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School of Education

How do teachers' dispositions for and their professional learning in culturally responsive teaching relate to their use of these teaching practices?

Culturally responsive (CR) teaching, a teaching approach that leverages students’ cultural identities to support their academic success, requires a particular disposition toward students and teaching. This disposition includes believing in the importance of CR teaching, cultural diversity and race-consciousness, as well as teachers’ own self-efficacy or capacity for CR teaching. In a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded study, Ph.D. student Meghan Comstock from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Delaware Associate Professor Erica Litke, US College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) Director of Research, Professor and principal investigator Laura M. Desimone and co-principal investigator Kirsten Lee Hill of Kirsten Lee Hill Education Consulting examine the relationship between teachers’ beliefs about, self-efficacy for and engagement in professional learning (PL) around CR teaching and their self-reported CR teaching practices. They found that teacher-reported self-efficacy in CR teaching and their engagement in CR PL was associated with greater frequency of CR teaching. Among teachers who held beliefs aligned with a CR disposition, there was also a stronger relationship between CR teaching self-efficacy and CR teaching practices.   In “A Culturally Responsive Disposition: How Professional Learning and Teachers’ Beliefs About and Self-Efficacy for Culturally Responsive Teaching Relate to Instruction,” published in AERA Open, Comstock, Litke, Hill and Desimone drew on two teacher surveys administered online to teachers in early 2020 (prior to COVID-19 disruptions) and early 2021 as part of their broader study of 12 PL partnerships. The study was conducted with a large sample of secondary teachers in several districts across the country. Their approach leveraged cross-sectional associations, fixed-effects models and descriptive analysis of teacher reports to provide a  nuanced description of the ways that teachers’ self-efficacy, beliefs and PL participation related to their use of CR teaching.    Specifically, they found that a 1-point increase in CR self-efficacy was associated with a 0.14-unit increase in reported CR teaching use. Similarly, a 1-point increase in the extent to which teachers viewed PL as focused on cultural responsiveness was associated with a 0.36-unit increase in CR teaching. Among those teachers with beliefs strongly aligned with CR teaching, the relationship between self-efficacy and self-reported CR teaching was stronger—a 1-unit increase in CR self-efficacy corresponded to a greater increase in CR teaching use, compared to teachers who had less aligned beliefs.   This work responds to a key problem in how schools have typically enacted CR teaching: many schools have reduced CR teaching to a set of instructional practices without examining the aspects of teacher disposition that are so central to CR teaching. This study is also the first to draw on survey data from a large, racially and ethnically diverse sample of 417 middle and high school teachers across seven large U.S. school districts engaged in PL on equity-focused curricular reform efforts (a subset of the authors’ broader study of 12 PL partnerships).    The findings of this work have many important implications for supporting teachers in CR teaching across the nation. Collectively, they show that attention to multiple components of teacher disposition is key to supporting and increasing CR teaching in the classroom. Schools must build teachers’ capacity for CR teaching and give them an opportunity to shift or deepen their beliefs about issues of race or cultural diversity. But opportunities for practice are also critical: teachers must have a chance to routinely practice and build their self-efficacy for CR teaching through sustained PL.    “Our work builds on previous work that has shown how impactful culturally responsive teaching can be for students. Following that work, we want to better understand how to support teachers in developing and using culturally responsive strategies that work for them and their students,” Desimone said.
Anamarie A. Whitaker portrait

About Erica Litke

Erica Litke is an associate professor specializing in mathematics education in the School of Education (SOE) at the University of Delaware. Her research focuses on understanding and improving instructional quality in mathematics for students in the elementary and secondary grades. She serves as principal investigator (PI) on a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project, titled Supporting Teachers to Develop Equitable Mathematics Instruction Through Rubric-Based Coaching, and co-PI on a second National Science Foundation-funded project, titled Improving Professional Development in Mathematics by Understanding the Mechanisms that Translate Teacher Learning into Student Learning. She is affiliated with SOE’s undergraduate and graduate programs and the UD Graduate College’s Ph.D. in Education and Social Policy program.

Anamarie A. Whitaker portrait

About Laura M. Desimone

Laura M. Desminone is CEHD director of research and professor in the SOE with a secondary appointment in the Joseph R. Biden Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. Desimone studies how state, district and school-level policy can better promote changes in teaching that lead to improved student achievement and to closing the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. She is currently PI on Research on Curricular-Aligned Partnerships and co-PI on the Efficacy and Enactment Study of Middle School Mathematics, both funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and co-PI on Pathway to STEM Success: Improving Access and Success and Closing Equity Gaps in College-level Math in a State Community College System, funded by the NSF. Much of her work has focused on standards-based reform and school reform and teacher quality initiatives, (e.g., teachers’ professional development, induction and mentoring). She is affiliated with the SOE’s Ph.D. in Educational Statistics and Research Methods program and directs the UD Graduate College’s Ph.D. in Education and Social Policy program.


Equity, Diversity and Teacher Preparation Faculty at CEHD

Litke and Desimone’s research complements the work of CEHD faculty studying equity and diversity and teacher preparation, who include Ann Aviles (people of color experiencing homelessness), Tia Barnes (mental well-being of students of color), Roderick L. Carey (Black boy and Latinx mattering), Valerie Earnshaw (health inequities and stigma), Heather Farmer (health disparities between white and non-white patients), Lynsey Gibbons (teacher learning and equitable instruction in mathematics), James Hiebert (continuous improvement in mathematics curriculum), Amanda Jansen (engagement and motivation in mathematics instruction), Eric Layland (LGBTQ+ health), Bahira Sherif Trask (globalization and family change), Rosalie Rolon-Dow (Black and Latinx educational experiences) and Elizabeth Soslau (culturally responsive pedagogy), among many others.