Transculturality in Teacher Education: A Virtual Autumn School
Von Lina Pranaitytė
“What does transculturality mean to me as a (future) teacher?” This guiding question has united over 50 international students and 20 interdisciplinary scholars across 7 time zones and 7 countries in a digital Autumn School at the end of October 2020. Organized by the Heidelberg School of Education (HSE), this event offered its participants critical reflection on dichotomies and entanglements, it provided opportunities to network and exchange experiences, and it brought together live expert guidance with stimulating discussions in an interactive virtual study environment.
This same leading question has also guided the articles that you will access in this blog rubric in the following weeks. Written by Autumn School participants, these texts are all short reflections on the workshop material and live discussions with the guest speakers. They tackle personal, communal as well as global challenges that teachers face in classrooms today.
Why this specific topic for (future) teachers? As collaborators and facilitators of the learning process, teachers (willingly or not) play a role in shaping attitudes and skills of their students. In a time largely dominated by polarizing and hate-inflicting narratives, biases, stereotypes and power dynamics, students and teachers alike seek guidance in transcultural competence. The scholarly concept of “transculturality” has developed as an antithesis to the perception that ‘culture’ can be defined by (geographical) borders, national divisions or center-periphery dichotomies, and has emphasized processes of exchange, interaction and translation in the past and present (Abu-Er-Rub, Brosius, et al. 2019). A transcultural approach allows for a widening of perspectives, a self-reflexive shift and a reconsideration of global entanglements (ibid.). From a transcultural perspective, schools can be considered as “contact zones” where different perspectives and perceptions “meet, clash, and grapple with each other” (Pratt 1991). Within the context of teacher education, applying a transcultural perspective may help us reconsider the categories of race/ethnicity, gender, class or age; it questions such constructs as ‘the other’ or ‘normal’; it acknowledges interconnectedness and suggests a relational approach to linguistic, social, economic, and political aspects of our everyday and professional lives.
The guest speakers of this Autumn School have therefore invited future and present teachers from around the world to wade through the theories and practical exercises of a transcultural approach. With Carola Mantel (University of Teacher Education Zug) we discussed and practised how to shift perspectives in educational circumstances, to welcome the stranger within us and to see the potential that lies in exchange rather than exclusion. Carsten Wergin (Heidelberg University) introduced us to the major theorists of transculturality and their works. He also spoke with students about his own concept of transecology, through which he incorporates more-than-human perspectives into transcultural theory and method. Julia Roth (Bielefeld University) drew our attention to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s notion of intersectionality and offered practical exercises of self-positioning, which sensitised us to (post)colonial class, racial and gendered tensions, social asymmetries and aspects of privilege. Amarachi Adannaya Igboegwu (Heidelberg University) asked us to acknowledge that everyone has implicit biases and helped us in figuring out how to know our own, what to do about them and how to deal with them in the classroom. Maria Bondarenko (Heidelberg University/University of Quebec in Montreal) introduced us to the role of transculturality in second language education and asked how this might reshape identities and relationships with social environments. Tobias Endler (HSE) and Portia Williams (Teachers College, Columbia University) provided the participants with two provocative questions for discussions: can only educated people participate in a democracy and how political can and should a teacher be? Corinna Assmann and Bernd Hirsch (Heidelberg University/HSE) illustratively presented cases for discussing whether humour can become a testing ground of transcultural competencies and whether or not laughter can be a useful tool to talk about racial, discriminatory and postcolonial tensions. Britta Klopsch (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) touched on the timely situation of a pandemic as a chance for fundamentally re-considering the organisation of schools and their grammar. And finally, in a lively discussion with two German teachers, Ute von Kahlden and Michelle König, the participants could gather practical inspiration of how to include the transcultural lens into a classroom.
Throughout this six-day virtual endeavour, we have learned, talked about our experiences and fresh a-ha moments, laughed and toasted our favourite drinks with the new-found friends and colleagues. I hope that we can share some of that transcultural curiosity in our blog rubric and spark an explorative pulse in you as well.
Academic coordinator of the DAAD Autumn School ‘Transculturality in Teacher Education’
Heidelberg School of Education
Abu-Er-Rub, L., C. Brosius, S. Meurer, D. Panagiotopoulos and S. Richter. 2019. ‘Introduction. Engaging Transculturality’, in L. Abu-Er-Rub, C. Brosius, S. Meurer, D. Panagiotopoulos and S. Richter (eds), Engaging Transculturality. Concepts, Key Terms, Case Studies, pp.: xxiii-xliv. London and New York: Routledge.
Pratt, M. L. 1991. ‘Arts of the contact zone’. Profession, 33-40.
The international Autumn School “Transculturality in Teacher Education: Chances, Benefits and Challenges” was part of the project “Mobility in International Teacher Education”, a joint project of Heidelberg School of Education and the Faculty of Modern Languages at Heidelberg University as part of the funding initiative “Internationalisation of Teacher Training” by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).