Walker and Riordan’s Advice for Leadership in Culturally Diverse Schools


Allan Walker and Geoff Riordan explain collective capacity and what this means in execution in culturally diverse faculties in their paper Leading collective capacity in culturally diverse schools (2010).  My international school has a diverse faculty from all over the world and I can see many of Walker and Riordan’s points being plausible and actionable in my own workplace.

The authors speak of leadership in terms of relationship building with attention to the intercultural dimension of this, which would be sensitivity to the cultures of each party in the working relationship.  Collective capacity, as they explain it, is the group efforts towards agreed-upon, shared ideals, values, and objectives which is modeled and projected from the leaders (administrators and others) and which is known to lead to improved outcomes for students.  Walker and Riordan breakdown their leadership framework into five parts that combine to increase the collective capacity of the teaching faculty and staff:

    • Positioning
    • Structuring
    • Expectations
    • Expression
    • Profiling

I will discuss each section’s outline and prescription from Walker and Riordan with my own opinions added.


This is one of the easier of the five components to implement, I think. The authors discuss positioning as the leader (and there may be many leaders) thoughtfully dissecting and reflecting on his/her/their own cultural identity and biases, then comparing that to the faculty members’ own cultural identities.  This will position the leader’s cultural dispositions in a multidimensional spectrum of influences among the entire staff. Armed with this knowledge, a leader can better determine the commonalities and differences in the group and exactly what are the shared values. If the group is aware of the well-articulated values, these ideas will get attention, resources, and effort from the group.

This self-reflection seems approachable and immediately actionable to me.  Julia Middleton’s concept of Core and Flex might be a good place to start (2015). This understanding of one’s own cultural composition is important and useful when working in a diverse group, but it can be challenging and may not be self-evident.  Careful consideration and deliberate reflection is required.  This part can be done, but the communication necessary after this positioning falls into the more difficult category of expression which will be discussed later.


Walker and Riordan tell us that leaders can thoughtfully structure the physical space of the school and the working teams/departments to maximize relationship building.  They describe how working spaces, meeting rooms, classrooms, offices, etc. can be conducive to individual work or group collaboration, with their prescribed emphasis on the group-focus. I understand their point and believe there is some balance required here.  I can get very distracted when there is too much noise and commotion in my working space.  This decreases my efficiency and makes me irritable with the group, because I cannot get my work done.  There should be spaces available for collaboration and group meetings, but I am not a fan of open offices, personally, and I know I’m not alone in this.

Similar to the physical building, furniture, and spaces, leaders can structure the working teams and relationships to heighten collective capacity.  Departments or administrators can welcome input from more members on some topics that have traditionally been the domain of those at the top only, such as creating assessments, choosing textbooks, designing curriculum, and hiring new teachers, according to the authors. This group input and consideration is noble, though Walker and Riordan discuss it in contrast to teachers working on their own in their own way.  At times there is merit to this independent way of working, as it allows teachers to think creatively and take risks without the pressure of Big Brother watching or the anxiety of possibly making a mistake in front of peers. With balance in this arena, teachers may increase their confidence and then have something positive to report to the group, rather than stifling their creativity in an effort to only do it in the group-approved way.


Expectations of staff and student behavior, job details and responsibilities, appropriate interaction between teachers, proper classroom management, etc. can all vary greatly depending on staff members’ cultural backgrounds. With a diverse staff there is bound to be a range of expectations in many areas that effect day-to-day operations of the school, and thus effect student learning.  Walker and Riordan remind us how difficult a task it might be to explicitly outline expectations that match the group’s collective thinking. In fact, the authors recommend this discussion happen as a large staff development exercise or school revisioning, not in smaller, piecemeal ways. After the difficult fact-finding mission to determine the shared ideals and acceptable expectations, I would suggest making those expectations available to potential new-hires before they join the faculty.  For example, at my school, I was given the employee handbook which outlined the expectations for employees working with children, interactions between teachers, community connections, and more so I knew exactly the school’s cultural expectations before I agreed to join that culture.  These expectations may be more obvious in a local, public school with a less-diverse faculty, but they are not necessarily conspicuous for international hires traveling to different countries from various home cultures.


The authors tell us about expression in terms of how each member communicates with others.  The effective leader will model this through face-to-face interaction with all members of the staff, rather than perhaps hiding away in a closed office and emailing pronouncements out to the group.  In building relationships across the staff, it is imperative to communicate with each other, but how that is accomplished is a matter of cultural identity.  Walker and Riordan discuss at length the amount of personal information one may or may not reveal about themselves in the work setting based on their cultural conception of what is appropriate.  The key here, I think, is to allow the freedom for those who wish to share more of themselves to do so, while not requiring anyone to share more of their private selves than they desire. I can imagine this manifesting itself in some getting-to-know you activities organized by leadership at the beginning of the school year, for example. Well-intentioned questions (and assumptions) about marriages could be a potential minefield for LGBTQ people or divorced people who may have an interest in remaining private about this aspect of their lives.

