What is Cultural Competence?

A student of mine shared a link to the State of Washington’s Superintendent of Public Instruction website during a discussion about cultural competence.
The website shared the following definition of what cultural competence is and what it is not.

“…cultural competence goes beyond memorizing a checklist of surface-level customs and cultural differences.
Cultural competence allows educators to ask questions about their practice in order to successfully teach students who come from different cultural backgrounds.

Developing skills in cultural competence is like learning a language, a sport or an instrument. The learner must learn, re-learn, continuously practice, and develop in an environment of constant change. Cultures and individuals are dynamic — they constantly adapt and evolve.

Cultural competence is:

•Knowing the community where the school is located.
•Understanding all people have a unique world view.
•Using curriculum that is respectful of and relevant to the cultures represented in its student body.
•Being alert to the ways that culture affects who we are.
•Placing the locus of responsibility on the professional and the institution.
•Examining systems, structures, policies and practices for their impact on all students and families.

Cultural competence is not:

•Good intentions.
•Cultural celebrations at designated times of the year, in designated ways.
•Kumbaya diversity.
•A list of stereotypes about what people from a particular cultural group do.
•Assumptions that all students from one culture operate in similar ways and have had similar experiences.
•The responsibility of children, their parents or the community.
•Color-blindness (treating everybody the same).
•Simple tolerance.”

As future educators and school administrators, we need to identify how intercultural and cross-cultural competence influences teacher preparation, student development, curriculum design, and educational policy.

“As educators, we want the best for students and seek ways to meet the needs of all learners in our classrooms. We sometimes find that this requires skills and knowledge far above and beyond the content area we are teaching…
Cultural competence provides a set of skills that professionals need in order to improve practice to serve all students and communicate effectively with their families. These skills enable the educator to build on the cultural and language qualities that young people bring to the classroom rather than viewing those qualities as deficits.

Cultural competence training asks educators to confront the stereotypes held both consciously and unconsciously about students. Bias affects the way that we perceive and teach students and has the potential to negatively affect student achievement.

Teachers who aspire to become more culturally competent can build relationships based on trust with students and their families, even though they experience the world in different ways. This is essential to closing academic achievement gaps and to fulfilling all students’ civil right to a quality education.”

My students are primarily future teachers and administrators. Read the comment section of “Cultural Studies & International Education” for a very interesting dialog about how they perceive the roll of multicultural, intercultural, and cross-cultural K12 education.  Other resources are introduced such as a great video: Why We Need Multicultural Education and a helpful webpage: Building Culturally Competent Organizations.



Filed under Higher Education, International Education

3 responses to “What is Cultural Competence?

  1. Li Yap

    As future educators, we have to keep in mind the importance of cultural competence and other key ideas towards the future. Employers are not allowed to use race, sex, religion, age, and disability as a factor in the employment process. “Federal law requires that employment decisions be based on qualifications, performance, merit, seniority, and the like” (Cambron-McCabe 2009). Although it seems like “treating everyone equally or the same” sounds just, cultural competence is more complex than that. As said above, it is not about “color-blindness.” We are called “individuals” for reason, and that is because we all have individual needs. If we were all to be treated the same, this can result in subtle forms of discrimination. The courts still deal with cases that revolve around employment discrimination, and this is because there is no “blanket” solution for every case. Cultural competence, diversity, and ongoing discrimination are all very complicated topics to deal with, and we all have to strive to better understand them all.

    “Cultural Competence is a key discipline for the 21st century”

    The faster the population rises, the more of a must it is to be more aware of different cultures. The advancement of technology in the last decade has contributed to globalization significantly. The world has never been so connected and that is thanks to the internet. People are communicating halfway across the globe, sharing and learning from each other. Now, there are cons to this, such as: more competitive environment, faster moving realities, and of course resource shortage. But the point is, to have a successful career is to have cultural competence. The world is ever-growing, and ever-changing. We all have to keep up to its speed by becoming more aware of the world we live in.

  2. Pingback: My Interview with TeachingTraveling.com about HLSL Insitute | Tara Madden-Dent

  3. Pingback: International Education Interview: U.S. Culture Impacts Study Abroad Success | Tara Madden-Dent

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