As classrooms change in Canada, it is important for educators to fully engage in courageous conversations about diversity. But are we all speaking the same language when it comes to diversity? Numerous factors are converging that make teaching and learning in cross-cultural and multicultural contexts more commonplace. In 1971, Canada was the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy - something we greatly pride ourselves upon, and rightly so. But a growing appreciation of cultural diversity is demonstrated by more than its official acknowledgement and tolerance. To me, it is demonstrated by a desire to preserve and hone that diversity as a valuable asset of the global community. Since I am addressing classrooms, in this case our student community. With B.C.’s 2016 revised curriculum’s focus on “personalized learning” consequently engendering “the educated citizen”, I cannot help but wonder how we can proud ourselves on and talk about 21st-century “progressive” learning when our new curriculum still forgets to include cross-cultural learning and teaching challenges, suggested solutions, and further support? I bring up this issue not only as a future educator, but also because of my own personal experiences having been a part of the Canadian education system as an immigrant.
I believe that teachers who build their cultural competence increase their ability to form authentic relationships across differences which supports the transmission of knowledge to their learners. For example, having taught ESL/EAL students over time, I have come to recognize that self-directed learning is a culturally influenced phenomena. Here is an instance (that I have personally experienced numerous times as an educator myself) extracted from the book ESL writers: A guide for writing centre tutors:
Toshi bows before taking a seat in the chair indicated by the writing centre tutor, Jessica. Sitting motionless, he waits until Jessica asks, "What would you like to work on today?" Toshi takes out a beginning draft of a paper he has started for a class in the MBA program, and stares at the floor while Jessica glances briefly through the two pages. When she finishes a cursory review, she smiles at Toshi, waiting for his answer. Thursdays are busy this time of semester. There are three students waiting for one of the two tutors working that day. Finally, sensing Jessica's mood, Toshi says in a hushed voice, "Is it OK?"
From Toshi's perspective:
• He is exhibiting polite behaviour appropriate for the Japanese
• He silently waits to be addressed
• He seeks agreement and is sensitive to the "other"
From Jessica's perspective:
• She expects Toshi to define the issues or problems he sees and tell her why he is at the center for help
• She is aware of her schedule
• She interprets Toshi's silence as a hindrance in making full use of the tutoring time; as if he is unprepared
This is an instance that many educators and learners will be familiar with, if not experienced, themselves. The difference is, not every educator has the kind of intercultural competency a cross-cultural classroom – such as those all over Canada – demands. As educators, our ability to give every student a chance to succeed in a class largely depends on a full understanding of their culture and learning styles. After all, effective educational decisions and practices must emanate from an understanding of the ways in which individual students learn. We congratulate ourselves as Canadians for a lot of things. And while we do have a lot to be proud of, there is still a lot more work to be done. Our reasonableness is at the core of a lot of our shortcomings.
Professional development activities that are relevant, focused, and examine the issues and challenges associated with the hyper diverse school communities we have in Canadian classrooms can provide teachers with cultural knowledge and skills that will enable them to create more inclusive classrooms for their students. I think reforming the teacher training programs (such as PDP) to include teachings that encourage educators to identify their own personalities and cultural lenses in their instruction will help facilitate this process by the time the instructor reaches the reality of our diverse classrooms.