Project Members

Emma Silverman, Emily Hestness, Lindsay Wilson, Barbara Dickey Davis, Xiaoyang Gong


Intercultural respect is the basic ability to interact considerately and communicate effectively across cultural boundaries. Sometimes termed "cultural competence," the skill involves "having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and ... understand the within-group differences that make each [person] unique, while celebrating the between-group variations that make our country a tapestry" (National Education Association).

The 2010 U.S. Census, shows that 50.4% of children younger than age one are minorities. Research shows that diverse groups create better solutions. As America's schools and communities continue to grow more culturally diverse all the time, educators need effective tools and resources to teach and mentor all students.

Intercultural respect is a tricky subject to teach. It is not easily measurable, and, because every meeting of cultures will look different depending on the context and the people involved, there is no universally applicable formula to make it successfully happen. However, mastering these skills is crucial to the future of our society. This project is an effort to provide Internet-based means for educators to learn about, discuss, and solve the problems of intercultural respect and cultural competence as they fit into the classroom. We hope that with the success of such a program, teachers will be able to instill this value both in their own professional lives and in the lives of their students.

The Topic & Standards

Intercultural respect and cultural competence are relevant to all members of a school community. Teachers must be skilled communicators with students, families, and colleagues from diverse cultural backgrounds. This communication may happen formally and informally, in person, in writing, and through online communication. They must be able to create space for the benefits of diversity to grow, and to become adept at navigating the complexities that accompany participation in a culturally diverse community. Development in these areas may be fostered by participation in a safe and supportive professional learning community. Perhaps most importantly, teachers need to be equipped to model and promote intercultural respect amongst students, creatively integrating cultural competency into teaching and learning across the curriculum.

This professional development unit is designed to support high school teachers in Montgomery County Public Schools in promoting intercultural respect within their school communities. The unit has potential to be adapted for use by teachers in other all school settings. For this reason, we align with national and international professional development and teacher education standards documents, including the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)*. To model how the unit can be integrated into the professional development standards of the specific district for which it was developed, Montgomery County Public Schools, we also provide examples of linkages to district professional development standards.

A key component of the unit relates to building teacher capacity to promote intercultural respect amongst students, and to support students in building cultural competence across the curriculum. For this reason, we also align with national and international standards for student learning, including the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, the National Council of Teachers of Social Studies, the International Society of Technology in Education, and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. To model how the unit can support the learning standards specified by the Montgomery County Public Schools, we also align to district standards documents. Since the focus of this unit is on integration of cultural competence into the daily lives and learning of high school students, we refer to 9th-12th grade learning standards. However, we believe that the unit could be adapted for use in elementary, middle school, or university contexts.

*While the unit is designed with practicing teachers in mind, we believe that the NCATE Standards can offer helpful guidelines for supporting ongoing teacher learning in schools.

For teachers:
Alignment with national and international standards for teacher learning and professional development
Alignment with Montgomery County Public Schools Teacher Professional Growth Standards

For students:
Alignment with national and international standards for student learning
Alignment with Montgomery County Public Schools standards for student learning

The Setting and Context

We are Intercultural Respect Resources, LLC, an educational contractor implementing our newly designed professional development program on intercultural respect for educators. This professional development will be piloted at Northwest High School in the Montgomery County Public School System (MCPS) in the fall of 2013. The program will be offered at all MCPS high schools beginning in the fall of 2014. In fall 2015, the program will be offered to middle and elementary schools throughout the county as well. Montgomery County, with its diverse communities, is ideally situated to become a national leader in the practice of intercultural respect in education.

Here, the educators themselves are the primary students. They are a diverse group of individuals who serve their own students of varied socioeconomic statuses and ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. In order to serve effectively, the educators must understand the definition of intercultural respect, the problems likely to be faced by educators teaching culturally diverse students, and how to instill intercultural respect in their students.

Our plan of implementation is to develop the resources within our organization and share them with principals and participating teachers at Northwest. All participating teachers and administration will then engage in the professional development unit among themselves, and ideally will be provided with extra time and compensation for completion of the unit. The school administration can choose to adopt the unit as 1) part of the teachers' required professional development, or 2) as an optional unit in which teachers can participate to earn Continuing Professional Development (CPD) credits.

