Need for Cultural Proficiency

Apr 2, 2017 by

These are first steps towards increasing the cultural competence of school leaders, faculty, and staff.

One of the greatest challenges facing school leaders is the issue of cultural proficiency. This is how capable they are of recognizing the needs of the various cultures that make up their school and give the necessary supports to fulfill their students’ potential. Nearly every school is now culturally and socially diverse and the need for cultural proficiency has never been greater. There are many ways that a leader in education can be culturally proficient.

Steps to Take

They can use language and strategies that allow students form diverse backgrounds to feel valued and respected. Cultural proficiency is not easy. It is a challenging process to become culturally competent and it is arguably an ongoing process. One of the best ways to become sensitive to the needs of diverse learners is to reflect on one’s beliefs and the values that are embedded in every social institution such as a school.  A school leader should help others to be culturally proficient.  That is to develop the ability to work with a myriad of people and to understand their needs in order to address any issues that are preventing them from being successful. Cultural proficiency involves a great deal of reflection. The cultural continuum model is a tool that can help an educator analyze if they are culturally sensitive and have the proficiency to deal with minorities and disadvantaged students in a supportive way and make a real difference in their lives.

Cultural Proficiency Continuum

This concept has come into greater prominence in recent years as social and human service delivery systems have been required to more effectively serve diverse children, families and communities. This is an initiative on the part of school leaders that seek to improve the lives of all learners in their midst. The Cultural Proficiency Continuum can help a leader in a multicultural setting to reflect on their values and beliefs and to identify all those barriers that prevent them from becoming more culturally proficient.

The continuum identifies the range of values and behaviors that are influencing the policies of the school.  The continuum gives the leader a starting point in which to reflect upon their level of cultural proficiency and if they need to revisit their cultural competence.  It allows them to reflect on their words and actions and determine if they are indeed able to meet the needs of students from cultures that have been traditionally marginalized.

The continuum can show them if their values and policies are leading to ‘cultural destructiveness’. These are attitudes and actions that effectively eliminate the expressions of other people’s cultures. This would show that they are not in any way culturally proficient and are engaged in dissimilatory behavior. Then the continuum can show them if they have ‘cultural incapacity’ that is if they treat some cultures differently and they see them in a stereotyped way.  For example, do they have low expectations of some students who are from minority groups.

Another category that can help a leader to understand their values and beliefs is ‘cultural blindness’. Cultural blindness involves people who are not prepared to admit that they see people differently based on their origin, yet they do.  An example of this is when teachers who believe that they are treating all students the same but they are privileging one group.  For example, a teacher provides extra help in class to only certain groups of students to reinforce concepts. Or when a teacher tells a student not to ask a question or that is not a question.

Then there is the ‘cultural pre-competence’ stage. When a leader knows that the skills are limited to interacting with specific cultural groups and minorities. They are not behaving in a way that is supportive or a leader may be too easy on students from some cultures.  Then there is the cultural competence stage. This is where a person has respect for difference and can support students from a variety of cultures. These categories can help a leader to understand where they are and allow them to break down and change their policies and practices.  The continuum can help leaders to understand their strengths and weaknesses and act upon them. It may be difficult to admit that one is not acting in a suitable way but transformation can only come when leaders accept their deficiencies and are prepared to improve and grow.

Cultural Proficiency

The aim of increased school understanding should be the attainment of cultural proficiency.  This is the ideal stage for a school leader the cultural proficiency can help those with authority to reflect on how they relate to others. It starts with an awareness of any biases and limitations. Only when a leader has examined themselves and reflected upon their behavior can they attain cultural proficiency. This is where a person in a position of authority can see the differences between students and effectively gauge their needs and the challenges facing them. They have the capacity to be life-long learners and they are continuously learning how to be more sensitive to cultures other than their own. They have the skills and knowledge to respect and indeed honor people from other cultures. They have a variety of skills about cultural proficiency and they can frame policies that reflect the needs of groups. They can develop practices and policies that benefit all their students. The special skill of a leader who is culturally proficient is that they can meet the needs of students from a variety of cultures.  Once a leader in a multicultural setting has done this they can then lead by example.

One place to start is with Georgetown University, which has a National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) embraces the model of achieving cultural competence. The Center requires organizations and their personnel have the capacity to acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge, schools are invested in the future of the children that they serve, why not competently?

Comment Below: On how valuable cultural competence is in your school or school district.

Keywords: Multicultural education, cultural competence, cultural proficiency, cultural proficiency continuum, self-awareness, reflective leadership


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    How would I cite this article in an APA paper?

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