Thought leader

Culturally responsive teaching: The power of seeing and being seen

Some of the best lessons are the ones we learn from the inside out—the kinds that challenge who we are first, so we can better understand others. That’s the case with culturally responsive teaching, a pedagogy that acknowledges the individual cultures of every student by understanding and celebrating them.


It all started with introspection for Dr. Carrie Olson, who had to understand her own identity before applying this approach to the educational tours she led as a classroom teacher. Dr. Olson gave us an inside look at her doctoral research, which focuses on the travel programs she offered her middle school students, many of whom were first-time travelers from low-income neighborhoods. It’s a brilliantly dizzying study in learning and unlearning and shifting perspectives and changing attitudes, but she helped us distill a trio of lessons—each one interconnected with the next—that can help all teachers implement this philosophy throughout their own tour planning process.

culturally responsive teaching

“In culturally responsive pedagogy, the inclusion of family is very, very huge,” Dr. Olson says. “I’ve spent many evenings in living rooms, drinking coffee, walking in neighborhoods, getting to know families, and inviting them to be participants in their child’s travel.” Carrie knew she had to connect with the families of her first-time travelers. She had to meet them where they were at—whether that meant literally or figuratively.

Tour takeaway: When you host an informational meeting for your tour, make sure to create an inviting environment where families feel welcomed. To follow Carrie’s lead, encourage students to be active participants and act as greeters—even if your meeting is virtual.

culturally responsive teaching

Dr. Olson maintained complete transparency with her students throughout the whole tour planning process. Then, after their tour was over, she focused on feedback and reflection. “We talked about what went well, what we could do better. We set the table together.” In other words, Dr. Olson was committed to having her students be equal partners in their travel experience. She built a strong foundation of trust between her and her students, a key aspect to culturally responsive teaching.

Tour takeaway: Encourage your students to keep a journal throughout their tour. Dr. Olson asked her travelers to reflect on what they liked and disliked. Then, she used their notes to adapt and adjust her future tours to better support their wants and needs.

Culturally responsive teaching

By sharing pictures and printing posters of her former tour groups, Carrie showed her students other travelers who looked just like them—and helped them realize that they, too, could see the world. As one student told her, “You saw me as a traveler. Nobody had ever told me that was a part of who I was.” Carrie remembers how proud her students were as they made their way through Washington, D.C. “They were a large group of non-white students traveling, and they said, ‘We’re changing the face of travel, because we’re showing everybody that this is who we are.’”

Tour takeaway: You don’t have to feel pressured to create life-altering moments on tour. Instead, trust that your students will find (and make) the ones that matter to them. Your job is just to support them—or as Carrie says, start each conversation with “How can I help?”


culturally responsive teaching
Occupation: Current President of the Board of Education for Denver Public Schools, former teacher of over 30 years
Dissertation: “The Meaning of Educational Travel in the Lives of Urban Middle School Students: A Transformative Mixed Methods Study”
Recreation: Riding horses, traveling, hanging out with her daughter

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Topics: Thought leader

Kate Nolan

Kate is a Content Creator at EF. She’s loves searching for the perfect playlist, being outdoors, and enjoying the views from the window seat.

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