The challenges in this implementation plan are: getting educators enthusiastic about participation by making the unit engaging, and ensuring appropriate use of collaborative tools, and supporting the teachers who have limited technology backgrounds. Our lesson plans are designed with these challenges in mind. We have created tutorials for each of our applications providing step-by-step directions, which we hope will allow the completion of each assignment. The applications we have chosen to use are free, and one (Voicethread) is available offline, which increases accessibility. We are aware that teachers may feel burdened by the assignments, but because of their simplicity and diverse media forms (voice recordings and written comments), we are hopeful that teachers will feel more enthusiastic about participating. To further enthuse teachers, we will encourage administrators to somehow incentivize participation, such as entering teachers' names in a Barnes & Noble gift card raffle for each substantive blog post they complete.

In terms of scheduling, it is paramount that teachers be allotted time to engage in the lessons. This could be during regularly scheduled professional development blocks if the unit is required by the administration; we should not expect teachers to use large amounts of their free time. Ideally, we hope to coordinate a time with the principal for the teachers to complete the assignments; for instance, every Friday or every other Friday, instead of a faculty meeting, time is granted to take part in the assignments. During the initial stages, it is very important that the assignments do not require time outside of the school environment.

As the participating teachers will have variable degrees of comfort with the technology, we plan to offer support where possible to those who request it, as well as encourage teachers to mentor one another. The community of this professional development curriculum is designed to be such that helping one another is natural, but we will also provide detailed tutorials and structure the professional development so that teachers can have occasional meetings to solve individuals' problems and share creative uses of the technologies.

To complete the assignments, each teacher needs a computer with audio and Internet access. The administration must ensure that our websites are not blocked off on the school's network. The assignments are accessible by smartphone, iPad, and computers, which should increase usability. In the case of individual technology failures, schools may offer spare computers for their use of our curriculum. In the case of school-wide failures, teachers may be compensated for time worked on the program outside of school (at home, in public libraries, etc.). Alternatively, since the curriculum is community-based and can be completed in a face-to-face setting, principals may be able to set up in-person group meetings for participants.

Since cultural issues can be sensitive, our plan pays close attention to the potential policy challenges. The appropriate use of our curriculum is for teachers to engage in constructive conversation and not just vent about problems. To encourage appropriate use, we have set up guidelines on the lessons, specifying the type and content of shared resources and the desired behavior for participants. The participating teachers are able to remain anonymous in the shared forums if they choose; however, to promote professionalism, we encourage that they use their names if they feel comfortable doing so.

Finally, we hope that this curriculum will be adopted in the future for teachers of younger and older students, in a variety of geographic areas. It could also be used in other heavily multicultural workplaces, such as among healthcare workers or Peace Corps volunteers. Those newly entering a workforce that involves serving people of diverse backgrounds may feel overwhelmed, and by having an outlet to ask questions and find answers, they will improve their knowledge and embody intercultural respect. It is okay to not know how to handle situations, but it is important to ask for help and continue to educate oneself.

The Materials and Technology Tools

In our lessons, we are going to use the following materials:

Google survey

Teachers complete the Google survey before course. The survey results can contribute to identifying the common interested issues, exigent problems and teachers' current attitudes toward the state of intercultural respect at their school. The advantage of the Google survey is to locate the core content of the course by narrowing the research range of intercultural respect. Moreover, this action guarantees that teachers are enthusiastic and willing to take part in the following process. The content in the lesson can meet teachers' needs in practice.

Microsoft Word template

This offers step-by-step directions on how to use specific application tools, with the intent of reducing the teachers' stress of learning new technology. It acts as a model for multiple uses. The aim is that teachers will be more willing to focus on intercultural respect issues rather than the difficulties of learning new technology tools.

In our lessons, we are going to use the following tools:

Computers with Internet access

Computers are the basic equipment for teachers to learn, share and communicate in the online programs and resources. This access can help teachers manage their learning schedule flexibly and communicate ideas with colleagues without the limitations of time and place.

Intercultural Conversations Blogspot

Since the Blogspot is protected (teachers need to accept invitations in order to view and edit the blog), it offers a safe place for discussing sensitive intercultural issues. The protection helps create a community atmosphere where teachers can seek assistance toward specific problems, build connections, and discuss resources. Teachers can also follow the Blogspot for updates on the VoiceThread assignment.


This tool can provide various outside literature materials about intercultural respect. This rich resource can inspire discussion on the Blogspot and VoiceThread and provide case-study methods to be applied in the school environment. This tool is interactive.


This online application is useful for communication, sharing and giving feedback in the form of text or voice. This formal and informal interaction can be used by experienced teachers in intercultural teaching to give presentations. Subsequently, other teachers can make comments and ask questions. Teachers' roles as primary sources play an important role in applying intercultural respect to specific school and class environments. Additionally, this tool is available offline, which considerably increases usability.


