Diversity and Inclusion

Day 1: What is Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching Philosophy?

Post written by guest author Dr Marina Iskhakova from the ANU College of Business and Economics
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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 Starbucksā€™ market strategy …

This may seem like an innocent question ā€¦ for any Norwegian, American, or even European student.Ā  The Starbucks brand a part of their lives.Ā  Now consider theĀ 28-year-old Russian entrepreneur studentĀ who just crossed the border between Russia and Norway. Russia, with its strong ā€œtea cultureā€, had no Starbucks restaurantsĀ at the time. The iconic Western brandĀ had no meaning to this student.

I was that Russian student.Ā ThatĀ I couldĀ describeĀ in detail theĀ market strategies of many successful leadingĀ Russian companies was irrelevant in that class. My cultural knowledge and background meant nothing and sat unutilised. For that entire sectionĀ of the course,Ā 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 studentsā€™ 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 studentsā€™ cultures results in increased learning outcomes (Gay, 2010) and academic achievements (Howe & Lisi, 2017).

As such, the guiding principles of CCR teaching are:

  1. expecting all students can achieve a high academic grade;
  2. including studentsā€™ cultural background and knowledge into the teaching and learning process; and
  3. using a variety of instructional strategies to meet studentsā€™ 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 ā€œone-size-fits-allā€ approach to education. Culture was seen as neither relevant, nor important (Gay, 2010).

question mark


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

ā€œ[CCR] educators can efficiently teach and involve all students ā€“ regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture, social class, gender, sexual orientation or learning disabilityā€ (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 individualsā€™ own cultural identities and ā€œtaken-for-grantedā€ 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 ā€œHeā€ when talking about leaders and managers after accumulating over 5 yearsā€™ 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 ā€“ e.g. Iran, Chile, Kenya, Afghanistan. In this way, long flights have become my ā€œcultural growthā€ 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 ActionĀ plan allows you to create culturally responsive courses and facilitate culturally responsive deliveries in the short, medium, and long-term period.Ā  Having a measurable, realistic plan of action helps you to continually improve as a CCR educator.

For example, I have my ā€œCultures Mapā€ 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.

While looking a bit complex, incorporating these four stages into your daily life provides the best springboard on the way to becoming a truly CCR educator.
question mark


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.,Ā  & 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.

28 thoughts on “Day 1: What is Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching Philosophy?

  1. I am somewhat aware of my limitations when it comes to considering cultural backgrounds in designing learning. There are also professional and legal limitations which get in the way.

    I grew up with an indigenous family living next door and a Sri Lankan family on the other side. Also I spent three weeks living in a village in India. So I thought I was culturally aware.

    But I am an older, white, western, male, from a small “c” christian culture, teaching computing. That makes it difficult for me to even recognize where I am making cultural assumptions.

    This was brought home to me when I studied in Canada. I had assumed that Canada was much like Australia. But most of my fellow students were female and that created a cultural gap. By the time I worked up the courage to post to the class, to seek a team to work with, there were just a couple of us lost males left to choose from. Also I could not work out when assignments were due, what page size to use, or what a “looney” was.

    ps: Starbucks has restaurants? I have seen their coffee shops around Sydney, Singapore and Jogjakarta, but not restaurants. I found the popularity of these very odd, until I tried tasting the coffee elsewhere in Singapore and Jogjakarta. šŸ˜‰

    1. Tom, thank you for sharing a vast experience, that only a reflection on it is a significant cross-cultural awareness step itself. Cross-culturally responsive thinking I see as an additional layer of mindfulness, when an educator is skilled to navigate, predict, forecast this additional dimension. With your case in Canada, it shows that peers weren’t very culturally equipped, otherwise they provide more support and inclusion. We can’t know everything about every single country (and it is neither possible nor needed), but just before a cross-cultural exchange we can spend more time thinking about what kind of values could produce or influence one or another behaviour. Formally Starbucks operates in retail coffee restaurants/coffee houses industry, and profoundly dominates the US market. When I lived in DC, you could see at least 2 from any big cross-road in the radius 2 km from the Capitol. The concept didn’t spring boarded in Australia.

