Reflecting on Cultural Differences

Many things accumulate under the banner term ‘culture’. So, when we talk about the importance of cultural understanding, awareness of diversity and appreciation of those different from us (as we do in the Mission statement of the Tenby Schools, it requires considerable, deep reflection and consideration to really deeply understand all of the implications.

It’s about so much more than a simple admonition for people to get on with each other, or to be tolerant or understanding that people of different religions, communities, cultures or countries have different beliefs, values, expectations or ways of acting/ thinking.

I believe that it’s important to start from an acknowledgement that there is way more makes us similar than makes us different BUT that the differences are significant, important and that if we are insensitive or not reflective we risk being myopic and blinkered in our appraisal of our own or others’ cultural norms.

Next, a natural tendency to be curious, inquiring, interested in others and reflective is the best grounding for a person who wishes to respect cultural diversity and to have an open mind about not only what others do and think differently, but why – and in a non-judgmental way.

With these thoughts in mind, I was particularly pleased to come across this well written and thought-provoking article;

NPR – KQED – Mindshift – How Awareness of Cultural Differences Can Help Underachieving Students

I read the article a number of times. First time, was on the basis of what we, as adults, can learn by being open and curious about the different cultural backgrounds of children in the classroom. Expat teachers can experience great challenges if they walk in to international classrooms with a fixed mindset related to their own cultural perspectives, or those of their pupils or how things like communication should work in a classroom.

Next, for all teachers, whether expat or local, our aims are to prepare children to succeed and fulfil their potential in a global environment. In such an environment they will, at times, find themselves in places where they are the minority and other people’s cultural norms hold sway. Their ability to acclimatise to those norms, adjust to them and meet the expectations of people who may not feel the need to make adaptations on their behalf are critical. This is an intriguing challenge for a local teacher who might not have travelled outside their own country and has therefore always felt the comfort of being in a dominant culture.

If we are to see the Vision of the Tenby Schools fulfilled – “A United World at Peace – Through Education.” then we have to be continually giving thought to how we help children to develop skills and attributes of reflective learners, curious about others and sensitive to their needs so as to understand how to operate flexibly in different cultures, without giving up their rootedness in their own culture. These things don’t happen overnight with a tick in a box. Rather, educators need to be continually linking all aspects of the curriculum, in age appropriate and relevant ways, to these issues of cultural understanding, diversity and reflection.

I have no idea how much of this we can achieve in our lifetimes. However, i believe that is incumbent upon us to go as far as we can and to commit to starting on that journey for the sake of our children.


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