Cultural competence is the latest buzz phrase, and trainers are stepping forward to fill the growing demand. It is important to select training carefully. It should be based on research and standards, such as those proposed by Washington’s Professional Educator Standards Board.
Here are some questions to consider when selecting cultural competence training:
- Is the training part of an ongoing process?
The process of developing skills in cultural competence is never complete. It cannot be done in a finite or isolated training. A person or organization can never become certifiably and completely culturally competent. Cultural competence is a continuum.
For your school to meet the needs of its diverse body of students, you must commit to organizational change and to examine your practices through the lens of equity and cultural competence. Cultural competence must be systematic, from the superintendent to the school janitor. All staff members who interact with students and their families or who make decisions that affect students and their families should be involved in this training.
Ongoing cultural competence training is important but not sufficient to effect change. Beyond that, consider such things as equitable policy decisions, culturally relevant curriculum, professional learning communities, peer observation, and family, school, community partnerships.
Avoid trainers who do not ask what you have already done or who claim they have all the answers. Cultural competence is not a requirement that can be checked off.
- Does the training meet my school’s needs?
Your staff should have collective, tangible goals to achieve as a result of cultural competence training. The training should be designed to meet people where they are and move them to the next level. Look for a trainer with a depth of experience with educators and the education system and who understands your community. A good trainer will want to learn more about your school’s needs in advance.
Avoid canned presentations or trainings designed to push a particular product or agenda.
- Does the training start with self-awareness and reflection?
We need to understand ourselves before we can understand others. The training should ask people to confront the biases and assumptions they have about the different cultural groups with whom they work, and help them work through these biases. Conversations can be deeply personal and the trainer must be skilled at creating a safe environment.
Avoid training that gives the impression that cultural competence is easy, as it is a process that should cause you to challenge your thoughts and practices.
- Does the training provide practical applications to the classroom and the institution?
Effective professional development improves practice and does not just provide information. The training will be most effective if it provides a direct link to student learning and is grounded in principles of civil rights and equity.
Participants may look at various case studies or scenarios that involve aspects of culture and interpret what happened through different lenses. Participants may also gain cross-cultural communication skills and tangible ways to develop family, school, community family-school-community partnerships.
Avoid trainings that claims it provides the solutions for specific groups, since these usually do not recognize the diversity within groups and may perpetuate stereotypes.
- Is the training conducive to adult learning?
Effective training includes a good mix of group discussion, individual work, case studies and role plays.
- Is the trainer qualified?
As with a potential hire, check the trainer’s references. Ask the provider about the background that provides her the knowledge and skills to provide cultural competence training. Ask about evaluations that she has received from previous trainings.
The Center for the Improvement of Student Learning does not presume to identify the particular provider who can meet the needs of your school. The following examples are not an exhaustive list of local providers.
Creating Culturally Responsive Educators, Schools, and Systems
Melia LaCour, Puget Sound Educational Service District
We offer professional development and technical assistance that explores the characteristics and practices of culturally responsive environments. Services are tailored to your specific needs and can include cultural reviews, workshops, professional learning communities with an equity lens, on-site coaching, and classroom/center observations and recommendations.
ReachOut for New Futures
ReachOut provides intensive cultural competency training and consulting to engage educators in promoting systemic change to effectively serve diverse children and families.
Washington Education Association
Ben Ibale, Human/Civil Rights Coordinator, (253)765-7062
Provides trainings for, ELL Hands On-Training, Closing the Achievement Gap Strategies, and Cross Cultural Competency Training.
Cultural Competence Training must be totally infused throughout every aspect of the educational system and not treated as an “add-on” or auxiliary activity. A re-alignment of the belief system and values of the educational organization is necessary in order to change the culture of the learning community and return the focus to children, ensuring academic success for ALL.
New Phase New Ways
Educators Elizabeth Blandin and JD Sweet provide consultation services, which emphasizes a cultural awareness makeover for schools and businesses.
Pathways to Excellence: D & L Associates
Education and Leadership for Social Change
DaVernespeaks@comcast.net and LeilaniRussell@comcast.net
Anti-Defamation League, Washington
NAACP | National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
America and Moore Diversity Research, Education and Consulting
Washington State Association for Multicultural Education
Communication Across Barriers
Dr. Geneva Gay, University of Washington
Dr. James A. Banks, University of Washington
Cherry McGee Banks, Ed. D.
Frances Contreras, University of Washington
Dr. Shirley Hune, University of Washington
Michael Pavel, Professor, University of Washington
CISL's Alyssa Westall interviewed the following individuals for this article:
- Erin Jones, Student Achievement, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Linda Foster, Early Career Educator Development, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Susanne Beauchaine, Bilingual Education, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
- James Smith, Equity and Civil Rights, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Mea Moore, Professional Educator Standards Board
- Melia LaCour, Puget Sound Educational Service District
- Mona Bailey, Former Deputy Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools
- Thelma Jackson, Foresight Consultants
- Heidi Schillinger, ReachOut for New Futures
- Elizabeth Blandin, New Phase New Ways