Belgrano Day School’s Global Diversity Week
Posted: 19 March 2019
Global Education is still a young department at our institution, Belgrano Day School, and it is staffed by two relatively new members. On joining BDS, we observed how students’ perception of global education as a key area was fairly rudimentary: Global Education was essentially seen as only being about Exchanges and our Dual Diploma Program. This limited view also meant that many students in the school were unfamiliar with our work, its possible relevance to their studies, and lives beyond school. We wanted to make them feel that Global Education was their office, even if they did not participate in those particular programs.
In practical terms, we wanted to respond to some findings revealed through our involvement in the current International Understanding research project carried out by Research Schools International. As our school is a research ambassador for this project, we were asked to conduct focus group interviews with staff and students to understand more about the international understanding practices effective in our school. When asked about what the school was doing to develop an appreciation for diversity, students and staff seemed to have a hard time coming up with examples. We felt their answers contrasted to the reality of practices that take place at the school, but also made us wonder why students did not recognise those initiatives as such, and whether we need to be doing more in this area.
Helping students appreciate and celebrate cultural diversity is also important for improving students’ self-esteem and communication skills in different environments. Celebrating our differences helps us recognize and value our own individual uniqueness, and in doing so, we may become more appreciative of what makes others different from us. Exposure of diversity, therefore, not only sets a framework to embrace cultural variability, but also shows the commonality we share behind it.
In the local context, where people are less likely to identify with their mixed cultural background in favor of the idea that we are ‘all Argentinians’, raising awareness of diversity seems relevant. We are, as nation, adjusting to the impact of a rise in immigration combined with economic turmoil, a situation that has the potential to increase intolerance towards those perceived as ‘different’. We wanted to support students to have a more informed picture of cultural background and avoid the perception of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.
Authors: Michelle Kort, Global Education Coordinator; Emma Argüelles, Global Education Assistant
We looked at the tactics used by other departments, such as Community Service, to educate and engage the school community, and saw how effective annual events can be in raising the profile of a department and progressing students’ understanding of that department’s work. We felt that a celebratory week would allow us to achieve similar outcomes.
We planned the detail of the Week with some key considerations in mind. First, we wanted to make cultural diversity visible: to show our students that there was richness and diversity in their own school community. To achieve this, we needed the school community to explore the facets that make up their own identity (their cultural background, and that of their family) then promote this diversity openly. By doing this, we hoped to prove that there is already cultural diversity in our community, but we do not discuss or show it as openly as we could.
The central theme of cultural diversity linked to identity meant that we dispensed with some broader concept ideas. But we also tried to remain flexible in the way that our school community defined ‘diversity’. One of our initiatives, for example, involved creating a diversity map, where students had to identify and connect the factors that they felt set them apart. We imagined that these factors would relate to an individual’s nationality, the languages they speak at home, their ethnic background, perhaps their gender identity and sexuality; however, students came up with other factors that we had not considered, such as being adopted.
In planning our initiatives, it was vital that we engaged the whole school community – teachers and staff as well as students. We know from previous experience that students get a kick out of any event where you include adults, particularly at the same level as them.
Our planning was also affected by the usual school constraints – available time, resource, money and space.
To give the Week a sense of purpose, we held it at the same time as a few other events: external, internal and Round Square related. These included the UN’s World Day for Cultural Diversity on May 21st (the UN says diversity is important, so we think it’s important!), our involvement in the research symposium with Research Schools International at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (June) and also in advance of the Round Square International Conference theme, Bring Your Difference.
In the run up to the Week, we announced some of the initiatives to come, and posed questions about diversity and identity on our intranet to get the community thinking about the subject.
An assembly at the start of the Week delved deeper into the subject, and used this famous video to show the surprising diversity we all have in our ancestral history. This video challenges the assumption that we are 100% of one nationality/ethnicity or another, and encourages students and staff to dig deeper into their personal ancestry.
A second assembly in the middle of the week involved presentations from students that had gone on an exchange. We selected those students who had been most reflective about their experience, so that they could explain the challenges they faced and how they were able to overcome them, the cultural differences they observed, and also comment on how the experience had improved their self-awareness and self-knowledge.
We ran a ‘Guess Who’ competition throughout the week with interesting facts about teachers and wider support staff. For instance, one poster asked students to guess “What member of staff grew up close to the scenery where the movie Up! takes place?”, in reference to a Venezuelan IT Support staff member. Others asked questions such as “Which teacher gets an 11-hour jet-lag after visiting her family?” and “Who dances polka in every family reunion?”, to refer to a Taiwanese teacher and a language teacher with Polish background, respectively. The competition was widely successful in engaging the students and a great way of raising the profile of staff that students do not usually interact with in the school. In some cases, after revealing the person behind the facts, we shared videos of that individual, expanding on their story.
