• by Paula Johnson, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • August 2017 •

 Paula Johnson, M.A.21st Century Learning

Classrooms designed for 21st century education generate environments that foster the competencies needed for success in today’s world. Headed by the National Education Association (NEA), the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21) defines Four Cs of 21st century learning: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (NEA, 2014). To compete in a global society, students must develop interpersonal and leadership skills. Many careers require individuals to work as part of a team or in partnership with members of other organizations.

Unfortunately, the rapid transformation of campus demographics can leave some students feeling isolated for a variety of reasons. Differences among students (including language, income, race/culture and religion) can leave students feeling out of place. Due to changing dynamics throughout our communities, educators across the country are facing the challenge of incorporating multicultural education without proper preparation.

Creating positive school climates that embrace student diversity reframes perceived barriers into building blocks leading to stronger student engagement and greater success. Providing teachers with professional development focused on cultivating staff and students’ intercultural proficiency is a necessary first step in the process (Grayson, 2016). This article offers pro-active recommendations for advancing empathy and equity in schools.

21st Century Teaching

For students to be successful learners, they must be engaged in the learning process. Much of traditional curriculum does not reflect diverse racial and economic backgrounds, languages, religions, funds of knowledge or family structures.

Moreover, White student enrollment has fallen just below 50 percent, and at least 30 percent of public schools have a 75 percent or higher minority student population (U.S. Department of Education, 2000; 2012). In contrast, student demographics are vastly different from teachers and principals. Approximately 82 percent of all public school teachers and 80 percent of school leaders are White (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). This cultural and curricular mismatch between students, teachers and school leaders can contribute to educational and racial inequities (Staats, 2014). Furthermore, these conditions often coincide with tension-filled classrooms, lower student achievement, and misguided referrals for discipline, special education and English proficiency testing.

21st Century Professional Development

Teachers and staff are critical players in promoting diversity and creating positive school climates (Smith, et al., 2014). Welcoming schools value and respect student diversity “without fear of threat, humiliation, danger or disregard” (Scott, 2006). Educators who continually expand their knowledge of the students they serve are empowered with the ability to effectively deliver high-quality and inclusive instruction in the 21st century.

Listen to Classnotes Podcast #173 on Skills Needed for Teaching in Diverse Classrooms

Professional Development in Embracing Diversity

Professional training focused on cultural barriers in education is critical for teaching in multicultural classrooms (Johnson, 2016). The IDRA EAC-South’s Implicit Bias and Cultural Competency training provides activities designed to investigate and facilitate conversations about societal norms and build cultural competencies to increase our capacity to be more inclusive.

Participants are asked to characterize their own identities to explore where their biases may come from (Staats, 2014). Through reflective activities and conversations, educators dialogue about their own past and educational experiences and the socio-emotional barriers that can prevent positive interactions with individuals of other races or cultural backgrounds. This knowledge increases our ability for making personal connections with all students.

Professional Development in Providing Supportive Instruction for English Learners

Maximizing access and achievement for English learners requires educators to understand and appreciate the different cultural backgrounds of students (NEA, 2011). There are an estimated 4.6 million students (9.4 percent) in the United States being served through language assistance programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2000; 2012).

But, NCES reports that only about 1.5 percent of all public elementary school teachers, and 0.6 percent of all public secondary school teachers are certified in either English as a second language or bilingual education. IDRA’s Engagement-Based Sheltered Instruction technical assistance provides teachers with strategies for meeting EL learning needs across grade levels and content areas. Teachers learn how to integrate techniques, such as building academic vocabulary, critical questioning, and substantive conversations, into their instructional practice to benefit all learners.

Learn about IDRA’s Engagement-Based Sheltered Instruction Training

Professional Development in Strengthening School-Family Relationships

Contrary to many myth-conceptions, “regardless of income and ethnic background, families value education” (Montemayor, 2016). IDRA’s Family Leadership in Education Model uses a shared leadership approach, linking community-based organizations, families and educators. These groups exchange expertise in a mutually beneficial way. Parents who possess up-to-date information about their children’s school experiences can then use that information to strengthen the school-home connection, ultimately benefitting their children.

As educators and policymakers, we must accept responsibility, holding ourselves and others accountable for every learner. Professional development programs offer effective tools and strategies for teaching in the 21st century. Participation prepares educators to facilitate multicultural learning environments that encourage students to learn more about themselves and others. The result is increased student outcomes in achievement, college and career readiness, and global citizenship.


Grayson, K. “Positive School Climates and Diverse Populations,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2016).

Johnson, P. “Fostering Culturally Diverse Learning Environments,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 2016).

Montemayor, A. “Embracing the Culture of Possibility for Student Success – Culture-of-Poverty Thinking Shortchanges Students and Families,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2015).

National Education Association. (2014). Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society: An Educator’s Guide to the “Four Cs” (Washington, D.C.: National Education Association).

National Education Association. (2011). Professional Development for General Education Teachers of English Language Learners (Washington, D.C.: National Education Association).

Scott, B. (2006). Six Goals of Educational Equity and School Reform – The Equity Ranking Scale (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2015).

Smith, T.K., Connolly, F., & Pryseski, C. (2014). Positive School Climate: What It Looks Like and How It Happens Nurturing Positive School Climate for Student Learning and Professional Growth (Baltimore, Md.: Baltimore Education Research Consortium).

Staats, C. (2014). Implicit Racial Bias and School Discipline Disparities – Exploring the Connection, Kirwan Institute Special Report (Columbus, Ohio: Kirwan Institute).

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). The State of Racial Diversity in the Educator Workforce (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education).

U.S. Department of Education. (2012). “Public School Teacher Data File” and “Private School Teacher Data File,” Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), 1987-88 through 2011-12 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education).

U.S. Department of Education. (2000). “Charter School Teacher Data File,” Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), 1999-2000 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education).

Paula Johnson, M.A., is an IDRA education associate. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at paula.johnson@idra.org.

[©2017, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 2017 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]