3 tenets for developing cultural competency in schools


Here are some ways your district can help students feel included, safe, and supported

2. PD must be a sustained, long-term commitment
While a culture of equity is a fundamental building block of creating an inclusive environment, teachers and other school staff are on the front lines of engaging with students and it is critical to prepare them. However, many districts are unsure about how to offer this kind of PD. The most effective way to develop cultural competency in school employees is through long-term and sustained PD that enriches teachers’ cultural understanding. Instead of a one-time PD workshop, schools should provide instructional coaches and maintain an ongoing dialogue in professional learning communities. Additionally, PD should appeal to a wide range of perspectives and cultural identities by integrating this variety into the materials and activities used.

Developing an effective diversity training program is important for improving cultural knowledge and empathy. For example, Virginia’s Arlington Public Schools performed a staff cultural audit in 2006 to determine how to best approach diversity training. Some key findings from the audit revealed that numerous opportunities for skill-based training with emphasis on effective communication and cultural considerations is especially important. The audit also showed the need to manage unconscious bias and assumptions held by district community members.

3. Cultural competence must be practiced, not just discussed
Districts cannot expect to cultivate a welcoming school environment if the facilitators and leaders are not actively engaging in cultural competence. There must be policies that ensure teachers and administrators actively apply cultural competency training.

Equitable classroom management strategies, for example, help districts establish and maintain behavior standards and consistent consequences to avoid potential cultural misunderstandings. Teachers and school staff can also monitor discourse style, being sensitive to how diverse cultures deal with conflict, clarify expectations, and emphasize a positive environment, not punishment. These strategies promote inclusivity and can encourage an environment that promotes inclusivity among its students.

Likewise, a regular assessment of cultural competence measuring elements such as engagement, learning environment, and feedback strategies can help hold teachers and staff accountable for implementing school policies, and can enable the school to benchmark its improvement over time.

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