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Understanding the Culture of The American School of Bombay

--
Presented to the Department of Educational Leadership
and Postsecondary Education
University of Northern Iowa
--
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirement for the
Master of Arts in Education
--
by
Erica Barclay
Hemali Mehta
Sridevi Natrajan
Radha Shivkumar
Payal Sinha

The American School of Bombay
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
October 9, 2013
--Dr. Melissa Beall

The world has changed dramatically in the last few years. It has resulted in a new
reality that is very different from the old. Technology has revolutionized the way we
think, act and go about our lives. Demographic and economic forces are at
play. Intercultural encounters are omnipresent in our lives, as the world is becoming a
global village by bringing people together for their various imperatives.
The American School of Bombay is one such global hub. Situated in Mumbai,
India, a city with an estimated population of around 20 million that attracts people and
businesses from all over the world, ASB is committed to serving the educational needs of
a very diverse population. Currently ASB boasts of educating people from 42
nationalities. ASB is the oasis for the global community that thrives under its
auspices. ASBs mission statement speaks out loud and clear about what is critical to its
institution, We inspire all our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the
skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance their
lives. A multicultural environment like ASB realizes how culture is at the heart of how
business is done and puts personal and interpersonal aspects of cultural relationship at the
helm of affairs. This paper will highlight how these values are weaved into the fabric of
the schools culture by reflecting on the different cultural aspects of ASB and the varied
styles of communication and interaction between, leaders, teachers, parents and all the
other stakeholders.
Communication between faculty and leadership at ASB
In his book Lead, follow or get out of the way: How to be a more effective leader
in todays schools, Ramsey (2006) points out that Leadership and communication are
synonymous and that if you cannot communicate, you will not be able to lead. Of all
the essential tools of leadership, communication skills are the most important by far
(Ramsey, 2006, p. 145). The leaders and teachers at The American School of Bombay
are aware of this and to that end, work hard to be effective communicators.
As ASB is a school steeped in technology, the faculty and leadership are
incredibly competent in communicating via a variety of technology tools. It is no secret
that communication is not just about sending messages, it is also about receiving
messages and giving feedback, and the goal is to transfer ideas or information from the
source to an intended audience essentially unchanged as what is heard/read, is actually
more important than what is said/written (Ramsey, 2006, p. 146). Leaders and teachers
alike are purposeful in the method used to communicate information. Keeping in mind
that many times the communication between the faculty and leaders put out will be
received by an intercultural audience and that the perceived competence of the
communication is contextual, the method used with different people and in different
situations varies (Lustig & Koester, 2013). The most commonly used tools are email,
Google Docs, web pages, and Nings.
Email is the most common form of communication used at ASB between
leadership and faculty. The school is large and spread out over many floors so, in-person,
one on one or even large group, verbal communication is not reasonable on a day to day
basis. Email communication ranges from very informal one line messages, to very
formal Friday Flash messages sent out by the division principals. While there are no
specific guidelines in place, there are unspoken and unwritten rules that are followed that
depend on the relationship between the parties and the level of power distance (Lustig &
Koester, 2013) intended. A back and forth communication between colleagues to arrange
a ride home or to suggest a meet up for lunch would be very informal. A slightly more
formal approach would be taken between teachers and instructional coaches when setting
meeting times or asking for assistance with a particular problem. Even more formal still
would be the exchange between a teacher and a department head when requesting a
personal day off. While the Friday Flash emails sent out to the whole community
(parents included) would be the most formal. On average, an ASB teacher receives
around 30 emails daily. On average, an ASB leader receives 60 emails daily (Associate
Principal in the Early Childhood, Nitasha Chaudhuri said, Some days, its a lot
more!). A majority of these mails require a reply or action taken. The new head of
school in the elementary has acknowledged how overwhelming it can be to deal with that
much email and had been very clear in his intent to cut back on emails sent, condensing
information when possible or relaying it in person during a meeting. The idea of this is
appealing in theory but is much harder to do in practice. Recent emails from our head of
school have included messages such as: I trust you've had a relaxing weekend by the
time you read this. As I continue to find my feet in the coming week, I'll NOT be
planning to send you group emails on a Sunday. I promise. (J. Smithies, all staff
communication August 18, 2013) and As we continue to strengthen our processes in the
ES office over the next few weeks, we'll have an even better way of delivering this
information to you and having a record of where it lives. For now, it's a Google Doc. As I
have promised to parents regarding the Friday Flash, these will get shorter! (J. Smithies,
all staff communication August 31, 2013). The effort is appreciated by all.
Google Docs are another preferred method of communication amongst faculty
and leadership at ASB. The brilliant part of Google Docs is that they are able to be
shared with as many people as you like, viewed by an unlimited amount of people at one
time, and are editable by any number of people at the same time. Google Docs are
utilized to share meeting agendas and our recurring common information such as report
card standards and the weekly bulletin. The format is the same and allows multiple
people to check information in an easy to access location and leans towards being slightly
formal. Google Docs are also used among teams to plan where multiple team members
can put their ideas and thoughts for particular activities or lessons and can be seen by all
members. This use is much more informal.
ASB has a whole host of web pages for various purposes, all conveniently located
