We know that to establish a positive school culture, it’s imperative to set up the school’s social environment to reflect a shared vision of common values, beliefs, and behavioral expectations. However, for students who are not from the dominant culture, the school environment can expose them to unintentional microaggressions, which devalue their backgrounds and diminish school connectedness. Cultural responsiveness refers to the process of developing awareness of the significance of our students’ backgrounds (including historical context), then intentionally integrating their customs and values into our curriculum, instruction, and school environment. The goal of it within the educational setting is to increase our ability to meet student needs while fostering positive student-teacher relationships that maximize academic engagement (Rose et al., 2019).  The PBIS Cultural Responsiveness Field Guide: Resources for Trainers and Coaches is designed to promote systematic implementation of culturally responsive practices to enhance equity in school discipline. The Guide introduces cultural responsiveness and its five components: Identity, Voice, Supportive Environment, Situational Appropriateness, and Data for Equity (Leverson et al., 2019).

1. Identity:

One’s identity is comprised of multiple aspects: their race and ethnicity, but also other aspects of culture. Hence, the concept of intersectionality can be helpful in thinking about identity. Intersectionality is defined as the multiple identities that each person has that overlap and contribute to scenarios where aspects of one’s identity can either result in access to certain resources or provides privilege. In other settings, certain aspects of one’s identity can lead to discrimination. As educators, it is important to develop self-awareness of how aspects of your identity influence your practice and your own expectations for students’ academic performance and behavior.

2. Voice:

“Authentic family or community engagement includes providing family, students, and community members with meaningful opportunities to be heard, voice their opinions, and exercise leadership within the school system” (Leverson et al., 2019). Prior to engaging in conversations with families, educators should consider the value of building trust by being humble, being transparent, actively listening, being collaborative, and following through with your commitments (McIntosh, Bastable, Sandomierski, & Hall, 2019).

3. Supportive Environment:

There are three conditions for a supportive school environment. First, staff hold themselves accountable for implementing school-wide systemic approaches to developing positive school climate. Second, staff understand and view building quality student-teacher relationships and providing behavioral instruction as integral to their role as educators. Third, they build systems and practices to reach the goal of all students in the building feeling cared for and valued.

4. Situational appropriateness:

This refers to behaviors that may be expected and acceptable in one setting, but can be unsuitable within a different context or environment. Involving parents and students in the process of developing student handbooks and discipline codes is a helpful strategy. This can create dialogue about what behaviors contribute to a safe, healthy learning environment while valuing the norms of the students’ homes and communities.

5. Data for Equity:

According to the Guide, it’s paramount to disaggregate data for analysis and action planning and openly discuss trends in the data regarding equity. The Center for Public Education states equity is achieved “when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school.” Such understanding lays the foundation for a culturally responsive system. Rose et al. (2019) shares that there is a required procedure for school teams to regularly review disaggregated data for trends signifying the presence of disproportionality. Disproportionality is defined as “the presence of students from a specific group in an educational program being higher or lower than one would expect based on their representation in the general population of students” (Salend & Montgomery., 2002). Meeting norms should be developed as a team and reviewed during meetings to keep the focus on using data to address equity. Teams should have open discussions around data and avoid the use of coded language (e.g., kids from “urban” families get more referrals).

The PBIS Cultural Responsiveness Field Guide suggests three main principles to support school personnel for better understanding of cultures:
1. Behavior is learned and is context-specific.
2. Shared beliefs and behaviors serve purposes that may be difficult to understand by those who are outside of that culture or context.
3. Any given member of a cultural group may engage or not engage in each shared behavior of a culture depending on the situation.

In general, the Guide provides a framework for school personnel to promote culturally responsive practices in school systems. Besides being mindful of the five core components, we need an awareness and understanding of our personal cultures and values, as well as how those cultures and values impact our classroom and school environments. Together let us build a culturally responsive school environment that helps every student to be successful.

The PBIS Cultural Responsiveness Field Guide can be downloaded here.

The Embedding Culturally Responsive Practices in Tier I Practice Brief can be downloaded here.


Center for Public Education,What does it mean? How do we know when we reach it? 2016: https://www.nsba.org/-/media/nsba/file/cpe-educational-equity-research-brief-january-2016#:~:text=Equality%20in%20education%20is%20achieved,for%20success%20after%20high%20school.

Leverson, M., Smith, K., McIntosh, K., Rose, J., & Pinkelman, S. (2019). PBIS Cultural Responsiveness Field Guide: Resources for trainers and coaches. OSEP Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. www.pbis.org.

McIntosh, K., Bastable, E., Sandomierski, T., & Hall, R (2019). Cultivating a Durable Commitment to Equity: Where Do We Start? Presented at the National PBIS Forum: Chicago, IL.

Rose, J., Leverson, M., & Smith, K. (April 2020). Embedding Culturally Responsive Practices in Tier I. Eugene, OR: Center on PBIS, University of Oregon. Retrieved from www.pbis.org.

Salend, S. J., Garrick Duhaney, L. M., & Montgomery, W. (2002). A comprehensive approach to identifying and addressing issues of disproportionate representation. Remedial and Special Education, 23(5), 289–299. https://doi.org/10.1177/07419325020230050401

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