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.

Civil Discourse: 3 Ways to Help Students Learn to Engage with Civility

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.

Civil Discourse:  3 Ways to Help Students Learn to Engage with Civility

 

Politics on social media... the two go together like fire and lighter fluid!

Simply post something about politics on Facebook and watch how fast the conversation becomes negative and polarizing. I've been intentionally sharing provocative reflections recently on my Facebook Page, Ravi Unites, to promote civil discourse and have found that the discussion heats up quickly. There is a lack of effort or ability to seek productive dialogue which results in fruitless conversation that draws boundaries instead of building bridges.  What are we teaching the next generation of young leaders? Moreover, in a society where admitting fault has become akin to being unpatriotic, how do we progress as a nation and encourage our children to grow into lifelong learners if the art of being wrong and learning from it is no longer available as the pathway to success?

I believe strongly that the skill of civil discourse is a critical learning objective that needs to be addressed more intentionally in our educational systems. Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one that is troubled by this trend. Chris Lundberg, an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, shares the same concerns and notes how we have become a society of incivility. He explains that politeness is a prerequisite for good public discourse, and like I, feels that avoiding the truth in the name of preserving a good discussion does not serve society well. The issue is that we have a lack of training and healthy modeling of productive sharing of ideas and opinions. Therefore we must develop the skills for civil discourse that can enable a healthy exchange of ideas rather than devolving into negativity and outlandish attacks.

How Do We Regain Civility?

The original concept of societal civilus (or a civilized society) meant that members of the society were supposed to comport themselves in a way that seeks well for the society. We must help future leaders understand and learn how to engage in civil discourse from a young age by preparing them to confront and civilly debate even the most charged topics. And, no, civil doesn’t mean hiding the truth.

While we all have a duty to practice good manners when addressing other people, being civil also comes with the responsibility to do what’s right for society – tell the truth. This is what we need to instill in these leaders of tomorrow.

The following are three practical ways to introduce students to civil discourse in the classroom:

1. Have Students Watch Public Debates

Like any other skill, the ability to engage in civil discourse is learned one step at a time. So, in order to take the first step, I recommend educators start with this simple activity; something that doesn’t feel personally threatening to individual participants.  

Watching (rather than participating in) a debate is an excellent learning opportunity. Let students watch other people debate contentious topics and then discuss the discourse that took (or didn’t take) place.   What was helpful? What was not? What can they learn from what they have observed? There are several places to find excellent material for this kind of teaching: Oxford Union, National Debate and Speech Association, and Intelligence Squared.

2. Introduce Private, Silent Journaling

After watching several debates, move to the next step – silent, reflective journaling. This is where students are presented with a debatable statement and asked to; Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree with it, privately; no one has to know their stance.

This strategy works very well because students can confidently express their views without fear of confrontation from others who may not share the same viewpoint. More important, it gets them into the practice of taking positions on difficult topics. With time, you can ask them to defend their choices by giving reasons for their answers. This further instills discipline as it cultivates the culture of taking a position for a reason rather than just following the herd.

3. Introduce class debates

This is where art of civil discourse flourishes. Begin with relatively easy, non-threatening topics and slowly move to more highly charged topics as the students become used to publicly expressing and defending a viewpoint (and not necessarily their own).  Lay out your ground rules and share tips for positive and civil discussion. The key is to assign each student a viewpoint to defend. This way they are challenged to think critically and respond respectfully, whether or not they agree with the position or not, and always give participants enough time to research the topic and come up with points.

It’s Not Too Late

Current trends on social media are not overly positive, but it’s not too late to salvage the future and make sure that poor discussion habits do not dominate social and professional situations. Introducing these three strategies in the classroom can help bring back some sanity by weaving critical civil discourse skills into tomorrow’s leaders.

Ravi Unites Schools Update: Practicing Civil Discourse Together

If you live in the United States, I hope you will agree that it is time to practice civil discourse and to guide our students to do the same. This spring, I am hosting free real-time audio-video interactions between students within the country. I strongly encourage you to make every effort to participate when you receive an email inviting you to select a date and time for an interaction. If these dates do not work for you, please write sandy@raviunitesschools.com to be placed on the waiting list.

