Cultural Competency: How A Procedural Vote Turned Into A “Continuing Conversation”

By Amie Knowles

May 3, 2022

Cultural competency in the classroom could bring about changes to interactions and instruction, geared toward embracing differences.

It was supposed to be a simple procedural vote. However, discussion about adopting cultural competency training licensure requirements turned into a back-and-forth conversation between Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) members and Virginia Superintendent for Public Instruction Jillian Balow at the April VBOE business meeting.

Last year, Dogwood reported on House Bill (HB) 1904, which was identical to Senate Bill (SB) 1196, as it went through the General Assembly, which required four basic things:

  • Evaluations of cultural competency for people in key positions
  • Those seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license to complete instruction or training in cultural competency
  • Those teaching history and social sciences to complete instruction in African American history
  • Completion of cultural competency training for teachers and certain school board employees every two years

Now, there’s a question about “cultural competency.” The item came up for first review at the meeting, which laid out amendments to the licensure regulations for school personnel. The changes would include the new statutory requirements for initial licensure, as well as those seeking renewal of a license. 

The board previously approved the Guidance on Cultural Competency Training for Teachers and Other Licensed School Board Employees in Virginia Public Schools at the November 18, 2021, meeting. The guidance became effective on January 6 after a 30-day public comment period where 82 individuals expressed opinions against the training, seven supported the training, and four expressed other opinions. 

Dr. Joan Johnson, assistant superintendent for teacher education and licensure, presented the changes to the board. The document outlining the changes states that “Virginia’s objective for developing a culturally responsive and inclusive educator workforce is to provide all students opportunities to learn in ways that are relevant to their lived experiences and create cultures of inclusivity and belonging in Virginia schools.”

The document alleged that culturally responsive educators would see the diversity in classrooms as an asset and could then use knowledge of student backgrounds to enrich educational experiences. The idea is that if a teacher thoroughly understood specific cultures of his or her students and how those cultures affected student-learning behaviors, they could change classroom interactions and instruction to embrace those differences. 

While action isn’t required on the issue until June, Balow noted during the April meeting that the item would likely continue to be an “item of discussion” as work continued on aligning “priorities, events, initiatives, trainings” and more with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order One. That’s the order looking for concepts deemed “inherently divisive.”

“Just want you to know that there is definitely a sensitivity and a commitment to making sure that our teachers are culturally competent,” Balow said. “Defining that is going to be ongoing and an ongoing discussion with this board and with others.”

She further noted that discussions surrounding the item would occur both externally and internally. 

Anne Holton, who has served on the VBOE since 2017, inquired about Balow’s comments, noting that the item would come back to the board for final approval in June. She questioned if Balow had any specific concerns about the proposed regulatory language.

“Because if so, I think it would behoove us to hear those now so that we can fix them, if possible, before we come back in June,” Holton said.

Balow called the issue “really important” and reiterated her desire to continue the conversation “as a board, as an agency, as field, and as constituents.” When Holton pressed forward on the issue asking if Balow anticipated changes before the board’s vote in June, Balow said the notion hadn’t “been discussed internally.” Holton noted that the purpose of a first review was to hear if there were any issues.  

On a positive note, board member Dr. Francisco Durán said that he was “very glad” that the changes were taking place. He said that through cultural competency training he took part in, he was able to work with populations and individuals he’d never worked with prior. Durán said the experience enhanced his ability as an educator to serve and listen to various viewpoints and backgrounds.

“This is such an important part of what I believe all educators need is to really understand all students and to be able to work with all students, work with all families, to understand … the strength that our diversity brings in the classroom, and how do we support all of our students to success?” Durán said.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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