by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Education Coordinator ◊
One of the most important tasks of administrators, board and committee members is to ensure that the mission and vision of the school is communicated and upheld. As new programs are developed or existing programs are expanded and changed, the continuing work of the board and administration is to ensure that these reflect the mission and vision. How do we continue to accomplish this as we deal with the reality of differing cultural expectations and norms, even in the educational context? If one of the aspects of your school’s program’s goal is to model inclusivity and mutual respect, how is this modeled when tensions arise and you are challenged to look at things from the perspective of another culture? How do you listen to each other in a way that brings positive change rather than results in misunderstandings and breakdowns in relationships?
When groups of individuals from differing cultural perspectives are brought together, there may be stumbling blocks to mutual understanding; Christian school leaders need to be intentional in building communities that affirm each others’ values and seek to develop meaningful relationships with each other.
Believers share the same identity in Christ, however each have a personal history and come from differing cultural perspectives. When individuals and communities seek to follow Christ and live as he lived, their values and rules are transformed as people apply them in such a way as to honor him and love others. Our school communities should model forgiveness and grace as we seek to understand each other. [The keys for successful relationships]
are obedience to the commands of Scripture and accepting that others have a viewpoint that is as worthy of consideration as our own. Obedient Christians create communities of inclusion and embrace. Such communities stand in contrast to the communities of exclusion and rejection that are typical in the world’s cultures.1
It has been my experience that tensions and communication breakdowns are largely due to the fact that the parties involved do not listen to each other or are unwilling to take the time to hear each others’ perspectives. We may also unwittingly offend each other because we do not have an understanding of each others’ culture, language and non-verbal communication patterns. We may judge individuals based on the stereotypes we have of their culture.
In intercultural encounters, then there are several filters that can prevent us from accurately understanding what others are trying to communicate, and that can prevent others from accurately understanding what we are trying to communicate: our tendency to interpret and evaluate behavior before we understand it, and our willingness to stereotype groups of people, which prevents us from interpreting behavior accurately. When we are looking and listening, the remedy is to try and increase the range of our perception, to observe and suspend our interpretation (what we think) and evaluation (what we feel), to ask for clarification when in doubt. When speaking, we should take care to clarify the intention behind our words and check to see if our message has come across correctly.2
So then, as we deal with change, let us be intentional in our interactions. Let us challenge each and every one within our schools communities to take time to hear each others’ viewpoints and stories, take time to hear how God has worked in the lives of our students and families, and celebrate the differing expressions of the Christian faith within our community. And as we do that, let’s be sure to take the time to evaluate what we have learned and if necessary make changes to policy and curriculum, all the while maintaining the vision and mission of the school.
It is my prayer that our school communities will become examples of what it means for Christian brothers and sisters from every tribe and nation to live in unity; the unity that comes from serving the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
1 Ministering Cross-Culturally An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. Sherwood G. Lingenfelter. Baker Academic. 1986, 2003
2 Exploring Culture. Gert Jan Hofstede. Intercultural Press Inc. 2002