What Every Administrator Should Know

04/11/2014  |  By Genola B. Johnson, EdD

Cultural diversity is creeping up in every region, state, city, district and school in America. In some areas, this is occurring very fast, in some it’s occurring slowly. Regardless, the demographic changes of the American classroom are bringing cultural diversity to the forefront of many schools.

Diversity is about people, the environment, how we think, values, morals, and how we view people unlike ourselves. Culture is the learned traditions, principles and guides of behavior that are shared among members of a particular group.

White European descent has been the image of America for years. However, this is not a true image of America. America’s belief systems differ from religion, family dynamics and gender.

Cultural diversity in the educational setting influences teaching and learning. Acknowledging cultural diversity forces the teacher to embrace multiple ways of teaching diverse students. A students’ culture influences how they are taught and how they learn.

Students’ backgrounds reflect how they learn. Their learning styles, such as cognitive, affective and physiological traits that are indicators of how learners perceive, interact and respond to their learning environment is a result of their culture.

Between the years of 2006 to 2018, the states of Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama will receive a 15.3 percent increase of a diverse population. Children from immigrant families will make up 19 percent of school-aged population. By 2050 52 percent of the population in American will be people of color and 24 percent Hispanic.

This is a huge demographic shift from 20 years ago. This increase is due partly to technological advances of economic and industry changes. The U.S. is one of the leaders in the global market; we reach across waters via technology to conduct business. Keeping abreast of local industry will help schools make appropriate changes to the diverse student’s needs. Does the school system resemble the community?

Although every community is different, there are some basic strategies all communities should follow who are facing diversity changes. It is not enough for teachers to go through a course on how to teach a diverse population.

Cultural competence in the school setting involves the ability to acquire knowledge of educational related beliefs, attitudes and practices to improve student achievement.

Educational diversity identifies and openly discusses cultural differences and issues and gain respect for individuals who are different. The use of cultural knowledge and sensitivity to defend the rights and values of other groups is important. Learn to understand verbal and non-verbal communication with diverse individuals and or groups.

Not addressing and facing these issues puts children and families at risk of not getting the educational support they need. Understanding the school culture may or may not align with the culture of the student’s home. Learning and understanding a family’s codes of behavior, such as their norms, values, beliefs, customs and how they communicate is essential in teaching diverse students.

The classroom teacher is the most invaluable component of what a school system has in the social development of its youth. The teacher is the major part of the child’s adjustment to the American culture. Providing professional development for the teacher to ensure they understand how important it is to enhance the students’ self image, pronounce the student’s name correctly, share and understand the student’s thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Invite parents to participate in the school. Have a home/school connection and be responsive to non-traditional family structures. Plan instruction to include cultural histories and ask students what they need to be successful in school.

To have a more inviting and culturally diverse school, school systems should hire employees that match the demographics of the students they teach. Assess your employee demographics. If you have 20 percent Hispanic students within a school, hire 20 percent of the employees of Hispanic descent.

Attracting a wider pool of employees that reflect the population the school serves communicates the fact that diversity is important. Employ diverse professional job candidates with varied backgrounds and demographics. Employees and students will have a favorable attitude toward their workplace and school when initiatives are more demographically diverse.

Schools are always concerned about public relations and test scores; the above-mentioned dimensions affect performance, motivation, success and how we model for our students a respectable society.

When hiring for new staff, do you insist on a diverse pool of candidates to reflect your student population? Do you have focus groups, look policies, and know your own biases? Do they have a seat at the table and actually have input in the decisions being made?

As an administrator, are you modeling being comfortable with people of diverse backgrounds? Do you know their goals, their motivations and how they like to be recognized? Do you know how to professionally give negative feedback to someone who is culturally different from you? When you have hired an employee, do you explain the unwritten rules? Are you continually monitoring policies, practices and procedures to ensure they do not impact different groups?

Conduct employee attitude surveys, have mentoring programs and conflict management training. Are you listening to constructive feedback from staff on how to improve? Is immediate action taken when staff you supervise show disrespect for others in the workplace, for example jokes and offensive terms? Are assignments and opportunities for advancement are assessable to everyone?

Provide diversity training and communicating with staff is very important. Ensuring diversity training and maintaining it in the forefront of a workplace, schools can save time, money and be efficient. If these practices are ignored or are not addressed the loss of productivity and the inability to retain qualified people will constantly be a problem. Complaints and legal actions, loss of investments, recruitment and training add to this problem.

School districts are always watching their budgets. It costs to recruit, interview, order background checks, request drug screening and create pre-employment assessments. Once the employee is hired, they have to be trained. Even if it is someone who is familiar with the job, they need to be trained to that particular school’s culture. After insurance, benefits a school district could spend are about $60,000 for a $45,000 employee. It could take a school system about one year to break even in hiring this employee. This is not something you want to do every year.

Mentioning the high cost of hiring an employee, retaining an employee is even more difficult. It may not be costly, but it is difficult.

Implement diversity training, develop a hiring strategy and learn to leverage others strengths to help keep mutual respect for all employees. Modeling good behavior and enforcing cultural sensitivity management is an investment employers cannot afford to ignore.

Cultural diversity training for all staff facilitates better communication and promotes tolerance. Diversity training helps to instill value of all parties involved. An effective diversity training should have measurable objectives, align with the organization’s policies, values, missions and goals, include programs such as professional development and mentoring, focused on the larger vision and goals of the organization, i.e., increasing employee retention, and emphasis cross cultural communication skills.

A workplace is better when all members appreciate the value in diverse skills, education and experiences. Encourage open communication, teamwork and fostering annual events such as staff retreats; informal gatherings and fellowship help to break down barriers and improve staff morale. These events help develop interpersonal relationships and create a culture of inclusiveness.

Evaluating focus groups, the history of complaints, reviewing and updating policies, reviewing the organization’s values, culture and expectations of professional conduct will help schools move into a more diverse organization.

In order for school systems to mirror their communities, they will need to be ready to accept diversity. All stakeholders should understand the differences that make people unique and valuable in an organization.

Educators are in the business of shaping our society academically and socially. Our students will learn from our actions. Showing them how to work with people who are different from ourselves will help them be better global citizens.

Dr. Johnson has over 20 years in education teaching elementary, middle, and high school overseas as well as an administrator in high school. She currently serves as Executive Director of Georgia Educational Learning Center, Inc. Her biweekly blog can be found at For more information, visit
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