The Power of the Arts in School to Create Peace

The Power of Arts in School to Foster Peace

Welcome to this month’s edition of news and updates from Ravi Unites!  In this edition:

Please click on a link above to immediately go to that section.

ravi-unites-songwriting
Songwriting retreat in Erbil, Iraq

The arts are an integral part of any school curriculum and have positive impact on not just students, but entire communities. In all my years as a professional musician, music teacher, education keynote speaker, and creator of arts-based programs that bring together people from traditionally opposed cultures and religions, I strongly believe the arts are significant enough to have a real influence on progressive social change, such as promoting peace--I frequently witness peace being created before my eyes.

Finding Unity In Diversity

Art programs in schools can encourage students to see cohesion and peace as great themes for songs, poems, and plays. Beyond the constraints imposed by culture and language, the message can resound with art and transcend barriers to promote cross-cultural communication. However, such an agenda need not even be present.  By being a bridge that unites people, arts organically create global citizens who have awareness, appreciation, and tolerance for the culture of others. The cultural competence inculcated and strengthened within art-based school programs reveals itself in everyday interactions by fostering good relationships, empathy for others, and safe contexts with which to experiment without fearing failure.  As Michelangelo said, “It’s better to aim high and miss than to aim low and succeed.”

On the other hand, cultural ignorance and intolerance inform stereotypes and fear, and breed conflict. As I sometimes say in my keynotes, “We don’t need to teach kids cultural competence; we need to unteach them cultural incompetence.”  Kids are naturally artistic but our society begins to erode their creative spirit and open-mindedness. Art programs ensure that learners from an early age maintain their curiosity, develop empathy, and embrace diversity while finding commonalities that exist within diverse groups.

Cultivating Empathy

Music and other arts deliver an emotive message in a way that words cannot. A song like John Lennon’s “Imagine” which exposes the horror of conflict by painting a picture of unity will be etched in the minds of those who hear it more than just hearing a news update. With that memory, those who hear the song will be moved to do what they can within their spheres of influence to change the situation. Emotions prompt actions.  Art in its various forms evokes the kind of emotions such as empathy that compels one to take measured risks and jump into action as they do their part to create peace.

Healing Art

Music and other forms of art are also therapeutic and healing (The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature). Entire civilizations carry the emotional scars of traumatic events. Without proper healing, these are the same people who are likely to retaliate at the slightest provocation. The cycle of hurt and destruction will only go on, hurting any chances at real, lasting peace.

I have witnessed this personally, first when I launched my initial intercultural songwriting retreat in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2016 (Music can Unite the World). The two-week songwriting retreat saw 16 strangers from ASEAN nations collaborate and write a total of twelve songs in twelve days. They also performed at Jakarta’s U.S. Embassy cultural center, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, and gave a public concert. Today, the group of Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims still remain close friends and share music online and in person.

Then, when I conducted my intercultural songwriting retreat in Iraq two years ago with Iraqis and Kurds (Iraq: Gaining New Perspectives On Life), I had four Muslim students from Mosul who were released as prisoners of ISIS only a few days before I arrived.  Playing music and involvement in the arts was illegal and punishable under ISIS, so there were young children that had never been exposed to any kind of art. After our two weeks, they could return to a liberated Mosul and use their talent to help rebuild it.  They performed in the streets to help collect books for the library destroyed by ISIS and went into Christian Churches (for the first time in their lives) and played music to bring life back to the houses of worship destroyed by ISIS after using them as classrooms to indoctrinate soldiers. If music can help overcome atrocities this significant, it can help curb violence in the US and unite our increasingly polarized population.

The 2020 Intercultural Songwriting Retreat in Chile

I am launching a new songwriting retreat next February in South America, in collaboration with the Curaumilla Arts Center located near Valparaiso, Chile. I aim to help overcome the rising tensions between the indigenous Mapuche communities and Chileans. The Mapuche Conflict (Wikipedia) arose out of the need for the Mapuche communities living in Chile to reorganize, seek greater autonomy and recognition of their rights, and recover their land. The conflict has increased tensions in the country, which has led to instances of violence and hate. The songwriting retreat will foster an opportunity to build cultural competence and empathy with a broader goal of bringing greater peace to the country.

