Intercultural Skills for Facilitating Learning

Working Together: Module 3
Intercultural Skills for Facilitating
Module 3 - Working Together
Facilitating Learning
Page 1
Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 2
Learning Outcomes .......................................................................................................................... 2
Module Topics .................................................................................................................................. 2
Theories of Intercultural Teaching and Learning ............................................................................. 2
Positioning and Reflexivity ............................................................................................................... 5
Racial Identity Models...................................................................................................................... 6
Practical Learning Activity ................................................................................................................ 7
Intercultural Competency in Educators ......................................................................................... 12
Cultural Competency Continuum .................................................................................................. 13
Inhibitors to Effective Learning in the Intercultural Space ............................................................ 14
Practical Learning Activity .............................................................................................................. 18
Getting Participants to Effectively Engage in the Intercultural Space ........................................... 18
References...................................................................................................................................... 20
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Welcome to Intercultural Skills for Facilitating Learning
In this module we will be exploring intercultural skills and strategies for facilitating learning. The
aim of this module is to explore how different theories and approaches from teaching and
learning, as well as cultural and racial, studies can assist an intercultural leader to be more
effective in an intercultural learning environment. The challenges (and possibilities) facing leaders
in this setting are considerable. Factors include both the preconceptions and prior experiences of
learners, and also how our own identity and positioning as educators can affect our interpretation
of situations that may unfold in intercultural learning environments. Having a broad understanding
of different theoretical approaches, as well as practiced based skills from lessons learnt by others
working in intercultural learning environments are crucial in order to equip you to be an effective
intercultural leader.
Learning Outcomes
Examine theories of intercultural teaching and learning and recognise their application to a
range of intercultural contexts
Evaluate own and other’s positions within racial identity models
Apply a range of tools to facilitate student engagement in the intercultural space
Examine principles underlying cultural safety, cultural security, cross-cultural awareness
and competency
Explore and critically analyse theories and definitions of culture
Module Topics
The key topics for this module focused on Intercultural Skills for Facilitating Learning are:
Theories of Intercultural Teaching and Learning
Positioning and Reflexivity
Racial Identity Models
Intercultural Competency Continuum
Inhibitors to Effective Learning in the Intercultural Space
Getting Participants to Effectively Engage in the Intercultural Space
Theories of Intercultural Teaching and Learning
Many pedagogical theories in the intercultural space have focussed on teaching and learning in
international contexts or when foreign languages are a factor. There is much literature offering
educators theoretical perspectives for working interculturally and cross-linguistically. Yet while
foreign language teaching has been heavily influenced by linguistic theory, more recently, social
change and globalisation has seen increasing focus on also explaining cultural factors in the
intercultural space (Byram & Nichols, 2001). Attention on Indigenous cultural factors in post
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colonial settings and attempts to remove outcome disparities has also increased. In an increasingly
multicultural world, intercultural competence is becoming an often required graduate and
employee attribute. Understanding culture, and its effects on how individuals communicate and
act, has become a crucial element for interpreting social behaviours. Liddicoat et al (2003) have
developed a model for effectively infusing cultural dimensions into language teaching programs in
Australia. While this model speaks directly to embedding cultural learning when language is also a
factor, the overarching principles in this model and their relationship to teaching are directly
applicable to an intercultural space where cultural exchange and learning is the focus rather than
language differences per se (that is, everyone in the classroom speaks English fluently). The five
overarching principles are:
1. Active construction
Educators do not transmit information about the culture directly, but provide
opportunities for students to see the culture through meaningful language and dialogue in
Learners construct knowledge for themselves by engaging through dialogue.
Teachers support students’ learning by providing diverse experiences of culture and by
asking questions that encourage learners to seek their own answers.
2. Making connections
Learning does not happen in a vacuum: connections need to be made for each student.
It is important to create links for students between existing cultural knowledge and the
new knowledge.
There is a role for, and a need to focus on, both the learners’ own culture(s) and the
culture(s) being learnt.
Learning is not learning about others, but learning about oneself in relation to others.
Educators can support this by providing experiences for students to connect and by using
questions to encourage learners to create their own connections.
3. Social interaction
Interacting with others is an important part of learning.
Learning involves knowing how to express ideas and interpretations and how to
understand and respond to those of others.
Collective knowledge can be used to develop interpretations and discussions.
Interaction allows opportunities for learners to bring their own perspectives and
observations to the task of learning.
Interaction allows opportunities for learners to act on and think about their learning in
communicating with others.
