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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Educating Global Citizens: A Leadership Challenge

Keynote Speaker: Global Issues in the Classroom


Thank you, Dr. Anctil, for this generous introduction that my mother would have believed and my father would have appreciated [Audience laughing]. Let me also thank you for the good work that you do both the schools, the programs, but also all of you.

I've been enjoying the presentation so far and admiring what you're doing already. But as I've been sitting there I've been asking myself: So how about the students who do not have the opportunity to be taught by teachers like yourselves? There are 17,000 teachers who are on the mailing list of the Coverdell Program. That's 1 in 300 teachers in America. So if you think that our students, we have 6.2 million teachers here, have over their lifetime on average 30 teachers, assuming that those 17 teachers are randomly distributed across our schools, that means that 1 in 10 students in our schools will have the opportunity to meet one teacher who will teach them something about the rest of the world.

Now there are other programs and perhaps they are more than 17,000 teachers that are interested in these. So five times that number, so that means maybe 10% of American students, maybe 20% of American students have an opportunity to develop global competency in the schools.

The idea that we should be developing global competency is not new. In fact the idea was first articulated, to my knowledge, almost 100 years ago by a professor at Columbia, Isaac Kandel, who spoke to the Association of Secondary Schools Principals and who made a very articulate case for infusing global education in the curriculum. And so the question for me is, why have we not been able to extend the opportunity to develop global competencies to most of our children if we have known that they are important for at least a century?

And I'd like to suggest this afternoon that in order to bring this work to scale and to make sure that global competency is not the next equity divide in our society, is not an opportunity only for the most privileged children in America, we need to think about global education, not about the task that dedicated individual pioneers advanced—but as a challenge for collectives of teachers working together in their schools and in districts and this is what I mean by the leadership challenge. So we need to move from a conception that equates the opportunity to develop global competencies to the good work of a few whether it's 17,000 or a 170,000 dedicated teachers to an opportunity that involves entire schools and school systems.

I'm going to suggest today a few ideas of how to do that, and really would like to have a conversation with you about what are the stumbling blocks. Why are we not doing this already? I can make the case for you, although I feel I'd be preaching to the choir. You all understand why this is so important, and you are not the only ones who understand, many parents understand it's important and many students do as well. So why can't we act if we know that this is important? I've been admiring some of the good practice that has been presented here today. If we know some of the things that can be done to advance global competency, if we know what works why can't we do it everywhere?

This is what I call the global education paradox in America and I'm going to suggest that one of the ways to address these paradoxes is to think about it differently. Is to think about what kinds of systems do we need to put in place so that we have systemic opportunities, systemic efforts at the school and district level to promote global competency. Any of you are interested in that I can try and make the case for why to develop global skills, although I suspect I would not be sharing anything new with you.

A couple of months ago I had a similar conversation with 200 school principals of both public and independent schools. They came to one of the seminars of professional development we have at Harvard over the summer and my conversation with them was about global education, but before I talked I actually asked them a few questions using a technology that I was hoping to use today to ask you some good questions, but I couldn't bring the clickers with me. But I'm going to share with you what these principals taught me at that meeting. Now keep in mind that this is a group of principals that came, as those of you here today, as a self-selected group. The principals had not come because they were particularly interested in Global Ed, they had come to an institute in leadership but they were not a representative sample of the population of school principals. They were a sample of the population of school principals who understand the importance of upgrading their own skills, who have the resources to take time for training in the summer. So I think they are probably on the side of some of the most advantaged principals that we have in America.

This is what they said when asked: In your school should more be done to develop global competency? I asked them this question. And four in five of them said, Absolutely, we should do more. So this is the case that it wasn't necessary to make the case to those principals that it was important.

Then I asked them: Do your teachers agree on what it means to develop global competency? We all know that if you want to have collective efforts, a shared vision is kind of the first step. And there I got a mirror image to the previous question. They said, most of them, three in five said, No, we don't have agreement on what developing global competency means.

