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Ties That Bind Us

By Nancy Craker-Yahman
Ties That Bind Us

As a former international school teacher who loved every minute of teaching children from around the world, I so appreciated a return trip to the other side of the world where I was once again, able to immerse myself into the ways of life with the people of Malaysia and Thailand.
Now that I call the United States home, any chance I have to travel abroad, I accept. My recent visits to Malaysia and Thailand had me, like always, paying close attention to the commonalities that bind us as human beings. I am not referring to the basics, like our need to nourish our bodies with food and water, but about our need for contact, acknowledgment, and interaction.
As a world traveler and international educator, I am always on the lookout for opportunities where I am able to experience aspects of new culture and when I am able to engage in conversation (preferably in the native language), or an activity that allows me to better understand my host country and its culture.
Opportunities to interact with individuals or a culture of people that are new to you begin small and continue to build. They start with a smile, a wave, or the sharing of a universal symbol like the peace sign, a head nod, or a thumbs up. At times, trying to read an individual’s body language can become a bit tricky, but when you share a smile or extend your hand to offer a handshake or to give salam, you are taking the first step towards demonstrating that you have an interest in them and their culture.
I believe that when you accept opportunities to immerse yourself into a culture or lifestyle that you are not too familiar with, that you are able to experience the joys of learning. These kinds of situations encourage you to engage in opportunities where you are able to take risks, ask questions, hold a discussion, and most importantly, where you are able to reflect upon what you have learned just like what we encourage our students to do when they spend time with us in our classrooms.
Not only is learning more about the ways of life important when traveling or when working with students who may have a different set of cultural norms than what is most prevalent in your classroom or local community, learning about your students’ culture and way of life is the respectful thing to do. During my years as a classroom teacher in many different countries and classrooms around the world, I was always on the lookout for the most respectful ways to integrate aspects of my students’ cultures into our classroom environment.
When it came to exposing and introducing students to different ways of life from around the world, I made sure to do my research. This included locating realistic and accurate facts that would be presented in a respectful manner and that the books and other resources I made available for students to discover were carefully reviewed and that they were able to support our classroom culture of acceptance, kindness and respect. Highlights of a few intercultural celebrations I created and remember with fondness are a school wide United Nations Day celebration and an event titled Thanks and Giving All Year Long. These events and others offered opportunities for students and their families to share, showcase and celebrate aspects of their culture with others.
Throughout my travel experiences and opportunities to live abroad and immerse myself into a new culture and way of life and from the many opportunities I have had to engage in conversations with people from around the world, I have learned that we are a curious and interested breed who is eager to know more about each other and our backgrounds. I have appreciated the opportunities I have had to share aspects of my culture and when I have been able to share fondness for my nation.
Through our conversations we have been allowed to address misconceptions and false truths about what it is broadcast on the news and share clearer understandings towards the way of life in our home countries. All of my conversations have been important ones and allow us all to listen, engage and reflect on what is being shared. It is through this type of interaction that we are able to keep learning.
Over the years I have created and collected a variety of global resources which I enjoy sharing with colleagues. This has included conducting professional development workshops on my teaching and travels, to sharing books and online resources. The following websites are ones that I would like to encourage you to consider reviewing and referencing in order to support the learning and understanding about people and places from around the world in your classroom.
Before I share suggestions on supportive resources I would like to remind you about the importance of inviting your students’ family members and members of your community to visit your classroom and school where they are encouraged to share aspects of their culture and answer questions about their way of life.
As a teacher who integrates the use of parent and community members into classroom learning and activities, I can attest that with guidance and support, their visits will be of value as you expose and introduce students to different ways of life and in helping them to understand their host country and in becoming more involved global citizens.
While there are many excellent and valuable on line resources, here are just a few suggestions of online resources that I would like to suggest you consider researching.
For a close look at life from around the world:
One of many multicultural book resources
Helpful tips on creating/promoting a diverse classroom culture
Edutopia. Educational resources for teachers
Teaching Tolerance resources
Article on supporting diversity in the classroom
UNICEF resources
My final thoughts to my readers are, whether or not you are a new or experienced teacher, there are a few simple things you can begin to collect and create in order to support and encourage a respectful and culturally diverse classroom environment. I encourage you to be on the lookout for the year’s top multicultural book suggestions and that you share suggested titles with your school librarian who could plan to purchase for your school.
When it comes to setting up your classroom space, establish a special spot in your classroom in order to highlight these special titles and plan to create a learning center that consists of artifacts and other hands on items where students will be encouraged to explore more about life in other lands.
A final suggestion is to collect calendars (UNICEF calendars are the best) and post cards that depict people, animals and places from around the world. These types of items are not only eye catching but depict real faces and places. You should even consider writing your own captions to pictures you display.
Besides highlighting a variety of world maps and having globes available for students to discover, think about the types of posters you could display that contain a welcoming and positive message. I’ve always taken pride in posters I’ve displayed that have stated, “We All Smile In The Same Language” and “If You See Someone Without A Smile, Share Yours.”
So teachers, as you plan and prepare and seek out the best educational resources to support a classroom that values and respects the rich diversity of the world, remember to check in with colleagues to learn how they promote cultural diversity in their classrooms and always be willing to accept opportunities where you are able to converse, work alongside and immerse yourself into the ways of life of your host country and places you are fortunate to travel.

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10/05/2020 - Lynda
Great article Nancy, was an honour to work with you overseas!



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