Diverse Conferences - October 19, 2016

This is an image of a an African American teacher speaking with a caucasian parent

Have you ever been challenged by engaging families who come from culturally diverse backgrounds? If so, you are not alone. In fact, most educators agree that working with families from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds can pose special challenges (Colombo, 2005). As you prepare for this year’s parent-teacher conferences, understanding the factors that contribute to these challenges will assist you in bridging the gap between home and school.

Many times the school’s perspective differs widely from the perspective of the families’ in regards to what parental involvement and engagement may “look like” (Lopez, Scribner & Mahitivanichcha, 2001). Preconceived notions and assumptions about how parents from different cultures support their student’s education almost always leads to communication barriers. Richer knowledge of different cultures is often needed to support students’ education and open communication. There is no doubt that building collaborative partnerships with the families of the students that you serve can be extremely valuable in improving student growth and performance; academically, behaviorally, and socially.

Here is a list of five strategies and techniques that will assist in building collaborative partnerships with culturally diverse families:

  1. Move beyond the myths and assumptions
    1. Understand that all cultures value learning. The ways in which the roles of teachers and families are conceptualized may differ profoundly from culture to culture.
    2. Challenge the myths and assumptions that you may hold regarding cultures other than your own. Learn about other cultures by visiting a local museum, or using the internet as a resource (see resources listed below).

  2. Evaluate your own cultural beliefs, values, and biases and how they may affect the students and families you serve
    1. Take the Hidden Bias Assessment to enhance your self-awareness. Evaluate how these biases may impact you as a professional.
    2. Identify sources of ambiguity and strategies to manage biases (see “Teaching Tolerance” below). Understanding what your views are and why you have them is the best way to keep them under control.

  3. Remove cultural barriers
    1. Become knowledgeable about the community in which you serve to better respond to the needs of students and their families. Know the current issues that the community may be facing (i.e., poverty).
    2. Acknowledge past mistakes and negative experiences and reassure families that you are in their corner. You can show your support by assisting families in navigating the educational system.

  4. Develop relationships built on mutual trust
    1. Build on the cultural values of families. At the beginning of the school year, provide families with a survey that request their input about their student’s education and cultural background (see sample parent survey below).
    2. Remain sensitive to the influence that parents have in their child’s lives. When communicating with parents, discuss student’s strengths before sharing concerns.

  5. Engage families in ways that are meaningful and culturally relevant
    1. Empower families by giving them the opportunity to organize and lead an event or activity. Ask them to participate by sharing stories, teaching language skills, making crafts, etc.
    2. Encourage and value parent participation by celebrating and valuing parents as leaders (i.e., parent recognition day).
    3. Maintain positive perspectives of students and families. Be mindful of how your views and values may differ from others. Be patient and remember that it may take time, but once these connections are made, the sky’s the limit!

The process of increasing our cultural competence will lead to an appreciation of families and their unique backgrounds and also increase in the quality and effectiveness of services resulting in better outcomes for the children we collectively support.

Additional Resources

  1. Reflections from Teachers with Culturally Diverse Children
  2. Two Ways to Incorporate Multicultural Teaching and Learning
  3. Teaching Tolerance

Suggested Museums to Visit

  1. Museum of Tolerance
  2. Museum of the Holocaust
  3. California African American Museum
  4. LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes (Mexican Heritage Museum)


Colombo, M. W. (2005). Reflections from teachers of culturally diverse children. Beyond the Journal.

Lopez, G. R., Scribner, J. D. & Mahitivanichcha, K. (2001). Redefining parental involvement: Lessons from high-performing migrant-impacted schools. American Educational Research Journal, 38(2), 253-288.