Why growing teacher expertise in cultural education reaps big rewards in the classroom

Why growing teacher expertise in cultural education reaps big rewards in the classroom

A new approach called transculturalism can help teachers deepen student understanding, adopt fresh teaching practices and create more inclusive classrooms.

Senior Monash lecturer Niranjan Casinader explains in this second part of the three-part series. In his first article, Niranjan explained why words are important when it comes to cultural education.

Why expert teachers are important when it comes to intercultural education

Whether working with the Victorian or Australian Curriculum, teachers are asked to build cultural understanding within their students. It’s best done progressively, starting with the basics and moving on to more advanced stages.

Thanks to globalisation, diversity is common place in classrooms, so it’s likely your students are from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and family histories. A significant proportion may be from overseas, or from families that have moved around the world.

For teachers to maximise the potential of this diverse range of students, they must possess their own cultural capabilities and understandings, regardless of the length of their professional experience.

Teachers need to be mindful to do this in ways that reflect the cultural diversity of Australia. For example, acknowledging

  • Indigenous cultures existed before the start of European settlement in 1788
  • Cultural layers have been added to the country through migration from all over the world, especially over the last 50 years.

The terms currently used to describe and measure cultural capability belong to a different time

Teachers are required to build and measure cultural capability in their students. However, the current ideas that these measures are based on belong to a pre-Internet age, before modern globalisation.

This was a time when travel was unaffordable for most people. Learning about other places was limited to sources like television and written media. These took time to produce, were short on detail and not always accessible.

Developed in the 1960s Developed to counteract the way multiculturalism seemed to divide societies.
Focuses on obtaining knowledge about how people from other cultures live Concentrates on the communication between cultures

Both these terms represent a recognition and tolerance of cultural difference. They do not necessarily reflect an acceptance of difference.

They tend to assume cultures are naturally in conflict with each other and we need to create bridges to foster connection and communication.

A more modern idea for teachers: transculturalism

Transculturalism is an attitude that sees cultural variation in society as a natural state. Diverse classrooms are not only expected, but seen as the norm.

Difference is not a problem to be overcome, but a simple reality to be used productively in teaching and learning.

Transculturalism is a capability that incorporates a change in the teacher’s state of mind. It is more than a learned competency that can be acquired just by doing a course. It can take time to develop.

Possessing this transcultural capability and acceptance of difference means the teacher is more open and prepared to meet and cater for student differences in other areas too, such as gender and sexuality.

Benefits in the classroom

Research on the transcultural capacity of teachers in several countries and places, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand, has shown that teachers who have or who develop a transcultural mindset are more culturally inclusive in their teaching practice and more open to innovation and inquiry.

Studies of pre-service teachers have also demonstrated that a transcultural mindset influences their professional practice for the better in culturally unfamiliar environments.

A positive influence for students

Transcultural capability is a mindset and a guideline for classroom practices for now and the future. It’s important for teachers as well as the students they teach. Building transcultural capability through teacher professional development and learning is an important first step to teaching students about cultural understanding.

If teachers possess or have developed a transcultural capacity, the next challenge is to create a program that develops that same transcultural understanding in their students.

Guidelines on how to do this are the subject of the final of this three-part series.

Casinader, N. (2014). Culture, Transnational Education and Thinking: Case Studies in Global Schooling (Chap 1). Routledge: Milton Park, Abingdon.

Casinader, N. (2016). A lost conduit for intercultural education: school geography and the potential for transformation in the  Australian Curriculum, Intercultural Education, 27(3), 257-273, doi: 10.1080/14675986.2016.1150650.

Casinader, N. (2016). Transnationalism in the Australian Curriculum: new horizons or destinations of the past? Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 37(3), 327-340, doi: 10.1080/01596306.2015.1023701.