Unit 5 – A District’s Journey with The Dimensions of Culture

The Context

Sunnydale District in metropolitan Phoenix is a district with a history of low performance. With a graduation rate of 68% and only 16% of students meeting or exceeding grade level standards on state tests, Sunnydale is seeking ways to ensure a team approach to the education of students is taken, with responsibility shared among students, families, teachers, and the school district.

That being said, 78% of Sunnydale’s student population is Latino, and of that population, 68% of families are first generation immigrants to the United States from Mexico. As Sunnydale begins to mobilize efforts to engage families as partners, the district team has come to the realization that cultural values will play a role in a successful family engagement strategy. To better understand the situation, district leaders are making efforts to better understand the Mexican culture using Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture. As the district begins to think about the role of culture in family engagement strategies for families from the Mexican culture, they also identify a need to better understand the ways in which their own culture is impacting their assumptions and beliefs. The district refers to Hofstede’s Insights, a publicly accessible website, for further information.


Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture: Mexico and United States

Credit: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/mexico,the-usa/

The Challenges

The administrative team at Sunnydale District immediately picks up on the cultural dimensions with the largest discrepancies: power distance, individualism, and uncertainty avoidance. Power distance refers to the degree to which hierarchical structures dictate communication and dynamics among members of a society (Hofstede, n.d.). The Mexican culture is a culture in which hierarchical structures are generally revered and in which those considered to be subordinate expect to be told what to do by those who are considered to be in upper tiers of the hierarchy (Hofstede, n.d.). This is in contrast to the culture in the United States, in which hierarchies are less respected and people expect to have a relatively equal voice in all matters (Hofstede, n.d.). The district team quickly comes to the realization that not only have they misperceived the manner in which families from Mexico engage with teachers and the district at large, but that they must incorporate specific strategies to give “permission” to families to engage on an equal level with district administrators. They further realize that continued lack of engagement is not a reflection of parental disinterest but a sign that the district family engagement strategy has not sufficiently responded to cultural norms.

Another cultural dimension that stands out to the team is individualism. Individualism refers to the degree to which group membership plays a role in the interests of those in a given culture (Hofstede, n.d.). In the Mexican culture, which scores on the low end of the individualistic dimension, the group is generally valued over the individual and loyalty to the group outweighs individual interests (Hofstede, n.d.). Again, when considering this cultural dimension and the implications for engaging the community, district leadership takes pause, realizing that they have once again misinterpreted the actions of a community who may generally not feel comfortable advocating for individual needs of students. After time to reflect, district leadership realizes that the strategy for community engagement must emphasiez the benefits for all students – for the group.

A final cultural dimension that district leaders determine may play a role in community engagement in problem solving is uncertainty avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance refers to the level of comfort cultures have with ambiguity (Hofstede, n.d.). In the Mexican culture, there is low tolerance for uncertainty; the culture scores on the upper end of this dimension. This is in stark contrast to the United States culture in which risk is well tolerated and innovative solutions to problems are encouraged (Hofstede, n.d.). Sunnydale District leaders quickly realize that in order for members of the community to feel comfortable grappling with problems for which there are unclear solutions, attention will need to be given to genuine feelings of discomfort that may surface.

The Opportunities

Luckily for all involved, Sunnydale District leaders are asset-based in their thinking, looking at potential solutions to the district’s lack of community involvement through a lens of the strengths and gifts community members bring to the table. They hone in on the collectivistic cultural norms and the value-add these norms create. District leadership discusses the implications of a collectivist lens for community members, and quickly realizes the opportunity they have with their community if they navigate the situation in a culturally responsive manner. They recognize the importance of framing the need for community involvement as critical to the success of all students. They recognize the importance of prioritizing group management over management of individuals. They recognize the importance of providing time for relational communication at gatherings instead of jumping to the business agenda. They recognize that they may need to give “permission” for community members to share their thoughts about issues the community faces with district leadership, and that they may need permission and encouragement to “think outside the box” and take risks in terms of voicing creative solutions to shared problems.

And of equal importance, Sunnydale District leadership now has a better understanding of how their OWN cultural beliefs – and the resulting assumptions – may have impacted their ability to effectively engage their community to this point.  And THIS is something that could profoundly and positively impact each of them as leaders from this point forward.



Hofstede (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/mexico,the-usa/

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