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Cultural Proficiency

Section 1: Cultural Proficiency

Any student who emerges into our culturally diverse society speaking only one
language and with a monocultural perspective on the world can legitimately be
considered educationally ill-prepared. Sonia Nieto (2004, p. xv)
Cultural Proficiency is a mind-set, a worldview, a way a person or an organization
make assumptions for effectively describing, responding to, and planning for issues
that arise in diverse environments. For some, cultural proficiency is a paradigm
shift from viewing cultural differences as problematic to learning how to interact
effectively with other cultures.
4 Tools for Developing Cultural Competence
1. The Barriers: Caveats that assist in overcoming resistance to change
2. The Guiding Principles: Underlying values of the approach
3. The Continuum: Language for describing both healthy and non-productive
policies, practices, and individual values and behaviors
4. The Essential Elements: Behavioral standards for measuring and planning
for growth toward cultural proficiency
The Barriers:

The presumption of entitlement and privilege: Believing that all of the

personal achievements and societal benefits that one has accrued are due
solely to merit and quality of ones character. It often blinds people to the
barriers experienced by those who are culturally different from them.
Systems of oppression and privilege: societal forces that affect individuals
due to their membership in a distinct cultural group. Systems of oppression
do not require intentional acts by perpetrators.
Unawareness of the need to adapt: Many individuals do not recognize the
need to make personal change, rather believe those around them need to
change and adapt to them.

The Guiding Principles:

Guiding principles are the core values and are a response to the barriers.
They equip educators with a moral framework for doing their work.
Each group has unique cultural needs

The Continuum:

Six unique ways of seeing and responding to difference:

o Cultural Destructiveness: Seeking to eliminate the cultures of others
o Cultural Incapacity: Trivializing or stereotyping other cultures
o Cultural Blindness: Not noticing or acknowledging the culture of others
o Cultural Precompetence: Awareness of what you dont know in relation
to diversity


Cultural Competence: Aligning personal values, beliefs, and policies in

a manner inclusive to cultures different from your own.
Cultural Proficiency: Holding the vision that you and the school are
instruments for creating a socially just democracy.

The Essential Elements:

Essential elements are the standards for individual values and behavior and
organizational policies and practices. They include:
o Assessing Culture Identify the differences among the people in your
o Valuing Diversity Embrace the differences
o Managing the Dynamics of Difference Reframe so diversity is not
viewed as a problem
o Adapting to Diversity Teach and learn about differences
o Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge Change the system to ensure
healthy and effective responses to diversity

Culture v Ethnicity:

Culture is inclusive and refers to a set of practices or beliefs shared with

members of a particular group. This can include: age, gender, geography,
ancestry, language, sexual orientation, faith, physical abilities, occupations,
and affiliations.
Ethnicity is defined by shared history, ancestry, geography, and language.
A person may belong to several cultural groups while most individuals
identify most strongly with a single ethnic group.

Section 2: A Cultural and Historical Context for Our Unfolding

An Inside-Out Approach:

Cultural Proficiency is an inside-out approach that focuses on insiders

reflecting on their own understandings and values which relieves outsiders
from the pressure of doing all of the adapting.
This approach focuses chiefly on the schools culture in turn eliminating the
need to blame individuals and creating change at a systemic level.

Culture Is

Culture is defined as everything you believe and everything you do that

enables you to identify with people who are you and that distinguishes you
from people who differ from you. Culture is about groupness. A culture is a
group of people identified by their shared history, values, and patterns of
Culture is often confused with race which was a concept created by social
scientists to characterize people by their physical features and to perpetuate

the dominance of the white race. To become culturally proficient you must
expand your conceptual paradigm for culture to encompass everything that
people believe and do that identifies them as members of a group.
Cultural Naming:

Humans are objectified by assigning names or labels to particular behaviors

or characteristics (e.g., schizophrenic, blind, poor, girl). By using these labels
we dehumanize the individuals we place them upon.
Dominant groups, the groups in power, do not name themselves. Instead
they name other people, specifically in relation to the dominant group. The
dominant group uses these labels to emphasize the otherness of the
oppressed group.