4. Reflection
Reflection in intercultural learning needs to go beyond questions of ‘what’ (What did I
think? What did I feel? etc.) to explore questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’ (How did I interpret
the writer’s/speaker’s meaning? Why did I interpret this event/text in this way? How was
the meaning different from what I expected? How did I respond and why? etc.)
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Intercultural learning is personal — it involves a need to work out one’s own perspectives,
ideas, and responses.
Learning is not simply ‘knowing’— it involves analysing, thinking, and interpreting.
5. Responsibility
Taking responsibility for one’s own actions, attitudes, and responses.
Recognising one’s own role in communication and the importance and effect of one’s own
language and behaviour and acting accordingly.
Recognising the validity of other perspectives and acting accordingly.
Recognising one’s own learning needs.
As Liddicoat et al. and others highlight, it is crucial that the intercultural teaching environment
emphasises considerable opportunities for student interaction to encourage Intercultural learning.
However, Briguglio (2006) argues that simply having an intercultural student body does not
necessarily promote interaction, and can in fact re-inforce negative stereotypes. Briguglio
empahsizes the importance of guided discussion with a skilled facilitator who can lead participants
to explore intercultural issues sensitively.
An increasing focus on ‘Closing the Gap’ between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians has
resulted in much focus on renewing curricula to identify how teaching and learning in relation to
Aboriginal studies can be an authentic and transforming process, that not only equips graduates
with intercultural competencies, but can effect real social change.
Work by the curriculum renewal project ‘Teaching for Change’ Project occurring in 5 universities in
Eastern Australia1), is a relevant example (Teaching for Change: engaging in transformative
eduction). The OLT funded Project originally focussed on Problem-Based Learning, a favoured
approach in many Aboriginal study sites due to its dialogic nature that allows students and
teachers to explore emotional and intellectual discomforts through discursive exchange, creating
the possibility for knowledge ‘shifts’ (Boler, 2004). Yet due to the colonial underpinnings of the
term ‘Problem-Based’ (i.e. insinuating Aboriginal spaces are problems that need to be ‘fixed’) the
project expanded the term to be more inclusive of multiple perspectives. The term “PEARL” was
developed as a way of modelling this teaching and learning approach. The PEARL model also offers
intercultural leaders important principles for considering in their work that extends beyond the
classroom to supporting broader, system level changes to reflect multicultural equality and
PEARL stands for:
University of Queensland, Monash University, University of Technology Sydney, Charles Darwin
University, and University of Newcastle)
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P (for performative, political, process, place based): bringing experiences, knowledge and
practice to the place where the current learning process occurs, reflecting and responding
to the agency of the space and the elements of the place, performing our learning,
embodying the process and recognising their inherent political nature and knowing that we
move through and out of the place and back to influence the places where teaching and
learning occurs.
E (for embodied, experiential, explorative, engaged, emotion, empathy, experience): A
holistic exploration that engages mind, body and emotion in empathetic dialogue. A
transformative process based on equal collaboration.
A (for active, anti-racist, anti-colonial, active): Theoretical imperatives relate implicitly to
anti-racist/anti-colonial discourses. Practically we view PEARL as aiding students to shift
from reflection to action through agency and awareness. The shift to action is a critical
element of transformation and enabling students to become agents for change.
R (for relational, reflective, reflexive): Through reflection on particular structured learning
activities, student’s experiences are transformed into knowledge and deeper wisdom
which they apply to their personal and professional lives.
L (for lifelong learning): Learning is for life, for change, for empowerment, for hope, for
knowledge, to lead, to let go of assumptions, to liberate.
Clearly, key principles supporting effective teaching in the intercultural space are reflexive
practice, understanding ones own position, making connections between the material being learnt
and our own cultural frameworks, relating information to the current context, social interaction
and empathy and responsibility to engage in learning.
Positioning and Reflexivity
As intercultural educators, in order to facilitate effective dialogue about intercultural issues, we
must first be able to understand ourselves (Adams & Janover, 2009) by exploring our own
‘positioning’. Individual positioning may include our profession, hobbies, and social status, family,
and life experiences. It also involves exploring the many social roles and positions we occupy that
affect how we exist in the social world. To work effectively in an intercultural space also requires a
capacity for personal reflexivity; where we can reflect on our positioning to interrogate, and
critique, how different influencing forces shape our understanding of one another and our world.
