One might not expect it, but teachers do almost as much learning as their students. And one of their newest learning subjects is cultural competency.
“Cultural competencies are really important for teachers to learn about, especially given the area we live in, where there are a lot of students from different backgrounds,” junior Elise Sickinger said.
About 2 years ago, the ISD began implementing a new training for teachers and staff throughout the district called cultural competency, or “the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students.”
“Trainings would start with staff thinking about their own perspectives and their own biases, examining that critically, and then learning more about the biases and stereotypes that exist in culture and society, as well as how they themselves see the world and perceive people around them,” Liberty principal Sean Martin said.
These trainings happen around five times a year, with a variety of topics and learning concepts. The district has aimed to employ two separate ways of imparting information on staff, bringing in speakers, such as former Seattle School District Equity Director Dr. Caprice Hollins, as well as using book studies.
“The principals and vice principals around the district have just started reading the book ‘So You Want to Talk About Race?’ We’ll have sessions where we’ll sit down, we’ve read a chapter, there are some guiding questions, and we’ll engage in a discussion,” Martin said.
The district’s main goal of cultural competency training is to promote equity and bridge gaps between cultures. Currently, the focus of the training is shifting away from individual perspectives and towards specific topics, the most recent being counter-narratives.
“The teachers were really ready for something tangible, something they could engage with and maybe even take into their classes,” Martin said.
According to Liberty teacher Cameron Talley, counter-narratives aren’t exactly the opposites of stereotypes, but rather examples of people doing something other than a stereotype that would normally be attributed to them.
“I’m super glad that the district is doing this. Equity in education is something that drove me to get into education in the first place. I’m glad that I get to help and have a voice and make a difference on that topic,” Talley said.
Talley hopes that this will be the first of many steps towards equity and cultural competency in the district.
“It will help if teachers understand where their students are coming from. That is the basis of that teacher-student relationship: you need to understand what this person is going through if you want to teach to their heart and teach them correctly,” Talley said.