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The Seven Characteristics of Globally Competent Educational Leaders

February 26, 2019 7 min read
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Editor’s Intro: A recent collaborative project aimed to define the tenets of globally competent education leaders. Jennifer Manise, executive director, Longview Foundation, and Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, senior fellow of global competence, ASCD, share the results of this work.

By Guest Bloggers Jennifer Manise and Ariel Tichnor-Wagner

Educational leaders play a crucial role in creating and fostering the school environments that facilitate sustained improvements in teaching and learning. However, leadership has often been left out of the conversation when it comes to preparing students to thrive in a complex, diverse, and interconnected world.

In the summer of 2016, ASCD and Longview Foundation began a project to better understand the leadership practices that foster global learning in schools. We’ve put our findings into the white paper, “Globally Competent Educational Leadership: A Framework for Leading Schools in a Diverse Interconnected World.” This framework identifies seven tenets of globally competent school leaders and clear actions school leaders can take to develop, implement, and support global learning activities in K-12 settings.

Through a four-phase research process that included focus groups and interviews with school leaders and others experienced with implementing global initiatives in K-12 schools, we uncovered seven tenets of globally competent school leadership that organize into four domains: (1) vision setting, (2) pedagogy and practice, (3) situated action, and (4) systems and structures. These domains reflect general best practices to which educational leaders already adhere in order to support students’ academic success and overall well-being. This model also recognizes the ways in which one’s local professional context is interconnected to a broader global environment. So, what actions should school leaders take to best prepare students for the world? Here are seven, listed in no particular order:

TENET 1. Educational leaders facilitate, advocate, and enact a shared mission and vision of high-quality education that includes preparing students for life, work, and citizenship in a global society. For example, one middle school principal we interviewed oversees a global committee, a school improvement team, and an aligned instructional leadership team. These three committees, with representation from administrators, teachers, parents, and community members, have collectively defined and incorporated global competence into their school mission, vision, and school improvement goals and have supported implementation of these goals into teacher practices.

TENET 2. Educational leaders implement and support curriculum, instruction, and assessment that incorporate and promote the development of each student’s global competence. This includes supporting courses, instructional programs, extracurricular programs, special events, and assessments that incorporate global learning. And importantly, it also includes building the capacity of all teachers to integrate global-learning activities and students’ cultural backgrounds into daily instruction through student-centered and inquiry-based pedagogies.

TENET 3. Educational leaders foster a professional community where school personnel work together to build capacity for developing the global competence of each student and staff member. This tenet emphasizes teacher-driven professional learning and the distribution of leadership for global initiatives across school personnel, thereby giving teachers the reins in taking ownership of the work. For example, the chief academic officer at an urban K-12 charter school shared with us how their school provides teachers a working day to plan how they will integrate global learning into a unit of their choice and also trains veteran teachers to mentor new staff in how to integrate global competence into everyday instruction. A high school principal likewise emphasized the importance of providing time for teachers to collaborate on global learning.

TENET 4. Educational leaders connect and collaborate globally to promote and support each student’s academic success, well-being, and global-competence development. School leaders do this by participating in physical or virtual exchanges with their staff and students and joining state and national networks of schools that promote global learning. With social media and technology advances in recent years, connecting with colleagues around the world has become vastly more attainable.

TENET 5. Educational leaders encourage student success by advocating for global-competence education and engaging families, community members, and policymakers for support. This involves touting the importance of global learning to staff, students, parents, district leadership, school boards, and state policymakers as well as engaging, families, community organizations, businesses, and universities as partners in this work. One principal said, “When you’re passionate, you can find the time to make calls to reach out. It’s well worth it. It’s one of the most exhilarating parts of my work, the most rewarding, and the most fun.”

TENET 6. Educational leaders strive for equity of access to high-quality global-learning opportunities for all students and cultivate an inclusive, caring, and supportive school community that values the cultural and linguistic diversity of each student. This tenet is two-pronged. One: Leaders ensure that every student—regardless of academic ability, disability status, language proficiency, or personal background—has the opportunity to participate in coursework and programs and receive supports that prepare them for life, work, and citizenship in a global society. Two: Leaders recognize, welcome, infuse, and accommodate the diversity of cultural and linguistic backgrounds of students, families, and staff into the fabric of the school. Global learning begins at home with an understanding of oneself, community, and nation to better realize personal and local connections to the broader world.

TENET 7. Educational leaders manage school operations and resources to support staff and student global-competence development. School leaders we interviewed allocate existing resources toward professional learning and development, for example, using existing professional development days for planning globally focused instruction and allocating professional-development and Title I funds to increase time for collaborative efforts or hire globally focused instructional coaches. These leaders are also creative and entrepreneurial, applying for grants and reaching out to local businesses and foundations for fiscal support.

These seven tenets are interconnected in practice and often implemented simultaneously. They are grounded in an ethic of care for individual human beings and the planet and explicitly connect the local and the global. Furthermore, these tenets are aspirational—a gold standard for what educational leaders have the potential to achieve, no matter their level of experience or expertise in this area. Finally, these tenets are not prescriptive. There is not one best way to lead global learning. As we found in our conversations with school leaders, what these tenets look like in practice varies by context.

Acting on the Global-Competence Leadership Tenets

Whether you are just dipping your toes into leading global learning or have immersed yourself in global initiatives at your school for years, this leadership framework presents a pathway for your own professional journey, allowing you to better understand how to improve on existing global initiatives or spearhead new ones. The framework can also help institutions and organizations that provide educational leadership training and professional development to structure professional learning experiences that foster globally competent leadership.

Our hope is that these tenets will allow you to reflect on how to bring a more global lens to the work in your context—whether you are leading as a principal, teacher, curriculum specialist, or district administrator. We encourage you to dig into the full white paper, to explore suggested activities and exemplars of particular tenets in action, and to gather resources to support this work. The time has never been more urgent to equip students with the mindset, knowledge, and skills they need to thrive in today’s diverse, interconnected world, and for educators to lead the charge.

Connect with Ariel, Jennifer, and Heather on Twitter.

Image ©ASCD and Longview Foundation. Used with permission.

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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