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by Dana Childress, Ph.D. and Megan Schumaker-Murphy, Ed.D.

In the second webinar in the 4-part Going Virtual series, Culturally Sustaining Coaching Approaches, we defined culture and discussed culturally responsive and culturally sustaining practices. We framed our discussion using adult learning principles applied to supporting caregiver learning during early intervention (EI) visits. While we focused on EI, these principles and practices can be useful across any time of home visiting or opportunities to partner with families. Here are five tips that can be universally applied to appreciate and help the family sustain the richness of their own culture in the context of coaching and family engagement:

  1. Spend time learning about the family’s home culture through conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask about their culture, values, and beliefs. Rather than asking a broad question like “What are your values?” which might be challenging to answer, be specific to the context in which you are working with the family. For example, ask “What are the beliefs in your family’s culture around parenting? About when children learn to walk/talk/eat independently/potty train? About playing with children? About family roles?” Be open and respectful as you ask with no judgment about the answer. Enlist the assistance of the language interpreter as a cultural mediator to help you learn about the family.
  2. Do some research about communication styles and preferences; then tailor your coaching questions to better match the family’s cultural practices. Some cultures encourage deference to authority figures, such as teachers and therapists. Other cultures take a more direct route for communication. Seek to understand cultural norms while appreciating that how this family communicates may or may not be aligned with those norms. Also, consider that for some families, there may be a particular family member who is expected to answer questions or engage with professionals (such as the father or grandmother). Do your best to respect these preferences and include those important members of the family’s network.
  3. Adapt strategies to fit with the family’s typical activities, interactions, and ways of being. We often have lots of strategies and ideas in our heads and are eager to share them. Before you do, consider what you know about the family. Find out how the parent typically engages the child – are their interactions primarily during caregiving routines? Do they enjoy playing together? Are siblings around to include in playful activities? Tap into what they already do together first by observing. Use activities and materials that are already familiar to the family to help the parent encourage the child’s learning. Think creatively and adjust your coaching practices and the strategies you share so they are relevant and useful to the family.
  4. Use specific coaching language, with the assistance of the language interpreter. When coaching through an interpreter, make sure the interpreter understands what you are doing. Meet with the interpreter before the visit, if possible, to share information about the coaching and let them know that how you ask questions are important. Be specific when describing a strategy, coaching a family through it, encouraging the caregiver’s reflection, and sharing feedback. The interpreter might be able to help you by explaining how the family’s culture might be affecting parent-child interactions. Be sure that any conversations you have with the interpreter during the visit are translated back to the parent, so communication is free flowing.
  5. Remember that coaching is a learning process – for you and the family – so be kind to yourself. When coaching any family, there will always be much to learn about their priorities, how their family works, what they value, and how they can support their child’s development. When coaching families of cultures different from your own, you will likely have an additional learning curve as you learn about ways of being that may be new to you. When coaching virtually, you might also have more to consider as you adjust to being in a different space with the family. Be patient and kind to yourself, keep your sense of humor, and keep reflecting on your practices so you are growing too.

Every visit with every family will be different and how you engage families is unique to you. Just remember that respecting what is wonderful and unique about families is an essential part of your work too. We often talk about individualizing intervention so here’s a bonus: using culturally sustaining coaching practices is a powerful way to make sure your intervention is truly individualized so that it maintains and strengthens family culture too!

Join us on Sept. 14 for the next webinar in our series, “Ensuring Smooth EI Transitions.” We will provide tips you can use to facilitate a variety of transitions for families such as moving from EI to the special education system and relocating from one EI program to another.

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