on the ASB Netvibes Dashboard. Web pages are used by every grade level teacher to
some degree because they are required to. However, what the pages look like and the
content on them are left entirely up to the teacher so they tend to be more informal
although it is never forgotten that they are a very public platform and the content shared
is held up to ASBs privacy standards.
The Nings used are a social networking tool that are branded and controlled by
ASB. Most commonly they help support collaboration with families, communities, and
colleagues to develop comprehensive strategies to address the diverse needs of families
and the community (Teacher Leadership, 2011). Groups on the ASB Ning cover topics
such as items to sell or buy, ideas on where to shop, parent groups for each graduating
class, recommendations for maids, and calls for help for the big Diwali festival
celebration. There are clear participation rules and guidelines stated on the site, All that
we ask is that the content you post is relevant and appropriate. Remember, this is not a
place to air grievances. Please follow ASB Social Tech Guidelines in your use of this
network. Postings on the ning will be monitored closely. Any information deemed
inappropriate or violating privacy will be removed by ASB. Explore the network at your
leisure. Please remember that this is your network, so enjoy it! (Retrieved October 1,
2013 from the ASB PTA Ning: http://asbpta.ning.com/). The postings and group
discussions are a mix of formal and informal communications between leaders, teachers,
and the parent community.
Other communication between faculty and leadership is verbal and in
person. These interactions range from a passing hello on the stairs to formal
meetings. Between teaching colleagues there is a very low power distance. People
address each other by first names, feel comfortable to joke with one another, and question
or challenge each other. This is extremely helpful in a setting where teachers work so
closely with their grade level teams. Friendships are often formed between teachers
especially those on the same team. Relationships between leaders and teachers tend to be
slightly more formal but still have a relatively low power distance and often mirror many
of the behaviors found between teaching colleagues. When in all staff meetings or sitting
down to lunch, first names are used reciprocally, leaders and faculty alike feel
comfortable to joke with one another, and question or challenge each other. Interactions
between leaders and teachers in front of parents or students are more formal; last names
preceded by a Mr., Mrs., or Ms. are used, the tone is more serious, and obvious respect is
given towards the leader (Lustig & Koester, 2013).
Recommendations for leadership when communicating to faculty would be to
continue using the proven successful digital methods but whenever possible, streamline
and consolidate information. Keeping verbal interactions lower in power distance helps
to foster collaboration and encourages honesty, which in turn helps promote positive
growth and change in the school.
Communication between parents, teachers and school
ASB culture is truly unique in the sense that nowhere there is as much parent
school connection and interaction as at ASB. Keeping the parents in the loop has
always been their strength. Right from the first phone call that the parents receive
announcing the admittance of their child till the time they leave the school, ASB does a
fantastic job of connecting with the parents and involving them in their childrens
academic life. According to Edward T Halls high and low context taxonomy, cultures
differ on the continuum that ranges from high to low context (as cited in Lustig &
Koester, 2013 p. 102). ASB is a low context culture. The school is explicit in their
communication and their code is easily found in the ASB parent handbook, which is
given to all new parents entering ASB.
Once an application has been accepted the parents can come on a reconnaissance
trip to take a look at their childs school. When entering through the portals of ASB, a
grand image of flags from different countries greet people. Diversity is honored and
celebrated as is visible from the flags of 42 different countries and the encouraging
posters of their diverse student population from various parts of the globe. This non-
verbal message makes people immediately feel very welcome, as though already a part of
the community. The counselor who is proficient in multicultural interaction recognizes
the different imperatives that make families come to Mumbai and ASB and focuses on
each childs individual needs. The communication style is transactional where they are
constantly asking and answering the parents rather sending and receiving messages at
every instant in their conversations. ASB realizes that competent interpersonal
communication results in behaviors that are effective in achieving desired personal
outcomes (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 62) which in the end is always student
learning. The school is renowned for its intercultural and cross-cultural communication
when dealing with students, parents, teachers and administration staff from different
nationalities and realizes that each nationality brings along with them their values, norms
and beliefs and that the school is a perfect amalgamation of these unique cultures creating
a harmonious symphony.
Parental involvement
Parents play a crucial role in their childs growth, development and nurturing their
ambitions. There is ample research proving the benefits of parental involvement in their
childs education. Research suggests that parenting appears to be the most important
factor associated with educational achievement at age 10, which in turn is strongly
associated with achievement in later life. Parental involvement in education seems to be
a more important influence than poverty, school environment and the influence of peers
(Peters, Seeds, Goldstein, Coleman, 2007, p. 18).
ASB culture identifies with this fact and recognizes the value in partnership with
parents. Respect is given to the parent community and expected the same of
them. Parents feel a heightened sense of involvement in their childs education and are
more confident in helping their kids with homework.
Parents are involved in all aspects of ASB be it in daily classroom activities,
supporting teachers, organizing and planning school wide activities and events, helping in
celebrating the various festivals that are prevalent in India, PTA or being part of the
board and the strategic planning committee. As there are many cultures present in the
parent and student population, to be successful in their partnership ASB recognizes the
need to excel in three key areas, Knowledge, Motivation and skills in order to achieve
intercultural competence (Lustig & Koester, 2013).
Knowledge:
