Saturday, November 5, 2011

International teacher -v- global educator

Chapter 6 of Curriculum21 is entitled "A Classroom as Wide as the World" and is written by Vivien Stewart.  When people ask me to say something about myself I often use the words "international teacher".  Yet what I've been coming to see more and more over the past 2 years, especially as a result of the connections I've made on Twitter with teachers who have only ever taught in their home countries, is that being an international teacher is not the same as being a global educator.  It's possible to be a global educator without ever leaving your home, as a result of reaching out and connecting with other educators worldwide who often have many different perspectives.  In contrast, some international teachers tend to live in an expat bubble - a sort of hall of mirrors or echo chamber - and sadly many of them never take the opportunities to connect deeply with those in whose countries they are living.  While global refers to the whole world, international can in fact have a much more narrow focus.

And yet at the heart of the 3 IB programmes is "international mindedness".  In the PYP, for example, there is the commitment to transdisciplinary learning, where themes of global significance that transcend the confines of traditional subject areas frame the learning.  These themes, which are explored by students from their different perspectives, lead students to the understanding that there is "a commonality of human experience".  International mindedness is about what the students are learning, how they are showing their understanding and how they are connecting what they are learning at school with their experiences at home and in the world.

In Chapter 6 of Curriculum 21, Vivien Stewart asks "How can we get all of our students globally ready?"  She points out that the line between domestic and international issues is blurring and that the only way to solve today's challenges will be through international cooperation and the understanding of other cultures.  She writes that students need to be prepared to compete, connect and cooperate with their peers around the world.  They need a knowledge of cultures, economies and global issues, as well as the language skills to communicate and work in cross-cultural teams and to assess information from different sources around the world.  Above all, I think, they need to be able to respect others and others' viewpoints.  The IB mission statement refers to this as  understanding that "other people, with their differences, can also be right". The IB learner profile also represents the qualities of effective learners and internationally-minded students - it is a profile of the student who will graduate from the IB programmes and as such becomes "a compass for all school work" so that the curriculum is designed to enable students to meet the learning outcomes that the profile defines.

At the same time it's important to have an international faculty.  Many international schools, who proudly state on their websites that they draw students from over 50 different nationalities, still have a very limited hiring policy - mostly taking teachers from the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.  And while some of the leaders and teachers in these schools have certainly been around and lived in many different countries and continents, others have only lived in one or two.  How much of a "global perspective" do many of these educators have?  While students working with other students in the same class with very different perspectives may develop international mindedness as they learn with and not just about their peers from other countries, how often do teachers get to work with other teachers with completely different points of views?

Web 2.0 tools are allowing us to connect and collaborate with other teachers very easily.  They have allowed me to  connect with teachers around the world who are working in very different conditions from myself - in the "real world" as opposed to the gated communities and compounds of some expat worlds.  Twitter is abuzz with these educators sharing their ideas.  They may not be working in international schools, but for sure they are global educators.  Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University refers to these as connected educators in a recent blog post.  He says " they tend to reflect more deeply on what they learn, simply because they have had to make the effort to connect with new knowledge" and goes on to quote Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) who says:
They are transparent in their thinking ... and that means that they are not shy in sharing their ideas or giving away their content for free. Connected educators know that in doing this they become global educators, with their content being amplified across a worldwide community of practice.
So although I've been an international teacher for 24 years, I would only regard myself as being a global educator for perhaps 3 or 4 of those years.  But those 3 or 4 years have completely changed my perspective on teaching, and on life.

Update:  I have come across a great blog post by Tom Whitby entitled:  What's a Connected Educator - well worth reading about the benefits of being connected.

Photo Credit:  A Child's World by Pink Sherbert Photography Attribution 


  1. Hi Maggie

    What do you mean by "connect deeply with those in whose countries they are living"?

  2. I think that a lot of expats in international schools are just one step removed from tourists and don't really make meaningful connections with the people from that country. For example I lived in Thailand for 4 years and now looking back I think I barely scratched the surface of Thai culture.

  3. I know I struggle but my kids are very much at home here in Switzerland. They speak the language, both Swiss German and High German, play football in the village teams and yet are still 'picked out' as foreigners by many locals.

    So how can we, adults, connect more deeply?

  4. I think I connected with Dutch people when I lived in Holland but I lived there for 17 years and was part of the community and I didn't really depend on work for my social life. That isn't the experience I've had in the other 5 countries where I've lived and worked though. I suppose in Holland I was a "hidden immigrant" whereas in Thailand and India I was always seen as a foreigner.

    However we don't need to live in a country to connect with the people there - that's the power of technology.

  5. Great post! Twitter is a great way to connect with other global educators (that's how I found you!) Do you have other recommendations for using Web 2.0 to connect with the "real world?"

  6. We have used skype, done collaborative projects with other schools using Voice Thread and quad blogging where we have focused on a different school each week for 4 weeks and commented on their class blogs. For our students I would say the most exciting of all of these has been skyping with students in other countries and learning from them.