Values and guiding principles

The following questions were used by partnership teams throughout the Engaging Students as Partners in Global Learning Fellowship as a starting point in their reflections about the values which were important to them.

Reflective questions


Which characteristics of a good partnership do you think are important for global learning?

In considering this question, partnership teams were invited to expand upon, and/or critique the partnership values which have previously been proposed in the literature; for example, the core values of respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility (Cook-Sather, Bovill, Felton, 2014). Because the concept of ‘partnership’ is itself a cultural construct, partnership teams were invited to introduce words/constructs from languages other than English into their discussion if they wished.


Which values do you think are most important for your work as partners in global learning?

Good Practice Guidelines for SaPGL

Matthews (2017) argues that authentic partnerships must foster inclusion, nurture power-sharing through dialogue and reflection,  accept the process has uncertain outcomes,  be based on ethical relationships, and focus on transformation. Building on Matthews’ propositions, reflection on Fellowship activities revealed the importance of the following principles when engaging in global learning partnerships;

Recognise that ‘partnership’ is a cultural construct

When discussing values in the context of partnerships in global learning, it is important to remember that ‘partnership’ is a cultural construct. A ‘construct’ in the context of culture is a set of ideas which over time become one significant idea. Love and honour are examples of cultural constructs. While there is some shared meaning across cultures regarding these significant ideas, their significance may vary in many details.


Different cultures have their own constructs of ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ and these variations have implications for ‘partnerships’ between teachers and students. Inviting people to share constructs and values in languages other than the dominant one in use when discussing values is likely to result in a more inclusive and enriched understanding of what partnership can be. For example, those discussing partnership values in Ireland suggested that the idea of ‘students as partners’ resonates with the traditional Irish practice of Meitheal, while in Aotearoa/New Zealand, a group of students and staff suggested that partnership may be akin to the Māori concept of Manaakitanga. For further discussion and guidelines for working with partnership as a cultural construct, see Green (2019)

Embrace cultural ignorance productively

Ignorance and knowledge are inextricably entwined in global learning. Recognising not only the value, and but also the limits of our own cultural capital is considered ‘productive’ in global learning. ‘We proceed from a desire to overcome what we do not know and, through producing new knowledge, we concede new areas of ignorance’ (Singh 2010, p. 34). While international staff and students typically bear the full burden of ‘ignorance’ in intercultural encounters in their new host country, global learning challenges assumptions made by the cultural majority. All members of the partnership – staff and students, from majority and minority cultures – need to recognise the limits of their own cultural capital, and together develop new understanding.

Create ‘cultural safety’ in ‘brave spaces’

Originally used by Maori nurses in New Zealand, ‘cultural safety’ has been defined as: 

An environment that is safe for people: where there is no assault, challenge or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need. It is about shared respect, shared meaning, shared knowledge and experience of learning, living and working together with dignity and truly listening (Williams, 1999, p.2).


More than recognising and respecting cultural difference, cultural safety it is about nurturing the unique cultural identity of each person. It is about empowering and being empowered to actively participate in decision-making.


Cultural safety is emerged as a key concept during the ‘Engaging Students as Partners in Global Learning’ Fellowship. In the spirit of partnership, staff and students shared responsibility for creating culturally safe learning environments. As one international student reflected, ‘we need to work out how to navigate the partnership, so we don’t overtake each other and so we can all contribute to our maximum capacities’.

The concept of cultural safety should not be confused with risk-free learning. Global learning requires risk and discomfort. It necessarily engages us in the kind of ‘disorienting dilemmas’, which lead to the altered perspectives associated with transformative global learning (Jones, 2013, p.100). Conceptualising partnership as ‘brave space’ ‘implies that there is indeed likely be danger or harm—threats that require bravery on the part of those who enter. But those who enter the space have the courage to face that danger and to take risks because they know they will be taken care of’ (Cook-Sather 2017, p.1)

Discuss and co-develop shared values and expectations through ‘affable’ conversations

Shared understandings in any partnership cannot be assumed. Ongoing dialogue is central to successful ethical partnerships – dialogue between partners about their expertise, contributions, expectations, values, and their understanding of partnership itself.

It is important in global learning that differences, including cultural differences, are neither dismissed, nor reified. In considering the challenge of finding common ground between apparent cultural divisions, Kwame Anthony Appiah proposes a simple solution: engage in ‘affable’ conversations with others across borders, cultures, religions, as a kind of everyday philosophical practice. Affable conversations suggest hospitality, conviviality, neighbourliness, curtesy, respect – all characteristics of successful ethical partnerships.