In a global-ready teacher’s classroom students use technology to investigate and analyze information, synthesize it and create a product of their learning to share with others
Before we panic, let’s remember that we do know some pretty important things about the student profiles of those who will be successful — let’s call them “global-ready” — regardless of the specifics of the jobs. They will need to be globally engaged. They will need to learn on the job. And they will need to use technology.
To prepare global-ready students, educators need to focus on developing their own skills such as global competence, problem-solving and emotional intelligence, as well as attitudes of openness and curiosity. Add academic and global knowledge to the mix, and this becomes a major endeavor. How will educational leaders support teachers in creating classrooms where these skills, attitudes and knowledge are being taught? An obvious support is to offer professional development opportunities in which teachers learn and practice the same attitudes, skills and knowledge they want to impart to their students.
Professional Development for the Global-Ready Teacher
The reality of 21st century jobs is pushing educational leaders to think about the kinds of professional development that are worthy for the global-ready teacher who is preparing students to be global-ready as well.
The traditional, one-time, workshop-based professional development has been shown to be ineffective in changing teachers’ practice and impacting student achievement. The main reason for this cited in a 2013 report by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education is the lack of support during the implementation stage of a teacher’s professional development. An alternative to this traditional professional development structure is dynamic, online platforms, which engage teachers in ongoing, in-time professional learning opportunities throughout the school year. Further studies have linked the impact of such virtual teacher professional development opportunities to increased student performance.
The content of professional development opportunities for teachers is as important as the medium of delivery. Global-ready students need global-ready teachers. This means that global professional development for teachers is critical. Global professional development is often thought of in terms of teachers learning about current world issues, as well as networking with professionals from other countries. These are indeed valuable opportunities for teachers. However, they don’t always include a powerful blend of components that offers a comprehensive approach to 21st century learning: pedagogy, content and technology. It is together that these components create effective global learning opportunities where teachers explore and practice 21st century skills, attitudes and knowledge that they take back into their classrooms and pass on to students. Let’s explore each of these in more depth in terms of their role for developing global-ready teachers.
Pedagogy and Global-Ready Professional Development
The world is unpredictable, ambiguous and uncertain. These elements are also what make this world a wonderful place to live. It is what allows for wonder and play to be part of our everyday experience. And students are on to this. In fact, the theme for TedxTeen is “The Wisdom of Not Knowing.” So, how can teachers continue these conversations during instructional time, and talk with students about the connection between uncertainty and wonder? Between ambiguity and creativity? Being successful in tomorrow’s interconnected and rapidly changing world means students learning not only academic knowledge, but also how to tolerate ambiguity, and how to thrive in it.
One of the best pedagogical practices that teach students this is inquiry-based learning. Inquiry learning throws students into a world of problem-solving, perspective-taking, analytical thinking and collaboration. Inquiry can be fun and engaging, but it requires courage. After all, being OK with saying “I don’t know,” or investigating issues that are completely foreign to you and then sharing what you’ve learned with others requires one to be brave. Given the increasing ambiguity surrounding tomorrow’s jobs, we expect future graduates to have to learn on the job and, therefore, consistently use their inquiry skills.
The most effective way for students to learn inquiry is to have their teachers model inquiry-based skills and attitudes in the classroom. This means that teachers need to be comfortable with:
- Saying “I don’t know.”
- Letting the students do the teaching.
- Not knowing what comes next.
- Learning alongside their students.
- Playing and being creative.
This is all accomplished, of course, with an eye to academic standards. If we know that these skills and attitudes are important for global-ready teachers, we need to offer them professional development opportunities that support teachers in crafting approaches, attitudes, skills and knowledge needed to develop and deliver inquiry-based instruction. Teachers need to “do” inquiry, in order to “teach” inquiry, and therefore professional development that is structured as project-based inquiry and models this instructional strategy for teachers will be most effective.
Content and Global-Ready Professional Development
Lessons are the most powerful tool that teachers have to develop global-ready students. Effective global lessons combine two types of content: academic content — what are the standards I need to teach? Global content — what is the global lens through which I want to teach my standards? Here are a few examples that speak to this seamless blend of global and academic content directly from the teachers in VIF’s learning center, an engaging professional development community of global teachers:
“My global lesson will focus on our unit on plants and functions of plant parts — particularly those used as food — and will integrate math. Students will research plants that are grown for food in a foreign country and display the availability/amount produced per year on a bar graph. This will lead to discussions about the global issue of the availability/lack of natural resources in some areas around the world.”
— Elementary School Global Teacher
“We are working on financial literacy and the manipulation of data. After a simple read-aloud of the picture book “To Market, To Market”, the students were given the name of various countries and had to design two items that are indicative of the country’s economy/culture to sell in the global market. The students will then investigate the effect of the items’ sales on the economy. Further research will include looking at the ethical issues regarding the use and interpretation of statistical data, methods of surveying and sampling, and the power of data to influence and describe.”
— Middle School Global Teacher
Teachers need professional development opportunities to learn how to scaffold rigorous global investigations while enhancing content knowledge. The examples above illustrate how the global component can be part of the instructional day, and not an isolated school event. While cultural events such as international food night are important in raising awareness of the global community, their isolation from the daily instructional time leads to missing opportunities to look deeper into other’s values and beliefs, and how these shape each of our worlds. Additionally, the global content provides a meaningful context to the academic learning. Carly Peace, a fifth-grade teacher at Holt Elementary in Durham, North Carolina says it best: “The question is no longer how do I teach global content AND the common core standards ... the global theme has given us a platform for which to teach all of our common core objectives in a very meaningful way.”
Technology and Global-Ready Professional Development
Students need as much practice as possible using technology in the classroom the same way they are likely to use it in their jobs. In a global-ready teacher’s classroom students use technology to investigate and analyze information, synthesize it and create a product of their learning to share with others. This process implies a meaningful use of technology that not only deepens understanding of academic content, but that also leads to the learning and innovation skills identified in the Framework for 21st Century Learning: creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving and communication and collaboration.
The quotes below from teachers completing their professional development on VIF’s learning center speak about the powerful effects of meaningful integration of technology into curriculum:
“I am introducing my class to Google earth to take a virtual field trip to Australia. We will be locating different landforms, communities, and natural resources on the map. Students will be able to compare and contrast our landscape and natural resources in North Carolina to those of Australia.”
— Elementary School Global Teacher
“Students could use Gapminder to investigate health issues in a world area over a specific amount of time and look at the population trends in that area over time as well for a comparison.”
— Secondary School Global Teacher
A 2013 Gallup survey points to the fact that only a low percentage of students develop real-world problem-solving skills. Not surprisingly, the same survey points to the fact that technology used in the workplace is not taught in the classroom. Global-ready teacher professional development can empower teachers to remedy this situation.
So, going back to my original question: how do we prepare students for jobs that don’t exist? We ensure they are global-ready. And how do we prepare them to be global-ready? We empower teachers to become global-ready themselves. By engaging teachers in dynamic, online professional development platforms that model the use of global and academic content, inquiry-based pedagogy and meaningful technology.
If developed well, such platforms give teachers an important voice in their own professional development, and create powerful and trusted learning environments. The bottom line is: We need global-ready teachers to prepare global-ready students.