This includes reflecting on the different values, beliefs and attitudes we have developed (and
exploring why they have developed that way) through positioning, experiences, and broader social
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Who we are in the intercultural space is affected by our history, social influences, family
experiences, and personality, and therefore when we engage in reflexive self practice it can also
reveal the qualities we project on to others (Marotta, 2008). This is extremely important if we are
in the role of an intercultural educator. Understanding the influential forces in the construction of
our own identity can assist identifying our own vulnerabilities and potential triggers that may
occur when facilitating learning in an intercultural space. For many learners, their internalised
systems of belief would have sat relatively unexplored until they found themselves in an
intercultural teaching space. This is deeply challenging for many, and as an intercultural educator,
your own self reflexive processes and practices is crucial to supporting and facilitating reflexivity in
learners. While journal writing is an often used process for engaging in reflexive practice, it is also
important to recognise your role as a reflexive educator or mentor who can assist someone to
explore their beliefs and views from another perspective: to be the mirror for behaviours and
values that may be otherwised overlooked (Virgin, 2011).
Racial Identity Models
Educating in the intercultural space is not only about understanding culture, but the influences of
socially constructed notions; specifically, race and ethnicity. Becoming aware of our own racial
identity can assist us to investigate when, where, how, and what impact, racially based
experiences and issues have had in our lives, and our own positioning.
Race is a category that was developed in the 15th century as a ‘scientific’ justification for slavery
and domination. Inferior and negative traits were attributed to the enslaved and superior traits
were attributed to the Europeans to support the subordination of one ‘racial’ group in relation to
another (Hud-Aleem & Countryman, 2008). While the concept of race was originally linked to
biological characteristics, race is now seen as a socially constructed category. Yet although the
American Anthropological Association states the “physical variations in the human species have no
meaning except the social ones that humans put on them” ("Americal Anthropological Association
Statement on Race,"), the use of skin colour continues to be often used to distinguish difference
between groups. It is because of the enduring link society places on race, reflecting on your own
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racial identity is crucial if we are to work effectively in intercultural interactions. Another
important element of our identity is our ethnicity, or the groups we identify with, consciously or
unconsciously, because of a common bond due to traditions, behaviours, values and beliefs (Ott,
Chávez and Guido-DiBrito (1999) argue racial and ethnic identity is triggered most often by two
conflicting social and cultural influences: firstly, the immersion into cultural traditions and values
through our background and current community, familial and spiritual/religious affiliations and,
secondly, the filtering of an ethnic identity projected by negative treatment, media messages or
racial/ethnic stereotyping from other members of the community. These different levels of
influence mean that different ethnic groups in society experience different social status that can
be both unconscious or conscious, depending on whether the ethnic group you belong to is the
dominant (and majority) or minority. Accordingly, they argue, everyone benefits from developing
conscious racial and ethnic identities, particularly in learning settings.
In their excellent resource Courageous Conversations about Race (2006), Singleton & Linton offer a
practical guide for educators aiming to develop racial consciousness within a learning
environment. Racial consciousness, they explain, is:
a process where we seek to explore how we understand ‘race’, how it featured in our
childhood and what factors influenced it, inclusive of broader social narratives and policies
Educators and cultural leaders need to ‘establish a racial context that is personal, local and
immediate’ (Singleton & Linton, 2006, 73). Singleton & Linton suggest establishing our racial
context can be done by undertaking a racial auto-biography, to understand how our racial identity
has formed, and the kind of influence this identity can have in an intercultural teaching and
learning setting. Not only will the educator’s own racial consciousness be enhanced; he/she will be
better equipped to understand and interpret how learners are engaging with, and responding to,
learning material.
Practical Learning Activity
Complete a ‘racial autobiography’. There are no set ‘rules’ about how to write this autobiography;
rather it is important to let the reflections and thoughts flow without self-editing. However,
responses to the following prompts should be included:
What can you recall about any events, conversations or experiences you have had in
your life related to race, race relations and/or racism that may have impacted you?
How do you think these experiences will influence or impact how you work in an
intercultural teaching & learning space?
At the back of this Module you will find an example of a racial autobiography from Singleton &
Linton’s (2006) book.
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Another way of looking at our racial identity is through theoretical models. Over the last four
decades, many different approaches have been developed to understand the psychosocial process
of defining self-identities, and the complexities of this process particularly in the context of race
relations (Chavez & Guido-DiBrito, 1999). Since the early 1990s, understanding white racial
identity (or ‘whiteness’)—and highlighting the often unconscious privileges that come with that—
has received increasing interest (Manglitz, Johnson, & Cervero, 2005). Janet Helms’ White Racial
Identity development model is one of the most discussed models (Helms, 1990). As a scholar of
colour, Helms argued that if American society was to improve its racial inter-relations, then white
American’s would need to turn a critical lens on to their passive acceptance of the racist status
quo which afforded ‘whiteness’ (those exhibiting the physical characteristics of white Europeans)
ongoing social and systemic privilege. The model consists of a six-staged, two-phased process
through which white people may explore levels of their racial identity.
