Culture and Learning: It’s in the People

By Emily Bergquist, MEd

Two families gather for an outdoor cookout

It is nearly impossible to understand just how much culture can influence teaching and learning until you have a classroom of your own. For me, this happened 10 years ago in my first classroom.

As a freshly graduated, first-year teacher, my ideas, strategies, and theories were at the forefront of my mind. I was prepared to “seize the day,” or the classroom (something like that). I spent hours preparing materials and creative bulletin boards. I painstakingly took into account every nook and cranny of my new classroom.

After a few days of my office supply bliss, things got real. I had received my class roster. Now, there were actual, real little humans for which I was going to be responsible. My excitement turned to nervousness as I struggled to pronounce many of the names on my list. I realized that I needed a crash course in the culture of the surrounding community to ensure I could relate to my students.

How did I do this, you ask?


I recognized that the learning was not solely going to come from the teaching curriculum. I learned the value of investing in the surrounding community through students’ families and culture. My days extended to participate in baptisms, birthday parties and many other family celebrations within the community. In order to build trust in the classroom, I had to reach outside the four walls of my classroom.

As a teacher, it is so important to invest energies into learning about students, their background, their interests, and their home lives. This first year helped me learn that it is not the room that makes the classroom – it’s the people.

This experience opened my eyes to the many subcultures that can be within a community. At the end of the day, the materials and bulletin boards are great, but it is the people, the culture and the building of relationships that make a classroom.

We need to take the time to get to know our students. La lengua, la comida y la familia from my first class became a part of my language, my cuisine and my family.

This was when I truly understood how culture influences learning.

The College of Education at Grand Canyon University helps future educators learn the importance of unity and diversity in their classrooms. Contact us today to learn more about your educational options.

More about Emily:

Emily has enjoyed 10 years in the field of education. Her background is in elementary education, with much of her public school experience in a first grade ELL classroom. She transitioned from the Phoenix public school system to GCU in 2010 to serve both the online and traditional campus in the College of Education. Emily is currently a manager of full-time faculty and instructor, as well as a researcher, writer, and continuing scholar. She is currently working on her PhD in psychology with an emphasis in cognition and instruction at GCU, with expected graduation in 2015. Emily has written several articles and has presented at regional, national and international conferences on a variety of topics ranging from social media in the classroom to classroom assessment. In recognition of her work in the field of research and education, she was recently awarded the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award from Grand Canyon University.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.