INDICATOR III-C-2: Culturally Proficient Communication


Prepared by Karen Schwartz of WGEE for DESE

Indicator III-C-2: Culturally Proficient Communication

Always communicates respectfully with families and demonstrates understanding of and sensitivity to different families’ home language, culture, and values.

Vignette #1 

A fifth grade teacher improves her ability to communicate with parents/guardians by focusing on frequent and positive exchanges with the diverse families in her school. By starting the year off with clear and high expectations for family engagement, Hayley sets a warm and encouraging tone for the year ahead.

Vignette #2 

A team of ten middle school teachers from a large, urban school signs on to examine and help improve the parent-teacher conference experience for the culturally diverse families in their community. By surveying the community and gathering some research about the effectiveness of using the parent-teacher conference to build bridges with families (and improve student learning), the taskforce hopes to turn a lightly attended “non-event” into one that is well attended and serves their school community in important ways.

Vignette #3 

A veteran high school science teacher is surprised by his own shift from skepticism/resentment to wonder/reflection when given the opportunity to participate in a “Cultural Proficiency Continuum Self-Assessment” among his peers.

Vignette #4 

Inspired by a local newspaper article in which a high school student writes about why “Mrs. B.” was her favorite teacher in elementary school, “because she pronounced my name correctly,” a middle school teacher is determined to honor and respect his culturally diverse students and their families by making sure that their names are learned and pronounced correctly by the community.

Vignette #5

When a professional development initiative to increase teacher understanding around the “cultural mismatch” between teachers and students is offered in her school district, Ann jumps at the chance to learn more about the Latino cultures growing in her school community. By taking part in a workshop series which includes two Family Literacy Nights with colleagues and families in her school, Ann gains a greater understanding of what it means to be part of a culturally and linguistically diverse group.

Vignette # 6 

As a member of the newly established Cultural Competence Committee at his large, urban high school, an English teacher utilizes his strengths to create a book discussion group for fellow teachers and staff. By choosing books for discussion that represent the various life experiences and cultures of the students in his school, Eric hopes to increase sensitivity, understanding, and effectiveness in communicating with the range of students and families in the community.

Vignette # 7 

An Asian-American ELL teacher uses her own experiences with falsely perceived “cultural” behaviors to expand her knowledge-base (and that of her colleagues) for deciphering possible cultural explanations for an array of challenging student behaviors. With a greater understanding of cultural differences, the teachers feel more equipped to engage and connect with the diverse range of students and their families.

Vignette #8

Inspired by family stories her students share in their memoir projects, a high school English teacher creates opportunities for the school community to know and better understand some of the rich cultures that comprise their multicultural population. By accepting an offer to visit a Haitian student’s family restaurant, an invitation to take part in a Hispanic Family Festival, and an opportunity to visit a family booth at a festival of native arts and culture from around the world, Diana discovers the diverse strengths within families and gains valuable insights about feelings of “cultural disequilibrium” that many of her students and families face every day at school.

Vignette #9

In her tenth year teaching third graders at a large, urban elementary school with a high level of English Language Learners, Anna notices a pattern of parental involvement at school events. As a native Spanish speaker herself, Anna realizes that participation of her Spanish speaking families in “back to school nights” and parent-teacher conferences has steadily increased, while the families who speak other non-English home languages in her classes has dropped off. Acknowledging her important status as a “cultural guide” for the Spanish speaking families, Anna looks to the community to find these important “liaisons” for all of her students and their families.

Vignette #10

A white teacher in an urban elementary school setting realizes that in order to truly communicate with cultural proficiency, she needs to explore how an awareness of her own culture affects her behavior, values, perceptions, and interactions with students and families.