This social media network, like Facebook or Twitter, mainly focuses on connecting teachers and students both inside and outside classrooms. In this project, students will do pre- and post-activity surveys. By comparing the differences between the results, we can evaluate whether or not and to what extent the project impacts intercultural respect. Considering students' familiarity with and enthusiasm toward social networking, this technology may have a positive effect on student participation.

The Implementation & Assignments

The purpose of this unit is to engage teachers and students in conversations and practices that promote intercultural respect within the school community throughout the year. While the implementation of the lessons themselves will happen during one-hour sessions, the tools introduced during the lessons are intended to be used by the school community on an ongoing basis. It is recommended that the use of the tools would be part of a six-month pilot. After this phase, teachers and administrators come back together to evaluate their effectiveness and adapt according to their needs.

Evaluation of the unit as a whole

Prior to engaging in this pilot phase, teachers complete an anonymous pre-assessment survey to articulate their current conceptions of intercultural respect issues within the school. The results of the survey will be made available for all teachers, so they can gain insight into their colleagues’ initial thinking. At the end of the six-month pilot phase, teachers will retake they survey. Results will be compared to see if teachers have changed in their thinking about intercultural respect issues at the school and to evaluate the potential impact of the unit as a whole.

Implementation and Assessments for Lesson 1: Exploring Resources, Exchanging Ideas

Lesson 1 should be implemented in the fall, a month or so after school has started and teachers have gotten to know one another and their students. By the beginning of Lesson 1, teachers will have already completed the pre-unit survey. After Lesson 1, teachers will be expected to begin contributing to a staffwide blog and LiveBinder. Participants will be expected to share at least one resource in the LiveBinder; the resources they share should be applicable to the school setting. They will also be expected to contribute to the staffwide blog at least two times per month, and should comment on their colleagues’ post at least two times per month. Posts should provide evidence of thoughtfulness and consideration of the specific needs of the school. Responses to colleagues' posts should be respectfully constructed and should encourage continued dialogue.

Implementation and Assessments for Lesson 2: Sharing Experiences

Lesson 2 will begin in the middle of fall semester, approximately two weeks after Lesson 1 has been underway. Teachers will have been sharing resources through LiveBinder and discussing their contexts through a secure blog. At this point, VoiceThread will be introduced to the teachers in a Microsoft Word template. They will have a week to practice using the application and listen to example recordings. Every two weeks a subject will be posted to the secure staff blog as a question or statement which links to VoiceThread. The teachers are expected to participate once every two weeks either by voice recordings or comments. Recordings or comments should be in the form of questions regarding a situation from a teacher's classroom or a teacher's personal example of how he or she handled a situation. Teachers will be encouraged to make their own interpretation of the VoiceThread topic and provide feedback to the educational community.

Implementation and Assessment for Lesson 3: Appreciating Difference

The students are brought into the conversation with lesson 3. This lesson can be incorporated three weeks after lesson two, to give teachers some time to consider some of the issues that may have begun to be raised through lessons one and two. This is also an ideal time for the teachers to continue to explore how to incorporate interculturally respectful practices into their classrooms, across the curriculum. This lesson is interactive, using Edmodo as a secure, social media platform. If the school does not already use Edmodo, be sure to discuss technical and process requirements with the necessary administrators and technology support staff at the beginning of the school year (or earlier) to allow time for implementation. Regarding assessment, students are asked to take a survey at the beginning of this lesson, much like a pre-test, and then again at the end of the lesson. This will enable instructors to gauge the effectiveness of the materials and adapt future lessons as needed. Increasing the practice of intercultural respect is an ongoing process, with many opportunities for adaptation to the needs of a particular classroom and integration into nearly all classroom interactions.

The Lessons

Lesson 1: Exploring Resources, Exchanging Ideas

In this initial lesson, teachers view the results of a staff-wide questionnaire regarding intercultural respect at their school and begin considering priority areas to address. After reviewing the importance of cultural competence for educators, teachers are introduced to their school's protected Intercultural Conversations Blogspot space as a safe venue for open conversation about intercultural respect issues affecting the school community.

Lesson 2: Sharing Experiences

The second lesson begins two weeks after the initial lesson, Intercultural Conversations Blogspot. As educators and teachers share readings, lesson plans, and thoughts on the blog, the second lesson is a tool for educators to record questions and share experiences regarding intercultural respect. VoiceThread promotes the collaboration of ideas for teachers by teachers.

Lesson 3: Appreciating Difference

Lesson 3 shifts the focus from teachers to students. The lesson helps students begin to understand how working with teams of people with diverse skills and perspectives improves results. Edmodo is employed here to administer pre-and post activity surveys and a crowdsourced activity illustrating the benefits of the topic.