The Bottom-line

I’ve seen how powerful and effective a location-specific, culturally responsive arts approach can be because of my programs in Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, and now, Chile (learn more here: https://raviunites.com/songwriting/). Today and going forward, I hope that initiatives like this as well as Ravi Unites Schools (see the latest update below) can foster cultural competence and empathy, and lead to global peace.

Can school art programs play a role in promoting peace? Absolutely.  They do without even trying, and if we cut them back, we are directly working against the goal of creating a peaceful society. The values ingrained in these programs will stay with students and go far beyond the classroom.

Educators Survey

I would greatly value your thoughts on these relevant subjects, so please feel free to send me an email.  Moreover, if you are a teacher or administrator in education, may I request a maximum of ten minutes of your time and ask you to complete the following survey on these very issues by May 31?  

Your voice helps inform mine, so please click this link and help me out:

To take the survey, CLICK HERE: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CK6SDC8

Ravi Unites Schools Update

Two “Real-time Audio-Video Interactions” were conducted in May. These were unique because Ravi hosted them “live” at two different schools in Chile and was able to interact and hang out with these bright bilingual Chileans students.

The first was between two International Baccalaureate schools: Wenlock School in Santiago Chile and the MacArthur Middle School in Fort Meade Maryland USA.  Approximately 20 students were one each side of the conversation and discussed everything from the mutual disdain for school food to their concerns about pollution and the environment.  They also discovered that they play the same video games and listen to many of the same musical artists, so they exchanged Instagram ids and plan to share music playlists. See a 10 minute video edit of the 45 minute exchange here: https://youtu.be/gdmaX8o5snU

The second exchange was between The Mackay School in Vina Del Mar, Chile and the Orange Grove Middle School in Tucson Arizona USA.  Also about 20 students on either side of the interaction, both groups shared their recommendations of what to visit when visiting each other’s countries, as well as ways to address global warming.  They too found common interests in games, movies, and music, and like the previous interaction, exchanged instagram accounts to keep the connection going. See a 10 minute video edit of the 45 minute exchange here: https://youtu.be/YvIHrT9temQ

 

The U.S. Education System is Broken, or is it?

The U.S. Education System is Broken, or is it?

Welcome to this month’s edition of news and updates from Ravi Unites!  In this edition:

Please click on a link above to immediately go to that section.

 

The U.S. Education System is Broken, or is it?

U.S. public education is broken, or at least that is what politicians are telling us. While most statistics actually don’t support this notion, public school systems are being forced more than ever to contend with the school choice movement, and are doing so by implementing everything possible to maintain their enrollment numbers and related funding.  Increased rigor, along with ambitious initiatives from social-emotional to personalized learning to whole-child education, are being woven into the school day. Are we getting to the point where interjecting more educational design might actually be breaking education? Should school be responsible for addressing all aspects of a young person’s development?

The U.S. public education system has its issues, but life will always be the most important teacher. Until we redefine the role of school in our lives, no education system can reach its full potential.

PISA Scores Tell A Tale of Two Cities

When you analyze PISA scores (Programme for International Student Assessment), the latest data shows that U.S. students are average at best. Looking at this alone, one could argue that our system is broken--we should be much better than average. However, when you dissect these scores further and look at schools with fewer than 25% of students on FRLP (Free and Reduced Lunch), the United States jumps right to the top (https://www.turnaroundusa.org/2015-pisa-analysis/).  

It’s not our education system that is broken, it is our society.  We don’t have a public education problem; we have a poverty problem.

Granted, public education must serve all segments of society and hasn’t figured out how to best serve the poor. Poverty is a cycle, and the resources required to effectively break that cycle go beyond what public education should bear when its mandate is to help all students achieve the same results.  No school can be all things to all students, but every school needs to be some things to all students. Basic academics give a strong foundation to all, and schools must also create environments where the entire range of its community is represented. It must foster inclusion and collaboration. The future requires this degree of cultural competence.

I believe the challenge of educating the poor out of poverty needs to be dealt with as a separate but coordinated effort outside of the public school environment.  If we are going to break this cycle, we need a 24/7 mechanism that is either a residential school like Shanti Bhavan with whom I partner in India, or an after-school plus online program that has this focus.  The Los Angeles-based organization Educating Young Minds is an example of the latter. In the USA, I like the after-school model because I still believe that full inclusion in public schools--regardless of race, religion, and socioeconomics--is the only way to properly prepare all students for a globalized future.

