CRSP Framework

Click the image above to access an overview of the CRSP Framework

The Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) Framework provides the foundation for all work at Highlander Institute.

The framework is grounded in research, neuroscience, and the rationale of Geneva Gay, Zaretta Hammond, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Sami Alim, and Django Paris. The four domains build the capacity of teachers and students to disrupt inequitable systems and create more relevant and self-directed learning environments.

For a summary of the research base connected to the CRSP Framework, click here.

 Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy Framework


The Problem

Our current education system breeds compliance which results in dependent thinking and an atmosphere of low expectations particularly for marginalized students. Without an awareness of how systems of inequity and learner identity connect to teacher expectations, implementing innovative practices will not sufficiently empower all students. 

The Solution

The CRSP Framework brings powerful teaching to students who have been marginalized by systemic inequity, restoring and elevating their natural confidence and competence.

Our Theory of Change

If we:

  • Build awareness of how systemic inequity translates into our schools;
  • Learn about our students' cultures, identities, and interests as we develop a sense of trust and belonging; and
  • Nurture cultures of thinking by developing academic mindsets


  • Students' cognitive skills, mastery, competence, and engagement will improve;
  • Students' self-efficacy and confidence will increase; and
  • Students will feel empowered to use their skills in meaningful ways.

Our Why

We work to ensure students become self-directed learners and empowered leaders who will transform their lives, their communities, and society.






The Awareness domain recognizes that we must start with ourselves as actors within a racist, inequitable system. We must be conscious of the ways we perpetuate dominant norms and narratives and we must be aware of how systemic racism results in compliance-oriented teaching that produces dependent learners. The awareness that our worldview is not generalized — but profoundly influenced by life experiences and that we all bring a significant amount of personal bias into our interpersonal classroom relationships — opens the door to new levels of empathy and higher expectations for student success.


Rooted in a stronger sociocultural awareness, we build a strong classroom community and nurture academic mindsets.  A trusting, affirming, nurturing classroom culture lays the foundation for interpersonal and academic success through the school year. Together, the classroom community offers support when a learner is under the load of a cognitive task. 


Teacher Practices

T2.1 Cultivate individual relationships

T2.2 Develop positive academic mindsets

T2.3 Nurture a culture of trust and belonging

T2.4 Promote a culture of thinking

T2.5 Elevate voices and honor agency

T2.6 Foster and sustain students’ cultural and linguistic expressions



By leveraging relationships, a mindset around equity, and learning science, we disrupt a culture of low expectations and shift the cognitive load to students by developing their information processing skills. A constructivist approach to knowledge makes students’ thinking visible, builds on their personal and cultural strengths, and empowers them to examine the curriculum from multiple perspectives.



T3.1 Leverage students’ cultures and funds of knowledge to make learning meaningful

T3.2 Scaffold and develop students’ thinking skills and dispositions

T3.3 Facilitate feedback and reflection processes

T3.4 Effectively use data-driven differentiation

T3.5 Establish formative assessment structures that support student ownership of learning journeys




An important component of academic mindset is that school work “has value” for students. Students are more willing to engage in rigorous work when learning is relevant, interesting, and affirming of their identities and perspectives. Empowering students to leverage their growing cognitive skills to recognize and analyze systems of injustice — and take action against these systems — prepares students to use their education to improve their lives, their schools, and their communities.



T4.1 Develop essential questions and supporting activities and resources that elevate non-dominant perspectives

T4.2 Invite students’ questioning of status quo 

T4.3 Nurture students’ motivation to address issues of injustice

T4.4 Support students to act in ways that promote justice