As classrooms become increasingly diverse, cultural competency has quickly become a key concern for educators all over the world. When it comes to creating a culturally-inclusive learning environment and closing the achievement gap in our classrooms, culturally responsive teaching is, arguably, more critical than it’s ever been before.
In our society, it’s common for people either to hold cultural biases or to fail to acknowledge the differences in cultures around us. And while teachers aren't immune and may also subscribe to these attitudes, it is always to the detriment of their students. In schools, especially within the classroom, it’s crucially important that educators consciously work against putting up metaphorical blinders to other cultures. To truly engage our students, we need to remember that their culture matters.
Looking to make your classroom a more culturally-inclusive space? Here are some important questions to start asking yourself when assessing your level of cultural competence:
Are you aware of your own cultural bias and behavior?
In order to be open to other cultures, we need to have an understanding of our own culture and how it has affected us. You’re constantly immersed in your own culture, and it’s easy to become numb to how it’s affecting your behavior as an educator. Understand what makes your culture unique, so you can also appreciate the differences in others.
Are you ready to challenge any assumptions or stereotypes that you may hold?
Are you aware of the assumptions you may hold about people from other cultures? Let go of any stereotypes you may have been holding and encourage an open mind for yourself and your students. This is not an instant process, but consistency is key and will pay off in the long run.
Can you acknowledge how culture impacts the daily life and activities of students?
Your hobbies, daily routine, preferred entertainment, job - there’s an endless list of things that culture affects every day. Are you accepting and willing to learn to understand how a student that recently immigrated from another country seems to be struggling with the school routine?
Bear in mind that a student's culture can affect their everyday life, through religious commitments or simply their daily schedule. Although you may not understand or be aware, it’s important to recognize that a student may be used to spending their day differently.
Can you understand how cultural norms influence communication?
Did you know that in Japan, direct eye contact is seen as a sign of disrespect? Or that sitting cross-legged is considered offensive in Ghana and Turkey? Students from different cultures communicate in many different ways and it’s important to acknowledge that some forms of communication may be very different from yours. Rather than perceiving these negatively, use these cultural differences as a learning opportunity rather than passing judgment.
Do you make an effort to learn about other cultures?
You cannot become culturally competent if you don't learn about other cultures. Ask questions and be open to hearing stories rather than making assumptions. This is a perfect opportunity for students to teach you something, in turn!
Can you effectively intervene when you see a student behaving in a discriminatory manner?
Teachers must be able to identify when conversations in the classroom have taken a wrong turn, and be able to defuse the situation. As someone in a leadership role in the classroom, teachers should quickly address derogatory comments and use the situation as a teachable moment for their students.
Are your teaching styles adaptable to students of multiple different cultures?
Are your lessons structured to be understood by students of many cultures? Now more than ever, teachers will likely be teaching students from many different nationalities and cultures. Does it seem like students in your class who are relatively new to the country are struggling with grasping concepts? Teaching styles that may be easy to follow for one student may be totally foreign to another.
Do you allow for communication between you as your students' families?
Family can obviously have a huge impact on a child's behavior and interactions with others. Establish open communication with families and educate them on what their child will be doing in school, and take this as a chance to learn from them as well.
Remember, cultural competence is a continually-evolving practice and is something you continue to learn over the entirety of your teaching career. Cultural competency in schools is more than achievable, and the change starts with teachers who want to make their classroom a welcoming place for all students.
Did you find yourself ticking a lot of the checklist above? Or do you realize that maybe you should start making some changes towards a more culturally-inclusive teaching style? Let us know in the comments below!