College enhances cultural competency of student-teachers

Lisa Baldi
September 16, 2020

WYOMISSING, Pa. -- Penn State Berks is working to enhance the cultural competency of its campus community. A college-wide program to increase cultural competency among faculty, staff and students included a recent study of student teachers. Faculty and staff members at the college collaborated to explore the attitudes, beliefs and ability to adapt behaviors to cultural differences and similarities among student-teachers within the college’s Professional Development School.

An extension of the college’s Early Childhood and Adolescent Education degree program, the Professional Development School was established in 2014, in part to help prepare student-teachers and to form partnerships with parents and caregivers. The program is a partnership between Penn State Berks and the Reading School District, a diverse urban school district whose demographics include nearly 60% Latino/Hispanic students.

The study was completed by faculty in the degree program who asked Sharon Pitterson-Ogaldez, coordinator of diversity and international programs, to provide the cultural competency assessment. She administered the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to education majors in their first and fourth year in the program. Pitterson-Ogaldez uses the IDI regularly in her role at the college to design diversity, equity and inclusion educational programs for students, faculty and staff.

The Intercultural Development Inventory assesses intercultural competence, described on their website as “the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities. Intercultural competence has been identified as a critical capability in a number of studies focusing on international student adjustment and international study abroad.”

Pitterson-Ogaldez explained the importance of cultural competency for education majors. “Students display the same range of learning styles, but the way various cultures approach education is different. Latino parents tend to be more community minded and focus on educating students for all aspects of life. To build the trust that is needed to have an impact, teachers need to get involved in their students’ lives, including getting to know their communities.”

The results of the study showed that there was no significant increase in IDI® scores from students’ first to their fourth year. As a result, Pitterson-Ogaldez is working with faculty in the degree program to infuse more information about diversity into the curriculum. First-year students will attend a cultural competency workshop and professors will teach students about diverse ways of learning among various cultures.

The study also resulted in a chapter in the recently released book, "Exploring Cultural Competence in Professional Development Schools," published by Information Age Publishing. In addition to Pitterson-Ogaldez, David Bender, associate professor of educational psychology; Jayne Park-Martinez, coordinator of planning, research and assessment and assistant teaching professor in science; and Chrystine Mitchell, former assistant professor of language arts and literacy at Penn State Berks; were co-authors. 

According to Information Age Publishing’s website, “This book examines the ways in which PDSs build cultural competence for various stakeholders including pre-service teachers, classroom teachers, school leaders, college faculty, and K-12 students. The authors in this series identify a combination of research-based practices and institutional changes that increase student attainment and develop educators’ capacity to serve a range of diverse learners.”

“The chapter describes how the curriculum in the elementary and early childhood education program at Penn State Berks attempts to prepare education majors to teach in any school, but especially schools in diverse neighborhoods,” explained Bender. 

“The chapter describes the required courses and activities that the education students experience during their four years at the campus in order to appreciate diversity. The Berks campus partners with elementary schools in the Reading School District to give the students opportunities to learn about diversity and develop skills in culturally responsive teaching. Based on the findings of the IDI that were part of the research for the chapter, faculty are exploring additional ways to promote learning about social justice and engaging students in multicultural education,” Bender summarized.

Last Updated September 16, 2020