Post written by guest author Dr Marina Iskhakova from the ANU College of Business and Economics
Foundations of Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching Philosophy
On the first day of an MBA program at the Norwegian School of Business, the Professor asked students to describe Starbucks’ market strategy …
This may seem like an innocent question … for any Norwegian, American, or even European student. The Starbucks brand a part of their lives. Now consider the 28-year-old Russian entrepreneur student who just crossed the border between Russia and Norway. Russia, with its strong “tea culture”, had no Starbucks restaurants at the time. The iconic Western brand had no meaning to this student.
I was that Russian student. That I could describe in detail the market strategies of many successful leading Russian companies was irrelevant in that class. My cultural knowledge and background meant nothing and sat unutilised. For that entire section of the course, I sat numb, passive and quiet, not being able to contribute to any substantial discussion about leading Norwegian and Western brands.
That experience highlighted for me the importance of being a Cross-Culturally Responsive (CCR) educator; someone who uses students’ cultural background to build new, advanced knowledge and expertise. Thus, CCR educators are not only subject matter experts, they are also equipped with culturally responsive teaching strategies. CCR teaching involves using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically or culturally diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to, and effective for, them. Research indicates that drawing on students’ cultures results in increased learning outcomes (Gay, 2010) and academic achievements (Howe & Lisi, 2017).
As such, the guiding principles of CCR teaching are:
- expecting all students can achieve a high academic grade;
- including students’ cultural background and knowledge into the teaching and learning process; and
- using a variety of instructional strategies to meet students’ diverse cultural needs.
In contrast, some educators believe that teaching is culture blind. Prior to the 1960s, the prevailing philosophy held that culture can be ignored if you are a subject matter expert. Most educators rarely considered diverse cultural backgrounds and their impact on learning. Student populations at that time were deemed homogeneous, with educators using a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education. Culture was seen as neither relevant, nor important (Gay, 2010).
Do you currently, or would you like to, consider students’ cultural backgrounds when designing your class? If so, how? If not, why not?
Becoming a Global Educator
“[CCR] educators can efficiently teach and involve all students – regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture, social class, gender, sexual orientation or learning disability” (Howe & Lisi, 2017).
There are four steps to becoming a Global Educator. These four steps are depicted in the model below. Click on the ( + ) icon to investigate further.
1. Developing Awareness is the process of bringing an individuals’ own cultural identities and “taken-for-granted” assumptions about reality to a level of cognitive consciousness. This involves deconstructing our own cultural embeddedness, internalised patterns of thinking, and behaviours prescribed by our own cultural socialisation (Bowers & Flinders, 1991).
For example, I only became conscious of exclusively using the pronoun “He” when talking about leaders and managers after accumulating over 5 years’ teaching experience in a global classroom. This reflected the cultural environment in which I was taught in the Soviet Union.
2. Professional development through acquiring Knowledge about cultures around you becomes a daily necessity. Additional knowledge about other cultures, including food, history, religion, politics, traditions, conventions, customs, or beliefs contribute meaningfully to learner outcomes. Similarly, the films, books, and music you have encountered on other cultures develop your Cross-Cultural knowledge base further.
For example, I have adopted the following routine: on long-distance flights, I watch at least 3 films from cultures I am not familiar with – e.g. Iran, Chile, Kenya, Afghanistan. In this way, long flights have become my “cultural growth” time.
3. Constantly developing Cross-Cultural Skills involves knowing how to adjust verbal and non-verbal behaviour when dealing with different cultures and using every opportunity to practice it. Such educators know how to navigate along all key cultural dimensions such as power distance, collectivism-individualism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity-femininity, universalism-particularism or rules-relationships, diffuse-specific dimensions, and neutral-affective dimensions when teaching across cultures. We will be exploring these cultural dimensions more in-depth in the face-to-face CCR Teaching workshop.
For example, people often feel more confident and comfortable talking to people they know, or who are similar to them. When at parties or networking events, I make a concerted effort to reach out to people who speak differently, behave differently, and think differently from me.
4. Developing your own individual Action plan allows you to create culturally responsive courses and facilitate culturally responsive deliveries in the short, medium, and long-term period. Having a measurable, realistic plan of action helps you to continually improve as a CCR educator.
For example, I have my “Cultures Map” on my desk and I have areas (regions and cultures) that are still blank as I do not know very much about them. My long-term action plan is to constantly learn about these regions through various channels such as pre-travel research and travelling to meet local people from those countries.
Which of the four steps would you find most challenging, and why?
Gay, G. (2010). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research and Practice. 2nd ed, Columbia University, NY and London.
Howe W.A., & Lisi P.L. (2017). Becoming a Multicultural Educator: Developing Awareness, Gaining Skills and Taking Action, Sage, LA
- Bowers, C. A., & Flinders, D. J. (1991). Culturally Responsive Teaching and Supervision: A Handbook of Staff Development. New York: Teachers College Press.