Then I asked: For your individual teachers, is developing global competency a priority? And their answers again, for three in four of them were, No, this is not a priority in how we spend our time. So how interesting that a leader of an institution of a school would value a particular objective but when you look at how the main resource of the institution, teachers, spend their time there is no alignment between those two. I asked the principals: In your school, are there sufficient opportunities for your students to develop global competency? And the answer may not surprise you or it may, because perhaps you are very fortunate, you are in an environment that is really supportive of the work you do, and again three in five principals said, No, there aren't sufficient opportunities to develop global competency in my school.

I asked them: Is there good alignment in your school between the way in which we assess student learning and the purpose of developing global competency? We just heard in the panel this morning how important changing standards, state standards, so those standards value global competencies as a strategy to provide incentives to teachers to finally teach international topics. And again many of these principals, three in five, said, No, there isn't good alignment between how we evaluate student performance and the development of global competency.

So are there opportunities to develop global competency infused throughout the curriculum in your school? And what you see is this is the group that said not that many or not at all, is that about four in five principals said No, there are no opportunities in the curriculum of my school. Remember this is a group of fairly privileged principals.

To what extent are there opportunities for students to develop global competency in your schools? It's another version of the same question, consistent answer. Are there opportunities to learn foreign languages in the schools? Mind you I wasn't asking opportunities to learn foreign languages at advanced levels, simply to learn foreign languages and again a large number of them, one in three said No, there aren't opportunities.

Are there opportunities for students to participate in project based learning around global topics? The answer again, three in five, no, not very many opportunities. Are there opportunities for students to travel abroad in your school? And for three in five, not at all and for one in five, Not very many. Are there opportunities for your teachers to travel abroad? And more than for the students but still, three in four, not many or not at all.

Are there opportunities for your teachers to participate in some of the programs that you have participated in, to develop their own skills and knowledge to develop global competency? And again, three in four, not very many or not at all. Are there partnerships between your school and local universities or other nonprofits to develop global competencies in your schools ? Three in four, not very many or not at all.

This is our situation in schools and institutions, and I have to conclude from the answers of those principals that the good souls that are advancing global education in those institutions are really lone rangers, are really individuals working on their own, carrying these tasks on their shoulders without that much support. Now this is not a way to achieve great results in any field. And so I should think that it is very important that we try to understand how do we change that context so that those who are already doing global education can do it with the necessary support and that others realize that this is not something they're going to do on their time, on their weekends, on their evenings but with the full support of their colleagues, of their communities, of their principals and of their leaders in their districts.

So this was Isaac Kandel, he was a colleague of John Dewey. It's interesting that comparative education in this country became an established field first at Teachers College because the first president of TC, in fact also the second and the third, thought that as a way to prepare teachers to work with populations of urban students, it was very important to develop the capacity to be innovative, to be creative and the president thought, President Russell was his name, that if teachers have the opportunity to learn about education comparatively these would produce a certain flexibility of the mind, and some of you have already been talking about that, as your own experiences as Returned Volunteers, how looking at public health systems in other societies, looking at a number of different institutions frees the mind from many of the conceptions of the limitations that result from only knowing how things are in one way, in one context, in one society.

Columbia University had this wonderful Center of Comparative Education where Professor Kandel was a Professor, and John Dewey, who was connected with the center as you know, drew some of his most important insights about the role of education in a democratic society out of his affiliation with that center and out of his travel to China, to Russia, to Mexico, to a number of different countries. So a hundred years is a long time…and Kandel made his case to a similar audience, probably more to the Association of Secondary School Principals.

So I want to suggest today that we need to begin a second phase of internationalizing our schools. It is really about producing institutional changes in our schools as opposed to supporting individuals and these pioneers. Individuals are necessary, they are fine, but as the record of the last century shows, it is not enough to expand opportunity to most of our kids.

