The U.S. reached an important milestone several years ago—minority students now comprise the largest demographic group in our nation’s public schools. While there is great diversity within our student population, the majority of educators still do not share the same cultural experiences with the diverse students they serve.

However, many effective teachers have consistently been sensitive to and culturally aware of student backgrounds. These educators intuitively understand that the more inclusive their classroom is, the more engaged their students will be, and that engagement ultimately leads to achievement.

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Culturally relevant teaching respects the traditional backgrounds of students as an asset in the classroom. In my own experience as a young child, I grew up in the U.S. with my parents having just arrived from Cuba, speaking no English. At the time, my teacher had very limited resources to help English learners, but she connected with me, and made a sincere effort to communicate with my parents and my family—and that made all the difference. My teacher made it clear through her words and actions that she was invested in me and my success. Just as my teacher did for me all those years ago, educators can all invest in the success of bilingual and multilingual students.

About the Author:

José Viana is the former Assistant Deputy Secretary in the office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education. He is now a Senior Advisor, Education Partnerships for Lexia Learning.