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Professional Development Tips for Developing Cultural Competence

Imagine standing in front of a classroom of 20 students. Now, imagine that only seven of those students were born and raised in the United States. Of the remaining thirteen, three have disabilities, five are from South America, two are from Africa, and three are from East Asia. In addition, seven students are English language learners.

Though this scenario may seem far-fetched, staff and students across the nation’s K-12 schools identify with a plethora of cultural identities based on race, ethnicity, language, religion, socioeconomic status, and much more. To support an inclusive environment and learning opportunities for all students regardless of background, districts should provide sustained professional development to improve staff’s cultural responsiveness and multicultural awareness. Below, we describe five action steps that districts can take to improve staff member’s ability to teach a diverse student body and interact with diverse coworkers through targeted professional development.

Allow for Joint Planning

Professional development should provide staff with opportunities to plan together and exchange feedback on how their backgrounds and beliefs impact their work. Participants can share ideas about incorporating multicultural techniques and materials into school programming and support one another in adapting instruction accordingly.

Practice Effective Communication

Give staff an opportunity to practice communicating with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. For example, professional development sessions may feature staff drafting an email in both Spanish and simple English to support families of English language learners. Likewise, staff may receive training on how a parents’ cultural background or socioeconomic status impacts how parents may interact with teachers.

Confront Issues of Power and Privilege

Professional development should openly address power dynamics and privileges between dominant and subordinated groups to expand awareness of both issues. Facilitators and participants should critically analyze power dynamics and biases to combat attitudes and actions that benefit one group to the detriment of another. A frank and honest discussion about the privileges and prejudices that district staff experience in their own lives can be especially impactful.

Provide Guidance on Responding to Insensitivity

Staff need guidance on addressing cultural insensitivity or discriminatory actions or speech in a manner that is educational rather than punitive. Educators will require practice in deconstructing the implicit biases or prejudices in students’ or peers’ behavior to help them recognize the impacts so they can take steps to be more inclusive and understanding of other cultures.

Don’t Just Talk about Cultural Competence, Practice It

Facilitators should not only discuss culturally responsive practices; they should actually use them. Districts cannot expect staff to develop cultural competence if the people teaching them to be culturally competent do not “practice what they preach.” Thus, professional development should appeal to a wide range of cultural perspectives and integrate a variety of materials and activities to help staff identify their own biases and build skills to confront inequity in education.


About Will Wilson, Content Analyst

Will is a K-12 expert specializing in English and Written Pedagogy and CTE Education. William has taught language arts and social sciences for grades 7-12 in New York, Connecticut, and Virginia and extensively applies this practical knowledge in his current role as a K-12 Analyst. Will attended Binghamton University where he earned a B.A. in English and Economics and an M.A.T. in English Adolescence Education and also served as a teaching assistant, tutor, and peer academic advisor.


Interested in learning more about developing cultural competence in teachers? Download the research brief, Closing the Gap: Creating Equity in the Classroom.


Developing Cultural Competence

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