change process, Cultural Competence, cultural competency, Cultural Proficiency, culture change, Diversity, equity, Kikanza Nuri-Robins, Randy Lindsey, social change, what is diversity, what is social change
If it’s August, it must be time for a back-to-school post. This is the time of year where all we see on television is back-to-school commercials. It’s an exciting time of year for teachers. Sometimes terrifying. Most teachers I know have nightmares about being unprepared on the fist day of school. Perhaps that’s why we work so hard to make sure the year starts off on the right foot. With all those preparations going around, Cultural Proficiency can sometimes be placed on the back burner. That doesn’t have to be the case.
The first part of the year is really where many of the classroom expectations are stressed, modeled, and explicitly taught. Why shouldn’t Cultural Proficiency be part of the beginning of the year? It’s the perfect time to have ice-breakers and conversations with students, parents, and faculty members. I don’t claim to be an expert on Cultural Proficiency, but I happen to know a few people who are. I have invited Randy Lindsey and Kikanza Nuri-Robins to write a guest post about how educators can start the year off with Cultural Proficiency on the front burner rather than the back. They have been gracious enough to accept and what follows are their posts. Let us know if you use any of these wonderful ideas, and how it works out for you.
Beginning of Year Activities that Create Conditions for Culturally Proficient Learning Communities
New school years always bring opportunities for school leaders to create conditions within their school communities that promote culturally proficient learning communities. Learning communities that are effective have strong intra- and interpersonal communications among the many layers of school communities. Culturally proficient learning communities are notable for communicating and solving problems in a context of valuing culture and difference.
Cultural Proficiency is an ‘inside out approach’ to being effective in cross-cultural communities. The approach begins with the individual faculty and staff member and extends out to include colleagues, students, parents and member of the community. Creating conditions for culturally proficient learning communities begins with structuring conversations and activities among faculty and staff that uses effective communication techniques in such a way that participants experience seeing themselves within the culture of the school and within the larger society.
Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders, 3rd Edition, has many activities for your use. For illustration, I have selected an activity recommended by Jenni Taylor, Assistant Principal, and Mandy Breuer, Director of Student Services, Lawndale Charter High School, Lawndale, California. I met Jenni during my time at Pepperdine University and have recommended this activity many times, with consistently positive results. It is not unusual for me to hear follow-up comments such as, “Even our most reluctant colleagues chose to participate and get involved. The activity enabled us to progress to deeper conversations around achievement gap issues.” In these cases, participants were able to develop comfort in seeing diversity and difference as natural and normal and, at the same time, build on their communication skills. Truly an example of beginning with self and moving out to discuss issues that impact our students.
To learn about participants’ backgrounds and experiences while highlighting the unsuspected links among various participants
Skill of the Facilitator
Readiness of the Group
10 minutes for explanation of activity plus 5–10 minutes per Family Portrait. The activity can be spread over several sessions.
This activity will provide you the opportunity to present yourself, your culture, and your history to colleagues in a novel manner. Constructing your Family Portrait with the assistance of colleagues provides for heightened mutual understanding. Likewise, as a participant, you have the opportunity to be a participant-observer in your colleagues’ Family Portraits.
- Each participant has 5 to 10 minutes to present his or her Family Portrait.
- The presenter chooses one or more person(s) from the group to represent each member of her family. The presenter decides which family members are in the “portrait.”
- The presenter invites each group member to the front of the room and introduces each “family member,” using his name, his relationship, his story, and why this group member has been chosen to represent the family member.
- The presenter may pose the members in the portrait or seat them in ways that demonstrate their interrelationships.
- What did you learn about the presenter?
- What surprised you about the presenter’s background?
- What assumptions did you have about the presenter that was supported by this activity? What assumptions were not supported?
- What links are you discovering among those who have presented their Family Portraits?
- What information have you learned that will help you work better with this person in the future?
I look forward to hearing from you about your experiences with this activity. As a member of this community, I know you realize that activities alone do not create culturally proficient environments. I also know that in your skillful hands and coupled with a value for the diversity within your school communities, you will use activities such as Family Portrait to deepen your and your colleagues learning in ways that create conditions for professional learning and, thereby, improving access and academic opportunities for students.
Back to School
Kikanza J. Nuri-Robins
What I remember most as a student was the annual back to school question, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” As a child, I would listen in wonder to the many things children did with their parents, especially the trips to Disneyland, Yosemite and Europe. Mine was a military family that moved from the East Coast to the West Coast of the US every two years. We did not travel unnecessarily, and I did not consider going away to be fun.
It was during these discussions (and the ones in response to “What did you get for Christmas?”) that I realized how diverse family life could be. Many children said “nothing,” with some embarrassment. My activities were in the middle. I went to the library, camp, Vacation Bible School, and we always had relatives come to visit us.
I remember in the fifth grade, as I watched the teacher’s face, realizing that she was not asking this question to foster interaction with the students; she was curious about her kids’ lives. That was the year I began to create Christmas gift lists and summer vacation activities to entertain my teacher and to compete with the children whose lives were more spectacular than mine.
I would talk with other students, whose lives or lifestyles were not particularly exciting, and we would decide within our little group, what we could add to our lists of “summer fun,” so that our responses would evoke a sense of awe or wonder from our teacher.
Looking back through the lens of cultural proficiency, I can see that the questions of most of my teachers, and later the teachers with whom I worked as colleagues, were culturally blind.
- What did you do on your summer vacation? Implies that you had a summer vacation and that vacationing is something your family did. It also assumes that the family had money to do something fun, exciting and out of the ordinary.
- Go home and ask your parents about your family tree. Suggests that every family has access to such information, and that each child has parents who can share it.
- Who had a good breakfast that included cereal, milk and fruit? Implies that the breakfast was not a good one if it did not include those items. It also assumes that every child eats breakfast before going to school.
With an intention to be culturally competent, and a little tweaking of their questions, teachers can engage children in conversations without embarrassing them or inviting them to lie about their lives. These suggestions may help you to foster culturally competent conversations in your classrooms.
- As you listen, monitor your verbal and non-verbal responses to student comments, so that you do not convey subtle cues reflecting your judgment of their responses.
- Ask such questions broadly enough so that children can respond authentically and without embarrassment.
How did you spend your time away from school? Who had a stay-cation this year? What did you do?
- Make sure the questions are open enough to provide for a variety of appropriate responses.
Tell us a story about your name. Have you ever had a chance to name someone? Tell us the story. Do you know how you got your name? Whom might you ask to learn?
- Remember that human beings are competitive by nature and children want to please their teachers. Ask questions that encourage your students to celebrate the diversity of their life experiences.
Throughout the day we need to have fruits, vegetables, grains and protein to maintain a balanced diet. What kinds of fruit do you eat? What kind of grains do you eat? Do you usually eat them for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack?
How did you spend YOUR time away from the classroom?