Blog posts from Research for Better Teaching

Why Teachers Need Cultural Proficiency

By Jon Saphier - May 20, 2016

Changing demographics have made a “should” into a “must” for American teachers. Cultural proficiency produces behaviors that acknowledge and value the culture of those different from oneself. It develops out of being curious and wanting to learn about other people and their cultures.

We are culturally improficient when we lack any understanding of people whose cultural backgrounds and traditions are not that same as our own. Cultural improficiency in the classroom has the result of leaving students who are culturally and linguistically diverse feeling misunderstood and excluded. When a teacher is culturally proficient all students feel that they have a place in the classroom because cultural difference is acknowledged and recognized as having value. This shows up in the artifacts of the class and the examples used in lessons. Cultural diversity is viewed as enriching the classroom experience for everyone.

As teachers of all children, each of us has an obligation, a moral imperative really, to 1) learn about the different cultures of our students and 2) find ways to make their cultures appear in validating ways in our curricula and instructional examples. That is the starting point for cultural proficiency, and cultural proficiency is a new skill set that all American teachers must have to provide every student with the best learning environment.

Recommended Reading

Excellent recent book in a rich literature: Zaretta’ Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.