Knowledge in intercultural communication pertains to the culture specific
information required about parents, the context and the appropriate norms to operate with
them. For example, the teachers are aware and understand intercultural interactions and
the many ways culture influences communication. They know that they cannot adopt the
same style of communication to all parents. With European American parents they can
be more direct while some other cultures they have to be more implied in their meaning.
Motivation:
Motivation - peoples willingness to participate in intercultural experiences. All
ASB teachers are well travelled and have chosen to be in a multicultural setting. Some of
them are far away from their own cultural patterns. Hence, their motivation is very high
to succeed in their intercultural encounters with parents.
Skills:
Skills refer to those conducts that are deemed apt and effective in attaining
intercultural competency. Teachers and administration staff have a positive attitude and
are willing to put the effort towards achieving intercultural competence and this is clearly
shown in their communication styles at open house and student parent conferences. The
leadership team follows the BASICs of intercultural competence, which was developed,
by Jolene Koester and Margaret Olebe (as cited in Lustig and Koester, 2013, p. 67) to
evaluate teachers in their intercultural proficiency journey.
As discussed earlier, ASB is a doing orientation where a more direct
intervention is encouraged and that philosophy also extends to their involvement
regarding their communication with parents. At the same time, it recognizes that not all
parents are from the same activity orientation and is more tolerant and understanding in
their differences while making every effort to bridge the gap in their
dissimilarities. There are several types of verbal communication messages sent
throughout the year either in the form of written communication notes, phone calls or
Veracross portal, Vichars or emails wherein the parents are informed of their childs
progress at school. If there is an issue pertaining to their child it is dealt with swiftly and
efficiently. The power distance between the teachers and parents is non-existent, as they
believe that both are an equally significant component in the success of their child. The
parents also have ample opportunities to express their opinion and concerns regarding
something as complicated as grades to as simple as cafeteria meal plans. Parents also
play an important role in trying to influence other school leaders, legislators, boards of
education and other stakeholders in the community about new educational policies and
practices, usage of current data and research, national trends that can enhance the
learning experience for the children which in turn can be reflected in their childs success
at school.
According to Hofstedes five dimensions (as cited in Lustig & Koester, 2013, p.
111) along which a culture can be identified, one of the key dimensions, in relation to
ASB, is time orientation.
Time orientation.
For a school to function efficiently time is of utmost importance and in ASB
culture time is very valued. The pace of school life is hectic which you can tell by just
observing the staff and students move around campus. Strict adherence to timed
activities is expected of all teachers and parents alike as they are given advance notices
on events and occurrences in school. Parent teacher conferences run on schedule as they
appreciate the time parents take out from their busy work schedules. ASB culture is
present and future oriented. Parents and all the stakeholders are part of the 5-year
projections and strategic planning teams where discussions on what worked, what didnt
and what needs to be changed are ongoing. Todays classrooms and the work
environment are so diverse with different nationalities and cultures ASB encourages the
different viewpoints and uses it to generate new ideas and different
perspective. Although time is highly organized, and tasks are goal oriented, the needs of
people are foremost on the minds of the leadership team and are very accommodating to
students, parents, and teachers who have a valid reason for not being able to adhere to it.
ASB leaders believe in building a community of learners whether it is students or
teachers or their staff and even parents. In his book Lead Follow, or Get out of the Way,
Ramsey (2006) suggests that leaders champion lifelong learning by giving staff members
all the training they want. In a learning institution student learning is foremost on
everyones mind but to get students to perform better facilitating teacher and in some
cases even parents learning is equally and unequivocally important if not essential. The
leadership team encourages, inspires, and mentors teachers, students and parents in all
areas of learning and recognizes that learning is vital to a school environment hence is
constantly facilitating professional development by bringing in new courses and on-line
learning programs to our school and offering it to teachers as well as parents in the
community, which in turn will lead to growth for students. Offering courses for net
proficiency, one to one computing, net etiquette, homework help and so forth. Another
way the school taps parental resources is by organizing a parent day wherein
professionals from all fields can come in and talk to their students about their jobs and
what it entails, as it would help their students in making their career choices and the
community feel invested in their students future.
ASB leaders model effective communication skills to their teams by being
supportive and sharing their knowledge and understanding of various cultures, ethnicities
and backgrounds who then in turn can help students, parents and other members of the
community, all stakeholders in the students learning. Knowing that their own group could
be very diverse their task as leaders needs more effort and time. The end goal for a
teacher and leaders is to communicate effectively with their students, either directly, or
indirectly through their families, so that they grow and be nurtured and nourished in a
community, which might be radically different from the one they were born in. Teachers
and parents can attain this by understanding and meeting their diverse needs of their child
to attain a shared objective which is always student learning.
Adaptation
The U- curve and the W curve hypothesis, suggests the complex pattern of
adaptation. When children from different countries come to ASB they experience some
amount of stress and chaos because of their move, leaving behind a familiar environment,
family and friends. It is natural for them to experience the U curve pattern where the first
few days there is excitement in meeting people, learning new things, new tastes, smells,
