Being culturally competent

Young teacher with 2 students

Educators who are culturally competent respect multiple cultural ways of knowing, seeing and living, celebrate the benefits of diversity and have an ability to understand and honour differences.

Being culturally competent builds on a teacher’s connections with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and their families. When teachers know more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s ways of being, knowing and doing (and this includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers who are posted away from their language and cultural group), they create an environment in which all children can learn. Teachers can be active in all the ways that support a sense of belonging and a safe, comfortable atmosphere.

Being culturally competent helps you to be aware of your own background and about your relationships in the school community.

Knowing about our own cultural identity is the first step in becoming culturally competent – reflecting on your identity, beliefs and values will help you to understand how your identity might impact on others.

Think about the community you are working in – the students, the families, the sport or other activities they are engaged in, the cultural and language backgrounds of your students and recognise the similarities.  Leading Aboriginal educator Jeannie Herbert (2002) believes that ‘Educators who have the professional capacity to recognise the diversity of their students, who respect the knowledge and beliefs each individual brings to the learning situation and who use such knowledge to develop a better understanding of how individual students learn most effectively, are those who will achieve success in teaching Indigenous students’ (Hooley 2009, p.69).

Teachers impact on students in planned and structured ways; however, it is often the unplanned that has the most impact. Lessons are learned that are not always intended, such as the transmission of norms, values and opinions within the classroom and the wider school community. A look, a gesture, can be all that it takes for a child to learn the lesson that a teacher has high or low expectations of their ability.


Hooley, N 2009,  Narrative life: democratic curriculum and Indigenous learning, Springer, p. 69.

Image: Charles Sturt University Student Teacher (courtesy MATSITI project)