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What Is 'Culturally Competent' Teaching? (Videos)

As some of you may have seen, the Education Week video team had a piece on PBS NewsHour last week on the increasingly pressing topic of better preparing teachers to work in diverse classrooms. The segment looked at an ambitious program run by Illinois State University that places education students—mostly white, mostly middle-class—in high-minority Chicago neighborhoods for one month during the summer. The participants not only do a teaching stint in local schools. They also live with host families and work on community-service projects.

The idea is to give these prospective educators a more nuanced understanding of their future students' lives and needs by immersing them in their communities. And there's some evidence that the approach makes a difference: More than 80 percent of the teachers who've come through the program remain in the classroom after five years—far above the average for high-needs urban schools.

You can watch the full segment here. And—bonus—for those you who are interested in digging a little deeper into the topic of cultural competency in teaching, our video team has put together a couple of helpful web-only compilations from the footage they gathered while reporting the story.

The first features excerpts from an extended interview with Carol Lee, a professor of education and African-American studies at Northwestern University. Lee, as you'll see, has a skeptical view of the type of classroom training teachers often get under the banner of cultural competency, saying that it can reinforce racial stereotyping. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of relationships and openness: "Cultural competence means that I have to go into that community with the humility in order to learn," she says. "As opposed to saying that there's a college program that's going to give me a box, because that's the way this stuff works."

The second video offers a glimpse into a training workshop on cultural competency given to prospective teachers by Kyla Bailenson, the assistant principal of Hibbard Elementary School, on Chicago's West Side. Bailenson says that, when she first started at Hibbard, she made the quick realization that she "had a long a way to go" in understanding the myriad needs and expectations of the school's diverse student-body—something that saved her from just applying her own assumptions and interpretations. "A huge, huge thing is identifying your own biases and working to learn about other cultures," she tells the teachers-in-training. "I have been for the past 13 years immersing myself in the communities I teach, and I feel like that is truly what has helped."

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