hearing new sounds etc. Then comes the reality of daily routines, which cause minor
annoyances because of cultural dissimilarities. Next, the upward swing where they get
comfortable into a routine, become less anxious, and start engaging in activities in the
school. Mitchell R. Hammer, William B. Gudykunst, and Richard L. Wiseman suggest
that, intercultural effectiveness consists of three such dimensions: the ability to deal with
psychological stress, skills in communication with others both effectively and
appropriately, and proficiency in establishing interpersonal relationships (as cited in
Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 294). ASB staff is proficient in all those skills and they make
everyone feel warm and welcome and help parents and students connect and make
friends making it easier to transition and settle in much faster than anticipated. Parent
coffee mornings, ASB welcome party, open houses, the Diwali party, help parents
socialize and make friends quickly. Very rarely one would see the W- curve pattern at
ASB as assimilation and integration occurs very quickly and subsequently, ASB ensures
that there is ongoing continuous improvement in the settling process for all teachers,
students, and families for the duration of their intercultural assignment.
The goal of living in a multicultural world, therefore, may sometimes mean that
we must attempt to achieve understanding while recognizing that agreement may not
always be likely or possible. Perhaps, however, we can sometimes agree to disagree,
with respect, civility, and caring (Lustig & Koester 2013, p. 307). ASB is a role model
school in that sense.
Communication between teachers and students
Each person has intrinsic value (Retrieved October 2, 3013 from ASBs
Mission and Core Values web page http://www.asbindia.org/page.cfm?p=4730). Every
new student at ASB is received with warmth and embraced by the culture of ASB
wholeheartedly. We believe each individual is unique in his/her own way and brings a
specialty about himself/herself with him. Respect is shown to each individual irrespective
of the culture they come from. We believe that Mutual trust is essential for healthy
enduring relationships (Retrieved October 2, 3013 from ASBs Mission and Core
Values web page http://www.asbindia.org/page.cfm?p=4730).
Students are encouraged to express themselves freely. Independent thinking,
independent decision making and independent problem solving is highly
encouraged. The teachers at ASB allow independence in making decisions about whom
students want to sit next to during class. We ask our students to make good choices and
encourage them to be seated next to someone who will bring the best out of them. After
a science experiment or during the course of an experiment, students are asked to make
predictions; they are allowed to manipulate materials and explain their thinking; students
are asked to explain why the results did not match what they predicted. Through
experiences like these, we hope to instill confidence in our students to speak their mind
and ask questions to satisfy curiosity and build better understanding. ASBs educational
system reinforces the low power distance values by teaching students to ask questions, to
solve problems creatively and uniquely, and to challenge the evidence leading to
conclusions (Lustig and Koester, 2013, p.107). The individualistic culture of ASB
allows for free expression of thoughts.
Taking encouragement of the individualistic orientation further, the personal
identity of ASB students is nourished through recognizing and furthering their unique
abilities by personalizing their learning at school. Students may possess abilities,
talents, quirks, and preferences that differ for those of others (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p.
131). ASB recognizes those talents and differences and celebrates them. Mentor teachers
provide guidance for these individuals to flourish by allowing them to pursue their
interests.
While individual autonomy is highly appreciated and well received, Schwartzs
dimension of egalitarianism versus hierarchy applies well to how we perceive
collaboration (as cited in Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 114). What ASB expects from its
teachers is transferred to the students as well. People must work together productively,
must consider and adapt to the needs and wants of others, must coordinate and manage
their actions with those of others, and must do their fair share of helping with the
activities that are communally required (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 114). This is also an
important long-term time orientation with the learning and teaching of 21st century skills.
Classrooms are out! No more classrooms! Dont build them, says Roger Schank.
Schank sees three key student work modes: computers talk with others, and making
something. These modes, he argues, require three distinct environments for learning:
focused work environments, collaborative work environments, hands-on project work
environment (Bellanca. J, & Brandt. R, 2010, p. 126). Our learning spaces are designed
in preparation for the future of education. 21st century is characterized by increasing
technological, economic, ecological, and political interdependence among individuals,
communities, countries, and religions of the world (Bellanca. J, & Brandt. R, 2010, p.
206). We have open learning spaces, designated spaces for collaborative work, quiet
spaces for individual work - all forces at play to enable effective communication with self
and the group.
Cultures provide an implicit set of rules to govern interactions (Lustig &
Koester, 2013, p. 218). We teach our students to use verbal and nonverbal means of
communication to indicate their participation in conversations and other active
engagements. Raising hands to request for a turn is appreciated during classroom
discussions. Responding to nonverbal cues of the teacher when she is trying to get the
attention of her class is an important skill to learn for our students. Clap patterns, the
chimes of a small bell, the soccer coachs whistle, transition songs teachers sing to their
class - all these aim for efficient communication between teachers and students while
infusing essential social and interpersonal skills.
The monochronic time culture of ASB enables our students to clearly understand
the value of time. The school operates on an eight day cycle and a class schedule helps
everyone understand how time is broken into smaller segments with specific things to
learn and do during the school day. Reading the calendar and maintaining a timeline
provides the extra sense of passage of time to our students. Events like the 100th day of
school add meaning to the understanding of time for our students. Arriving on time is an
expectation for teachers and students alike unless there is a strong reason for being tardy.
