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April 13, 2022

How to Be a Culturally Competent Tutor

In today's multicultural learning environment, it's more important than ever for tutors to be culturally competent.

As a culturally competent tutor, you can create an engaging learning environment that's accessible to a broader range of students. The journey to becoming a culturally competent tutor can mean examining your existing assumptions and practices to pivot to a new, more effective strategy.

Below, you'll find some must-know tips to help you achieve cultural competence in your tutoring career.

1. Reflect on your own behavior

Start with a look at your own attitudes and actions.

Do you have any implicit biases that impact the way you approach teaching and your students?

Implicit biases are the attitudes and stereotypes that affect your understanding, actions, and decisions unconsciously, often before you even have a chance to consider them.

Studies show that as many as 77% of teachers show signs of implicit bias in their interactions with students, including:

  • Differences in their expectations for their students
  • Expectations based on external factors out of the student's control
  • Classroom management strategies or decisions based on a student's race or background

Unfortunately, high levels of instructor bias can lead to decreased overall student outcomes. A tutor who believes in students and their potential without bias can help considerably improve student comprehension and test performance.

You must regularly identify any biases you may have, particularly racial or cultural basis, and devise an action plan to help you dismantle them. Be patient with yourself, and understand that cultural competency is a process!

In many cases, you may find yourself addressing years of unconscious bias or even your own cultural challenges. However, as you take steps toward dismantling those biases, you will often see a dramatic improvement in your interactions with your students.

2. Identify and accept your students as individuals

Each of your students is unique—and they often have distinct cultural backgrounds to go along with them.

Get to know your students and ask about their backgrounds where appropriate. Make it a natural part of your conversation, and seek to understand more about who your students are and what may help with their educational progress.

Here are some helpful tips to consider:

  • Ask the students about their culture, including holidays, religious observances, or other elements that might impact them in the virtual classroom
  • Research cultural differences in learning styles before a session with a student from a different background
  • Always go into sessions with an open mind and an empathetic ear

Embrace individuality and celebrate cultural diversity as you work with each student. Allow students the chance to showcase who they are as individuals and how their culture has shaped who they are.

Even students who are solid representatives of a specific culture will have their own unique traits, learning styles, and needs.

Approach each student with the goal of figuring out exactly what those are and how you can provide the most effective tutoring environment for their needs.  

3. Be respectful

This probably goes without saying, but it's essential to be respectful of each student's cultural background and how it may influence their learning needs.

Never put students down or make them feel self-conscious about cultural differences. Pay attention to their cues. Some students may not want to talk about their cultural differences, while others may be eager to share.

When you know about cultural issues, be respectful of them, whether it's a student wearing a headscarf throughout the session or a student who may struggle to interact with a tutor of the opposite gender.

Regardless of your students' cultures, allow them to express their unique perspectives. Make them feel heard and comfortable as they learn in an inclusive, safe environment.

This simple step can go a long way toward breaking down barriers and making students more comfortable in the classroom.

4. Exercise intercultural communication

Linguistic and cultural differences can, in many cases, make it more difficult to communicate with a student.

However, there are several techniques you can use to improve intercultural communication in the classroom:

  • Active listening: Listening with the intent of understanding, not necessarily responding, when students are communicating
  • Elaboration: Asking the speaker to give more details when you don't understand
  • Paraphrasing: Getting students to put information into their own words to show understanding
  • Restatement: Putting concepts, especially key concepts, in different ways to make them easier to understand

Active listening strategies and other methods for gauging understanding are particularly critical when the tutor and student speak different languages.

While there can be some barriers to communication, active listening, including minimizing distractions during the learning process, can help improve connection and comprehension.  

5. Embrace an intercultural teaching style

As a tutor, one of the best ways to become culturally competent is to embrace an intercultural teaching style.

Tailor your instruction to meet the cultural needs of each student. Use examples that students can understand and identify with to break down concepts.

When working with culturally diverse students, you may need to examine the teaching techniques you use regularly! Differences in income level, background, and cultural observance can change the content that students are most likely to engage with.

You may want to look for common ground—things that both cultures share and areas where you will be more likely to resonate with your students. Examine existing techniques to be sure that they don't show cultural bias.

In recent years, several textbooks have done this by using a multicultural array of names to represent different cultures in their examples—but simply changing the names on a problem or example may not be enough.

Instead, look for unique ways to speak to the culture of your students. Listen to their stories and take examples from your research so you can better connect with them.  

Are you a culturally competent tutor?

The first step in becoming a culturally competent tutor is to assess your actions and thoughts and what implicit biases they may show.

As you identify those biases, you can often work to address and change them. Make a habit of viewing your students as individuals with unique cultural backgrounds and learning needs, and respect their cultural perspectives.  

Use intercultural communication skills to personalize your guidance, and take an intercultural teaching approach to create a more welcoming environment for all your students.

Keep in mind that becoming culturally competent is an ongoing process—and it's one that you may need to address many times throughout your practice.

We're always looking for experienced subject matter experts who share our passion for teaching students of all cultures! Apply to become a tutor today.


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Jimmy Brown

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