Three Reasons Non-Urban School Districts Need to Increase Cultural Competence and Learn the Positives of Globalization

Three Reasons Non-Urban School Districts Need to Increase Cultural Competence and Learn the Positives of Globalization

It’s that time again when the calendar flips, we evaluate the past and plan for the future.  The school year in the U.S. follows a different cycle, and regular evaluation and reevaluation in school districts must happen year round; this includes undergoing professional development.

In 2018, I had the privilege to deliver the keynote address for several district-wide convocations. I tend to focus on national and global conferences but was reminded that significant change often happens at the grassroots level, perhaps now more than ever.  I began to embrace the opportunity to interact with teachers directly—they are the face of education and, if empowered to do so, have the greatest gift to offer society.

My concern in speaking at convocations for non-urban, small, and especially rural districts was that my messages of the need for greater cultural competence and the positives of globalization might be perceived as irrelevant to them.  However, as I became more familiar with these local communities, I was struck by how culturally diverse many are. For example, Harrisonburg, Virginia has a rapidly changing and diverse population due to refugee resettlements (http://www.wmra.org/topic/refugees-virginia#stream/0), and there are many others that may seem homogeneous but actually have or will have a high degree of cultural diversity that needs to be included in education strategy and planning.

The Country is Becoming more Diverse as a Whole

While it is commonly accepted that diversity has increased in urban areas, diversity has significantly increased in rural areas as well.  In fact, data shows that 97% of smaller cities (10,000-50,000) in the U.S. have increased diversity since 1980 (Theconversation.com).  This emphasizes that the impact of immigration and growing diversity is not limited to major metropolitan areas only but extends out to all communities and thus all public school districts across the U.S.  

With this trend comes the need for education leaders to foster the cultural competence of students and communities; to help them proactively seek common ground and overcome any potential fear, bias, and closed off interactions. As we saw last week in Washington DC, implicit bias appears to have contributed to misinterpreted hostilities between three diverse groups (Native Americans, white Catholic school students, and Black Hebrew Israelites) who had separately convened at the Lincoln Memorial to exercise their freedom of speech. Moreover, with the heated debate about building a wall along the southern border of the United States, the distinctions between illegal, legal, and refugee immigration are often intentionally muddled. Education must aim to correct what is at the core of such misunderstandings.

Increase of Immigrants Settling Outside of Large Cities

The number of immigrants settling in suburban and rural areas of the U.S. has grown substantially and the trend continues to move in that direction. Since 2014, over 61% of immigrants now live in suburban areas (The Atlantic). These individuals seek the same things we all look for: affordable housing, job opportunities, and quality schools for their children, to name a few.  This outward mobility from urban centers means that suburban and rural school districts are indeed more diverse than ever before, and the skills to understand, appreciate, and value people from different backgrounds and cultures needs to be high priority.

Diversity Has Become Self-Sustaining

Not only has diversity from immigration increased across all areas of the U.S., this diversity is generally self-sustaining.  Minority groups are maintaining and growing through the birth of children. The majority of U.S. Hispanics are now native born. Of the 57.4 million people in 2016 who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, only 34 percent (19.6 million) are first generation immigrants (Migration Policy Institute).   Cultural dynamics in the U.S. are changing permanently and all communities and school districts are impacted.  We must each increase our own cultural competencies and develop pathways to instill skills for listening, learning, and appreciating the value of people from different cultures and backgrounds. Forward-thinking educational leaders must equip teachers to model and teach cultural competence in the classroom. It’s an amazing time to be alive.

 

I’d welcome the opportunity to talk further about these trends and how your school district is working at increasing cultural competence among students and families.

 

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

 

Last month on the blog I discussed the value of failure and how, rather than trying to help young people avoid failures, we should be more intentional about teaching the ways that failure helps us learn, grow, and ultimately succeed.  This month I want to turn our attention to the workplace as well as to our school environments; specifically how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace and school culture and effectiveness, and why this topic is more important than ever at this time in our nation.

The U.S. is currently in the middle of a significant demographic shift. Groups once considered minorities will together make up at least 52% of the country’s population by 2050, with the population of Hispanics likely to more than double and the black American and Asian populations also expected to grow by a significant margin.