A student from Egypt was admitted to kindergarten at ASB. We learned that this
was the second school for this child as his family found the previous school to be very
ethnocentric. ASBs curriculum for Elementary school gives due importance to learning
about the host country from an awareness perspective and is designed to support students
in their understanding of the host countrys culture. It does not involve any religious
learning. ASBs stand on cultural proficiency can be best explained through this direct
quote from The Culturally Proficient School, in that, ASB believes that true proficiency
lies in honoring the differences among cultures, seeing diversity as a benefit, and
interacting knowledgeably and respectfully among a variety of cultural groups (Lindsey,
Roberts, & Campbell Jones, 2005, p. 54). This child would say that his parents didnt
want him to learn anything about India and he used strong words to express his
dislike. One day, when his teacher was excusing herself to go drink chai (tea in Hindi),
this student came up to her and shared that his mother also calls her drink by the same
name. Here was the teachable moment - the teacher discussed similarities and
differences and after that conversation there was a noticeable change in this students
attitude. We encountered the next problem when this parent refused to send his child on
cultural field trips around Mumbai and was also very vocal in opposing discussions about
festivals and Gods. The Ganesh festival is about the elephant headed God and to avoid
speaking about Lord Ganesh was a challenge. The matter was escalated to our leadership
who willingly assumed the responsibility for this challenge. They allowed this parent to
question our values as a school. This parent left the meeting with a sense of shared
commitment to make things better for his family while ASB stood firm about who they
are culturally. Bennett and Bennett (2001) in the Developmental Model of Intercultural
Sensitivity state that as ones experience of cultural difference becomes more
sophisticated, ones competence in intercultural relations increases. We are partners in
this familys intercultural competence journey.
The classroom culture at ASB leans more towards affiliation. Teachers speak to
students while making eye contact and giving them the importance they deserve. A child
in distress is helped by using a calm, loving, and friendly tone of voice. A pat on the
back, a high five, denotes touch, so, in all of the above examples, ASB clearly
demonstrates behaviors of a high degree of affiliation high-contact culture. The affiliated
behavior of teachers convey a sense of closeness, communicate interpersonal warmth
and accessibility, and encourage others to approach (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 232).
Personal space is respected and regarded as important to individuals. Adults and
students at ASB are expected to treat peoples personal spaces as sacred. The school
counselor is available to speak to students individually or they can visit classroom and
discuss personal space violation, the meaning of touch and other physical expressions of
human communications.
Negative judgments are made about others simply on the basis of how they
speak are obviously formidable barrier to competence in intercultural communication
(Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 173). Teachers are vigilant and watchful of positive and
negative evaluation about the language others use. Non-native speakers of English at
ASB are encouraged to communicate in their native tongue during our student led
conferences. The mother tongue is encouraged, as proficiency in ones mother tongue
supports in acquisition of other languages. The ESOL program at ASB says In ESOL,
students focus on acquiring communication skills, school language and the vocabulary
necessary for a successful transition into the mainstream classroom. As part of a balanced
approach to literacy, in ESOL classes, students work on developing their speaking,
listening, reading and writing skills (Retrieved October 2, 2013 from Support Services at
ASB Guidlines:
http://www.asbindia.org/uploaded/documents/CurrES/Support_Services.pdf).
The Primary years program of the International Baccalaureate, which forms the
framework of our curriculum, encourages students to be risk-takers in addition to many
other profiles. We use the vocabulary often in our everyday language and recognize
students that demonstrate this profile. This makes it understandable for our students.
Teachers explain risk taking through using examples like trying a new food that has never
been eaten before, making approximations at new words; being a buddy to a new student
and taking on the challenge of solving a math problem. Students from high power
distance cultures do not quickly make this shift. Being in the driving seat of their own
learning does not come quickly to them. They are used to following an authority figure
and taking instructions from them. ASB wants its students to be in charge and
responsible for their own learning. The social episode of ASB is interpreted by low
power distance culture. Students as an opportunity to exhibit self-confidence, partake in
a competitive spirit and as a pleasurable participation in interactions. While the social
episode promotes independence and liberty of speech, ASB has norms in place that
govern student behavior at school. Each class has its own set of clearly defined norms
that are consensually drafted.
Guided play is an essential component of our early childhood curriculum. In
addition to the many benefits of play, we see play supporting our students to
communicate their emotions, be creative and solve problems. The teacher to student and
the student-to-student bond is strongly established through play. The student develops a
good sense of self-worth; he demonstrates cooperation and feels confident to
communicate competently. The language of play is universal. Across all cultures, play
has a significant role in shaping the individuals personality. ASB in its endeavor to build
self-concept of an individual, promotes play in early years as social identity develops as
a consequence of memberships in particular groups within ones culture (Lustig &
Koester, 2013, p. 13).
Communication between teachers
Leadership and communication between teachers is supportive and shared.
Hargreaves (1997) suggests that, the central task in creating cultures of educational
change is to develop more collaborative working relationships between principals and
teachers and among teachers themselves (Hall. G, and Hord. S, 2011, p. 32). There is
formal and informal communication between teachers in ASB. There is also verbal and
nonverbal communication. Formal communication consists of emails, meeting requests,
Google Docs and meetings. Informal communication is meetings in the hallway to check
