No matter the geographic area or institutional setting that you’re working in or how demographically homogeneous your student body may appear on the surface, our students (like us) are formed by multiple experiences and identities that shape our values, beliefs, social norms, and communication styles.

Too often, we think of culture as an attribute that is unique to our immigrant students, celebrated through sharing food, music, and traditions in classroom or program-wide activities. But we all have cultural backgrounds, and are all shaped by multiple cultural identities, regardless of where we were born. Our cultural identities are informed by our family systems, national heritage, ethnicity, gender, age, language, educational attainment, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religion and disability status (whether hidden or visible, physical, brain-based, mental, or emotional). All of these factors inform our cultural identities and how we experience and view the world and ourselves in it.

As educators, we want to facilitate open communication with students in order to best understand their cultural identities and how they inform and shape our  students' motivation, strengths, challenges, and fears about their educational goals and career pathways. Further, we want to leverage those differences in ways that enrich our classroom environments and benefit our collective learning.

Sometimes referred to as the lenses through which we view the world, our biases, assumptions, and judgments (no matter how unintentional or unconscious) can inhibit our understanding of and cloud our appreciation for each student’s unique experience and perspective. A goal of the Program Support PD Center (PSPDC) is to equip educators with tools for understanding, learning and effectively responding to the diversity of our students’ needs, and we offer a number of resources on cultural competence and culturally responsive pedagogy.

The principles of cultural competence also apply to working with students with disabilities. The PSPDC can help you gain sensitivity, knowledge, strategies and tools for responding more effectively to students with a variety of visible and hidden disabilities.

To help programs comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and learn about resources available for students with disabilities, we offered a two-part ADA Basics webinar series in November 2018. You can find the  webinar recordings, slides, and resources here. In early spring 2019, we will plan to organize field trips to the Assistive Technology Regional Centers in Boston and Worcester to learn about their services and how programs and learners can access them. 

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is another resource available to improve programs’ capacity to assist students with mental health issues. Just as CPR training helps a layperson without medical training assist an individual experiencing a heart attack, MHFA training helps a layperson assist someone experiencing a mental health crisis.  In both situations, the goal is to help support an individual until appropriate professional help arrives, using a five-step action plan: assess for risk, listen, give reassurance and information, encourage appropriate professional help, and encourage self-help. We offered the MHFA certification course in four locations in January and February. If you were unable to attend one of the MHFA trainings and would like to receive certification, contact Sandy Goodman ( If there is sufficient demand, we may be able to offer another session this year or next. The MHFA website also provides helpful and accessible information, on a variety of topics, such as how to help someone with anxiety and how to help someone experiencing a panic attack.

Our Career Pathways PD and resources also address students’ disabilities and differences, because these resources are informed by and align with the vision of performance goals of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA shines a sharper light on advancing opportunities for those with barriers to employment, such as people with physical and learning disabilities.

Under WIOA, the vocational rehabilitation system is one of four core programs in the public workforce development system.  In Massachusetts, vocational rehabilitation is delivered by two agencies, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB).  MCR provides a variety of services to help eligible students achieve their education and career goals. For example students with undiagnosed learning disabilities may be eligible for evaluation services that result in special accommodations for HSE testing. 

The PSPDC is collecting and documenting examples of successful collaborations between local adult education and vocational rehabilitation programs, both in Massachusetts and around the country. This webinar recording describes a powerful example from the Wilkinson Center in Dallas, Texas.  If you have an example to share, please contact Sandy Goodman (

The PSPDC team is committed to developing and offering resources that contribute to our collective capacity to respond to the unique experiences and needs that each adult learner brings to our programs. Please let us know how we can help.

PD Center: 

Program Support

SABES Program Support PD Center