Global education does not only impact students—it can also transform teaching practice. Today Tara Nuth Kajtaniak, English and Global Studies teacher at Fortuna High School in California, shares how teachers in her school have come out of their silos to work together on global education.
Regular readers of this blog know about the many compelling ways that global education benefits students: fostering global competencies and critical thinking, understanding perspectives, learning communication skills, and developing empathy, to name a few.
But what’s in it for teachers? Can global education do the same, and possibly more, for us? It’s important to be student-centered as we reflect on our practice, but I am realizing more and more that a commitment to teaching globally is bringing teachers at my school together in ways that I hadn’t foreseen when we first embarked on this journey seven years ago.
From Hostile to Helpful
When I started teaching at our small, rural high school in Northern California about 10 years ago, teacher relationships could be described as cordial at best (and all-out hostile at worst), with virtually no cross-curricular conversations, let alone active and inspired collaboration.
I asked my principal, Clint Duey, to remark on the collaborative climate before we started to emphasize global competencies: “When I started teaching at Fortuna High in 2002, I would characterize it as a completely normal high school student body and staff. For the most part, teachers would lock themselves in their classrooms and teach their students. There was little collaboration between department members, and even less between departments.” Although I haven’t been at Fortuna High quite as long as Clint, I would concur that we were each individually teaching “my” kids (as opposed to “our” kids) in isolation, and the conversations between teachers about teaching and learning were either uninspired or merely crisis-driven.
Slowly, our journey on this global education path is bringing together a once highly fragmented and distrustful group of teachers. We have a lot of work that remains, but collaboration and global education are slowly becoming norms. Students take two years of Global Studies, which consists of linked and collaborative English and social science curriculum at the freshman and sophomore levels. In their first year, students focus on cultural/physical geography, movements/migrations of people, legacies of colonialism, introduction to globalization, and global indigenous issues. In their second year, students look at current and historic global conflicts, historic and contemporary Arab and Middle Eastern Studies, European imperialism and resistance movements, and revolutions worldwide. Both years thematically integrate literature, writing, art, music, and digital technology skills.
Administrative support and dedicated paid collaboration time has clearly helped, but here are some more organic characteristics of global education itself that have fundamentally changed the way that we relate to, and work with each other, as professionals:
1. A common passion for encouraging a global mindset among our students invites inspired conversations and collaboration. The teachers on our Global Studies team have all traveled extensively, and yet we’re teaching in an isolated, rural, and low-income community. We love our community immensely, but we have this overwhelming understanding that we’re not just teaching skills and content, we’re trying to improve our community by bringing the world to it since most of our students have few opportunities to travel.
Our limited time together as colleagues naturally gravitates toward challenging assumptions, grappling with the complexity of conflict, connecting global ideas and issues to the local context, and teaching students how to understand the nature of their own cultural lenses. The deficit-based thinking that once pervaded the in-between-class times doesn’t really have the space to take root because we’re all grasping at something bigger than school politics, personal quibbles, and test-taking pressures. We are keenly focused on the mutual goal of graduating students who are more tolerant, curious, empathetic, and aware of global issues.
2. Global themes are naturally interdisciplinary, which makes collaboration across disciplines more natural, and naturally exciting! Global education, viewed as a lens through which we can teach all skills and content areas, invites endless collaborative potential. With technology at our disposal, we don’t need to have all of the answers at our fingertips, and so we don’t have to be social science teachers to be global educators. Whether we are teaching about global issues such as climate change or migration crises, or a broader theme such as challenging the single story of a people/culture, global education allows teachers to link their content with relative ease (and, often, significant enthusiasm).
3. Global education invites us to keep content and themes current, which in turn prevents our collaboration from stagnating. The world is constantly changing and, as global educators, we are always thinking of new ways to engage our students with the world, which naturally prevents us from retreating into the comfortable walls of our own classroom for too long. We never run out of new content we’d love to integrate. “If there was only more time in the semester” is a common mantra at our planning meetings. Inspiration is a great problem to have.
4. Collaboration around global issues and themes enables teachers to take risks. Global issues are complex in themselves, but teaching about complex global issues can be daunting. Challenging binary “us vs. them” modes of thinking and long-held assumptions can be uncomfortable. Helping our students to recognize perspectives beyond their own cultural lenses can result in understandable pushback. How do we, as educators, channel student discomfort into growth while simultaneously grappling with the gray areas of humanity? Global education has encouraged us to engage in a vital inquiry process for which no teacher preparation program could prepare us.
Even after years of working with this type of content, I would hesitate to do it alone. Despite the fundamental risks associated with immersing our students in global complexities, my colleagues and I know that if we want our version of global education to extend beyond multicultural foods and holidays, we have to support each other to take those risks. This is some of the most important work we do as teachers, and our Global Studies collaboration has given us a support system to take those invaluable risks in the classroom.
5. Although global education began primarily as a Humanities endeavor, it is now reflected in our school-wide goals, and so the collaborative journey continues at Fortuna High. Our senior cumulative project, the Change the World Project, brainchild of our senior English teacher Amy Conley, is an inquiry-based service-learning project that brings the global local. Global competency is reflected in our mission statement and school-wide goals.
The California Seal of Biliteracy is increasingly a popular achievement pursued by native and non-native English speakers alike. Students are grappling at opportunities to study abroad. We have an active Academic WorldQuest team, the first academic team in Fortuna High’s history, who just finished second in a highly competitive regional geopolitics competition. Although only freshman and sophomores take Global Studies, our junior English program asks student to turn the outward gaze inward with an emphasis on personal identity and American identity within the broader global landscape.
Much like global education itself, collaboration is a process and a journey that has no end. And thanks to global education, the collaboration process has been a rich and powerful journey for not only our students, for our teachers as well.
The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.