Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy: Research, Rationale, & Practices

November 8, 2021 by Malika Ali

“…we can no longer be victims, we can impact social change.” 

A 5th grade student of a teacher we coach wrote these words as part of a project reflection. I keep these words on a post-it at my desk to remind me of the purpose of schooling: to inspire and support our students to become self-directed learners & empowered leaders who will transform their lives, their communities, and society. Through our work with his teacher, this child felt a sense of belonging to an academic community, learned to engage in productive struggle by working on his academic mindset, strengthened key cognitive skills, and developed his critical consciousness; that is, his ability to recognize systems of inequity and his commitment to promote justice. 

With all my heart, I believe this student will not only create a better life for himself, his family, and his community; but for all of us as a society so long as he continues to be inspired to develop these skills. This is our “why” at Highlander Institute. If we can support teachers and school/system leaders to design classrooms that nurture these skills, society will be better for all of us. This is why we are so excited to introduce an open-source resource to you all. Our team has been working to curate research and strategies around our instructional framework for public benefit, and we hope you will find value in exploring the rationale, research, and practices shared here. As always, we invite your feedback and input and hope you will let us know how you use these resources!

CRSP Framework Page

On this page, you’ll find the foundational theory of change supporting the CRSP Framework, a summary of each domain, and the corresponding teacher and student-level practices.

Explore the Framework

CRSP Research Base

Our CRSP Framework represents an innovative and thoughtful instructional model that centers students from marginalized communities. It offers a clear theory of change and a series of activities that promote equity and excellence for all students; it is also built on a substantial foundation of research. Over the past eight months, the Highlander Institute team has been exploring and curating research studies connected to all four domains of CRSP. Led by our superstar intern, Allison Singleton, this work has culminated in a nine page research overview that offers a significant evidence base and a strong connection to improved student outcomes across each of the CRSP domains.

Read More about the Research Base

Relaunching Our Spotlight Series

The evidence base informing the CRSP Framework is robust and inspiring. Each week or so, we’ll be sharing a closer look at one Teacher Practice through a reboot of our Spotlight Series! Every post will include a brief description of the practice and the why behind it, key research sources supporting the practice, and strategies for educators to make the practice actionable in their classrooms or school. This week, we’re launching the series with: Teacher Practice 1.1: Develop sociocultural awareness.

Click Here to See the First CRSP Spotlight


Malika Ali is a Managing Partner at Highlander Institute and the lead architect of the Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) Framework. She designs internal professional development for coaching staff and supervises program implementation across all classrooms, schools, and districts. As a daughter of strong and brilliant Eritrean refugees, Malika has spent her life critiquing systems that perpetuate educational inequity. She’s proud to be a part of the struggle to ensure that all children have access to, and can take advantage of, an empowering education. Follow her on Twitter @Malika_Ali.

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