The Importance of Cultural Competence

With the ever-evolving demographics of our country, cultural competence has become an essential ingredient in the creation of a positive school climate. Cultural competence is the ability to work effectively with people from a variety of cultural, ethnic, economic, and religious backgrounds (Miranda, 2014). Cultural competence occurs when members of the school community honor, respect, and value diversity in theory and in practice; and teaching and learning are made relevant and accessible to students of various cultures, races, and ethnicities. There are numerous benefits related to culturally competent practice including: promoting mental wellness and positive behavior, supporting academic and behavioral success, ensuring access to the full range of school services and activities to all students, and engaging students and their families in the school community.

Brief Research Facts and Cultural Considerations

  • By 2060, 64% of children under 18 in the U.S. are projected to belong to racial and ethnic minorities, as compared to 48% of children in 2014 (Colby & Ortman, 2014).
  • Greater cultural competence of mental health service providers is associated with better overall outcomes (access, participation, satisfaction, and service outcomes) for African American youth and their families (Mancoske, Lewis, Bower-Stevens, & Ford, 2012).
  • Culture plays a crucial role in learning. School psychologists who are knowledgeable and sensitive to students’ unique cultural backgrounds are better equipped to offer relevant academic, behavioral, and mental health interventions.
  • School psychologists with skills in providing culturally responsive interventions work with students through a cultural frame of reference, recognize the complexity of culture, and incorporate individual differences in intervention planning (Jones, 2014).

What Can Be Done to Enhance Cultural Competence?

It’s important to remember that cultural competence starts by recognizing that every cultural group brings values which help define the concept of a true community. The following strategies (excerpted from Jones, 2014) can be utilized to begin making a connection:

  • Continue exploring your own culture, beliefs, and values.
  • Believe you can serve individuals of a different race or ethnicity.
  • Develop a list of professionals for consultation on multicultural issues.
  • Engage in dialogue with colleagues and continue to increase cultural literacy.
  • Assume that there is heterogeneity within an ethnic group, but that the foundation of cultural values is likely to be homogenous.
  • Keep the family active in planning educational interventions and progress monitoring.
  • Learn more about the culture of the child through the child and family.
  • Always work from a strength-based perspective.

The Role of the School Psychologist

School psychologists who engage in culturally competent practice have greater self-awareness, better understanding of the cultural characteristics of groups, and an increased likelihood of successful interventions and support in the context of a student’s culture (Jones, 2014). The NASP Practice Model includes diversity in development and learning as one of the foundations of school psychological service delivery. School psychologists bring this understanding of culture and individual student differences to the work they do in schools to help ensure that all students experience success in school, at home, and in life.


Colby, S.L. & Ortman, J. M. (2014). Projections of the size and composition of the U.S. population: 2014 to 2060, Current Population Reports, P25-1143, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2014. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p25-1143.pdf

Jones, J. (2014). Best practices in providing culturally responsive interventions, In P.L. Harrison & A. Thomas (Eds.), Best Practices in School Psychology (pp. 49-60). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

Mancoske, R. J., Lewis, M. L., Bowers-Stevens, C., & Ford, A. (2012). Cultural competence and children’s mental health service outcomes. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 21, 195–211.

Miranda, A.H. (2014). Best practices in increasing cross-cultural competency, In P.L. Harrison & A. Thomas (Eds.), Best Practices in School Psychology (pp. 9-19). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

National Association of School Psychologists. (2010). Model for Comprehensive and Integrative School Psychological Services. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/Documents/Standards and Certification/Standards/2_PracticeModel.pdf