Cultural Competence in Families and Teachers

Pick two or three of the areas of application below. If possible, make the applications specific to your subject area and grade level. What does culturally competent teaching look like when it pertains to: parents and families; expectations; context of culture; student-centered instruction; multiple perspectives; curriculum; teacher?

Since my discussion post this week was about the responsibilities of parents and teachers (and administrators) to provide resources for bilingual/bicultural children to succeed, I thought I would connect my blog post to that idea and discuss cultural competence as it pertains to teachers, parents, and families. As teachers-in-training (and probably often as teachers too), we hear a lot about cultural competence, what it means (also what it doesn’t mean), and how we can effectively incorporate it not just into our classrooms, but also our way of thinking. However, I think that both teachers and parents (or families) have a responsibility to “ask questions about their practice” in order to successfully educate, empower, and encourage their students (OSPI, 2014).

For a teacher, being culturally competent means many things. According to OSPI, being culturally competent is not just learning a list of facts about cultures and using them in teaching; it’s knowing the school’s community, teaching curricula in a way that is respectful to all, being aware of how culture affects how people act and react (including yourself), and examining how certain practices have an impact on the students (OSPI, 2014). In the fourth grade classroom I tutor, there is a student from Somalia who speaks Arabic as her first language and whose religion is Islamic. She dresses differently from the other kids (always skirts and a hijab), and sometimes has a difficult time understanding or making herself understood. She does not often ask for help or call attention to herself, but I noticed that if she is struggling, her teacher is aware and does what he can to help her. I think this is a good example of modeling cultural competence, since he doesn’t ever force her to call out answers if she seems to be unwilling, and doesn’t make her feel bad for needing help. Instead, he patiently encourages her to ask if she needs it, and also tries to warn her if he’s going to call on her (which he does for most of the students who are a little shy as well). I think that, most importantly, he is aware of this student and how her cultural background might be a little different from most of the other kids, and that her way of understanding something might be different because of the language barrier. But a teacher shouldn’t just be giving special attention to the one student from Somalia in his or her class. He should “acknowledge, honor, and respond to all cultures and types in a classroom,” (Sink, 2014), whether that be a Somalian student, a student from New York, a student from Seattle but with parents from Japan, or a student whose family roots are buried in Western Washington. This means being attuned to the different minds that come into your classroom.

On the discussion board this week, a few of my peers and I spoke of responsibility for providing learning resources. We all seemed to come to mostly the same conclusion; this responsibility, while ultimately falling to the parents, is a shared one between educators, families, and administrators alike. The National Center for Cultural Competence states that “cultural and linguistic competence requires shared power, reciprocal transfer of knowledge and skills, and respectful, trusting relationships with consumers, families, and communities,” (NCCC, 2014). I think it is vital for parents to be involved in their child’s learning. That might simply be asking questions and being interested in the student’s day at school, or as involved as becoming the PTA president. However, we also discussed that parents don’t always do this. Engaging families in a meaningful and culturally respective way is the job of the teachers and administrators who work with the students, promoting family-school partnerships that support their academic, social, emotional, cultural, and physical health (OSPI, 2014). For the teachers, I think it is most important for them to remain in constant communication with parents and families so that the families know what their child is learning. This might be a weekly newsletter or email, posters and signs in the classroom, or face-to-face communication. Through this communication, teachers can learn about the families and backgrounds of their students. Equally important, families can learn about the background and way of thinking of the teacher. Through a mutual understanding, the parents and teachers can work together to formulate a system that works best for each child. In this way it allows communities (and families) to determine their own needs, which is a guiding principle of cultural competence (NCCC, 2014).

I think that the best way for both families and educators to be culturally responsive, giving students the best possible education, is through communication. While it is important for teachers in particular to be aware of their students’ many different cultural backgrounds, it is also important for the parents to be aware of the classroom as well. By communicating to parents how they can help, a teacher is not only promoting cultural competence in herself, but also her students and their parents. She is promoting a better education for everyone.

Sink, C. (2014). Cultural competence, individual/collective cultures. [podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.screencast.com/t/isZzGVJlpJbO.

Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2014). Eliminating the gaps: Cultural competence. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/CISL/EliminatingtheGaps/CulturalCompetence/default.aspx.

National Center for Cultural Competence. (2014). The compelling need for cultural and linguistic competence. Retrieved from http://nccc.georgetown.edu/foundations/need.html.

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