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However, there were also other kinds of feelings, such as confusion and uncertainty, involved in the process of learning about diversity that triggered the reflection process. It seemed that some questions in the area of diversity and intercultural education were especially sensitive and challenging, and required more reflection from some of the research subjects. As an example of this, it might be very easy for someone to appreciate ethnic diversity but religious differences or differences related to sexual orientation might be more difficult to handle.

Becoming friends with someone who had a different sexual orientation could be a really eye-opening experience as it forced the person to reflect upon her own assumptions and beliefs and sometimes made the person aware of individual and societal discrimination (article IV, p. 151).

Another meaning that was given to significant others in my data was their role in awakening and developing intercultural awareness. Primary socializations also played an important role in that. Some of the teachers had a multicultural family or the family had lived abroad during their childhood. However, intercultural awareness could also develop in rather monocultural environments. Many of the teachers mentioned that cultural, societal, and sometimes global issues were discussed at home and children were involved in these discussions. It was also typical in my data that parents and other family members, sometimes even their own former teachers, encouraged my research subjects to live abroad and become familiar with diverse cultures (e.g., as exchange students). Many of the parents also emphasized the importance of learning languages (article IV, pp. 149–150).

An important part of intercultural awareness is cultural self-awareness, referring to the examination of our values, beliefs and patterns of thinking, and behaviour. This was an issue that sometimes triggered strong emotions. In my data, there are a lot of stories of feelings of one’s own otherness. These experiences were usually directly or indirectly caused by people who were somehow close to my research subjects, such as their friends, colleagues or classmates. Although the experiences could be painful when they originally occurred, later in life they were seen as those that helped the subjects recognize and understand diversity and to be sensitive towards differences (article IV, pp. 154–158; article III, pp. 190–194).

Although academic studies and teachers were significant for the development of teachers’ intercultural awareness, the most effective way to increase intercultural understanding seemed to be participation in a community of diverse cultures.

Most of the teachers in my study had experiences of sharing everyday life in a multicultural community. Global and societal awareness, as well as awareness of power structures, is also considered as an important part of intercultural awareness in this study. As will be discussed in Chapter 6.2. of this summary, teachers’ discussions on societal and structural questions of education got minor attention in the data. However, the transition from university studies to the workplace was a strong emotional experience for many that also affected teachers’ awareness of discriminative and prejudiced ways of thinking (article IV, p. 155; article III, pp.


The third role that was given to significant others in my research was their significance in developing teachers’ ethical orientation. In this context, two meaningful significant others, teachers in the University and the study group need to be discussed. During their studies in the ITE programme, the teachers and tutors of the programme played a remarkable role in teachers’ intercultural and professional development, their values and their ways of acting. In transformative learning, the role of the tutor is significant for creating a trustful, confidential and caring atmosphere and a sensitive teacher-student relationship. My research subjects ascribed this kind of role to their tutors in the ITE programme. The teachers emphasized that it was very important for them that there was someone who really personally knew them and their learning processes throughout the entirety of their studies. Tutors were also regarded as models of ethically and interculturally competent persons and teachers. Additionally, other University teachers and lecturers as well as supervisors of their practices, who provoked teachers’ thinking and ideas, were significant for student teachers’ learning, especially the visiting lecturers who brought their own cultural background and knowledge to learning situations (article IV, pp. 158–159).

Special attention should be given to the significance of classmates in student teachers’ intercultural learning. In my study, the most prominent and clear community of practice was a study group in teacher education, where people shared ideas and experiences, learnt from each other and constructed new ideas together. My data shows that learning through, from and with other students by discussing, listening and sharing, was especially important to teachers (article IV, pp. 157–158; article V, p. 20). What was also considered to be important was the ‘spirit’ in the group.

Many of the interviewees thought that the study group was characterized by strong idealism, which supported the idea that teachers and educational professionals can really make a difference and change schools and society. On the basis of the teachers’ experiences, debates and even conflict situations within the group were important for their intercultural learning, since in those situations where they felt provoked, irritated or confused they really had to reflect and justify their own ideas and opinions and thus, truly became aware of their own assumptions. Although there were debates, my research subjects generally thought that the atmosphere was safe, as everyone shared a common interest and aimed at affirming diversity and intercultural issues (article IV, p. 157; article II, p. 76). Study mates were also important for many of the teachers after graduation. As some former ITE students have faced a lot of challenges and problems in working life (e.g., prejudices, stereotypes or ignorance towards multicultural issues), support from their former study mates who share a similar type of value basis and orientation towards their work have been significant (article III, pp. 195–196).

One additional group of significant others that was mentioned in quite a few stories and needs to be mentioned is those persons that are encountered through literature (article V). Reading was a common interest for many of the teachers and they voiced that through reading autobiographies or poems, for example, they could encounter people and ideas that really ‘touched’ them, affected their thinking and sometimes also their actions. Literature, other types of art and films were mentioned in many of the teachers’ stories as emotionally powerful experiences that had made them realize something new.

