Unfortunately, culturally diverse students are at a much higher risk of dropout than their peers. According to a set of studies conducted by California State University, cultural minorities drop out of school at a higher than average rate for American students and the risk of dropout is more than doubled in some parts of the country. For example, in California 20% of all students drop out in high school, but the rate for Hispanic students is double, with 43% failing to graduate by age 20. There are many contributing factors for this markedly higher rate including English language ability and socioeconomic status. One of the factors that is often overlooked is the cultural integration of culturally diverse students, as these students are not always English language learners (ELLs) or immigrants.
Culturally diverse students are those who have been recently introduced to a community in which their ideals, beliefs, or attitudes differ from those commonly held by the community. For these individuals, learning to navigate the social norms and cultural expectations of a new setting can be as frightening and challenging as learning a new language. When students do not receive the proper resources to support this adjustment, they can experience culture shock, which can negatively impact their success in school and beyond. Culture shock can manifest in different ways; students may become introverted, or they may act out. Regardless of the response, culture shock can lead to estrangement from school and increase a student’s risk of drop out.
As the needs of each culturally diverse student are unique, we believe it’s important for teachers to learn how to teach with cultural competency. While some may see cultural competence as an empty buzzword or stand-in for political correctness, cultural competency means teaching with self-awareness and interest in your student’s lives and experiences. Cultural competence can provide you the tools to support all of your students, as well as the skills necessary for limiting the risk of dropout for your culturally diverse students.
In this blog post, we are going to look more closely at some key strategies for teaching with cultural competence. This is meant as an introduction, and we hope that it inspires you to build your cultural competency through professional development, reflective teaching, and support from your community.
1. Cross-Cultural Communication
When beginning to teach with cultural competence, it’s important to build strong communication with your students. As language ability, cultural understandings of education, and prior experiences can limit initial communication, with time and effort, you can build open communication with all of your students. The key to this practice is patience and initiating communication around positive or neutral topics. Once you have created a trusting relationship, students will be more likely to come to you for support when they have concerns or to provide you insight into their experiences when they have a problem in the classroom.
2. Engaging Family Members
Students from culturally diverse families can often feel like they are being pulled in different directions by the traditions of their family and the cultural norms of their peers/school. All students benefit greatly when they have a strong academic support system at home, but for families and students that are experiencing culture clash, this support can be weakened. One way to limit this clash is to engage parents in the school system and their child’s learning. When the family of a student has a greater understanding of the structure and focus of school and a knowledge of their child’s peers, they are better able to make informed decisions about their child’s behavior, possibly limiting friction at home.
Creating an inclusive classroom in which all students have equal access to information, regardless of sociocultural background, is critical to cultural competency and to creating a positive classroom community. Bringing in diverse perspectives about content, creating opportunities for students to share their background and experiences, and limiting culturally biased curriculum are great ways to create a more inclusive classroom. You can also take steps that go beyond the classroom to help students feel included in the school culture and the community at large. Students who are involved in after-school or extra-curricular activities are less likely to drop out, so we suggest becoming a resource to your culturally diverse students on ways they can get involved.
4. Setting Goals
In the US, many of the cultural majority believes that going to college is a major goal for all students, but your culturally diverse students may have different goals like getting a job as soon as possible or helping out at home. The value placed on education varies greatly from one family to another based on cultural expectations, the educational attainment of the parents, and socioeconomic level. By taking the time to speak to your culturally diverse students to determine what their values and goals are, you can help them realize the potential of a high school or college diploma.