Does international mindedness just rub off?

If you attend an international school then you’re automatically more internationally minded. Right? After all, international schools pride themselves on their students becoming global citizens. They actively promote a greater understanding of other cultures; being open-minded and curious about the different values people hold. 

international schools and international mindedness Search Associates ANZ a collage of various countries flags

International schools around the world also promote the fact that their demographics are so diverse – countries’ flags are displayed, the number of nationalities represented in the student body is often noted on the landing page of the school’s website. International days celebrating home cultures are woven into the calendar each year.

There are Model United Nations conferences, service learning projects, environmental campaigns, and actions for students to develop their international-mindedness. 

Just being surrounded each day by a diverse faculty and student community promotes incidental conversations and experiences allowing the learning and appreciation of many different perspectives. But does it?

As a school takes a deeper dive into global citizenship, there’s a key difference between something having ‘international‘ in its name and a school being truly international, in terms of international-mindedness.

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What is international mindedness?

In the recent podcast produced by ISC Research, in conjunction with a panel of experts, ‘What does being internationally minded mean? they discuss the latest research on the topic. It turns out that there is no actual precise definition as yet. Many terms are often used synonymously e.g. global citizenship, intercultural understanding, globally-minded, interculturalism etc. It seems preferable to discuss and define it in the context of each individual school for the most effectiveness. All agreed that international-mindedness is a journey. 

The International Baccalaureate research into definitions used by schools “centre around the idea that being internationally-minded means: ‘reaching out,’ in how we interact with others; and ‘reaching in’ to understand ourselves in relation to others.” All four IB programs are devoted to developing this understanding

The Council of International Schools within their international accreditation framework use global citizenship as one of their four drivers to help schools identify their own progress in developing in students the traits of global citizenship. Schools define, or document, a shared understanding of the terminology used in their context.

International mindedness/intercultural understanding/global citizenship – the school needs to make their own sense of what they do within their context to support the concept, regardless of what they call it. Each of these terms is different, and many schools use them interchangeably, which makes defining the one that a school chooses, even more important, so that everyone in the school is looking through the same lens and speaking the same language.

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Why explicitly teach the concept?

We’re all increasingly connected to the world and each other. Without direct teaching, we may not prepare students to navigate outside the classroom walls with a lens beyond nationalism and their own cultural and other experiences, biases, assumptions, and so on. They may have a surface understanding of what it means to be internationally-minded. However, just because a school’s structure and the curriculum promote this, or the school has various events, it’s a mistake to assume it will rub off on students and they will develop the traits of being internationally-minded in their attitudes and beliefs.

When students graduate from international schools and then go to university and finally into the workforce they will meet people from many diverse cultural backgrounds. Having an international mindset is helpful in appreciating and understanding many different perspectives. The capability to function and relate effectively in culturally diverse situations is highly valued in these days of a global workforce as well as in all interactions within our daily lives.

It’s a worldview where one sees oneself connected to the world community. This sustains a sense of responsibility for its members. It’s a process of continually questioning perspectives.

It also influences national and local well-being and vice versa. We aim to understand the complexity and the intersectionalities that make up our world and also understand the impacts of individual decisions across systems and borders. Schools are part of this community and shouldn’t exist in a bubble.

Schools should and are taking more intentional steps to cultivate these skills and mindsets in their students.

Opportunities in international schools

international schools and international mindedness Search Associates ANZ a teacher in front of a blackboard showing a map of the world on her laptop

International school students have incredible opportunities to engage in open conversations and to interact with the local community of the country in which they live and study, and in the global community. There are also opportunities outside of the school timetable which help students deepen their understanding of what it means to be internationally-minded.

In a crowded curriculum either already curtailed by various demands  like exams, or highly prescribed, it’s about adopting an intentional approach to encouraging students to engage with multiple perpsectives, so they experience more than one particular way of viewing the world

An acknowledgement that we are not the same and that we may or may not have differences but, despite all that, we respect each other’s position and are willing to work towards maintaining peace and minimizing conflict because the world is getting more interconnected, and developing or having this mindset is a powerful tool to battling many injustices in the world.

Anson Wong International Teacher Magazine: Being I.M

This can be as basic as the idea of discussing a global cause and understanding how uniting around the cause unites us as neighbors. Or asking what something means in our context, in another context, and what it means around the world. A local cause that has international impacts is the key to our common humanity and creates links that we can make across the curriculum to impact students’ lives. Getting students out of their comfort zone to be part of the world around them, collaborating with peers across borders.

Or, if a textbook promotes one way of looking at an issue, can students look at this from a personal, local, national, and global perspective?

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The changing face of international schools

There is a growing change in the composition of international schools. There may be fewer expat students and a greater representation from the host country.  This is now more common with faculty/teaching staff and administrators/school leaders as well.

Once the appeal of an international school was to be a pathway to the USA or UK higher education, now there can be more emphasis on having an internationally-minded learning experience overall.

International schools have the intent, they have the tools but rather than just using it as a marketing tool, they need to really be helping students contextualize their development as global citizens in daily life rather than through an academic lens only.

                                                                                 Podcast: What does being internationally minded mean

As you prepare to interview with schools, consider how you will respond to a recruiter if they ask you to describe developing international-mindedness through your teaching. EG, ‘How do you incorporate global citizenship/international mindedness into your teaching? Think about examples of how you embed intercultural capabilities in your curriculum.  Some international schools such as Singapore American School require all new teachers to complete the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory).

For more information –

Australian: Intercultural Understanding (Version 8.4) | The Australian Curriculum (Version 8.4)

Victorian intercultural capability:  Pages – Intercultural Capability (

ISC Report to download: Is International Mindedness measurable?

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