Table 1: Helms’ White Racial Identity Model (1990)
Helms’ White Racial Identity Model
1: Stage 1: Contact ‘Obliviousness’ –individuals do not identify with a
Abandoning racism race and there is an assumption that ethnicity is connected to only
ethnic minority groups. One is unaware of privileges, racial attitudes
are developed through external influences and individuals will avoid
racial discussions and deny existence of racism.
Stage 2: Disintegration–often occurring due to increased contact
with people from ethnically diverse groups, exposure to reality of
racism can lead to anxiety, guilt, depression and internal conflict
between the knowledge of injustices and whether or not to conform.
Helms suggest the individual will try to resolve the negative feelings
in this stage via three solutions: 1) Over identification/ appropriation
with ethnic group of question 2) paternalistic attitudes to protect
from further abuse 3) retreat back to white culture to avoid
Stage 3: Reintegration –discomfort of previous learning process
leads to hostility and anger towards racial group in question, and a
strong positive bias toward white culture, with victim blaming
Phase 2: Redefining Stage 1: Pseudo-independence –if personal reflexivity takes place,
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the individual begins to question the notion of a racial minority as
inferior. This is characterised by an intellectual understanding of
racism rather than a personal responsibility, and a conscious shifting
from a sense that whites are superior (however subconsciously the
belief still applies).
Stage 2: Immersion/emersion –process of white redefinition of
identity through self-examination that questions what it means to be
white, and how one may have contributed to racism.
Stage 3: Autonomy–the internalisation of a positive white racial
identity through the individual’s personal journey characterised by
comfort in recognising and acknowledging differences, nonracist
attitudes and a diverse cultural identity, and is more open and able
to relate to other races.
In Australia studies in ‘whiteness’ are increasingly interrogating the complex and often highly
political forces that can influence white identity and behaviour. Kowal & Paradise (2005) and
Kowal (2011) have explored the contemporary white identity and argue that a striking feature is a
reluctance to claim any agency in the process towards improving Aboriginal outcomes, leading to
an ambivalent role, a constant need to weaken the negative stigma associated with whiteness and
the complexities of how ‘political correctness’ can emphasise structure and downplay agency. The
impact of white guilt in the development of this identity is also an important feature in the psyche
of many white Australian’s and their racial identity (Williams, 2000). Significantly, Helms
challenges white people to reclaim whiteness as a positive force by “making amends for what one
has done wrong with respect to color differences in the past, making sure that one does not
permit these trespasses to occur in the present, and moving on with one’s life” (Helms, 2000, p. 3).
Fearon (1999) suggests that ‘identity’ has two types; the ‘social’ and the ‘personal’. The former
refers to a social category, a set of persons marked by a label and distinguished by rules deciding
membership and characteristics or attributes. The latter, a sense of personal identity is some
distinguishing characteristic/s that a person takes special pride in or views as socially
consequential. Identity as part of a cultural group fits Fearon’s social identity. For Aboriginal
Australians, identifying as part of a member of a particular group does have guidelines and
characteristics that imply membership, with membership to a particular group decided by the
members themselves. Determinants to membership can include relationships, kinship and
connectedness, skin colour and physical characteristics, such as facial features. Importantly,
among Aboriginal people there exists the obligatory protocol of exchanging information to others
within the group about who you are (who your mob is) and where you are from (your cultural
grouping and country) and is an essential part of establishing and reinforcing one’s identity.
While exploration and discussions in relation to the forces shaping Aboriginal Australian identity
are considerable, comparative racial identity models to Helms have not been developed for an
Aboriginal Australian context. However, the American context may offer some transferable ways
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of thinking about Australian Aboriginal identity within a framework. One of the most famous
models is William Cross’ People of Color2 Identity Model (PCIM), which draws links between
identity development through personal features and group/social identity in the context of
historical and contemporary racial disadvantages (Hud-Aleem & Countryman, 2008). The PCIM
consists of four stages:
Pre-encounter: characterised by a complete unawareness of race as a social construct
and embracing of ‘coloured’ culture. The absorption of the values and beliefs of the
dominant white culture.
Encounter stage: a specific event leads to critical evaluation of identity, group
membership, and white society, with the reality of racism realised.
Immersion/emersion stage: immersion in non-white culture in an attempt to replace
the pre-encounter identity, characterised by disdain of white culture and judgement of
other non-white people based on standards of ‘who is black enough’.
Internalisation: a more objective view of the world, characterised by confidence and
group membership security: appreciating own and others. Rejects racism, no longer
judging based on race, but on personal character.
