By Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
A hot topic of conversation in political, educational and everyday circles has been the extent to which diversity and inclusion should be integrated into classrooms and curricula. Unfortunately, it seems that many people in the public sphere have labeled any conversation on the topic of multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion as critical race theory, without fully understanding the theoretical framework. We have recently written about critical race theory in a previous article to give folks an understanding of the theory. Please check out the article entitled Is Anyone Actually Teaching Critical Race Theory in their Classroom? Why are States Banning It? For more insight on the topic.
The reaction against the George Floyd killing and other high profile police shootings has opened up the conversation and shined a light on racial injustice in the United States. This greater willingness to have conversations and implement new programs to combat injustice has also caused a backlash. As a result, there is legislation all throughout the US to ban much of the curriculum that addresses the issue of diversity. Below we would like to republish a previous article that highlights the advantages of diversifying the currlulum in public schools and even offers some teaching ideas that would allow a more multicultural curriulum.
Originally published January 27, 2021 as an article entitled “My Teachers Don’t Get Me: Culturally Competent Teaching in a Diverse Society.”
Misunderstood by My Teachers
I spent my childhood attending a predominantly black inner city school with very little resources. All of my classmates were from the same socioeconomic background as I was. We were all poor, marginalized, black children who society had seemingly given up on. Consequently, very few of my teachers could relate to me, nor could they fully understand our cultural background. Some of their teaching practices were inadequate and their communication with students was inept, as they had not had the proper training or experience in effectively educating inner city youth and students from minoritized groups.
A Democratic Society Should Celebrate Diversity
A democratic society calls for every student’s voice to be heard, recognized and valued, but unfortunately we have greatly missed the mark so far in the United States. In the past few decades an educational theory known as culturally competent pedagogy has become increasingly more popular (And for good reason). If the educators in my elementary school had taken the opportunity to learn and respect our cultural background, they would have been able to more effectively serve our population. When teachers regularly integrate cultural competency into their curricular planning they transform the classroom into a more effective and equitable learning environment.
What is Culturally Competent Teaching?
According to the National Education Association cultural competence is “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families.” In other words, cultural competence involves educators doing some introspective work and examining themselves and their own cultural identity as it relates to their views of others. As they practice this critical self-reflection, teachers must be intentional about learning the cultural background of their students, especially those that have different experiences from their own. They can in turn build upon that knowledge, thereby radically transforming their classrooms into more inclusive environments. This is pertinent because often when Americans think about notions of diversity, multiculturalism and difference they automatically think about people other than themselves. That is, conversations about diversity and inclusion are only referring to those people out there, from other races, ethnicities, countries or another part of town. But culturally responsive teaching calls for educators to think about themselves as they think about others. In this way, they can be more intentional about supporting those students from various socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. Furthermore, when they are teaching those students they can do so in a way that is respectful of their culture, and affirms their values. This also entails some cultural humility, in that teachers should not have the attitude that their culture and values are more superior to that of their students. In this time of cultural, political and racial division it is invaluable that educators find strategies to promote diversity in sincere ways within their classrooms. Here are five characteristics of effective culturally competent teaching and learning outlined by Cheryl Irish and Monica Scrubb.
1. Culturally competent teaching and learning facilitates critical reflection.
2. Culturally competent teaching and learning demands respect for others.
3. Culturally competent teaching and learning involves accommodating individual learners.
4. Culturally competent teaching and learning requires the use of intercultural communication skills.
5. Culturally competent teaching and learning requires focused activities and intentionally structured environments.
Now that we have provided some discussion of what culturally competent pedagogy is all about, we will provide some resources below so that educators can go about implementing these principles into their classrooms.
A few ideas for integrating cultural competency into your lesson planning:
1. Student’s Exploring Their Cultural Background through Writing
America is becoming more ethnically and racially diverse and therefore making our classrooms more diverse. One way for teachers to learn about their student’s cultural background is by allowing students to do regular journal reflections that encourage them to share their background. Students may start off slow and reluctant to do this but if teachers ensure them that they are in a safe place, they will feel more and more comfortable writing and sharing, especially the more often they do it.