up on a student, a request for resources, or a quick social interaction to touch base. The
teachers in the school are hired under various categories.
1. Overseas hires who are entitled to perks like free housing, medical and school tuition for
their children.
2. Local hires that are internationally qualified, but are hired locally. They are paid the same
as the overseas hires but do not enjoy any of the above-mentioned perks.
3. Teaching Assistants are locally qualified teachers. They are paid less than the locally
hired but have lesser responsibilities as well.
These various levels of teachers sometimes leads to communication challenges as
teachers and teaching assistants come from various different countries, work experience,
and backgrounds.
The culture of ASB is very international. When Indian local teaching assistants
are hired, they have a difficult time adjusting even though they are working in India. We
hired an experienced person last year as an assistant and although she was very
competent, she wasnt used to the gentle way in which we communicate with the
students. She often spoke in an unnecessary harsh tone to the students and was often
putting them down. This is how children are treated in schools in the Indian culture.
However, over the year she has absorbed the culture of the school and is gentler with the
children. Was the shift due to the school culture that has gradually made her more aware
or has some communication reached her verbally or non-verbally which has made her
change?
Though there are three categories of teaching staff in school, in terms of cultural
experiences they are divided into those with international experiences and those without.
The ones with international experience are generally more outspoken. The local hires that
have no international experience do not voice their opinions in public but rather speak to
each other quietly. Culturally, bosses are not questioned as it is considered disrespectful.
Bosses take their lack of questioning as approval and a lot of times confusion arises
because of different cultural beliefs. As years have gone by, the culture has become more
informal. The power distance has also decreased as local teachers have adapted the more
international way of interacting (K. Ferzandi, personal communication, 27th September,
2013).
Communication between teachers is also different between various cliques of
cultural background. Sometimes there is a feeling of racism from all sides regardless of
color or race. Nonverbal communication is often the trickiest. Locals tend to make closed
groups and their body language indicates they dont want anyone else to join. The
international hires sometimes unknowingly communicate their discontent, which is
deemed disrespectful in the local culture (P. DCosta, personal communication, 26th
September, 2013).
The communication gap also occurs when local and international teachers are
planning together. International teachers plan lessons expecting student participation
whereas local teachers plan with more teaching heavy criteria. Willingness to speak in
class is a communication characteristic highly valued by European American Teachers
and students, whose cultural framework celebrates individual achievement and
responsibility (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 270). When planning activities, there is a
cultural gap between what kind of activity to plan. Some cultures prefer individual
activities and learning and some cultures encourage collaboration and group work. If
teachers are from different cultures, prioritizing the focus of learning for students leads to
tensions.
Support Staff and Communication at ASB
The saying goes that it takes an army to educate a single student and that
statement isn't too far off in reference to ASB. Think about the number of people directly
and indirectly associated with the school that will work with a student in some capacity
by the time they graduate. Each person plays a unique role in education including the
students themselves. When talking about a school, the first few things that cross minds
are the leadership team, teachers, curriculum and fee structure. Agreed, that these are an
important factor when choosing a school for a child, but in todays dynamic
infrastructure, a school without a cooperative and strong support staff is like a mobile
device without a sim card. The device is there, but can the device work to its fullest
potential if there is no sim card?
At ASB, it is clear that the lifeline of the school relies heavily on our Support
Staff. In order to ensure smooth functioning, it is important that all faculty communicate
efficiently with them. Support Staff in the context of ASB are as follows:
Spick and Span Personnel
Spick and Span is an agency that provides labor that help in cleaning and maintaining a
hygienic environment in an organization. At ASB, these people are outsourced from the
Spick and Span agency and they work directly under the supervision of the Agency
Supervisor. The Agency Supervisor then reports to the ASB Maintenance officer.
Bus Drivers
A bus driver provides safe transportation for students to and from school. At ASB, one
set of drivers is assigned to each locality. The bus drivers report to a main head, which
belongs to the transport office of ASB, who in turn ensures smooth functioning of the
logistics and routes. The communication within the department is usually through
meetings and calls. The need for communication between the parents and transportation
department arises when there are changes in the daily travel plans of the child. They can
communicate with the drivers by either informing the front desk, through email or a
phone call. They also have the option of emailing the teacher, who in turn will inform the
childs driver respectively.
Sodexo
Sodexo is in charge of providing healthy lunches in the cafeteria for the faculty, parents
and students. Sodexo is an independent company and they outsource the staff to
ASB. The Sodexo team at ASB comprises of chefs and attendants. Communication with
the Sodexo team is state of the art. The parents and faculty can place their food requests
using online tools (School Dude & ES Cafeteria), which are available on the ASB
Dashboard (online web tool).
Security Personnel
The security personnel are responsible for safety of the school environment against any
possible threats. At ASB, the security department is headed by the Director of Securities
and Facilities. The Manager of the Securities and Facilities reports directly to the
Director and the Marshals report and communicate directly to the Manager. The
communication within the department is usually through verbal meetings. Incase of any
security problems in the school, the parents and staff are encouraged to communicate
with the Manager either through e-mails or word of mouth.
