Forum Gives Teachers the Chance to Learn about Diversity

by Grade 10 Student & World of Work Intern Isobel Yeaman

Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) held its annual Cultural Forum in March, a 19-year initiative originally created to educate faculty about the diverse cultures of an international learning community.

In 1998, Bob Blanch, a long-term English as an Additional Language teacher at WAB and founder of the Cultural Forum, found that fully grasping the intricacies of all the cultural communities that exist within WAB presented a challenge for teachers, especially to those who were new to international schools. He saw that challenge as an opportunity.

"The Cultural Forum is a way for the school to inform staff about the cultures of the students we are educating, but also, it's a way for students in a certain culture to inform us about the challenges they face in the education system at WAB," Bob said. "Teachers are only human beings. We need to educate ourselves – myself included – about these cultures so that we are able to have these important discussions." It's a practice that allows the faculty to make each student comfortable in their learning environment and offer the best chance to succeed.

Every year, the Cultural Forum organizers invite an expert to talk to teachers and run workshops on their topic of focus for the year. One highlight for Bob was several years ago, when a group of Swedish students took part in the forum and presented about their national education system and how it differs from the WAB experience.

"It was a powerful exchange," Bob said. "Once we understood their particular system of learning, we were better equipped to apply that information to our day-to-day teaching."

The focus of this year's Cultural Forum was gender awareness. Workshop activities focused on equal treatment of students, including use of appropriate language and working to eliminate any subconscious differences in classroom conduct.

High School Principal Melanie Vrba said of all the forums she's attended, this year's was particularly impactful for her.

"It made me think deeply about what we are learning, how it applies to my relationships with students, and how I can put that into practice," she said.

While the event only takes place once each school year, members of the WAB community strive on a daily basis to develop a constant awareness and celebration of the school's diversity, and the Cultural Forum helps to instill a culture of empowering all students, no matter their differences.

"It gives people some time to think about diversity," Bob said, "and I hope that it gives teachers an opportunity to look at these issues differently. I'm proud of that the fact that we're still hosting this after 19 years."

Teachers both enjoy and benefit from the Cultural Forum, and those benefits carry over to students, improving their school lives and how they learn. To learn more about WAB's inclusiveness and community, visit WAB's Mission page.