  2. A. Do you currently, or would you like to, consider studentsā€™ cultural backgrounds when designing your class? If so, how? If not, why not?
    I want to think that I do since I am teaching language classes, where cultural components -and interculturality- are part of the learning goals. I am aware of the different perspectives I may bring to class (assumptions about what’s right or wrong in a social setting), which forces me to try to be aware of those of my students. This doesn’t mean that I am necessarily aware of everything or knowledgeable about all of them; not all the students from a common background are necessarily culturally the same.

    B. Which of the four steps would you find most challenging, and why?
    Probably step 2, especially if we want to move away from tokenism or superficial/stereotypical knowledge based on a limited number of cultural products from country X, Y or Z.

    1. Manuel, largely agree with you. Thank you for your great comment and sharing your experience. Cross-Cultural expertise is a life-long journey, but the most important is to take the first step and be mindful of continuous development and improvement. Even if you take in consideration key main clusters of cultures, it already allows you to be much more efficient. Let say if you don’t know much about Middle East cultures, but will avoid putting the major deadline for Eid Mubarak eve, it will help to all students from the ME region and from muslim background, things like that. I agree with you on B – Knowledge is the most lengthy, demanding and challenging to fix quickly, but again with the time it is an incredibly high-return investment.

  3. I suppose the “awareness” is most challenging. It’s an issue taken for granted. I have never thought about it in teaching before this workshop. The reason that I signed up for the workshop was some realization a few weeks ago from my student’s mid-semester exam. In a question, I asked the students (mostly Chinese students studying finance remotely) to explain the agency issue between financial planners and their clients in funds management industry. From students’ response, I realized that there’s no such profession of “financial planner” in China. Students mixed up the concept of financial planner with funds managers. I guess my students are able to relate to the convenor’s experience in the Starbuck’s case.

    I’m Chinese Australian. I spent almost 40% of my entire life in Australia however I’m still boasting my Chinese root. It was shocking to me that I was not able to realize that “financial planner” was a new concept for my students. It really requires educators to have such self-initiated awareness to understand the issue, preceding to any actions.

    1. Hua, thank you for a fantastic example and sharing real life case. Yes, “awareness” is the most hidden, but not the most challenging. As regular practice of cultural self-awareness is building a strong and sound expertise day by day and allows to prevent problems instead of watching and facing them. Next time, as more culturally equipped lecturer, you possibly will start class with the quick discussion on the role and practice of Financial Planner in different cultural contexts. As we teach our students to be global professionals, and to be professionals globally, not only to work as Financial planners in Australia.

  4. I had difficulty working out what the four steps to being a “Global Educator” were, as the document doesn’t have them listed or enumerated. But I guess they are: 1. Awareness, 2. Knowledge, 3. Skills, & 4. Action. My need to lay them out that way is probably due to my baked-in STEM training. šŸ˜‰

    Step 3, I have difficulty with, as I don’t know what “diverse learning styles” are. I thought learning styles had been comprehensively debunked a decade ago. I am off to the ACU Library to borrow Howe & Lisi, 2017, to see what it is about (the only one of the references I could find locally).

    1. The friendly people at the ACU* loaned me Howe & Lisi, but the much expanded third edition (2000). Reading the first 100 pages, what struck me was this is a very USA focused work. In a way it is not really about “multicultural” so much as how the USA is attempting to create a blended culture. One topic which resonated with me was socioeconomic status (p. 99). It was only a few weeks ago when invited to an ANU alumni event for “first in generation” graduates, did I realize I was from a low socioeconomic background. This may have influenced my approach to teaching in ways I did not realize and make it harder to relate to students who are not.

      ps: While waiting for my ACU library card to be renewed I looked at the animals at their petting zoo outside. Exactly why a university had a petting zoo, was not explained. šŸ˜‰

      1. Tom, I’m so glad you are saying that. When I discovered the Cross-Culturally responsive teaching Concept I was amused and shocked how much US-centric it is with much stronger focus on critical racial issues in the society, including discrimination of many low-SES students, also in high extent focused on secondary/high school education. My goal is to adopt the Philosophy to Australian education system, in a way that allows and motivate every educator present and appreciate multicultural values, and present not one/but multicultural perspective in class, be aware that cultural background and educational upbringing influences the way students learn and think and develop the best. Yes, it happen to me as well, when I has been admitted to the MBA program in Norwegian Business School, at the first day everyone has to do 5 min pitch talk about yourself and your main achievements by day. (That time not being culturally aware enough, I shared one of my big achievements by that day – I have bought my own apartment at Level 11 floor of 17th floor building, and it got more expensive as it gets higher because of the views. My Norwegian MBA-peers were shocked, first by the privacy of details I shared, second they put me to low-SES category immediately, as in Norway everyone lives only in houses. Now when I teach, I’m aware of judgements and evaluations I’m doing.

