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what is cultural intelligence

We’ve got some fantastic insight on what could be the most significant contributing factor to your success as an (international) educator:

“The number one predictor of success in today’s borderless world [is your] cultural intelligence.” – David Livermore

Research conducted in 30+ countries over the past ten years revealed that those with high cultural intelligence – otherwise known as CQ – are more equipped to handle challenges in life and work, especially considering contemporary society’s global nature (Livermore). 

Experts have found that, regardless of your profession, even more, important than your resume, your expertise or even your IQ is your CQ (Livermore).

what is cultural intelligence

First, let’s take a look at what CQ is in a broader sense. 

We’ll then launch into the importance of CQ for teachers or culturally responsive teaching as it’s referred to in the education sphere.

Let’s dive into cultural intelligence in the classroom and why culturally responsive teaching is vital for today’s educators.

What is cultural intelligence?

Soon Ang, a professor of management at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and P. Christopher Earley, dean of the school of business and economics at the University of Tasmania, Australia, have defined CQ as “the capability to function effectively in a variety of cultural contexts” (BBC).

David Livermore, who has conducted extensive research on the topic and wrote the book, The Cultural Intelligence Difference: Master the One Skill You Can’t Do Without in Today’s Global Economy, adds to the definition put forth by Ang and Earley as follows:

CQ or cultural intelligence can function effectively in various cultural contexts––including national, ethnic, organizational, and generational… a whole new way of approaching the old topics of cultural sensitivity, racism, and cross-border effectiveness.

Composed of cognitive, physical, and emotional/motivational development, CQ draws on intelligence from your mind, body, and heart. 

Livermore explains that by improving your CQ Drive, CQ Knowledge, CQ Strategy, and CQ action, you’ll contribute to a lift in your overall CQ.

Let’s unpack each of those a little bit:

  • CQ drive – your level of determination to operate in other cultural contexts
  • CQ knowledge – your level of cognition about core qualities of other cultures
  • CQ strategy – your ability to understand different cultural experiences and plan for future experiences

CQ action – your ability to adapt your behavior in different cultural contexts. (IESE Business School, University of Navarra)

Can anyone become more culturally intelligent?

We know that some people will have a naturally higher CQ than others due to different life experiences.

But, the big difference between CQ and other standard measurements for intelligence, like IQ, is that anyone can improve their CQ. 

Here’s the thing: 

While improvement may be more challenging for some people than for others, CQ drive, knowledge, strategy and action are all competencies that any person can boost.

On top of this, there’s no ceiling for the growth of your CQ.

So much of your learning will be driven by experiences, like moving to a new city or country, changing workplaces, and meeting people who have different backgrounds from yours. 

And since you’ll never have every experience ever, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish when it comes to CQ.

What does cultural intelligence look like in the classroom?

Our team at Teach Away got to thinking about what CQ looks like in the classroom. 

We wanted to discover how teachers could develop their CQ and apply it in their day-to-day.

What we ended up with is an online course for teachers to improve their CQ. 

Culturally responsive teaching: Connecting with students and parents of different cultures is a CQ growth course built specifically for the education space. 

The course is the best way, other than experiencing diverse cultures, that educators can develop their CQ drive, knowledge, strategy and action.

culturally responsive teaching

In an article I published last June, Why culturally responsive teaching matters now more than ever, I outline a real-life scenario to demonstrate what a school’s cultural competence might look like. 

The scenario highlights how higher CQ drive, knowledge, strategy, and action on the teacher’s part would have paved the way for a much more comfortable situation for the teacher, student, and parents. 

You can read the scenario in full here.

Essentially, CQ in the classroom, or cultural competence, is:

 “having an awareness of one’s own cultural identity and views about difference, and the ability to learn and build on the varying cultural and community norms of students and their families… the ability to understand the within-group differences that make each student unique, while celebrating the between-group variations that make our [world] a tapestry” (National Education Association).

A teacher with a high CQ is capable of “empower[ing] students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Ladson-Billings).

Why is cultural intelligence especially vital for teachers?

Whether you’re teaching at home, online or abroad, cultural intelligence is a growing necessity for all teachers. 

CQ is so fundamental and of increasing significance for teachers in the United States.

There is a cultural gap in many schools across the United States. 

The most recent projections from the Census Bureau show that minority students will account for more than half of all students in US public schools by 2020. 

One out of every five students now speaks a language other than English at home. 

As a result of this significant student demographic shift, a growing number of US teachers are struggling with how they can better serve students from cultures other than their own. (Teach Away, PRWeb, 2017).

Why is cultural intelligence important for expats working abroad?

eacher’s CQ on home soil is primarily a key factor in serving students and families with diverse cultural backgrounds. 

Likewise, CQ abroad can be incredibly impactful for expats in unfamiliar territory looking to settle into their new working and living environments.

CQ has been identified as one of the most influential factors on expatriate job performance; “those with the highest initial CQ will find it easier to adjust to their new life” (BBC).

As we know, the best way to learn about unfamiliar cultures is to experience them first-hand. And professional development or training focused on CQ can also be an effective method to boost one’s CQ.

But just how effective can CQ training be?

A study reported by the BBC found that it can reduce the amount of time it takes for an expat to become fully functional in their new environment by two-thirds, from nine months to three:

Expat bankers moving to the Middle East and Asia appeared to have fully adjusted to their new life in just three months

Without the training, it usually took expat employees nine months to become fully functional (BBC).

The world needs more CQ.

For that to happen, for our young learners to adopt CQ in their youth, teachers around the globe – both at home and abroad – are the ones who need to impart their knowledge.

Training and experience are the keys.

Ready to up your CQ for the classroom?

Every student deserves to feel welcome, seen and heard in the classroom. 

As a teacher, it’s important to become a more culturally responsive teacher for the sake of your students.

Enroll in Culturally Responsive Teaching today.

Ready to experience a new culture firsthand?


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