Segregation on the Rise

While freedom of choice is as American as apple pie, “school choice” is self-selected segregation.  It may offer parents opportunities and possibilities to help their children acquire the best academic achievement possible, but it sends us backwards in terms of cultural competence and what most of us publicly claim to want: racial and social equality. This can only be accomplished through inclusion and integration.

A 2016 study by the Government Accountability Office concluded that poor, African-American and Hispanic students have been increasingly isolated from their affluent, white peers in charter and magnet schools. The proportion of schools segregated by race and class climbed from 9% in 2001 to 16% in 2014. (https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-345)

A recent USA Today article highlighted the details of this disturbing trend. Despite a history of legal efforts that ban segregated schooling, current “choices” lend themselves to this.  Sadly, this will have the lasting impact of instilling a mindset of segregation in young learners rather than teaching and enabling them to truly learn by interacting in multicultural class settings, and to develop the skills and empathy to be positive agents of change.

Where Education Needs to Shift

A holistic education goes beyond the scope of school.  Within K-12 itself, the academic basics and an inclusive environment with mandatory collaborative activities will set a strong foundation for the education of life. Increasing the length of the school day and the pressure on students and teachers to perform reduces interaction with the outside world where children can simultaneously apply their education.  We must pave the way for greater interaction between children and adults who are neither their parents nor teachers, but have much wisdom to share. Finally, we cannot further deprive families of time together. The family unit, for better or worse, is the primary source of a child’s education and identity. For those families who are less stable or functional, having a child with a strong foundation from school can only be a positive influence on the rest of the family, as long as we make sure that the opportunity for outside positive influence from other adults exists.  

School’s primary purpose is no longer educating children, but rather, preparing them to be educated by the world for the rest of their lives.

I would greatly value your thoughts on this subject, so please feel free to send me an email.  Moreover, if you are a teacher or administrator in education, may I request a maximum of ten minutes of your time and ask you to complete the following survey on these very issues?  Your voice helps inform mine, so please click this link and help me out:

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CK6SDC8

Advisory Board Addition

Ravi Unites, Inc., is pleased to announce the addition of Mary Beth Pelosky to the board.  Mary is an expert in educational policy and leadership, including fellowships with the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), U.S. State Department/ConSed Brazil Principal Exchange, and George Mason’s Confucius Institute (China). She is also a former public school principal, administrator, and teacher.  

View the entire board here >

Ravi Unites Schools Update

  • On April 30, Ravi will host a very special student interaction between students ages 12-14 Wenlock School in Santiago, Chile and MacArthur Middle School in Fort Meade, Maryland, USA.  Both schools are part of the prestigious International Baccalaureate program.
  • As noted above....we want your input and invite you to take this <10 minute survey about the state of US education.  Your voice helps inform mine, and together we really can make a difference.  Click here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CK6SDC8

 

 

Equity and Access in Education: Our Need to Think Bigger

Welcome to this month’s edition of news and updates from Ravi Unites!  In this edition:

Please click on a link above to immediately go to that section.

 

Equity and Access in Education, Our Need to Think Bigger

Inequity in education remains a hot topic among stakeholders nationally, especially with the recent higher education scandal where wealthy families and well-known television personalities face federal charges of college entrance admission cheating. With figures from recent studies showing that children living in certain parts of the country are less likely to complete secondary education or be admitted to a university, and those from immigrant backgrounds or minority groups (including Native American Indians) are more likely to leave school earlier, something significant must be done.  It is clear there is a serious ongoing problem.

Many articles have been written offering solutions but the situation still exists. We need to go deeper.  We need to reevaluate the core of how our education system functions and is funded.

Here are four important ways to address the issue of equity in education, but let’s first define “equity.”

What is Equity in Education?

The dictionary defines equity as “fairness and impartiality based on the principles of even-handed dealing,” adding that it “involves giving as much consideration, latitude or advantage to one party as is given to the other(s).”

In the context of education, a more relevant definition is provided by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): “A fair and inclusive system that makes advantages of education accessible to all.”

