How to Develop—and Apply—Your Cultural Competence These strategies can help you keep cultural differences in mind when serving a diverse caseload. School Matters
School Matters  |   November 01, 2014
How to Develop—and Apply—Your Cultural Competence
Author Notes
  • Deborah Dixon, MA, CCC-SLP, is ASHA director of school services.
    Deborah Dixon, MA, CCC-SLP, is ASHA director of school services.×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Professional Issues & Training / School Matters
School Matters   |   November 01, 2014
How to Develop—and Apply—Your Cultural Competence
The ASHA Leader, November 2014, Vol. 19, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.19112014.26
The ASHA Leader, November 2014, Vol. 19, 26-27. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.19112014.26
“Cultural competence involves understanding and appropriately responding to the unique combination of cultural variables—including ability, age, beliefs, ethnicity, experience, gender, gender identity, linguistic background, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status—that the professional and client/patient/student bring to interactions.“Developing cultural competence is a dynamic and complex process requiring ongoing self-assessment and continuous expansion of one’s cultural knowledge. It evolves over time, beginning with an understanding of one’s own culture, continuing through interactions with individuals from various cultures, and extending through one’s own expansion of knowledge.”—ASHA Practice Portal on Cultural Competence
The most diverse group in the United States is our youngest children, and they will make the nation even more diverse as they age. By 2018, racial/ethnic groups now in the minority are projected to become a majority of people under 18—in other words, those whom we principally educate.
Working within this context requires a deep understanding of the interaction of cultural variables that students, staff and families bring to the educational setting. These variables affect how we learn, solve problems, raise children, communicate—verbally and nonverbally—and experience life. So how do we develop the skills to deal with the diversity in our lives?
  • Know your cultural identities and beliefs. Complete the cultural competence checklists ( or awareness tools to heighten your awareness of cultural issues. Be aware of your own beliefs, and how they might influence your view of other cultures.

  • Get to know the community where you work. Join social activities and attend local events as well as school- and district-wide activities. Access the community’s demographic reports, usually available from the district as well as the local government, to guide you about the specific races, ethnicities and languages represented in your school community. Learn about those cultures through experiences, reading, engaging and listening.

  • Get to know your students’ families. Invite parents to participate in a treatment session. Talk to the family regularly—not only when there is a problem or when you are required to communicate! Share positive information about the child. Consider the preferred written language of the family when sending notes home.

  • Set the stage for information exchange. During Individualized Education Program meetings, professionals often present a great deal of information, but only at the end do they ask if the parent has any questions or comments. That format doesn’t invite a productive conversation. Go beyond the typical parent questions. Ask about events and activities in which the child is involved. Ask about the books they read with their child. Find out how they want to be involved in providing support at home. What makes them most proud of their child? What are their fears or concerns about their child or their involvement in school? These are good discussion points for all families.

  • Gather other professionals into a professional learning community to focus on increasing cultural competence. Share articles and books on cultural competence, and develop a support group for sharing community experiences.

  • Know your students. Speech-language pathologists, who often work with the same students for several years, have the opportunity to expand their knowledge about these students’ backgrounds, interests, hopes and challenges.

  • Use ASHA resources, including the Practice Portal on cultural competence, Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations and ASHA journals, to increase your cultural competence.

More generally, keep the concept of “health literacy” in mind as you communicate with all families to ensure clear communication. Create an open environment in which families are comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, questions and perspectives. Above all, embrace diversity in your assessments, treatment strategies, selection of materials, and ways that you engage and reward students.
For more on cultural competence…
1 Comment
June 17, 2015
Denise Pace
A great resource!! Thank you:)
I found this article to be very informative and I wanted you to know it is much appreciated.
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November 2014
Volume 19, Issue 11