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While the jury’s decision in George Zimmerman’s trial may feel like old news by the time your students return to school, the challenge of openly discussing issues of race will persist for educators. The recent news coverage reminded me how one’s life experiences, many of which are impacted by our race, make us who we are and provide a filter for what we see and hear around us. We can fail our students if we aren’t aware of how our vision (and theirs) is affected by who we are and what we’ve known throughout our lives.

As leaders in schools and classrooms, we strive for equity for all of our students; to do so, we must understand how our own race and background experiences impact our perception of the world. The NEA defines cultural competence as “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families.”

Luckily, our colleagues on the web offer useful advice to develop our approach to understanding our own culture – be it one of privilege or discrimination or a bit of both – based on our race (as well as our social class, gender, religion, sexual identity, or other personal characteristic).  Honing our cultural competence will ensure that we lead schools and classrooms that support the development of all students. These resources include:

    • Recommendations for leading towards a culturally competent school.
    • A Minneapolis Public Schools kit that guides principals through varying components of culturally competent schools.
    • A great article from Teaching Tolerance about “talking race” among teachers in a school.
    • A super website created by Massachusetts high school students that could jump-start a conversation.
    • Tools and planning templates for confronting issues of equity at your school.

Whether your school is racially homogenous or includes students of various races, all students deserve preparation for a racially integrated world, one in which skin color, stereotypes, and history will – unfortunately – unfairly  impact some students’ opportunities for success and affect how our graduates collaborate with each other. Becoming culturally competent allows us to meet our teachers and students where they are and to foster the mutual awareness, understanding, and appreciation that can brighten our collective future.

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Special thanks to Guest Blogger Melissa Matarazzo for authoring this post. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @LrngLdr.

Melissa Matarazzo is a Research Fellow at Studer Education and a doctoral candidate in the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Urban Superintendents Program. Melissa most recently served as the Executive Director for Achievement and Accountability in the Charleston County (SC) School District.  Prior to her work in South Carolina, Melissa served as a middle school principal in the Peabody (MA) Public Schools, and as an 8th grade teacher and assistant principal in the Derry (NH) Cooperative School District. Melissa has served as a supervisor of teacher interns at the College of Charleston, SC and an adjunct instructor at American International College in Springfield, MA.

Our mission at Studer Education is to provide students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com. Studer Education is a division of Studer Group, ranked for the fifth straight year on the Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work® and a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.