Becoming a Culturally Competent Educational Leader

Becoming a Culturally Competent Educational Leader

Denise K. Schares (University of Northern Iowa, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2520-2.ch003

Abstract

Cultural competency is a critical attribute for effective leadership. The journey of becoming culturally competent begins with an understanding of one's own cultural background and how it impacts interactions with students, colleagues and families. Through examination of the literature, reflection, conversation and diverse experiences, leaders can gain the knowledge, skills and dispositions to embrace diversity and more effectively serve students and families. With the ultimate goal of serving all students and families to capitalize on diversity, the journey toward cultural competency is life-long, informed by cultural backgrounds and supported through experience and dialogue.
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Background

The work around cultural competency has its beginnings in the medical field as medical professionals came to understand that an awareness of the cultural aspects of their patients led to more appropriate medical intervention. In the field of education, an awareness and appreciation of the cultural aspects of students and families can lead to more appropriate educational interventions and higher levels of academic success. As school leaders work with teachers to improve the achievement of their students, this work illuminates the need for conversation and action around what’s working for which of our students and for whom the current system serves to a lesser extent. The essential questions that must be considered include: Is each student learning at high levels? What might we do to more fully support meeting the learning needs of each student? What is the role of the educational leader in supporting staff, students and families in becoming more culturally competent? What is the impact of culture and the cultural backgrounds of our students and families on the likelihood of school success? This chapter is intended to engage the reader in thoughtful reflection and consideration of future action through the inclusion of potential questions and situations around the development of cultural competency.

The engagement in conversation at the national, state, district and school level is critical in understanding and addressing the need for leaders and educators to demonstrate cultural competency in order to serve all students at the highest possible level. This requires more than occasional training or abbreviated conversation to address the challenges of serving all students at the highest possible level. Jazz musician Charlie Parker once said, “If it is not in your heart is not in your horn”. The same may be true for educational leaders as they work to support their faculty and staff in serving all children and families. If we are to address the current gaps in opportunity and achievement, offer a truly inclusive educational experience for our students and capitalize on the richness of diversity, educational leaders must embrace the work of becoming culturally competent and make the conversation regarding serving all students a constant priority. Educators may shy away from these important conversations, fearing that they will offend someone or raise sensitive issues; yet educational leaders must have the courage to engage in the conversation and seek the knowledge to support others in providing the most appropriate educational experience for all students. In order to set the stage for this work, the understanding of several key definitions and concepts is important.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cultural Competency: The desire and ability to interact with others in a manner that values cultural differences and works to capitalize on the differences for positive outcomes.

Educational Leadership: The work of influencing students, staff and families to think, believe and behave in a manner consistent with the goals of the educational organization.

Diversity: A general term indicating that people differ from one another.

Culture: The background and upbringing that identifies you as a member of a group.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: The inclusion of content, strategies, assessments and teaching settings that optimize the interaction and learning of students from diverse backgrounds.

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