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Equity & Diversity Opinion

Building an Inclusive School Culture: Four Things to Consider

By Adrienne Henck — April 17, 2018 7 min read

Editor’s Note: Through global education, a school can create an inclusive and democratic culture for everyone. Adrienne Henck, Director of Global Schools First, Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI), shares four ways to bring global education and its benefits to your entire school.

Readers of this blog understand well the immense value of global education. Yet, if we, as globally conscious educators, are to prepare our learners with the critical competencies they need to be successful in our interconnected world, we must acknowledge that global education is more than a pedagogical choice. When global education is embedded throughout all of the areas of school life, this contributes to a school culture rooted in a globalized consciousness.

One area is particularly critical—school leaders who are able to effectively support the promotion of a global school culture that is democratic and inclusive. When students can voice their opinions, feel a sense of belonging, and play an active role in their school and community, these are the most powerful influences for feeling like they can make a difference in their world. These lived experiences as part of school life are what guide them on their journey to become global citizens. Indeed, developing a global consciousness is not simply a matter of learning, it comes from how we act and perceive the world. It’s a mindset, one that must be embedded throughout a school’s culture.

Below I share four considerations for looking beyond your classroom and bringing global education to your whole school.

1. School leadership: Globally conscious school leaders create globally conscious schools.

The introduction and success of a schoolwide—or whole-school—approach to global education rests largely in the hands of school leaders who embody the essence of global citizenship. School leaders have the capacity to set the tone for the school by articulating the values that define the school’s identity as a global institution. They shape the mission and vision of the school and can establish structures (e.g., anti-discrimination policies, mentoring programs, or regular forums for students and teachers to address school and community issues) that foster schoolwide global consciousness. And when school leaders act like global citizens in their everyday interactions with students and teachers, they serve as role models for the entire school community.

School leaders also have a responsibility to “onboard” teachers who have less experience with global education and may be reluctant to embrace it. Leadership support of this kind can require significant time dedicated to understanding each teacher’s philosophy and experience and engaging in conversations that are often difficult. However, research shows that when school leaders offer individualized (or “differentiated”) support, teachers are better equipped with the understanding and tools needed for the successful implementation of a reform like a whole-school approach to global education.

Although school leaders are key, many passionate teachers have been able to initiate and lead global education movements within their school and beyond. Work with your school leader to understand the benefits of global education or just start with a few close teachers. Even the efforts of individual teachers can have a huge impact. Michelle Carton, an elementary school librarian in Alaska, is one inspirational example. Not only has she brought a global perspective to library time with her students, but she has also connected with students, educators, and librarians across her state and the world, leading professional development and student learning opportunities in person and online. Her Young Global Citizens program was even recently a named a semi-finalist in the Follett Challenge, an annual competition on innovation in K-12 education held by the library book manufacturer.

2. Teaching and learning: Global education isn’t in your curriculum until it is across your curriculum.

For best results, infuse the knowledge, skills, and dispositions associated with global citizenship across the curriculum. Mix and repeat. Such an interdisciplinary approach can obviously be achieved by adding global content into lessons, especially those beyond social studies and civics. But this is not the only way. When teachers change how they engage with students and other teachers, they too become models of global citizenship in a way that has effects beyond the classroom. Providing opportunities for students to engage in dialogue about important issues, introducing other perspectives, and encouraging curiosity are just a few of the things that every teacher can do, regardless of what subject or grade they teach.

Remember: you don’t have to go at it alone, and in fact, you shouldn’t. Partner with a colleague from a different department and see how you can collaborate. Establish a community of practice within your school or across schools in your district. Or work with a teacher in your own department—the possibilities when we come together are endless. After all, embracing a collaborative spirit and working with others of varying perspectives is what global education is all about, so what better way to demonstrate this to your students than by partnering with colleagues?

It is important to keep in mind, especially for teachers with less formal experience in global education, that we are all on this exploration together. The learning that comes from this journey is what’s most important. It’s OK to not have all the answers. So, step outside your comfort zone and enjoy the journey with your students!

3. Extracurricular activities: Extracurricular means extra (inter)connections.

Participation in extracurricular activities helps students to develop the skills of global citizenship and fosters a culture of inclusion at the school level. Students have the opportunity to explore shared interests with others that they might not connect with in the classroom, and these interactions help to form more diverse peer networks. Students also learn to work with others toward a common goal whether its winning a sports competition, completing a community service project, or organizing a club event.

Participating in extracurricular activities is especially important for immigrants and other marginalized groups. Research shows that although immigrant students don’t participate in extracurricular activities as much as other students, when they do they benefit in terms of forming connections with others, developing their identity, and feeling a sense of belonging to a community. Intentional efforts by teachers to encourage immigrant students to join activities that align with their interests are key to fostering a more inclusive school community.

4. School-community relationships: Change your community, change the world.

Just as the proverbial pebble creates ripples in the water, change often starts with the actions of a single person in a single place. Engaging with individuals and institutions in your community helps students learn about the place where they live and how it is connected to other places both near and far. It also has the potential to effect positive change when schools and the community work together to address shared issues. Students gain efficacy and feel that they can make a difference in their world. School involvement in the community also gives students the chance to interact with adults beyond their family, which is important since students often model their civic identity after adults they are close with.

Along with your students, take a look outside your classroom and see what’s going on in your immediate community. What’s happening, how might things be better, and who is doing something about it? School-community partnerships can be with any institution beyond the school, including other schools, businesses, local government, universities, service providers (e.g., hospitals, police department), and places of religious worship. You may even engage with schools in other countries, state/province or national governments, or international non-governmental organizations. But keep in mind that you don’t have to go far to change the world. Change starts with you and me, right here and right now in our own communities.

Taken together, these considerations represent the foundation for adopting a schoolwide approach to global education. Such an approach offers great benefits for learners as well as the entire school community. At the core is the idea that global education can—and should—be delivered not only via formal learning defined by the curriculum, but also via informal learning experiences embedded throughout school life. It also must be lived by all of us—teachers, school leaders, and members of our school communities. As dedicated global educators and tireless mentors of future global citizens, let’s look beyond our classrooms and realize the endless possibilities offered by an integrated schoolwide approach to global education.

Connect with Adrienne, ACEI, Heather, and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image created on Pablo.

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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.


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