Equity vs. Equality

The unique differences between equity and equality often cause confusion. Many times they are incorrectly interchanged. While both equity and equality are cornerstones of social justice and fair resource allocation, they are significantly different.

According to the National Association for Multicultural Education, “equality is primarily concerned with treating people the same way or giving them equal access to resources and opportunities.”

Equity is a little different. With equity, focus is on ensuring that everyone receives what they need to be successful – even if it means being unequal across socioeconomic lines. According to the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), equity’s primary concern is “creating school cultures that recognize and value diversity.”

How to Achieve Equity in Education

The OECD lists 10 steps stakeholders can take to achieve equity in education. I've drawn from those steps and narrowed it down to four key areas.

  • Prioritize culturally responsive teaching

In her book: Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain, Zaretta Hammond writes that academic struggles are often attributed to a “culture of poverty” but the real reason for these struggles is the “failure to offer learners sufficient opportunities in the classroom to develop the skills and habits of mind needed to prepare them for more advanced academic tasks.”

Culturally responsive education, or as I call it, "cultural competence," focuses on elevating and expanding learning capacities of students who are traditionally marginalized in the education system, an approach that can go a long way in addressing common challenges associated with cultural incompetence. When we provide traditionally marginalized students with opportunities for high-level thinking, and we also provide all students with training to relate in positive ways with people of different cultural backgrounds, we’re training them to become competitive on the global stage.

  • Provide differentiated instruction, or “personalized learning”

Differentiated instruction essentially means identifying the needs of each student and providing the modalities for learning and challenges that fit those needs. In other words, school systems must provide facilities and environments that are conducive to personalized learning.  This will often mean a change from traditional classroom setups.  Moreover, teachers must plan learning experiences with every student’s needs, interests, styles, and preferences in mind. Just like John Taylor Gatto says in his book: Dumbing Us Down, the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, “we need to invest in curricula where each child has the opportunity to develop personal uniqueness and self-reliance.”

Data is one tool that can be used in this area. Why? Because people sometimes have perceptions that do not reflect what is actually happening in the school community. Equity-related data can be researched to help educators prepare instruction that benefit all students.

  • Inform the allocation of resources

Stakeholders must also think about how resources, ranging from books provided in classrooms to student funding and school building design and setup, impact equity. Students from low-income families and those of color traditionally require more resources to level the playing field. Those with disabilities, meanwhile, require appropriate infrastructure to overcome their challenges. These groups benefit from additional funding. How we allocate these resources within the classroom, in the school district, and at the national level has a huge impact on educational outcomes.  Programs like Title 1 help us achieve equity, but professional development, which is currently being cut in many states and in the President’s most recent budget proposal, is also critical.

  • Provide and support school choice for all

Why shouldn't school choice be a fundamental right in a free society?  Moreover, having one's education be independent of government funding and therefore independent of potential modern-day indoctrination also seems like a desirable scenario. The idea of school choice, in theory, has great potential to provide equity and accessibility. The Model promotes greater individualized education and less of a sheep-herding approach.  The challenge for successful implementation is that additional barriers musts be recognized and overcome for this to truly be a “choice for all.” One simple example is transportation. Some families simply don’t have the resources to transport the child to and from a distant school. Resources must always be provided to offset this need in public education. As our society advances, we must double down on identifying and removing barriers so that every child is more readily able to reach her highest potential.   

Can diverting public funds to private institutions ultimately lead to equity, and isn't equity fundamental to our strength as a country, or as a species?  In my opinion, those funds should be invested in our public schools in order to provide greater equity in education. Further segregation through school choice--ultimately self-selection segregation--generally reduces diversity; if not done with equity and access in mind and deliberate action, this may ultimately hinder students’ abilities to function in a globalized world.

Key Takeaway

As Gatto writes; “It’s absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that forces you to sit in confinement with people from exactly the same age and social class. Such a system effectively cuts you off from life’s diversity and the associated synergy; indeed, it blocks you from your own past and future.” In the education system, addressing equity at more fundamental and deeper levels is the only solution to this problem.

