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Understanding Culture Within International Schools

Updated: May 18, 2023

The application of the 12 Dimensions of Culture to international schools

Edward T. Hall, one of the founding fathers of intercultural communication studies, said: Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.

We found that to be true, both in our own lives and in figuring out the cultural preferences of people around us. In fact this “hiding” is part of the impetus to bring greater awareness of self and others to international learning communities. We have found that inter-cultural understanding builds community. Cultural self awareness and understanding the hidden value systems of others enables what we refer to as Inter-Cultural Intelligence, a way of knowing and gaining understanding about self, others and adapting to create cultural spaces where everyone belongs and thrives.

In 2002, a KnowledgeWorkx team of international expatriates (two Dutch, a Canadian, and a Korean), all of whom had learned Arabic as a foreign language and were working in the Middle East, came together in Dubai to develop a cultural mapping inventory with which to understand people from a cultural perspective without using national or ethnic cultural labeling. In a city with 2nd and 3rd generation expatriates, it no longer worked to understand people according to their passport. Globalization trends have clearly dissolved national boundaries as informative of identity and cultural behavior styles. KnowledgeWorkx:ED has been created to bring this Inter-cultural learning into International Schools where future leaders are being developed.

The 12 Dimensions of Culture

What the KnowledgeWorkx team came up with is 12 Dimensions that give deep insight into a person’s cultural behavioral preferences. These preferences are a snapshot of a specific person at a moment in time: they can change, they can be different depending on the environment, and they’re not the same as personality and character.

They have also proven to be a huge asset for people who want to pursue global competence, both personally, pedagogically in teaching and learning strategies, and leadership skills. The 12 Dimensions give you the ability to accurately analyze, and map out the human terrain around us from a cultural perspective, so that you can make more intelligent decisions about the intercultural complexities that you face every day. You learn what to listen for and how to integrate it into your reasoning, decision-making, and the words you use when you interact with colleagues, friends, students and their parents.

It has proven to be incredibly exciting to teach people the techniques to pick up these 12 dimensions, and to see how it empowers them to build Inter-Cultural Intelligence in schools.

Growth – How do you measure the growth of your staff and students and what resources do you value as enabling such growth? What are the tensions present between material growth and personal growth?

Relationship — Do professional relationships spill over into personal life or do they stay context specific and compartmentalized?

Outlook – Do you focus on lessons from the past or potential for the future? Does tradition or innovation carry more weight in the classroom, in the homes of your families, in your school culture?

Destiny – Is it in your hands, or are you carried along by external forces? This spectrum of belief is affecting our understanding of personal responsibility, power to make changes, motivational levels, and orientation toward the future. Which assumptions are underlying all that you do? What about your students?

Context – How broad is the spectrum of acceptable behavior in your culture, and in the culture of your colleagues and students? Is this being considered in regard to behavior expectations and communication protocols?

Connecting – It is paramount to successful collaboration that we understand each other’s hidden assumptions regarding information sharing.

Expression – How open with your emotion are you? What are the ‘display rules’ in your culture? How does an understanding of the “rules” enable your correct interpretation and evaluation of certain behaviors?

Decision-Making – Do you build trust through procedures and rules, or by getting to know people and relationships? What can be added to your teaching and leadership style that will add trust to both ends of the spectrum?

Planning – People-focused or time-focused? There is a saying in the Middle East that goes, The English wear the watches, but the Arabs have the time. If true how might this affect scheduling appointments at school?

Communication – Direct or indirect? Are you speaking clearly and concisely to ensure no misunderstandings or are you culturally appropriate to ensure being heard? How can you be accepting and adaptable to both communication styles?

Accountability – Are you accountable to your own ideas and getting them expressed or are you accountable to a group where consensus is needed before sharing? This dimension will uncover lag time in getting decisions made on a team and getting every child to participate in your classroom.

Status – Is it achieved, or ascribed? Are you motivated by personal achievement or by contributing and belonging to a specific group? How do we keep both extremes engaged in learning and successful in school?

By applying the Cultural Mapping Inventory that uses these 12 dimensions within your learning community, you can help determine your own school culture, and manage to build a thriving global institution that raises the bar on International Mindedness and raises the next generation of world changers. We believe that every international school should know how to build community and engage students using these 12 dimensions.

Contact us to learn more about how KnowledgeWorkx can help you develop inter-cultural intelligence in your organization. You can also start your culture learning journey from our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.



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