Potentially divisive initiatives such as equity initiatives carry special risks for schools and districts. Oftentimes educators can find themselves in a quandary: failure to address inequities with a sense of urgency can lead to lawsuits, negative outcomes for the most vulnerable students, or federal and state sanctions, while acting too hastily without an evidence-based plan in place can lead to ineffective implementation, wasted time and resources, or even further divisions within the organization or community.
You can also download our comprehensive Cultural Competency Training e-Guide.
“Did you know? African American students are over 3x more likely to be suspended than white students.” —U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection, 2016
4 Common Pitfalls To Watch Out For
Pitfall #1: Failure to establish a safe environment for discussion and learning
As an educational leader, it is important to gauge the readiness of your school or district to engage with issues of equity and cultural competency. Has your organization established the right tone for approaching cultural competency training? Is there a safe, trusting environment for staff members to speak openly and honestly without fear of reprimand? Can staff members be vulnerable in front of others? It is important for leaders and facilitators to lay the groundwork by establishing the right tone and creating relational trust within the group before asking staff members to be open to learning.
Pitfall #2: Not communicating the importance of the initiative and expectations
Pay careful attention to the way the training is framed when you roll out the initiative across your organization: Is there an air of reluctant compliance? Is the training framed in terms of burdensome mandates that must be followed or a box that must be checked? Or does the leadership team see the training as a vital part of the district’s mission to educate all students, regardless of background? Is there an expectation that all staff participate fully? Much of your organization’s reaction will be influenced by both the spoken and unspoken messages communicated by the leadership team as the training is announced and implemented.
Pitfall #3: Not tailoring the training specifically for classroom teachers
When it comes to getting the most out of your equity initiative, it is not enough for staff to merely understand cultural differences. Educators must know how to use culturally responsive teaching practices to build authentic relationships with students in their classrooms. Effective training must not only cover the principles of equity and the role of implicit bias, but also provide practical applications for daily classroom instruction.
Pitfall #4: Assuming the work is done once the training is delivered
The root causes of achievement gaps are often deeply ingrained within a system and most likely developed over many decades. Thus, they are unlikely to be addressed by a single training session or even multiple sessions over the course of a school year. Rather than view cultural competency as an event, school districts should view it as an ongoing journey toward more fully realizing their mission to serve all students. Real, sustainable progress is possible, but only if organizations plan for focused efforts over the long term.
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.