News & Events:

Britannica “Stand Out” Awards Entry Extended Until April 1st

I am honored to be a judge for Britannica’s first ever “Stand-Out” awards.  We want to hear about the character of students and educators, like you, who have exemplified extraordinary and inspiring characteristics that have helped to make an impact on students and classrooms. There are cash prizes for both students and teachers. Check out the following link to learn more: https://britannicalearn.com/awards/

 

Thoughts from my recent keynote for the Shoshone-Bannock tribe and the Northwest Indian Youth Summit

Lots of thoughts go through my mind.  Young people from Native American groups indigenous to the North American continent suffer from many of the same epidemics that the rest of society suffers from: opioid addiction, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, technology addiction, and so on. On top of that, they face significant racism that is on par with most immigrant populations. Yet ironically, they are not immigrants; they are native to this part of the world.

That brings me to the current discussion about building a wall along the southern border of the United States. I can't help but wonder: if we were to turn back the clock hundreds of years but with the indigenous population having the experience that they have now, would they have built a wall to keep out illegal immigrants (whom we now call "citizens") who stole their land and committed crimes and murders against them?

And then there is the issue of integration: how can the native population celebrate and share their cultures without the majority attempting to silence it?  For example, how alienating it must be that some of the first school year holidays include Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. How do we become more culturally competent in the United States so that we can truly embrace the original founders of our land and make their many heritages something that every student will know more about, appreciate, and celebrate?

April 5th, 2019: Mississippi Association of School Administrators Conference, Biloxi MS

Mississippi’s economy is ranked 49th in the U.S. To help educators and administrators elevate the national standard of education and work toward equity in education, it is as important for me to learn as much from those in Mississippi as I hope they will learn from me. For this reason, I will arrive a day early to listen as state and local leadership address the challenges facing education in their state.  This will help inform my closing keynote on April 5, 2019.

Three Reasons Non-Urban School Districts Need to Increase Cultural Competence and Learn the Positives of Globalization

Welcome to this month’s edition of news and updates from Ravi Unites!  In this edition:

Please click on a link above to immediately go to that section.

Three Reasons Non-Urban School Districts Need to Increase Cultural Competence and Learn the Positives of Globalization

It’s that time again when the calendar flips, we evaluate the past and plan for the future.  The school year in the U.S. follows a different cycle, and regular evaluation and reevaluation in school districts must happen year round; this includes undergoing professional development.

In 2018, I had the privilege to deliver the keynote address for several district-wide convocations. I tend to focus on national and global conferences but was reminded that significant change often happens at the grassroots level, perhaps now more than ever.  I began to embrace the opportunity to interact with teachers directly—they are the face of education and, if empowered to do so, have the greatest gift to offer society.

My concern in speaking at convocations for non-urban, small, and especially rural districts was that my messages of the need for greater cultural competence and the positives of globalization might be perceived as irrelevant to them.  However, as I became more familiar with these local communities, I was struck by how culturally diverse many are. For example, Harrisonburg, Virginia has a rapidly changing and diverse population due to refugee resettlements (http://www.wmra.org/topic/refugees-virginia#stream/0), and there are many others that may seem homogeneous but actually have or will have a high degree of cultural diversity that needs to be included in education strategy and planning.

The Country is Becoming more Diverse as a Whole

While it is commonly accepted that diversity has increased in urban areas, diversity has significantly increased in rural areas as well.  In fact, data shows that 97% of smaller cities (10,000-50,000) in the U.S. have increased diversity since 1980 (Theconversation.com).  This emphasizes that the impact of immigration and growing diversity is not limited to major metropolitan areas only but extends out to all communities and thus all public school districts across the U.S.  

With this trend comes the need for education leaders to foster the cultural competence of students and communities; to help them proactively seek common ground and overcome any potential fear, bias, and closed off interactions. As we saw last week in Washington DC, implicit bias appears to have contributed to misinterpreted hostilities between three diverse groups (Native Americans, white Catholic school students, and Black Hebrew Israelites) who had separately convened at the Lincoln Memorial to exercise their freedom of speech. Moreover, with the heated debate about building a wall along the southern border of the United States, the distinctions between illegal, legal, and refugee immigration are often intentionally muddled. Education must aim to correct what is at the core of such misunderstandings.

