Professional Learning - Cultural Competence


Cultural Competence

The Standard

Professional learning that enhances both educator practice and outcomes for each and every student facilitates educators’ self-examination of their awareness, knowledge, skills, and actions that pertain to culture and how they can develop culturally-responsive strategies to enrich the educational experiences for all students.

Culture Defined

Culture is a set of values, beliefs, or behaviors shared by a group of people based on race, geography, socioeconomic status, experiences, or other unifying denominators. Cultural norms guide the ways that individuals assign meaning to, interact with, and adapt to different contexts. Culture is ever evolving and is affected by an individual's development, experiences, and surroundings*.

* La Salle, T., Meyers, J., Varjas, K., & Roach, A. (2015). A Cultural-ecological Model of School Climate. International Journal of School & Educational Psychology, 3(3), 157-166.

Cultural Competence and Professional Learning

Cultural competence in school communities enhances the teaching and learning process and helps ensure equitable opportunities and supports for each and every student. Cultural competence encompasses:

  • An understanding of one’s own cultural identity, biases, prejudices, and experiences of both privilege and marginalization;
  • The continuous pursuit of skills, knowledge, and personal growth needed to establish a meaningful connection with people from various cultural backgrounds; and
  • A lifelong commitment to action that supports equity within each school community.

Components of Cultural Competence and Cultural Responsiveness in Education

Enhancing educators’ cultural competence and capacity to be culturally responsive is an iterative process that requires evaluating, examining, challenging, and adapting educational practices. In turn, educators are better equipped to facilitate equitable education, environments, and systems that support the success of all students, including those from undeserved populations. Three primary components underlie this ongoing process:

Understanding of one’s own cultural identity, biases, prejudices, and experiences of both privilege and marginalization
  • As educators strive to enhance cultural competence, they should begin with an examination of their own beliefs, biases, prejudices, and cultural influences and an interrogation of the cultural assumptions that underlie their beliefs and actions. The goal of this examination is to develop sensitivity, honor, acceptance, respect, and compassion toward varying cultural identities/groups in order to ensure a culturally sensitive and equitable learning environment. The following are key areas to focus on to enhance self-awareness
    • Developing a conscience of power and privilege in educational communities that creates a system of inequity among students from underserved populations (e.g., English learners, students with disabilities); and
    • Examining biases, stereotypes, prejudices, and prior experiences that have an impact on perceptions, interactions, and responses to students and families from various backgrounds in positive and negative ways.
The continuous pursuit of skills, knowledge, and personal growth needed to establish a meaningful connection with people from various cultural backgrounds
  • To become a valuable resource for students and their families, culturally competent educators:
    • Commit themselves to expanding their knowledge of beliefs and values, communication and interaction patterns, histories, attitudes, and behaviors across cultural groups to continue to inform their experiences in school and in the larger social context (e.g., family-school partnerships, integrating community resources, and strengthening community partnerships); and
    • Continually identify, learn, and use new skills that offer a culturally responsive approach to educating students and communicating with families across cultures. These skills include but are not limited to:
  • The ways in which expectations, reinforcements, and consequences are developed, communicated, and followed among school personnel, students, and families within the educational context (e.g., classroom, hallways, school-wide); and
  • Integrating diverse, meaningful, and affirming cultural perspectives into curricula to promote student engagement and motivation to learn.
A lifelong commitment to action that supports equity in each school community
  • Professional learning should uphold cultural competence and responsiveness as key components in supporting equitable learning opportunities for students from underserved populations. Practical examples of ongoing learning include:
    • Understanding the impact of cultural norms within the cultural context (e.g., school climate data, discipline data, achievement data);
    • Developing and refining the ways in which educators are able to establish positive learning environments that are affirming and increase the likelihood of success for all students, including those from underserved populations; and
    • Seeking opportunities to integrate relevant aspects of students’ culture to enhance engagement and understanding content (e.g., educators and students collaboratively establishing classroom norms and expectations, infusing real-life experiences from students into the curriculum and class discussions, integrating family and community resources).


Use these guiding questions to help members of the school and/or district community identify strengths, areas for growth, and next steps to align the Cultural Competence standard across the school and/or district professional learning system:

  • What are the cultural backgrounds of educators, students, families, and other members of the community?
  • What are ways to integrate students’ and families’ culture within the educational community to enhance engagement and positive academic and non-academic outcomes?
  • What school and/or district initiatives have been introduced to engage, honor, and utilize the various assets of the range of cultures represented by students and families?
  • What professional learning experiences do you consider meaningful and effective at enhancing cultural competence among educators in your school and district?
  • What obstacles need to be overcome to help ensure progress with enhancing cultural competence among educators in your school and/or district?
  • What communication strategies are in place to ensure that implementation of cultural competence is consistent, coherent and a natural part of the routines throughout the school and/or district community?