The Culture Issue – Kieran

Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Why Think About Culture?  
– Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Culture is a hot potato. It is the make-up of life and our environment, yet it is rarely discussed beyond food, clothes someone wears or a country of origin. When people talk about it, there seems to be safe areas to discuss, which allow for a superficial conversation to take place, but one which requires no real depth. For example, when talking with children I have been asked things such as “is everyone in India Hindu?” and “why do they wear funny clothes?” which I’m sure you will agree, are straight to the point and could be seen as narrow minded depending on the context, yet I have also met many adults who wonder the same things but do not openly put the questions forward. Instead, they wonder in silence. This has led to me wondering whether this happens due to a lack of confidence or whether it is because people don’t feel they are allowed to openly share their viewpoints. How do you feel about cultural conversations? How do you define culture?

Last month, I had the privilege of presenting at RSCON4 (Reform Symposium E-Conference 4) after being invited by Shelly Terrell and Clive Elsmore. My presentation, which can be seen here ( was based around the Culture Chat Project and how the teacher could be used as a resource.

The project ( began with a yr3/4 class in Oxfordshire and the format was simple; spend 15-20mins a day discussing culture, sharing knowledge and making links between our own experience and values, and those of others. To start the project off, I asked some friends who were travelling to write a blog for us, which could act as a stimulus for discussion. Links to these are available on the main Culture Chat site. For e-safety and to ensure they were appropriate, all blogs were uploaded by myself to sites linked with my google+ account.

Throughout the project, we referred to the link blogs and considered what we were learning, the traveller’s experience and compared life in other countries to our own in England. These blogs, coupled with my own recent travels to Nepal were the only resources we needed because  once the children began talking, they suddenly started adding in their own knowledge such as where their families had originated from, or asking questions which we would work together to find out. Parents took an interest and gave support too, creating a community feel around the project and opening communication channels between them and the school. The children were excited and often talked about it randomly throughout the day, showing that Culture Chat had motivated them and that they were making links. We showed the rest of the school what we’d been doing, so the whole school community could be involved and countries from around the world began visiting our website!

It was exploratory; a foot in the water for me, to see what children’s understanding of the world around them was. I was a new member of staff in a new area with no real plan for how the project would work, but despite this my new Head Teacher took a risk and allowed Culture Chat to go ahead! When the project began, I was nervous. I worried about what people would think. I worried I’d be laughed at. Most of all, I worried people wouldn’t want to talk openly about perspectives of the world. The atmosphere in Britain over the last 12 months has become less welcoming to foreigners, peaking over summer when the government backed a scheme of ‘Go Home’ vans being driven across London. The media regularly sensationalise reporting, but particularly in crimes relating to any ethnic minorities, which is resulting in a lack of tolerance, a divide, misconceptions and misunderstandings to seep into the public consciousness.


However, the seeing the benefit to the children has made it all worthwhile. During those short five weeks, they suddenly became engaged in the world around them and much more independent in their learning. They not only took an interest in the project in school, but also from home and many explored global learning with their parents and extended families too. I found out extra details about my class, which I wouldn’t otherwise have known, such as who had family from around the world, food preferences, holidays and most importantly, the children’s opinions, perceptions and feelings about the world around them. I learned things too. I realised I had the same mind-set that I described earlier in this piece – despite having thoughts about culture, I never really voiced them before the project. I assumed before a conversation started that people wouldn’t wonder the same things I did, or would think me narrow minded if I asked what would seem like obvious questions. These assumptions are what stop society from engaging in active discussion and are what is limiting understanding not only of culture, but of each other as human beings.


It is forty one years since John Lennon wrote the renowned song ‘Imagine’. In it, he refers to a world without war, where people are equal with no religion or countries and the world lives in peace. How much has changed since this song?

Culture Chat was born out of my dream for the future, one where people would be interested in culture, race and ethnicity beyond the superficial layers. Imagine a world where we appreciate each other. Imagine our children have an understanding of the world on a global scale, not just of their local community. Imagine a world where sharing our personalities, our backgrounds and our values are not perceived as a threat to the next person but as a way to make friends and enjoy discussing experiences and ideas. As far as general global history is concerned, we’ve had a prolonged spell of peace in comparison to previous centuries; if this is to continue, we must start working together now.


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Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

Kieran Dhunna Halliwell is an educator from England, currently working with year six students (10-11yrs). She is passionate about child-led learning, the benefits of play and critical thinking skills.