Internalisation-Commitment: a positive sense of racial identity characterised by a
commitment to a plan of action or general sense of commitment to the concerns of
people of colour, sustained over time.
Another model comes from Parham (Parham, 1989), who describes cycles of racial identity
development as a lifelong, continuously changing process for people of colour. This theoretical
approach argues people move through angry feelings about whites to develop positive frames of
reference, with a realistic perception of one’s racial identity eventually developed which leads to
greater success in the intercultural space. Parham’s model importantly identifies that when
negative treatment is experienced from white people by people of colour, consciousness of a
racial identity-and difference- are triggered.
All these models have strengths and weaknesses, and a comparison by Chávez & Guido-DiBrito
(1999) is presented on the next page.
Note the word ‘colour’ is obviously an American term referring to people of colour in America, and is not used
or appropriate in the Australian context. However, for the purpose of presenting these models that have been
developed in contexts highlighted by white authority and domination with subordination of minority groups and
‘coloured’ Americans, we have kept the use of these terms as depicted in the models.
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Table 2: A Comparison of Racial Identity Models (Chavez & Guido-DiBrito)
Outlines interracial exposure Confuses
as a powerful trigger for how development
racial identity develops.
development of a racial
identity. The model assumes
that white racial identity is
about their perceptions,
feelings, and behaviours to
non-whites rather than
about the consciousness of
an actual white racial
Helpful in outlining racial
identity as a dynamic process
influenced by those both
within and without a
particular ethnic group.
Starts from premise that
experience identity, they are
first unaware of racial
identity- theirs or others.
Sense of progress in
outlining shift from an
unconscious to a conscious
racial identity.
exposure to racial difference
as the primary trigger for the
These models are by no means exhaustive; they merely provide us with building blocks for
thinking about racial and ethnic identity, the continuum of how this identity develops and,
importantly, what it means in the Australian context. An individual’s identity is complex,
influenced by, and in response to, many different factors, and is “shaped by individual
characteristics, family dynamics, historical factors, and social and political context” (Tatum, 2003).
These factors are somewhat infinite and include things like gender, age, personality and
religion/spirituality. The diversity of influencing forces means that we are all uniquely shaped by
individual identities. Identity development is a continual process that happens throughout our
lives, and while theoretical models offer some suggestions for exploring our identity, it is through
self-reflection that perhaps the most effective connections can be made.
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Intercultural Competency in Educators
Greater awareness of our own racial identity and ongoing reflexivity provides the foundation for
competent engagement in an intercultural space whether as an educator, or a learner. It is
through reflexivity that we can begin to develop cultural competencies and skills. There is
considerable theoretical and practical information articulating cross-cultural and inter-cultural
competencies in action. Characteristics include:
the ability to interpret and relate,
to have a positive and curious approach to differences and unfamiliarity
to be sensitivit to diversity, and
have insights about how culture effects communication and language
(Marotta, 2008; Roy & Starosta, 2001; Sercu, 2004).
Byram & Nichols (2001) developed the notion of an ‘intercultural speaker’ to describe skills and
competencies an intercultural educator and leader must possess. They describe someone who has
the ability to interact with others, to accept other perspectives of the world, to mediate between
different perspectives and most importantly, be conscious of their own evaluations of different
perspectives that are occurring (ongoing reflexivity). They observe that a potential intercultural
speaker evolves initially from two domains:
1. Intercultural attitudes—curiosity and openness and a readiness to suspend disbelief about
other cultures and belief in one’s own. One’s own values must be made ‘relative’ and
reflected upon.
2. Knowledge—not necessarily about other cultures per se, but a knowledge about how social
identities form and function.
As no intercultural speaker will have all the knowledge necessary for any particular cultural group,
Byram & Nichols suggest there are a number of crucial skills that educators in this space need to
employ, particularly in order to mediate and resolve the misunderstandings that can arise in the
intercultural setting. This mostly concerns skills that are able to bring forth alternative
perspectives and ‘decentralise’ attitudes:
Skills of interpreting and relating- ability to interpret information from another cultural
perspective and relate it to one’s own
Skills of discovery and interaction-ability to acquire new knowledge of another culture
and practices
Critical cultural awareness – where reflexivity meets critical evaluation of one’s own
practices, beliefs and values as cultural ‘products’, as well of that of others
Effective and generic teaching and learning skills in group facilitation, inclusive communication and
creating safe spaces for group interaction, engagement and dialogue, are crucial foundations for
the intercultural educator. Importantly, facilitating effective interaction in the intercultural space
requires educators to be equipped to lead students through guided discussion that promotes two-
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way learning to explore issues and promote genuine intercultural learning. Other intercultural
competencies in educators include:
ability to continually reflect on the influence of their own ethnic/racial identity and how it
influences the learning environment
consciously ensuring learning materials and activities are inclusive of a variety of
multicultural world views
the ability to create an environment that balances different cultural learning norms (such
as collaborative work and individual tasks, visual to written, discussion & reflection etc)
(Chavez & Guido-DiBrito, 1999; Gardener, 1997).
