Developing cultural competence can help school leaders create more trusting relationships with students and a more positive learning environment, says Lorea Martinez for the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Considering that almost 80% of teachers in public schools are white, while almost half of public elementary and secondary school students are people of color, it’s essential that districts create spaces where students can exhibit the pride they feel, as well as develop an appreciation, for theirs and others’ diverse racial and ethnic identities.

This will support Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) students to succeed in school as individuals and plant the seeds for a more equitable learning experience. Here are five strategies for developing cultural competence in the classroom.

  1. Develop an awareness of your own racial and cultural identity. Identify the historical roots of your identity, as well as beliefs, values, the way culture has influenced your life, and the things that motivate and matter to you. Be sure to consider implicit biases and the privileges afforded to you based on your race or ethnicity.
  2. Learn about students and incorporate this knowledge into district culture and instruction. The quality of teacher-student relationships has been repeatedly linked with their academic, social and emotional outcomes, and good relationships can be established when educators are encouraged to get to know their students individually, including learning about their ethnic group, language, religion or immigration.
  3. Promote inclusive classrooms that proactively work to counter bias. In order for classrooms to be inclusive and equitable, educators need to understand the larger sociopolitical context that shapes individual experiences. Many BIPOC, LGTBQ+, neurodiverse and low-income students experience insults and denigrating messages on a regular basis.
  4. Get to know your district’s families and be sure your staff is diverse. Parents also experience emotions about their children’s school and teachers. They may fear their child is being mistreated or bullied, or they may distrust a teacher whose culture is not the same as theirs. Spend time getting to know the families and hire educators who come from similar backgrounds as your student population.
  5. Learn about the community. This is an extension of knowing students and their families. Walking around a neighborhood and understanding the community’s assets — the food, music, traditions or neighborhood history — as well as some of the issues they face can provide leaders and educators with important data to connect with students and inform practices.