14 thoughts on “The Culture Issue – Kieran”

  1. HI Kieran,

    I love this post and the photos and projects you have shared! I wish I could visit your classroom some day and see all of this unfold – excellent work : ) A big well-done to you and your students!

    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Vicky and Chiew,

    You are more than welcome to visit us! Funnily enough, I was thinking the same about the Loras network of schools; maybe we could do an exchange!

    Chiew, you are too kind and wise 🙂

  3. Well said my dear Kieran. I must say you do express the inner core of what most people feel about culture but afraid to say. I agree with you that it is more that the food or clothes that you use and carry. It is the core of humanity and as my mentor says, ‘There is only one race, Humanity’. All are ONE.

  4. Thanks Kieran. I liked your description of hey potato. In my students text book there is a song of Imagine. I taught that lesson to my students. Say truth I didnt speak with them about culture. Your article told me something to share with my students

  5. Kieran, it is interesting that you mentioned the song ” Imagine” by John Lennon. Layers of superficiality divide peoples appalingly. This leading to disrespect and sometimes war. Lennon perceived how misconceptions and misunderstandings could install a continual state of mistrtrust, threat and warfare. Thank you for your contribution to uniting cultures peacefully where possible.

  6. Great post Kieran! The project you got involved in is really very inspiring especially that it was done with young learners. What attracted my attention is the fact that you managed to engage parents as well in your project. I believe this can be very useful to foster culture awareness and tolerance among students. I am eager to try something like that with my students to make them “interested in culture, race and ethnicity beyond the superficial layers”.

    1. Hello Seew, Kamala, Cheikh and Samir,

      Thank you for your reflective comments. I am glad you found the article useful and have added your own thoughts to it. If you encourage cultural discussion with your classes, please send me a link to your blog so we can share ideas – I would love to see how Culture Chat works for you!

      Take care,


  7. It is a great post, Kieran. Thank you so much. In relation to what you’ve written above, I could share my experience on working on a project with my students and our international partner from France. It was a project about culture and ethnography in two countries. We aimed to develop respect for fundamental roles of culture and heritage among students, love and respect toward their own culture, understanding and acceptance toward other cultures around the world. What I’ve noticed at the very beginning of our project was that students were interested how their peers looked like, some felt superiority others didn’t, some of them were confused. But when months passed by I felt students became more open, made friends, communicated freely. You can view the project here: There was one more project about culture, we were five partners from different countries in Europe, and the project lasted 2 years and we had five meetings in all participating countries. This project was really a success because we not only communicated online but live , students made real friends, they enjoyed all the activities working together , and they are still communicating using our Facebook group.

    1. Hi Mariana,

      The project looks interesting. I like the fact your students are exploring their own heritage outside the classroom and deciding what they would like to share with others. It is of note that you mention the change in what your students were focusing on; although mine students were significantly younger than yours, they also began by asking about appearance and dress but started making links and comparisons as the project went on. Well done.

      Take care,


  8. Well, to be honest, I’ve never thought about cultures that much. I do try to find out about other countries’ culture, though, but it’s just for teaching, not more. However, having read this, it makes me think that learning other cultures has so much more than just to know for teaching, but it can actually broaden our knowledge about the world and to have connections around the world.
    Thanks for so inspiring post.

    1. Hi Grace,

      Thank you for your honesty in your comment. I don’t think people deliberately choose not to think about culture or how we are perceiving others, but that it is something we make judgements on without really questioning. It is a natural way to live, but the benefits of deeper thinking about cultures has certainly helped my teaching and contributed to positive relationships with learners. Thank you for your comment.

      Take care,


  9. Culture…there are so many types of cultures and subcultures. A lot of times, I will associate culture in my classroom with what how we manage our class (class management). I have my students draw up a social contract which they agree upon…what are the elements that must exist in the class for the class to be successful. Once we agree upon those elements, we post them to a poster that we all sign. I like your post and think that your students have done and are doing something impactful in their own community.

  10. Thank you for the great job, Kieran!
    It’s good to know that the young generation of teachers has so caring members like you. The idea of culture chat is very smart and very up-to-date. I also like the structure of the project – a few minutes at every lesson, which implies little bits of information given on a regular basis making it easier for the kids to take it in. I remember my geography teacher who at the end of every lesson read something interesting to us – an article, a story. He was good at picking something that would really grab our attention, move our emotions and make us think. He was our favourite teacher and geography was everybody’s favourite subject.

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