With classrooms becoming increasingly diverse, it is important for teachers to have the knowledge and the skills to connect with students from diverse racial, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds.
Teachers should understand the unique differences among students based on the culture they come from. They should be culturally competent as well as sensitive and responsive to teach students about different cultures.
In fact, knowledge on the topic of cultural competence should be disseminated at the top most level involving administrators and curriculum designers and should trickle down to teachers, students and all those who uphold cultural awareness and appreciation.
Why Culture Competence Needs to Be Developed in Schools?
Culture is an extremely personal issue for people. It encompasses deep-seated beliefs, practices and rituals, which shape behavior. For example, some students may be very selective about buying personal items like jewelry and might buy them only from family jewelers. Others may be different and wouldn’t think twice before buying jewelry online from a trusted brand like BlueStone. This happens when buying clothing as well. It doesn’t mean either of the groups is wrong. They only have different belief systems.
Most people are unaware (to a certain extent) of cultures other than their own. Young children, who are curious about the world around them, especially need to be aware of cultural appreciation.
Educators who encourage building cultural competence in students understand that culturally-responsive education can begin only when one reflects upon oneself. It is only when we truly understand ourselves that we will be able to understand others.
The article focuses on strategies through which educators can offer culturally competent teaching and learning process in the classroom.
Facilitate Critical Reflection
Before imparting lessons in cultural competency to students, teachers must be encouraged to critically analyze their own cultural assumptions. Reflecting on the ideas one holds is the first step towards removing fallacies and stereotypes. Culturally-responsive teaching can then talk to students about using self-awareness in reflecting on their own assumptions.
For example, in a culturally diverse classroom, one student may believe that his learning has nothing to do with timely arrival to class, while another may view punctuality as a sign of respect. Some students may vocally express their doubts and concerns, while others may be having a hard time accepting another student’s point of view. In such situations, all the students are surely learning, but each may consider the others as disrespectful, troublesome, and even indolent.
Culturally-responsive teachers can help students shrug off their long-held cultural assumptions and teach them to respect individual differences by reflecting on their own beliefs.
Teach the Importance of Respecting Everyone
Taking a cue from the above point, teachers should acknowledge the fact that every student comes from a different cultural background with unique aspects to it. Several experiences gained from one's traditions and values give rise to and reinforce various belief systems. Learning new things by employing multiple ways of knowing and learning can be beneficial for everyone.
When there is little diversity in a given setup (a classroom, in this case), the overpowering presence of one particular cultural identity can be daunting for students from other cultures and races. However, a culturally-responsive classroom that employs inter-cultural communication can engender respect for the needs of each learner and every cultural message can be heard peacefully.
Put the Library to Good Use
It is a good idea to populate the classroom library with culturally diverse reading material for students to discover and learn from. It is important to bear in mind that culturally-relevant books should not limit the reading to the author’s culture only. For example, a literary work depicting a child being raised in British-ruled India can potentially provide several culture-based topics for discussion or give rise to perspectives that have been missed out so far or do none of these.
It is, therefore, crucial to include plenty of different styles of reading material by numerous authors on a wide range of subjects and motifs. Teachers can build a culturally competent classroom library by keeping their students’ cultures in mind.
Talk about Cultural Norms
Educators who are serious about encouraging cultural competence in classrooms should motivate students to talk openly about cultural norms and their origins.
This can be done with the help of books/novels where discussions about the background, values and beliefs of the important characters can take place.
Differences between one’s own culture and that of the characters can be examined, how one’s own beliefs impact the way they view a particular character can be discussed. Students and teachers can also try to uncover more information about characters to better understand why they behave in a certain manner.
Take into Consideration Individual Learners
It is critical that educators are respectful towards learners. Apart from having thorough knowledge of their subject and teaching methodologies, teachers should be able to relate to their students and always demonstrate qualities like compassion, equality, honesty, and respect for diversity. When teaching is courteous and student-centric, it will accommodate the needs of individual learners.
The best educators are those who not only learn from their students, but also learn about them, in terms of their culture and language. This entails listening to and interacting with them. Considering the needs of individual learners include allotting them extra minutes in exams for added load on mental processing, or giving them time to expand verbally on their written answers with the teacher, and so on.
Employ Intercultural Communication Skills
Using intercultural communication skills is a must in culturally competent teaching and learning. Educators should be open to learning from their students and recognize the power of intercultural communication to improve the learning of the entire community. Communicating effectively with people from different cultures who speak different languages entails active listening, explaining, paraphrasing and repeating.
In active listening, the sender and the receiver of the message are engaged and attentive, while distractions are minimized. This is important when interacting with students who speak different languages. Intercultural communication goes a long way in enabling critical reflection.
Create a Conducive Environment
For culturally competent teaching and learning to be successful, it is imperative that the environment is conducive. This requires a good understanding of the traditions and values that have shaped the learner’s behaviors and perspectives. Asking each student to prioritize factors such as traditions, customs, religion, education, work, health, independence, honesty, and so on, and comparing them with the prioritization of other students may give rise to productive conversations. Doing so can also prompt them to reflect on their cultural assumptions.
On similar lines, grouping students from different cultural groups together can also encourage them to learn more about each other. According to a study that compared the cultural competency of university students before and after participation in domestic intensive and intentional cross-cultural undergraduate courses, “domestic intercultural experiences may encourage university students to not only learn about others, but also learn from and with others.”
Cultural competency can have the desirable impact only when it is included in individual-level teaching methodologies and practices. For educators and teachers to become culturally-responsive, they need to know how to evaluate their own cultural outlooks, opinions and preconceptions, engage with student culture, use culturally-responsive pedagogy, and interact with diverse people and communities.
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