Cultural Competence

We all have a culture that shapes us personally and professionally.  Understanding our own culture is important.  This allows us to understand how we interact with individuals from cultures that are different from ours. This understanding helps us see our students and their families more clearly, and shape policies and practice in ways that will help our students to succeed.

There are five basic cultural competence skill areas. They apply to individual educators as well as the schools they work in and the educational system as a whole. Growth in one area tends to support growth in another (Adapted from Diller and Moule, Cultural Competence: A Primer for Educators, Thomson Wadsworth 2005):

  • Valuing Diversity. Accepting and respecting differences—different cultural backgrounds and customs, different ways of communicating, and different traditions and values.
  • Being Culturally Self-Aware. Culture—the sum total of an individual’s experiences, knowledge, skills, beliefs, values, and interests—shapes educators’ sense of who they are and where they fit in their family, school, community, and society.
  • Dynamics of Difference. Knowing what can go wrong in cross-cultural communication and how to respond to these situations.
  • Knowledge of Students’ Culture. Educators must have some base knowledge of their students’ culture so that student behaviors can be understood in their proper cultural context.
  • Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge and Adapting to Diversity. Culturally competent educators, and the institutions they work in, can take a step further by institutionalizing cultural knowledge so they can adapt to diversity and better serve diverse populations.
Strategies:
Culturally responsive teaching is how instructional staff (and schools) demonstrate—or implement—their cultural competence.
According to researchers at Brown University, culturally responsive teaching is characterized by:
  • Communicating high expectations
  • Learning within the context of culture
  • Culturally-responsive curriculum
  • Teachers as facilitators
  • Student-centered instruction
  • Positive perspectives on parents and families.

NEA’s  Diversity Toolkit: Cultural Competence for Educators

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