Historical Progression:

Segregation and Assimilation: Prior to the 1950s, everyone in society

accepted there was an us and a them, and everyone knew to which group he
or she belonged. As society began to invite some dominated people to
assimilate into the dominant culture, they were expected to disassociate
themselves from their primary or native culture.
Marginality: During the 1960s people outside the dominant culture knew
two cultures but were not entirely accepted by members of either one.
During the 1970s, many people were able to successfully
integrate into a new culture while remaining comfortable in their native
culture. However, they felt unable to mesh the two worlds.
Bicultural Affirmation: Starting in the 1990s people began to function
effectively in two cultural worlds. People in each cultural world know they are
part of the other and respect their biculturality.

Section 3: Leadership for Todays Schools

Cultural Proficiency is not an add-on program. It is an inside-out approach to
addressing diversity in classrooms, schools, and districts. Cultural proficiency is an
approach that is to be integrated into the culture of the school.
Transformational Leadership: Too often, transactional and transformational
leadership are viewed as dichotomous, but, in fact, both approaches to leadership
are needed in todays schools.

Transactional leaders: involve extrinsic systems, such as setting clear

goals and expectations, arranging for resources, and providing incentives for
needed work.
Transformational leaders: appeal to intrinsic motivation and, in visionary
fashion, appeals to the greater good. Transformational leaders influence
followers to look beyond self-interest.
Four Components of Transformational Leadership

Idealized influence: Leaders who have strong convictions, take

stands on difficult issues, focus on vision and purpose, and are
ethically committed to their work.
Inspirational motivation: Leaders who provide context and meaning
for the work to be done, a vision for what can be accomplished, and
standards for educators to employ
Intellectual stimulation: Leaders who seek to replace old
assumptions, traditions, and beliefs with values, behavior, policies, and
practices that serve the needs of local populations. Have we
committed to teaching the children in our school or are we still trying
to educate the students who used to go here or who we wish went
Individual consideration: Leaders who mentor, instruct, and coach
fellow educators and members of the community.

Formal and Nonformal Leaders

Contemporary researchers have found the effective leaders consistently show

several key characteristics, regardless of their profession or field. These
o Taking responsibility for ones own learning
o Having a vision for what the school/ company can be
o Effectively sharing the vision with others
o Assessing ones own assumptions and beliefs
o Understanding the structural and organic nature of schools
Research has demonstrated time and again, regardless of class, caste,
culture or gender, that students and their families can achieve at high levels
o They are taught how to learn
o Provided with the resources to learn
o Given a reason to believe that they control their own destinies

Section 4: Framing Your Work With the Cultural Proficiency Tools

Leading educational researchers continue to acknowledge that our schools continue
to serve well those for whom schools have been historically effective, while they
need to be transformed to meet the needs of students who are English learners or
are from low-income, African American, Latino, First Nation, and special needs
Cultural Proficiency Conceptual Framework
The Cultural Proficiency text uses the term conceptual framework similarly to how
Dr. Senge (2000) uses the term mental model. Conceptual framework refers to a
pictorial representation of ones thoughts, values, actions, policies, and practices. It
can be thought of as a road map that allows educators to determine where they are
on their journey to becoming culturally proficient.

The Four Tools of Cultural Proficiency:

Cultural Proficiency is an interrelated set of four tools, not strategies or

techniques. Being culturally proficient is exemplified by how educators
develop and implement school board policy, allocate resources, use
assessment data, deliver curriculum and instruction, interact with students
and community members, and plan professional development.

Two of the tools provide a framework to guide personal values

o The Barriers to Cultural Proficiency
o The Guiding Principles of Cultural Proficiency
The other two tools provide ethical choices relating to behaviors and
standards that will guide the work
o The Cultural Proficiency Continuum
o The Essential Elements

Barriers to Cultural Proficiency:

The barriers to cultural proficiency include:

o Resistance to change and unawareness of the need for change
o Systems of oppression and privilege
o A sense of entitlement and unearned privilege

When an individual recognizes their own entitlement, they have the ability to
make constructive choices that benefit the education of children and youth.
Not being able to see the barriers erected by a sense of privilege and
entitlement involves a skewed sense of reality, which can impede ones
ability to pursue ethical and moral avenues in meeting the academic and
social needs of nondominant groups.

The Guiding Principles of Cultural Proficiency:

The guiding principles provide a framework for the examination of core

values of schools.
The guiding principles of cultural proficiency are as follows:
o Culture is a predominant force in society
o People are served in varying degrees by the dominant culture
o People have individual and group identities
o Diversity within groups is vast and significant
o Each cultural group has unique central needs
o The best of both worlds increases capacity for all
o The family, as defined by each culture, is the primary system of
support in the education of a child
o School systems must recognize that marginalized populations have to
be at least bicultural and that this status creates a distinct set of issues
to which the system must be equipped to respond
o Inherent in cross-cultural interactions are dynamics that must be
acknowledged, adjusted to, and accepted.

