Further Musings on Global Citizenship

Throughout my week at the Salzburg Global Seminar, a number of interesting ideas have been raised regarding global citizenship education.  Here are a few of the ideas that I left still pondering…

Is technology an interfering force in global citizenship education?  One of the key goals of global citizenship education is to help students grow in their ability to think and act with empathy for the experiences and perspectives of others.  While technology has helped to shrink the world and make communication easier, one of the GCP faculty raised the idea that our current modes of communication might actually hinder student ability to relate to others.  Although people can quickly communicate with others across the world through advances in technology, there is a tendency to use these tools to “report out” on activities rather than engage in conversation.  Indeed, there are numerous examples of students across the educational spectrum failing to recognize the impacts of words and actions in online forums.  In a culture where we prize being connected, it was interesting to consider potential liabilities to advances in technology.  This question and the issues it raises provides additional support to the work that many schools are doing in the area of online citizenship and responsibility.

Why do we teach what we teach?  Two different sessions helped me think more deeply about this important question. The question was initially proposed by one GCP faculty member as a prompt he uses when first working with educational institutions to understand how they see the purpose of their work.  Teachers and schools should reflect on this question, hopefully drawing inspiration and guidance from the institution’s mission.  Is the purpose to prepare students for subsequent academic work?  To lead meaningful lives in service of the greater good?  To be a better person?  While there can be many purposes for individual courses and entire institutional curricula, the point was made that integration of global citizenship outcomes and contexts can easily be woven into existing courses.

Once an institution or instructor has satisfactorily addressed this question, the implementation work begins.  I found a helpful takeaway for integrating global citizenship practices into curricula in the session of a different GCP faculty member.  Because it is challenging for students of all ages to engage with issues that seem unrelated to their lives, she advocated an approach that draws students into a global topic by first starting with a local issue.  By first processing an issue on a local scale, students are drawn into the lesson and can better extrapolate to a global context.  This common sense approach also creates possible opportunities for action, something that does not always seem possible when confronting issues on a global scale.

Global Citizenship: Meaning and Implications for Pre-College Education

I have the privilege of writing this post from Salzburg as a participant in the Global Citizenship Program (GCP) 70 at the Salzburg Global Seminar.  Beyond the beauty of our settings, the GCP has impressed me with some early, deep thinking about the meaning – and necessity – for thinking as a global citizens as educators.  While most of the attendees are from institutions of higher educations, the work and conversations of this week have significant implications for global citizenship in primary, middle, and secondary schools.

What is global citizenship?  The pre-session readings and early plenary speakers were careful to note that while there is not a single, concise definition of global citizenship, there are some generally agreed upon themes and ideas:

  • Global citizenship requires that we work to understand the perspective of others and demonstrate empathy to different cultures, ways of thinking, and practices.
  • Global citizenship extends thinking and acting beyond traditional borders (e.g. nationality, tribe), yet does not mean relinquishing those parts of one’s identity.
  • Global citizenship requires action on issues such as social justice, environmental change, and economic and resource inequality.
  • Systems thinking is integral to understanding the issues and generating solutions.

What can educators do?  The GCP faculty made a strong and well-supported argument for the need to contextualize student learning within global issues (e.g. natural resource allocation and use, human migration, environmental changes).  The challenges confronting the global community are signficant and will require widespread collaboration.  Many of these issues require thinking and actions that favor the whole, rather than the individual (an implication of global citizenship).  In light of this context, it seems that educators might consider the following steps to promote the ideals of global citizenship:

  • Integration of systems thinking into the curricula
  • Promotion of cross-departmental conversations and curriculum development
  • Creation of opportunities for students to gain perspective on local and global issues (e.g. travel and immersion programs, service learning projects)
  • Elevation of social justice work within the academic and co-curricular programs
  • Building of cross-cultural communication skills

There are many ways to enter into this conversation and it should be noted that it is easier to generate this list than to implement each idea successfully.  Regardless of where a school is in its thinking about and understanding of global citizenship, there are many entry points into this conversation.  Helpfully, global citizenship is a useful umbrella for much of the current direction of work for many independent schools.

What I Learned from My Pilot Course

Over the last three weeks, we ran a new schedule Monday through Saturday, piloting the schedule we intend to use in 2015-2016.  One of the most exciting aspects of this new schedule is our use of Saturdays as a time for a standalone course, run in a 2 1/2 hour meeting period.  The goal is to create a learning experience where students are active.  In our pilot, I ran a course called Mythbusters, which gave students an opportunity to pursue and research a question of their own interest.