Increase of Immigrants Settling Outside of Large Cities

The number of immigrants settling in suburban and rural areas of the U.S. has grown substantially and the trend continues to move in that direction. Since 2014, over 61% of immigrants now live in suburban areas (The Atlantic). These individuals seek the same things we all look for: affordable housing, job opportunities, and quality schools for their children, to name a few.  This outward mobility from urban centers means that suburban and rural school districts are indeed more diverse than ever before, and the skills to understand, appreciate, and value people from different backgrounds and cultures needs to be high priority.

Diversity Has Become Self-Sustaining

Not only has diversity from immigration increased across all areas of the U.S., this diversity is generally self-sustaining.  Minority groups are maintaining and growing through the birth of children. The majority of U.S. Hispanics are now native born. Of the 57.4 million people in 2016 who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, only 34 percent (19.6 million) are first generation immigrants (Migration Policy Institute).   Cultural dynamics in the U.S. are changing permanently and all communities and school districts are impacted.  We must each increase our own cultural competencies and develop pathways to instill skills for listening, learning, and appreciating the value of people from different cultures and backgrounds. Forward-thinking educational leaders must equip teachers to model and teach cultural competence in the classroom. It’s an amazing time to be alive.

 

I’d welcome the opportunity to talk further about these trends and how your school district is working at increasing cultural competence among students and families.

Ravi Unites Schools Update

Looking Ahead: Refining Methods for Matching Schools in 2019

Last year, we tested Ravi’s assertions that students crave opportunities to connect in real time with their peers in other parts of the world, that educators seek new ways to increase their students’ cultural competencies, and that this stimulates greater empathy and action on behalf of others. By August, over 100 schools and districts had registered to Skype with a student group in another geographic region through the Ravi Unites Schools initiative. 12 classrooms with over 100 students ages 9-18 have now interacted between India, United States, China, Chile and Japan, and many more will in 2019. The Association of School Superintendents (AASA) and STEM Institute are strategic partners, and we are in discussions with Britannica. The overwhelmingly positive results were captured on video, through teacher testimonials, and in previous blogs and e-newsletter updates: learn more here.

In 2019, we will offer registered educators a larger array of dates and times from which to choose. This will increase the likelihood that schools will be able to participate. Due to the large numbers of U.S. schools participating, most opportunities will be domestic.  This spring, we will also work to build a feasible schedule of opportunities with schools registered from China, Chile, India, Japan, Canada and New Zealand. Wish us luck! There are inherent challenges in overcoming the vast differences in time zone, cultural norms, video communications systems, school day and time availabilities. Thank you for your patience. We hope that many more schools will be able to interact in 2019.

Ravi to Judge Britannica “Stand Out” Awards

I am honored to be a judge for Britannica’s first ever “Stand-Out” awards.  We want to hear about the character of students and educators, like you, who have exemplified extraordinary and inspiring characteristics that have helped to make an impact on students and classrooms. There are cash prizes for both students and teachers. Check out the following link to learn more: https://britannicalearn.com/awards/

Ravi Announces Advisory Board

Ravi welcomes his first few advisors to his board: Bob Moje, principal of VMDO Architects specializing in educational spaces, Mary Luehrsen of National Association of Music Merchants specializing in policy development and government relations efforts affecting access to music education, and Jeffrey Sexton of the US Department of State with over 30 years of US international public and cultural diplomacy experience. Learn more at https://RaviUnites.com/about

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

How Cross-Cultural Competence Impacts Workplace Culture and Effectiveness

 

Last month on the blog I discussed the value of failure and how, rather than trying to help young people avoid failures, we should be more intentional about teaching the ways that failure helps us learn, grow, and ultimately succeed.  This month I want to turn our attention to the workplace as well as to our school environments; specifically how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace and school culture and effectiveness, and why this topic is more important than ever at this time in our nation.

The U.S. is currently in the middle of a significant demographic shift. Groups once considered minorities will together make up at least 52% of the country’s population by 2050, with the population of Hispanics likely to more than double and the black American and Asian populations also expected to grow by a significant margin.

In the workplace, due in part to globalization, customers and employees will represent an even more diverse mix. Most organizations are already experiencing this as they hire employees and serve customers from multiple cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. It partly explains why many large corporations now have multilingual human resource personnel and customer support staff, and are looking to diversify their boards of directors and executive management teams.  This diversity presents workplace opportunities for high-quality professional development to avoid team conflict, bias, and communication breakdowns. Without engaging in appropriate, compassionate training for staff and management, businesses could experience higher turnover, lower morale, and losses in profitability.

