This piece is an adaptation from the Introduction of The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners.
Recall a moment, after a really good day at school, when your child steps into your arms and conveys an enthusiasm that can barely be contained by your embrace. Perhaps he figured out a math concept without stumbling, got to mix elements that created a surprise chemical reaction, played his favorite game in gym class, created a piece of art in a style that opened new frontiers in his imagination, watched a performance that inspired him, learned a phrase in a foreign language that delightfully rolled off his tongue, or made a new friend. While it’s hard to avoid reading anything about education today that doesn’t sound the warnings of a highly competitive, globally-connected, technology-driven knowledge economy requiring “21st Century skills,” when it comes down to the child into whose eyes you lovingly gaze, what you really care about is for him to come home happy and look forward to going back to school the next day.
My work on building global competency and translating principles of global education into readily accessible tools is motivated by the hope – and the urgent need – to bridge that gap between the pure joy that accompanies childhood discovery and the realities of learning for a changing, interconnected world our children will inherit. Whether you are a parent or a teacher (or both) reading this, the intersection between the joy and the skills is the crucial – and often elusive – sweet-spot you might spend years seeking to find and nurture.
Our children’s success depends more than ever on their ability to communicate and work effectively across cultures, to adapt to rapid changes in the ways complex problems must be solved, and to realize that not everyone thinks like they do. The sooner they start thinking about the wider world, the better they’ll do – not because they are motivated by panic or competition, but because they enjoy interacting with new friends around the world, discovering new interests, and imagining doing big things in it. This positive approach can help them to flourish in life, as numerous positive psychology researchers are discovering.
For today’s children – tomorrow’s leaders – solutions to challenges around health, the environment, natural resources, the economy, global security, and even ideological coexistence and the cultivation of creative arts will be among the most urgent questions they will face. The answers can’t be contained within one city, let alone one country’s borders. Though yet to be invented, we know that effective approaches to these increasingly complex and interconnected issues will be centered around a whole new category of skills like global collaboration, empathy, creativity and effective communication. These skills – or what I consider to be features of a global mindset – offer the tools most needed for peace-building as well as living a happy, meaningful life. As big and elusive as realizing these outcomes may be, the small steps we take at home and at school to launch meaningful connections with the wider world can make the most lasting impact.
But what do those “small steps” look like in practice? Demystifying those steps to create that bridge between joy and rigor is a big reason for using The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners. But one size does not fit all. Start with something you already love, and reflect on how you can introduce a global element to it. Fortunately, there are as many starting points as there are personality types and preferences. The Toolkit shows you how to take on specific projects, get community buy-in, integrate global learning into all academic and “special” subject areas, use technology and social media effectively, and translate this know-how into effective service learning. There’s no particular sequence required to do this right, other than the willingness to get started, stay humble, keep learning, and be willing to laugh at ourselves.
The first step to de-mystifying “global education” is simply about taking a first step. What will yours be?