Participating now will not interfere with future opportunities and you will still be notified as new international dates and times emerge. I continue to work to build a feasible schedule with schools registered from China, Chile, India, Japan, Canada and New Zealand. The vast differences in time zone, cultural norms, video communications systems, school day and time availabilities continue to inspire and challenge me.

Upcoming Events:

March 18th, 2019

Northwest Indian Youth Summit, Fort Hall, ID

I am very excited to work with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe and deliver the keynote to their youth community on developing a growth mindset. Native American Indians are an essential and marginalized segment of the US population, and I look forward to learning more about how to help them overcome the cultural biases and obstacles they face, preserve and promote their culture, and help others learn, respect and appreciate their values, traditions, art forms and more..

 

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

Reaching Beyond Rigor

Reaching Beyond Rigor

In the words of USA Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin: “True merit consists of an inclination and ability to serve mankind, and this merit can only be acquired or significantly increased through true learning. This should be the great aim and end of all learning.”

Franklin’s ideology resonates with my view of a “holistic education”--one that is based on the tenet that people find their identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, nature, and humanitarian values such as kindness and peace.  Most schools recognize the importance of this and adopt a holistic or “whole child” education philosophy, but are they executing it effectively, and is it even possible for a school to achieve this alone?

The philosophy of Wenlock School in Santiago, Chile, resonates with me (their students participated in last week’s Ravi Unites Schools Real-time Audio-Video Interaction...see video). Its fundamental principle is that parents are the first educators of their children and the school is a collaborator in this task. Indeed, my influences outside of school (including family) were the most significant contributors to my becoming educated. Leaving time for life lessons rather than elongating school days and scheduling school-related activities on weekends is essential to comprehensively educate a child.

Every educator must consider whether he or she is most effectively helping students to develop the necessary “inclination and ability” to serve themselves and the broader global community.

Busier and Longer Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better

I encounter many school schedules and environments that leave me wondering if students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. The structure, demands, and wide array of school day and extracurricular offerings may actually have unintended consequences by forcing students into silos, restricting the release of creativity, and inhibiting their overall development. Consider this: can too many choices for students lead to adults who are only able to choose from opportunities presented to them rather than to create opportunities themselves?  This may be the difference between followers and leaders, and employees and entrepreneurs.

To properly prepare the next generation to pivot with a growth mindset in a rapidly changing society and job market, I believe that education systems must consider:

  • Reducing the demands and time commitment of the total school day, including extracurricular activities and homework
  • Limiting school related activities on weekends to create more opportunities for family time
  • Allowing for “downtime” and even boredom to foster creativity and inspire students to create choices rather than choose from them.

Family Time Plays a Key Role in Holistic Learning

This brings us to family time. With busier school days, lots of homework, and weekend school-related activities, school-related education takes up nearly all of the students’ (and parents’) time. If we are to achieve holistic education, children must have more time with their families for these reasons:

  • Family gives children a lifelong sense of belonging: Schools offer no shortage of opportunities for students to grow their identity through school pride: sports teams, mascots, school motto, etc.  However, students eventually graduate from school but remain part of their families for life. Identity should not be so tightly tied to transient experiences, as that can foster loneliness and disaffection.
  • To learn important life lessons: As already mentioned, the most important life lessons come from outside the classroom. Many of these lessons come during family time, including acquiring the coveted soft skills.
  • To learn the value of family: Family is more than blood relations. It is also a set of values and skills that lead to a more collaborative work and societal environment. Sufficient family time is the greatest opportunity to instill these values in our children (there are of course exceptions with dysfunctional families, and that must be considered on case-by-case basis).

Education Is What Remains After You Forget Everything You Were Taught

Authors Russell L. Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg, in their book; Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track, poke holes in the current education system saying that it is time that we accept that nothing worth learning can actually be taught. Perhaps that is true, and many incorrectly assume that for every ounce of teaching, there is an ounce of learning. As I say in my keynotes, “Education is what remains after you forget everything you were taught.”  If we spend school time focused on teaching students learning strategies and techniques and then give them the free time to implement them on their own, make mistakes, become bored, and muddle their way out of obstacles (often self imposed), they will become lifelong learners.

