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Intercultural Tips for Teachers

Before you start to think that your job is "teaching as usual", let us convince you otherwise. You have worldviews in your classroom that are different than your own. The opportunity is massive!


Here is our premise:

There are three core cultural drivers in the world and all three are present in every culture. One driver is always more of a focus at any given time in the history of a place or in a person's life.

These drivers take the form of hidden motivators that are hard to detect without some intentional pointing out, especially for oneself or for one's own culture. The 3 motivators, which we call worldviews, are as follows:

     1. Doing the right thing
     2. Doing that which is honourable
     3. Doing that which is powerful


For those of us who were raised to "do the right thing", we are the people who as individuals pursue that which is right, trying to establish our innocence. We also may seek to be portrayed as doing the right thing to appear innocent. We avoid the feeling of guilt and use the law and rules as our standard for being "right".


For those of us who were raised in an honour oriented society, the pursuit is about doing that which is honourable, bringing honour to one's self, family, tribe, or community. In contrast we may do something that causes shame. if we willingly do that which is shameful we will likely try to hide the shame unless that thing has become so common that people don’t care anymore.


If our thinking is dominated primarily from the 3rd worldview, we are people who are highly motivated to gain power and higher positions on a hierarchy, or to be aligned with the power that will protect us. Those in positions of power within this worldview can choose to create a life-giving environment by empowering people, systems, and the environment and create trust and safety for those under their jurisdiction. We can also create an environment of fear.


Hopefully you are already connecting the dots to the fact that each of these worldviews, hidden drivers and motivators are the mental models for those beautiful students in the seats in front of you every working day. How might these worldviews inform your international teaching experience? How might they be affecting learning and motivation? Lastly, what is the opportunity?


Aware: The first step is being aware that these worldviews exist and deliver a mix of perspectives that are hidden from us.


Accept: The second step is to accept those who are different from us. Accept that there are differences and accept the differences for the sake of meeting a person where they are. Not to always agree, accept.


Adapt: Thirdly, we can adapt our teaching to create a cultural space where each worldview mix can thrive, know they belong, and add value to the learning community.


I have an American friend who teaches students from Saudi Arabia and China in San Diego. Here are a few tips from an expert who uses "Aware, Accept, Adapt" in her classroom.


Awareness of "saving face" in the classroom:
In a culture that is sensitive to shaming others or bringing shame on themselves, It is important to give students time during the break or after class to ask questions that they may have. To ask a teacher in class might make them feel nervous because they don’t want the teacher to lose face or be dis-honored in anyway. To have a question might mean that the teacher didn’t explain it right and is at fault! Silence is honorable, so we must gently help them find their voice in a classroom where verbal participation feels risky, but is actually helpful to the whole learning community.


Tip on Motivation
In a culture where honour is the main driver, it is important that we accept that honour is ascribed more than it is achieved. Honour is about who a person is more than their accomplishments. This is a huge contrast to the premise underlying the western education system where we achieve a grade and it makes us a better or more successful person. Not only do we need to honour these students for who they are, we need to also encourage them to achieve great things because of that honour. The motivator is reversed.

Her teaching style adapted.

My friend in San Diego became more authoritative and less "friendly" yet she empowered her students and communicated clearly that she was for their best interest and they knew she cared for them. She built trust from a more distant place of power than she was used to. Her students trusted her and aligned with her. She noticed that her classroom rules had power when she had power.


Her advice to those of you teaching where both honour and power are key motivators.
"As teachers, we need to have strict rules and guidelines and assume the role of the expert, so that everyone feels like we are worthy of respect. We can show that we are in control, but we must also show them that they can trust us, rather than fear us." This isn't the time to be friends with students or be addressed on a first name basis.


While some of these tips might be common good practice, it is paramount in our international schools that we consider cultural differentiation so we modify our teaching strategies based on who is in front of us.

The key is blending the positive elements of each paradigm. We find ways to use power to empower, build respect, and gain control, but we use honour to motivate! Through this process, trust is built and students begin to embrace the process of achieving good grades, doing things right and getting it right. This delicate balance is a skill developed over time; but the rewards are great. Students feel known and respected and bring a valuable perspective to the classroom. As we learn more about the treasure of each worldview we can build a global learning community where everyone thrives and synergy abounds.


Written by Armandee Drew


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