What comes to mind when you hear the term globally competent teacher? Your mind might conjure up a jet-setter who takes their students on trips to China or Europe and regularly discusses international politics with their BBC-loving peers. Teaching for global competence may sound like something reserved for elite or specialty schools or something we can worry about only after we’ve mastered the essential skills of literacy, mathematics, and so forth. That is far from the case. Teaching for global competence is something every teacher can do – and should be doing, given what students need to thrive in our increasingly interconnected world.
Schools today have a responsibility to ensure students learn how to collaborate with people from different cultures and to act on issues that have both local and global impacts. And developing students’ global awareness can happen at the same time as mathematics and literacy instruction. It shouldn’t be reserved only for select students or specialty schools. Global competence is something all students deserve to learn.
What characteristics do teachers need in order to foster global citizenship in students? Through our work developing a framework that identifies what, specifically, globally competent teaching entails, we discovered that many of the elements begin with characteristics teachers already have.
The Foundations (You May Already Have) for Globally Competent Teaching
When we reviewed the literature on how various scholars and practitioners have defined globally competent teaching, we found that two dispositions seem to be foundational: one, empathy and valuing multiple perspectives, and, two, commitment to promoting equity worldwide.
Empathy and Valuing Multiple Perspectives. As globalization leads us to interact more and more with people from diverse backgrounds, we have to be willing to consider alternative viewpoints and maybe reconsider our own. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds, cannot change anything.” To truly empathize with another person, we have to be able to understand their perspective. If you recognize how your personal beliefs and experiences shape your view of the world, you are already on your way to becoming a globally competent teacher. If you are willing to explore the perspectives of people who challenge your beliefs, you’re even further along.
Commitment to Promoting Equity Worldwide. Teaching students to be global citizens means helping them understand the pressing issues our current and future leaders face: hunger, poverty and conflict around the world; climate change; inequitable access to education, medical care, jobs, human rights protections, and clean water. To instill in students the desire to tackle these problems, teachers must first display their own commitment to a better world. They must recognize the barriers that exist to equity, both locally and globally, and engage in opportunities to address these barriers. The ultimate goal for advanced globally competent teachers is to lead students to act on these issues. However, if you’re donating your time or money to charitable organizations, or even just attempting to reduce your impact on the environment (through reusing/recycling, reducing your meat consumption, conserving water or energy, e.g.), then you are on your way to becoming a globally competent teacher. Through taking action on global issues, you model to students how they, too, can make a difference, no matter how young they are.
The Next Steps Toward Globally Competent Teaching
Once you have developed these foundations of empathy, valuing multiple perspectives, and a commitment to equity worldwide, you’re ready to move on to enhancing the knowledge and skill sets that characterize globally competent teaching. In terms of knowledge, globally competent teachers:
- Are familiar with global conditions and current events.
- Are aware how the world is interconnected.
- Have experiential understanding of diverse cultures.
- Understand intercultural communication.
The skills that characterize globally competent teaching include:
- Creating a classroom environment that values diversity.
- Integrating global learning experiences into the curriculum.
- Facilitating intercultural conversations and partnerships.
- Assessing students’ global competence development.
For specific strategies and ideas for how you can create globally-engaged classrooms, see our book, Becoming a Globally Competent Teacher, and recent blog, “Incorporating Global Competency Into Your Classroom.” In the meantime, take time to think about how what you’re already doing in your classroom may be helping students to value diverse perspectives and care about issues around the world. You may, in fact, be well on your way to fostering global citizenship and engagement through modeling your own commitment to a better world.
Hillary Parkhouse is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner is a Lecturer in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University and former Senior Fellow of Global Competence at ASCD. You can learn more about all twelve elements of globally competent teaching in their book Becoming a Globally Competent Teacher and on the Globally Competent Learning Continuum website.