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Morning Video: "Cultural Competency" Teacher Prep Program Includes Homestay

On PBS last night, a segment about a small seven year-old program in Chicago that attempts to prepare teachers (mostly white) for kids and communities they're likely to teach in (mostly black and brown) -- including a cross-cultural homestay program. Roughly half of Chicago teachers are white, while less than 10 percent of Chicago students are.


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The report on the Step Up Fellowship for new educators at Illinois State University has many resonances with me. I can relate to it on different levels: one as an African American woman and citizen of an urban community who can relate directly to the lived experience of her students, and also as an African American educator in who trains teachers and facilitates discussion around cultural context. Some teachers have unfortunately developed a limited view of what cultural context/competence encompasses which causes them to approach the processes hesitantly, with trepidation, or with a negative mindset. As Dr. Carol Lee of Northwestern University states in the video, “Cultural competence means I have to go into that community with the humility in order to learn.” This is the principle I find it most challenging for the team of facilitators I work with to convey to the participants in their PLCs while they explore cultural context. The truth is that cultural competence is not something reserved for those seeking to understand Black and brown students, but for any educator who embarks on supporting a foreign culture. I would need to reflect deeply on my convictions and reality within my own identities: race, gender, religious, political, etc., before recognizing how they do or do not compare to the cultural and societal experiences of a learning community representing different cultures. I often consider that the mass culture resulting from what has blended in America’s melting pot is what eclipses our vision when considering that even miles down the road from where we live, there may be a culture completely different from the one we are accustomed to. This is what causes educators to make decisions about students and families influenced by unchecked cultural and racial biases, reinforced by their own way of living. This is harmful in education because it blocks the potential for authentic relationship, which is the foundation to student success.

What also concerns me is what seems to be a lack of appreciation for the existing culture and what feels like an outsider-looking-in approach, while imposing new systems. The juxtaposition of that is Americans who go teach abroad: they do not seek to impose their own cultural values on individuals who already operate within an established system. Instead, they humbly and actively seek to learn the cultural norms of the environment in order to create an acceptable and appropriate social status and to ultimately cultivate an investment in the community they are serving. This ties in with the thoughts from Assistant Principal Vanessa Puentes Hernandez, in that teachers foreign to urban communities should not view their time in urban schools as merely an opportunity for gaining experience before moving on. In order to be truly effective, teachers must have a love for the community that grows out of a deeply-rooted understanding of it and investment in it. Step Up Fellow Morgan Brauer displays an awareness that many new teachers have yet to grasp in her factual acknowledgement that the difference in opportunity between her home community and the one she intends to serve is largely due to the difference in zip code. While I cannot require teachers to relocate to the school community before teaching there, I can think more critically about what barriers are preventing the facilitation team and me from conveying the right messages about cultural context. Teachers should understand that cultural context training is a self-reflective process intended to guide individuals through self and cultural awareness in order to equip them with the tools for executing effective communication and collaboration within the global society. Thank you for the fresh lens through which to view facilitating these trainings.

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