These skills, augmented by engagement in ongoing self-reflection and racial consciousness, will
assist the intercultural educator to take learners through a “dynamic process of growth through
ongoing questioning, self-assessment, knowledge and skill-building, starting with the students’
level of current competence and supporting enhancement of their abilities”(Sowers-Hoag &
Sandau-Beckler, 1996, p. 37).
Cultural Competency Continuum
Over the last three decades, globalization and increasingly multicultural societies, (as well as the
focus on improving outcomes for Indigenous peoples around the world), has resulted in the
broadening of cultural safety to include terms such as cultural security, sensitivity, awareness and
competence. Although these terms have largely been discussed with reference to improving
health practice for culturally diverse groups, increasingly these terms are being applied crosssectorally, and interprofessionally. As a result, ‘cultural competency’ is increasingly seen as a skill
required in a variety of social and professional settings. Competency is often referred to as a
continuum, presented as a linear process of development beginning with cultural awareness
(recognizing differences and commonalities, understanding one’s own cultural influences: often
the focus of training sessions) to sensitivity (how might my awareness influence my behaviour and
how can I accommodate different cultural needs) to eventual safety and competence.
The notion of cultural safety has its foundations in the 1980s in nursing practice in New Zealand,
where the power differences between Maoris and health practitioners was recognised as a major
determinant affecting Maori health outcomes. Cultural safety has been defined as:
[A]n environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of
their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared
meaning, shared knowledge and experience of learning, living and working together with
dignity and truly listening (R Williams, 1999)
Cultural safety refers to environments that are culturally safe for all people; where identity,
culture and community feel secure.
The National Health and Medical Research Council states that cultural competency is:
A set of congruent behaviours, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system,
agency or among professionals and enables that system, agency or those professions, to
work effectively in cross-cultural situations. Cultural competence is much more than
awareness of cultural differences, as it focuses on the capacity of the health system to
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improve health and wellbeing by integrating culture into the delivery of health services
(NHMRC, 2006, p. 7)
Cultural awareness → cultural sensitivity→ cultural safety
Another way of understanding this process is in incremental steps, which Coffin presented as a
pyramid that related to Maslow’s theory of human motivation (which Coffin understood as
Maslow’s lower needs being comparable to cultural awareness; you cannot become competent
without going through the process of cultural awareness, sensitivity and safety/security).
In the teaching and learning space, opportunity for interaction and dialogue across cultural groups
will ultimately offer the most effective potential for learners to experience ‘shifts’ along-or in tonext stage of the cultural continuum. Findings from one study suggest frequent interaction among
interracial students may be more effective in developing cultural knowledge then more formal
cultural awareness training sessions (Antonio, 2001). These interactions are particularly important
when we consider that culture is an inherited lens through which we perceive and understand the
world in which we live (often referred to as an individual’s ‘worldview’) and understanding it is
essential to better understanding others (Paden, 1994). Informal interactions between interracial
learners create much more opportunity for cultural awareness to develop that is not limited to
stereotypes, with individuality and diversity among cultural groups better understood.
Inhibitors to Effective Learning in the Intercultural Space
Educators in an intercultural learning environment may be presented with a number of challenges
with learners, such as: lack of engagement to vocal resistance/ recalcitrance (particularly when
unpacking the social construction of racial identity) (Haddad, 2002); emotional responses
generated from the colonial past; and current disparities such as white guilt (Williams, 2000) or
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ambivalence (Kowal & Paradies, 2005), or anger and resentment. Many members of minority
groups also bring experiences into the learning setting of having to negotiate stereotyping, unfair
treatment and exclusion, and this can affect their engagement in the intercultural space. In
contrast, many white learners may be resistant to learning things that are outside of the normal
educational style they are accustomed to (Chavez & Guido-DiBrito, 1999).
