International school teachers' beliefs about intercultural understanding and identity

  • D. M. Williams-Gualandi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


Intercultural understanding as an educational goal exists as a discrete domain or an embedded aspect of other types of intercultural education. In the context of international schools, teachers are often expected to contribute to students’ development of intercultural understanding. However, differing definitions of the concept exist and teachers often enter the field without specific training in this area, relying on their personal experiences and beliefs to guide their practice.

This study explores experienced international school teachers’ beliefs about the relationship between the development of intercultural understanding and identity. Learning about one’s own culture as well as other cultures is a central aspect of the cognitive dimension of intercultural understanding, focusing the individual on cultural group affiliations, belonging and questions of ‘who one is’. However, research into how experienced teachers’ understand intercultural understanding as it relates to the concept of identity is limited. Using a social identity lens, with a particular focus on self-categorisation theory to explore how individuals view themselves in relation to the groups to which they belong, the paper reports on a qualitative study that investigates the beliefs of seven experienced secondary teachers working in international schools.

The findings, emerging from the coding, analysis and synthesis of semi-structured interviews, as well as related teacher guidance documentation, suggest that embedded tensions exist between teacher beliefs and definitions in some of the documentation. Analysis shows that the development of intercultural understanding is seen as a process that increases awareness and appreciation for diversity through attitudes of open-mindedness and curiosity. Shifts in ‘belonging’ include feelings of loss, distancing from dominant groups and the forging of new groups, based on choice and ‘being more like the new me’. However, the extent to which the concept of multiple (cultural) identities is relevant to teachers appears limited, as does the success of international schools in tackling the ‘difficult knowledge’ inherent in developing intercultural understanding.
Date of Award19 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMary Hayden (Supervisor) & Jeff Thompson (Supervisor)


  • intercultural understanding
  • identity
  • self-categorisation
  • teacher beliefs
  • difficult knowledge

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