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Building a Sustainable Culture of International Mindedness

By Chris Clark
Building a Sustainable Culture of International Mindedness

Walking through any of the five colorful buildings on Western Academy of Beijing campus, one is certain to encounter a poster depicting how WAB students engage with the international community.
As an International Baccalaureate World School, WAB set out to define International Mindedness in a way that allows students, parents, faculty and staff to engage with cultures and communities worldwide. But the goal was to build upon existing elements, and promote action rather than simply empathy. It was the first part of a three-phase process that was designed to measure and affirm our current elements of international mindedness and then crystalize exactly what initiatives we should nurture and evolve.
Our journey of formulating a visual representation began with groups of stakeholders who were asked to discuss, research, and create written definitions of international mindedness. Discussions in each group evoked a mosaic of ideas. We sought to capture that energy and synthesize the ideas to create one all-encompassing definition.
“We wanted to ensure that our definition would be accessible to all of our multi-cultural, multi-lingual school community members: from graduating high school students to the youngest elementary school students; from teaching faculty to support staff; from parents to the wider community,” explained WAB Deputy Director Donna Connolly. “It’s about real-life efficacy and action.”
Incorporating the WAB principles of connecting with cultures and inspiring our community to make a difference in the world, we built an image of what it means to think globally. The work was strongly student-centered.
“We want to ensure that international mindedness is at the forefront of our daily lives,” said Madeleine Brookes, a high school technology integrator who has taught at six international schools and has lead WAB’s International Mindedness team.
WAB began displaying the visual definition in every room of the school, from classrooms to cafeterias, theaters to study areas. Before that, however, committee members worked with heads of departments, counselors, teachers, and students to ensure comprehension of the image. WAB students not only began talking about international mindedness but started incorporating it into their lives on and off campus.
“We’re not just laminating it; we’re living it,” Brookes said.
Each element included in the visual definition is designed to symbolize WAB’s commitment to and implementation of international mindedness in the community.
The central figure is a “word cloud” of all the definitions generated by our diverse stakeholders. Each individual symbol represents a connection that challenges and inspires us toward international-mindedness. The Chinese character ? (ren), meaning “person,” represents China, our host country. The background is an interpretation of the Beijing subway system, reinforcing our connection to China and Beijing. It also represents communication, global connections, computer circuitry, roots of plants, brain connections, strong bonds, and choosing different paths. In Chinese painting, purple represents the harmony of the universe, because it is a combination of red and blue—yin and yang respectively. The circular shape represents the globe, as well as the continuous cycle of lifelong learning and our evolving understanding of the world.
Inspiration struck two fourth grade students, who gave a presentation to their peers about what it means to be internationally minded.
“We see students making friends from other countries, teachers are working with teachers from other countries, and we celebrate different cultures through activities,” said fourth-grader NuoNuo Chang. “We think about how to respect other people and their beliefs and cultures. We try to accept other people’s differences and try to look at others the same way we look at ourselves.”
True advancement of an internationally-minded culture does not take place over two years alone, but requires the establishment of essential elements that we can continue to build upon.
“If we want people to live it, then we know our work must continue,” Brookes said. WAB has affirmed and continued to develop elements of International Mindedness into its admissions policy, teacher training, curriculum, extracurricular activities, and community events. Faculty leaders have led workshops at the EARCOS Leadership and Teachers conferences on the topic.
“Engagement is the key,” Brookes said. “We now have a culture where people are aware of international mindedness and are building upon their own efforts every single day.”
To continue sharing and exchanging ideas with people and schools worldwide, WAB’s International Mindedness Committee will publish an ebook, which will be available on iTunes this May.
Chris Clark is PR & Digital Media Specialist at WAB.

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