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Why Cultural Competence?

To Help Educators Close Achievement Gaps

American classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse. As NEA President Dennis Van Roekel has noted, “Educators with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to value the diversity among students will contribute to an educational system designed to serve all students well.” 

Cultural competence is a key factor in enabling educators to be effective with students from cultures other than their own. 

Cultural competence is having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families. It is the ability to understand the within-group differences that make each student unique, while celebrating the between-group variations that make our country a tapestry. This understanding informs and expands teaching practices in the culturally competent educator’s classroom.


The "Cultural Competence: What Does it Mean for Educators?" video, an interview with six educational scholars, explains why cultural competence is a salient issue in American public education today. These scholars emphasize the need for educators to provide an environment of respect and reciprocity of ideas. They illustrate how the ability for educators to learn how to teach students from different backgrounds is critical to the success of the educational system.

The researchers presented in this video offer their insights into the impact cultural competence can have on closing achievement gaps. 

They recognize how student outcomes can be improved by incorporating racial and ethnic minority contributions in curriculum and diversifying pedagogical practices. They see cultural competence as both a moral and ethical responsibility to create a welcoming environment for students to succeed. The impact of having educators who have the ability to challenge and motivate diverse student populations can dramatically improve our educational system and student outcomes.

Useful Links:

“Cultural & Global Competence: CULTURAL COMPETENCE: The Nuts & Bolts of Diversity & Inclusion”
by Mercedes Martin and Billy Vaughn
For a general view of cultural competence that is common non-educational professionals, this article offers a working definition of cultural competence, characterizes its components, and describes its utility in diversity education.

Communicating Cross-Culturally: What Teachers Should Know
by Yvonne Pratt-Johnson
A brief and effective look at the opportunities for communicating with diverse students and their families that goes beyond bridging language differences to truly understanding where students are coming from.

 “Using Multicultural Literature in Gifted Education Classrooms”
by Donna Y. Ford, Tyrone C. Howard, and J. John Harris III
In a discussion of identifying appropriate multicultural materials for gifted minority students and for exposing white students to diversity concepts and issues, these authors also reference James Banks’ four-level model for integrating culturally competent material into the curriculum.

Culturally Competent Schools: Guidelines for Secondary School Principals
by Mary Beth Klotz
Do you think cultural competence is only for the primary grades? Take a look at this guidance for incorporating culturally competent strategies for a school-wide approach to student success.

Teaching Tolerance: 
Sonia Nieto. Teaching Diverse Students Initiative
These NEA-supported videos are of noted teacher preparation and cultural competence scholar, Sonia Nieto, produced as part of a broader professional development effort sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center.