5 Ways to Build Students' Global Competency - ASCD
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September 12, 2019

5 Ways to Build Students' Global Competency

In today's highly charged social-media climate, we have become natural consumers of media propaganda. We are constantly bombarded with opinions over facts and speeches of nationalism versus globalism from every perspective—including economically, technologically, scientifically, and educationally.

What does this have to do with educating our students? Within all the media coverage, there is a strong line of thinking that it is not possible to be patriotic to your home country and be a globalist. We must not think of these concepts as binaries. What we do in our local communities impacts the larger community. Our individual and collective actions affect humans and the environment worldwide—positively and negatively—more than most of us realize.

We need to change this lack of awareness when students are young. Filling that gap is an understanding of our place in our own communities, which can bring the larger global community closer together. We are all global citizens, but the work begins where we are.

Engaging students in their learning environments—which means all places students go, not just in the school classroom—will grow them into effective global citizens. It is our shared responsibility with parents to help children acquire the skills to listen intently, think critically, filter and curate information, and find ways to participate as globally minded learners.

Here's how I navigate the crossroads of local and global thinking.

  1. Seek out resources for building global competency. When I taught in New York City Public Schools, my school received a federal magnet grant to expand our environmental program. The experience piqued my interest in our global system in a new way. While learning about the impact of human interactions on the environment, viewing the video "<LINK URL="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GorqroigqM" LINKTARGET="_blank">The Story of Stuff</LINK>" was a powerful reminder of our global citizenship—so much so that some students watched the video at home with their parents. More recently, I have used the United Nations' <LINK URL="https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300" LINKTARGET="_blank">Sustainable Development Goals</LINK> with students and teachers to build interest about their role on our interconnected planet. Reflection tools such as ASCD's <LINK URL="http://globallearning.ascd.org/lp/editions/global-continuum/home.html" LINKTARGET="_blank">Globally Competent Learning Continuum</LINK> or <LINK URL="http://www.ascd.org/whole-child.aspx" LINKTARGET="_blank">Whole Child framework</LINK> can also support development of an educator's global mindset.

  2. Be intentional with language. Use inclusive language to encourage empathy, including words that reduce gender specificity (e.g., mail carrier instead of mailman, nurse instead of male nurse) and labeling (e.g., labeling a student "dyslexic" limits our understanding of that student as whole person). For example, as a relief teacher ("substitute," in U.S. terms) in Singapore, I talk to students ages 3 through 12 about using fewer gender-specific colors and pronouns. When reading Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keates to a group of 1st graders, one student commented that the boy's furniture did not have to be blue and the girl's did have to be pink. We had a conversation about how people can choose the colors they like rather than ones that society thinks are gender appropriate. Understanding the effects of language opens the door to increased tolerance of others in one's surrounding community, which can breed understanding about unfamiliar life experiences and hardships that others face.

  3. Highlight human rights in the local community. For our International Baccalaureate (IB) unit in Singapore, my team and I planned inquiry-based learning of universal symbols. Students explored the symbols, signs, and colors used in other countries that assist with cross-cultural communication, including those that mark accommodations. The students discussed the accommodations they take for granted in their own communities, such as accessible restrooms or ramps for people who use wheelchairs. This developed an awareness that people in every nation need supports.

  4. Bring in students' personal lives. Stray away from the usual birthdays and holidays for discussions. Instead, have students talk about the difficult events in their lives, such as living through natural disasters, moving homes, or losing family members. Then, pairing your students to students in other locations builds bridges of connection. All students have experienced happiness and hardship, so a simple outreach through Twitter usually results in educators answering with whatever you need—whether it's a class to connect with across the world or a Skype call with a teacher.At my current school, a large population of students and families come from Japan. Many have experienced earthquakes. We have used a class Twitter account for conversations with others who have been affected by tremors (e.g., students in California) and read news articles about regions of the world that are susceptible to the earth's movement. These conversations can happen across a wide variety of topics, including moving, poverty, homelessness, and immigration.

  5. Teach students new forms of communication. During our IB unit "Who We Are," my 2nd-grade team and I planned a trip to the park for teambuilding exercises. Our pre-trip learning explored respectful verbal and nonverbal communication, with the help of parent guests who shared greetings and gestures from their home cultures as tools for our learning exercises. At the park, one of our activities was a cup stacking game in which students could not use verbal communication to build a tower. In post-trip reflections, numerous students connected their cup experience to the communication explorations we had done in class. This kind of activity underscores that while students may not always be able to communicate verbally in a global context, they can still make meaningful connections with one another.

Teaching and learning are a journey in which all members of the school community should participate in order to develop a strong sense of interconnectedness. Teaching local is not separate from teaching global; it is an interconnected web.

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