6 Foundational Practice 1: Develop an Awareness of Cultural and Disciplinary Identities

In the previous chapters, we developed our understanding of interculturality, intercultural teaching, and the processes involved in growth and development in these areas. In this chapter, and the ones that follow, our exploration turns to specific practices that can help us in our journey of developing the understandings and ways of being that characterize intercultural educators. Many of these practices are informed by Dimitrov and Haque’s (2016) framework for faculty reflection on intercultural teaching.

In the section on transformative learning and reflection in the last chapter, we began to reflect on the factors that have shaped our understanding of what it means to be an educator.  In this chapter, we will pursue further opportunities to explore how our cultural and disciplinary identities impact pedagogy in the intercultural classroom.

Cultural Identities

Often, intercultural development is understood as a process that primarily involves learning about others who are different from ourselves. Approaching interculturality this way, however, typically results in a shallow form of development that fails to question the ways in which we centre our own culture as “normal”. A relationally-based form of intercultural learning requires that we understand ourselves as cultural beings, and the ways in which our own cultural selves are at work when we relate to others (Martin & Pirbhai-Illich, 2016).  This is particularly true for those whose cultural identities are more congruent with the dominant culture. This congruence can cause us to fail to recognize the cultural processes that impact our own ways of being, allowing us to remain a part of systems that diminish other ways of being by labelling them as non-normative.

In order to practice a relational way of intercultural knowing, we begin by grounding ourselves in a recognition of our own identities, and how they impact the ways in which we interact with others and with the world. This includes consideration of how our identities impact our position in the classroom and relationships with students. For example, instructors from more privileged cultural identities may be perceived differently by students; for example students may view them as having more expertise or authority (Chesler & Young, 2007).  Additionally, it is helpful to reflect on the way our identities may be perceived by students who are both similar to and different from ourselves.


Self-reflection on cultural identity

The following questions provide a starting place for reflecting on your own cultural identity and its impact on you as an educator (Adapted from Ellerbrock et al., 2016).

  • Describe your cultural identity.
  • Reflect on a specific situation where your cultural identity was affirmed.
  • Reflect on a specific situation where your cultural identity was questioned.
  • Describe the ways in which your cultural identity impacts your work as an educator.
  • What assumptions do you believe students might make about your cultural identity?  How might these impact your interactions with students?
  • What parts of your cultural identity to you share with students? Which are you less likely to share in the classroom?

Disciplinary Identities

In addition to cultural identities, disciplinary identities shape our self-development and classroom interactions. Our deep immersion in a particular field influences the ways in which we relate to others, speak, and present information in writing.

In academic contexts, we often refer to concepts such as academic culture or academic writing. However, because of the differences in disciplines, there is often considerable variation in how professional communication occurs between fields of study. It is more accurate to speak about a variety of academic literacies, acknowledging the variation between disciplines (Lea & Street, 1998). As we become immersed in the academic literacies of our disciplines, the thinking and communication processes involved become integrated into our way of being.  Reflecting on the development of our disciplinary identities allows us to reconnect with our earlier learning experiences, acknowledging that our current communication strategies were perhaps acquired with difficulty, and refined over time. This in turn allows us to reflect on thinking patterns and skills that have become a part of our own assumptions over time.  Often, this reflection is needed in order for us to proactively make these thinking processes and ways of communicating explicit to students.


Self-reflection on disciplinary identities

Consider the questions below as you reflect on your disciplinary identity.

  • Why were you attracted to the academic discipline you chose to pursue?
  • What was most difficult about your discipline in your undergraduate and graduate studies?
  • What are the characteristics of a successful professional in your discipline?  How do you seek to embody these characteristics?
  • How does your discipline influence how you think?  How you communicate orally? How you write?
  • What is the relationship between your cultural and disciplinary identities?

For a reflection that guides you through a consideration of some of these questions, and how they impact your practice as an educator you can access a PebblePad template here).


Often our awareness of cultural and disciplinary identities develops in layers, and changes over time. Awareness of how we are shaped by our own identities is a foundational starting place for engaging well with others whose identities are different from our own.


Additional Resources
  • The Teaching Perspectives Inventory is a self-assessment that provides insight on our beliefs and practices as educators. After completing the TPI, an additional layer of reflection may be to consider how cultural and disciplinary identities shape your beliefs about teaching.



Chesler, M., & Young Jr, A. A. (2007). Faculty members’ social identities and classroom authority. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2007(111), 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.281

Dimitrov, N., & Haque, A. (2016). Intercultural teaching competence: a multi-disciplinary model for instructor reflection. Intercultural Education, 27(5), 437–456. https://doi.org/10.1080/14675986.2016.1240502

Ellerbrock, C. R., Cruz, B. C., Vásquez, A., & Howes, E. V. (2016). Preparing culturally responsive teachers: effective practices in teacher education. Action in Teacher Education, 38(3), 226–239. https://doi.org/10.1080/01626620.2016.1194780

Lea, M. R., & Street, B. V. (1998). Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157–172. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079812331380364

Martin, F., & Pirbhai-Illich, F. (2016). Towards decolonising teacher education: criticality, relationality and intercultural understanding. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 37(4), 355–372. https://doi.org/10.1080/07256868.2016.1190697.


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Foundations of Intercultural Teaching Copyright © 2021 by Kwantlen Polytechnic University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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