We are just a week away from the start of the virtual conference! Are you ready? No matter where you are with your own cultural competency skills, this conference and all those participating in it are here to support you and your growth. Cultural competence is a journey—a commitment to exploring ourselves, the world around us, our actions in it, and how our actions impact others. No matter where you find yourself along your cultural competence trajectory, this year’s conference will have so much to offer you. Building our cultural competence takes a multi-pronged approach to learning and behavior change. As I’ve been speaking with presenters and watching the conference sessions unfold, I am reminded that one of the many ways we can think about building cultural competence—no matter our previous experiences with it—is to think about hard and soft skills.
As professionals, we all work to build both hard and soft skills in our daily activities at work and in our communities. Hard skills are things that we can learn, measure, and test; they are often skills that we need to do our jobs and do them well. This year’s conference is certain to support us in building our hard skills around cultural competence: we’ll be learning and talking about key terms such as privilege and oppression, power, micro-aggressions, and disparities. We’ll better understand the difference between equality and equity, learn about the social and medical models of disability, and take a hard look at data that shed light on inequities from several angles. We’ll walk away with assessment tools and frameworks that will help us provide the best possible services to the diverse families we work with. All of this knowledge will inform our daily activities and support increased cultural competence in our professional responsibilities, helping us to become successful allies and advocates.
But so much of building our cultural competence lies in soft skills—those skills that are important to us as individuals, define who we are, and provide insights into our personalities, our priorities, and our authentic selves. These are leadership and communication skills; things like creativity, how we handle conflict, and how we make decisions; and include qualities such as flexibility, confidence, and work ethic. Though not an exhaustive list, these are some of the soft skills we’ll have opportunities to explore and develop over the course of the virtual conference, with the hope that we’ll be prepared and motivated to continue the journey long after the conference is over. We’ll engage in self-reflection, sharing, authentic communication, handling conflict, and practicing awareness. While we won’t get to exchange knowing nods or have coffee in person, we will have plenty of opportunities to interact with each other. We’ll have the usual chat box during the conference sessions, and the ability to private message friends, colleagues, and new additions to our professional networks. But this year, to support the building of those essential soft skills, we have a few more opportunities for you to take advantage of.
Have you seen or are you already participating in the Storytelling for Cultural Competence pre-conference journaling activity to begin practicing self-reflection and awareness? You can start this journaling experience at any time. It is self-paced, and will continue throughout the conference. You’ll notice guiding questions that you’ll see in each conference session as well as in the conference journal, providing opportunities for you to reflect on prior knowledge, and help you get ready to contribute to meaningful conference conversations.
Have you had a chance to sign up for and participate in the conference forum, where you can share and dialog with others? This is a forum open to conference participants only, and will be a private and safe space to share experiences, network, and reflect. Throughout the conference, we’ll be here participating along with you in our own journeys of cultural competence. But we’ll also be here to see what our learning network can offer those of you who are really looking to continue your journey with those you’ve engaged with during the conference. What WILL happen after the conference when you take all you’ve learned back to your workplace? What will it be like? Will you get to practice your new skills? Will you have support? We don’t know the answers to those questions, but as educators and professionals committed to high-quality professional development opportunities, we want to be there with you to find out. We want to know what we can do to help. And so after the conference, we’ll be looking for ideas from you: What do you need? How can we assist you? One of my most favorite things about my job is that I get to think about how we can help you—help each other—be lifelong learners. I want to know what we at the MFLN can do to help you on your learning paths with the resources we have. Don’t be shy! Let us know!
One more exciting bit to share is that my colleague Alicia Cassels has developed a wonderful podcast series called Show Up Inspired. Her podcasts focus on how professionals can bring their best selves to our work. Cultural competence, hard skills, soft skills—these are all a part of that. But so is self care. So is building our personal networks. So have a listen on your commute, or while you work out, or fold laundry. Alicia will be continuing to develop this podcast series this year, with the idea that it will be appealing to all our network participants, much like having an issue-based conference on cultural competency.
So please, join us, whenever you can, however you can. “Bring” your colleagues, spread the word, and maybe even reserve a conference room for your department so you can all participate together. We’ll be offering free continuing education credits to social workers, case managers, and registered dietitians for most of the sessions. I hope to see you next week, and look forward to learning not just with you, but from you.
Yours in learning,
Brigitte Scott, Ph.D.
Director of Program Development and Evaluation
Military Families Learning Network