How to Be a Culturally Responsive Art Teacher

teacher giving feedback in classroom

Conversations of race and equity in education along with the achievement gap are a priority. Watch the news, observe any professional resource, or view a list of sessions at a conference, and you’re sure to find someone addressing these topics. A common idea stemming from these discussions is to have culturally responsive classrooms or curriculum. Administrators are naming this concept more and more, but few can actually articulate what it means and looks like in your art room. Thankfully, Zaretta Hammond’s book Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain can tell you all you need to know about culturally responsive teaching and how it can impact your classroom.

image of book

What is the purpose of the book?

Before the first chapter even begins, Hammond lays out what readers should (and should not) expect from the book. Being specific about her intentions lays the groundwork to make meaning from the content. She says, “This book isn’t a how-to guide on developing culturally responsive lesson plans in every subject area…I want you to think of culturally responsive teaching as a mindset, a way of thinking about, and organizing instruction to allow for great flexibility in teaching.” Continuing throughout the book, Hammond is clear and direct in her language and explanations.

Her voice in the book is accessible—it feels like she’s in the room talking to you. Each chapter also ends with a helpful summary of bullet points, questions for further reflection and thought, and additional resources to seek out if interested. Finally, a helpful text for educators. Hammond’s experience as a classroom teacher and with educators in professional development allows her to ask and answer the questions you have in your head, but might be socialized to not say out loud. She addresses topics of race, equity, and culture in a way that connects with common beliefs and understandings. So, if you’re serious about supporting all of your students, here is what her text can offer you:

Why is understanding the brain so important?

One of the best takeaways from the book is understanding how the human brain can impact a student’s ability to learn and create art in your room. This is information educators rarely consider in their classroom. As Hammond mentions, outside of a one-semester educational psychology course, brain research and development is largely missing from many teaching programs. Similarly, once teachers enter the field, professional development rarely covers brain science.


The book can help you understand how the brain is wired to:

  • Connect with others in a community like your studio or classroom
  • Detect threats of all kinds, including social and psychological, which can prevent a student from learning each day in your room
  • Grow and expand based on the types of challenges and problems you present in your art projects

Having a better understanding of how your students’ brains are functioning can shape how you structure your classroom, lessons, and interactions with students.

What You Need to Know About Inclusive Education in the Art Room

How do you start on a journey to be a culturally responsive art teacher?

Hammond reminds readers throughout the book that being a culturally responsive teacher isn’t about a strategy or bag of tricks, but rather, a mindset. She says, “The first step for teachers is to understand how their own cultural values shape their expectations in the classroom.” Reflecting and analyzing your own culture can be very challenging because, to you, it’s normal. Culture is commonly thought to be things like the food you eat, what you celebrate, traditions, and where you’re from. Your cultural identity, however, is much deeper than those elements and more engrained into your daily life. Your culture has been shaped by your experiences and the people in your life from the first day you were born until now. One of the most meaningful experiences in reading the book is the opportunity to better understand your culture.

Hammond offers a number of questions for personal reflection, including:

  • “What family stories are regularly told or referenced? What message do they communicate about core values?”
  • “What earned you praise as a child?”
  • “Were you allowed to question, or talk back to, adults? Was it okay to call adults by their first name?”
  • “What’s your family/community’s relationship with time?”

How to Better Support Your Marginalized Students

As you start to understand your cultural reference points, Hammond guides you more specifically into your schooling experiences. You’ll have the opportunity to reflect on what it meant to “do school,” what success looked like and how it was achieved, and what messages you were given related to your own race and identity. As Hammond explains, the purpose of this whole process is to, “develop a great sense of your cultural self — what drives you, what shapes your worldview, and what influences your teaching.”

How does this connect to feedback in the art room?

Art teachers spend more of their time giving feedback to their students than anything else. Whether it’s through critique, answering questions, grading artwork, or all of the informal discussions you have with students as they’re working individually. Spending time learning about giving better feedback is always a wise investment as it is a critical component in the art room and “an essential element in the culturally responsive teacher’s arsenal.”

teacher giving feedback in classroom

The book explores feedback through multiple lenses and provides you with concrete strategies. For example:

  • Distinct characteristics of quality feedback
  • The intersectionality of feedback and trust, motivation, and learning.
  • Types of feedback like Instructive and Corrective, Advice not Actionable, Evaluative not Instructive

Most notably is the WISE feedback model that Hammond offers as an alternative to the common sandwich feedback model of starting with a positive, then a negative, and ending with a positive. Hammond’s model complemented with her Asset-Based Feedback Protocol emphasize how you can provide accurate and honest feedback to students while demonstrating your belief in the student.

Inclusivity for All Learners in the Art Room

It might be counter-intuitive to suggest that Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain is one of the best books for art teachers today because it’s not actually about art education. But, art is what you teach, and Hammond’s text explores how you can teach and be more responsive to all of your students. By reading this book, you’ll develop a better understanding of your own cultural identity and how it reveals itself in your teaching. You’ll also learn about how brain science, feedback, and a sense of community can all have a direct impact on student learning in the art room. Maximizing your potential as a teacher requires a commitment to all facets of education. Spend some time with Zaretta Hammond and her book to be a more culturally responsive teacher for the betterment of all students in your studio.

What other resources can support teachers in the areas of race and equity? 

What other models of feedback can be shared with art teachers? 

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Nick Gehl

Nick Gehl is a department chair of fine arts and a former AOEU Writer. He enjoys working with art teachers to improve the student experience in the studio and foster more leaders in the arts.

More from Nicholas