Why Building a Culturally-Competent School Culture Matters: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Education Space

What does it mean to build a culturally-responsive learning environment? By fostering inclusivity and engagement, educators can empower students to overcome social disparities while feeling secure in the school setting as their authentic selves. Here’s why that is so important. 

Students with diverse backgrounds often face inordinate pressure to assimilate into the dominant culture.  Such expectations—to speak, act, or look a certain way—can discourage a child from engaging fully in the school environment and cool their enthusiasm for learning.

Dr. Murrff’s personal school experience as a child informed her understanding of assimilation and the inherent pressures it brings to bear on young persons: 

“I want them to be able to identify what they value in their own identity… to be able to bring that into a space and not feel like they have to hide parts of themselves. Because when they do that, it’s mental gymnastics. And if you’re so focused on that, how can you really be free and safe?  How how can you reach your own true potential if you’re constantly worrying about, did I say this right, did I behave this way, did I do this, and am I being valued?”

It’s not only students who are affected by these behavioral cues and societal strains. These pressures impact teachers, too. Education Consultant Jasmine Landry put this in perspective: 

“… if we (teachers) have to act in a certain way, then we’re not going to have diversity of thought, we’re not going to have fresh ideas … I think that’s the potential and the power of—if we could—create schools where everyone could really be themselves and be valued for who they are.” 

It’s clear that effective DEI strategies are critical for creating supportive school environments for students that reflects the diversity of their communities. So, what can educators do—realistically speaking—to support diverse students with inclusion? We can start here:

  1. Take proactive steps to invite inclusive conversations with school communities across divisions of socio-economic status, language, race, gender, gender-identity, and religion.
  2. Use data to guide decision-making and implementation of programs, resources, and staff training.
  3. Put students first. Recognize where inequities exist and work to create safe and supportive schools where diverse students can excel.

It will take a sustained commitment to provide inclusive support to students from backgrounds that are under-represented, marginalized, or challenged in some other way. Every student deserves a chance to reach their next level of learning, while thriving as their authentic selves.

To learn more, don’t miss this week’s episode of Learning Can’t Wait hosted by Hayley Spira-Bauer.  Join this fascinating examination about the role of DEI in education today, along with Hayley’s guests, educators, and thought leaders Jasmine Landry and Dr. Dennisha Murff.