Teachers for Global Classrooms: Nuts & Bolts

If you’re familiar with this site, you know that I typically post about my life as a doctoral candidate or my life as a teacher, contemplating the Common Core. Recently, however, I have added tabs on Global Competencies, with examples provided for each of my educational adventures overseas.This is directly due to my involvement with the U.S. Department of State’s Teachers for Global Classroom Program.

I was notified Spring 2012 that I had been selected for the TGC program. But that was about the only thing I knew. Other basic facts I knew included the following: About 70 other teachers from across the nation had been selected. We would be sent to one of seven different nations for a period of two to three weeks: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, or Ghana. We would not be given a choice.

In Fall 2012, in preparation for our international adventures, we participated in an online course that provided readings, video clips, and discussion forums around the topic of Global Competencies and Global Citizenship. We were required to submit a unit plan. We received a Bloggie so that we could video our adventures within whatever country we found ourselves. As with any course, there were texts that I deeply enjoyed, other texts that contained both pieces in which I found commonalities and pieces in which I took issue, and texts that I vehemently disagree with. As an actively engaged citizen, I voraciously gobbled up these various texts, engaging with their tenets, critically assessing them, weighing them against one another — weighing them against my own guiding principles. Evidently, there are multiple definitions of global citizenship, some of which are diametrically opposed to my own personal beliefs.

And, finally, we were assigned our country. I received news — on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 — that I was headed for Kazakhstan! To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know where Kazakhstan was. I knew the vague, general direction. But I didn’t know that it touched Mongolia, that it was 90% in Asia and 10% in Europe, that it was the 9th largest country in the world.

There is much that I still do not know. But I do know that I will spend a couple of days in Almaty, cultural capital of the country, before heading off to spend an entire week with a school and a wonderful host teacher in Ust-Kamenogorsk. I do know that I’ll be accompanied by a phenomenal gifted & talented teacher from Virginia named Rob. I do know that I get to engage with students and share the culture and people of Idaho. I do know that I’ll be able to provide professional development for the teachers. I do know that I’ll learn much from those teachers and those students. I do know that I’ll be bringing back a bit of the culture and the teachers and the students to our schools here in Idaho. And that, my friends, is exciting.

So, if you’re a secondary teacher and you, too, would like to explore the education system in another country and help your students engage with students in another part of the globe — then explore the Teachers for Global Classrooms website. Apply. If you’re like me, you might be a finalist but not make the final cut. Apply again. I did. And this time, I am headed for Kazakhstan.

The (Good) Life

It occurred to me that I can’t stop savoring life simply because I’m swamped. If I do, then time on planet earth becomes nothing more than a series of furiously hectic stretches punctuated by enforced moments of collapse once I’ve pushed too hard. That’s not living. Thus, I am reading Samarkand by Amin Maalouf, one chapter at a time. The chapters are short, 3-4 pages, and I read a chapter each morning. I contemplate it long enough to tweet out a line, and then I move about my day, that much richer for having held such words in my cupped hands, letting them slip out between my fingers like so much glistening grain.

If you’re so inclined to read along, feel free to follow me at @AprilJNiemela and add your own insights with the hashtags #Samarkand and #Maalouf. Chapter Five’s tweet, for example, reads: Ch 5: “Time…has 2 dimensions, its length is measured by the rhythm of the sun but its depth by the rhythm of passion” #Samarkand #Maalouf

In this contemplation of time – or the lack thereof in this oh-so-modern-world – I’m reminded of Ansel Adams’ response to neck-break speed and unrelenting workload — and his subsequent retreat to Yosemite. Perhaps you’ve read his letter to best friend Cedric Wright before, but if you haven’t, take a moment: it is so beautiful, so radiant, that I have to share it here, as well.

And, I do wish you a thundercloud, let loose just as this one was.

Global Competencies Explored

Note: the entirety of this post is cross-posted under my Global Competencies tab and is a part of an on-going series on global citizenship, global competencies, and global education.