How can we create more holistic education system?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below and let me know.

What Do You Have to Lose? The Value of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

What Do You Have to Lose? The Value of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

 

My father went against conventional wisdom by frequently encouraging me to live just beyond my means. He believed that by doing so, it forced me to try harder, go further, and expand my comfort zone step-by-step.  

The “comfort zone” as defined by LifeHacker, is “a behavioral space where our activities and behaviors fit a routine pattern that minimizes risk and reduces stress.”  The comfort zone has been termed a killer of dreams by some experts and identified by others as the main reason many people never live to taste true success. It is the antithesis of a growth mindset. Although the zone can reward you with some happiness and reduced anxiety, it has been shown that staying cozy within your comfort zone ultimately reduces creativity, limits vision, and stunts growth.

Benefits of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

Despite the “at home” feeling we get in the comfort zone, life gets way more exciting when you decide to explore the world beyond those boundaries. Having a growth mindset is central to innovation. The following are three key ways you will benefit;

You Become More Productive

Comfort is the antithesis of productivity and growth as it causes us to be satisfied with the status quo. You won’t strive to accomplish more because you can survive on what you have. You will also feign “busy” as a way of justifying your current outputs. Pushing yourself out of the comfort zone inspires you to want more and therefore work harder and smarter to increase your output, along the lines of what my father was trying to teach me.  By taking more risks we develop a higher risk tolerance over time and thus increase our capacity and productivity.

It Helps You Deal With Change

In a recent New York Times article University of Houston Professor Brene Brown explains that the worst thing we can do in life is pretend that fear and uncertainty don’t exist, because they do - and we experience them every day. Learning to live outside your comfort zone is one of the best ways to prepare for unexpected changes in life.  If you have a higher capacity for readiness to accept change, which being outside one’s comfort zone helps foster, then when forced change happens you have the fortitude to deal with it in a positive way.

You Get To Harness Your Creativity

Creativity is innately risky, but also tremendously worthwhile. When you share your creativity with others, you’re opening up to vulnerability and possible rejection. Yet there is a silver lining! The same risk-taking increases the possibility of great creative achievement, including creating opportunities where you may not have achieved otherwise. Like Forbes contributor Steve Kotler once said; “Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often.”  Stepping out of your comfort zone boosts self confidence, improves quality of life, and allows us to learn more about ourselves.

It is Not an Easy Task

Getting out of your comfort zone is easier said than done. The main reason for this is that humans are creatures of comfort. We are wired to seek comfort. Therefore, when you finally reach a mental state where you feel comfortable, leaving that place becomes a fight.

Another reason leaving the comfort zone is never easy is the fear of failure and possible rejection. What if you take a big risk and fail? Will you lose your credibility and perhaps even a few friends? Always ask yourself, “What do I have to lose?”You will find more often than not that you have very little to lose, but so much to gain.

Finally, leaving your comfort zone is also difficult because of the way our brains work. The famous Yerkes-Dodson Law shows that our brains can only be pushed up to a certain limit, beyond which performance drops. In most cases, after performance drops, the brain works out that the risk isn’t worth it anymore, forcing us to reset to – our comfort zones.  

Steps to Successfully Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

There are at least two key types of comfort zones, including habits of thinking and habits of acting.  Awareness is key in moving beyond the comfort zone, but action is also key. Here’s a primer on how to successfully get out of your comfort zone and focus on a growth mindset:

  1. Start small:  Begin with small steps. By changing just a small part of your daily routines, you can slowly learn to get outside your comfort zone. This can be as simple as changing the order in which you do things in the morning, and then asking yourself what, if any, result it produced.
  2. Help others:  Find situations that you can proactively resolve for other people. This exercise helps you move beyond your habits of thinking and acting by entering someone else’s world.  It will also strengthen your sense of empathy, which will undoubtedly make your actions outside of your comfort zone more impactful and rewarding.
  3. Find a mentor:  A mentor is someone whom you want to emulate in life. They can also be directly involved in your life and give you feedback.  Following their success path can help you overcome some fears and latent comforts that hold you back from growing. For me, Sir Richard Branson has always been a role model in terms of taking calculated risks and expanding one’s comfort zone.