While I gave the students a chance to reflect, here is what I learned from the pilot:

  1. Two-and-Half Hours Goes Quickly.  After fretting initially about the length of each course meeting, I found just how fast 2 1/2 hours can move when students are busy and engaged.  I was moving all over campus to check in on and assist groups, who found the resources they needed in a variety of spaces.  Each time I came upon a group, they were working hard and working together to move their work forward.  My favorite moment was when one student said, “That was 2 1/2 hours?  That felt faster than a long block!”.
  2. Groups Will Work at Different Paces.  In the final meeting, the groups were all at different places.  Only one group of five found themselves waiting through the work period.  For this group, I had planned ahead and was able to show them video clips from the actual Mythbusters TV show.  In doing so, we had a small discussion about how they set up their experiments and how they went about “proving” their myths.  The different paces at which the groups work showed me that in the full course, it would be important to plan ahead so that each group was able to make the best use of their time.
  3. Give Groups a Budget.  The students raised this as an issue in the debrief and I agree that a small budget would be helpful and appropriate.  Money, as well as time, is a good bounding principle for the types of myths they will choose to explore.  I will certainly implement this for the full course.
  4. Work with Students on Presentation Skills.  Three of the groups created PowerPoint presentations.  While informative, these were not dynamic and seemed to cast our student-centered class back into a teacher-centered space.  It would be great to incorporate presentation work into the full course.

Overall, it was a great pilot and I learned a lot.  I am excited to see this course as part of our full roll out in 2015-16.

Piloting “Letting Go”

The pilot of St. Mark’s Saturdays is 2/3 complete and one of the biggest things that I have learned from our Myth Busters course is the feeling of “letting go.”

My goal in creating this course was to create conditions by which students directed their own learning.  This course is different than the experience I have had repeatedly throughout my career, which often finds me preparing students for an outside metric or collaborating with colleagues to maintain a consistent experience across multiple teachers.  In many ways, this pilot was the first true experience where it is up to the students to chart their own course, forcing me squarely to the side.  Today, I had students spread out across campus carrying out work.  One group was in the field house measuring the velocity of slap shots and soccer balls, another in the kitchenette testing rates of freezing of milk and water, while a third was building a turbine to be powered by carbon dioxide gas.  What was more impressive was that each of these groups was directing this work on their own, leaving me as a resource to help them refine their ideas and be a sounding board.

This pilot is teaching all of us – students and teachers – a lot about the use of time and our respective roles in the classroom.  This has been a great experience thus far for me.  Moreover, I love hearing my students tell me how fast and enjoyable the 2 1/2 hour sessions feel.  It is proving to me how valuable it is to let go and put the students in the driver’s seat!

Making History in a 150 Year Old School

Today was a first in my school’s 150 year history.  While St. Mark’s has long had Saturday classes, today marked the first “St. Mark’s Saturday” session (NB: for more information on how and why we have rethought the use of time through our schedule revisions, take a look at the recent Head’s Reflection by John Warren).   Over the next three weeks, students and faculty are piloting a modified block schedule Monday through Friday and a stand-alone 2 1/2 h experiential and interdisciplinary-based course on Saturdays.  This new paradigm gives structure to our values as an institution.

As one of the people who advocated for and led the schedule change, I was excited to offer a course.  After much deliberation, I proposed “Myth Busters”.  In a separate blog, I am chronicling the course experience, my approach to teaching in longer class meetings, and the work and process of my students.  I will update ourworktheireducation over the next three weeks as this pilot unfolds.

Watch as we we make history, take risks, and learn a lot in the process!

An Independent School Educator’s Perspective on Becoming an Independent School Parent

I am now the parent of an independent school student. Just this week, my son started at an area Montessori school. The process – the tour, the interview, the application – gave me some insight into what the families who visit my school encounter. More importantly, by thinking through the possibility that this school represents for my son as he develops, I came to better understand what families hope their children might get out of an independent school education.

I want my child to be known. One of the reasons we selected this school at this moment is give him the chance to work with teachers who will give him individualized attention. He is a sweet, curious boy, close with his little sister, a picky eater, and striving to be independent. I wanted him in a school where he was celebrated for who he is and nurtured to be who he will become.

I want my child to love learning. At such a young age, I am impressed with the questions he asks to make sense of his world. “Why do clouds move?” “Is there gold in goldfish?” These are *GREAT* questions and I want him to be in a place where he is encouraged to ask the types of questions that will always leave him wanting to learn more.

I want my child to develop a strong sense of independence. Although he is in a developmental stage when independence is prized, I want him to be independent throughout his life: as a learner, as a worker, as a citizen.

While I know as a parent I have a major responsibility in helping him develop in these ways, I am grateful to have an independent school as a partner in helping me do this work.