy, and use group times to discuss conflict.


Third Gift: Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain Website

This is Zaretta Hammond’s website where we can get answers to our collective and individual questions about how we can help students become confident and competent learners. In this space, Zaretta wants to highlight what she is learning from being out in schools and classrooms with teachers who are successful with diverse students. She provides everyday strategies and practices that can easily be put into different classrooms to be more culturally responsive.


Fourth Gift: The Open Book Bag…A Blog on Race, Diversity, Education and Children’s Books

In the first post of the series on Culturally Responsive Teaching, educator Lindsay Barrett shares ideas for read alouds that build relationships in Early Learning that honor and respect students’ experiences as well as introduce children to diverse authors and illustrators. Examples of some of these read alouds include  Quinito Day and Night and Quinito’s Neighborhood which portray a large Spanish-speaking family living in an urban setting. Moony Luna tells how parents comfort a young Latino girl who is nervous about starting school. My Steps recounts an African American girl’s experiences on her front stoop in different seasons.




Fifth Gift: Equity and Early Childhood Education: Reclaiming the Child

(A Research Policy Brief produced by the National Council of Teachers of English)

This policy brief is definitely worth our time and attention.  It focuses on “creating a space and open dialogue around the issues related to fairness, opportunity and every child’s right to participate in equitable early childhood practices”. This document is hyperlinked to other research briefs that expand upon the following subsections: High Quality Culturally Responsive Early Childhood Teachers, Strength-Based Views of Children and Their Languages, Racial Equity and Anti-Racist Teaching in Early Childhood Education, Children’s Right to the Language, Access to Diverse Books, Playful Explorations, and A Shift from Readiness to Learning.


Last GiftPaulo Freire wrote in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

What a GIFT of transformation we could give our youngest learners through Culturally Responsive Teaching…!

Happy Holidays and Connect soon in 2020!!!