Change the world

Cultural Brokers as Translational Agents in the Coalition to Achieve Humanising Pedagogy

Prof. Anderson J. Franklin

Abstract: This presentation will focus upon the enterprise of humanizing pedagogy in teaching and learning.  It will discuss the role that cultural brokers can play in bridging communication between teachers, parents and communities toward the objective of a curriculum that develops the whole potential of the child.  Building a coalition of diverse partners to engage collaborative work with educators is explored as a mechanism to achieve humanizing pedagogy in teaching and learning.

Webinar: 19 January 2021, 17:00 SAST         

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Dr. Anderson J. Franklin is the Honorable David S. Nelson Professor Emeritus at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development.  He is also Professor Emeritus of Clinical and Social Personality Psychology at The City College and Graduate School of The City University of New York.  He is Honorary Professor within the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Cultural Brokers as Translational Agents in the Coalition to Achieve Humanising Pedagogy

We are in the enterprise to advance teaching and learning by humanizing pedagogy.  What does that mean?  My presentation will approach this topic focused upon three questions:

What is the enterprise of humanizing pedagogy?

What is the role of cultural brokers in humanizing pedagogy?

What is the importance of coalitions in implementing humanizing pedagogy?

What is the enterprise of humanizing pedagogy?

Professor Denise Zinn, a former DVC of NMU has defined humanizing pedagogy as:

 “a way of approaching teaching and learning that seeks to build the humanity and full potential of the whole human being….. to celebrate, in the spirit of community, the achievements of members of that community. 

…. is the belief that everyone, through their humanness, brings a gift to the world, and each in her or his own way, and collectively, embody all that it is to be human.”

I like to envision this enterprise of humanizing pedagogy as an aspiration to develop the “whole child into a whole adult.”  That as teachers, and in its broader definition as educators, we are committed to learning and teaching that is more than literacy, more than the acquisition of basic reading, writing, and math skills, but rather also includes instruction in critical thinking for succeeding in everyday life.  Our learning and teaching for humanizing pedagogy are actually inclusive of all the many elements that contribute to achieving human potential.  We want to include in our curriculum the learning experiences of everyday life, from sun up to sun down that wrap around and shape the child from cradle to career, from being a family member to a responsible community member, from a responsible community member to a contributing citizen of society.   This is a massive mandate and one that requires extraordinary effort, expansive thinking about learning and teaching, mobilization of resources and support, and the will and commitment to achieve this goal.  

The challenge for teachers and partners from across diverse sectors is how to work together and how do we learn to maximize communication between different people in this enterprise to achieve our goals.  Since communication across diverse teachers, sectors and families and communities is key to humanizing pedagogy how do we accomplish this?  I want to provide one tool for the toolkit in preparations for this learning and teaching journey.  And that is, enlisting “cultural brokers” as part of the toolkit in building bridges of communication.

What is the role of Cultural Brokers in Humanising Pedagogy

Who are cultural brokers?  Cultural brokers are essential to building bridges of communication between diverse people and organizations for learning and teaching.  They are not solely language translators, although that may be one of their particular skills.  I conceptualized them as “translational agents.”  They can provide clarity and understanding in language, or what is being said, but they can also help interpret and better represent meaning of contexts, behaviors or perspectives of others to facilitate communication.  Cultural broker is a concept and practice used in education, health, social sciences and many other disciplines for decades.  In the guide “Bridging the Cultural Divide in Health Care Settings:The Essential Role of Cultural Broker Programs (National Center for Cultural Competence, 2004) there are some definitions for guidance.

 “One definition state that cultural brokering is the act of bridging, linking, or mediating between groups or persons of different cultural backgrounds for the purpose of reducing conflict or producing change (Jezewski, 1990). A cultural broker is defined as a go-between, one who advocates on behalf of another individual or group (Jezewski & Sotnik, 2001).”

If we accept cultural broker as a person(s) who can help communication between different people or groups working together in pursuit of common goals, then we are acknowledging that there are pitfalls of misunderstandings we can become victims to that need to be bridged in order to make progress.  Let me give a simple example, if a teacher is unable to communicate to a parent that their child needs time to do homework and therefore time for home chores needs to be balanced between the two responsibilities than the efficacy of our communication as well as learning and teaching has been impacted.  Under this circumstance a cultural broker who can mediate the concerns of both teacher and parent might be helpful.   I am certain we can generate a list of many examples of misunderstandings between teachers and parents.  When we consider how multifaceted humanizing pedagogy is as an enterprise we can see the potential for how misunderstandings and miscommunications can become exponential from its complexity and therefore threaten achievement of our goals.  There are numerous vulnerabilities on this aspirational pathway towards a humanizing pedagogy. 

Therefore, if we know ahead of time that misunderstandings and miscommunications are liabilities along this humanizing pedagogy pathway, why would we not be prepared?  Enlisting cultural brokers as part of a team marketing strategy have been used by diverse professions, businesses and everyday people for generations.  For example, advertisers of skin products don’t just rely upon business executives only to get you to buy their products.  They spend a lot of money building a team that includes cultural brokers (or marketers) to learn how to use your language and your behaviors to better communicate and thus sell to you their products.  In other words, they utilize cultural broker techniques to market or better yet to maximize communication and connection with us.  Cultural brokers or marketing specialists are critical to their business team and their business plan. This is a lesson for those of us in the academy who want to improve communication and work in communities. 