We do need to recognize within an institution of course what faculty initiatives exist. What is it that individual teachers are doing, they are the champions. But we need to, out of that work, engage others in developing first of all a coherent vision of what global education means. It may be that the vision of what global education will mean in School A is going to be different from School B because your resources, your assets are different because your champions may be different; each school should build on their strengths, on what they have. They should begin to develop a vision where they are but it is important that it is a coherent vision that is not just shared by one teacher, or by two or by three.

The next step of course is to build teacher capacity and that is to make sure that teachers understand that they will have the support to develop the competencies, to teach to those standards. One of the good case studies, examples in the nation in terms of advancing global education is the case of the state of Wisconsin, who also develops state standards about seven years ago. And after developing standards, the next step was to go through the frameworks and to identify for every subject, for every grade, opportunities to make global connections, and to provide resources and materials for teachers so that we would not place on teachers new demands without any support for how to meet those new demands, so developing teacher capacity is of course a critical ingredient in advancing institutional global education.

Creating alignment, creating alignment not only between how students are assessed, and the intentions of infusing global education, but also alignment between what teachers are doing across different subjects. For example, what all the teachers in the same grade are doing or teachers in the same department working with different grades. So that means creating a professional community in the school that takes on conversations, and that takes on the challenge of internationalizing the curriculum in that school.

Having adequate instructional materials such as some of the wonderful lessons plans that we have seen and some of the books that you have in your packets and engaging students. Students can be our friends here. Students after all spend a lot of their time outside of the classrooms and there may be ways in which that out of school time is also time that can be mobilized to develop their global competencies.

Some of you may know about NetAid, which is an organization that offers professional development to high school students who want to implement peer education models of global education. And I've talked to them over time and said "Why don't you involve the teachers?" and they said, "The teachers are too busy. And they have these unfunded mandates already on them, it's a non-starter, let's work with the kids." Many of them understand that this is their future we're talking about, and they want to learn about the world, they have a lot of time that they can spend with one another. So let's support them so that they can do a good job. I'm not saying this is the only avenue; it is one avenue, after schools are an avenue. There is in general less competition and less pressure for after school time than there is within school time. Summer, we have very long summers in this country. So I think we need to think broadly in terms of providing, truly providing, opportunities to develop global competency to the majority of America's children, to those who are not currently having those opportunities today, to think outside the five or six hours of the school days, 180 days out of the year that the children are in school.

Now what are some of the challenges in taking on these systemic challenges at a school level? One of the challenges is undertaking the global education with depth, with rigor, as opposed to superficial internationalization. It's always easy to agree on the one day out of the year that we're going to have a food festival to celebrate world cultures, but there is no depth. That may contribute to being a part of something else, but I'm going to in a second define global education. What I'm talking about is about serious and rigorous studies as some of the examples that were presented in the morning illustrated.

The second big challenge is teacher capacity. For some of these areas we just don't have the people who are educated. I was so glad to hear that some credentialing organizations, accreditation agencies of schools of education are beginning to add internationalization as a dimension because unless we begin to produce, unless we include in the curriculum of teacher education institutions the opportunities to develop these competencies, it is going to be very hard to have the teachers who will be able to teach to these competencies, standards and assessments, I've referred to that.

I think one of the challenges I refer to in the article that was published in Ed Leadership last month is the zero-sum worldview that still exists in many schools, where many think that if I do more global ed, I must necessarily do less math or less language. And that is what puts many teachers in a bind, particularly in schools that are not performing at very high levels, which is unfortunately many schools that serve our populations that do not have the opportunity to develop global competencies at home. Schools in large districts, inner city schools, the teachers feel that, "My school is at the risk of being taken over. We have no time for anything but math and language." And I think we need to shift that paradigm, and someone referred to the Partnership for 21 st Century Skills, I really admire the work of this coalition, because it is trying to help us think differently about education.

