The Purnell Model for Cultural Competence

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 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.

The Purnell Model for Cultural Competence

Picture it… You are a new teacher, in a new community, and it is your first day of school. 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 find 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 has 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 ways 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 this 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 ring of the model holds the family. The third ring of the model holds the community. The outermost ring of the model holds the global community. There are also different subsections inside each ring of the model that account for changes and 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.

Cultural Competence and the Teacher

The Purnell model is used in many different professions and organizations, but it most associated with the healthcare profession and nurses. Despite this fact teachers can use the tenets of cultural competency in their classrooms as well, especially teachers with a culturally diverse classroom.

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 interfere with the level of care they give to those they treat. If healthcare professionals need to be culturally sensitive to their patients to give them the best level of care possible free from bias, then teachers need to be culturally sensitive to their students as well to give them the best education possible.

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

This aspect of the Purnell model is important for teachers to keep in mind when they deal with their students. In order to model cultural competence to students, 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 is aiding this process but only if they are culturally aware themselves.

Cultural Sensitivity and Stereotyping

Cultural sensitivity and stereotyping are both parts of the Purnell model, and can be used by teachers with culturally diverse classrooms. Cultural sensitivity is both verbal and nonverbal language that exhibits a person's appreciation and understanding for the diversity of another person. Diversity is all of our differences be they based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or age. Stereotyping is when we use our experiences with diverse populations to develop prejudices and cultural insensitivity.

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