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Wednesday, 26 June 2019

You are here: Home > Online Articles > Creative Strategies for Embracing Diversity



Creative Strategies for Embracing Diversity

By Shwetangna Chakrabarty


Creative Strategies for Embracing Diversity
The International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum reflects the attributes of international mindedness. This is apparent in the way the curriculum framework is designed, as well as in the guidance provided by the IB. As an international school teacher, my biggest challenge is to cater to the needs of a diverse population of students from all over the world. At the same time, my greatest teaching asset is precisely the diversity of the student population!
Before examining strategies for dealing with diversity, let me start by sharing a few challenges that I regularly encounter, which I expect are common among international school teachers.


International schools usually have a fair share of students who speak many languages and come from varied backgrounds. This enriches the community and exposes all members of the school to new languages, pushing them to appreciate semantics, learn cultural dialects, and seek to understand the perspective of another individual. But this reality also constitutes a major challenge in the classroom, where most of the communication takes place in English.


Broadly, the term “third-culture kids” refers to children who have not lived in their home country, have traveled extensively and lived in many countries, have dual nationality, and/or have parents of different cultural backgrounds. Such students truly embody international mindedness, as exposure to diversity is a major condition of their existence. Here too, the advantage can have a flipside, as third-culture kids can struggle in the classroom to find their identity or determine the ways in which they learn best.


Surprisingly, while we celebrate diversity, we often forget to appreciate the local host culture. In fact, in many cases I have noticed that international educators can overlook the richness of the region in which we are operating. We may teach many languages, but rarely are local languages included in instruction. Oftentimes through service projects we raise money for people suffering on faraway continents but shut our eyes to conflicts occurring within our own region.

While these challenges are real, embedded in the philosophy of the IB education are a set of effective strategies that can help teachers and leaders to deal with the diversity dilemma. Here are a few that have worked for me:

Technology as a tool for inclusion

Flipped classrooms; recording and uploading lessons to a shared platform where students can access them over and over; sharing videos related to concepts that will be covered in class, allowing EAL students to translate the fundamentals into their language and be better prepared to absorb the new terms referenced in the classroom; speech-to-text software; online bilingual dictionaries like ECTACO.

Deep diving into international mindedness

The Sanskrit phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” has been my own guiding light. It means, “the world is one family.” The true essence of international mindedness can be realized when one aims towards commonality within individuality. Believing that there is a common objective for teaching and learning, or as the IB puts it: “making the world a better place through education.” This is achieved by consciously planning, delivering, and assessing strands of international mindedness, by integrating local flavor into teaching and learning, by organizing internship programs, encouraging service and action and CAS interactions, hosting mother tongue days and language clubs, including teaching tools from different cultures, and integrating into the curriculum plays, movies, and books from a wide variety of cultural origins.

Focus on ATLs and ATTs

The focus on Approaches to Learning (ATL) and Approaches to Teaching (ATT) helps to develop in-class instructional strategies that not only help in securing inclusion but also integration. ATTs and ATLs work hand in hand. As a pedagogical leader and a coordinator, I place great emphasis on ATTs with teachers and ATLs with students. The taught curriculum has an ATT focus every half a term, where teachers are expected to approach instruction with a specific ATT in mind and to complement this, students are pushed to focus on a specific ATL skill (for example, term 1.1 ATT for the teacher was inquiry-based approach and ATL focus for students was critical thinking). This helps to ensure that all learning styles are given equal weight. With students from diverse backgrounds, it is essential to explore approaches to learning in creative ways.

Intrinsic motivation

For the past two years, our school has been experimenting with learning spaces. From display boards to custom-made furniture, classroom spaces to word walls, there is a push towards triggering critical thinking. Students learn best when they are intrinsically motivated to do so. This can be achieved if the school provides opportunity and space for igniting a passion for learning. Maximizing the potential of a diverse student body, every year we provide them space to learn something they have always wanted to. For a week, students are allowed to research, practice, create, and showcase a new skill or product. The results are routinely mind-blowing. Not only does intrinsic motivation allow students to learn and apply knowledge, but also to learn from their peers in a non-competitive environment. With many cultural ideas put forth, this is an excellent way to integrate diversity into teaching and learning.

Art integrates all

Art is the best expression of self-realization. It is at once a therapy and an energy. Integrating the arts into lesson plans is a great way to teach students with diverse needs. Planning interdisciplinary units that involve the arts and launching collaborative projects are some strategies worth exploring in an international school environment.

To drive home the mathematical concept of transformation and explore the local arts and crafts scene in Dar es Salaam, I planned an interdisciplinary unit for Grade 7 in collaboration with the visual arts teacher. Our project involved creating art with math. The final task was to create a painting to reflect their knowledge of transformation being inspired by the local artists in Dar. Students gained a deeper understanding of both subjects at the same time got to explore the region outside their comfort area, experience the rich local culture, and get away from a monoculture approach.

In conclusion, diversity can work as a challenge or opportunity, depending on how it is managed.

Shwetangna Chakrabarty is IBDP Coordinator at Dar es Salaam International Academy, Tanzania.

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