How ANY Classroom Can Become a Global Classroom—In Five Easy Steps

By Homa S. Tavanger, educator and author of Growing Up Global and The Global Education Toolkit

An ongoing communication with an enthusiastic social studies teacher in a large Midwestern school district ended abruptly when she emailed me: “due to NCLB [No Child Left Behind] 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 these cases, administrators made decisions based on imperatives they considered to be mutually exclusive. But developing staff capabilities in “global education” can actually help to realize and reinforce the academic as well as social goals these administrators are concerned about, in part by creating more authentic and relevant student engagement. These help 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.  It’s time to de-mystify global education, starting with these five simple steps:

Photograph courtesy Kathleen Schwille, National Geographic

Photograph courtesy Kathleen Schwille, National Geographic

1. 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.

Photograph by Tirzah Weiskotten, National Geographic

Photograph by Tirzah Weiskotten, National Geographic

2. Take one step to remember: 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.  Global considerations start to build like a muscle or habit—at first it might feel like a stretch, but with practice it’s normalized—and you can get rid of the sticky note.  This helps to remember to include a new perspective, pay attention to geography, or consider the wider impact of our own actions. 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.

Photograph by Sylvia Earle, National Geographic

Photograph by Sylvia Earle, National Geographic

3. 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.

Photograph by William Albert Allard, National Geographic

Photograph by William Albert Allard, National Geographic

4. 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.

Photograph by Brandon Hickman, courtesy the MUSE School

Photograph by Brandon Hickman, courtesy the MUSE School

5. Challenge yourself to include a global perspective in any lesson you teach.  This isn’t reserved just for geography or 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, as well as resources for social studies, science, world languages, art, music, and physical education. We also include a reading list with over 300 multicultural books.

We wrote this with educators who had too much on their plate in mind, sharing 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—before you even buy plane tickets.

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