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Promoting culturally responsive teaching in a multicultural classroom

The International Business program at Haaga-Helia offers studies in a truly international environment. Needless to say, teaching a course involves a multicultural classroom and a diverse group of students.


Surabhi Bhuskute

senior lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Maria Haukka

lehtori, HR ja johtaminen
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 22.05.2024

International students provide a chance to learn in a multicultural environment, and to share knowledge and perspectives that are crucial to succeed in today’s global business environment (Dalglish 2002). However, teaching and learning in a multicultural setting requires culturally responsive teaching strategies and practices to effectively leverage the benefits of a culturally diverse group of students.

Geneva Gay (2002) defines culturally responsive teaching as ‘using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively’.

But how does this all look in practice? Below are some ideas or strategies we have used and found important and beneficial.

Create opportunities for discussion of cultural backgrounds

Being aware of the students’ cultural backgrounds is crucial to navigate effectively as a facilitator in a multicultural classroom. Understanding who they are and where they come from helps in managing their needs and expectations better and establishing a rapport with them.

Ice-breaking activities in the first session that goes beyond introductions could be used to learn about the students and their diverse backgrounds and to collect as much information as possible about them. Thereafter, frequent opportunities must be created throughout the course to share information and examples about their culture, practices, and life in general.

We often subconsciously stereotype, make assumptions, and carry biases that we bring to the classroom. This can inhibit effective teaching and facilitation. Regular reflection on how our own culture affects our teaching practices helps to recognize and thereby minimize these biases.

Form diverse teams

Ethnically diverse students often have different educational backgrounds, language skills, motivations and value systems that affect their learning needs. To maximize learning, it is important to recognize and respect the differences, understand their implications, and utilize these differences to create an enriching and inclusive learning environment.

For example, heterogeneous groups can be purposefully formed with students from diverse backgrounds during class activities or teamwork assignments so that different perspectives can be shared, and students can learn from each other. Collaborative projects can help address diverse learning styles and cultural contexts and promote problem-solving from different perspectives. It also makes learning more fun.

Make learning more culturally relevant

How students communicate, prioritize, process information, perceive/interpret, and learn is often derived from their cultural backgrounds. Therefore, connecting students’ cultures, and life experiences, with what they learn facilitates engagement, encourages active participation, and enhances learning.

Students are more likely to learn and remember better if the topics and discussions resonate with them. For example, students may have different role models based on their cultural backgrounds. Using them as examples or using business cases they can relate to improves engagement and involvement. It is also useful to contextualize issues during class activities and encourage students to share stories, personal anecdotes and their own experiences. Sharing your own experiences and cultural background also helps.

Create a psychologically safe environment

Cultural differences and communication styles may often lead to misunderstandings, lack of trust and formation of subgroups and lobbies that can inhibit effective teamwork or individual performance. Students must feel valued and that their opinions matter. It is the responsibility of a teacher to ensure that all the students get equal opportunity to participate, contribute and express themselves.

Establishing a welcoming environment where students feel safe and comfortable to share ideas, opinions despite the differences and voice out disagreements or conflicting opinions freely enhances psychological safety, a sense of belonging.

Teaching multicultural classrooms can be challenging. We should create more discussion about best practices. Can you think of other ways and practices that you have used to promote effective learning in a multicultural classroom?


Gay, G. 2002. Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), pp106-116.

Dalglish, C. 2002. Promoting Effective Learning in a Multicultural Classroom. EDINEB, Mexico.

Picture: Haaga-Helia