Most people I meet want to develop more harmonious and satisfying relationships—in their organizations, communities, and personal lives. But we may not realize that this desire can only be satisfied by partnering with new and strange allies—curiosity and disturbance.
—Margaret Wheatley, 2001, p.1
The above quote by Margaret Wheatley (2001) definitely holds true in education. To meet the needs of students, schools, and the community and to compete in the global environment, educators can no longer work in isolation but need to work together to achieve their goals. One way of beginning this work is through learning communities. It is within these communities, we can safely learn, develop the tools to lead, and transform.
The vignettes described in chapter one, p.5, remind me of occurrences at my own school site. It is not uncommon to hear a colleague enthusiastic about a lesson or new instructional strategy learned, or to see opportunities to effect positive change. However, it is often the case that teachers do not have the time to implement new ideas and strategies needed or to take advantage of opportunities to collaborate as learners to achieve their goals. Although being part of a learning community does not address or resolve all of these issues, it does afford an opportunity to re-examine our own practice and educational environments and effect change from what the authors refer to as "inside-out" approach (p.6). This approach has educators digging deeper into their own practices, beliefs, and values to effect behavior changes in their own behavior to have a positive impact on the shifting demographics and communities they encounter and serve.
In terms of my own school site, staff are currently revisiting the school climate and culture and are making shifts in many of their practices to create a more welcoming school environment, one where everyone feels valued. The elements of Cultural Proficiency are already being integrated and professional learning communities are part of the plan to create learning opportunities to improve school climate and culture, and to work with all stakeholders. An important part of this also involves transparency. According to Lindsey et al (2009), Cultural Proficiency involves serving the needs of historically underrepresented students while serving all student needs. This is different than accommodating these students in isolation. It requires us to view student cultural diversity as an asset and an opportunity rather than a problem to be tackled.
Although there are several barriers to cultural proficiency that are discussed such as resistance to change, systems of oppression, and a sense of privilege and entitlement, these seem less of an issue at my own site. Some of this might be because the school is a performing arts school. Students historically discriminated against or treated differently at other schools are much more welcomed and embraced. This is particularly the case where sexual orientation is concerned. We have several gay and lesbian students and faculty, and transgender students. If there is resistance to change, most of it has to do with curriculum changes. Overall effective communication and transparency tend to create the "buy-in" and trust that is needed to implement needed changes. Although this is the case now, it was not always the case. Past years have observed attention to structural changes to transform the social and cultural conditions rather than, or without focusing on "transforming relationships". More attention to the later prior to the former is a step in the right direction.
In terms of guiding principles of cultural proficiency, as a World History teacher, I tend to embrace cultural difference and multiple perspectives. It is important to create opportunities and spaces for these multiple perspectives. In this way, everyone benefits from the community.
As for the Cultural Proficiency Continuum, I on the right of the spectrum. Somewhere between Cultural Competence and Cultural Proficiency.
Summing up what I have learned:
- We can benefit by learning and working collaboratively in communities, rather than in isolation.
- We must create opportunities to collaborate as learners.
- Current educational practices are not all equitable.
- "Cultural Proficiency is about serving the needs of historically underserved students within the context of all students." (p.11)
- "... shift .. perspective on change from reforming structures, policies, and rules in schools to transforming relationships, interactions, and the behaviors of the people within the schools and districts."(p. 15)
- "Becoming increasingly aware of what you and the school don't know about working in diverse settings." (p.17)
2. How do I balance the need for structural changes and changes in interactions and behaviors?
3. How do educators evaluate the extent to which the work toward cultural proficiency is effective?