Monday, February 2, 2009

PERSEVERANCE & PROGRESS: Teaching Cultural Competence

Welcome to the Teacher Leadership Series!

The blog captures highlights from the latest Teacher Leadership Series event and allows participants to add their ideas and ask each other questions.

We encourage you to read and post.

On January 14, 2009, in time for Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration of our nation's first African-American president, over fifty teachers, administrators, and other education professionals came together at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School to address the question:

What does this historic time in the U.S. mean for our students and how can we use it to shape meaningful learning experiences that promote cultural competence?

Information and discussion highlights are grouped in categories below. We encourage you to read the highlights and add ideas of your own.


Ted Trabue (Moderator) - D.C. State Board of Education Member

"Our nation's history is a constant and expanding definition of 'We the People.' This presidential election shows how far we have come as a culture. No other nation in the world has made this much progress towards embracing diversity."

Keith Leonard - American University Literature Department; Author: Fettered Genius: The African American Bardic Poet from Slavery to Civil Rights

"I urge educators to work toward cultural literacy vs. cultural competence. It is important for students to know the facts and use that knowledge as an on-going process. I'd like it to be more institutional and not something that is just a time that goes away like Black History Month."

Stacie Tate – American University School of Education, Teaching, and Health; Researcher in critical literacy and urban education

"At American University, I teach an education class about culture and I really think it's all about knowing ourselves. If we don't understand who we are, where we come from, and how that plays out, it can become a problem. We have to know ourselves in order to understand others."

Waahida Mbatha – E. L. Haynes PCS 6th Grade Humanities Teacher

"For me, it's more than celebrating diversity here and there. It's something I do in my classroom everyday. As a reading teacher I am purposeful about my author selection. I try to celebrate the whole student--culture and food and language and the conflicts that arise between people."

Casey Fullerton – KIPP DC: KEY Academy Vice Principal

"As a school leader, I think it's important to give teachers time to reflect on these issues. It leads to feeling comfortable in the classroom and helping our students feel the same way. We must incorporate our students' lives in the classroom and foster exposure to things that are different."

Robert Hall – Anacostia Community Museum Associate Director for Education

"From my perspective I see exhibitions as primary sources of information--artifacts, posters, photographs, artwork, videos that all tell a story. I think we all play a part; we are all writing parts of the same book. Most importantly, we need to plug into the students' worlds."


Robert Hall: "Go to any adult--the janitor or the deacon at your church--and say 'Tell me about your life.' It is amazing the collections of objects and stories that people have. There is history behind all these things."

Casey Fullerton: "We should look for missed opportunities and push beyond what we're doing. Last year at KIPP DC we had a career day and there could have been so much that could have happened afterward. I could have followed through and built stronger connections between my students and the people who came in."

Waahida Mbatha: "If you look back and think, there was probably one person that really left an impact on you. In my experience that happens through more consistent contact--not a one-time visit. We need to form long-lasting partnerships with adults in the community for our students."

Stacie Tate: "We as teachers are the examples for our students, since they see us all day Monday through Friday. We have to be that example by showing them who we are. Also, this is the first time I have seen students wearing shirts with a president on them. Obama is an academic. He's not in the music or sports industry. Things are changina s far as what our students see as role models."

Keith Leonard: "I like the idea that high-achieving individuals in our students lives don't always have to be the ones who are famous or who have made the most money. Teachers should definitely be seen more as this. Anyone with a happy, self-fulfilled life."


After the panel discussion participants broke up into smaller groups to discuss the panelists comments, address more questions, and brainstorm strategies to take back to schools and classrooms.

  1. Encourage staff to engage in dialogue about diversity and cultural competence by centering conversations around videos or articles on the subject
  2. Evaluate the school curriculum and library for representation of people and stories from a variety of cultures (i.e., make sure scientists, mathematicians and other academic heroes from a variety of races are represented)
  3. Bring in speakers and visitors that expose students to possible fields they could enter and who represent the diversity of the students in the school
  4. Have celebrations like Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month be shared experiences with investment from the entire school community

  1. Reveal yourself to your students; Do not shy away from sharing your background and personal life
  2. Create opportunities for students to have one-on-one interactions with other adults (i.e., establish long-term partnerships with adults in the community who are accessible role models for your students)
  3. Promote the identification of both differences and similarities when students are doing cultural studies
  4. Have students explain themselves and their thinking as a general rule to promote understanding others’ perspectives
  5. Give students a framework for understanding culture
  6. Create a year-long calendar with noteworthy dates, achievements and struggles in history
  7. Identify and highlight cross-cultural themes and struggles in your instruction
  8. Keep a news bulletin board that highlights all types of news stories—not just those that are most often reported
  9. Incorporate service learning on a regular basis
  10. Pull from a wide variety of literary and musical genre (i.e., poetry, hip-hop, jazz, traditional music)
  11. Do research on the values and epistemological styles of the cultures of your students to incorporate instructional strategies that are known to appeal to them (i.e., drums and rhythm, dancing, group discussion)

  1. Take a neighborhood walk to discover the diversity in your school’s neighborhood
  2. Have students do a family history project to discover more about their background
  3. Have a “Guess Who” bulletin board where a student puts personal information or fun facts about themselves and the class has to guess who it is
  4. Have students interview a classmate and write a “Day in the Life” profile of them
  5. Do an oral history project where students interview everyday role models within their school, family, or community
  6. Match your students with pen pals who are children their age but different from them
  7. Have students write stories about their own times of perseverance—no matter how small—to help them understand historical stories of perseverance
  8. Have students role-play different perspectives when studying conflicts in history
  9. Have students write and/or perform debates between historical figures (i.e., Martin Luther King vs. George Bush)


Celebrating Black History Month:

"The idea of not celebrating Black History Month has come up. It would be great for schools to get to the point where they don't need a month because they are doing it all year long."

"I have never celebrated Black History Month in February because I always found ways to celebrate all my students' cultures throughout the year. I never felt guilty. But in OCtober E. L. Haynes had an amazing celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month and I could see the sense of pride our Latino students had for the entire school taking that day to highlight their culture. It makes me think February celebrations are important in the same way."

"I work in Black History 365 days a year and when I grew up my entire world was black. But I still craved that celebration week, and I advocate for Black History Month today because I like the community aspect--bringing people together."

"I think having Black History Month highlights inadequacies. If we don't know this particular person's story, then who else's stories don't we know? It was validating for me to have my own month. But we need to validate every kid and their culture."

Planning for Cultural Significance:

"One of the most important things we can do as educators is research epistemological styles of different cultures. When you use it in your classrom you see so much success. You see your students rapping and singing--you know it works."

"At DC Prep, we look for cultural significance in our lesson plans. That is one of the elements that should exist in every lesson plan."

"I wonder how we can engage with other educators, as well as with students, about code-switching and its role in education."

Additional Resources:

Lisa Delpit: The Skin That We Speak

Gloria Ladson-Billings: The Dreamkeepers

Sonia Nieto: Affirming Diversity

Enid Lee: Beyond Heroes and Holidays

Norma Gonzalez: I Am My Language

Teaching Tolerance

1 comment:

Daphne said...

Excellent recap of this very interesting evening. Thank you, Tammy!