What are global competencies? Delightfully, there are many thoughts, opinions, and views of global competence — probably as varied and as diverse as the world around us. I’ve chosen to adopt my guiding principles from the Asia Society’s Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, I highly recommend it. As with any publication, there are pieces that I, personally, do not endorse or agree with. However, there are other pieces that are invaluable for the 21st century educator.

In a nutshell, Global competence is the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance (p. xiii). It is also deeply important that students know and understand their own cultures, their own beliefs, their own histories. One of the speakers we listened to (his name escapes me, my apologies) made it clear that without deeply understanding ourselves, we cannot understand others. It is not necessary to agree with or even accept the beliefs of others, especially if they go against our fundamental beliefs. But it is important to understand where they are coming from — and how those beliefs will influence their behavior, choices, and decisions.

In preparing our students for a flattened world and for interacting with peoples from around the world in positive, collaborative, and productive ways, we must provide them with a set of global competencies.  In examining the ways in which we approach the classroom — the student choice we provide, the projects we assign, the multi-modal texts we dip into — it’s important to consider how we interweave the following aspects of global competence. Each of these four competencies has an entire chapter devoted to it.

  • Globally competent students investigate the world;
  • Globally competent students recognize perspectives;
  • Globally competent students communicate ideas;
  • Globally competent students take action.

Through my professional collaborations with educators, students, and school systems around the globe, I have found my own learning and thinking evolving, changing, and growing. I have learned deeply, laughed much, and forged invaluable friendships. I have also found that being globally competent does not necessarily encompass those key features that make international travel enjoyable. It’s not just about flexibility, go-with-the-flow attitudes, and being in the moment. Global competence is much, much more, and, in some ways, much more difficult. I hope to explore this more in the days to come.


The Reflective Practioner: ​Five Tips for Tweeting in the Classroom

Teachers have long embraced the role of the reflective practitioner, honing their “capacity for reflection on their intuitive knowing in the midst of action…to cope with the unique, uncertain, and conflicted situations of practice” (Schon, 1983, p. 8-9). Part of the responsibility and joy of a 21st Century educator, then, sharpens this line of reflection as we examine what we do and why we do it within the context of global citizenship and new literacies. We continue to plan and act and collaborate and facilitate with intentionality and with purpose — and we carefully consider if the task at hand meets the needs of the students we are serving, as well as the future world we are preparing them for.

It surprises me, then, when I read of professors marking students absent if caught using their phones in class or hear of teachers disparaging social media in general. It feels as if there should be some deep dialogue around it, some inquisitive conversations, but mostly I just hear the sharp retorts. There are some, of course, who fully embrace the affordances of such, like Jordan Shapiro at Temple or Chris Sloan at Judge Memorial – and I commend them for both their vision and their commitment.

For those teachers who are interested in pushing some boundaries and leveraging social media as a window to the world(s) their students may never see, here are some pretty low threshold, easy access ways to interweave Twitter into your class:

Five Tips for Tweeting in the Classroom

  1. Be purposeful about usage of twitter: Have students respond to the unit’s essential questions or contemplate the motives of a character or reflect upon author’s purpose. Tip: Have these questions on the board or typed on a bookmark ahead of time so that students can reference them; include the #hashtag.
  2. Create a class or topic#hashtag: Have students tag each tweet with a #hashtag so that their classmates (and you) can follow the comments surrounding your given topic. Tip: check out the #hashtag ahead of time and make sure it hasn’t already been co-opted by another group or trend.
  3. Consider using a social media dashboard: Use a site like hootsuite to manage different streams of #hashtags. Project this stream of student tweets on the wall, so that the varying comments add to the multiple layers of dialogue.
  4. Download #hashtagged tweets: Use a site like SearchHash to download all the tweets with your #hashtag. This provides you with a great deal of data, yes, but it also gives you information about your students, their growth over time, and their changing perceptions of your topics. It’s also a handy self-reflective tool for students to use in final paper writing or self-assessments.
  5. Relax and have fun: It’s not about getting it perfect the first time. It’s about being purposeful, yes, but also about enjoying the ride. Model curiosity for your students. Wonder out loud. Tweet your reflections — and join the conversation!

Follow me on Twitter, too — I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you’re using Twitter (and other Social Media) in the classroom.