Diversity and Cultural Competence
If it’s true that everyone has a piece of the truth, consider how these statements complicate what has become an educational imperative today: dealing with diversity.
The first impulse for many when discussing diversity in educational and societal settings is to focus “out there” and catalogue the ways things have changed. Demographic shifts are cited, including the increasing number of children and adults of color—Asian, Latino/a, Black, Middle Eastern, multiracial, and the like—in suburban and rural schools. Children and adults with disabilities, those who are or whose parents are LGBT, those who worship many Gods, or no God at all, are accommodated and accepted as workmates and playmates in countless schools and businesses. Still others point to political and social strife over the effects of immigration, including the lack of consensus on required use of English in teaching and commerce, even though it has never been our country’s official language.
Yet looking outward often misses the critical imperative for understanding diversity, for teaching about it, and for managing it well because it can remove the most important subject—you! The truth of the human condition is that everyone is unique, different—diverse—and all differences matter. In the language of diversity, this includes rich people, male people, non-disabled people. Indeed rich, white, able-bodied male people have always counted, and continue to do so today!
While the latter may seem obvious, it bears repeating because the success of Partners Inc. relies on qualities and strategies grounded in mutual respect, equality, collaboration, equity, compassion, justice, peacemaking and problem-solving among all members of the school community. That means the opinions of ALL are taken into account and the best win-win position possible is sought.
The long-term systemic change that Partners Inc. offers is made possible by an expansive, inclusive practice of democracy where diverse views, people, and perspectives are solicited, welcomed and employed to enrich the world for all of us and help remove barriers to achievement for every student.
Addressing and removing these barriers is not easy, particularly given the disparate views reflected in the statements above. That these barriers can be academic, social and emotional, racial, cultural, structural, institutional or any combination thereof, challenges the goal even more.
Nonetheless, the bottom line for Partners Inc. is that diversity exists and is an asset in every school, regardless of how homogenous the community may appear. Moreover, our diversity education, training and management practices help students, parents, faculty and staff not only affirm the value of the differences they bring, but recognize the power they have with Partners Inc. to realize their fullest potential.
The processes we use help teachers and schools better handle the inevitable challenges to inclusion that arise in diverse settings, including harmful stereotyping, racial and cultural misconceptions and conflict, personal bias, and institutional discrimination. Remember, one of the two most important qualities for success in the 21st century according to the SCANS labor report was “the ability to get along with people different from you” along with “flexibility”.
Building Cultural Competence in the Partners Inc. Classroom
It is important for teachers, administrators and staff to recognize that many of the attributes, behaviors and practices that define educational excellence also reflect cultural competence. This is good news for good and great educators because it means they have already acquired or possess the knowledge, skills and dispositions to work effectively across cultures—the essence of cultural competency and adeptness.
Cultural competence exists when an individual or organization develops and demonstrates a congruent set of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that support and allow respectful and mutually effective cross–cultural interactions. These actions and orientations flow from both the acquisition of knowledge about other people and cultures and the integration of that knowledge in ways that allow us to adapt for the benefit of self and others. The ongoing processes of Partners Inc. help all members of a school community acquire, develop and continually improve these skills. Obviously, all of these attitudes and communication skills are best built on a foundation of good individual and group social-emotional skills.
A quick environmental scan of classrooms or schools can provide important clues into the ways educators are currently attending to the dynamics of diversity and culture.
Remember, in Partners Inc. schools, little is taken for granted or assumed because in so doing we can miss invaluable teachable moments, or take actions that work against our goals and intent. Since the essence of cultural competence is behavioral alignment and congruence with cultural knowledge and awareness, we have provided several basic assessments to help all members of the Partners Inc. school community grow and develop in this vital area.
Adapted from True Partners, A Guide for Challenge and Change in Our Nations Schools, our forthcoming book about how Partners Inc. works!
See how you or your teachers do with this:
Staff Cultural Competence Self-Assessment
Teachers and other instructional and support staff can use the following assessment in their initial or ongoing efforts to build more culturally responsive classroom experiences. This inventory is designed to create “feedback” on faculty members’ practice; feedback that is essential to individual and organizational growth. We often recommend this be filled out by staff: “for their own eyes only” – and say so in advance, so they can truly see where they stand without fear of judgment or retribution.
FOR YOUR OWN EYES ONLY
Directions: Please write 3, 2, or 1 in the space before each of the following statements.