If you’re up for the journey, why not begin today? It takes effort and steps of faith, but it is definitely possible.  

 

New Growth Mindset Keynote Topic

Ravi has developed and launched a new keynote in the growth mindset arena titled, “What Do You Have to Lose? Step Out of Your Comfort Zone”.  Based on the core belief that the future requires a growth mindset, this motivating keynote focuses on the value of developing a tolerance for risk.  

Ravi uses his compelling journey to showcase how lifelong learning leads to success.  

Read more about the keynote here…

 

Education Leadership Results Are In On the Future of Multiplayer Online Gaming

This past June we published a blog post entitled, “Can time spent playing online games help teens develop cultural competency?”  The post detailed shared interests between students in India and the United States, including multiplayer online gaming.  The blog invited education leaders to weigh in on this global teen phenomenon, and results are in from our quick survey, Digital Priorities and the Future of Multiplayer Online Gaming.

While only 25% of the professionals and educators responded that they participate in online gaming themselves, 58% believe that multiplayer online gaming is a good activity for young people. Educators appear willing to recognize that the level of engagement students demonstrate when involved with multiplayer online games is worth noting and perhaps channeling for positive impact.  One educator reflected that “The content of the experience/activity is of concern, [but] I believe the problem solving, creative thinking and language skill development can provide greater relevance and purpose for young adult learner, which may lead to enhancing their growth and development in technology-rich environments.”  

Interestingly, that same number feel that multiplayer online gaming could provide an even greater interaction, and thus educational opportunity, than a structured Skype conversation (such as the one offered by Ravi Unites Schools). “A deep established relationship could occur,” says one administrator, “however I believe to work it might need teacher interaction, reviewed or completed during schooling hours.   I think it is such a perfect way to reach kids where there are, because that is where the real learning takes place.”

When asked whether multiplayer online gaming could have a useful place in the classroom experience, educators did not hold back their views.  In addition to encouraging social collaboration and teamwork, problem solving skills, creativity, and an opportunity to share common interests, multiplayer online games could be used as an assessment tool -- a ‘gamification’ of assessment, as one participant called it. More expressed caution, including one who indicated “if there is a way to assess the educational impact on a student's learning, then yes. [However] those that are combative and foster unhealthy competitiveness and agitation can impact the child's entire day.”

Survey respondents felt there is potential for this type of gaming to increase cross-cultural competency. Beyond the 75% that responded affirmatively, those that responded with a specific reply felt that it depended on the game, content, and purpose.

The general consensus was that online gaming does have potential to be used for education purposes and increasing cross-cultural competency, and those responding indicated a trend towards seeking out an educational multiplayer online game for the students in their schools and classrooms to play.

The results were very interesting and trended towards favoring the involvement of multiplayer online games.  The survey gave us a window into the minds of educational professionals in the classroom and within administration positions.  

Here’s a link to the first blog post on multiplayer online gaming. What do you think about the survey results and potential for online gaming to be a valuable educational tool and method to increase cross-cultural competency?  Please feel free to respond with your comments.

 

Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

Increasing Cultural Competency through Multi-sensory Culinary Experiences

The practice of sharing a meal dates back to the dawn of humanity. Today we also use this time to learn about each other and welcome others into our families and communities. In many Middle East countries, for instance, “I have had water and salt in your home” is a common way of saying that once a meal has been shared, “we are bonded to one another.”

Many agree that the bonding power of “breaking bread” is tremendously rich, enabling us to overcome great challenges, and even infusing cultural competence in younger generations. I am convinced that preparing the meal collectively deepens the bond even further.

The culinary arts is perhaps the only art that stimulates all five senses simultaneously. My theory is that this multi-sensory experience creates a uniquely strong connection. Therefore, preparing and sharing the daily family dinner is a vital opportunity to reinforce family values and counterbalance other influences that may be less desirable.

