Leading Innovation in Global Competence for ALL Students

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I returned from my Global Competence Certificate summer fieldwork experience in Ecuador in 2015 with lots of new ideas, professional allies, and many, many questions. As a result of the deep thinking I had done in the GCC Introduction to Global Competence course, the core of my questions revolved around how I, as an individual classroom teacher, could advocate and facilitate the inclusion of globally competent content and pedagogy in grade 9-12 History Department standards. Prior to my GCC experience, I had seen this done in upper-level electives (for example, in our own department, we added a “Contemporary World Issues” course), project-based learning, and afterschool clubs and activities. I love these innovative ways that global competency has become a bigger part of the K-12 experience, especially since so many of these actions are student-driven. But I was left wondering — is being globally competent really something only certain students can “opt-in” to, or is it a skill that should be required of all?

In my initial conception of my capstone project I was idealistic about the scale and pace of change I could effect as a single teacher (large-scale curriculum revisions to our three graduation requirement courses in under two years). But looking back now, almost a year after my GCC graduation, I am surprised at the change that can happen within a “traditional” graduation-requirement history course. For the 2016-2017 school year, I have been collaborating with a team of three teachers to integrate global competencies into our 9th grade curriculum on medieval World History (a course required for graduation). Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Course Content Changes

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As World History teachers, it is relatively low-hanging fruit to include content in our classrooms that represents diverse perspectives and areas of the world. We’ve been working on this for the past decade or so. However, the work I did as part of my GCC Learn courses on Poverty, Sustainability, and Human Rights provided me with models of how I could incorporate global competence thematic case studies into my course curriculum. Taking these models and localizing it to my school context, our 9th grade team decided to include a year-long thematic study of modern migration into our medieval history curriculum. We didn’t want students looking at current events in isolation or as “one-off” lesson plans.

To do this, we have been collaborating and fusing curricular resources from many organizations. We replaced student participation in National History Day with Concern Worldwide’s Global Concerns Classroom. Students collaborate and share stories of migration with students from Utah, British Columbia, Argentina, and India through the Out of Eden Learn platform, and expand the walls of the classroom by attending an interactive field trip sponsored by Doctors Without Borders. In the spring, students will take action through peer education activities and public awareness campaigns. To make this all happen, I took a chance and applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This grant funding has been instrumental in helping jump start this change process by providing funds for curricular materials and student transportation.

Changes in Pedagogy

Within both the new and “old” course curriculum, we have also rethought our pedagogical approaches. The work I did as a part of the GCC courses on Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Inquiry-based Learning, and Discussion Leadership gave me new tools and ideas for how to do this. Shifting from using debates to structured-academic controversies, incorporating authentic assessments and performances (infographics, websites, presentations to stakeholders), and visual thinking routines have helped cultivate a classroom climate of student-centered inquiry. In speaking to teachers outside of our pilot cohort, this area of change has been the easiest “sell.” In advocating for the inclusion of global competencies into curriculum, teachers often feel they do not have time to do “one more thing.” I’ve found starting with encouraging teachers to take the content they have but rethinking instructional delivery has been a good gateway to global competence. Teachers are able to cover the same content in the same amount of time, just in a new, globally competent manner.

Results & Next Steps

As a result of these changes, we’ve seen growth in students’ ability to respectfully express opposing viewpoints, comfort with ambiguity, and empathy. As they explore the complexities of migration, they have let go of the notion of finding one answer, and are instead looking to understand multiple perspectives. While their political views on policy decisions may not have changed, they frequently reflect, “What would I have done in that situation?” and see similarities rather than differences.

At the end of this year, we will meet in the summer to brainstorm how to include these innovations across more classrooms, making the skills and content of global competency required for ALL students in our high school. While in this first year it has required a lot of additional planning time, and we have had some occasional “oops” moments of disorganization, as a team we have never felt more fulfilled by the work we do every day.

Kim Young is a GCC graduate and high school teacher in Weston, Massachusetts.

Published on by Mattie Vukmir.