2 What is Intercultural Teaching?

Defining Intercultural Teaching

As educators, we desire to see our students master our course objectives as they develop personally and professionally. As we enter increasingly diverse classrooms and learning spaces, we begin to encounter questions about how we foster learning and development in students who are culturally different from ourselves. Intercultural teaching provides space to consider the ways of being and practices that allow us to engage well with our students and that allow diversity to enhance the learning experience for all students.

As we embark on our exploration of intercultural teaching, we begin with a foundational question: what is intercultural teaching? While terms like intercultural teaching and multicultural teaching are commonly used, they may have radically different meanings depending on the understandings of interculturality behind the approaches and practices suggested. Over the past decades, several understandings of intercultural teaching have emerged.

1. Intercultural teaching as teaching “the Other”. In this approach, educators focus on learning about specific aspects of their students’ cultures, such as the values, lifestyles, and ways of being that might be typical of students from a particular country or region (Gorski, 2009).  While well-intentioned, this approach can lead to harm, as students find themselves stereotyped, and educators fail to recognize individual differences in values and experiences (Gorski, 2008).  The focus on difference that characterizes this approach may also lead to a failure to address issues of racism and discrimination (Sleeter, 1996).

2. Intercultural teaching as culturally sensitive practice. In this approach, educators focus on understanding personal biases and adjusting their ways of teaching and relating to be increasingly sensitive to diversity. Within this approach, educators also focus on increasing their personal intercultural practice, which may be expressed with the language of intercultural teaching competency (Gorski, 2009). Generally, in this approach, the basic structure of the curriculum is maintained, while shifts in classroom practice take place.

3. Intercultural teaching as a transformative practice. Banks (2006) suggests that intercultural teaching can extend beyond cultural awareness and sensitivity, fostering deeper shifts in thinking about curriculum, pedagogy, and practice. A transformative approach challenges educators to address more fundamental questions around the purpose and structure of the curriculum. The transformative practice approach may also include a focus on moving educators and students towards specific actions that promote justice and equity.


For reflection:  Which of the three understandings of intercultural teaching most resonates with you?  How does this vision connect with your broader teaching philosophy and aspirations?

Aspects of Intercultural Teaching

What knowledges, skills, and abilities do successful intercultural educators possess? Dimitrov and Haque (2016), in their synthesis of the literature on intercultural development and teaching practice, propose three groups of competencies: foundational interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies, facilitation competencies, and curriculum development competencies. Killick (2018) described four core areas that support intercultural teaching. The first is the being dimension, which involves personal development and growth in characteristics such as open-mindedness and the ability to suspend judgement. The second dimension, understanding, encompasses knowledge about cultural processes, academic cultures, and how these interact. The third dimension, acting-engaging in, involves the use of intercultural facilitation and inclusive pedagogies. The fourth dimension, acting-providing, includes providing interculturalized curricula and learning opportunities for students.

In this book, we will use the following framework, which draws on Dimitrov and Haque’s (1996) work:

1. Foundational Intercultural Teaching Competencies: In this area, we will focus on the foundational ways of being and relating that support a developing intercultural teaching practice. This includes reflection on our own cultural development, including the development of our disciplinary identities and pedagogical philosophies. Forming an understanding of the process of intercultural development also supports growth in these foundational intrapersonal and interpersonal skills.

2. Inclusive Pedagogies: This aspect of intercultural teaching practices focuses on pedagogical shifts that enhance equity by supporting students as they navigate academic and disciplinary cultures. Focus areas for inclusive pedagogies include supporting writing development in multilingual students, incorporating Universal Design for Learning, and facilitating student participation in groups and teams.

3. Interculturalizing the Curriculum: Interculturalizing the curriculum involves two key aspects: (1) incorporating content and ways of knowing from non-dominant cultures into the curriculum and (2) supporting students as they develop in their own intercultural journey.

All three strands of intercultural teaching practice are interrelated, and rest on the foundational intercultural teaching competencies addressed in Part 1 of this book. This foundational knowledge provides preparation for selecting intercultural content and implementing inclusive pedagogies in ways suitable to your course and relevant to your students.

Intercultural Teaching as a Disruptive Practice

Embarking on an intercultural teaching journey, for many educators, is one of the most challenging and rewarding paths of their teaching careers. Lee et al. (2017) emphasize that intercultural teaching practice is inherently disruptive, interrupting the status quo in search of practices that allow students opportunities to learn more effectively in environments where their ways of knowing and being are valued. This disruption involves questioning some of the standard practices that we experienced as learners in our discipline, and may continue to use as a result of our socialization into particular academic and professional communities. Embracing intercultural teaching may result in questioning practices that privilege certain ways of learning content, but that serve to exclude learners from engaging in their chosen disciplines according to their full potential.

Intercultural teaching practice may take us into places that feel personally disruptive, as we begin to investigate how our own practices and values were formed. This challenge may lead us to explore new ways of being with students, and new ways of relating to our disciplines and course content. The challenge of the process cannot be ignored; however, the value of entering into new pedagogies where students thrive means that most who have moved through this journey state that the rewards have exceeded the challenges involved.


Recommended Reading:.


Banks, J. A. (2006). Race, culture, and education : The selected works of James A. Banks. Taylor & Francis Group. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/oculnu-ebooks/detail.action?docID=273818

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

Gorski, P. C. (2008). Good intentions are not enough: a decolonizing intercultural education. Intercultural Education, 19(6), 515–525. https://doi.org/10.1080/14675980802568319

Gorski, P. C. (2009). What we’re teaching teachers: An analysis of multicultural teacher education coursework syllabi. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(2), 309–318. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2008.07.008

Killick, D. (2018). Developing intercultural practice: academic development in a multicultural and globalizing world. http://www.myilibrary.com?id=1032840

Lee, A., Felten, P., Poch, R. K., Solheim, C., & O’Brien, M. K. (2017). Teaching interculturally : A framework for integrating disciplinary knowledge and intercultural development. Stylus Publishing, LLC. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/kwantlen-ebooks/detail.action?docID=4983583.

Sleeter, C. E. (1996). Multicultural education as social activism. SUNY Press; eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). https://ezproxy.kpu.ca:2443/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=5285&site=ehost-live&scope=site


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