A Comprehensive Overview of Cultural Competency: Course #1
(April 2020) Authors: Marty Conaty, M.S. Ed. and Charlene Myklebust, Psy.D.
This online course is the first half of our Cultural Competency series and includes all of the required subtopics outlined by the Professional Education Learning and Standards Board (PELSB) of Minnesota. It has been approved by PELSB and qualifies for three Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) towards re-licensure. PELSB has determined that 6-8 hours of Cultural Competency training is necessary to cover all the required topics for re-licensure. By taking both Course #1 and Course #2 in our Cultural Competency series, you will earn the required 6 CEUs.
What is Cultural Competence?
Cultural Competence is the ability to successfully teach students who come from a culture or cultures other than one’s own. It entails developing certain personal and interpersonal awareness and sensitivities, understanding certain bodies of cultural knowledge, mastering a set of skills that, when taken together, underlie effective cross-cultural teaching and culturally responsive teaching.
The first step in becoming culturally responsive/competent is to conduct an internal audit. We must dig deep inside of ourselves to recognize and name those things that we don’t want to look at or talk about. Our life experiences have led us to form stereotypes which have then turned into implicit bias. Unintentional, unconscious attitudes impact how we relate to our students and their parents, how we choose curriculum, assess learning, and plan lessons. Harvard University’s Project Implicit has an online test to examine implicit bias.
Prepare to Go Against the Status Quo
Be aware of the sociopolitical context schools operate in and dare to go against it. Students need to understand the system that is working around them: give them context and don’t be afraid to talk about the tough subjects that may not be addressed in your school. Affirming Diversity by Sonia Nieto is an excellent resource. The most important part of this work is a willingness to do something different in order to get different results, with the goal of increasing academic achievement.
Our Students Need Us!
We have to step up and do what is necessary to close the achievement gap. Culturally responsive teaching is a major step in that direction. The outcome is a student body that loves learning, excels academically, and has teachers who respond to their needs. Cultural responsivity encourages students to feel a sense of belonging and helps create a safe space to feel safe, respected, heard, and challenged.
Take time to ask yourself hard questions and reflect on past and current practices and reflect in a journal or notebook. Ask yourself these questions: Are you operating from a place of critical care within your classroom—a place that connects high expectations with empathy and compassion? Are your students, regardless of socioeconomic status or background, being held to high standards? Has your past interaction with a particular race/culture of people impacted your ability to communicate with parents?
Curriculum audit: What books are students reading? Do they have a voice in what they read, where they sit, how they interact with others? Empower students to take ownership of their learning and environment. Have students create a classroom agreement that answers: “How will we be together?” When students answer, you have a window into how cultures dictate the ways in which they want to feel respected, heard, safe, and included in their interactions with one another and you. Reinforce the idea that they belong just the way they show up at school every day, with all of their outside experiences. Put careful thought into lesson planning. After examining your biases, you have revamped the classroom environment to reflect students’ voices, cultural needs, and their choices.