By Mooney Niu, Mental Health Counselor and Ronni Rowland, Writer

Do you notice some students avoid eye contact or remain stone-faced and silent when you call on them? Do others dominate class discussions and group projects?


Rude or Just Misunderstood?

“Some behavior that seems rude or problematic might actually be culture-based,” says Mooney Niu, Mental Health Counselor with The Essential Learning Group (ELG). “Culture is a complex concept and it influences all human social activities and interactions.” Mooney goes on to explain that some students avert their eyes when speaking to adults out of respect, not misbehavior. Others may be from more outgoing or talkative cultures.

Educators with a deeper understanding of cultural norms and expectations are better equipped to decipher potentially confusing behaviors and reduce conflict in the classroom.

Here are 5 tips to prevent cultural misunderstanding:

  • Be aware of cultural differences and potential challenges students may face when adjusting.
    Students may feel confused or under strong pressures to adopt the ways of the dominant culture or to fit in with different student groups. Educate yourself about the cultural norms of your students and offer a variety of choices for class participation, personal expression and learning.
  • Be explicit with your expectations.
    Be clear about what you expect from students in all facets of classroom life. This includes setting high expectations for students in academics, behavior, communication, and daily classroom routines and transitions.
  • Model your expectations.
    Be a role model for students and “show” the class how to meet your expectations. By modeling your expectations, you will be able to minimize misinterpretations and maintain high standards in the classroom.
  • Represent the material in various ways.
    Post schedules, assignments and other information in a visual way so students may refer to it as often as they need. Speak slowly and clearly; use short sentences and repeat in a different way if not understood the first time.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for interaction.
    Offer a mix of activities so students can gain experience working independently, with a partner, and in groups. Pay attention to students’ non-verbal communication cues, such as posture, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Give students time and support if certain interactions appear to cause stress or frustration.

Free to be you and me:

Childhood, especially adolescence, are times when identities are developing and changing. Students bring to the classroom a rich combination of personal and cultural identity. “The role of the classroom teacher is crucial in avoiding cultural misunderstanding,” says Mooney. “When we understand culture, we’ll be able to better understand the meaning underlying student behaviors and create more supportive classroom environments.”


Mooney Niu

Mooney Niu, M.Sc.

Mental Health Counselor

Mooney is a Mental Health counselor at The Essential Learning Group, with a professional background conducting intake assessments, and leading individual and group psychotherapy. She incorporates skills from various approaches, including psychoanalytic, person-centered, cognitive-behavioral, and solution-focused approaches, to support her client’s strengths.