Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Axis Of Hope – Encouraging Conflict Resolution Skills

Today at Earcos Teachers’ Conference 2011, I attended an excellent pre-conference workshop hosted by Prof. Carl Hobart, founder of the non-profit organisation Axis of Hope. This organisation actively encourages young people to develop conflict negotiation skills through relevant and carefully managed role-play exercises. The ultimate aim is to equip students with the skills and motivation to prevent conflict through the local to global scale, both now and later in life.
The Axis of Hope website explains the approach here, and this quote reveals how the role-play method also helps to promote intercultural competence amongst young people:
Axis of Hope uses its unique case study approach to bring matters of international importance right into the classroom. These case studies have been thoughtfully constructed so as to avoid biases or prejudices and present only the facts. Furthermore, they are designed to promote interactive learning so that each case study includes … six different perspectives of the conflict allowing students to see through the different lenses of those involved. These perspectives are what allow our students to empathize with the involved parties as well as adopt a position and stance from which they can then negotiate.
This video at a little over 5 minutes explains the Axis of Hope approach more, and rings true to the potential which this approach holds (as I saw it today) in terms of global citizenship, lifelong learning and international mindedness:

This was a refreshing and stimulating workshop in which we started on a typical course schedule which Carl has shared with countless groups of students throughout the world. We ended by reflecting on the potential which such workshops could hold in our own schools and reflecting on the valuable experiences offered by the annual trips led by Carl and his team to Rwanda.
Here are ten of my reflections and notes from the course (with an emphasis on the theme of intercultural education):
1) Icebreaker activities really can work when preparing to listen to the viewpoints of others – Carl suggested we seek out engaging icebreaker activities from the Outward bound website. I couldn’t find these specifically, but did find these (including these focused on interculturalism) and also this useful list on a MS Word document.
2) Quizzes based on current world events can help open up useful discussions that are accessible and engaging for students.
3) Intercultural competence requires strong listening skills, and simulating conflict resolution certainly promotes these.
4) Paired introductions (in which two people are given 10 minutes to learn about each other and then introduce the other to the rest of the group) is a really good ice breaker in itself, but the same concept could also be applied to finding out about and introducing another person’s cultural heritages.
5) The ‘preventive diplomacy’ which Carl advocates requires well developed media literacy. The workshop gave practical examples of this – find a world issue that involves a number of international stakeholders, such as news items concerning Arab-Israeli conflict, and access the same issue as reported on by a variety of news agencies within the different stakeholder countries and regions. Use this to identify and explore bias, so gaining a fuller appreciation of different cultural viewpoints.
6) Another participant used the phrase ‘supernationalism’ to refer to a globalised, connected ‘flat’ world without borders.
7) Carl used the phrase G.Q. as in Global Quotient in terms of a person’s international-mindedness and global awareness, something which can be explored through quizzes (as above).
8) While such role-plays do require the student to develop a useful historical awareness of the case-study in question, the broader emphasis is on developing interpersonal skills above learning curricular content.
9) Carl advises that when we commit to community-focused service, such as improving a road in a Rwandan village, we should do it as part of a team and be humble about it. Don’t take pictures of the event, don’t seek credit. Walk away and focus meaning on the collaborative experience itself.
10) Carl and participants gave these book recommendations:
James Penstone

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Blog: Culturally Teaching

This is an impressive blog which carries the tagline ‘Education across Cultures’. Well worth following, it provides a lot of experience-related ideas and links to some useful resources on intercultural education.


Quoting from their ‘About page’:

Isn’t it interesting that we all grow up learning a culture? And even more interesting, that school is one of the places where we learn it?

We at CulturallyTeaching are fascinated by this connection between education and culture. A favorite elementary school teacher, a student’s interaction with her host mother, even a photo of a school lunch – these stories communicate culture!

Our mission is simple:

1. Document stories about education across cultures

2. Help others become more cross-culturally effective


Here is a sample of popular blog posts:

Sleeping in School - A Cultural Thing?
What Do Bread, Brot and Education Have in Common?
"Checking" Assumptions in the Classroom

I particularly enjoyed this post:


Visit CulturallyTeaching here.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Article–The Cross Cultural Classroom


Hosted on the NY Times’ Lesson Plans Blog, this article called The Cross-Cultural Classroom provides a good overview of some of the issues faced by educators seeking to harness intercultural opportunities within their schools. In particular, Christina Sunnarah focuses on the need for the teacher to develop her own cultural competence in order to better understand her students, and therefore “be as effective as possible with the students” she works with. Her school occupies a unique position culturally, as she explains here, but the ideas resonate well for those of us interested in intercultural education in general.

Here are two quotes:

To be able to know others, especially diverse others, one must know the self. So the growth of a culturally competent educator starts there. We must look within for a deeper understanding of who we are before we can adequately address the needs of our students.

Schools don’t exist in vacuums; they are situated within communities. Community involvement helps me understand the socio-cultural backgrounds of my students’ lives and build bridges between the home and school. This exposure helps challenge my own perspectives and biases.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Iceberg Model Of Culture

Cultural Iceberg opengecko

Image: Creative Commons License (details and further references here)

The idea of culture as an iceberg reminds us that only a smaller proportion of cultural aspects are more ‘visible’ and therefore more obvious than many other facets of culture which, while far less tangible and visible, are just as essential to our understanding of how cultures work. In fact, the sub-surface aspects shown above will directly influence those on the ‘tip’ of the iceberg. For example, religious beliefs influence holiday customs and notions of beauty influence the arts.

In terms of intercultural education at an International School such as ours, the relevance of this analogy is that we need to take care to focus our learning opportunities on the less visible aspects if it is to be genuinely meaningful. That is not to say that celebrating and learning about the more obvious aspects of culture (such as the three Fs - food, flags, and festivals) is not important – far from it. However, without embracing the important stuff beneath the surface, there is a risk that learning events claiming to raise intercultural understanding do not go deep enough on their own.

To quote from an article I have recently written for our Term 2 magazine:

Visible and obvious cultural aspects – such as clothing, flags, food, performing and visual arts - are often essential to culture and are well worth celebrating, as happens during International Day and other school festivals. However, there are also many cultural aspects of any community which may not be so visible. We need to continually provide our students with chances to reflect on the many beliefs, values, assumptions and expectations which they and those around them hold. Similarly, we should explore various attitudes towards gender, age, social status, time, space and more. What notions of beauty, courtesy, friendship and ‘self’ do we hold? And how do these reflect our own cultural heritages?

To facilitate deep reflection on these vital but less tangible aspects of culture we need to embed such opportunities across the full range of age groups and learning activities, both curricular and extra-curricular.

The iceberg analogy of culture is very common. Below are some links to sites that explain the concept further and in some cases offer a related activity.

  • An alternative version of the iceberg on a pdf file can be found here. A simplified but nicely animated version is here. Another pdf version here divides the aspects in to three parts (doing, thinking and feeling)
  • An exercise asking you to identify where different cultural aspects might be located on the iceberg is here.
  • A good summary of the concept as applied to a school’s planning of a Year 4 unit on understanding other cultures is here. There is a useful point  on turning the iceberg upside down.
  • This impressive cross-cultural training guide by the Peace Corps gives an iceberg activity on page 10 – click here.