    2. I’m of the same understanding. I have an MA in Learning Science and Technology and I can tell you definitively that learning styles have been debunked in the literature as a theory of learning (Willingham et. al. 2015, Wininger et. al. 2019, and Cuevas 2015) . *However*, as a classroom teaching tool, where you want to focus on specific skills sometimes the language of learning styles can be useful for creating activities that focus on different developmental areas. It is hard to measure the culture of classrooms empirically, so as a teacher you may be building a classroom culture using learning styles that is really rich but to capture or measure that in a research study is difficult, if impossible. So, yes, learning styles are a hotly debated topic and even though research papers debunk them, in practice they can still be useful. Go figure!

      1. Paul, yes, I’m of the same view, that in practice learning styles combined with the concept of culture is a very powerful practical tool to guide educators in their navigation for providing better learning

  5. Tom. great to hear from you! Thank you for excellent questions! Yes, absolutely correct – the 4 stages are 1. Awareness, 2. Knowledge, 3. Skills, & 4. Action. Step 3 will be widely elaborated and discussed at days 2 and 3 and we will practice with it extensively at Cross-Culturally Responsive Teaching strategies workshop this Friday 9.30-11.30! While we are not creating new learning styles, we see and analyse diverse learning styles from cross-cultural perspective, means how culture affects learning styles.

  6. One way we can think about how our learning designs encompass others cultures is to think about the images, stories, readings and case studies do we provide in our learning. Are they all from a white Australian perspective or are we providing content, case studies, readings, examples etc from other cultures?

    1. Catherine, excellent insight and suggestion. We have to be very mindful as educators and balance sources very well, or at least provide one perspective but mention others, or direct to other, if we are on a way of developing truly global individuals. I’ll talk about the developing of the resources at Day 2 and also at Cross-Cultural teaching strategies workshop on Friday!

  7. Catherine, you make a really good point about including readings beyond an Anglo-Australian perspective! As I mainly design asynchronous online courses, and these need to be developed months in advance of their launch, I’m also conscious of including diverse content that can be ‘baked-in’ to the course design. Around this, I do my best to employ social pedagogy approaches that encourage students to share their perspectives in the course discussion space.

    1. I made an attempt to provide a response above and also elaborate further at workshop. Or if that doesn’t answer the question yet, then could I ask you to specify the question further and I’ll do my best to reply before the workshop commences. A massive thank you for a real interest to the theme!

  8. I have students from all over in my class (or at least, I did pre-COVID). I really want to be culturally responsive and aware in my teaching, but I also worry about stereotyping my students as a result. I find that tricky to work through. I also find it tricky to work through how much cultural dominance (?not sure if that’s the term I want?) is appropriate. E.g. they are getting a qualification in English, and they need to be able to discuss content in English with a variety of peers, so how much should I push the issue of not discussing group work in non-English languages?

    1. Alana, great to hear from you and your feedback. Absolutely, at ANU and national educational institutions we have to use the language of the institution (English), but they can speak on English expressing they broader cultural ideas and perspectives. I understand your question on stereotyping, that is one of the big hurdles and challenges for many, even for global executives who change countries weekly. If we stereotype, we then try to stereotype positively, not negatively, it solves a problem at least partly and it creates curiosity and openness to other cultures and their experiences, that students will massively appreciate. I’ll continue answering after 2 tutorials

  9. In my learning designs I prefer a learner centred approach, so for example, with the case of the Russian student’s experience with the Starbuck’s, I would instead frame the question around a business that they knew about from their own background. As teachers we have expertise to bring to the classroom and our students have an equal amount of expertise from their own lives that can enrich the learning experience for everyone present.

