Are we honouring time to develop cultural competence?

Anne Stonehouse succinctly described cultural competence as ‘about attitudes and approaches to people than it is about facts’.  I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. I recently conducted interviews with a number of early years educators around their understandings and perspectives of cultural competence as  identified in the Early Years Learning Framework:  The journey for educators: Growing competence in working with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures (DEEWR, 2009, pp.24-29). A number of themes were identified in my research. Prevalent themes included; understanding, attitudes, relationships, learning and time.

Cultural competence encompasses (but is not limited to) the ability to understand, respect and effectively communicate with people across all cultures. It also begins with understanding our own identity and culture. The question is – are we really making time to develop and grow our cultural competence?

Part of the ‘time’ factor identified in my research was about the perceived placing of time limits on developing cultural competence or not having enough time to progress the journey towards growing cultural competence. Part of the constraints identified was about thinking with a short term agenda about cultural competence. Some may think of cultural competence as something that will be ‘done’ by a certain point in time, for example, by the middle of or by the end of the year. Placing time restrictions on developing cultural competence is about a lack of understanding and is a self-inflicted restriction.  One of my research participants, Jenny, equated it to developing a vision statement. Jenny explained, “you can’t ideally say you want your ‘vision’ achieved by the middle of the year or end of the year”. Like developing cultural competence, it is a process; a journey, so that over time your vision develops and changes”. So, why not with cultural competence?

Cultural competence requires innate deliberate thinking, and honouring time to talk about it, we do not honour that, we say we do, but do we really? So much significant work is done just by having a conversation, a yarn, chatting; we need to make time to do this; it’s about building relationships, challenging our thinking, sharing our learning and exploring opportunities. We have an ethical responsibility to be as open as we can to other possibilities. If you get to a point where you think ‘I know this’, then you are probably at that point where you actually don’t know anything at all! Research participant Laura stated, “If you don’t sit in doubt how are you ever going to be culturally competent, because you can’t be certain, if you think you’re certain, you’re not”.

Taking time to think, engage in dialogue and reflect is vital in all of our work.

Are you using your time efficiently in developing your own cultural competence?

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Karen Sinclair

Karen Sinclair is a Ngarrindjeri woman from South Australia. Karen has taught in the Early Years of education and has also worked as an Early Years Project Officer. She is interested through her studies, research and work in Aboriginal Early Childhood education and pedagogical practices that engender transformative, inclusive practices for Aboriginal children. She is also undertaking her PhD in Indigenous studies. Her research investigates educators’ understandings and perspectives towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural competence as outlined in the Early Years Learning Framework through Q Methodology and an Indigenous methodology of Yarning through semi-structured interviews.

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