My sense is that good educators have always understood that excellent education is about academic excellence in a range of disciplines and it is also about character. Meaning by character the kinds of dispositions and the skills that help a person have a good sense of who you are and how you fit in the world, to have a sense of purpose bigger than yourself, to have the skills to engage with others and so on. I call these things character.

But I don't know how we've come to be—and our schools were established to do both things, and for a long time certainly John Dewey was talking about doing both of those things—but in the last decade or so we seemed to have lost faith in our schools, and we've come to a situation where we think that they can only do a few things well, and therefore we must choose. And that's why we seem to be at the beginning of the 21 st century thinking that we are going to prepare our kids well for the 21 st century if we only teach them literacy and numeracy. It is a sad, sorry state of affairs to be in. So the Partnership for 21 st Century Skills is trying to wake us up and to say that this is not serving our kids well, there aren't very many jobs that you qualify for if you only do those two things. But it is I understand a work in progress to create professional communities, to create a consensus in the schools that says it's not just about the standards, because these standards in particular have a lot of problems with them. They represent a set of very low expectations for our society, for our children, and for our schools. And in some communities parental values and expectations may work at cross purposes with global education.

Many of you have had the opportunity to travel and I've now engaged in the routine experiment whenever I talk to groups of educators to ask them: In your school, how many of the teachers who teach there have had the opportunity to travel to another country, never mind travel on a Fulbright or for study, to travel in a foreign country? And I've concluded that educators are one of the least traveled professional groups in American society, which may explain in part why we are one of the most conservative professional groups.

As I have done work in global education, I had the opportunity a few years ago to serve on a panel put together by the National Academy of Sciences to produce a report for the U.S. Congress evaluating the federally funded programs to support the internationalization of American universities. So the Federal Government spends about $158 million a year to support foreign language studies and area studies and so on. And Congress asked, "Are we doing the right thing, are we doing enough, are we doing it well? Should we be doing anything differently?" And so as part of that work we looked not only at the programs, but we talked to different groups, different constituencies.

We talked with heads of industries, many multi-national firms. No problem, I am going to show you a citation from a report produced by the RAND Corporation. They understand that the workplace that what we need to prepare our college graduates for is a global workplace. We talked to people in the State Department and of course we were preaching to the choir, they understand how important it is. We talked to people in the defense and intelligence community. And almost to a voice these four groups spoke about the growing gap between the demands of the workplace and the respective sectors in terms of global skills and what our colleges, let alone our high schools, were producing. And of course they all urged us to write in our report that we needed to work on the connections with K-12. They said part of the problem is that we begin too late. If you want to produce quasi-advanced or quasi-native foreign language proficiency, four years at the college level is not enough. Why are we doing this? Why are we beginning so late? Why are we committing so limited resources to this activity?

Last week I met with a board of a center, the Principal Center, that does professional development for principals at Harvard, and I was talking on the same subject with them, and I asked them, s o what are the stumbling blocks, what are the difficulties? And they all agreed on the importance to do that, but their response was: the standards and the teachers. We just don't have the capacity. We understand that this is important but we can't do it. And I thought, isn't this interesting. That if you look, if someone from outer space came and observed American society they would say, here's a society that knew a hundred years ago that providing global competency was important, where key groups in the society, employers, members of the government knew that this was important, but where the education community said, Yes it's important but it can't be done and we're not doing it.

I think the first step in producing and stimulating that conversation aimed at developing shared purposes within a school or perhaps in a district is to begin with questions of end in mind. You remember in the story of Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to a crossroad and the cat asks her, "Where do you want to go, east or west, north or south? I forget." And she says, "I don't know, east or west it's all the same." And the cat says, "Well, if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." And so of course that's a wonderful allegory for why you need to begin with the end in mind in a school, particularly if you are taking on a challenging task, which is really challenging the state of the school in terms of educational practice.