Vice Chancellor Professor Sibongile Muthwa of Nelson Mandela University has proposed a university endeavor to develop Hubs of Convergence (HoC) in efforts to extend the resources of the university into the community to solve common practical problems.  I envision learning and teaching towards humanising pedagogy as connected to that university endeavor.  Therefore, my recommendation is that as an education team and education business plan is developed that cultural brokers, in concept and practice, be a strategic component of the endeavor and plan, (or tool in the toolkit). 

What is the importance of coalitions in implementing humanizing pedagogy?

Consistent with Paulo Freire’s (1970) notions of “critical consciousness” we recognize that one of the skills young people must acquire is critical thinking which can subsidize critical consciousness that can be utilized to navigate the many circumstances of life. Critical thinking skills help us to traverse life circumstances along with reading, writing and math skills.  They are embedded in numerous life circumstances essential to literacy and living.  This mandate of developing the whole child into realizing their human potential requires us to engage critical thinking in how to form the collaboration of many teachers and other partners from across diverse sectors in our enterprise. 

There is no question that what we are proposing in structuring learning and teaching towards humanizing pedagogy is an immense and essential undertaking. It requires strategic planning about the education model, the education plan, and the education team.

To accomplish this goal requires teachers in partnership with other persons and organizations.  As we go about the process of identifying partners we need to be mindful of:  Who are the persons, what are the places and kind of experiences that shape the child into an adult.  And furthermore, how as educators can we analyze and understand them to inform the process of learning and teaching to achieve our goal of maximizing preparedness of the child for adult contributions to society. 

To achieve the outcomes for humanizing pedagogy that I envision will require diverse partnerships with people and organizations that have an array of skills and expertise.  We also want to develop a humanizing pedagogy curriculum that is mindful of and includes the wrap around day and night formal and informal daily life experiences both in school and out of school.  We must have in our curriculum sophisticated knowledge about the social, emotional, and psychological wellness framework of children for them to succeed into adulthood.  Therefore, a coalition of partners from the formal, informal and non-formal sectors are essential to this enterprise. 

We already have a small model of such a coalition called Letsema Nelson Mandela Bay within NMU Faculty of Education Centre for Community Schools.  Letsema is a coalition of members across formal, informal, and non-formal sectors created out of the July 2018 Roundtable Colloquium held at NMU that considered the relevance of Nelson Mandela’s statement that:

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”,

within the inherent present-day contradictions of the 21st Century.

Letsema has been meeting as a group to explore collective impact strategies toward a common goal of improving educational outcomes.  I am honored to be an international member of this deliberating body. In the work of Letsema, humanizing pedagogy is an implicit philosophical foundation.  Our collaboration with diverse partners in Letsema we are learning how to work together to have a collective impact upon development of the whole child and the development of community. 

An intervention started many years ago to save children under performing in schools within a local neighborhood in Harlem New York began slowly to recognize that the job was too big for them alone.  As needs of children and families grew beyond the expertise of the intervention program it became apparent that to improve chance for overall success collaborations with other organizations better able to meet other needs of the families were required to improve the life trajectories of their students.  That experiment evolved into the distinguished internationally recognized organization called the Harlem Children’s Zone.  By building on the model of a coalition of partners aligned with the necessities of student life they have graduated generations of young people now pursuing different career and life trajectories.  

Eradicating the inequities we see in education and work opportunities amongst too many students and communities is not the sole responsibility of schools, teachers, and educators.   Critical consciousness and critical thinking provide us the insight to know that many sectors in society will have to play a role in remedying inequities.  In an article I wrote (Franklin, 2018) about the achievement gap for African American students I made the following observations:

The achievement gap spotlights the persistence of inequities in education for students of color and conveys how much a focus upon restructuring school time experiences is insufficient to resolve this dilemma. Oversubscribing that responsibility to the school system has not worked. Consequently, there is a need to broaden our perspectives about interventions to solve this dilemma.  It must include additional domains of daily life that impact learning and development of our children and youth besides the school context.  For generations families and educators have known this implicit given, but overly locating learning in schools has diverted adequate attention away from the essentialism of other places where children learn. Therefore, how much does exposure to other experiences in the daily lives of our children contribute to their overall academic achievement, and more importantly a whole person? This quintessential question remains germane for inquiry as we acknowledge that there are indeed many other critical elements in their life pathways that lead to their life accomplishments (p.185).


Franklin, A.J. (2018). Afterword: Recontextualizing the achievement gap through

Neighborhoods of Promise. In E. W. Gordon, B. Jean-Louis, & N. Obiora (Eds.). Strengthening Families, Communities and Schools to Support Children’s Development: Neighborhoods of Promise (pp. 185-187). New York: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Publishers.

National Center for Cultural Competence (2004). Bridging the Cultural Divide in Health Care

Settings: The Essential Role of Cultural Broker Programs. Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, Georgetown University Medical Center. Retrieved January 8, 2021 from the World Wide Web:

Jezewski, M. A. (1990, August). Culture brokering in migrant farm worker health care. Western

Journal of Nursing Research, 12(4), 497–513.

Jezewski, M. A., & Sotnik, P. (2001). Culture brokering: Providing culturally competent

rehabilitation services to foreign-born persons. (J. Stone, Ed.). Buffalo, NY: Center for International Rehabilitation Research Information and Exchange. Retrieved May 5, 2003, from the World Wide Web:


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