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Intercultural Understandings in K-20 Classrooms

This blog article is part of the Global Education Faculty PLC Professional Development Series, sponsored by the Longview Foundation. The writing series aims to elevate the perspectives of international scholars, including teacher educators, graduate students, and alike, to offer insights into how Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) can integrate intercultural understanding within their programs. AACTE members interested in participating in the series should contact Brooke Evans at mailto:bevans@aacte.org.

Note: The AACTE Call for Awards is open for the 2024 Best Practice Award in Support of Global and International Perspectives, which recognizes exemplary practice in the intercultural, global, cross-cultural, and international arenas, and the 2024 Best Practice Award in Support of Multicultural Education and Diversity that recognizes the infusion of diversity throughout all components of a school, college, or department of education (SCDE) as critical to quality educator preparation and professional development. If you wish to apply for one of these awards, please visit aacte.org. Applications must be received by September 1, 2023.

When considering culturally diverse and inclusive K-20 classrooms, teachers’ perceptions of cultural differences influence learners’ interactions. Therefore, creating culturally inclusive classrooms requires informed decision-making when it comes to professional development.

This is true for both experienced teachers and student teachers in educator preparation programs (EPPs). Considering the fact that perceptions are personal, integrating opportunities to interact with others when implementing new strategies makes sense. With a focus on “process” and “teachers’ firsthand experiences” personal perceptions formed over a lifetime may be challenged. Therefore, focusing on “process” is a promising direction to go in as this combines reflection with conversation, personalizing the learning experience and expanding individual understanding through the sharing of experiences.  

More specifically — creating professional development opportunities and EPP coursework that allows for an exploration of experiences moves learners into a deeper understanding of changing perceptions; this may come with an “undoing” of faulty beliefs that limit ability and understanding for moving beyond the first stage of change: denial. Attention to this stage and the other stages of change, along with consideration of individual perceptions may seem more theoretical than practical, but considering how new experiences in a classroom can impact an educator, a shift to “process” and “personal” experience may assist with learners’ understanding beyond limiting beliefs held.  It may also assist with a learner’s ability to manage the stages of change as identified in Milton Bennett’s theory of intercultural sensitivity.  

Bennett’s theory clearly identifies what can be expected through change. Each stage can contribute to developing a clear framework for moving forward with professional development and EPP courses that can be paired with new, culturally diverse best practices for authentic implementation and evaluation throughout a semester or academic year. This theory includes six stages, as shown below. These stages outline an individual’s experiences moving from an “ethnocentrism” perspective (believing one’s culture is superior to others) to an “ethnorelativism” perspective (when cultures are viewed as equal, with no one culture superior over another). Considering the exploration of these stages and their related experiences, along with best practices and strategies for personal reflection and conversations – authentic, meaningful learning can occur, which may lead to the sustainable change needed for creating culturally inclusive K-20 classrooms.    

Milton Bennett’s Stages of Development

Bennett, M. J. (2004). Becoming interculturally competent. In J.S. Wurzel (Ed.) Toward multiculturalism: A reader in multicultural education. Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource Corporation.

Focusing on “process” for professional development and EPP course development for evolving cultural inclusivity can begin with significant attention to two key elements if using Bennett’s stages for designing a “cultural understanding in k20 classrooms” course: reflections on experiences and participation in critical conversations relating to the stages of change. Looking forward regarding course expectations, learners’ sharing and discussing experiences and related responses to these experiences pave the way to a deeper understanding of how perceptions are formed. This realization may support the personal change learners experience as well as observe within a classroom community. Both personal reflection and group reflection support this deeper understanding, which can also lead to personal insights regarding perceptions. It may also lead to innovative and creative solutions to similar obstacles within a learning community.  

In addition to district professional development and EPP course design, the ongoing and evolving merger of social media and education is critical to acknowledge as personal learning expands to include virtual experiences. Expanding conversations from EPP courses and district professional development experiences into virtual settings will likely serve as an innovative extension to EPP coursework and district professional development focused on global education and culturally inclusive education practices.  Both globally and mindfully – in both virtual and physical spaces, a focus on “process” for professional learning connects personal growth to professional development, which can create meaningful experiences resulting in lasting change.   


Bennett, M. J. (2017). Development model of intercultural sensitivity. In Kim, Y. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Bennett, M. J. (2004). Becoming interculturally competent. In J.S. Wurzel (Ed.), Toward Multiculturalism: A Reader in Multicultural Education. Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource Corporation.

Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivityInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(2), 179–196.

Carol Bruzzano, M.Ed., is a professor-in-residence and clinical supervisor at William Paterson University in New Jersey.  She is also a doctoral candidate at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a member of the Longview Foundation-supported Global Education Faculty Professional Learning Community (PLC). She can be reached at BRUZZANOC@wpunj.edu.