Diversity: Understanding and Teaching Diverse Students

Multicultural Education Competency

Identifying Multicultural Competency

A multiculturally sensitive classroom provides every student with opportunities to achieve his or her potential.  It allows students to understand and appreciate their own culture while recognizing its similarities and differences to other cultures and perspectives in society. 

Important components of a multicultural classroom include (1) explicit awareness of cultural influences in society, (2) academic content that is relevant to cultural groups, and (3) skills to communicate effectively across cultures. 

A common myth is that only schools with notable ethnic or racial differences need to embrace multicultural competencies.  All teachers can prepare all students to become multiculturally competent citizens in a diverse society. 

Beginning to Develop Multicultural Competency

Developing a multicultural approach to education is an ongoing process, not an instantaneous accomplishment.  There is no limit to how multiculturally competent a teacher can become because improvement is always possible.  Some suggestions follow for ongoing development of a multiculturally sensitive classroom:

  • Evaluate the methods, books, and curriculum you use.  Check to see if your lesson plans and text books offer a variety of perspectives and ideas concerning multicultural concepts. 
  • Engage the students in the learning process.  Find out what they know and what they would like to know, then explore different perspectives together.
  • Ask probing and critical questions to yourself and your students to learn where and how you and they were exposed to information on certain subjects.
  • Critically evaluate historical views from different perspectives. Relate concepts to the students’ lives in society right now. 
  • Understand the various cultures of students in your classroom and reflect on how the differences or similarities may affect your classroom and instruction.

Learning Your Own Biases and Becoming Aware of Other Cultures

Self-awareness is essential.  As you understand your own culture and the biases you may have about other cultures, you will be able to maintain positive relationships with those of different backgrounds. This process includes investigating your own values, practices, and beliefs surrounded by culture. 

Knowledge about others’ cultures is also essential.  Learn the values, practices, and beliefs of other cultures in order to understand the similarities and differences with your own.  Everyone has a culture, not just people whose backgrounds are different from yours.

Incorporating Diverse Methods of Teaching

Multiculturally competent educators provide a variety of perspectives on the subject matter they teach. Thus they foster students' critical thinking skills and also enable students to better understand the subject.  The following are ways to facilitate this type of culturally sensitive atmosphere.

  • Incorporate a variety of activities.
  • Invite speakers to talk about specific topics.
  • Provide a wide range of videos that will enable students  to see different perspectives.
  • Provide field experiences.
  • Use a variety of books, art, and music.
  • Encourage students to critically reflect on and evaluate different experiences.

Considering Additional Resources

  • How Multicultural is Your School?
    With ideas for universal school improvement, this website can help educators evaluate the level of multicultural competency found in their school. It includes checklists of multicultural standards for school-wide programming, teaching practices, community relations, and professional development.
  • Multicultural Education 101
    This website breaks multicultural education competency into a six-step process:  awareness of differences, cultural self-awareness, awareness of social context, cultural knowledge, cultural curiosity, and commitment to social justice.
  • Worldwise Schools
    Lessons are included on this site for many diversity issues for students of all ages.