The Continuum of Cultural Proficiency:

Cultural Destructiveness Seeking to eliminate vestiges of the cultures of

Cultural Incapacity Seeking to make cultures of others appear to be wrong
Cultural Blindness Refusing to acknowledge the culture of others
Cultural Precompetence Being aware of what one doesnt know about
working in diverse settings
Cultural Competence Viewing ones personal and organizational work as an
interactive arrangement in which the educator enters into diverse settings in
a manner that is additive to cultures that are different from the educator
Cultural Proficiency Making the commitment to lifelong learning for the
purpose of being increasingly effective in serving the educational needs of
culture groups; holding the vision of what can be and committing to
assessments that serve as benchmarks on the road to student success

The Essential Elements:

The essential elements are standards for culturally competent values,

behaviors, policies, and practices. They include:
o Assessing cultural knowledge Being aware of what you know about
your own and others cultures and what you need to do to be effective
in cross-cultural situations
o Valuing diversity Making an effort to be inclusive of people whose
viewpoints and experiences are different from yours
o Managing the dynamics of difference Viewing conflict as a natural
and normal process, which has cultural contexts that can be
understood and can be supportive in creative problem solving
o Adapting to diversity Having the will to learn about others and having
the ability to use others cultural experiences and backgrounds in
educational settings
o Institutionalized cultural knowledge Making learning about cultural
groups and their experiences and perspectives an integral part of your
ongoing learning

Part 2: Using the Tools of Cultural Proficiency

Section 5: The First Tool Overcoming Barriers
If we tell ourselves that the only problem is hate, we avoid facing the reality that it
is mostly nice, non-hating people who perpetuate racial inequality. Ellis Cose
Barriers to Cultural Proficiency:

Systems of oppression
A sense of privilege and entitlement
Unawareness of the need to adapt

Caveat: Systemic Oppression Persisting inequalities in power due to past and

prevalent policies and practices. It is important to understand oppression as a
systemic issue apart from personal behavior.

The power that accrues to the entitled in society is so widespread that those
who have power do not see its pervasiveness. There are frequently two
responses to entitlement:
o Those with greater power are frequently least aware of, or least willing
to acknowledge its existence.
o Those with less power are often most aware of power discrepancies.

Caveat: Privilege and Entitlement Entitlement is the accrual of benefits solely

because of membership in a dominant group. Just as dominant people are
penalized because of their culture, other people benefit because of their
membership in a privileged group within the dominant culture.

Institutionalized oppression is the opposite of entitlement, in which people

chiefly, people of color, women, persons who ae differently abled, and
homosexuals are more sparsely represented and, therefore, have relatively
little institutionalized power or control.

Caveat: Unawareness of the Need to Adapt Failing to recognize the need to

make personal and school changes in response to the diversity of the people with
whom one interacts, perhaps because it never occurs to anyone in the dominant
group that there is a problem.

People who are unaware of the need to adapt often believe that if the others
the newcomers change or adapt to the environment, there will be no

Culturally Proficient Educators

Educators who are committed to educating all students to high levels have three

They have an emerging awareness of their strengths, their limitations, and

what they need and want to learn
They are not afraid to change their worldview or paradigms

They are eager to begin the change process both individually and

Section 6: The Guiding Principles of Cultural Proficiency

Principle: Culture is ever present

You cannot have culture. Culture is like the air; it is everywhere, and you
dont notice it until it changes.
Your culture is a defining aspect of your humanity. It is the predominant force
in shaping values and behaviors
Culturally proficient leaders remember that culture the culture of the
individuals and the culture of the organization is always a factor.

Principle: People are served in varying degrees by the dominant culture

Common knowledge is not common, and things are only self-evident to those
who share your worldview and cultural perspective.
Culturally proficient educators adjust their behaviors and values to
accommodate the full range of diversity represented by their school

Principle: People have group identities and personal identities

Culturally proficient leaders know that to guarantee the dignity of each

person, they must also preserve the dignity of each persons individual

Principle: Diversity within cultures is important

Because diversity within cultures is as important as diversity between

cultures, it is important to learn about ethnic groups not as monoliths (e.g.,
Asians, Latinos, or whites) but as the complex and diverse groups that they
Culturally proficient leaders recognize these intracultural differences and
provide their faculty, staff, and parents with access to information about
people who are not like themselves in various ways.