  10. In terms of which hurdle I found most challenging I would say the knowledge step. Since if one doesn’t know something it is difficult to act on.

    1. Paul, agree with you on that. Knowledge is the most time-consuming facet, and also requires a real commitment. Like would I watch the movie from my culture that I love, or I try to watch a movie from the culture I never watched any movies and try to explore more? Will I ask the (stupid/obvious) question about other culture and by that reveal that I don’t know it, but acquire the knowledge; or I choose to pretend that I am knowledgable and continue stay ignorant.

      1. Marina, yes, this is key. A lot of learning (or lack of it) centres around ego and the idea of ‘losing face’. The fear of losing face in a social situation can often lead us to ignorance and if we put our own fears about asking ‘stupid’ questions aside we can all learn something. This is true in any situation in life but its up to teachers and learning designers to model this behaviour for others. There is no such thing as a ‘dumb’ question! If one person is thinking of a question its likely that others will have it too.

  11. At Chapter 8, Howe & Lisi (p. 216, 2020), started to get interesting and relevant. This “Instructional Approaches Needed by Multicultural Educators”. However, an Australian text on this topic would be useful. The best source of such material currently is the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, such as that by Dr Cathy Stone (see link).

  12. Thanks Marina,

    The opening story about Starbucks is a particularly strong one that really made me think. For me it raises perhaps my biggest challenge. Awareness – specifically the unknown unknown. If you know that their may be students who may perceive the things you are teaching, you can ask them for their perspective and then adjust. But if you don’t even know that people may see things differently it is very hard.

    I also wonder whehter it raises the other issue of which culture do you cater too if you can’t cater to everybody. We obviously want to cater to as many as possible but practically speaking it may be hard to cater to all cultures. Using the business example, I may need to find 5= businesses that illustrate the same point to cater to people from all the different cultures in a large course. This may take lot of time on my side to prepare and additional class time to go through the examples..

    Good questions to consider

  13. David, Great to hear from you and Thank you for your excellent question! It was one of the main motivations for Cross-Cultural workshop – to make Educators aware about cultural dimensions, so to be alert and aware about possible mistakes we can do. While a space for mistakes is unlimited, reflection on own practice on all key 7-10 Cross-Cultural dimensions (like attitude to Rules, attitude to Time, attitude to Authority, Attitude to gender, Individualism-Collectivism, Tolerance of Risk, Private vs Public cultures, etc.) and awareness about key well spread Cultural Biases (role of age, role of gender, level of income, level of education, affinity bias and many others) already give you a pretty good starting point by flagging critical areas where a mistake potentially can happen. Regular self-reflection (let say after each Teaching Semester) is a very good practice to reflect on own cultural biases, mistakes that happened and planning the strategy of developing cross-cultural skills further.

    Very good help here is also – Feedback. (feedback on your conduct from people from different cultures, very many of my biases I discovered by getting a real very valuable feedback on my biases).

    A great Cross-Cultural journey ahead and I’ll be glad to answer other questions!

  14. David to your other question, on – which culture do you cater too if you canā€™t cater to everybody.
    As I showed at Cross-Cultural workshop, Cross-Cultural Educators develop from using only one (original, natural for them) teaching strategy to expanding the pool of tools and practices to cater for the range of cultures. Example: In terms of High-Context /Low-Context cultures, you don’t have to cater specifically for the US, Holland, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Oman or Korea. You just cater for Low-context, Middle-context, High-Content cultures. What does it mean, it means many things you make very very obvious and explicit and all meaning is in words, not between lines. But, when you are receiving email from the student from Japan, where all meaning is between the lines, you are able to interpret that and react efficiently.

    Example: your student from Japan needs a lot of urgent help and support and got in troubles. You get email – “Dear Professor, I just wanted to know if an opportunity could arise any time next month to meet, I’d extremely appreciate your support..”
    Educator from low-context ranks this email as low-priority and doesn’t see any urgent need to respond quickly and don’t read between lines “I need your help now. Please respond”.
    So it means we don’t cater for each country specifically, but we expand the pool of practices and tools we use to navigate much more efficiently in the Cross-Cultural Air.

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