This leads into the authors’ four requirements for positive intercultural collaboration. They are:

    1. successful relationships among group members
    2. respect and belief in the meaningful cooperation towards the endeavor
    3. efficiency of the group work
    4. members are not stressed by the cultural differences amongst the group

The first three are easier for a leader to facilitate with foresight and through creating a respectful cross-cultural atmosphere at the school. The fourth one seems a wildcard to me, because it depends on individual group members identifying and perhaps challenging their own biases in order to overcome the hurdle.


This section of Walker and Riordan’s argument is a cautionary tale of how the pursuit of cultural diversity in the group can be taken to a dangerous extreme.  Personal experiences and circumstances shape one’s cultural identity in addition to any national culture or demographic membership. Profiling happens when assumptions are made about someone’s skill set, knowledge, or professional/personal attributes based on their cultural identity.  This leads to tokenism which expects a certain level of cultural insight or key knowledge based on cultural membership, discounting or ignoring the personal, individual composition of the whole person. This results in decreasing a person’s power within the group, marginalizing them, personally, and their contributions. This would work against the collective capacity of the group.  The authors describe how this can happen accidentally as leadership endeavors to diversify their faculty by simply hiring people who increase representation of a particular culture without accounting for the whole identity of a person, beyond the cultural stereotypes. From my vantage point, I see this accidental tokenism as a relic of the past that is dying out.  I think my generation and those younger than me, do not pigeonhole people based on their cultural labels the same way older generations did.  In the past, it may have been convenient or useful in some ways to categorize types of cultures.  However, growing up in a multicultural, increasingly global world, younger people do not seem to have this same stifling mindset that separates and marginalizes whole cultural groups. It is a positive direction.  I believe this problem is working itself out slowly over time.  The advice from Walker and Riordan is useful for everyone to keep in mind, but the advice is more obvious to younger people with a global perspective.

Harnessing the power of the collective capacity can be successful or a missed opportunity based on the leaders’ choices and actions.  Walker and Riordan offer a useful framework, though it requires some commitment and delicate discussion of difficult topics.


Middleton, Julia (2015). Cultural intelligence: the competitive edge for leaders. TEDxTalks, YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izeiRjUMau4.

Walker, A. & Riordan, G. (2010). Leading collective capacity in culturally diverse schools, School Leadership and Management, 30:1, 51-63, DOI: 10.1080/13632430903509766

Supporting Cultures in School to Climb Towards Social Justice


Classroom teachers and the school community are a first line defense against inequities in social justice.  Children spend a significant portion of their lives in school and involved in activities driven by the school community.  Therefore school can be a powerful vector for transmitting the messages and values necessary to raise a generation of adults who are culturally competent and prepared to recalibrate inequities in social justice.

Walker and Riordan teach us that role of the school administration in this effort is not detached from the daily happenings in the classroom.  Modeling and projecting the values of the school begins with the administration and moves through the teachers and staff to students, then on to their families and community (2010).  This culture may not match precisely the dominant culture of the geographical community or the culture(s) of the teaching staff, and this in fact, is the opportunity to teach a more socially just “correction” if you will.  Administration can create the spaces, experiences, and opportunities for teachers and students to recognize their own personal biases and blindspots derived from their cultural identity (Walker & Riordan, 2010).  The school can have a community of collaboration and learning from each other, a safe space for challenging debates, diverse representation, and goals for cultural competence for students and teachers directly orchestrated by the leadership of the administration.  One of the most direct ways for administration to accomplish this is through creating professional development (PD) opportunities for teachers and staff that open their minds to issues of racism, language, immigration, biases, and civil rights (Finch, 2014).  If teachers are not aware of these things, their teaching will reflect only their own unconscious cultural biases, possibly perpetuating inequities in social justice (Foundations of Multicultural Education, 2012).

At my own school in Japan, the administration does an admirable job of recruiting a diverse teaching staff.  This is an excellent first step in ensuring students experience a multicultural space at their school.  However, issues of culture and unconscious bias are not raised in a formal way (and not usually discussed informally either).  Having token diversity misses the reality that one’s individual cultural identity is more than a prominent or dominant cultural membership.  Here is a telling quote from an African American teacher in the US:

“Teachers here think I know everything about Black children, but I never grew up in the city and never experienced the difficulties these students have had… Yet, the teachers expect me to have access to every Black student, and I find that really troubling.” (Walker & Riordan, 2010, p. 59)

We would benefit from focused PD such as the Identifying Privilege Activity or Immigration segment from the “Developing Cultural Competence Among School Staff” module in Inquiry to Action Group (Finch, 2014). Our school could do more to learn about inherent cultural biases and how to look beyond ourselves.  This is not a criticism, but rather a suggestion to improve what we offer our students.  The teachers at our school definitely have hearts open to this effort, but need the time and space allocated for it in order to do a deep dive.