In the workplace, due in part to globalization, customers and employees will represent an even more diverse mix. Most organizations are already experiencing this as they hire employees and serve customers from multiple cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. It partly explains why many large corporations now have multilingual human resource personnel and customer support staff, and are looking to diversify their boards of directors and executive management teams.  This diversity presents workplace opportunities for high-quality professional development to avoid team conflict, bias, and communication breakdowns. Without engaging in appropriate, compassionate training for staff and management, businesses could experience higher turnover, lower morale, and losses in profitability.

To overcome the challenges posed by this shift, schools and businesses need to invest in intentional cross-cultural competence equipping as part of their overall talent management practices. This is one reason why my songwriting programs were presented in Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon by the U.S. Department of State with the focus of bridging across cultures and defeating some long-standing religious, social, racial, and cultural biases. The same principles apply in the U.S. and anywhere in the world.

What is Cross-Cultural Competence?

Culture refers to the shared traditions, beliefs, customs, institutions, folklore, and history of a particular group of people. A culture is shared by people of the same ethnicity, language, customs or religion. Competence, meanwhile, means to have sufficient knowledge and skills to enable someone to work in a wide variety of situations.

Cross-cultural competence, therefore, refers to possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to work with people of different nationalities, ethnic communities, languages, and religions. If a person, school  or organization is culturally competent, it means that they understand, appreciate, and can effectively work with people with different traditions, beliefs, and customs.

Millennial idealism offers a great opportunity to overcome many social injustices, including racism.  This generation is “color blind” and multicultural, so by embracing this aspect of millennial mindset, we can organically grow out of some implicit biases that currently hinder cultural competence in the workplace.

The good news is that you can now arrange for cross-cultural competence training for your school or organization where every generation of employee, from top to bottom, is taught skills to help them interact with people from cultures other than their own more effectively. These skills often include

  • Active listening capabilities
  • People interaction skills
  • Flexibility, and
  • Emotional intelligence


Benefits of Cross-Cultural Competence in the Workplace

There are several reasons organizations and individuals need to invest in cross-cultural competence training:

  • It helps us appreciate the perspectives and views of others

Culturally competent employees are open to the views and perspectives of employees from other cultures. This can be vital in achieving unity within the organization.

  • Multiple viewpoints can help us find lasting solutions

When people from different cultures work together, varied perspectives come to the table. With more ideas to consider, it becomes easier to find lasting solutions to existing challenges.

  • Looking out for each other

A culturally competent workforce also looks out for each other. Individuals are always willing to take action for the collective good. This, too, can be instrumental in achieving organizational togetherness.

  • Helps us develop listening skills

One of the fundamental requirements of cross-cultural competence is to possess excellent listening skills. Everyone at the organization will be willing to hear what others have to say and understand them in the ways that they uniquely express their views. More important, workers will know how to interpret what they hear within a much broader framework.

  • Instills empathy, flexibility, and adaptability

The benefits of these skills are obvious. An empathetic, flexible, and adaptable workforce is productive even in the most demanding situations. When routines, management or the direction of the organization change, individuals will more readily  adapt accordingly.

  • Helps employees resist unproductive stereotyping

Stereotyping is one of the primary impediments to workplace harmony. Cross-cultural competence helps employees recognize and deal with implicit bias and similar vices, thus boosting individual confidence and guaranteeing team morale.

  • Decreases and overcomes institutional racism

Finally, and perhaps most important, instilling cross-cultural competence in the workplace can be instrumental in rooting out racism. At the very least, the workforce will learn to appreciate each other, significantly reducing incidences of racial discrimination and abuse. This was a theme in my keynote two years ago at the National Education Association, where I talked about institutional racism in higher education. This is a pervasive challenge that must be eradicated from our multicultural society, and the benefits of unity in diversity revealed.

With the significant demographic shifts within our nation and the increased globalization of our work experiences, cross-cultural competence has become a critical issue for businesses.  It impacts not only productivity but ultimately organizational profitability.

Let’s Discuss

How will your organization address the challenges impacting workplace culture and effectiveness?  I would be glad to discuss. Please contact me to talk further.

You Can Help!

You can also help me out by providing your input on a related topic.  Please take my flash survey: Can playing online games with others around the world increase students' cultural competencies? https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9R3RRH7

Educators: Join Ravi Unites Schools

We are signing up schools and districts to participate in the Ravi Unites Schools initiative, which provides real-time audio-video interactions between groups of students who live on opposite sides of the world.  Learn more and sign up here: https://raviunites.com/schools/