Thoughts About Teaching and Learning: Cultural Competency in the Classroom

November 4th, 2019

I recently attended the Second Annual Families of Color Conference in Las Colinas, where I heard some very unique perspectives on fostering a culturally competent community. I want to share with you some of the insights about diversity and inclusion that I believe are valuable to Selwyn’s growth as an inclusive school whose environment encourages all children to grow into thoughtful, considerate young adults.

Identity as Insight

First, Selwyn takes a strengths-based approach to inclusivity. Each person has a powerful—yet partial—understanding of how race, gender, and religion operate in society. Together, our unique perspectives allow for a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the insights of others. Critical to achieving this goal, though, is the act of listening to all voices, and giving space to ideas and perspectives that many of us might not know to consider on first blush. When the breadth of voices representing our community are heard and thoughtfully considered, we take an essential step toward appreciating the varied world-views that contribute to a truly inclusive community. Each of us has a perspective on the world. At Selwyn, cultivating global citizens means, in part, teaching students to consider the value of each perspective in the room.

Culturally Responsive Curriculum

One of the best ways for Selwyn to succeed in teaching students to consider all perspectives is by incorporating diverse voices into the curriculum throughout the year. To us, that means including the contributions of African and Asian Americans to the sciences; it means reading more books by Hispanic authors and understanding how people of all backgrounds have contributed to our society. And, importantly, it means doing better to incorporate these perspectives continuously—not just during Heritage Months. We will work to continue developing a culturally responsive curriculum that demonstrates to all of our students how people who look like them—or who don’t—managed to make vital contributions to the arts, letters, and sciences, and that they deserve to be learned alongside the achievements of others and not merely relegated to a month of token consideration.

Teachers as Facilitators of Discussion

A natural result of listening to more voices and reading about more perspectives of successful people of color is that there can often be more discussion about race, gender, or class. We believe it is important that our teachers be prepared to guide these discussions positively, and help students navigate other cultures in sensitive ways. Sometimes topics of race, gender, or class arise among children in the classroom or on the playground. Teachers trained to facilitate these discussions is vital: they can guide our students to have a reasoned and principled understanding of the topics and can moderate what can often be a difficult conversation.

Together, these three insights will mark tangible steps toward Selwyn building a more culturally competent classroom. When we listen to those with perspectives different from our own, and we thoughtfully include the achievements of others in our lessons, and we know how and when to have the conversations that can be difficult for any person, much less a student, we take a step in the direction of true inclusivity. Selwyn’s mission states it clearly: we are committed to developing global citizens. To have a global perspective, students need global insights—and we believe that a more culturally competent classroom is one of the best ways to achieve it.

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