Cultural competence in the classroom requires a teacher to investigate the differences in cultures below the surface (Pratt-Johnson, 2006).  Diverse classrooms and schools provide ample opportunity to learn about cultures superficially from the many people representing them in the school community, but that is not enough to be culturally competent.  Teachers must understand on a deep level the interaction of language, immigration, national/regional cultures, gender identity, economics/personal finances, and more that collectively create individual cultural identity for students.  The size of the task sounds like an insurmountable impossibility, but Pratt-Johnson reminds us that this is a gradual process that rolls out over years of experiences with students, families, and colleagues (2006).  In order to take the first steps, teachers can look to this list of six topics of inquiry to become culturally competent classroom leaders:

    1. Ways of Knowing
    2. Ways of Solving Problems
    3. Ways of Communicating Non-Verbally
    4. Ways of Learning
    5. Ways of Dealing with Conflict
    6. Ways of Using Symbols (Pratt-Johnson, 2006)

Globally mobile students in my classroom will bring with them a plethora of cultural conceptions that may or may not be in line with the global, intercultural ideal I would like them acquire.  My students are all supposed to be native English speakers or near-native level, but in actuality there is a wide spectrum of English language ability.  As the teacher, it is incumbent on me to set the stage for overcoming English language differences and indeed communication differences to open accessibility to my class to all students (Foundations of Multicultural Education, 2012).  If I communicate with written English, verbal instruction, body language, peer-to-peer guidance, and beyond, my students will know I am open, supportive, and respectful of their differences by reaching out to them any way they are willing and able to receive the message.  This is a key step in developing an inclusive classroom where all are welcome and we learn from each other’s cultures.  Just as teachers did during clinical practice to become licensed educators, we can continue to hold ourselves accountable for this through rigorous and regular reflection.  InTASC standards require this and Foundations in Multicultural Education suggests this can be accomplished through self-reflection, video recording, and peer observations (2012).  From my own experience, video recording is the best tool for me to see the brutal truth objectively.  If I cannot assess my own teaching by having the hard conversations with myself and my video evidence, how can I tackle the hard conversations of racism, classism, gender discrimination, and others in the classroom that are required to be a culturally competent fighter for social justice (Pollock, 2012) (Ladson-Billings, 2015)?

Being a teacher in the classroom is a great honor and a calling I am happy to fulfill.  It also comes with great responsibility as school is such an all-encompassing institution in a child’s life all the way through adulthood.  Family and church also work in this same all-encompassing space to influence a person’s individual cultural profile.  At my school, families are heavily involved in the daily operations of the school and discussion of religion is welcomed.  In full disclosure, it is a Catholic school, but all religions are welcome and mingle harmoniously in the curriculum and discourse among community members; it is not a subject we shy away from.  My students’ parents are a window into this side of my students’ cultural composition.  We know classroom teachers must be open to input from families and through whatever modality the parents are willing to communicate (Foundations of Multicultural Education, 2012).  My relationship with the parents can make or break my effort to conduct a multicultural classroom environment.

I have attempted here to share thoughts on how critical teachers and the school are in establishing the groundwork for a respectful and equal multicultural, global world. None of us is working or living in a vacuum.  The interactions and active engagement of all the cultural resources available to us must be leveraged for success in improving cultural competence today and in reaching social justice tomorrow.


Finch, Avery. Ed. (2014, March/April). Inquiry to Action Group: Social Justice Educators on a Path to Cultural Relevancy, http://tagphilly.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Developing-Cultural-Competency-Among-School-Staff.pdf

Foundations of Multicultural Education (2012).

