A Leadership-Level Culture Cycle Intervention Changes Teachers’ Culturally Inclusive Beliefs and Practices

Hazel Rose Markus (Stanford University)
Stephanie A. Fryberg (Northwestern University)

Practitioners working to advance educational equity increasingly understand that culturally inclusive practices are essential in creating environments where diverse students experience belonging and success. However, strategies for effectively and sustainably integrating these practices into the fabric of education remain elusive. U.S. educational practices are largely centered on white, middle-class norms, such as independence. 

This narrow focus creates a cultural mismatch for students from racial/ethnic minorities and lower-income backgrounds, where interdependence is often valued. Past research demonstrates that this cultural mismatch perpetuates racial/ethnic and social class achievement gaps. A new study demonstrates one way these achievement gaps may be mitigated by creating school cultures that are inclusive of interdependence. Findings from a research-practice partnership illustrate that a school leadership intervention can enhance teachers’ use of culturally inclusive teaching practices and improve student outcomes. 

By creating policies that affirmed diverse ways of being and helping their colleagues put these policies into practice, school leaders shifted how teachers understood and engaged students from different cultural backgrounds. As a result, students fared better socially and academically, and the achievement gap in math was eliminated.

- Laura Brady

The authors examined the effects of changing school environments to foster cultural matches. They trained leaders at nine schools in a district with 54% Hispanic students and 74% white teachers to integrate practices aligned with interdependent cultural norms, such as shared goals, alongside practices aligned with independent norms, such as personal goals. Two years later, surveys showed a decrease in educators’ endorsement of colorblindness (i.e., downplaying the importance of students’ cultural differences) and an increase in their endorsement of multiculturalism (i.e., acknowledging and celebrating students’ cultural differences). 

These changes predicted greater use of culturally inclusive teaching practices, such as emphasizing that the classroom is a community. Culturally inclusive practices appeared to weaken the relationship between race and standardized test scores in math, after controlling for grade level, gender, and free or reduced-price lunch status. 

According to the authors, school leadership-level training is a low-cost approach to advancing educational equity, with cascading effects in the ways that teachers throughout schools engage culturally diverse learners.