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Cultural competence

New York Teacher

To do their jobs well, educators need to understand their students’ lives and cultures. This involves skills we often downplay in Western culture: the art of listening and asking questions with humility.

Be mindful that there may be legitimate reasons for situations such as students who fall asleep in your class. If you have a student who won’t meet your eyes, be aware that this is considered disrespectful in certain cultures. Before making a judgment, learn where they’re coming from.

Being open-minded in your teaching and attentive to individual students and their circumstances are key to cultural competency. There are many strategies for gaining knowledge. Morning meetings, students’ writing assignments and conversations with parents or guardians are all opportunities to gain insights into your students’ lives outside of class.

Ask questions. Don’t use your parent-teacher conference solely to tell; it’s also a valuable opportunity to learn. Where does Jasmine do her homework? How long has the family lived in New York?

Here are some tips to increase cross-cultural communication in your school or workplace:

  • Be aware of your own cultural lens as well as the different cultural backgrounds of your students.
  • Learn the meaning of forms of nonverbal communication and gestures from different cultures.
  • Make it convenient and welcoming for parents of all cultures to get involved. Consider a multicultural celebration where everyone can share foods, stories and heritage.
  • Keep school supplies on hand so you can give to those who need them quietly, without drawing attention.
  • Structure your classroom lessons to include different perspectives of an event, as perceived by different cultures.
  • Teach mutual respect and tolerance for difference explicitly. Make this a part of your class ground rules.

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