Four Pedagogical Moves to Sustain an Intercultural Competence Learning Group Online

Most trainers would argue that developing IC is much better when you can interact with other people in person. What do we do when physical distance limits face to face interactions because of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world? How can we create an IC online community?  In this article, I share what worked well for me as a learning facilitator. Discover some of the pedagogical moves I used to create a safe and brave space on Zoom at Hawken School in Ohio, US where we engaged in a 6-week learning group to become more interculturally competent. 

1. Uphold a principle

Most online meeting sessions use rules, agreements, or online etiquette to conduct their meetings, which  is good. However, uphold a principle and you do something even more powerful. In our group, we embraced the third Kwanzaa principle: Ujima. Every week we embraced the idea of building and maintaining our community together (Maulana, 1988). To do this, we would always start by checking-in with each other, sometimes we explored quotes of collective wisdom, and we practiced the act of listening to understand rather than to respond. Upholding a principle can positively contribute to the development of an ethnorelative view where participants understand they are responsible for each other. 

2. Use throughlines 

Have specific goals per session. Make these goals unit sized or throughlines (Blythe, 1997) and you’ve made a powerful move toward framing the life-long endeavor of developing intercultural competence. We used: 

  1. How can we define the components of intercultural competence in our contexts as we unpack the construct? 
  2. Where will my reflection take me on my intercultural competence development?
  3. How could I implement these ideas in my everyday relationships and teaching? 

Every single session we revisited these throughlines as we engaged in different activities. Participants understood that there is not one correct answer, but  evolving ones as we reflect on our IC development. 

3. Journaling together 

Developing IC requires a great deal of reflection. Be a successful facilitator and invite participants to stay present and engaged by asking them to have their cameras on and journal together for short periods. Play some music or give them the duration of a song as they respond to any prompt. Since journaling may scare some people, you may use the thinking routine Make Note from Project Zero (n.d.) . This routine provides steps to synthesize ideas, raise discussion points and identify puzzles of understanding. Participants can truly identify and explore the attitudes, skills, and behaviors they are experiencing as they document their ideas. Since developing IC is a process, being able to revisit your process is pivotal. 

4. Use accountability buddies

Breakout rooms are great, but what if we use some of that time every session to allow one on one conversations with accountability buddies? I paired all participants based on their specific goals for our learning group and every session they went into a Zoom breakout room to share about their week, their puzzles, challenges, or gains as they tried to implement some of the ideas discussed. Creating partners not only provided a safe space but also a sense of belonging. Don’t let anyone be lost behind a screen. Have accountability buddies to reinforce the importance of engaging in intercultural communication. 

There are many other pedagogical moves we could talk about, but in the meantime, try to use some of these and let me know how it goes! All in all, there are multiple ways to create these special online spaces. What matters the most is to create a community with a sense of belonging and commitment to become more and more interculturally competent individually, but also collectively, in our case, to create a more inclusive, equitable, and just school community.


Blythe, T. (1997). The Teaching for Understanding Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kalenga, M. (1988). The African American holiday of Kwanzaa: A celebration of family, community & culture. University of Sankore Press

Project Zero Website (n.d.). Make note [pdf] retrieved from

Leave a Reply