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Working across Cultures – Issues in Managing a Teacher's Association

by Alan S. Mackenzie, Senior Training Consultant,
British Council India & Sri Lanka & Amol Padwad,
President ELTAI

- 4

There is no point in categorising any one perspective as better/ worse than the other. They are just different and require acceptance. There are a number of ways in which we can help ourselves accept 'foreign' organisations (whether from your own shores or overseas!). Here are a few guiding principles:
• Awareness of differences may lead to acceptance of diversity and help fine-tune expectations from each other, understand each other's ways of working, develop better collaboration.
• Understanding these differences may help identify potential areas of conflict/ friction so they can be compensated for in advance and communication gaps avoided.
• Identify common ground and areas of matching interests on which to base collaboration.
• Increase understanding of where and how the models and frameworks from one context may be adapted/ modified in another.
• Participant perspectives influence how they understand and interpret what organisers and trainers present. This affects what they take back to be acted upon and how. Pay close attention to the image you are presenting to the other.
There are also some specific issues in moving from one context to another. Table 3 summarises these:

Table 3: Adapting between contexts

High to Low
Low to High
Low context cultures demand more independence, and expect many relationships, but fewer intimate ones. Higher context cultures expect small close-knit groups, and reliance on that group.
A high context individual is more likely to ask questions rather than attempt to work out a solution independently, and the questions are likely to be asked from the same few people. Groups members rely on each other for support. It may be difficult to get support outside of your group.
A low context individual may not be happy to be approached outside office hours. Professional and personal lives often intertwine.
The high context person may be frustrated by people appearing to not want to develop a relationship or continue to help them on an ongoing basis. The term 'Hand-holding' might be used in an unintentional derogatory sense. A lower context individual may be more likely to try to work things out on their own and feel there is a lack of self-service support or information, rather than ask questions and take time to develop the relationships needed to accomplish the things that need to be done.

Working together

Making information conscious, systematic and available to those who need to know is very useful when working together on a new endeavour. Doing this in a culturally appropriate manner is a more likely to foster success. Table 4 itemises a number of tools that could useful be employed in this regard.

Table 4: Culturally appropriate communication tools

More High Context More Low Context
Mentoring Manuals
Regular meetings Rule books
Telephone calls E-mails
Focus groups Surveys

As the ELTAI member during the presentation said to Alan,
"We have to write more things down and do more of what you said in the presentation. I'll write you an e-mail with our plan!"
To which he replied, "I'm glad you liked it. Maybe we can have a meeting with the other ELTAI member and discuss it first?"
Research, whether British Council or other-lead, could be usefully directed at how the 'local' culture affects or conditions the management and leadership of a TA. British Council managers could usefully build deeper relationships with local TAs through cultural enquiries like the above to discover what their TA really thinks of them and how they could operate in a more culturally sensitive manner.

Hall, Edward T. (1990). Understanding cultural differences. London: Intercultural Press Inc.


Alan S. Mackenzie - Alan is a Senior Training Consultant in English and Education for British Council India. Originally from Aberdeen in Scotland, he has spent over 20 years in Asia, working on large scale teacher development projects in most countries in East Asia and particularly with education ministries in Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and with SEAMEO. He is now based in Delhi, responsible for projects across India and has worked closely with West Bengal, Punjab, NDMC and Bihar governments. He has been a director of the Japan Association for Language Teaching and holds a Masters degree from Teachers College Columbia University in TESOL.
To view Alan's blog

Amol Padwad is currently Head, Department of English, J.M. Patel College, Bhandara (India) and has 27 years of teaching experience at different levels. Until recently the National President of English Language Teachers’ Association of India (ELTAI), he is also a teacher trainer and ELT consultant and has successfully managed some innovative ELT projects. His areas of interest are teacher development, translation, Marathi Grammar and bird watching. He has travelled to several countries including the UK, Sri Lanka, Russia, Uzbekistan, Germany, USA and Japan for ELT-related work. 

Alan S.Mackenzie
Amol Padwad



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