Thinking about Cultural Competence

I. Dimensions of Cultural Competence

Teachers are facing a more diversified student pool and the ability to address the issue and display cultural competence is critical for educators nowadays. Effective culturally responsive teaching relies largely upon how teachers use the curriculum and how they interact with students. To achieve culturally responsive teaching requires cultural literacy on the part of instructors. Classroom teachers need to possess understanding and respect of cultural difference then they are able to pass on this attitude and knowledge to students.

For classroom teachers, cultural competence or cultural proficiency is the ability to make school a more welcoming and diversified environment for students from different backgrounds. According to Pederson (1994), cultural competence includes domains of awareness, knowledge, and skills. The latter stage builds on the former one. The awareness domain involves perceiving one’s bias and related social conflicts pertaining to young people. The knowledge domain requires one to know the facts about different cultural groups. The skill domain refers to the integration of both previous domains to achieve cultural competence. A culturally proficient teacher will demonstrate the following behaviors (Lindsey et al., 1999):

1. Appreciate Diversity and Difference

(a) Every student’s need is addressed to.

(b) Regard difference as diversity instead of improper characteristics

(c) Each culture tends to appreciate one thing than the other

2. Understand One’s Own Culture

(a) Be aware of one’s own culture

(b) Do not assume that everyone shares your values

(c) Understand how one’s own culture could affect students and colleagues

3. Cope With Difference

(a) Develop effective strategies for resolving conflicts with students and colleagues coming different backgrounds

(b) Understand the history of how conflicts are brewed and distrust generated

(c) Be aware that one can form wrongful opinions of others based on learned expectations

4. Educate About Diversity

(a) Teach students about the kinds of stereotypes and prejudices that exist

(b) Help students to learn skills that enable them to interact effectively in cross-cultural settings

5. Actions in Appreciating Diversity

(a) Incorporate the idea of respecting diversity to classroom management, instruction techniques, assessment, and curriculum

(b) Enact classroom rules to resolve conflicts arising from diversity

Teachers should also beware that the language they use could be revealing about dominants’ ideology such as assuming one group is “normal” while the other is deficient. Also, teachers should avoid having expectations that influence their classroom teaching. It could lead to worse academic performance and negative self-image of students (Lindsey, Robbins, & Terrel, 1999; Wheelock, 1992; Oakes & Lipton, 1990).

II. Dimensions of Diversity

To increase the cultural awareness of teachers, a diversity wheel from University of Vienna can help people locate individual differences to reveal how they are different from each other. The core and internal dimensions refer to characteristics that are usually visible and unchangeable. The external dimensions refer to characteristics that are acquired and changeable. These characteristics make human beings different and display uniqueness.

Diversity Wheel (Source: University of Vienna)
Diversity Wheel (Source: University of Vienna)

III. Assessment for Self-Check

Are schools you work in an environment that conveys the messages of diversity embraced? The following is a diagram that helps teachers to check aspects including teaching activities, school, and community. Teachers can see this as a self-reminder to improve his/her cultural responsiveness.

Sample Items From the School-Wide Cultural Competence Observation Checklist
Sample Domain
Sample Item
School vision/mission
There is a school Mission or Vision Statement that includes a stated commitment to diversity and/or global citizenry.
Literature selections in the curriculum reflect a variety of cultural perspectives (classrooms and library).
Student interaction and leadership
Racial/ethnic representation in advanced placement classes, honors classes, and gifted programs is balanced.
Teachers representing diverse groups are actively recruited by the principal and the district.
Teaching and learning
Instruction is differentiated to address students
with special needs, while challenging all students.
Parents and outer community
Community outreach programs involve regularly eliciting perspectives of community constituencies and stakeholder groups, including parents.
Conflict management
The tendency for intercultural conflict is recognized and addressed through peer mediation programs and other proactive approaches to conflict resolution.
Authentic student assessments are used to complement standardized tests in assessing achievement.

Source: The School-Wide Cultural Competence Observation Checklist (Bustamante & Nelson, 2007).