A brief interaction with the members of the support staff at ASB, brings to mind
Edward T Halls high and low context taxonomy, In low-context cultures, time is highly
organized, in part because of the additional energy required to understand the messages
of others (as cited in Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 104). The work culture at ASB is a low
context culture. Having a multicultural faculty creates language barriers for some of the
support staff and most of the energy is utilized in understanding the messages of
others. The ASB Support Staff departments are highly structured and there is a clear
social order. Each staff is accountable directly to their immediate manager and they have
to carry the orders that have been executed by them without much questioning. This
clearly indicates the presence of high power distance as mentioned by Hofstede, the
actions of authorities should not be challenged or questioned, that the hierarchy and
inequality are appropriate and beneficial (as cited in Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 107).
A staff belonging to Spick and Span mentioned during an interview, that their bags are
checked every single day before they leave from work to make sure they do not steal
anything from school (V. Ramandas, personal communication, 27th September, 2013). If
support staff is offered any gifts or takeaways by the faculty, they need to get a
permission letter to present to the security. As mentioned by Lustig and Koester,
Prejudice refers to negative attitudes toward other people that are based on faulty and
inflexible stereotypes (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 143). The fact that people of low-
income group are tempted to steal is a clear stand of prejudice and stereotype. When
asked about communication with teachers, all of the support staff was in favor of using
non-verbal codes, especially when making connections with the expat teachers and
providing information needed to ensure smooth functioning. Use of gestures and body
movements is a common sight at ASB, specifically for the expat teachers who are new to
the country and the language. Another highlight from the interview was about how the
expat faculty was more generous and believed in displaying their generosity through kind
words and actions. According to the support staff, the expat faculty show respect
irrespective of the social hierarchy than the local faculty. The local faculty who belong to
the Indian culture, are more dependent on the support staff for their day to day activities
which brings things back to Social Relations Orientation, which describes how the
people in a culture organize themselves and relate to one another (Lustig & Koester,
2013, p. 88). This communication and behavioral pattern is also reflected by students
who belong to the Indian culture, where nannies and maids are meant to do tasks and
need not be thanked for the same.
The parents at ASB are highly appreciative of the services rendered by the
support staff but there have been instances where the intentions and actions have been
misinterpreted due to different cultural beliefs and norms. According to the staff who
works with the Early Years classrooms, there is a lot of help that needs to be rendered
with toileting and dress change, keeping in mind the age group of the children. During
one such instance, the parent of a child was furious to learn that the support staff people
in the class changed her child. Cultures differ in the overall amount of touching they
prefer (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 195).
Keeping in mind the intercultural population of ASB, it is challenging for the
support staff to be able to communicate efficiently with the parents, faculty and student at
all times. With dissimilar cultural beliefs and norms, the need for greater levels of
communication becomes an even more difficult objective to achieve. Intercultural
competence requires sufficient knowledge, suitable motivations, and the right skills
(Lustig & Koester 2013, p. 64). Using this as a benchmark and keeping in mind the
educational background and exposure of the support staff, they have never had
opportunities to learn about people of the outside world. Hence their knowledge about
different culture and people is restricted. However, while interacting with some of the
members of the support staff team, one can observe that many of them have been
successful in learning some English vocabulary as they have been exposed to an
intercultural environment for more than 5 years and many of them expressed that they
were intrinsically motivated to learn basic words to be able to work and communicate
efficiently. There were still some who feel that even though they are motivated to learn,
they feel that they do not have the required skills to be able to communicate appropriately
and effectively.
Every individual associated with ASB is living and experiencing multiculturalism
on an everyday basis. Each passing day, everyone is moving along on the continuum of
intercultural competence. All staff endeavor to widen their circle by being inclusive of
people with differences for making a better future for the community. Challenges are
abound in the intercultural communication within the school community, but there is a
deep sense of optimism and everyone recognizes the need for intercultural competency as
they steer towards the 21st century armed with knowledge, motivation and skills to deal
with challenges of living in a multicultural environment. The hope is that as the hurdles
of intercultural communication are crossed, everyone stands to gain much more from
multicultural interactions, growing as individuals and as an education institution.
Recommendations for teacher to teacher communication is to have these channels
open. Parents should adopt more leniencies towards teachers from different ethnicities
during their interactions with them. Leadership should be involved in making this
happen. Written communication from them should emphasize on not highlighting the
difference between overseas and local hire. While ASBs communication system between
teachers and students is well established, our non-native English language speakers
expect additional support to ease communication. It is immersion and push in ESOL
learning as opposed to a pull out support for these students. Observing the difficulties
faced by these students, our teachers feel the necessity to have an ESOL expert assigned
to them for the period the students are at school to better facilitate communication.
Lustig and Koester sums it up well, There is no longer a single racial or ethnic group
with an overwhelming numerical and political majority. Pluralism is the reality; with no
one group a dominant force. This is completely new (Lustig & Koester, 2013, p. 308).











































