Diverse communities are no longer limited to urban areas. Over the past few decades, suburban and even rural school districts have experienced significant increases in students from differing backgrounds in terms of race, socio-economic status, religion, ability, language, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, home environment, and more. Oftentimes teachers may have multiple students with various needs present in their classroom. How can a school or district fulfill its mission to provide an excellent education to all students when the needs of today’s students may diverge dramatically from students in the past?
Here are 3 questions to consider. You can also download our comprehensive Cultural Competency Training e-Guide.
DID YOU KNOW? From 2000 to 2015, the Hispanic dropout rate decreased by 18.6% —National Center for Education Statistics
3 Questions To Consider
School-wide or district-wide initiatives of any type require significant investment of time, people, and resources to implement successfully. When it comes to complex, long-term issues such as equity and diversity, however, it is especially critical to set your school up for success from the very beginning. Here are key questions to consider as you start planning your cultural competency training.
Question 1: Does your professional learning staff have the expertise and experience to deliver the training?
Conversations around sensitive topics such as race, poverty, gender, religion, and other facets of diversity can sometimes become highly charged and emotional. Participants may have a variety of responses, including defensiveness, resistance, defiance, denial, or withdrawal. Cultural competency training requires skilled facilitators who have experience navigating tense moments, responding to outbursts, de-escalating conflict, and maintaining a safe, supportive environment for all participants.
What you can do: Talk to your professional learning staff about their comfort level and experience in delivering cultural competency training. If needed, explore additional resources that may assist your staff in developing their skills, such as professional books, online courses, associations, or specialized training. You may also want to consider bringing in consultants with expertise in cultural competency training specifically for K-12 school districts to build capacity within your organization.
Question 2: Do you have buy in from all stakeholders?
Successful implementation of any initiative requires support and buy-in from all levels in your school. However, when it comes to initiatives around equity or other potentially divisive issues, teacher buy-in and leadership support are especially critical. Schools must create an inclusive environment where representatives from various groups can feel heard, while clearly communicating the importance of the initiative and expectations for staff. Leaders must model the attitude they wish all staff to adopt toward the training and be seen as participants rather than observers of the process.
What you can do: To lessen emotions around an equity initiative, begin with the facts. Examine your data to identify any gaps in student achievement and other indicators of school quality. Do certain groups have lower graduation rates than others? Are some groups disproportionately disciplined, suspended, or expelled? Does the composition of student clubs, the prom court, honors classes, or the cheerleading squad reflect the composition of your schools? Once you have gathered the facts, you can begin building awareness around equity issues and gaining buy-in across your district.
Question 3: How much prior training have your educators and leaders received on culturally responsive practices?
Some teachers may take a course on multicultural education for their degree or accreditation, but not all teachers may have been required to do so. Teachers who entered the profession through alternative certification pathways in particular may lack the necessary background knowledge to navigate highly diverse classrooms, where they are more likely to be placed. In addition, coursework and textbooks may not fully prepare educators for the complex, real-world challenges of today’s classrooms, where differences in race, gender, poverty, language, religion, ability, sexual orientation, home environment, and more, can all affect educators’ ability to build authentic relationships with students.
What you can do: To gauge the need for professional learning around culturally responsive teaching practices, conduct a needs assessment survey for all staff members, including teachers, school administrators, support staff, and certified personnel. The results can help you determine the level and type of training needed.
Whether you are considering cultural competency training in response to state or federal mandates or in response to a need identified within your district, this guide will help you clarify your approach to make the training as meaningful and successful as possible for your educators and the students you serve.
Jim Davis / January 15, 2018
Unfortunate that these questions presume training rather than collaborative development and professional development, and settle for stakeholder buy-in rather than the higher standard of shared ownership.