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Fostering an Inclusive, Culturally Responsive Learning Environment

The ultimate goal for most schools is to enhance learning outcomes and academic achievement. To accomplish this goal, educational leaders need to create and nurture an environment where students have equitable access in a minimally restrictive environment. Children learn best when they feel safe and supported.

The Need for Culturally Responsive Learning Environments

In “Schools Are Ill-Prepared to Educate ‘Superdiverse’ English-Learners,” Corey Mitchell writes that the U.S. has seen its dual-language population increase by more than 20 percent since 2000. And it is not a matter of offering support for students who speak Chinese, Mandarin, Spanish or French. Students speak a variety of languages in American schools. Schools cannot support every language when approximately 75 percent of U.S. classrooms have at least one English-language learner.

Wisconsin’s Guiding Principles for Teaching and Learning from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction contains six guiding principles, one of which states that responsive school environments are conducive to meaningful learning because they adapt to students’ individual needs. This type of learning encourages collaboration among students instead of isolating them. The department’s research brief on responsive environments summarizes the critical need for culturally responsive teaching environments:

To be effective for all students, classroom learning environments must be responsive to a broad range of needs among a diverse student population. These diverse needs include cultural and linguistic differences as well as developmental levels, academic readiness, and learning styles. A responsive learning environment engages all students by providing a respectful climate where instruction and curriculum are designed to respond to the backgrounds and needs of every student.

Some higher education institutions consider the provision of a responsive learning environment as an important facet of educational leadership. To this end, the Northwest Missouri State University online master’s program in educational leadership includes the course Multicultural Education for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Students who enroll in this course learn how to ensure the success and well-being of students by:

  • Setting up equitable protocols for student support.
  • Providing equitable access in the least restrictive environment.
  • Implementing practices for culturally responsive teaching and leadership.
  • Creating a culture where all students and their families receive fair treatment.

Leadership Skills Required to Create a Culturally Responsive Environment

An educational institution consists of many moving parts working together to achieve its vision, mission and values. Strong relationships provide the foundation for a culturally responsive school environment. While relationships between school leaders, staff members and students are important, the principal also needs to cultivate relationships with student families and the community at large. These partnerships can affect a school’s ability to achieve academic goals.

Principals who prioritize student success demonstrate leadership skills focused on:

  • Creating vision and mission statements to bring about change.
  • Building relationships with families and the community to gain support.
  • Providing meaningful feedback to staff to use best instructional practices.
  • Operating a facility that promotes student success and well-being.
  • Developing an effective system to hire, train and retain qualified staff.

In addition to the multicultural education course, Northwest’s MSEd. in Educational Leadership program offers five courses that address different facets of educational leadership — visionary, relational, instructional, managerial and innovative. The program consists of a total of 10 courses. Educational leaders who combine these five facets with knowledge of multicultural education can foster culturally responsive environments that maximize student success.

Learn more about Northwest Missouri State University’s Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership online.


Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: Guiding Principle 6: Responsive Environments Engage Learners

Education Week: Schools Are Ill-Prepared to Educate ‘Superdiverse’ English-Learners

Education Week: Teaching English-Language Learners: What Does Research Tell Us?

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: Wisconsin’s Guiding Principles for Teaching and Learning

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