Cultural Competency in the Classroom

 Cultural Competency in the Classroom

What it is: "the ability to work effectively across cultures in a way that acknowledges and respects the culture of the person or organization being served.” 
For the sake of covering the vast amount of material involved in achieving cultural competency and closing the achievement gap, the following subtopics were created: Tolerance and Respect, Providing and Supporitng Programs for Students, Implementing Policies and Programs, and Providing Sustained Development. Throughout each subtopic, we will be providing information (based on the Arlington Public Schools model) to give a brief synopsis of what each would entail if enforced in a school setting.

Tolerance and Respect
  • Mason et al. (1996) developed a model of cultural competence that contains five stages: ™
    • Cultural destructiveness – acknowledgement of differences is refused ™
    • Cultural incapacity – differences are widely ignored ™
    • Cultural blindness – cultural differences are not viewed as important ™
    • Cultural precompetence –the need for cultural competence is recognized ™
    • Cultural competence – differences are acknowledged and organizations explore issues of equity, viewing children’s backgrounds as resources
  • Pedersen’s model of Cultural Competence (three stages) ™
    • Awareness – Awareness of own attitudes and biases as well as the sociopolitical issues that confront culturally different youngsters ™
    • Knowledge – Accumulation of factual information about different cultural groups ™
    • Skills – Integration of awareness competencies to positively impact children from culturally distinct groups  
Providing and Supporting Programs for Students
  • Cultural reciprocity establishes mutually collaborative partnerships between schools and families. In order to achieve this, you must be able to incorporate the families views of their culture. As teachers, we have to be aware of our views and see how it can influence/affect our students in positive and negative ways. In order to critically reflect on these views, we must be able to see and understand all angles of that issue - to step back from our preconceived notions and opinions and learn to be open-minded to the other sides.
  • Cultural continuity is the process of incorporating patterns of interaction that are familiar to students and that draw on their cultural cues, social experiences, upbringing, and rules. Teachers who accommodate students’ backgrounds by capitalizing on the cultural skills children bring to school can positively impact the educational process.
  • Cultural informants are members of a culture who can provide considerable insight into aspects of the culture that may be unfamiliar to outsiders. Consulting cultural informants strengthens competence levels and better positions educators to have positive impacts on learners from culturally distinct groups.  
Implementing Policies and Programs
Cultural Competency in the Classroom can be achieved by:
  • Using personal stories
  •  Journal writing
  • Explaining concepts in understandable language and in context of student experiences.
  • Moving conversational vocabulary contexts to academic contexts
  • Permitting the use of nonstandard English for learning purposes
  • Visual prompts and organizers
  • Teaching grammar in context, not separately
  • All objectives should be clearly visible to students on a daily basis
  • Answering students’ questions about the organization and structure of the classroom, the classroom culture and their cultural expectations and overtly teaching such.
  • Explaining goals for students and how objectives matter presently and in the future.
  • Creating a classroom rapport by sharing personal stories that students can find appropriate and relatable, inviting students to share about themselves, asking for opinions and accepting students’ feelings.
  • Students prior knowledge and learning styles should be accounted for in order for students to be sure that they will be successful in the classroom community.
  • Having appropriate wait times, providing in class help and help outside of class, and giving students the opportunity to conference with the teacher and peers.
  • Actions speak louder than words- act how you want your students to act.
  • Students should have choice and input in the classroom, given the opportunity to work as a group or       individually and to have leadership roles and to draw connections to their life.
  • Students should be aware of teachers’ high goals for them and encouraged to reach them.

Providing Sustained Professional Development
  • Important when working towards eliminating achievement gaps
  • Provide a culturally responsive checklist for personnel who work with children
  • Starting conversations on cultural competence
    • Speak from your own experience. Use "I" language.
    • Be present, listen, and respect others when they are talking.
    • Participate to your fullest ability--community growth depends on the inclusion of every individual voice.
    • Always feel free to pass, to not speak or participate.
    • Do not be afraid to respectfully challenge one another by asking questions, but refrain from personal attacks-- focus on ideas.
    • Say I agree to disagree.
    • Practice recognizing the difference between intent and impact. A person may not intend to hurt by what they say or do but, in fact, may have an impact that is real just the same. Deal with the impact.
    • Give "wait time" to all.
    • Take risks.
    • Respecting confidentiality allow everyone to speak freely.
    • Have fun.
Culturally Responsive Teaching – A set of congruent behaviors that recognize the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. Some of the characteristics are:
  • Believing that all of their students can succeed

  • Seeing themselves as a part of a community, including students,

  • families, the city, the world

  • Helping students make connections with all parts of the community

  • Having varied social interactions with students

  • Encouraging student connectedness and collaborative learning

  • Seeing knowledge as being continuously created and shared

* It is not wrong to recognize racial and cultural differences among individuals*
Anti-racist in a school: practices in the school prepare students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and
politically to live and work in a diverse and changing world.
Task One: Building Trust and Interest vs. Mistrust and Disinterest
The teacher fosters in students a sense of trust and interest and a feeling of
positive anticipation.
Task Two: Balancing Teacher Control vs. Student Autonomy
The teacher and students seek and find an appropriate balance of teacher control
and student autonomy through mutual testing and responses.
Task Three: Creating Ambitiousness vs. Ambivalence
The teacher helps each student and collaborates with him or her to commit to
ambitious learning goals and to overcome ambivalence by either party.
Task Four: Building Industriousness vs. Discouragement
The teacher and students work industriously to achieve goals for learning and to
overcome any discouragement due to setbacks.
Task Five: Fostering Consolidation vs. Irresolution and Disconnection.
The teacher helps students to consolidate their learnings and to connect goals and
learnings forward in anticipation of future classes and life experiences.


Arlington Public Schools
Cultural Competence Initiative
Dr. Patrick K. Murphy, Superintendent
The Arlington Public Schools Cultural Competence Initiative is a series of goals, practices and research compiled as an initiative in this particular school district to engage in cultural competence.  This model is the basis of our stance of key issues and factors that contribute to cultural competency in the school community.  
Creating a Culturally Relevant Curriculum
Kristin Condon
September 20th, 2015
Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson
John F. Kennedy School of
Government, Harvard University, Mass.; Developer of the Tripod Project Intervention,
Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson is responsible for many theories and research based on the action of cultural competency and how that looks being accomplished.  His research was attributed to creating a self-awareness checklist that we then adapted to represent what non-negotiables are in policies and programs in the classroom.
Mason, J. L., Benjamin, M. P., & Lewis, S. A. (1996).
The cultural competence model:  Implications for child and family mental health services. In C. A. Heflinger & C.T. Nixon (Eds.), Families and the mental health system for children and adolescents: Policy, services, and research. Children’s mental health services (pp. 165-190). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Additional Resources:

Gail L. Thompson, Through Ebony Eyes, What Teachers Need to Know But Are Afraid to Ask About African American Students

Howard - Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection   
This contribution was created by Robbi Kleinholz and Kristin Condon; Fall, 2015.