Cultural Competence–a work in progress~

As a special education teacher in a largely inclusive high school where nearly 40% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, I am currently working with special education students —ranging from the context of individual student appointments to one or more class periods per day—based on their IEP needs.

Over 10% of our total student population represents families from two local Native American tribes which have teamed together with our district in multiple ways within the past three decades to facilitate significant progress toward many of the goals highlighted within the readings this week.

While I have had the privilege of participating (both as a teacher and a parent) in wide variety of creative activities designed to bridge the cultural gaps, including parent conferences held at tribal education centers, community dinners, reading celebrations, etc. –I still feel the personal need to improve my ability to connect with and embrace cultural differences within my own school and community (we live right on the boundary of one of the reservations).

Within the Synthesis of the Recommendations for the 2008 Achievement Gap Studies, many suggestions are offered for developing relationships between school districts and tribes. One particular thought that caught my attention was, “Teachers, educators and school administrators need to understand that disengagement from the school or not understanding how to help their children with homework does not mean “a lack of commitment to education” (section III, #2). This helps me to see some of my current students’ challenges in a different light. Perhaps it is like having a goal in mind, but not knowing how–or not having the tools to create realistic steps to reach that goal. For example, just because someone is struggling to create or maintain a workable plan to become physically fit, does not automatically mean that a person does not value or desire a healthy lifestyle.

As a teacher working to help my students to make progress and complete steps toward graduation and beyond, I found the following suggestions to be familiar…”(a) provide encouragement, support and respect for their cultural identity; and (b) are flexible and adaptable to help Native students make up for absences and missed assignments due to family issues, losses and cultural opportunities outside the classroom. (p. 12).

I am encouraged to see so many resources highlighted to address the cultural competency need and look forward to gaining new insights.  I so often feel like I’m “just beginning”—despite my status as a veteran teacher.

My number one goal is to see my students as individuals in the context of “their world”–and to be willing to try to see “the world of school”, through their eyes.

Closing Opportunity Gaps in Washington’s Public Education Systemhttp://www.k12.wa.us/Cisl/pubdocs/AgapLegReport2010.pdf

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