While in any learning environment there is likely to be the ‘very engaged’ student and the ‘nonengaged’, when attempting to shift students through a cultural competency and racially reflective
continuum. There are also many individual factors the educator must take in to account when
considering the disengagement, or inability to ‘shift’, of some learners. These factors can include
the initial level of resistance, previous exposure to cultural learning content and prior multicultural
life experiences (Lawrence & Tatum, 1998). These individual forces, many which go beyond the
scope of a classroom, can however, speak more to the intercultural educator’s role as leader in
supporting larger system developments that can in turn support in-the-classroom changes.
Lawrence and Tatum suggest these include the importance of intercultural material in multiple
courses, the enrolment of students in multiple courses (not just one course on intercultural
competency), and leadership at the senior level (Lawrence & Tatum, 1998).
Having honest, open and productive conversations about racial issues is often extremely difficult
largely, Singleton & Linton argue, because we all see racial issues differently due to our own
subjective racial affiliations (which is why undertaking a personal racial autobiography is so
important). They also suggest communication is racialised, meaning people enter dialogue having
very different communication styles and importantly, different expectations of the outcomes.
Distrust, fear, and fustration are common emotional undertones. Another important reason for
these difficulties is the different colour commentary at play. Even though Singleton & Linton wrote
on white and African American interrelations, their identification of the differences in ‘coloured
commentary’ may offer some thought provoking factors for intercultural educators to consider in
classroom dynamics:
Table 3: Understanding White Talk and Colour Commentary (Singleton & Linton, 2006, p. 123)
White Talk
Colour Commentary
authoritataive, and interrupted speech.
Value is placed on expressing oneself and
controlling the conversation.
Nonverbal: Characterised by silent respect for as
well as disconnect from the one talking and/or
positional/cultural authority.
Communication takes place through body
Example: Who speaks first, longest, and motions and other nonverbal expression.
most often.
Example: Folded arms, silence, sighs, rolling of
they eyes, refusal to offer direct eye contact.
Impersonal: Typically spoke in third person. Personal: Typically spoken in first person. Great
Prone to explaining opinion through use of value placed upon sharing one’s own story and
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other people’s stories or experiences.
Example: “My best firend who is Black…I am
married to a person of color who thinks
that…I grew up around Asians and they
Example: “The police pulled me over because I
am Black…As a Chicano, I don’t trust White
people…We believe that ‘such-such a place’ has a
problem with people of color.”
Intellectual: Dialogue is abstract and
disconnected from immediate and local
reality. More interested in quantitative
analysis of one’s thinking.
Emotional: Dialogue is centred on an immediate
and local racial reality. More interested in
qualitative analysis and feelings.
Example: “Statistics say …Does the data
really suggest that it is because of race? I
once read that…(so-and-so) said…Can you
give me a citation that supports that? What
university did he attend? He studied with…”
Task Orientated: Organised around the
need ‘to do’ something and to find
solutions. An impatient focus on locating
tools and strategies to address racial issues.
Views the racial challenge as a technical
problem in which the solutions exists and
simply need to be unearthed. See
introspective conversation as a waste of
Example: “I don’t feel as though you like or
respect me as a Black teacher…I feel alone here
as the only teacher of color…I get so angry when
they speak for me, misinterpret and misrepresent
me…I don’t trust...I don’t feel safe.”
Process Orientated: Organised around the need
‘to be’ respected, validated, and affirmed.
Developing trust in others occurs through the
examination of racial attitudes and beliefs in
public. Racial challenges are viewed as adaptive
problems that require us to deal with our inner
thought processes and to explore our biases to
create undiscovered soltuions.
Example: “How do you feel about this Black
Example: “When are we going to get to the student? How do you believe your students of
actions? I’m tired of talking? What does color feel about you as a teacher? How do Latino
talking about race have to do with the faculty feel about working in a predominately
achievement gap? Give me a strategy.”
White school?”
Classroom learning and discussions about Aboriginal material can also be challenged by conscious
and unconscious stereotypes, preconceived judgements, political sensitivities’, token identification
and racism. These undercurrents can create an environment where discussions of Aboriginal
material become ‘problematic’, tense, and/or unproductive. At the University of British Colombia
in Canada, a reflective project was undertaken to identify what factors students felt made
conversations about Aboriginal material difficult and how to address it. Key dimensions identified
1. Social position – importance of facilitators acknowledging their social position, clarifying
parameters of your position and assisting conflicts that may arise in sensitive material.
Stating social position assists allows an educator to define the scope of their ability and
authority to speak to certain social, cultural, and historical experiences for students and
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2. Tokenisation – facilitator’s actions could assume that all Aboriginal people are "experts" to
be consulted about Aboriginal subject matter. The "Aboriginal as expert" presumes that
any Aboriginal person has knowledge of, and is willing to speak to, issues and information
regarding Aboriginal peoples and history, potentially leading to embarrassment,
tokenization, and discomfort.
