Engaging Faculty in Building Intercultural Competence

Apr 12, 2022
Smiling woman stands in front of white board

This past summer, I started hosting a monthly event called the Intercultural Leadership Forum. It’s an opportunity for interculturally-minded educators to connect, share ideas, and discuss what’s working (and what’s not) when it comes to building intercultural competence in higher education. One question has repeatedly come up almost every month:  How can we get more faculty engaged in this work?

Therefore, in this post, I’d like to start what I hope can be a useful conversation around this topic.

Related Resources

First, I want to point out a few other articles I’ve written that, while not directly addressing faculty involvement, are relevant to this conversation:

My Reflections

Based on my years of experience training, coaching, and supporting educators in developing their own intercultural competence and their capacity to facilitate others’ intercultural learning, I’d like to open this conversation with a few observations…

First, there are faculty who are interested. I know this because the number of faculty members participating in my trainings has grown significantly over the years, and I work every day with faculty from a wide variety of fields and institutions who are committed to fostering intercultural learning. So I’d encourage administrators to search out those faculty members who are interested, and provide them with intercultural training and support. You may discover that your efforts end up snowballing, as those faculty take what they’ve learned back to their departments and classrooms, and their colleagues witness the results. If you don’t have the expertise or resources to offer such training internally, True North Intercultural can help. Click here to schedule a strategy call with me to discuss your goals and explore options.

Other faculty may appear disinterested, but I don’t think disinterest is really the issue. Instead, they’re likely experiencing one or more of the following challenges:

One issue is that faculty have many competing priorities, and building intercultural competence may simply not be at the top of their list. Not only do they have a lot on their plate—between teaching (in a pandemic, no less), committee work, research, publishing, and more—but also a lot to fit into their courses. There are internal and external expectations about the content that needs to be covered in their classes (this emphasis on content over outcomes in higher education is an issue that probably warrants its own post). As a result, faculty may feel they have little time in their day or space in their curriculum to be integrating intercultural learning. As the saying goes, if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Overcoming this challenge necessitates more than increasing faculty’s interest; it will require significant cultural shifts at the institutional level and beyond.

A second, related challenge is that faculty may not fully understand what intercultural learning is, what it entails, or how it’s connected to their work/field/discipline. If faculty don’t see direct connections to their work with students and their discipline, it’s no wonder they don’t prioritize intercultural learning. Faculty aren’t alone in this regard. There are a lot of misconceptions about intercultural learning based on outdated approaches and/or assumptions. So part of the job of anyone who wants to support faculty in this work is helping them better understand what intercultural learning entails and how it’s connected to their own and their students’ success. (You could start by sharing with them my free training, Interculturally Competent U: The What, Why & How of Building Intercultural Competence in Higher Education.)

Another issue is that many faculty lack understanding or experience discomfort (or both) around how to build intercultural competence. Faculty are, first and foremost, experts in their fields. Most don’t have degrees in teaching, but have honed these skills on the job and through professional development. Facilitating intercultural learning is a unique type of pedagogy, as it is constructivist, developmental, holistic, and draws on learners’ own experiences. Even the most interculturally-experienced faculty should not be expected to know how to facilitate such learning without proper training and support.

Conclusion & Additional Opportunities

These are some of my initial thoughts in response to the frequently-asked question:  How can we get more faculty involved in building intercultural competence? In the coming months, I’ll dive deeper into this topic by sharing what some of the institutions and educators I’ve worked with are doing regarding faculty development.

If you’d like to discuss this topic in a learning-centered way with other interculturally-minded educators, register now for the next Intercultural Leadership Forum, on April 28th.

In addition, if you’d like to explore how True North Intercultural can help faculty (and staff) at your institution develop their own intercultural competence and their capacity to facilitate others’ intercultural learning, schedule your strategy call today.

Photo credit: This Is Engineering, Unsplash

Join the Conversation!

Enjoying the blog? You’re invited to join me and an amazing group of higher education professionals committed to fostering intercultural learning at the next Intercultural Leadership Forum! You'll have a chance to connect with others doing this work and gain new insights as you move toward your intercultural goals.