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International Mindedness - Teachers Are Talking About It, But What Exactly Is It?

Most schools have their own definition of what it means to be internationally minded. Policies have been written, curricula developed and special events scheduled into academic calendars, but what exactly do we mean by international mindedness? Put simply, international mindedness means understanding, respecting and valuing different cultures, embracing diversity and knowing that different perspectives have a great deal to offer.

International mindedness enables us to work in harmony with colleagues from around the world and to benefit from a wide range of knowledge and experience. It promotes respect, encourages collaboration and sees students develop high levels of empathy and compassion.

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Seven signs of an internationally minded person:

  • knowledge, understanding and appreciation of different cultures
  • increased self-awareness
  • increased empathy
  • ability to collaborate with peers from different backgrounds
  • deepening knowledge and understanding of global issues
  • ability to see themselves as responsible, global citizens
  • language skills

Globalisation and increased population mobility have led to communities becoming melting pots for a colourful array of cultures. One school where I worked had over 68 nationalities in its community! Multilingualism is becoming increasingly common, with many children at international schools leaving primary school speaking 3 or more languages.

The benefits of international mindedness overseas are clear, but how does this manifest in your world as a parent in the UK? Does your child really need to develop this sort of mindset? In short, YES! Your child is growing up in an increasingly interconnected world, where overseas travel, expat life and multinational businesses have become the norm. Even if your children choose to remain in the UK for most of their working lives, they will be working with people from all around the world and will need to be able to collaborate effectively across cultures. Job advertisements regularly specify language skills in addition to the traditional skills required for the position, and industries are actively seeking out multilingual employees; not only for roles in multinational companies, but increasingly for positions within industries such as healthcare, law enforcement, education, customer service and social services, where employees deal with people on a daily basis. Gap years and international travel are seen as positives on a CV, demonstrating adaptability, flexibility and collaborative skills.

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Global politics, worldwide environmental issues and dramatic population movements across continents have become part of our everyday lives. If we want our children to grow up to be innovators and leaders in positive global change, then an international mindset is a must.

A recent study carried out by ACS International Schools and the IB Schools and Colleges Association suggested that, although A levels are better for developing in-depth subject knowledge, the IB leads the way for independent inquiry and international mindedness. "The most dramatic and perhaps significant differences between the two qualifications, especially given current events, concern 'encouraging a global outlook' for which the IBDP received the top 'well or very well' rating from 97 per cent of officers. This compares to a woeful seven per cent for A levels."FE News

So what can you do to help your child develop international mindedness? Although exploring new countries and cultures is obviously one of the best ways to develop their understanding, you don't have to take them on expensive holidays as there are lots of things you can be doing at home. To open windows into fascinating new cultures, I enjoyed reading stories from around the world with the children in my classes. In a safe and encouraging learning environment, these stories invited discussion and celebration of our similarities and differences, they encouraged empathy for our fellow human beings, and sparked a spirit of wonder and curiosity about the world around us.

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You can also watch foreign films or world documentaries together, volunteer at local shelters, take part in environmental work and visit local places of worship. And if learning a new language is something you've always wanted to do but never found the time, why not try it now with your children? The benefits of multilingualism are tremendous. Check out this article for a more detailed outline of how learning new languages can improve your cognitive skills and mental wellbeing.

Our world is becoming increasingly complex. Multiculturalism is widespread and with social media bringing the benefits of international living into our homes, our children are keen to explore! Encourage them to talk about their world and what they perceive to be reality - is this the same reality that's being perceived by children growing up in Brazil or Cambodia, Russia or the Middle East?

Wouldn't life be boring if we all thought in the same way?