6 Discussion This section of the summary further discusses the results and additionally combines them with theoretical perspectives. The first chapter summarises the results by presenting a model for teachers’ intercultural learning and competence. The second chapter of this section looks at the central findings of this study from the perspective of critical pedagogy. The final chapter of this section analyses how teachers’ professional learning for intercultural contexts could be developed on the basis of this study.

6.1 Conclusions on the nature of teachers’ intercultural learning and competence Writing this doctoral thesis has been a long process in which different findings on the nature of intercultural learning and competences have guided and increased my theoretical and empirical understanding of these phenomena. When first starting to study teachers’ intercultural competence, I expected to find at least some rather concrete skills and knowledge that are needed in order to work in multicultural environments. I did not imagine finding ‘a didactic package’ but I assumed that there must be some general abilities that teachers need when supporting the learning of diverse students. However, what I discovered was that, according to my research subjects, intercultural competence is, most of all, an ethical orientation and attitude that guides teachers’ actions and reflections. I also discovered that it is difficult to define certain separate skills that are needed for encountering diversity, because situations are often vary and are unique. This clearly supports the idea of intercultural competence being a process of continuous reflection connected with action.

This finding of intercultural competence being a process has also made me consider whether the term ‘competence’ is the best possible way to describe this process. I have often been told that, for instance, ‘intercultural sensitivity’ (used by e.g., Bennett, 1993; Bennett & Castiglioni, 2004; Bennett, 2009) is a concept that would better describe the phenomenon. We can define both terms in different ways, but I still think that sensitivity is not always enough; we also need knowledge and skills in intercultural situations. Of course, someone could argue that knowledge and skills are involved in the concept of intercultural sensitivity as well. According to Bennett (2009, p. 4) the term ‘intercultural sensitivity’ refers to “the complexity of perception of cultural difference, so that higher sensitivity refers to more complex perceptual discriminations of such differences” while the term competence refers to “the potential for enactment of culturally sensitive feeling into appropriate and effective behavior in another cultural context”. In other words, for Bennett, intercultural competence is the more visible side of intercultural sensitivity referring to our actions.

To summarise the main findings on the nature of intercultural competence on the basis of this study, it can be argued that according to the research subjects’ conceptions, teachers’ intercultural competence is less related to specific skills and knowledge, and is more of a holistic approach to issues. It is perceived more as an ethical orientation to people, life and diversity, which guides a person’s thinking and behavior rather than as a ‘survival kit’ or an ability to perform something well in an intercultural environment. It can be argued that on the basis of teachers’ conceptions, intercultural competence is an expanded world view, where the central principles are openness towards people and new ideas as well as the ability to listen to others, learn from each other and to care.

Noddings (1998, 2002, 2006; see also Estola, 2003) highlights the distinction between the ideas of caring-for and caring-about. For Noddings, caring-for refers to face-to-face encounters in which one person cares directly for another. According to my interpretation, teachers in my data are mostly referring to this type of caring when talking about caring in a teacher-student relationship. Caring-about, according to Noddings, is something more general, and takes us more into the public realm.

This might be our concern about ecological crises, inequality in education or poverty in developing countries, and a wish to do something about it. This type of caring also appeared in my data and some of the teachers were involved in various projects, including some outside the classroom, to promote this type of caring.

Furthermore, teachers’ intercultural competence seems to be a world view that is clearly guided by certain values such as equality and non-violence. However, skills and knowledge are needed to realize the practical tasks in line with the world view. Bennett (1993, p. 26) argues that the development of intercultural sensitivity is ultimately the development of consciousness and, through consciousness, developing a new ‘natural approach’ to cultural differences.

As mentioned earlier in this summary, my ideas on the nature of intercultural learning have also changed during this research process. I first started to study intercultural learning merely as transformative processes, and found out the same thing that certain other advocates of transformative theory have also discovered: it seems that the affective ways of knowing are predominant in the experience and identity (Taylor, 2009, p. 3). As Brown (in Taylor, 2009, p. 10) argues, learners rarely change their views through purely rational processes (analyse-think-change) but are more likely to change in a see-feel-change sequence. Taylor (2000, p. 291) has also discovered that without the expression and recognition of feelings, people will not embark upon critical reflection.

In addition to discovering that emotions play a significant role in attitudes and intercultural learning, the other finding was that significant others have a huge role in that process as well. That is what made me turn to social theories of learning (Säljö, 2001; Cole &al., 1978; Wells, 1999; Wells & Claxton, 2001) and the possibilities that they provide for analyzing intercultural experiences.

During the research process I also found out that intercultural learning does not necessarily require huge dilemmas or crises and that is why experiential, everyday learning was also chosen for this study to explain the nature of teachers’ intercultural learning.

When approaching intercultural learning from the perspective of various daily experiences, the lifelong nature of learning is emphasized instead of single events or crises. Lifelong learning typically refers to learning that takes place during the whole life span and which extends to all areas of life (Aittola, 1998;

Jarvis, 2003). Lifelong learning is also a strong political agenda, especially in the European educational context (Kotthoff & Moutsios, 2007). Its connections and positive impacts on economic productivity and social cohesion have been revealed through several studies and statistics (Green, 2007). Lifelong learning takes place both in formal learning environments, such as schools, and in informal and non-formal environments and situations.

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