You need to have some shared vision among a core group of pioneers, leaders within the school. And so what do these leaders need to work on? What should such vision include? It should include a definition of what international education means. Everyone in these schools leading the effort should be working out of a common conception of what international education means. There should also be an agreement on the purposes that international education should serve. Why are we doing this? How do we think this is going to help our kids? There should be a common definition on the outcomes that international education should produce. How are we going to know when we've succeeded? How are we going to be able to benchmark our efforts against the efforts of other schools?

There should be clarity on the instruments that are going to be used and perhaps those instruments are going to include once a year food festivals, or perhaps they are going to include school-to-school exchanges, or they may include technology, but there should be some consensus in the school on what are our instruments, what is our program theory, and how do we think this is going to help us go from where we are to where we want to be? And there should be shared consensus on the process to be followed.

I anticipate that in many schools, these conversations are going to produce—it's going to leave people with a deep sense of humility, of understanding the gap between aspirations, what we hope, and where we are. And that's okay, because then we can take the first step. We can understand that this is a long term process that may take 10, 15, 20 years until we get to where we want to be. And we can have clarity on what it is we are going to take on first. So it may be that, in fact I would expect it would be the case, that for most schools it will not be possible to take on in year one everything that these pioneers collectively could dream of as possible instruments. You need to prioritize and decide what are we going to do in year one and what are we going to do in year two? And how is year two going to build on year one?

So it sounds fairly simple, right? But we haven't done it. And someone's going to have to lead this work in their schools, and my invitation to you is that those of you who work in schools, maybe, are the best persons to begin that process. If you begin to think of yourself not as someone who's working with your students or with your colleagues who have already seen the light as you have, but if you think of your challenge as bringing others on board, and if you take perspective and distance from your school, and you say, "How do I make sure that the next 100 years are not a repeat of the past?" Because where we are, unless you are very lucky and you are in a school where there are ample opportunities to develop global competency for most of your kids, where we are is not very satisfactory.

What are some of the strategies that a school could pursue? What are some of those possible instruments? I think you know them; you've been talking about them. Well one of them is to internationalize the curriculum, is to create space in the curriculum. But space to do what? So my own working definition-in-progress of global competency is, it really is about three things: It is about developing a positive disposition for cultural difference, for things that are foreign. It is about creating that state of mind where people don't become paralyzed, terrified, where they don't feel out of their comfort zone and say, "this sounds interesting but it isn't for me," but instead say, "How interesting, let me embrace that." So you remember, I think it was a writer of theater, a former slave in Greece, I forget his name at the moment, who wrote, "Nothing human is foreign to me." So the first I mentioned is about truly making it possible for every American child to understand, to deeply understand, that nothing human is foreign to them.

The second domain is advanced foreign language proficiency. I mean advanced, not an introduction. Not producing foreign language proficiency that would allow a person to order food in a restaurant in France, but would really allow them to engage with the literature of another culture, that would allow them to communicate with people from different walks of life in that society, that would allow them to see the world in the way in which the world is seen by those who write and function in that language. I think that the ability to speak foreign languages in that way is to the global mind what the ability to see the world with two eyes is to vision, peripheral vision. It gives you a different sense of perspective. But the emphasis has to be on "advanced," it can't be on learning a few words.

And the third component of global competency is deep knowledge, rigorous study of foreign area studies or of topics that are global in nature, whether those are health, environmental topics, trade, or global conflict.

The curriculum is an obvious place to work on, and the efforts we heard this morning in New Jersey are exactly aimed at trying to create incentives so that the curriculum changes. But an equally important component is internationalizing the faculty. What I mean by that, give them the opportunity to become more cosmopolitan, provide your colleagues the opportunities to engage with programs such as this one, to travel, to themselves interact with faculty members in other places.

Internationalize the student body, develop school-to-school exchanges where the kids in your school can travel to another place and you can welcome children from another country and use that as a resource.

Develop international partnerships, broadly conceived, not only partnerships where you have teenagers in a country Brazil and teenagers in New Jersey talking about identity and social studies. Have them talk about butterflies, about science, about space, about art, about humanities, about a whole range of topics that are the subject of the curriculum.

