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The Purnell Model for Cultural Competence

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Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

This lesson provides information for teachers interested in learning more about the Purnell Model for Cultural Competence. The Purnell Model has been used across many different paradigms, but any teacher interested in applying its applications regarding cultural differences may find this information useful. Updated: 12/07/2022

The Purnell Model

As a new teacher in a new community, you want to connect to your students and to find ways for them to connect to you. You are from a different racial and ethnic demographic, so finding that point of reference is going to be tricky. You want to ensure that you avoid any potential landmines that may offend unintentionally, but you are wholly unsure as to how to proceed.

Luckily, Dr. Larry Purnell and Betty J. Paulanka developed a model that can be used by anyone, including teachers, to maximize and utilize the many different cultures and communities that are present in the modern-day classroom. The Purnell Model explains that culture is the unconscious way learned within our families, in which we develop our behavior, values, customs, and thought characteristics that guide our decision-making, and the way we view the world around us.

Cultural competence is the process of becoming aware of our culture, and how we communicate that awareness to the rest of the world. The Purnell Model for Cultural Competence is a sequence of circles or rings that each contain the development of awareness of culture, and how it continues to expand from the family to the whole world.

The first ring of the model holds the person, the second the family, and the third the community. The outermost ring holds the global community. Different subsections inside each ring account for evolution in the individual's cultural competence that include occupation, religion, education, politics, ethnicity and nationality, and gender. According to the model, all of these different subsections and circles continue on until the individual is culturally competent or aware.

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  • 0:04 The Purnell Model
  • 1:44 The Model for Teachers
  • 2:49 Cultural Sensitivity &…
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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The Model for Teachers

The Purnell Model is used in many different professions and organizations, but it is most associated with the healthcare profession and nurses. However, teachers can use the tenets of cultural competency in their classrooms as well.

Cultural competence is important for those in the healthcare profession, so that they understand and respect the cultural differences of their patients, so that they don't allow their own personal beliefs to interfere with the level of care they give to those they treat. Teachers, too, need to be culturally sensitive to their students to give them the best level of education possible and free from bias.

Teachers can also assist their students in their own process of becoming culturally aware and competent by modeling. Cultural awareness is understanding your own thoughts, feelings, and bias, so that you are aware of how they affect your interactions with others.

Teachers should be aware of their own feelings, so as not to transmit any bias to their students. As students make their own way through the Purnell Model, teachers play an important role in aiding this process, but only if they are culturally aware themselves.

Cultural Sensitivity and Stereotyping

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