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Global Education

Global Competency: How to Build Cultural Self-awareness

Participate Learning’s mission is to unite our world through global learning, and to provide equitable education opportunities for all students. But what does global learning look like practically in a classroom? What skills and attitudes should students have as a result of global education? How do students develop into engaged citizens of the world?

To help schools and educators answer these questions, Participate Learning has developed ten global competencies for young people. Building these competencies help students become global leaders who pay attention, feel connected, and take action in their local communities. 

This is the first in a series of blog posts diving into each global competency to give you a more detailed definition of each one, and practical resources to apply to your teaching instruction. The first global competency we will look at is self-awareness.

Skills and attitudes of self-aware students

Students who are self-aware reflect on their own actions and attitudes and how those have been shaped over time. They take responsibility for their perspectives and push themselves to learn more about the world.

As students develop in this area of global competency, they will recognize they have their own distinct cultural perspective. They will also begin to understand that an individual person’s worldview is shaped by many different factors, such as geography, ethnicity, religion, and socio-economic status, among others. They no longer see their culture as the “norm,” but rather understand their culture as one perspective among many all over the world.

Students who are self-aware recognize that one person can have multiple identities all at the same time, such as daughter, friend, and doctor. They understand their own identity is shaped by their personal experiences and history.

Building self-awareness through global education

You can build your students’ self-awareness through age-appropriate activities and exercises. Helping students understand their own culture will allow them to learn about others in healthy and productive ways. 

To get students started on thinking about their culture, it is helpful to define what culture is. Culture consists of some things we can observe about other people, such as clothing styles, and things we cannot see but that are very important to a person’s identity, such as religious beliefs. This is called surface culture and deep culture.

A popular illustration for these concepts is the cultural iceberg. The top of the iceberg, only a small part of the whole, is what you see above the surface of the water. But the majority of the iceberg is under the water and not immediately obvious to the observer on the surface. This is a helpful way for students to see that there is much more to understanding other cultures and their own values and beliefs.

Use this lesson plan to help students understand surface culture and deep culture, and to have a respectful classroom discussion. 

Another way to introduce culture and self-awareness is through a diverse class library. Students seeing themselves and their classmates represented in books helps them feel respected and valued. This is key to building an inclusive classroom environment. Try to represent every culture found among your students in your library books, and expose them to those they may not know about.

Finally, using story circles is a powerful way for students to increase their own cultural self-awareness and learn about their classmates. Students share brief personal stories in small groups guided by specific prompts. As they listen to classmates’ stories, they are encouraged to practice listening for understanding

When done in a safe and respectful environment, this exercise and others like it build students’ empathy, and cultivate their curiosity about other people and cultures. For how to facilitate effective story circles in your classroom, case studies, and prompts, see the Manual for Developing Intercultural Competencies.

As you help students build their cultural self-awareness, they are taking their first steps toward becoming engaged global citizens. Bringing a global perspective to your teaching instruction opens up the world to your students, developing their intercultural knowledge.

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts diving into other global competencies! We would love to hear how you are developing global citizens in your classroom. How are you building your students’ cultural self-awareness? Share your lessons and activities on social media using #UnitingOurWorld.

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