Capitalize on cultural differences in your classroom

Teaching culturally diverse classes can be a challenge if you haven't been properly trained. As a trainer, cross-cultural teaching is one essential skill to have. Kevin Eikenberry shares some important cultural training tips with you.

Picture this: You get an e-mail announcement of your next training assignment. Because you’re so good at what you do, the note says, you’re going to train people in Latin America! You are now wondering what to do next. Read on!

According to the Intercultural Training Institute in Charlotte, NC, recent research indicates that only 35 percent of U.S. firms do cross-cultural training of any type, which is far less than firms based in other industrialized countries. Research also shows a strong relationship between cross-cultural training and successful overseas assignments. What does this mean to you as a trainer? Cross-cultural training is a necessity, and this necessity is increasing as more companies venture into other countries and more businesses migrate into the U.S. corporate world.
In “How to train in the culturally diverse classroom ,” we discussed several ways to help you prepare for a culturally diverse training session. In “Let attentiveness be your guide with a culturally diverse class ,“ we talked about how to see, hear, and speak to what your students want. In this last part of the series, we’ll cover the four final tips for teaching culturally diverse classes. Any of these tips can stand alone, but together they can help you become a conductor who orchestrates a very powerful learning experience for your students. Please share your comments on this article with your other community readers by posting a comment at the bottom of this page.
1. Be personal
If you listed five characteristics of the most effective learning experiences you’ve ever had, I’m willing to bet that at least one of them would deal with your instructor. For example, the instructors who were most effective at teaching me cared, and showed that they cared. They became real and made personal connections with me as a student.

Developing personal connections is critical. Remember that some folks in your group are different. It’s obvious to everyone. This difference can become a barrier. However, if you’re willing to be real, show how much you care, and are open to making adjustments, you’ll be taking a crucial step toward drastically lowering those barriers.

2. Be personable
Being personable goes along with being personal—but it isn’t exactly the same. Being personable is about smiling and showing warmth and enthusiasm. It’s about being yourself. It’s also the first step to building personal connections with your students. Being personable opens the door and lets people know you want them to succeed. You show it in a warm greeting when people arrive, with nonthreatening body language. You lower many barriers—for example, a student wondering, “How will I fit in here?”—by being open and personable.

3. Be a host
Learning is an active process that requires change, and change is almost always resisted—at least a little bit. The change required is often greater for people who feel they’re different, or from whose culture the materials might be a bigger stretch than for some others in the group. The need to change, added to the social pressures of a classroom situation, is stressful.

If you believe, as I do, that learning comes most naturally, quickly, and effectively when people are comfortable, then the message is clear. We must do all we can to make the environment a low-stress and comfortable yet mentally stimulating place.

The best way I’ve found to create this type of environment is to treat those in the group as I would guests in my home. When I keep this mind-set, I improve the learning environment and make it easier for everyone to succeed, regardless of his or her cultural background.

4. Be mindful of your role
It’s always important to remember your role when teaching. This is especially true when working with a diverse group. Your role is more than simply to impart the information or to follow the lesson plan. Your role is to facilitate learning. When working with a diverse group, or even a group that’s homogeneous but different from you, the goal of the class must be kept in the forefront of your mind.

Facilitating the learning process with diverse groups may take more effort. It may take more concentration and more preparation time, but you’ll be well rewarded for it. It will almost certainly offer you many opportunities to learn new things yourself, which will stick with you for the rest of your life. Take each opportunity you can and make the best of it.

Keep this in mind
Leading or facilitating a culturally diverse group can present challenges and will most certainly require you to work harder and learn more than if you stick to teaching more homogeneous groups. So get ready—because if you’re not doing it now, you certainly will be in the future. Keep in mind, members of ethnic minorities will make up approximately 85 percent of the new workers in the U.S. by 2000, according to a University of Illinois analysis on diversity training. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be more successful and have a lot more fun.

Kevin Eikenberry is president of the DiscianGroup , a learning consulting company in Indianapolis. If you have any suggestions for article topics, please follow this link to write toKevin .

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