  • This recent FINE (Family Involvement Network of Educators) Newsletter: Innovative Approaches to Preparing and Training Educators for Family Engagement provides an array of valuable resources that can help support teachers and teacher leaders with support to foster culturally proficient communication. From insightful questions and commentary about preparing teachers for family engagement to “voices from the field” that discuss such things as the intersection of pre-service teacher training and training for parents, this resource is worth exploring. In addition to offering strategies for success in family engagement, the site also provides links to courses and professional development opportunities in its “December 2013 News” section.


  • This Teaching Tolerance professional development segment on “Understanding Culture” provides excellent resources for teachers and teacher leaders who are looking for an interactive opportunity to reflect on their relationship to culture in the classroom, school, and community. With articles, video clips, questions for reflective practice and activities for the classroom, there is much to consider here. In addition to reading lists on cultural competence, the site further provides information on how to find additional resources on cultural fluency.


Provided by the Boulder Valley School District, this site offers helpful and detailed PDF’s on the following: Assessment Scales, Culturally Proficient Individuals, Culturally Proficient Schools and Culturally Proficient Communities. Bulleted lists provide clear examples of cultural competence and make visible what expectations for culturally proficient teachers and schools should look like.


  • This compact, two-page grid shows examples and quotations along the AVID Cultural Proficiency Continuum. From Cultural Destructiveness to Cultural Proficiency, the bulleted lists of teacher voices and choices provide tangible examples of what the cultural proficiency continuum could look like in its six stages.


In this short, thought/action-provoking article “Cultural Proficiency: Changing the Conversation,” Randall B. Lindsey, Kikanza Nuri Robins, Delores B. Lindsey and Raymond D. Terrell outline the significance of cultural proficiency and the “toolkit” that helps support the mindset needed for “how we interact with all people.” The “interrelated tools” pose four significant questions that serve school leaders and teachers alike as they strive for cultural proficiency. The article provides detailed bullet points that are prompted by these significant questions for reflection: Are we who we say we are? How do we assess who we are? Do our actions align with who we say we are? What gets in our way of being who we say we are? The article provides the dialogue from a facilitated conversation at an elementary school that is working towards shifting its mindset towards a more culturally proficient community.

  • In “How Is Cultural Competence Integrated in Education,” Mark A. King, Anthony Sims, and David Osher provide a conceptual background for cultural competence and show elements of cultural competence developed for programs serving children “with or at risk of developing serious emotional disturbance.” There are a number of programs highlighted on this website that are worth exploring: FAST (Families and Schools Together) – an eight week program that focuses on family empowerment through parent/professional partnerships and weekly dinners that work on communication between staff and families & CAICS (Community Approaches to Improving Child Success) that hosts weekend getaways for teachers, primary caretakers, and children in the program. The retreats aim to move these populations away from blaming others (the school, teachers, students) and towards attitudes of acceptance and culturally perceptive understanding.


  • The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project provides evaluation and support for forging better relationships between schools and families. This website provides information about this project – its history, organizations involved, and how participation has helped bridge the relationship for many families between home and school.


  • From the Intercultural Development Research Association, this episode highlights “The Teacher as a Culturally Proficient Coach.” With a podcast and list of helpful resources, this interactive website provides helpful information and links for teachers and teacher leaders.


  • Nuri Robins, Kikanza, Lindsey, Randall B., Lindsey, Delores B., & Terrell, Raymond D. Culturally Proficient Instruction: A Guide for People Who Teach. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press. 2006. ISBN: 9781412924313

This updated and interactive book provides educators with a clear and in-depth understanding of cultural proficiency while simultaneously offering a valuable structure for reflection and growth for its readers.


  • Lindsey, Delores B., Jungwirth, Linda D., Pahl, Jarvis V.N.C., Lindsey, Randall B. Culturally Proficient Learning Communities: Confronting Inequities Through Collaborative Curiosity. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press. 2009. 9781412972284

From exploring the impact of our history on cultural understanding to challenging its readers to “align our behaviors” with the values we design in our mission statements, this book is a chock full resource that provides in-depth exploration of how to achieve culturally proficient communities through understanding, reflection, and action.


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