Cultural Competency 101 (Knowing Your Student Population): Course Introduction

This post marks the beginning of post concerning the topic of cultural competency / cultural relevancy in the classroom. This course is specifically for teachers. If time allows, I will develop such a course for school administrators; stay tuned. Disclaimer: please forgive me, but I will pay special attention to the state of New Jersey because I am most familiar with these topics as it relates. However, there are commonalities between urban and inner-city school districts nationwide.

The dynamics of teaching in America demand that we pay attention. The dynamic which I am teasing out is the demographic of the teachers and the demographics of the students. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2011-2012 school year about 82% of all teachers were White while African-American teachers were 7% of the teaching population and Latino teachers were 8% of the teaching population.[1] However, the percentage of children of color in K-12 schools in the United States is over 50%; the number of Latino children rising faster than any other group of color and African-Americans remaining steady.[2] America’s population is change, but not the population of those who are in the teaching profession. Those numbers look worse when you look at urban and inner-city communities where people of color are the majority of the population. If you are a White teacher in an urban and/or inner-city school, you must be aware of who you are and who you are teaching in order to be effective. Thus, being a culturally competent teacher is more important than ever. Disclaimer: Because the overwhelming amount of teachers in America are White, my content here will give specific attention to that population of teachers. However, teachers of every race and ethnicity can gather important information to become even more culturally competent within their classrooms.

The working definition of cultural competence, as used by the National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) at Georgetown University, comes from Terry Cross. Cross (1989) defined the term as follows:

Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enable that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. The word “culture” is used because it implies the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group. The word competence is used because it implies having the capacity to function effectively. A culturally competent system of care acknowledges and incorporates–at all levels–the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural relations, vigilance towards the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally-unique needs.”[3]

The NCCC has modified that definition. According to NCCC, cultural competence requires that organizations[4]:

  • Have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally.
  • Have the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of communities they serve.
  • Incorporate the above in all aspects of policy-making, administration, and practice and service delivery; systematically involve consumers, families and communities.

What does this mean for you and your classroom instruction: it means EVERYTHING. All schools should strive to be culturally competent; however cultural competence may not be on every district’s agenda. Nevertheless, it should be on your agenda. There are district-wide cultural competence goals that district administrators should make and there are also such goals for Principals to make happen within their buildings. But there are also goals that you should make for your classroom. Your classroom should have a defined set of values and principles, and demonstrate behaviors, attitudes, policies, and structures that enable them to work effectively cross-culturally. How does that start? It starts with small and common sense strategies that you don’t need district permission for. It starts with stepping out on faith and out of your comfort zone.

With each post will be a lesson with action steps designed to give you the tools to be a more effective teacher of students of color. Please keep in mind that growing in your cultural competence does not mean that you adapt slang terms in your vernacular and post videos of you dancing with your students. I do not mean to insult anyone’s intelligence, but those behaviors have nothing to do with the meat of your instruction: the textbooks you use, the voice and tone that you have with your students, your modus operandi for discipline and etc.

With each post will be a reading assignment and also a written assignment. At the conclusion of the course, I will have a major assignment for you to complete. If your school chooses to adopt this assignment, they can give you professional development or continuing education hours. However, if you choose to do this work on your own, you can send me your assignments and reflections and at the conclusion of the course, I will give you a professional development certificate. Each session will count as 2.5 hours per session. At the conclusion of the course, your certificate will have your name and the total number of PD hours according to the number of sessions completed. You can only get a certificate if all sessions are completed. If you take this course and you are in a state other than in New Jersey, check to see if your state will accept a certificate from me as credit for professional development. You can contact me and email me all your reflections and assignments at I hope to post a new lesson each week and I will alert you to the final post. If anyone is interested in me coming to visit your school to actually facilitate, contact me at the same email. I also hope to create actual Powerpoints of the lesson-blogs and word docs of assignments so that download them and use them.

I am very serious about the work of helping teachers become more culturally competent. I hope that those of you reading are equally as serious… so much so that you indulge me and participate with each lesson.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

Lesson Reading(s):







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