A Closer Look

Culturally Responsive Interviewing: Proactive Strategies for BIPOC Students

Curious to learn more? Check out Dr. Goforth & Dr. Pham's related webinar in the Online Learning Center!

Culturally responsive interviews with students, caregivers, and teachers are an important and useful component of a culturally responsive assessment. Aside from gathering important data, interviewing can help build and foster interpersonal connections and relationships. Further, interviewing can help:

  1. Reframe deficit approaches to strengths-based approaches,
  2. Assess sociocultural and ecological variables that foster resilience,
  3. Establish shared goals for intervention or supports,
  4. Implement the intervention,
  5. Evaluate outcomes from intervention, and
  6. Increase involvement of parents and other stakeholders in the assessment process

We introduce here three specific aspects of the culturally responsive interview to support students who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). However, interviews can be adapted based on the student’s culture and intersectional identities of individual, so we intentionally did not provide specific questions for particular ethnicities. We focus this blog specifically on interviewing caregivers and students; however, the strategies here can also be used to interview educators or other professionals in the student’s life.

Visiting and Creating a Relationally Safe Space

The first step is providing opportunities to visit with the student and caregiver and creating a relationally safe space. Importantly, as school psychologists, we must earn trust, rather than believe that we automatically are entitled to trust because of our position. Visiting is a common approach to developing relationships across many societies and cultures. We visit each other to build relationships, to develop trust, and to enjoy each other’s company.

For example, a student is referred by a teacher because of some attention difficulties. A school psychologist may invite the family to the school to learn about their perspectives and experiences. Ideally, this visit would occur in the school psychologists’ office or another comfortable location, rather than a formal conference room. The family and school psychologist may sit together for a while and talk about the family’s experience and their thoughts about their child’s behavior. Visiting also means that for the first few minutes, the school psychologist may share about their experiences and life.

Further, critical reflexivity and acknowledgement of the sociocultural and historical context of education in the United States are important (Pham et al., 2021). For instance, in Montana, we serve Indigenous students across a number of tribal nations. The history of this state must be understood as situated within and representing colonialism, particularly because of the history of the U.S. federal government forcibly removing children from their families and placing them in residential schools. The current public school system may be perceived as simply an extension of this abuse, and thus we recommend both acknowledging this within the school psychologist’s practice as well as bringing this forward during the visit.

Relational Interviewing

The school psychologist must then conduct relational interviewing through storytelling. The fundamental idea is that interviews are contextualized within relationships. We are all storytellers. In most societies and cultures, stories—whether it is oral histories through our elders or TV comedies—are how we learn and connect. Prompts, or interview questions, are one method to elicit stories, and they may feel more comfortable for some families or teachers than, say, a question-and-answer method (Hydén, 2014).

  • I would like to share a story about your child.
  • I would like to hear a story about your child.
  • Parents often talk about … is this something that’s familiar to you?
  • Is it possible to give me an image, or color or scent, that could express what you’re talking about?

If a Pakistani American high school girl were referred for counseling, for example, some of the relational interviewing approaches may be helpful. Visiting with her parents, and understanding their beliefs about wellness and healing, can be helpful in thinking about designing the counseling approach. Asking them to share their story of their family, and to consider their beliefs about mental health generally, can help the family navigate what would be best for that girl, and can lead to other specific questions.

Bringing Everyone Together

Once the stories are shared and sufficient information is gathered, the interview concludes by bringing students, teachers, and caregivers together. In the beginning of the interview, visiting was an important aspect of relationship or rapport building. This visiting can also occur at the conclusion of the interview. It is also an opportunity to share next steps in the process.

Further, stories can be shared again during the feedback session/evaluation report meeting or within the psychoeducational report itself. During the meeting, a school psychologist can reflect back some of the stories the child or caregiver shared in order to validate their experiences.

In sum, culturally responsive interviewing is useful for working with BIPOC students and caregivers, and it is worth noting that engaging in cultural humility and critical reflexivity is a useful process for school psychologists working with all students. Interviewing is an important aspect of culturally responsive assessment because it not only facilitates gathering information but also fosters relationship building with students and their families.

*Disclosure: Some of the content in this blog post and in the NASP webinar will be discussed in an upcoming coming book Culturally Responsive School-Based Practices: Supporting Mental Health and Learning of Diverse Youth, which is under contract with Oxford University Press.


Hydén, M. (2014). The teller-focused interview: Interviewing as a relational practice. Qualitative Social Work, 13(6), 795–812. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325013506247

Pham, A. V., Goforth, A. N., Aguilar, L. N., Burt, I., Bastian, R., & Diaków, D. M. (2021). Dismantling systemic inequities in school psychology: Cultural humility as a foundational approach to social justice. School Psychology Review, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/2372966X.2021.1941245

About the Author

Dr. Anisa N. Goforth; Dr. Andy V. Pham
Anisa N. Goforth, PhD, ABPP, NCSP - Dr. Goforth is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Montana. An Australian and American citizen, she was born in Yemen and raised in Asia and Latin America. Her research focuses on culturally responsive evidence-based practices for children and their families. Her most recent project is a collaboration with a community to develop a culturally responsive educator and student social-emotional learning program for Indigenous students. She approaches her research and practice from a place of cultural humility and learning. Andy V. Pham, PhD, NCSP - Dr. Andy V. Pham, NCSP is an Associate Professor of School Psychology at Florida International University (FIU), and serves as the Graduate Program Director in the Department of Counseling, Recreation and School Psychology. He received his BA in Psychology from Boston University, MA in School Psychology from Tufts University, and Ph.D. in School Psychology from Michigan State University. After completing an APA-accredited predoctoral internship at Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Dr. Pham accepted a postdoctoral fellowship in child neuropsychology at New York University Child Study Center, where he was clinical instructor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Dr. Pham is a certified school psychologist in the state of Florida, and is a nationally certified school psychologist (NCSP).