In my professional and personal experiences, I have witnessed so many examples of a lack of cultural competency. There was a high school where I worked right outside the city of Chicago. People were crossing the street from a western city neighborhood to attend this “suburban” high school. Because of this, during this time, the demographics of the high school were changing and there was an increase in African American students within the school.
I was the only African American teacher in the entire high school. But I was secluded because I was in the special education wing with the emotionally disturbed, behaviorally disturbed students. So the only time that I ever had any interaction with the rest of the student population was when I left the seclusion of the special education wing.
There were no groups, or clubs, that specifically spoke to the needs of the minority demographics represented by the students because at the time, these needs did not have to be addressed. And, I just remember that the students would come talk to me when I left my secluded wing. I would also have conversations with the other teachers and they were just in over their heads. I happened to have a really good connection with the assistant principal at the time and I proposed an idea to him. We needed to provide an outlet for these students so they could talk about what was going on and address some of the circumstances they were experiencing.
I wasn’t there that long but it was the first time that I realized how much of a disconnect there is in terms of staff and student experiences and how that gap cannot be forgotten or overlooked. I also experienced moments when, systemically, the children of two minority groups could be inadvertently “clumped together” culturally by the adults around them. There was an assumption that, since there were two minority groups, these children must have the same backgrounds and needs. So, early in my career, I was able to design and facilitate a program where I listened to the students, heard them talk and heard their ideas. We were only able to do a series of four or five meetings. I think, if I had been there longer, we could have done more. But I moved naturally into a role coordinating a program with many more components, on a larger scale, in a larger district.
Cultural competency is the capacity any person has to work effectively with people from various cultural backgrounds. Effective work across cultures respectfully recognizes and accepts the culture of the people and organizations one interacts with. Systemically, cultural competence is built on consistent attitudes, behaviors, and structures that facilitate the ability professionals have to work with people from varying cultural backgrounds.
The cultural competence embodied by the professionals and students within a school organization has a significant impact on the learning environment. This is a compelling argument for promoting the development of cultural competency in the workplace and school environment. The nexus between race and education needs to be examined and culturally competent teaching practices infused into school systems.
For the purpose of a foundational look at strategies for the development of cultural competence, the following constructs must be the foundation of the development of any strategies that are utilized to develop teacher and student cultural competence:
1. Valuing diversity
2. Engaging in cultural self-assessments
3. Understanding the dynamics of difference
4. Developing cultural knowledge
5. Adapting to culture, especially to its deep structural aspects
6. Establishing cultural reciprocity
Once these six constructs are in place, an organization can move toward meeting the following goals:
1. Create a school climate where tolerance and respect are encouraged and modeled so that everyone enjoys equitable opportunities for professional and personal fulfillment.
2. Provide and support programs that explore the experiences, perspectives, and contributions of various cultures, groups, and individuals.
3. Implement policies and programs that address diversity-related topics and concerns; and providing sustained professional development on diversity-related topics.
4. To serve as a vehicle to eliminate gaps in achievement between student groups and support the rising achievement of all students.
More on some of these items will appear in future blog posts. For now, we can support your implementation of cultural competency and culturally responsive teaching and learning practices. Contact Evan Whitehead at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter @EvanWhitehead00.