References


ASB Official Web Page, Subpage Mission and Core Values. Retrieved October 2, 3013
from ASBs Mission and Core Values web page
http://www.asbindia.org/page.cfm?p=4730


ASB PTA Ning Guidlines. Retrieved October 1, 2013 from the ASB PTA Ning:
http://asbpta.ning.com/


Bellanca, J. and Brandt. R, (2010) 21st Century Skills. Rethinking How Students Learn.
Toronto, Canada: Solution Tree Press.


Bennett, J. M., & Bennett, M. J. (2001, June). Developing intercultural sensitivity: An
integrative approach to global and domestic diversity. In The Diversity
Symposium, 2001 [Electronic version]. Symposium conducted at the Bentley
Campus in Waltham, MA. Retrieved from
http://www.diversitycollegium.org/pdf2001/2001Bennettspaper.pdf


DCosta, P. (2013, September 26). Personal interview


Ferzandi, K. ( 2013, September 27). Personal interview


Hall, G. and Hord, S. (2011) Implementing Change. Patterns Principles, and Potholes.
Upper Saddle River, NJ Pearson Education Inc.


Lindsey, R. B., Roberts, L. M., & Campbell Jones, F. (2005). The culturally proficient
school. An implementation guide for school leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Corwin Press.


Lustig, M. W. & Koester, J. (2013). Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal
Communication Across Cultures (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson: Allyn And
Bacon


Peter. M, Seeds. K, Goldstein. A, & Coleman. N, (2007) Research report DCSF- RR 034
Parental Involvement in Childrens Education, BMRB social research.
Retrieved from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/8605/1/DCSF-RR034.pdf


Ramandas, V. (2013, September 26). Personal Interview.


Ramsey, R. D. (2006). Lead, follow or get out of the way: How to be a more effective
leader in todays schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium. (2011). Teacher Leader Model
Standards.
Retrieved from
http://www.teacherleaderstandards.org/downloads/TLS_Brochure_sm.pdf







INTERVIEWS


Excerpts of an interview with the Support Staff (Vimal & Anjali)
What are your duties as a Support Staff?
The support staff are responsible for cleaning, maintaining hygiene, help in
movement of fixtures and fittings and thereby support teachers in their day to day
activities to ensure smooth functioning of the class. (helpingchildren use toilets,
changing children who have had accidents, refilling the hand soap, paper towels
etc)


How do teachers communicate their needs to you?
Each of us have routine duties which are spelt out clearly at the beginning of the
year. At the end of the day, some teachers let us know what went wrong and what
could have been done better and sometimes requests are made to change our
snack timings to suit the needs of the class and students.


How do you communicate with expat teachers? Are there any challenges?
It is challenging to communicate with teachers who do not know Hindi as we are
not well versed in English. We use gestures or sometimes take the help of an
Indian teacher who can translate our message to them. Some expat teachers take
the effort to learn a few key words so that they can communicate with us
effectively.


What are your experiences with expat teachers and Indian teachers?
In ASB all staff and teachers treat us with respect. Expat teachers are mostly
independent and do ask for help occasionally and acknowledge our efforts. Local
teachers are more dependent on us for filling their drink bottles, getting their
lunch heated etc. But we are more than happy to help as we get treated well by
our teachers.


What are your experiences with local origin children and expat children?
We have observed that most of the expat children are independent when it comes
to using the toilets, eating their snack and wearing their clothes. They prefer to do
it by themselves than being helped.
Some of the local students are more dependent on us with their daily routines and
expect us to help them all the time.


Interview with Priyanka (Local teacher with 11 years of experience at ASB)
Do you think that there is a difference between the way school communicates with local
hires and overseas hires?
Yes there is. There is always a feeling that overseas hire get preferential treatment.


Can you give some examples?
There are emails sent to all staff which mention times that school transport will be
available for overseas hire to take them to some social gathering. The local hires have to
make their own way. Its very frustrating.


Is there a reason for these different rules?
For years it was not communicated to us that overseas staff actually pay for the facility of
transport as part of their salary is deducted. If there were clear communication, we would
not have this feeling of resentment for these past years.


Has teaching in an international school been different from teaching in an Indian school?
It is completely different. In Indian schools the style of teaching is very teacher centric.
The ratio of teacher student is 1:40 so it makes sense to have a lecture style of teaching.
Whereas this school is focused on student participation.


Does this gap lead to problems?
Sometimes when we are planning with the teaching assistants, there is a gap in
understanding how a learning activity will be run as they sometimes find it difficult to
understand it if its very child focused.


Interview with Khush - long time overseas hired teacher in ASB with 19 years of
experience in the school.
You have seen the school through 19 years of change. How do you think that it has
changed when it comes to communication between teachers?
The school was very small when it started, so the communication was more informal. We
also did not have access to Google Gocs or email at that time.


Do you think that there is any power distance between teachers now?
I think that there is less power distance now than there used to be earlier. When the
school was new, the local teachers were not aware of the more informal western culture.
At that time we used to hear more formal forms of addressing colleagues like Mr. or Ms.
As years went by, the culture has become more informal.