A sample writing prompt for a social studies or language arts class might include:
Write about a typical day at home/ in your neighborhood/ or at a family gathering. Be sure to answer the following questions in your prompt:
- What are typical activities that go on there?
- What is the atmosphere like? What do you do for fun?
- What type of activities take place on a regular basis?
- What type of people are there? (I.e. Which family members?
- How many family members)?
- What languages are spoken?
- What are important topics discussed at home?
- What are important family traditions?
With this foundational knowledge about the students, teachers can also share their own cultural background and highlight the similarities and differences with their students. Teachers can build assessments with this knowledge, including class projects that allow students to present information about their culture, essays that allow students to do more research on their culture as compared to others, video documentaries about their lives, creating cultural musical productions, a genealogy project and oral presentations.
2. Digital Pen Pals
Students can use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to develop relationships with students their age in other countries. They can also do a cultural exchange with students in a part of the United States wherein the culture is completely different from their own such as a Native American reservation. It is important for the teacher to outline questions and criteria for the students that lead to specific fact finding and cultural sharing when interacting with their digital pen pal. That is, teachers should be very intentional about guiding students with prompts and directives that will help them gain and share information that will lead to them learning about other cultures while effectively sharing their own.
Other Lesson Plans
Diversity Toolkit: Cultural Competence for Educators
Lesson Plan: Cultural Competence and Cultural Humility in Cross-Cultural Exchange
Cultural Competence and Cultural Humility in Cross-Cultural Exchange
Cultural Competence Activities for Teachers
15 Culturally-Responsive Teaching Strategies and Examples + Downloadable List
Culturally Competent Action Plan
Why Cultural Competence?
How to Practice Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Why Focus on Cultural Competence and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy?
Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Originator of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, Addresses ACE Teachers and Leaders
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Culturally competent teaching is something that I will honestly admit is a struggle for me. However, after reading this article, I am dedicated to working on myself and becoming more culturally competent in my teaching so that I can provide the best education for all of my students and not just the students that share similar backgrounds to me.
Before this article I was unaware that the United States had legislation that would ban the teaching of diversity in the classroom. As stated above, teachers who come from different ethnic, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds might be unaware of how to effectively communicate with their students. Teaching about diversity and doing some self-reflection is one major way teachers and students can become more in touch with each other. Learning about cultural diversity helps us a population become more in tune with one another and makes the world a more understanding place instead of having fear or misinformation about the unknown.
I like that this article mentions relating to the student. Many students don’t respond well to the idea of not being understood. Once you lead with an open mind and an open heart, the children are more receptive. This is something that really stood out to me.
Education is a compilation of many things, which is why there needs to be a teaching in cultural competence. Teaching has no correct formula or strategy which is why teachers need to understand how to teach children of different cultures.
Culturally competent teaching is what is needed in the classroom today. Students from all different backgrounds come into our classrooms to learn and our job as an educator is to not only teach them but also learn from them. I think this is extremely important to the classroom because in order to fully communicate and teach students we need to know how to integrate their culture and backgrounds into the teaching practices and communication. As an educator adapting your teaching practices to fit individual students is really important in order to make sure that you’re giving all students the best education that they receive. I like the journal idea that is given in the article because this assignment will allow students to not only learn about themselves, but it gives educators a chance to learn about the different cultures within their classroom. With new students coming in each year, teachers can learn about a wide variety of cultures and the journals will help with that.
“If the educators in my elementary school had taken the opportunity to learn and respect our cultural background, they would have been able to more effectively serve our population,” this is exactly it for me. In my experience in elementary schools, predominantly white schools, diversity education is very compartmentalized (i.e. Black History Month). However, our nation houses many cultures and they are not just highlighted at certain points of the year, but are the core of day-to-day living. We are doing all students a disservice if we continue to approach diversity this way. I appreciate the work being done and the suggestions made in this article to incorporate the students’ differences in all areas of the curriculum. Not only are these exercises valuable for the teacher to be as effective as possible in the classroom, but also serve the student in becoming familiar with their cultural identity.