How to Find a Culturally Affirmative School

Children gathered around a table with a teacher

Verywell / Zackary Angeline

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a new school for your child: location, safety, curriculum, and staff, just to name a few. It can be overwhelming, but choosing the best school for your child can set them up for a better learning experience. Every child deserves an engaging, comfortable, and inclusive learning environment; and as a parent, it's your role to find a school that provides it.

In order to create the best experience for all students, a growing number of schools across the country are becoming more culturally affirming. Many are implementing "culturally responsive teaching," which is defined as: "using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them." It aims to ensure equality for every student by welcoming and emphasizing diversity in the classroom.

Examples of Culturally Responsive Teaching:

  • Diverse learning materials, including books that feature authors and characters from around the world
  • Lessons about the history, celebrations, and important figures of cultures represented by students in the classroom
  • Encouraging discussion and sharing of opinions among students

Culturally responsive teaching reshapes traditional learning by incorporating students' cultures and identities to make it more relatable. It includes current, real-world examples and promotes respect for all students, no matter their backgrounds or differences. Culturally responsive teachers get to know each and every student, let go of any personal biases, and take an empathetic approach to how they create learning material.

Here, we'll take a more in-depth look at the benefits of culturally affirmative schools and tips for finding the best one for your child.

Why Choose a Culturally Affirmative School?

Along with feelings of inclusivity, culturally responsive teaching has positive effects on students, both socially and academically.

For instance, students learn best when the new information is linked to what they already know. By using books and other learning materials that draw from the students' cultures and backgrounds, it makes it easier for them to understand. Much of the traditional school curriculum has been geared toward middle-class, European values and thinking, making it difficult for ethnically diverse students to relate. Culturally responsive teaching breaks down those barriers to ensure each student has an opportunity to learn in a way that complements their background.

Benefits of Attending a Culturally Affirmative School:

  • A sense of safety and belonging
  • Validation of the importance of all races, cultures, and identities
  • Students are more motivated, engaged, and confident when learning
  • Deeper and more meaningful conversations about culture and diversity
  • Teachers are more involved with parents in order to learn more about the student and the best ways for them to learn

Culturally affirmative schools make a conscious effort to embrace diversity in all aspects of learning, which puts both students and parents at ease.

How To Find a Culturally Affirmative School

Children holding up fruit

Verywell / Zackary Angeline

Searching for a new school can be overwhelming, especially if you're not sure what details to look out for. Here are certain things you can pay attention to, along with specific questions you can ask to learn if the school you're considering is culturally affirmative.

Questions To Ask About School Practices 

When observing the school as a whole, there are certain programs and practices that can help you determine whether they are making strides toward student equity. Here are a few questions to ask:

Does every student have equal access to learning? Whether it's virtual learning or in-person education, every student should have the access and materials needed to be successful. Ask about the devices and technology for virtual learning and what strategies are used for classroom teaching. A culturally affirmative school will recognize any inequities among different groups of students and how they plan to address them.

How is the institution working to eliminate staff biases? What are they doing to account for systemic imbalances? A school that is culturally affirmative should have a plan in place to address both.

How are students grouped into classes? Are they separated by academic ability? Many schools track academic progress, ranking them in categories such as average, normal, or below average. Although this has been a standard practice for so long, it can further segregate students by race and socioeconomic status.

How can parents get involved? Parent involvement, especially for younger children, is imperative to the success of students. Instead of your child's education and care being solely in the hands of the teacher, parents should have more say and insight. Part of culturally responsive teaching involves connecting with both the student and their family to ensure they receive the most effective education.

Questions To Ask About the Classroom

To get an idea of the classroom atmosphere, here are a few questions you can ask:

What teaching strategies are used by the teachers? Do they use a culturally responsive, student-centered approach? It's important to determine whether their teaching style gives every student the opportunity to learn in ways best suited for them. Discussing the teaching strategies can give you a better idea of whether or not cultural differences are embraced and incorporated into learning.

What does the curriculum look like? What types of books and learning materials are available? Are they culturally and racially diverse? A culturally responsive teaching curriculum promotes lessons and discussions including historical events, issues, and concepts from the perspective of different ethnic groups. It also takes into account social justice issues and current events.

In September 2020, New America, a think and action tank that designs evidence-based public policies, published eight competencies for teachers that support culturally responsive teaching. They include:

  1. Reflect on one's cultural lens
  2. Recognize and redress bias in the system
  3. Draw on students’ culture to shape curriculum and instruction
  4. Bring real-world issues into the classroom
  5. Model high expectations for all students
  6. Promote respect for students' differences
  7. Collaborate with families and the local community
  8. Communicate in linguistically and culturally responsive ways

By discussing these with a potential school, they should be able to share the ways in which they plan to integrate them into the classroom, ensuring equality for each and every student, regardless of race or culture.

A Word From Verywell

A child's education is crucial to their growth and overall well-being, and equality is the driving force behind its success. Culturally affirmative schools recognize the biases within the school system and work to ensure every student receives a fair education. Though daunting, finding a school that celebrates diversity and recognizes the differences of students can provide your child with a more well-rounded education.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gay G. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press; 2010

  2. New America. Teacher competencies that promote culturally responsive teaching. Updated Sept. 2020.

  3. New America. 5 ways culturally responsive teaching benefits learners. Updated September 23, 2019.

  4. Modica M. "My skin color stops me from leading": tracking, identity, and student dynamics in a racially mixed school. Int J Multicult Educ. 2015;17(3):76-91. doi:10.18251/ijme.v17i3.1030