An ongoing communication with an enthusiastic Social Studies teacher in a large Midwestern school district ended abruptly when she emailed me: “Due to NCLB corrective action our district will need to channel our professional development time and funds toward this goal. I’m so sorry that we won’t be able to pursue our global education projects…” Another educator and friend wrote to me, “Our school will be focusing on diversity, inclusion, and anti-bullying efforts; at this time it’s just too much for us to consider global education.” In both of these cases, administrators made decisions based on imperatives they considered to be mutually exclusive. What she didn’t realize was, developing staff capabilities in “global education” can actually help to realize and reinforce the academic, as well as social goals. This is achieved, in part, by creating more authentic and relevant student engagement, which help to spur deeper and more inclusive learning. I’ve found that some of the biggest barriers to global education come from misconceptions over what the term even means, and a misperception that it is costly and complicated.
De-mystify global education, starting with these 5 simple steps
- Clarify what you mean by global education and global citizenship: a passport and a plane ticket are awesome; but if you can’t travel yet, the world can almost literally come to you. Global education occurs when our awareness of the wider world and understanding of our place in it grows. The tools for experiencing the world in our home communities are greater than they’ve ever been. Global competency “…is the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.” And global citizenship can be de-mystified when it’s seen simply through a lens of friendship. “Be a friend to the whole human race.” This quote, which I equate with global citizenship, implies respect, communication and kindness, as well as social responsibility, service and of course, fun. These universal virtues certainly can begin at home – and go a long way toward cultivating pro-social behavior.
- Give yourself reminders: if you need to, write “GLOBAL” on a sticky note and place it prominently on your desk or on your computer as you are planning a lesson. This serves as a reminder to include a new perspective, pay attention to geography, or consider the wider impact of our own actions. Global considerations start to build like a muscle or habit – at first it might feel like a stretch, but with practice, it’s normalized. Get creative and brainstorm with a friend, colleague, or even your students on how you might inject anything global into your classroom routine or environment.
- Start with what you love: given so many ways to infuse global perspectives and lessons, it doesn’t have to feel “foreign.” Do you have a passion? A topic of keen academic interest? A hobby? A favorite technology? Do you enjoy or respond to a particular aesthetic? When we begin to explore the world through the lens of what we love, the global learning “sticks,” for deeper, longer-lasting, personalized learning.
- You’re plugged in, but are you connected? Technology can serve as a wondrous means to creating authentic connections with issues and people far away – but meaningful global engagement beyond the appeal of shiny new objects or apps takes thoughtful effort and awareness of principles, like respect and empathy. With this mindset, a Skype conversation with a classroom far away moves from a one-time episode to a budding relationship with fellow learners. Social media can be used for social good, not just the latest school or celebrity gossip. And motivation for learning expands when writing blogs, thoughtfully commenting on widely-read articles, tweeting a haiku, or crowdsourcing a fundraiser.
- Challenge yourself: include a global perspective in any lesson you teach. This isn’t reserved just for social studies. Some of the best global education I’ve seen has occurred in math and science classes, which seems surprising to many. Incorporating real-world distances, land formations, the cost of living, return on investment for community economic development, currency fluctuations, or time zone considerations form just a few of the topics through which global perspective and empathy can be built in math lessons for various grade levels.
In The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners we include examples for integrating global considerations in Common Core math and language arts standards for every elementary grade. We also include resources for social studies, science, world languages, art, music, and physical education, as well as a reading list with over 300 multicultural books. Designed specifically for educators who have too much on their plates, we share step-by-step tips, our favorite links, and best practices from schools in diverse settings. Organizational tools, school-wide theme and activity ideas, curricular resources, tutorials on the effective use of various technologies, and a guide to service learning all come together to help any educator or volunteer with any level of exposure in global learning to start bringing the world to their kids. As practice is built around the integration of global themes in everyday learning, you will begin to find that you no longer have to make a difficult either-or decision between test results and global know-how, or between fulfilling mandated curricular requirements and bringing the world to your students. Successful implementation of global education can expand what you thought was possible and create a more fulfilling, productive, life-long learning process for your students and for you – all without purchasing a plane ticket!