International Opinion

3 Ways Improvement Science Can Enrich Your Teaching

By Ariel Tichnor-Wagner — November 27, 2017 5 min read
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Editor’s Note: Planning, acting, and reflection are key to the process of improvement science, which helps foster incremental change while considering the whole of the system being addressed. How do we apply the principles of improvement science to teaching? Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, Senior Fellow of Global Competence at ASCD, shares how to do this by using globally competent teaching as her framework. And join Ariel on Thursday, November 30, at 8pm ET, for #Globaledchat on Twitter to learn more and have your questions answered.

Amid all of the hard work that goes into planning and implementing global lessons, units, projects, or school-wide initiatives, it can be easy to get lost in the many details and moving parts of making global learning experiences come to life. One can easily forget to reflect upon the crucial question: Are my actions leading to improvements in my own teaching practice, and ultimately, student learning?

Globally competent teaching includes an appreciation and understanding of diverse perspectives, cultures, and languages; knowledge of global conditions, events, and interconnectedness; an ability to create a classroom environment that values diversity and global engagement and to infuse global learning across curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and a commitment to equity worldwide. When it comes to improving globally competent teaching practices, improvement science provides key insights (see, for example, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s Six Core Principles for Improvement). Three important steps stand out, all of which emphasize self-reflection as a roadmap to improvement.

1) Understand where it is you want to go.

Ask yourself: What goals drive your teaching? What key outcomes do you aim to achieve? These goals should be both attainable and measurable. As with the implementation of any instructional initiative, context matters. Therefore, whether a goal can be achieved depends upon what you teach, who you teach, who you teach with, and the system you are teaching in. Furthermore, what we measure matters. Therefore, make sure that your improvement goals are tangible. “Inspiring students to become global citizens” is lofty and important, but not concrete. “Leading 100 percent of my students to identify a Sustainable Development Goal that they want to take action on” and “Providing one opportunity a month for students to participate in an international conversation,” are concrete, measurable outcomes, which could eventually lead to students’ identifying as global citizens.

2) Determine where you are and how you will move forward.

When it comes to globally competent teaching, we all start from vastly different places. Some educators have lived all over the world and naturally bring those experiences with them into their teaching; others have yet to travel far from the communities in which they live and teach. Some have had few opportunities to embed authentic global investigations and partnerships into instructions; others have devoted substantial time to project-based learning or Skyping with classrooms around the world. Recognizing where you are—and how you got there—is key to determining the next steps you should take. For example, if you’ve only just begun to think about incorporating content-aligned global investigations into your classroom, a next logical and attainable step is identifying where you could incorporate global learning experiences into your existing curriculum. If you have implemented global projects focused on access to clean water for the past two years, a next logical step might be guiding students to select topics to investigate based on personal interests.

As such, it is important to ask: What actions have you already taken to move yourself toward the outcomes you want to see? What actions should you take next? How do you know if those actions will lead to improvements? To answer these questions, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching suggests anchoring improvement in disciplined inquiry. This could take the form of Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles or action research, which asks you to plan out the change you want to make, implement the change while collecting data to measure its success, studying the data collected, and planning further action based on the results. To that end, the Globally Competent Learning Continuum is a free, online self-reflection tool that allows you to measure your own globally competent teaching dispositions, knowledge, and skills; identify areas of strength and areas for improvement; find resources to help you make a change to your practice; and track progress over time to see if those changes lead to improvements.

3) Build a network of fellow global educators.

As Carnegie’s final principle for improvement states, “Embrace the wisdom of crowds. We can accomplish more together than even the best of us can accomplish alone.” Professional learning networks (PLNs) provide a space for educators to drive their own learning as they share best practices, triumphs and flops, and helpful resources. Within the virtual global education space, there are myriad opportunities to connect with likeminded educators around the world working to improve their globally competent teaching practices; for example, the weekly #globaledchat Twitter chat and the annual Global Education Conference. Of course, in building a global PLN, you don’t have to look beyond the walls of your school. Take time to collaborate with the other great minds in your school across grade levels and departments around global teaching and learning. Therefore, ask yourself: Who is already in my global learning network, and how can I further expand it to help me reach my globally competent teaching goals?

Reflecting on our goals, the aspects of globally competent teaching we want to prioritize, and who we can connect to for global learning resources, is key to driving one’s globally competent teaching improvement journey. These journeys are unique to you. The path you chose to follow and the point on the trail from which you start walking, depends on your personal experiences and teaching context. Yet, while each path is unique, improvement science emphasizes that no one should walk on their path alone. Marie Curie once said, “You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity.” Globally competent teaching inspires students to take action to make a more just, sustainable world. Engaging in disciplined improvement practices around globally competent teaching will help bring that world one step closer to reality.

Connect with Ariel and ASCD on Twitter.

Image created with Pablo.

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