Diversity drives demand for global lessons

Changing demographics have compelled undergraduate and working K12 teachers to expand their knowledge of foreign cultures
By: | Issue: May, 2015
April 13, 2015

Students join African drum circles in Virginia, debate immigration in the Bronx and participate in overseas book clubs in Minneapolis and Philadelphia. Teachers have brought these activities and others to their classrooms from a growing number of globally-focused teacher prep and professional development programs.

Changing classroom demographics have compelled undergraduate,graduate and working teachers to expand their knowledge of foreign cultures. Last fall, Columbia University’s Teachers College began offering a graduate-level Global Competence Certificate.

Over 15 months, teachers will complete 10 online courses covering topics such as economic globalization, politics, social movements and urbanization. They will also spend up to three weeks doing fieldwork in Colombia, Ecuador or Uganda.

“Society is becoming more diverse with immigration,” says William Gaudelli, a co-leader in the development of the certificate curriculum and an associate professor of social studies and education at Teachers College. “Teachers need to know something about what it means for immigrants to come to a new community for political or economic needs.”

Another program is Teachers for Global Classrooms, a yearlong fellowship funded by the U.S. State Department and operated by the nonprofit International Research and Exchange Board. Since Teachers for Global Classrooms officially launched in 2011, nearly 300 teachers from 45 states and the District of Columbia have participated. The U.S. State Department funds each participant’s coursework and travel.

The teachers complete a graduate-level online course in global education leadership, in which they learn about cross-cultural communication and how to infuse standards-based instruction with global competenciesÑsuch as an in-depth knowledge of international issues, an ability to work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, and communication skills.

Teachers also spend two to three weeks visiting a foreign country in the spring or summer, where they partner with an international teacher to learn about education in that country. The nations are determined each year by the U.S. State Department. This year, the cohort will visit Morocco, Georgia, Uganda, India, Brazil and the Philippines.

Demand for the fellowship is growing: More than 400 teachers applied for the program’s 80 spots in the most recent cycle, says Sarah Bever, program officer for Teachers for Global Classrooms.

Some teacher prep programs, including those at Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have in recent years developed undergraduate global competency programs as well as other teacher courses that include study abroad requirements.

After returning from overseas, teachers in the graduate programs often complete a capstone project on bringing global learning to their classrooms.

A Los Angeles math teacher who completed Teachers for Global Classrooms had students make graphs comparing crime rates in their city to those in Brazil. A social studies teacher in the Bronx leads students in debates about the impact of new federal immigration legislation. And classrooms in Minneapolis and Philadelphia video-chat with students in Ghana during their virtual book club that covers both American and African authors.

“A lot of global competencies are about best practices in teaching,” Bever says. “It’s taking the standards and work you’re doing and teaching them in a way that is relevant and interactive, and allows students to apply what they’ve learned and take action.”