The following features that are inherent in communication, the environment and people's expectations, make major contributions to effective inclusive practice in a culturally diverse community.
Academic forms of expression and administrative terminologies can be quite foreign to many students. International, Indigenous Australian and Australian students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may need to be introduced to academic English and administrative terminology to help them operate effectively at the university.
- Explain discipline, Faculty, departmental or university-specific concepts and terminology without ambiguity.
- Technical language in certain disciplines can be complex to understand for people with language backgrounds other than English. Early in a course, introduce technical terms that are vital to learning. Involve staff and students in creating a chart of definitions that includes translations in languages appropriate to your staff and/or student groups.
- Translating certain concepts can be difficult. What may seem clear to you may not translate into a comparable concept in another culture.
- Make use of language resources specific to different language groups or cultures to increase inclusiveness for students and staff from those cultures. (See Appropriate Terminology, Indigenous Australian Peoples.)
- Avoid complicated, long sentences when speaking, and be careful with culturally-specific humour, sarcasm and irony.
- If using Australian colloquial expressions such as "she'll be right", explain them and/or provide a handout, and invite questions for clarification.
- Speak at a comfortable listening speed and volume. Remember, shouting never increases listeners' understanding.
- Use pauses to establish a speaking pace that supports understanding.
- Monitor speaking styles for clarity.
- Face people when speaking.
- Support oral information with written material (on the board, online, brochures, information sheets, handouts, etc.).
- Recognise that people who are using English as their second or third language can experience frustration and isolation from not being able to express themselves fully in English. This can also cause frustration for their listener, who may have difficulty understanding them.
- Listen to the words and try to picture what the speaker is saying, while being sensitive to underlying feelings, such as anger, grief or anxiety about speaking in English.
- If you don't understand, say that you don't, and ask the speaker to repeat what they said.
- Resist pretending to understand.
- Keep an open mind; avoid preconceived ideas of what the other person may say or do.
- Summarise or paraphrase what they are saying and, if appropriate, reflect feelings by saying "I sense you are feeling frustrated", or "I understand what you need".
- Avoid interrupting before the speaker finishes a sentence or statement, unless you need clarification.
- Non-verbal communication is complex and no one is expected to be an expert.
- Indicate that you are giving the speaker your full attention. This may mean sitting up straight or adopting an open posture (not with crossed arms or legs), and leaning slightly toward the speaker.
- Use open-handed gestures when inviting people to speak or join in, since in some cultures it is offensive to point.
- Don't interpret a lack of eye contact aslack of attention, as some cultural groups avoid direct eye contact as a sign of respect.
- Find out whether people are comfortable with handshaking or sitting close together, as preferences for physical contact and proximity can vary.
- In some cultures "yes" or a nod of the head might mean "I hear you" but not necessarily "I understand you".
- Regularly check for understanding.
- Encourage people to be comfortable in saying "I do not understand".
- Give the listener the opportunity to repeat what you have said to check their understanding.
- Make a point of speaking one-to-one or with a small group of people from the same culture to find out what each of you can do to improve understanding of what is read or heard.
A person's first impression of the physical surroundings may affect their level of confidence with free expression, social participation (both verbally and academically) and feeling safe at University.
- Develop your own website where you talk about diversity and share information about origins and cross-cultural experiences.
- Develop an overview of the diversity that exists within the work or student group, including cultural orientations, experiences, languages and interests for inclusion on a web page or during induction sessions.
- Provide opportunities for staff and students to experience cultural settings at meetings, social events and celebrations through food, music, stories and 'traditional' attire.
- Develop a contact list of support staff and services for international and Indigenous Australian students.
- Offer peer mentoring schemes.
- Offer a range of consultation systems, both formal and informal, to accommodate people from formal or informal cultures, e.g. drop-in sessions, arranged appointments or an online system for wide accessibility.
- Set up an introduction system so that all students and staff can get to know something about you, their colleagues and the diversity of experience and people in the university. (See Designing Culturally Inclusive Environments.)
When you establish grounds rules for discussing potentially sensitive issues in a classroom or workplace, you promote an environment where mutual understanding is demonstrated. Ground rules could include politeness, taking turns, cooperation, punctuality, teamwork, confidentiality and knowledge of support systems.
- Explain how students and colleagues discuss issues, especially potentially sensitive issues, e.g. a student being unable to do an exam on a particular day as it falls on the date of a religious ceremony.
- Ask the student group or colleagues for feedback and ratification of ground rules. (See Small Groups and Designing Culturally Inclusive Environments.)
- Create a "Service Standards" or a "Charter of Conduct" document for your area.
Good social relationships are the basis of all harmonious, productive education and work settings. It is important, at University and at work, to maintain respectful relationships and to work cooperatively to deal with incivilities.
Incivilities may arise even though ground rules have been established and ratified. Incivility includes rudeness, prejudice and neglecting the needs of individuals or groups, as well as behaviours that cause others to feel intimidated, humiliated, degraded, undermined and/or distressed.
