The Crosswalks of Cultural Competency & The Common Core (Conference Workshop Proposal)

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Chris Thinnes


When Alison Park, Rosetta Lee, and I realized that the theme for this year’s “Summer Institute on Leadership for Educational Justice” at the University of Redlands would be Common Core: Academic Contexts, Complex Texts, Close Reading, Assessment, and More, we realized this could be an excellent opportunity both to press an urgent case for the centrality of cultural competency in students’ literacy learning, and to dive more deeply into our team’s research and collaboration (along with Gene Batiste and Steven Jones) on the ‘Cultural Competency Toolkit’ we’re developing to share with schools. We were excited to hear today that our proposal has been accepted for presentation on July 8th.

I’ve included the details of our proposal below — not only to share our intended approach, but to invite your input with regard to any resources or perspectives you think it would be helpful for us to consider. Please don’t hesitate to offer your suggestions in the comments below!


University of Redlands | School of Education
10th Annual Summer Institute on Leadership for Educational Justice


The Crosswalks of Cultural Competency & the Common Core:
‘Educational-Relational Thinking’ and ’21st Century Skills’


Rosetta Lee, Alison Park, and Chris Thinnes


1. Theory, Philosophy, Ethics, and History
2. Curriculum and Instruction Challenges


This workshop is rooted in our core belief that the purpose of K-12 schooling is not just to ensure students’ readiness for college and career, but to prepare children for active engagement as citizens in a democratic society. To that end education reform must address not only cognition but culture: “Intercultural education,” Carlina Rinaldi reminds us, “represents one of the essential guidelines for defining the quality of our future, to the extent that the interaction between cultures is not only a political issue, but above all a cultural and cognitive one” (2001). “Cultural education is not a separate discipline,” Rinaldi insists, contrary to prevailing misconceptions: “It is more than this: it is primarily a style of educational-relational thinking.”

In two workshops at the NAIS Annual Conference and the NAIS People of Color Conference earlier this year, this group (joined by Gene Batiste and Steven Jones) proposed to K-12 educators that in order to sustain more inclusive communities in our K-12 schools, we must shift our focus in diversity work from cultural ‘sensitivity’ to cultural competency. Schools must support deeper learning than ‘awareness’ or ‘tolerance’ implies, by facilitating students’ purposeful practice of specific skills, and habits of heart and mind, inside and outside the classroom.

Join us to extend our inquiry and exchange in a workshop designed to begin mapping the intersections of Common Core State Standards to a framework of cross-cultural competency skills; to identify opportunities and responsibilities through secondary CCSS E.L.A. Standards and the Standards of Mathematical Practice to introduce more purposeful inquiry about equity, inclusion, and social justice; and to address limitations of the elementary CCSS E.L.A. reading and writing standards in order to recognize the centrality of identity, subjectivity, and cultural context in E.L.A. instruction for all learners.


Panelists will share their work, and invite participants’ input, in the following sequence:

1. Introduce the conceptual framework of “Educational-Relational Thinking” as first introduced by Carlina Rinaldi in Making Learning Visible (Reggio Schools & Project Zero, 2001), illustrating the fundamentally relational nature of all learning;

2. Explore the inextricability of cultural competency skills from “the four Cs” of 21st century learning (creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thought) as articulated by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2009), exploring the dependency of deeper learning on culturally competent and diverse communities;

3. Outline and illustrate the four domains of the Jones model of Cross Cultural Competency (2010) — cultural self-awareness, cultural intelligence, countering oppression through inclusion, and cross-cultural effectiveness skills — as a framework for the further exploration of discrete cross-cultural competency skills;

4. Explore a series of secondary CCSS E.L.A. standards — as well as excerpts from the Standards of Mathematical Practice — as a vital opportunity and responsibility to catalyze the purposeful development of cross-cultural competency skills, and to extend prevailing understandings of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity skills;

5. Suggest that emphases on non-fiction texts and close reading protocols in elementary Common Core E.L.A. standards displace identity, subjectivity, and cultural context as inherent lenses in interpretation, representation, and expression, and to propose the restoration of cross-cultural competency as core component of E.L.A. curriculum and instruction, at the very least, for all learners; and

6. Invite input from workshop participants on the kinds of resources that would be helpful to educators to cultivate cultural competency, in the interests of ‘educational-relational thinking’ as deeper learning in our 21st century schools and districts. Presenters are currently collaborating to aggregate such resources in a ‘Cultural Competency Toolkit’ for schools and districts.


Rich conversations about teaching and learning, and about diversity and inclusion, take place in many schools and districts; rarely are the intersections of these conversations acknowledged, understood, interrogated, or leveraged as opportunities for deeper learning. The rush to CCSS implementation and compliance is a critical juncture in the history of education that must be leveraged in order to protect the inextricability of social justice from all students’ learning. By illustrating the interdependency of cultural competency with acknowledged 21st century skills, and exploring the intersections of the Common Core State Standards with creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thought, we strive to enhance teaching and learning not only successfully to compete in the global economy, but actively and mindfully to participate in a democratic society.

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You can follow Chris Thinnes on Twitter at @ChrisThinnes