Ladson-Billings, G. (2015). Critical Race Theory and Education. Lecture presented in University of North Carolina, Asheville. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=katwPTn-nhE

Pratt-Johnson, Yvonne. (2006, February). Communicating Cross-Culturally: What Teachers Should Know. The Internet TESL Journal, 12(2), http://iteslj.org/Articles/Pratt-Johnson-CrossCultural.html

Pollock, Mica. (2012, March) Adopting an Anti-Racist Framework

. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RV3vvhQ5xf8

Walker, A., & Riordan, G. (2010). Leading collective capacity in culturally diverse schools. School Leadership & Management, 30(1), 51-63. doi:10.1080/13632430903509766

International Mindedness vs. Intercultural Literacy vs. Global Competence


Cross-Cultural Models Venn

International schools are preparing the students of today for the world of tomorrow.  To do this, the schools are navigating flowing, dynamic currents that are sometimes dissonant and sometimes harmonious. The students and their families are globally mobile citizens bringing their own cultures into the melting pot of the school – a culture all its own – before moving on to other countries and cultures. Schools are operating in the present global space, but preparing students for a future that is expected to be even more closely connected and interdependent across national boundaries and societies. International schools are therefore juggling the current needs of their perpetually changing student body with their students’ anticipated needs for happy, fulfilling lives in the future. With the lofty goal of preparing their students for active participation in the global world, these schools must teach international mindedness, intercultural literacy, and global competence to some degree and hopefully in harmonious balance. The Venn diagram above highlights similar aspects of these, illuminating shared values in the global 21st century.

On first reading these three terms may sound quite similar, almost synonymous, but in fact there are subtle and overt differences. International mindedness seeks to develop students into global citizens who are members of their own national heritage, but also citizens of the world with responsibility to both national and international interests. These include responsible stewardship of the local environment and the planet, multilingualism for international communication, and deep knowledge of world history and people.  All this is toward the greater good of ensuring world peace and cooperation.  Unfortunately, this framework still reinforces an “us” and “them” construct. Everyone is expected to stay in their lane and do the appropriate or expected amount of learning and outreach to connect with other people from other countries. This presupposes that everyone has the resources and opportunities for an (expensive) international education with the same understanding and orientation toward these goals. There is criticism that international mindedness perpetuates a global elite operating in their own international space while everyone else in lower classes are left behind (Sriprakash et al., 2014).

Intercultural literacy shares the goal of connecting people from all over the world, but focuses more on culture and humanity than on national boundaries or political constructs. Students who gain intercultural literacy are prepared to communicate in several languages as well as read the needs of other people and empathize with their situation.  These students adapt to new places and cultures by diving in, participating, engaging with, and reflecting on daily experiences (Heyward, 2002). Whereas international mindedness could be interpreted as competitive, intercultural literacy is cooperative. With cooperation, inclusion, and empathy, the interculturally literate respond to dynamic, changing environments with an understanding that not one size fits all.

Global competence shares similarities with both intercultural literacy and international mindedness, yet is still a unique conception.  This framework focuses on preparing students for work life and economic considerations in the global world of tomorrow.  Many of the same skills are helpful and beneficial here insomuch as they strengthen active participation in solving global problems.  More than the other two, global competence equips students to proactively identify, assess, and solve large-scale problems of the world.  This requires understanding of other cultures to leverage cooperation and resources toward transnational issues, smoothing the way for cross-border exchanges of money and ideas (Mansilla & Jackson, 2012).  Transactions of the most innovative ideas, valuable resources, and best products sets up nations for successful, competitive participation in the world economy.  Once again, we revisit competition, an under-the-radar aspect of international mindedness, but an overt pillar of global competence.  In fact, competition is right there in the name of the framework.

As you can see in the diagram above, all three efforts prepare students to understand their own relationship to the world around them, not simply their individual role in a national frame as a citizen or worker. This shared space between international mindedness, intercultural literacy, and global competence is perhaps the most important of all. Global citizens must be able to evaluate their own perspectives as well as other perspectives. This is true today and will be true tomorrow. The imperative to communicate effectively with diverse audiences of people different from oneself is present in these three constructs and is indeed a major objective of international schools. None of these would be possible without global engagement and each one accomplishes this in its own way. It would be advisable for schools to focus on these shared strengths as there must be great value in those similarities. Each framework, with differing and sometimes overlapping goals, finds camaraderie here.


Drake, B. (2004). International Education and IB Programmes. Journal of Research in International Education, 3(2), 189-205. doi:10.1177/1475240904044387

Heyward, M. (2002). From international to intercultural: Redefining the international school for a globalized world. Journal of Research in International Education, 1(1), 9-32. doi:10.1177/1475240902001001266

Mansilla, Veronica & Jackson, Anthony. (2012). Educating for Global Competence, Preparing our Youth to Engage the World. doi:10.13140/2.1.3845.1529.

Sriprakash, A., Singh, M., & Qi, J. (2014). A Comparative Study of International Mindedness in the IB Diploma Programme in Australia, China and India. Retrieved from http://www.ibo.org/globalassets/publications/ib-research/dp/international-mindedness-final-report.pdf

Van Oord, L. (2007). To westernize the nations? An analysis of the International Baccalaureate’s philosophy of education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 37(3), 375-390. doi:10.1080/03057640701546680