Deal early with inappropriate behaviour such as:
- poor punctuality
- lack of preparation for or non-participation in classes
- and work teams
- hostile non-verbal communication
- excluding or isolating someone socially
- shouting or swearing
Strategies and further activities to enhance mutual respect can be found at the Engaging Schools website. This website focuses on the building blocks of community through exploration of the following topics:
- providing opportunities for student expression
- creating opportunities to help
- promoting understanding
- practising democracy
Use the diverse experiences and perspectives of staff and students as a resource to enrich your working and learning environment. People are more willing to share when they take an active role and the learning is mutual.
- Start a conversation, asking colleagues or students where they have travelled, lived, about the "typical" work or study week in their cultures, and what their expectations, roles and experiences have been.
- Offer people from diverse cultural communities an opportunity to talk informally or as guest lecturers/tutors.
- Take responsibility for familiarising yourself with diverse cultures. Do not expect people from other backgrounds to always educate you about their culture, history or to explain racism or sexism to you. Remember, it may be painful for some people (e.g. Indigenous Stolen Generations) to talk about their histories and cultures.
- Try to identify assumptions that may be made about people. Physical appearances can be deceptive and identity with a particular culture does not necessarily mean that a person has grown up in that culture. For example, thye may still be feeling the effects of forced removal from family and community.
- Avoid generalising behaviour (expecting particular culturally based behaviour from an individual) or having stereotypical expectations of people (positive or negative), e.g. "All Asian students are quiet in class."
Universities often have a distinct culture of their own. This can be difficult to get to know for a person who is new to the environment. There are many ways in which people already familiar with the organisational culture can extend support to people who are discovering new processes and expectations that are implicit within that organisation.
Societies are governed and operate under a consensual norm, a set of habitual consecrated daily routines and taken for granted rules of law and codes of behaviour that everyone follows as a given. In education the parallel is the underlying structure of bureaucracies (schools) - the rule driven, culture laden, role determined and followed teacher, student and community understanding and cultural assumptions about schooling. (Slater 2000, 76.)
- Explain and clarify academic expectations and standards (to students) regarding written work in the Australian university context.
- Outline behavioural and language expectations and the University policy on equal opportunity.
- Clarify the format and purpose of the particular session type you are teaching and the type of participation you expect.
- Explain the written topic outlines, objectives and outcomes provided.
- Teach appropriate citing, referencing and how to avoid plagiarism.
- Provide relevant information and resource sessions, if necessary.
- Make your marking scheme absolutely clear. Let students know your expectations of them, in relation to communicating information and ideas, and regarding language accuracy. Sometimes students can be anxious about being penalised for poor English expression.
Diversity affects everything the University does and needs to be considered in relation to all items on staff meeting agendas.
- Set up cultural diversity awareness sessions.
- Inform staff about leave provisions for cultural holidays and religious celebrations.
- Explain, clarify and check for understanding of responsibilities, reporting relationships and Australian workplace duties and standards as in academic profiles, position descriptions and work manuals.
- Ask staff to describe the contexts of their previous workplace culture to create learning opportunities about diversity, and to expose people to similarities and differences, and actively ease cross-cultural barriers.
Adjustment to change
People can face challenges and adjustment stresses when they live and work in a new culture. Also known as "culture shock", the adjustment to change can be characterised by a series of phases influencing perceptions and responses to others and to events around them. Students might experience initial euphoria, followed by uncertainty and anger, or yearning for home. It is important to remember that staff or students who are Indigenous Australians or from overseas, and students and their families from rural or remote areas, may experience this. (See this article on culture shock)
- Inform and refer staff to the various staff support services available.
- Inform and refer students to the various student support services available (see "Internet resources" below).
- Determine whether there is a mentor or buddy scheme that students can use, and inform students about how to join the scheme.
- Make links with community cultural groups, such as migrant resource centres.
- Contact UNSW International (phone 9385 6996, email Internationaloffice@unsw.edu.au) for assistance in supporting students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
- Ballard, B. and Clanchy, J. 1991, Teaching Students from Overseas: A Brief Guide for Lecturers and Supervisors, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.
- Berger, M. 1996, Cross-cultural Team Building: Guidelines for More Effective Communication and Negotiation, McGraw-Hill, England.
- Biggs, J. 1997, "Teaching across and within cultures: the issue of international students", in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Advancing International Perspectives: Proceedings of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference, 8-11 July 1997, 1-22.
- Boice, R. 1996, First-Order Principles for College Teachers: Ten Basic Ways to Improve the Teaching Process, Anker Publishing Company, Bolton MA.
- Carroll, J. 2000, "A Way of Thinking About Culture: An Exercise", Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.
- Yunggorendi First Nations Centre for Higher Education and Research
- Articles on culture shock and re-entry shock