Cultural Mindfulness

In a Forbes article from 2015 called Why You Need Cultural Intelligence, folks from the IESE Business School explain the concept of cultural intelligence as a sort of x-factor that has the potential to “drive up innovation and creativity” as it allows someone to integrate different perspectives across cultural barriers.  They talk about the immense value of cultural intelligence in the business world and they break it down into three different, but overlapping, components:

  1. Cultural Knowledge is the basic knowledge of other cultures and unique characteristics that define them.
  2. Cross-Cultural Skills (including things like adaptability, empathy, and tolerance) are skills that allow someone to interact well with people from different cultures.
  3. Cultural Metacognition is the ability to think carefully about how one interacts with people from various cultures.

As I discussed the article with a groups of educators, the conversation turned towards translating this cultural intelligence from the business world to the world of education.  All of us agreed that cultural intelligence is something we should strive to develop with our staff and our students.

The concept of mindfulness came up a few times in the article as a way to build these three components.  We talked about mindfulness exercises and professional development for teachers.  One colleague shared the idea of starting every staff meeting with an exercise in which a leader will say hello in every language represented at the school.  I love this.  I can imagine following this “hello” with a minute to pause and consider one or two particular students and their cultural differences.  A technique as simple and easy as this could push our teachers to think for a minute about the various cultural experiences that students bring to their classrooms each day.

Teachers are the only ones at school that would benefit from some focused mindfulness exercises.  This video popped up on my news feed this week.  6 and 7 year old students talk about the power of mindfulness for them.  You can see them doing breathing and slow movement exercises.  One girl describes the benefit, saying “It makes me breathe out all of the things I had to worry about.”  Another boy says, “I like when we go around the circle telling everyone what we feel like.”  

This is beautiful.  When this sort of activity is part of the rhythm of the classroom (it sounds like they do it every day), and when teachers have been trained to facilitate it, incorporating cultural mindfulness is just a simple tweak.  I can imagine sharing a very short story during this time about someone from another culture.  I can imagine having students consider what experience they bring into the classroom and how those experiences differ from those of others.  I can imagine having students look at a picture or piece of art from another culture and consider its uniqueness.  I can imagine having high school students even take turns developing and leading some cultural mindfulness activities for their classmates and teachers.

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