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Cultivating Cultural Responsiveness

By Marsha Rutledge | October 2019

As you travel the hallways of today’s schools, you will find that the student body is more diverse than ever before. The varying shades of color are a beautiful sight. Opportunities to engage in lively conversations, share unique ideas and perspectives, and learn about other cultures is now an everyday occurrence for these students. It also opens the door for expanded learning when and if those moments are embraced and cultivated. As educational professionals focus on the issue of equity in schools, we can’t ignore the idea of cultural responsiveness. As we know, equity is far different from equality. Equality means that everyone gets the same treatment, the same service, the same intervention, possibly in the same manner. However, equity helps ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our students by tailoring our school counseling programming to the diverse students we serve. According to ASCA’s position statement on equity for all students (2018), school counselors develop and implement counseling programs that promote equity and access for students. This means that we must first know who is in our building and what their needs are. We do this in a variety of ways, but the first and maybe the most meaningful way is by building relationships. Next, we examine the data and then implement culturally responsive counseling.
Culturally responsive counseling means that school counselors identify, recognize and utilize the cultural strengths of students to increase positive outcomes. This implementation only happens after we, as educational professionals, reflect on our beliefs, behaviors and practices that block our ability to respond constructively and positively to students. Equity in schools will require that we consider a cultural context when working with diverse populations. In schools, equity has traditionally focused on multicultural competence, but more recently, its scope has expanded to also concentrate on social justice and advocacy and on cultural responsiveness. Multicultural education is often seen as celebrating diversity, while social justice raises awareness of inequity and cultural responsiveness focuses on improving the learning capacity of diverse learners. Although different in their purposes, all three are essential requirements in the success of a school counseling program.
As we continue to focus on this idea of equity, I challenge school counselors to critically examine their programs for cultural competence. Specifically, observe how one builds relationships with students, the content of the counseling program, and how that content is delivered. Keep in mind that it is not about just connecting with certain students, but connecting with all students. It is not about just building relationships but building better relationships that can result in student success. At the same time, it is about strengthening the learning environment and improving the learning process for all students. It is about creating a school climate where students are welcome, motivated, engaged and involved. A powerful approach to equity is when our school counseling curriculum aligns with our student population. Using cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference and performance styles of diverse students to make services more relevant and productive is vital. Therefore, equity, in this context, is about including culture in our school counseling programs and using it to motivate, encourage, and empower ALL students.
Contact Marsha Rutledge, assistant professor at Longwood University and chair of the VSCA Communications & Public Relations Committee, at