Cultural Brokers


In Chapter 8 of The Skillful Teacher, Stephen Brookfield discusses teaching methods that work well in diverse classrooms. In a section on gauging diversity, he talks about “cultural brokers – members of the minority groups represented in the classroom who agree to assist the teacher and can move between academic and minority culture.” (Brookfield, 2015).

This student can essentially act as a go-between and explain the behaviour or actions of a particular group, while also providing some credibility for the teacher’s integrity to the same group.

This is a completely new and fascinating concept to me. As a white, middle-class Canadian who grew up in a white middle-class Canadian town, diversity was a slow learn for me. Everyone in my kindergarten class looked like me and everyone in town looked like my parents – with the rare exception.

When I was 11 my mom moved my brother and I to Vancouver (late 1980s) and I was suddenly a minority. My sixth grade classroom was full of people from various backgrounds – Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Persian, Greek, French, etc. Despite my white-bread upbringing, I don’t think I viewed any of them as “other.” We were all just kids and I made friends with them.

When I moved back to my small hometown three years later and began my high school years, I could see the racism inherent there in ways I never had before. My classmates used racial slurs all the time and no one ever reprimanded them for it. We had two people of color in our high school – one was my best friend and the other was my brothers. My friend was half Indian and half European. My brother’s friend was half black and half white – dark skin and green eyes – but adopted and raised by a white family.

I have often wondered what it was like for them growing up in such a white town and having no minority group to belong to – they were alone. There was no possibility of having a cultural broker to act on their behalf.

Brookfield discusses different exercises to assess the diversity that might be present in a classroom – personality type tests, learning style assessments, and also many informal types of measures developed over the years by teachers in their own classrooms.

I wonder if these types of assessments might open the door and create a conversation about this topic in the classroom.

While I’m limited in my role as a manager of instructors, and am not involved directly in creating content, I try frequently, through indirect methods to exert my influence over it, but it’s a tricky tightrope walk sometimes.

I would like to introduce this concept to my instructors – through the avenues of communication available to me – so we can have a dialogue about it. As I manage teachers who instruct in online courses, another piece is added to the cultural puzzle. How do cultural brokers work in an online environment?

I think there’s another layer to be discussed as well, as the concept is also known in healthcare and our college focuses on health and human services industries.

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher, 3rd ed. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Worker, T., & Consulting, D. (2011). Dao Management Consulting Services, Inc.: The difference Between a Cultural Broker and a Community Health Worker. Retrieved 4 April 2016, from


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