Overcoming Challenges through Sharing a Meal

I believe we should consider the possibilities of “food diplomacy” and raise awareness of its potential for positive impact. Dining together is a multi-sensory, tangible experience that can uncover commonalities where previously only differing experiences and viewpoints might have existed.  

The potential for conversation and trust building is inherent in sharing smells, tastes, colors and textures of the ingredients along with various methods of preparation. The total experience can be a catalyst for diplomacy, increasing greater understanding and the sharing of a common experience.  Furthermore, the tradition of raising a glass to a common desire (i.e. “to our health”) unites those around the table.

Teaching Cultural Competence through Food

Today’s finest French cuisine is often created using the animal parts traditionally eaten by peasants. And why is it that countries in the hottest climates such as India and China eat the spiciest foods? Do we recognize that spices are used to preserve foods in places where refrigeration was (or is) not readily available, and what else does that teach us about these places? When you eat international foods, and even more so if you cook them yourself at home, you are personally investing in different cultures.

Several organizations have initiated programs that focus on this. Cooking Matters asks participants to prepare dishes from as many cultures as possible and challenges them to draw relationships between those foods and the respective cultures.They say that foods are “the summation and expression of experiences, beliefs, and practices.” So when you cook foods from other cultures, you get a first-hand taste of the experiences, beliefs, and practices of that culture; you learn about others without assumption or judgment.

Scholastic, as another example, encourages teachers to prepare meals from different cultures as a way of getting even young children to appreciate other cultures.

What Students Can Learn

There is much to learn from cooking and eating foods from other cultures and even breaking bread together with people of these cultures. These include:

  • The people’s identity: When we eat certain foods, we identify with a very specific norm within our own community. Cooking or consuming foods of others will help us learn and appreciate their identities.

 

  • A community’s pleasures: Students learn which festivals or occasions are associated with which foods.

 

  • A community’s values: Breaking bread with other communities helps future leaders learn about the values that tie those communities together.

 

  • Heritage: Taking an interest in other communities’ foods is one of the best ways to trace their history and heritage.

 

Ravi Unites Support for Culinary Experiences

My Ravi Unites Schools program that unites students from different cultures online is directly aligned with creating community-building culinary initiatives. In fact, a discussion of food is naturally part of every interaction. I encourage educators and especially families to incorporate diverse foods and culinary exploration into regular activities. By simultaneously stimulating sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, a unique and rich experience is created that can break down walls and form lasting connections.

What are your thoughts on this? Please let me know by sending me a message.

Harnessing Your Position for Good

 

Harnessing-Your-Position-for-Good-

Harnessing Your Position for Good

Last month we looked at how cross-cultural competence impacts workplace effectiveness.  The topic of cross-cultural competence is featured in most of my keynotes, and while my primary points are consistent, I tailor my keynotes to each audience and incorporate current events.

One of these trending topics is “privilege.” Privilege has always been a delicate topic. Whenever you mention the word, it can evoke strong reactions depending upon the context. The word carries connotations of power and often is discussed from racial equity, level of education, or family dynasty perspectives.

I have first hand experience with this as I am part of a prominent Indian family dynasty; I am the first American born member of the family that created the world's largest democracy and governed it for over 40 years.  I have often reflected upon how this has impacted me and what I do with this position.

A question I am often asked is: Can privilege ever be a good thing? And a related question that I believe is important: Is it possible to harness our position for good?

I believe that, yes, those who have privilege have a golden opportunity to use that position to combat social injustices and make the world a better place.

Positioning for Good

There are four steps involved in harnessing position for the greater good:

• Understand the meaning of privilege

If you are to make good use of your privilege, you must begin by learning what privilege means.

Put simply, privilege is an unearned advantage, access, or power reserved for an individual or a group of people. The University of Michigan, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts defines it as a “society-granted” advantage accorded to some people and not others. It is not chosen and is independent of attitudes or belief systems.

More important, we cannot run away from privilege once we have it. The only choice we have is what to do with it.

