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Culturally Responsive Teaching: Insights from an International Student

Yousef Alardhi
October 23, 2023


Hello, I'm Yousef Alardhi, an international student from Kuwait studying at UNC. I completed my master's degree in Educational Psychology at UNC and am currently in my third year of the Educational Psychology Ph.D. program. In this blog, I want to discuss the topic of culturally responsive teaching and explore it from three angles: why it's important, what it entails, and how it can be effectively implemented from my perspective as an international student and an Educational Psychologist.

What is culturally responsive teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching is all about creating an inclusive classroom by embracing the diverse cultural backgrounds of students. It happens when instructors genuinely understand, appreciate, and warmly welcome the unique cultural richness, values, norms, and stories that each student brings to the learning experience. When students feel welcomed and a strong sense of belonging, their learning experiences take a remarkable turn for the better. The extensive body of data supporting the importance of cultivating a sense of community and belonging for student motivation and engagement underscores this fact (e.g., Gillen-O’Neel, 2021; Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Why is culturally responsive teaching important?

“They say, ‘Oh you are from Europe, blah blah blah.’ Retaining friendships is a challenge for me here. Oh, I could never make a really good female friend here in America” (Gautam et al., 2016, p. 519).

“Oh I was at the moon! Still, I remember the moment [that I got accepted at MU (Middle University)]. [It was] the happiest moment. But here [in the UK] everything happened which was totally different than my expectations.” (Newsome & Cooper, 2016, p. 208).

These quotes describe some of the challenges that international students face in the USA and the UK. Although most of the challenges that international students encounter occur outside the classroom (e.g., loneliness, cultural and religious differences, finances), the classroom climate and student-instructor interaction can play an essential role in helping the student adapt to their new situations, including overcoming language barriers, through adapting culturally responsive teaching.

How to be a culturally responsive teacher

While there are numerous books, articles, and blogs that delve into this issue and offer valuable tips and recommendations, I'd like to share some insights from my own journey, drawing from both my experiences as a student and my background as an educational psychologist. In this blog, I aim to provide you with practical advice and recommendations that stem from these personal perspectives.

Personal reflection

Reflecting on my time studying in the US, some of my best learning experiences were those when I truly felt like I belonged in class. One class that stands out took place about two years ago. In that class, our professor had a wonderful habit. Every week, without fail, she would ask us a simple question: 'How's your week going?' It might sound ordinary, but it meant the world to me. It was the only time each week when someone took a moment to ask about my well-being. I eagerly anticipated that class not only because it was meaningful and enjoyable but also because it was a chance to share how my week was going with a caring community!

Build meaningful human connections with students

Building strong connections with your students isn't just a feel-good practice—it's a game-changer in education. It's not only about making their learning experience better but also supercharging your teaching effectiveness. When students feel that connection, they're not just attending your class; they're eager to be there. Why? Because they thrive in the positive learning environment you've nurtured. They're not afraid to ask questions or seek help when needed, which ultimately improve their learning journey.

Make your assignments FAIR

Remember, when crafting your assignments, the primary goal is to assess your students' grasp of the subject matter, not their proficiency in language, unless, of course, it's an English class! Let's consider a history class as an example. If you want to inquire about the first capital of the United States, you can pose the question in two ways:

  • Which urban area did the nascent United States originally designate as its preeminent administrative capital?
  • What city served as the first capital of the United States?'

Both questions aim to explore the same historical fact, but the second version is more reader friendly as it avoids using complex language, ensuring a fair and accessible assessment for all students. By the way, the answer is New York City!

Provide previous examples for assignments and exams

Transitioning to a new educational system can pose quite a challenge for many students. Differences in instruction styles, student-teacher interactions, and assessment methods can be disorienting. To help students tackle the assessment aspect of this transition, providing access to previous examples can be a powerful resource. These examples serve as a valuable tool in helping students understand and acclimate to their new academic situation.

Refer them to the university resources

Many universities offer a range of valuable resources to students, such as counseling centers, writing centers, recreation facilities, food pantries, and libraries. During my time at UNC, I found some of these resources incredibly beneficial, and I believe they can make a significant difference for other students too.

Concluding thoughts

As I conclude this discussion of culturally responsive teaching, it's important to recognize that it's not just about teaching and learning. It's a means of fostering a supportive community that celebrates diversity, while also promoting meaningful learning for both educators and students. It's a pathway to creating an inclusive society where everyone's unique background contributes to a richer educational experience. Thank you for being a part of this journey towards a more diverse, empathetic, and inclusive educational community.


Gautam, C., Lowery, C. L., Mays, C., & Durant, D. (2016). Challenges for global learners: A qualitative study of the concerns and difficulties of international students.Journal of International Students, 6(2), 501-526. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v6i2.368

Gillen-O’Neel, C. (2021). Sense of belonging and student engagement: A daily study of first- and continuing-generation college students. Research in Higher Education, 62(1), 45-71. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-019-09570-y

Newsome, L. K., & Cooper, P. (2016). International students’ cultural and social experiences in a british university: “Such a hard life [it] is here”. Journal of International Students, 6(1), 195-215. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v6i1.488

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic Psychological Needs in Motivation, Development, and Wellness. New York: Guilford Pres.

Additional resources:

Gay, Geneva. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching : theory, research, and practice. New York :Teachers College Press,

Culturally Responsive Teaching, A Guide to Evidence-Based Practices for Teaching All Students Equitably: link:https://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/resources/culturally-responsive-teaching.pdf