Principle: Each group has unique cultural needs that must be respected

The culturally proficient educator teaches and encourages colleagues who

are members of the dominant culture to make the necessary adaptations in
how they provide educational services so that all people have access to the
same benefits and privileges as members of the dominant group in society.

Principle: The family, as defined by each culture, is the primary system of

support in the education of children

Traditional approaches to parent involvement has parents coming to the

school to demonstrate their care and concern. Culturally proficient practice
assumes the school setting includes the community and parents.

Culturally proficient leaders understand the complexity in defining families.

Family configurations can include single-parent, multiple-generation extended
family, same gender parents, foster care, and residential care homes.

Principle: People who are not part of the dominant culture have to be at
least bicultural

Parents have to be fluent in the communication patterns of the school as well

the communication patterns that exist in the communities.

Principle: Inherent in cross-cultural interactions are social and

communication dynamics that must be acknowledged, adjusted to, and

Awareness of issues of systemic oppression by all educators is fundamental

to effective cross-cultural communication.

Principle: The school system must incorporate cultural knowledge into

practice and policymaking

Culturally proficient educators are self-consciously aware of their own

cultures and the culture of their schools.
Cultural norms and expectations must be taught as well.
Learning about other cultures can be done by engaging the community,
bringing in experts, or by educators using their own expertise, sharing
information and institutionalizing it.

Section 7: The Cultural Proficiency Continuum

The Cultural Proficiency Continuum provides language for describing both unhealthy
and healthy policies, practices, values, and behaviors. Six points along the Cultural
Proficiency Continuum indicate distinct ways of seeing and responding difference.
The left side of the Continuum focuses on tolerance and the other as being
problematic. The right side of the Continuum is proactive and focuses on
transforming ones practice.
Cultural Destructiveness See the difference; stomp it out

Cultural destructiveness is any policy, practice, or behavior that effectively

eliminates another peoples culture; it may be manifested through an
organizations policies and practices or through an individuals values and

Cultural Incapacity See the difference; make it wrong

Cultural incapacity is the belief in the superiority of ones own culture and
behavior that disempowers anothers culture. It is any policy, practice, or
behavior that subordinates all cultures to another.

Cultural Blindness See the difference; dismiss it

Cultural blindness is the belief that color and culture make no difference and
that all people are the same.

Cultural Precompetence See the difference; recognize what you dont


Cultural precompetence is awareness of the limitations of ones skills or an

organizations practices when interacting with other cultural groups.

Cultural Competence See the difference; understand the difference that

difference makes

At the point of cultural competence, schools and educators accept and

respect differences; carefully attend to the dynamics of difference;
continually assess their own cultural knowledge and beliefs; continuously
expand their cultural knowledge and resources; and variously adapts their
own belief systems, policies, and practices.

Cultural Proficiency See the differences; respond positively and


Educating as an advocate for lifelong learning for the purpose of being

increasingly effective in serving the educational needs of cultural groups in
your school and community; holding the vision that you and the school are
instruments for creating a socially just democracy.

Section 8: The Essential Elements

The essential elements serve as standards for educator values that are exhibited in
our behavior and for organizational policies that inform school and district practices.
Assess Culture: Claim your differences

Recognize how your culture affects others

Describe your own culture and the cultural norms of your organization
Understand how the culture of your organization affects those with different

Value Diversity: Name the differences

Celebrate and encourage the presence of a variety of people in all activities

Recognize differences as diversity rather than as inappropriate responses to
the environment
Accept that each culture finds some values and behaviors more important
that others

Manage the Dynamics of Difference: Frame the conflicts caused by


Learn effective strategies for resolving conflict

Understand the effect that historic distrust has on present day interactions
Realize that you may misjudge others actions based on learned expectations

Adapt to Diversity: Change to make a difference

Change the way things are done to acknowledge the differences that are
present in the staff, clients, and community
Institutionalize cultural interventions for conflicts and confusion caused by
the dynamics of difference

Institutionalize Cultural Knowledge: Train about differences

Incorporate cultural knowledge into the mainstream of the organization

Teach the origins of stereotypes and prejudices
For staff development and education, integrate into your systems information
and skills that enable all to interact effectively in a variety of intercultural