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This weeks post comes from one of Corwin’s expert author’s, Linda D. Jungwirth, Ed.D. Linda is president of CONVENING CONVERSATIONS, Inc. where she is devoted to leading educators in courageous conversations and professional development to achieve equity and success for all students. She is also the Co-Author of: Culturally Proficient Learning Communities: Confronting Inequities Through Collaborative Curiosity, by Lindsey, Jungwirth, Pahl, & Lindsey I really enjoy this topic because I have had the opportunity to be part of several learning communities, and as I learn more about cultural proficiency I can see what an impact this type of community can have.

Culturally Proficient Communities–Learning Through Collaboration and Inquiry
by Dr. Linda Jungwirth

“We can work to change the embedded structures so that our schools become more hospitable places for student and adult learning. But little will really change unless we change ourselves (Barth, Roland, 1991, Improving Schools from Within: Teachers, Parents, and Principals Can Make the Difference, p. 128).

When might you have heard the comment “We do PLCs (professional learning communities)”? What might be some of the body language you observed? And, what meaning did that convey? The key to making a difference through PLCs is in the distinction between doing and being. Doing allows for our thinking and actions to remain on the perimeter of our work, or doing the work of PLCs without the conviction and core values of collaboration, inquiry, and Cultural Proficiency. Being a culturally proficient learning community embeds collaboration and inquiry at the center, while using Cultural Proficiency as the lens for all thinking, questions, behaviors, and work. Being is the inside out approach of Cultural Proficiency. We can do professional learning communities; we make a difference when we be culturally proficient communities–learning.

PLCs–professional learning communities–are structures many schools have put in place to meet mandated structural changes, professional learning, and accountability requirements. While there is great hope for making a difference through PLCs, children–our students–are still dropping out of school, failing to achieve at the highest levels, and feeling hopeless as they envision–or not–their future. As Barth says, in addition to changing structures, we must change ourselves. We must be culturally proficient learning communities, be inquiring collaborators, and be learners with each other.

So, how might we change ourselves to be curious, to disturb our thinking, and to engage in learning together so that all children have equitable access to an excellent education? What might we do differently so that all students experience and engage in meaningful, rigorous, and culturally relevant curriculum, succeed at high levels, and are prepared for both college and career? Through collaborative curiosity, inquiry and culturally proficient communities learning together, we can more effectively, efficiently, and passionately confront inequities that maintain the status quo for many of our children.

Through culturally proficient learning communities, we learn to be collaborative, taking on a new identity that builds trust, values curiosity, confronts inequities, and embraces shared responsibility. Trust provides the safe environment for exploring beliefs around diversity, equity, and student learning, and for confronting the inequities found within those beliefs. Curiosity provides a safe way to examine and confront how we are meeting the needs of all children and the families we serve, helping to ensure we open up the conversation rather than shut it down with accusations and/or mandates to change beliefs. We cannot mandate people change their beliefs. Through curiosity with the purpose to understand, and through sharing stories of success and transformation, we can invite others–and ourselves–to explore, challenge, and re-frame our beliefs about who can learn and who cannot, and about those who may be different from ourselves. Through collaborative, culturally proficient inquiry, we can predict, explore, and examine data that are disaggregated in ways that truly and graphically reveal inequities that may prevent students from finding their true passions and potential though meaningful and relevant learning. Examining data with a culturally proficient lens provides a pathway to disturb our thinking, to peak our curiosity. Curiosity leads to questions. Do the questions we ask serve as barriers to thinking or as breakthroughs to possibility? Our curiosity and the data from inquiry provide a frame for our Breakthrough Questions, so that we cannot help but to confront inequities and barriers to students’ learning and success. Collaborative teams can more safely confront inequities by asking breakthrough questions framed within the language of curiosity and the Essential Elements, one of the Four Tools of Cultural Proficiency. When learning communities become stuck, breakthrough questions reframe the downward spiral conversation into an upward spiral conversation of possibility. Breakthrough questions make the invisible visible. Breakthrough questions tap into the Energy Sources for teams (also know as States of Mind in Cognitive CoachingSM), providing opportunities for re-engagement, confronting inequities, breakthrough, and achieving the learning community’s goals. Breakthrough questions provide learning community members the courage to ask questions that others may be afraid to ask, allowing the group to confront and challenge actions and beliefs of themselves and people within and outside of the system. Finally, culturally proficient learning communities hold themselves and each other accountable for being collaborative, curious, advocated for equity, and true to culturally proficient practices.

The stories of success and transformation are the jewels resulting from the hard work of culturally proficient learning communities and their inquiry into the data that shines a light on inequities within one’s organization. These jewels emerge from each student becoming a shining star, engaged in learning with efficacy, passion and persistence as they attain excellence, meaning, and success in life.