I really enjoyed the article Cultural Competency by Stan Paz. The article began by talking about the diversity of students in the American school system today. The author believes that in order to reach these children and have them succeed in the education system, it is crucial to look at ‘the whole child’. Paz feels that in order to fully engage children in their learning, education must envelop the child’s entire needs as well as engage his or her family.
This is a belief that I have fully embraced since I began teaching. The importance of education will only ever be realized when a child’s need are fully met. I think this is more relevant in the elementary years, but can also apply to older learners. When young children feel safe, loved, and taken care of in the classroom, they are open to play and thus learn. If they do not feel that all of their needs are met, many children will not learn at the same rate that they could. This is especially true for children who are taking risks by trying out new words, grasping new concepts, and adapting to a new culture. The most effective primary school teachers I have worked with are not necessarily the best ‘teachers’ in the typical sense, but those who create a safe and warm learning environment.
In the article Cultural Competency, one of ELL children who flourished in the American public school system was a child who was fully supported by her family. They were involved and interested in her education from the early years. This is something that in my own experiences has been discussed and realized time and time again. The children who experience the most success are those who have parents involved in their learning. When the child receives the message from their teachers and their families that school is important it becomes valued and seen as significant.
Another point that is brought t up by Paz, is the idea of having cultural competence. Again, I fully agree that this is a way that educators can make children feel cared about and important. My experience with ELLs is different than most peoples in North America, as I have typically worked in classes where the majority of the ELLs were of the same cultural back ground (Japanese, Korean, Hindu, or Sikh) other than my experience with adult learners. In each circumstance I learned some of the language. Some of this was inadvertently, as in the beginning of the year children who did not speak any English would speak to me in their native tongue and the other children would translate. But learning how to say simple phrases and words in their native language made them giggle and open up. They loved when I knew the name of the food they were eating, or asked about one of the TV characters they watched in their own language. This also allowed them to realize that they knew things that I didn’t and perhaps made me seem less intimidating and more approachable.
Learning about the culture of the students in the class shows them respect. It is a way for educators to connect with children and their families Cultural Competency stated ‘Cultural acceptance goes beyond lip service’. It discusses how a CA school district made a point of helping immigrant parents understand procedures and curricula. This is where I feel that many parents become lost in the system. When they education system that they experienced is so vastly different than the North American one that their children are going through, they often shy away from understanding it. This is where the importance of cultural competence from administrators becomes imperative. If it is known that it is critical for parents to be involved in their children’s education in order to succeed, then we need to look at how to meet the needs of the whole child and his or her family. Making policy and curriculum understandable is a simple way to give parents the tools they need to better grasp what their children are experiencing in school. The Alberta government has made a version of the curriculum formatted specifically for ESL parents. This has been a wonderful tool parents appreciate and utilize frequently.
There are many ways that districts, school boards, educators, and administrators can make the education system easier for ESL families to navigate. Perhaps the most significant though is through knowledge and tolerance. When people feel that their values, culture, knowledge, and way of life are valued they will more readily involve themselves in their community.
My questions then, in relation to this article are as follows;
- What does cultural competence look like to you? What characteristics make up a culturally competent person?
- For those of you who are not primary teachers, does teaching to the ‘whole’ student have the same amount of value as it does with older learners?