We probed further into the issue of diversity through a poll asking students how diverse they thought their school was. Although many thought it was diverse, there remained a minority group who thought it was not. As the survey ran throughout the week, we noticed a decline in the latter response, which could suggest that the Week’s activities were already changing perceptions of diversity.
We incorporated some activities we had observed at other Round Square events. The Providence Day School Regional Conference introduced our delegates to an activity in which students had to connect different points on a map, which we thought would be a great platform for inviting students and teachers to visualize aspects of their individual backgrounds. Thus, with the help of our delegates, we created an activity called ‘connecting the dots of your cultural identity’, where one would encounter a huge board showing a map of the world with pins scattered across it, each pin representing a cultural ‘characteristic’. Staff and students used yarn to connect the pins that related to them. This threw up some fascinating insights into our community’s cultural background, showing the similarities and differences in individual experiences and how complex cultural identity can be. It also brought up some interesting questions: What is Kosher food? What’s the difference between a Catholic and a Christian? This extended the learning experience for participants.
To conclude the Week, we hijacked an initiative from our community service team called ‘Inspirational Friday’. On this day, each week, staff and students are set a certain theme and asked to contribute ideas relating to that theme. We were given permission to have ‘diversity’ as our theme and asked for recommendations of books, songs, movies, etc. that linked to this theme and inspired them. This proved another great way of engaging the community and getting them to think about the topic of diversity in a new way.
Our activities also spilled over into the following week, providing another opportunity to encourage our community to reflect on this topic. We revealed the results of our survey into diversity at the school and published a brochure with facts, figures and photos recapping on all the activities we had enjoyed as part of Global Diversity Week.
One of the key challenges we faced at the outset was how to condense our theme down and narrow the focus of our Week. We toyed with many ideas, from food fairs to movie nights: there is so much you can do! By establishing a clear objective to promote cultural diversity through raising awareness of our diverse identities, we were able to refine our activities.
A further filter for our ideas was the extent to which our community were already aware of and engaged in this subject; essentially, where they are in the conversation about diversity. We knew from our own research that our community did not feel very exposed to differences in culture, so a key driver of our initiatives had to be making cultural diversity visible.
We were also aware that there is only so much one can do with the time and manpower at hand, and tried to find the balance between promoting the Week and bombarding people with too much information or too many messages. We thought carefully about the reach and frequency of the initiatives, and the communications output supporting that.
The Week benefited us in so many ways. As new members of staff, we were able to learn a lot about our colleagues through their involvement in the Guess Who competition. We were surprised at the volume and depth of their involvement – some staff wrote long essays about their cultural background which indicated to us that people have a real desire to express these parts of their identity. We were pleased to see a lot of staff members coming to our office to ask questions and contribute stories.
We also enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with other departments in the school, such as the community service team, through linking in with their existing ‘Inspirational Friday’ initiative.
The Week, and particularly the Guess Who competition, piqued the children’s curiosity in the subject of diversity. The response to the competition was tremendous, and our intranet posts were widely liked and discussed among students and faculty. We were excited to welcome many new students to our office, interested in commenting on some of the activities or asking questions about the competition. We also heard from colleagues about how some of the topics covered in our activities were further debated and discussed in class.
The activities really seemed to encourage interaction and conversation and prompted staff and students alike to recall other opportunities (class activities and projects) where diversity had come up as a topic.
We hope to have another event or series of events to celebrate diversity next year, though the format might vary from this year’s. We’ve thrown a lot of possibilities around but, as we did this year, we’ll have to determine our main objectives in order to narrow down the resulting initiatives. We are considering a wide range of possibilities: movie night/debate, cultures fair, cultural performances, a more in-depth survey about the topic of diversity and identity, Kahoot challenges, a joint activity with the Global Perspectives teachers/course and exchange student videos/presentations. In addition, we’d like to engage our Primary School.
- What’s the starting point? Before you put together your activity, consider the status or level of awareness of the topic in your school community. Doing that will allow you to plan something your students and staff can really connect with.
- Objectives – Be clear about your objective and who you want it to affect. Start big and narrow it down.
- Plan in advance – Establish a detailed timeline and specific actions.
- Have fun! Make it fun and interactive, making sure that students’ experiences are brought into the activities.