• Own your privilege

Once you have understood what privilege means, it is time to own whatever advantages you enjoy.  Moreover, these advantages are valuable tools in your toolbox that can be used to change the world for the better.  Do not dismiss or negate your privilege. Make the choice to use it for the good of society.

There are many factors that put us in a position of privilege: sex, gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, disability, class, body type, level of education, and so on. What privilege(s) do you have? You need to reflect on and understand your privilege.  Accept that it gives you a unique opportunity and you must embrace it and use it for greater good.

• Open up to feedback

This simply means opening up to the opinions and experiences of those who may not possess your privilege. What do they have to say? For instance, if you are wealthy, listen to what those living in poverty have to say. Some say they possess a different kind of wealth or happiness and are not interested in material riches. What do they think about the rich and wealth in general?

Opening up to feedback is often the most difficult part of engaging with our privileges. However, it is equally important because it is what will give you the strength and motivation to get up and do something with the advantages you enjoy.

• Harness your privilege for the benefit of all

The last step is to leverage your societal advantages to positively impact yourself and those around you. Use the privilege to grow as a person and reach across the divide to offer support and opportunity to those on the other side.

• Harness Leadership through Ravi Unites Schools

As a cultural catalyst who has helped bridge hostile cultural and religious divides in India, Indonesia, Iraq, and Lebanon, I started the Ravi Unites Schools program to help future leaders harness their leadership positions for the benefit of all.

By connecting schools from different countries, cultures, and time zones, and allowing them to interact, we are able to expand their minds, open their worldview, and grow in cross-cultural competence.  These students then gain the cultural capital required to make them successful leaders of the future. However, unless we engage and help them open up to new ways of thinking and seeing the world, they might never fully utilize these unique powers. At Ravi Unites, we draw from personal and professional experiences to equip young students with the tools needed to transition their cultural capital into cultural competency.

What are your thoughts on this?  

Are you interested in hearing more and having me speak to your audience on this or one of my keynote topics?  

Let’s talk!

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/

Can time spent playing online games help teens develop cultural competency? What do you think?

 

Can time spent playing online games help teens develop cultural competency?  What do you think?

A few months ago, I introduced two groups of eighth grade students on a Ravi Unites Schools video conference call. They waved at each other through their laptops and began to chat, and noted the obvious: they live 12 hours apart.

Like most students who participate in this new initiative, their lives take place in opposite realities.  One lives in Mumbai, India, which is home to 22 million people, while the other lives in a small town in the United States.  As one group heads into nighttime, the other begins the day.

On this call, they searched for commonalities across many miles and their different cultures. Sports? One group played cricket, while the other played American football. Favorite foods? Hamburgers and hot dogs in the U.S.; samosas and curry in Mumbai. And the weather? It was hot and humid in India, while the U.S. students in were shoveling out of a late spring snow (again!).

They did share the stress and satisfaction of doing well in school. But this wasn’t what they wanted to talk about. After only a few minutes, they made their discovery: each was mildly obsessed with the latest global teen phenomenon: multiplayer online gaming.

Before the end of this real-time audio-video interaction, the two schools agreed to find a day and time to team up and play.

What are your thoughts about the value of online gaming for teens across the world?

Click here to take my fun and quick survey: Digital Priorities and the Future of Multiplayer Online Gaming.

I will share results in a future blog post.

While some fear that too much time online can create unhealthy habits, from my view multiplayer online gaming appears to be a unique way to cultivate cultural competence. It develops a ‘macro-mindedness’ as youth connect and team up with peers they would otherwise never meet.  The opportunity for leaders is to harness the potential of this reality to see that deeper learning takes place. To live and thrive in this world, today’s children must learn the intricacies of a connected globe.

To help education leaders encourage peer-to-peer dialogue and increase cultural competency in youth, we are setting up more real-time audio-video interactions for the 2018-19 school year.  There is no cost for participation. We will gladly help you connect with a school around the globe that offers cultural diversity, and we will take the lead on organizing an interaction between your students and theirs.  Just convey your interest by contacting Ravi Unites Schools directly at Sandy@RaviUnitesSchools.com.