Six tips on dealing with diversity

There is a great deal of cultural diversity in MBO, which leads to tensions according to teachers. How to deal with that? Kennedy Tielman, teacher trainer at Fontys Hogescholen and researcher at Wageningen University, gives tips.

  1. Look at students from a positive, open attitude

    It is often your own attitude that determines whether you are dealing with tensions, according to Tielman's research. “See an incident as a learning moment. Be curious about why something happens and make it negotiable.” Don't immediately reject a student who shows behavior you don't understand, but start the conversation. “Teachers believe that students should choose an internship that is useful to them, not because friends also go there. But in some cultures, the group precedes the individual, which may explain why some students make choices that are not directly in the best interest of their own learning. Talk about it and come to insights together.”

  2. Become aware of your own values ​​and norms

    As soon as you talk to students, you become more aware of your own norms and values ​​and of your prejudices. “Not to stigmatize,” says Kennedy, “but we all know the stories about a certain group of guys with macho behavior. Some lecturers refer to students belonging to that group in this way. When we inquired further in our search, it turned out that these teachers did not always speak from their own experience. They repeated the story about this group and that image colored their gaze. Just imagine: because of the prejudices you see groups and not students.”

  3. Acknowledge that there are differences and speak up

    “When I started my research, it was politically incorrect to talk about differences between people. The idea was that you don't make a difference between people, so don't talk about it. But if you want to give students equal opportunities, you sometimes have to treat them unequally. For example, by varying how you provide instruction and offer learning material. Try to respond to the specific interests of the different students.”

  4. Increase your knowledge

    Those who have a lot of knowledge of the different cultures get a better understanding of groups and experience less tension in the classroom. This is also evident from Tielman's study. Therefore, immerse yourself in the backgrounds of students. As far as Tielman is concerned, there is also a task for training programmes. They should train their teachers in this. “Many training courses focus on skills, but invest in cultural knowledge first. It helps teachers better understand why some things happen.”

  5. Talk about what you are experiencing with experienced colleagues

    Not every teacher is a teacher of citizenship in whose program dealing with cultural differences is ingrained. “So talk to colleagues about what you encounter in class. Beginning teachers can learn a lot from experienced colleagues.”

  6. Align education and the professional field better

    Students' ideas about what constitutes a professional attitude to work often differ from what lecturers believe the business community requires. And that, above all, causes tensions. The business community itself also has other expectations. Tielman therefore argues for a better integration of education and the professional field. “In MBO, professional practice is simulated; one shows something that should resemble practice. But when a student does an internship, things turn out to be different.” For example, students are insufficiently prepared for the hierarchy in companies. Also having to be present on time sometimes causes problems. “Another example: at school, a student can indicate that she is not allowed to care for male patients, which is a required skill for those who work in healthcare. Where the school can still take a softening stance, companies make strict demands.” Tielmans advice: invest more in the student, teacher and business triangle.