To overcome the challenges posed by this shift, schools and businesses need to invest in intentional cross-cultural competence equipping as part of their overall talent management practices. This is one reason why my songwriting programs were presented in Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon by the U.S. Department of State with the focus of bridging across cultures and defeating some long-standing religious, social, racial, and cultural biases. The same principles apply in the U.S. and anywhere in the world.

What is Cross-Cultural Competence?

Culture refers to the shared traditions, beliefs, customs, institutions, folklore, and history of a particular group of people. A culture is shared by people of the same ethnicity, language, customs or religion. Competence, meanwhile, means to have sufficient knowledge and skills to enable someone to work in a wide variety of situations.

Cross-cultural competence, therefore, refers to possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to work with people of different nationalities, ethnic communities, languages, and religions. If a person, school  or organization is culturally competent, it means that they understand, appreciate, and can effectively work with people with different traditions, beliefs, and customs.

Millennial idealism offers a great opportunity to overcome many social injustices, including racism.  This generation is “color blind” and multicultural, so by embracing this aspect of millennial mindset, we can organically grow out of some implicit biases that currently hinder cultural competence in the workplace.

The good news is that you can now arrange for cross-cultural competence training for your school or organization where every generation of employee, from top to bottom, is taught skills to help them interact with people from cultures other than their own more effectively. These skills often include

  • Active listening capabilities
  • People interaction skills
  • Flexibility, and
  • Emotional intelligence


Benefits of Cross-Cultural Competence in the Workplace

There are several reasons organizations and individuals need to invest in cross-cultural competence training:

  • It helps us appreciate the perspectives and views of others

Culturally competent employees are open to the views and perspectives of employees from other cultures. This can be vital in achieving unity within the organization.

  • Multiple viewpoints can help us find lasting solutions

When people from different cultures work together, varied perspectives come to the table. With more ideas to consider, it becomes easier to find lasting solutions to existing challenges.

  • Looking out for each other

A culturally competent workforce also looks out for each other. Individuals are always willing to take action for the collective good. This, too, can be instrumental in achieving organizational togetherness.

  • Helps us develop listening skills

One of the fundamental requirements of cross-cultural competence is to possess excellent listening skills. Everyone at the organization will be willing to hear what others have to say and understand them in the ways that they uniquely express their views. More important, workers will know how to interpret what they hear within a much broader framework.

  • Instills empathy, flexibility, and adaptability

The benefits of these skills are obvious. An empathetic, flexible, and adaptable workforce is productive even in the most demanding situations. When routines, management or the direction of the organization change, individuals will more readily  adapt accordingly.

  • Helps employees resist unproductive stereotyping

Stereotyping is one of the primary impediments to workplace harmony. Cross-cultural competence helps employees recognize and deal with implicit bias and similar vices, thus boosting individual confidence and guaranteeing team morale.

  • Decreases and overcomes institutional racism

Finally, and perhaps most important, instilling cross-cultural competence in the workplace can be instrumental in rooting out racism. At the very least, the workforce will learn to appreciate each other, significantly reducing incidences of racial discrimination and abuse. This was a theme in my keynote two years ago at the National Education Association, where I talked about institutional racism in higher education. This is a pervasive challenge that must be eradicated from our multicultural society, and the benefits of unity in diversity revealed.

With the significant demographic shifts within our nation and the increased globalization of our work experiences, cross-cultural competence has become a critical issue for businesses.  It impacts not only productivity but ultimately organizational profitability.

Let’s Discuss

How will your organization address the challenges impacting workplace culture and effectiveness?  I would be glad to discuss. Please contact me to talk further.

You Can Help!

You can also help me out by providing your input on a related topic.  Please take my flash survey: Can playing online games with others around the world increase students' cultural competencies? https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9R3RRH7

Educators: Join Ravi Unites Schools

We are signing up schools and districts to participate in the Ravi Unites Schools initiative, which provides real-time audio-video interactions between groups of students who live on opposite sides of the world.  Learn more and sign up here: https://raviunites.com/schools/