Saturday / June 22

Cultural Proficiency for English Language Learners

Utilizing the “Educators’ Rubric for Support of English-Learning Students and Their Communities” in Promoting Their Academic and Social Well-Being

English-learning students in our schools continue to encounter many challenges. Therefore educators must value students’ diverse backgrounds, instead of perceiving their language background as a troublesome obstacle.  The 2010 U.S. census reported that English learners comprise 10 percent (4.7 million) of the total K-12 student enrollment in U.S. schools. This blog offers the opportunity to begin a dialogue on how educators may use cultural proficiency as a set of tools that can help move schools forward by honoring the assets that students and their families bring with them each day. Educators, who subscribe to the cultural proficiency belief system, view students’ cultural backgrounds of language, race, gender, and socioeconomic situation as assets to construct educational experiences.

"One primary purpose of education today is to improve the lives of all students through culturally proficient teaching and learning."

“One primary purpose of education today is to improve the lives of all students through culturally proficient teaching and learning.”

Cultural Proficiency Continuum

As educators work to strengthen their cultural proficiency, they can periodically evaluate their place along a cultural proficiency continuum that indicates unique ways of seeing and responding to differences. In our book, Culturally Proficient Practice: Supporting Educators of English Learning Students, we provide language for describing both healthy and nonproductive policies, practices, and individual behaviors.

The Cultural Proficiency Continuum

  • Cultural Destructiveness—Seeking to eliminate references to the culture of “others” in all aspects of the school and in relationship with their communities.
  • Cultural Incapacity—Trivializing other English-learning communities and seeking to make them appear to be wrong.
  • Cultural Blindness—Pretending not to see or acknowledge the socioeconomic status and culture of English-learning communities, and choosing to ignore the experiences of such groups within the school and community.
  • Cultural Pre-competence—Increasingly aware of what you and the school don’t know about working with English-learning communities. At this key level of development, you and the school can move in a positive, constructive direction. Or you can vacillate, stop, and possibly regress.
  • Cultural Competence—Manifesting personal values, behaviors, the school’s policies, and practices in a manner that is inclusive with English-learning cultures and socioeconomic communities that are new or different from you and the school.
  • Cultural Proficiency—Advocating for life-long learning for the purpose of being increasingly effective in serving the educational needs ofsocioeconomic and English-learning cultural groups. Culturally proficient school leaders hold the vision that they and their school are instruments for creating a socially just democracy.

Five Elements of Cultural Proficiency

Culturally proficient principals take into account the five essential elements of cultural proficiency for including and supporting English-learning students. They further implement specific culturally proficient practices for each of these five essential elements.

  1. Assess Cultural Knowledge
  2. Value Diversity
  3. Manage the Dynamics of Difference
  4. Adapt to Diversity
  5. Institutionalize Cultural Knowledge—Improving Lives

One primary purpose of education today is to improve the lives of all students through culturally proficient teaching and learning. Culturally proficient schools are well positioned to foster an environment where teachers and all learners can do their best thinking and learning. To accomplish cultural proficiency, schools will need strong leadership from all who work with English-learning students.

A much more in-depth publication may be accessed on the following Web resources by visiting Principal magazine online:




Reyes is presenting at the 2014 Learning Forward Texas Cultural Proficiency Institute on October 15-16. To learn more about the conference, please click here.

Written by

Reyes L. Quezada, Ed.D., is a Professor at the University of San Diego, in the Department of Learning and Teaching in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences. He has been a teacher and teacher educator for the past twenty-eight years, eighteen of those years as a professor. He has served as professor of education at the University of Redlands and California State University Stanislaus. His teaching and research focus on issues of equity, international education, and inclusion and diversity. He is co-author of Culturally Proficient Practice: Supporting Educators of English Learning Students.

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