The theoretical orientations, and in particular the notion of professional intercultural competence, draw on a number of knowledge bases:
- Theories of cross-cultural and inter-cultural communication, particularly the work of Byram and colleagues.
- Sociocultural theories of learning (SCT) which emphasise the social nature of learning and the fact that all learning is mediated by language. Of particular value under SCT is the construct co-construction which emphasizes the ‘jointness’ of all communication; any communicative event entails interactional work by all parties. It is very much a two-way process.
- Reflective professional practice and reflexivity. Here, we draw on recent research (see, for example, Mann & Walsh, 2017; Walsh & Mann, 2015), which highlights the importance of self-reflection, dialogue and collaboration in CPD (Continuing Professional Development). CPD is most effective when it is evidence-based and data-led; important principles which are followed in the toolkit.
The materials collected in the toolkit were developed as part of a two-phased collaborative process. The four project partners worked with a number of highly-skilled refugees and with teachers across three locations (UK, Austria and the Netherlands) to co-create a set of resources that can be useful in a diversity of European contexts.
In the first phase, project members in the three national locations of the partners looked closely at the lives and experiences of people who had successfully made the transition from refugee status back into the professional sphere. We did this through ethnographic interviews which sought to discover exactly how these people had made the transition, what had helped them, what had hindered them, and what they could pass on to others like them by way of advice. A focus was on language learning and professional intercultural communicative competence – and how relevant the conceptualisation might be to the ability to re-enter the professional sphere. We found that PICC, plus factors related to affective resilience, flexibility and determination, were indeed relevant. Also important were refugee professionals’ orientations towards power imbalances and their sense of agency. In general, we found these ‘success’ stories to be so pertinent and inspiring that we have drawn very heavily on them developing the toolkit, particularly the contextual first units. They have provided examples of what people can do to get back into professions – a key component of both the teacher and learner modules. They also helped us with its overall structure. During this initial stage we also spoke to groups of learners and teachers in the different locations of our project, to gauge current provision and their needs in relation to developing PICC.
Project members then worked with local refugees and teachers to develop learning and teaching materials. These materials are a key component of the toolkit. After the needs analysis work with refugee-learners in two of the three locations, a strong need for professional language development primarily in the English language emerged. The materials in the core units (units 2-3-4-5) were, therefore, developed to respond to this need. All these materials are designed, however, to be readily translatable for the development of other languages. The first unit for each module introduces the toolkit and it contains materials which are contextually and socioculturally specific and which often highlights issues related to local languages. The core units (units 2, 3, 4 and 5) consist of broadly the same materials adapted for learners to study independently (learner module) and for teachers to use in the classroom (teacher module). They consist of activities designed to help refugee professional learners to find, apply, being interviewed for and start a professional-level job and to support teachers in employing them in classroom settings. Each unit in both modules also includes supplementary and extension materials to support teachers and learners. All activities relate to PICC.
In the next phase, materials were piloted by different target groups–including networks of agencies working with skilled refugees, teaching organisations such as colleges of further and higher education, national and international professional accreditation agencies, and relevant employers and employment agencies –with a view of creating a model, which can then be extended to other contexts. The materials were fine-tuned according to the feedback provided by teachers and learners. The findings from the project– both the toolkit, and the co-productive practices, procedures and frameworks, which lead to their production – have been and will be disseminated to multiple international audiences.