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Not everything

that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
James A. Baldwin

Talking about it

 

Why is it so hard to talk about race, ethnicity and issues of equity?

Disproportionality is a racial issue and in order to address it we must talk about race, its historical context, the complexity of culture, the intersections of race and poverty, and how all of these aspects effect teaching and learning

When asked why it's difficult to talk about race some typical responses are:

  1. "It's uncomfortable."
  2. "Can't we all just get along?"
  3. "I don't notice the color of my students, I just want them all to do well"
  4. "I don't want to appear insensitive"
  5. "The conversations may stir up bad feelings"

What do we mean by cultural competence and culturally responsive practices?

Cultural competence means having the knowledge, skills, experience and tools necessary to work effectively across cultures. Gaining cultural competence is a developmental process and includes engaging in conversations about race and equity, reflecting on one's own culture and beliefs and gaining awareness of other cultures.

Culturally Responsive Practices are the result of gaining cultural competence and implementing the tools, skills and perspectives into every aspect of education; curriculum, instruction, interventions, communication and policy decisions.

There are lots of terms being used. What's the difference?

A number of terms are used interchangeably with cultural competence; cultural awareness, cultural responsivity, culturally relevant teaching, culturally responsive practice, and multiculturalism however, each term may be applied somewhat differently and indicate graduated steps along the cultural competence continuum and the developmental process of becoming culturally competent.

  1. Cultural awareness is having sensitivity to cultural differences such as language, customs and traditions. This is a necessary step along the developmental process of gaining cultural competence but does not necessarily indicate a change in practice.
  2. Cultural responsivity is adapting actions or behavior to accommodate others' cultural norms, traditions and beliefs.
  3. Culturally relevant teaching or culturally responsive practice, in education indicates that teaching and learning is revised to build on, address and respect the cultures of all individuals, enabling students to maintain their own cultural identity while gaining the skills necessary to succeed at school.

How do we begin these conversations?

There are a number of ways to begin conversations about race, however a facilitator is key to the success and continuing development of the process as well as considering the culture of your school and school district.

Three initial ways to begin to have conversations about race/ethnicity and equity are:

Using Data - Disaggregating special education data, discipline data, achievement data, and graduation rates and then having a conversation to explore what the data indicates and what hypothesis might be applicable to your school or district as to why there are inequities. (See The Equity Project's LEAD brief, Using Data to Address Equity)

Text Based Discussions - There are many excellent articles and books which can form the basis for study groups or discussions at staff meetings. Using a protocol for a text based discussion is a tool to keep the focus on the material and provide varied opportunities for participants to share. (See Resources)

Experiential Workshops - If viewed as a starting point a well facilitated workshop in developing cultural competence can help develop a common language and act as a catalyst to continue conversations in ongoing small groups. If it is a one time event its effectiveness will be very limited for most participants.

How do we continue to deepen the conversations?

Culturally Responsive Practice means asking difficult questions, and ensuring that those questions are discussed from many different perspectives. One of the core ideas in culturally responsive practices is that there is a multiplicity of truths in any given situation.

Some questions to consider are:

  1. Who is not at the table? Why?
  2. Why do some groups of students consistently succeed while others don't?
  3. Do all our students have the same access to opportunities in our schools?

The Cultural Competence Developmental Process

Cultural Competence Process Chart

  1. Cultural destructiveness acknowledges only one way of being and purposefully denies or outlaws any other cultural approaches.
  2. Cultural incapacity supports the concept of separate but equal; marked by an inability to deal personally with multiple approaches but a willingness to accept their existence elsewhere.
  3. Cultural blindness fosters an assumption that people are all basically alike, so what works with members of one culture should work within all other cultures.
  4. Cultural pre-competence encourages learning and understanding of new ideas and solutions to improve performance or services.
  5. Cultural competence involves actively seeking advice and consultation and a commitment to incorporating new knowledge and experiences into a wider range of practice.
  6. Cultural proficiency involves holding cultural differences and diversity in the highest esteem, pro-activity regarding cultural differences, and promotion of improved cultural relations among diverse groups.

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