This important project also presents examples of classroom incidents and support strategies to
address common arising factors that drive conversations about Aboriginal issues to be so difficult.
Resources are available at:
Aboriginal academic Professor Marcia Langton argues that the most difficult relationship is not
between black and white people ‘but between white Australians and the symbols created by their
predecessors. Most Australians do not know and relate to Aboriginal people. They relate to stories
told by former colonists.' (cited Reconciliation Australia, 2010) Langton is identifying the impact of
‘myths’; how inaccurate stereotypes of Aboriginal Australians can influence intercultural
interactions in a learning environment. An example of such myths identified by Reconciliation
Australiai includes:
 Aboriginal people only excel in sport.
 Aboriginal people are alcoholics who can’t handle their grog.
 Aboriginal people are lazy and don’t want to work.
 Aboriginal people get free houses, cars and undeserved special treatment.
 Native Title can take away people’s property.
 Aboriginal people trash their houses.
 Too much taxpayer money is spent on Aboriginal people.
 Aboriginal organisations are corrupt.
 There is no Aboriginal leadership.
 Things will never change.
Many non-Aboriginal Australians psychologically hold on to these myths, unconsciously and
consciously. However, it is not only Aboriginal Australians who are the subject of such myths and
stereotypes: preconceived racial categorizing affects all ethnic groups. You may find the following
link interesting in relation to stereotyping:
When attempting to de-bunk stereotypes in the an intercultural teaching and learning space, it is
important to ensure the reflexive lens is also intercultural; that is, everyone, whatever their
cultural/racial background, looks reflexively at their own package of stereotypes. For example,
Aboriginal stereotypes of white Australians may include:
 White people all want to help us like we can’t help ourselves.
 White people are always in a position of power.
 All whites are suspicious / scared of Aboriginal people.
 White people don’t listen.
 They think they know better then us.
 Whites always end up doing it their way, in the end.
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Things will never change.
Practical Learning Activity
Reflect on your own assumptions. How have they developed? How do they influence your thinking
and behaviors? What kind of stereoptypes do you feel other cultural groups may have of you?
Getting Participants to Effectively Engage in the Intercultural
Identifying strategies to improving participant engagement in an intercultural learning space is
crucial if educators are aiming to effect authentic, and effective, learning experiences. The
complex and many educational challenges that can arise in this setting means educators need to
feel equipped with a tool kit or ‘dilly bag’ of suitable strategies to manage difficult scenarios, and
install effective practice. Educators in this space are extremely diverse; teachers may be
Aboriginal, white or of other ethnic decent, while learners may have voluntarily enrolled in the
course or have been made to take the course as part of other tertiary/professional course
requirements. In tertiary settings, learners are also likely to be mostly ‘mainstream’, with
significant representation from a diversity of international countries. What this means in practice
is that intercultural teaching is complex, diverse, challenging and exciting.
In 2008 Christine Asmar, from the University of Melbourne’s Murrup Barak (Melbourne Institute
for Indigenous Development), undertook research as part of an Australian Learning and Teaching
Fellowship to identify ‘exemplars’ for good practice in Aboriginal university teaching, with
'Aboriginal teaching' being a broadly defined category inclusive of both Aboriginal and nonAboriginal staff teaching anything with Aboriginal content to either Aboriginal or mainstream
students. The findings were analysed, resulting in identification of 15 exemplar ‘Approaches to
Indigenous Teaching’:
1. Make the classroom a safe environment for learning.
1.1 Understand, anticipate and allay fears.
1.2 Establish relationships of trust and respect.
2. Show confidence in your own expertise, credibility and authority.
3. Set high academic and personal standards (and model them yourself).
4. Provide scaffolding and support where needed.
5. Negotiate emotions in the classroom.
6. Model dialogue by teaching in pairs / collaboratively.
7. Locate local Indigenous issues in global contexts.
8. Get students to question established assumptions and ‘facts’.
9. Build relationships with, and connect students to the community.
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9.1 Take students to community.
9.2 Bring community to the classroom.
Teach students to ‘walk in the shoes of others’.
Utilise personal experience.
11.1 Link your own personal experiences to the topic.
11.2 Ask students to relate their own personal background to their current learning.
Encourage student self-awareness.
12.1 Help students to know themselves and their own values better.
12.2 Require students to reflect on their own learning.
Show students the relevance of learning for future jobs/careers.
Be open to reflecting, learning and changing as a teacher.
Be enthusiastic and enjoy your teaching!
A description of how to enact these exemplars is included as part of the module resources in your
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