Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Tutoring Sessions

Why make learning culturally relevant?

When students can make connections between what they learn in tutoring and their culture, language, or life experiences, they can better access key ideas, develop higher-level understanding, and see the value of their learning in their daily lives.

Why make learning culturally inclusive?

Educational environments that are not culturally inclusive are a result of deeper societal inequities and erase or devalue students’ cultures and experiences, implicitly teaching students to see the entire education system as an oppressive adversary and not a supportive ally. These cultural and structural inequities inhibit effective teaching, stifle student success, and sustain inequalities, undermining students’ investment in their own education and, by extension, in their own learning. Not only is this tragic for individual students, it also yields outcomes that perpetuate socioeconomic inequities and reinforce systems of oppression. Cultural inclusivity, therefore, is neither optional nor an ad-on: it is foundational to effective tutoring.

Checklist for creating a culturally relevant and inclusive tutoring session:

Culturally relevant and inclusive instruction requires an ongoing commitment to revisiting and reworking instructional practices and involves educators at all levels regularly evaluating their own biases. This checklist is by no means exhaustive, but it is a helpful starting point for tutors to reflect on how seemingly small choices in their own instructional practices can have an outsize impact on students’ lived experiences of tutoring sessions.

Get to know each student individually on a personal level

  • Pronounce students’ names correctly. Ask them to introduce themselves first, before saying their names yourself. Listen carefully, practice saying their names exactly as they do, and check with the student one-on-one if unsure. Consider creating a system for learning names and what to do when someone gets a name wrong. 
    • One example is for students and tutors alike to share their name every time they say something out loud. The group can select a signal if someone uses the incorrect name.
    • An icebreaker activity that reinforces getting to know names is to “share the history of your name” where students and tutors can, if comfortable, share the meaning or story behind their name. Depending on the age of the student, it may be helpful to preview that the icebreaker will be happening in the upcoming session.
  • Encourage students to share about their culture, their neighborhood, other important influences in their lives, etc. Engage with their responses and ask follow-up questions. Show that you care. 
    • What is happening in your students’ lives?
      • What are they interested in?
      • What do they do outside of school?
      • What goals do they have?
      • What are their talents and skills?
    • Who are the important people in their lives?
      • Who makes up their family?
      • Who are their closest friends?
      • Who has influenced their thinking?
      • Whom do they admire/look up to?
    • Refer to Relationship Building Activities for additional guidance

Foster a supportive tutoring session environment

  • Weave in consistent, authentic messages of affirmation for each student as an individual during your sessions.
  • In session materials, include diverse ethnicities, languages, abilities, identities and socioeconomic experiences. Eliminate materials that reinforce stereotypes or exacerbate insulting depictions of diverse communities.
  • includes a robust set of resources for supporting students with learning and thinking differences and for Culturally Responsive Teaching.

Adapt your curriculum

  • Keep expectations high, and students will rise to meet them: look for ways to make your sessions more rigorous.
  • Cultivate a growth mindset: normalize (even celebrate!) mistakes as part of the process, then show how to learn from them.
    • This includes your mistakes! Never try to hide them, and praise and reward students for catching them.
  • Look for opportunities to incorporate relevant cultural references into models, practice tasks, and assessments.
    • Physics problems may be more engaging when the frictionless masses are X-Wing starfighters in space, and the importance of punctuating appositives may be clearer if the model is “My dearest, Angelica.” But don’t simply draw on what’s broadly popular: use niche references that your students will appreciate.

Cultivate your own understanding of cultural relevance

  • Share about your own personal culture, experiences, and influences to model and normalize this for your students.
  • Reflect on your own perspectives on culture, family, and community. How do these ideas shape your instruction?
  • Interrogate your own assumptions and biases. How and why might these implicit ideas emerge in your actions? How are these assumptions and biases connected to larger systems of structural inequity? How could you consciously correct yourself when this happens and build intentional habits for acting differently?