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FEATURE: MANAGING THE CHALLENGE OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY


culture of our school, other groups that we may interact with, and other identities that we hold. For a teacher to understand a particular pupil they need to consider all of these different influences upon them.


How do schools create a culture where everyone is valued?


We tend to think of culture in relation to national culture, but in the business world much emphasis is placed on creating a corporate or organisational culture. Google is perhaps a prime example of this, with its open spaces, available drinks and snacks and beanbags to sit in, all designed to allow its employees the freedom to create and develop new products. Every school has its own culture, which may have been carefully cultivated, or may have emerged without any specific focus. It is important to be intentional about creating a culture for your school, one that is accepting and welcoming of all, and that values diversity. Sometimes in attempts to be ‘politically correct’ educational establishments have gone down the route of stating that ‘we are all the same’. Whilst recognising the desire behind this view is to show that all students are valued, it does not allow for difference to be celebrated. In many ways this view can be described as ‘culture blindness’, and tends to push students into a homogenous monoculture. Schools should be striving to create a culture where all students feel valued and where their cultural backgrounds and heritage are celebrated. This needs to include but to go far beyond positive images of people from different cultures in books and on posters, to allowing students to bring their culture into the classroom in creative ways through food, stories, music, drama, festivals etc.


How do teachers help students integrate with their peers from other cultural backgrounds?


The culture of the school plays an important part in helping students integrate with their peers from different cultural backgrounds. If students have a worldview of ‘us and them’ they tend to remain separate from each other. In a carefully constructed school culture this can shift to a mindset of ‘us’. Finding common ground is the basis of this shift. As we delve deeper into personal identities we realise that we are each influenced by many things, and we belong to many different groups. Our cultural heritage is just one of these groups, and for some is a stronger influence than others. Students may find common ground through many different interests in school; music, sport, science etc. Even a small group working together on a maths project develops its own culture. Each school needs to


tread a fine line between stressing the commonalities but also acknowledging and valuing diversity. Out of school activities provide a great way to help students integrate with others, recognising that they have the commonality of a shared interest in a particular activity. Residential trips where students get to know each other well are particularly helpful for this. Whilst staff set the culture and provide opportunities for interaction around common interests, students develop their own friendship groups. Full integration is recognised when students from different backgrounds meet up outside of school at their own instigation.


The challenge of working with newly arrived children


Children and families arrive in the UK for many different reasons. For some their parents are academics working or studying at a university, leading to university towns and cities having a diverse population. Other families come for work opportunities including economic migrants looking for a better life. And of course, some are asylum seekers fleeing terrible circumstances. It is important for teachers to understand the background of these new students as they join their class. All of these students are likely to experience some degree of culture shock as they adapt to the new situation they find themselves in. This culture shock is likely to be both with British culture and with the culture of the school, as both may be different to what they are used to. Even those coming from cultures where the difference to British culture is not seen to be very significant, can experience a form of hidden culture shock as they realise that everything is not the same as before. Those students coming from very different cultures and particularly where they have experienced trauma are likely to find the adaptation process difficult. Few children and young people move to the UK out of choice, it is either as a result of their parents’ choice or because circumstances meant that they had to leave their country.


The Culture Shock model first presented by Lysgaard (1955) and developed by Oberg (1960), suggests that there are 4 stages within the process of adaptation. The first is the honeymoon period. This tends to apply to those moving to a


January 2018


new culture out of a desire to be there. Everything is new and exciting and people are happy that they have finally moved. Some students may experience this but others may find the change confusing and difficult from the start. Next comes the culture shock stage – this is where people find life difficult and confusing. People who were very competent in their home culture now are not sure how to carry out the simplest of tasks and have to learn a new way of living. But this leads to the adjustment phase, as small achievements are made and new ways of doing things are learned. Finally comes adaptation as individuals feel comfortable and competent in the new culture. This process can take some time, even years. Sometimes along with adaptation comes a shift in the feeling of where home is. It is important that teachers understand the process of adaptation that their students and their families are going through in order to help them make the transition. There can be many emotions connected with the process which for some students can affect behaviour. Additionally, some students may not be competent using English and this can isolate them further. Care needs to be taken when considering how to help and the complexities of the student’s situation should be taken into account when finding other students who will help them settle in, and services that can offer support.


For those schools that rise to the challenge and engage positively with the cultural diversity within, the rewards can be great. A thriving school with a carefully crafted culture that values diversity and encourages different ways of looking at the world, will be creative, looking outside the box and coming up with many different ideas both within the classroom and reaching out to the community.


Cascade Cultural Solutions can help school staff develop cultural intelligence in order to create an environment in which students from diverse cultural backgrounds can thrive.


For further information and details of courses please see the website.


www.cascade.solutions shirley@cascade.solutions


www.education-today.co.uk 39


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