Study abroad, both for students and for faculty. International service is another very important component; engage the students in understanding that they have agency and they have the capacity to influence events in the world. Technology and distance learning, I understand you had a wonderful conversation this morning about the topic, which I'm sorry I missed. And then internationalizing after school and summer programs, where I suspect progress will be a little easier.

So then, let me say some words about process. And I do this as a way to provoke you, to engage your reactions to these ideas. How would it look like, what would this look like in your school?

I think in terms of process, what I am advocating for, is a process that is comprehensive that is broad, that is deep, that enables the schools to be fully internationalized, as opposed to having one or two or three teachers teaching international content. This requires leadership.

Now leadership doesn't have to come from the principal. I think the principal has to be on board, but I think of leadership as a distributive task. Any of you could be leading this process in your school but if you thought of yourself as a leader, as opposed to thinking of yourself as someone responsible for your teaching and your students, you might be spending your time in slightly different ways, trying to engage with others in this task.

So internationalizing a school or university requires widely understood goals and objectives, an assessment of where you are at the moment, and an assessment of the capacity that exists. Recognition of what are the leveraging points, what are the entry points to begin to tackle this problem (which may be different in different schools), plans to measure progress, and the capacity to adjust along the way.

What are some of the ways to clarify these goals? Create that conversation, invite, try to talk to your principals, some of you will be principals yourself. Invite some of your faculty to have a conversation on internationalizing the curriculum in your school. And do an audit, do an assessment of what are you doing at the moment, what are we doing and how much alignment is there between our aspirations, what we think we should be doing, and what we're currently doing.

Engage in a similar exercise that I engaged 200 principals in a couple of months ago. Ask them the same questions; in fact, ask your faculty those questions. How important do you think developing global competency is? How good of a job are we doing? Are there opportunities for these, for these, for that? And then say, how well are we doing then? And how do we close this gap?

Develop some kind of plan, some kind of a document which is to be a living compact, something that will change from time to time, but I think it is very important to put on paper, to put on black and white, whatever the working consensus is of this group of leaders. We're going to be leading this process of institutional transformations, and of course identify and work with the champions of this process in every school, but not only with them.

Now there are some critical questions for these audits, these assessments. You need to have a working consensus of what are the characteristics of global competency? What do you mean when you say you are trying to produce globally competent graduates? What will it mean for your school to successfully internationalize? When you're all done, if you could have all the resources in the world, anything that you wanted, what would the school look like? What are you doing at the moment, and what is that gap, where are you now? And then who can we look at that is doing things that perhaps we hope to emulate. Very important to benchmark, and I think a great resource to do that are the schools and districts and states that have been awarded the Goldman Sachs Awards for international education by the Asia Society. You can find who they are online. Just go to the website of Asia Society International Education and for the last, I forget, seven years or so, they've been recognizing schools.

So use that as a starting point, and certainly they can be models, perhaps they may be doing very different things from the things that some schools are doing so they may not be adequate benchmarks. They may sort of be aspirational models where you would want to end up, but I think it's important to have a clear sense of what success looks like so that you can work to get there. And nothing better than visiting another school, learning about another place that is doing that already.

I think I'd like to stop here because I'm actually interested, if you want I can go on and make the case, but I'm more interested now in your thoughts about the practicality of implementing what I have suggested, of the stumbling blocks, what can we expect, or more generally on your views on why it is that we have been unable, after a hundred years of recognizing that global education is important, to provide opportunities to more than a very small percentage of our children, by my count maybe 10% of our children, to become globally competent. So I'm all ears. 

About the Author

Fernando M. Reimers

Dr. Fernando M. Reimers presented at the Coverdell World Wise Schools conference—Global Issues in the Classroom—on October 15, 2009. He is the Ford Foundation Professor of International Education and Director of Global Education and of International Education Policy at Harvard University.