- 3 = I do this frequently
- 2 = I do this occasionally
- 1 = I do this rarely or never
Physical Environment, Materials, and Resources
_____ I display pictures, posters, artwork and other décor that reflect the cultures and ethnic backgrounds of students and families served by our school and beyond.
_____ I ensure that magazines, brochures, and other printed materials reflect the different cultures of students and families served by our school as well as other cultures.
_____ When using videos, films or other media resources, I ensure that they reflect the cultures and ethnic background of students and families served by our school and not by our school.
_____ I ensure directly or indirectly (by reminding administration or other staff) that information sent home takes into account the average literacy levels and language of the students and families served by our school.
_____ subtotal/4 = _____ average
_____ When interacting with students and families who have limited English proficiency I keep in mind that:
_____ Limitation in English proficiency is in no way a reflection of their level of intellectual functioning.
_____ Their limited ability to speak the language or to express themselves in the same way as the dominant culture has no bearing on their ability to communicate effectively.
_____ They may or may not be literate in their language of origin or English.
_____ I use bilingual-bicultural staff and/or personnel to interpret during meetings and other occasions for students and families who need or prefer this level of assistance.
_____ I attempt to understand any familial colloquialisms used by my students and families that may impact our communication.
_____ For students and families who speak languages or dialects other than English, I attempt to learn and use key words in their language so that I am better able to communicate with them.
_____ I understand that it may be necessary to use alternatives to written communications for some students and families, as direct communication via phone or through another person or organization they are familiar with may be more effective and preferred.
_____subtotal/8 = _____average
Values and Attitudes
_____ I avoid imposing values that may conflict or be inconsistent with those of cultures or ethnic groups other than my own.
_____ I screen books, movies, and other media resources for negative cultural, ethnic, or racial stereotypes before using them in curriculum and instruction or sharing them with students and families served by our school.
_____ I intervene in an appropriate manner when I observe students or other staff engaging in behaviors that show cultural insensitivity, racial bias and prejudice.
_____ I recognize and accept that individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds may desire varying degrees of acculturation into the dominant culture.
_____ I understand and accept that family is defined differently by different cultures (e.g. extended family members, fictive kin, godparents).
_____ I accept and respect that male-female roles may vary significantly among different cultures and ethnic groups (e.g. who makes major decisions for the family).
_____ I understand that age and life cycle factors must be considered in interactions with individuals and families (e.g. high value place on the decision of elders, the role of eldest male or female in families, or roles and expectation of children within the family).
_____ Even though my professional or moral viewpoints may differ, I accept the parent/guardian and families as the ultimate decision makers for educational services and, supports needed for their child.
_____ I recognize that the value of education may vary greatly among cultures.
_____ I understand that religion and other beliefs may influence how students and individuals respond to traditional education.
_____ I understand that the perception of education has different meanings to different cultural or ethnic groups.
_____ I seek information from students, families or key community resources that will assist in curriculum/instruction adaptation to respond to the needs and preferences of culturally and ethnically diverse groups served by our school.
_____ Before making a home visit, I seek information on acceptable behaviors, courtesies, customs, and expectations that are unique to the culturally and ethnically diverse groups served in our school.
_____ I keep abreast of the major educational concerns and issues for the ethnically and racially diverse student/family population served by our school.
_____ I am aware of the socio-economic and environmental factors that can contribute to educational problems for the culturally, ethnically and racially diverse populations served by our school.
_____ I do not use knowledge of these factors to lower my level of expectations for my students regarding their behavior or academic performance; rather, I provide additional support as needed.
_____ I avail myself to professional development and training to enhance my knowledge and skills in the provision of services and supports to culturally, ethnically, racially and linguistically diverse students.
_____ I strive to become competent in the most current and proven best practices for educating culturally, ethnically, racially and linguistically diverse students.
_____ I advocate for the review of my school’s mission and vision, goals, policies, practices, and procedures to ensure that they incorporate and reflect principles and practices that promote cultural and linguistic competence.
_____ subtotal/19 = _____ average
How to Interpret Your Results
This checklist/assessment tool is intended to heighten awareness and sensitivity to the importance of cultural and linguistic cultural competence. It provides concrete examples of the kinds of beliefs, attitudes, values, and practices that foster cultural and linguistic competence. There is not an answer key with correct responses. However, if you frequently responded “1” you may not necessarily demonstrate beliefs, attitudes, values and practices that promote cultural and linguistic competence within an educational setting.
Source: Adapted from Material Developed by the National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, Washington, D.C. April 2004.
Source: “Status of the American Public School Teacher 2000-2001,” National Education Association