Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain

Zaretta Hammond

By Lori Grassgreen, Director of Alaska ICE

The Association of Alaska School Boards had the great privilege to welcome Zaretta Hammond as the keynote speaker at our annual conference. Zaretta Hammond is a long-time educator in the Oakland Unified School District and author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.

She began her presentation reminding the audience that “ The burden is on us to create systems for students and families to be successful.” To do this there is much for us to consider as leaders in education including the brain science, teaching practices, relationships, and the importance of cultural opportunities for learning.

Ms. Hammond shared inspirational and clarifying stories that show how and why we must re-examine our teaching practices to more fully engage students. Ms. Hammond asks essential questions such as “What are the contextual points of reference that student is building on?” and “Does the teaching or learning experience build the students’ process for long-term learning?”

Ms. Hammond discussed how cultural responsiveness is “more of a process than a strategy” and it begins when teachers know how to make the most of both cultural capital and cultural ways of learning that all students bring into the classroom. She underscored how this creates an environment where students and school staff use cultural learning tools positively and acknowledge when students use them during learning.

The teacher is “responsive” when she is able to mirror these ways of learning during instruction, using similar strategies to scaffold learning and help students successfully navigate their own learning.


Ms. Hammond shared her own personal stories and experiences as an educator to raise awareness on how to help students move through the learning pit to become successful lifelong learners.

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