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International Opinion

Bringing Global Education to Rural Communities

By Ryan Hauck — July 03, 2019 6 min read
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Ryan Hauck is the director of the Global Classroom Program at the Seattle World Affairs Council.

“Our collaboration provided an opportunity for the students in my school to dive deeper into what it means to be a global citizen and work for a brighter future for all. We look forward to continuing to work to open doors for possible projects locally, nationally, and globally."—Educator from a rural community in Washington state

Nearly 9 million students (equivalent to 1 in 6), in the United States attend rural schools. These school districts are often under-resourced, lacking the same kind of programs and services that their more urban and suburban counterparts enjoy. As a result, rural educators are often faced with the challenge of making instructional choices with less direct access to relevant curriculum. In Washington state, approximately 1 in 3 jobs is directly or indirectly tied to international trade. As one of the most trade-dependent states in the country, exporting products from airplanes to apples, Washington’s continued economic prosperity will require a citizenry that possesses 21st-century skills such as cross-cultural understanding and critical thinking. All workers in Washington—from coders to Pacific Cod-fishermen and baristas to bankers—will require these essential skills to succeed in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.

With jobs across the state requiring these skills, do all students have equal access to meaningful global education opportunities and resources? If they don’t, why not? Does it matter? In 2017-18, the World Affairs Council of Seattle’s Global Classroom Program designed and implemented a yearlong project in partnership with the Longview Foundation to start to answer these questions and address possible global education gaps across diverse communities in our state. Our initial assessment consistently showed that rural schools faced a resource gap that their wealthier, urban counterparts did not. Unaddressed, this could leave students in rural areas less well-equipped to develop the core compentencies required to be successful in the future.

Providing Rural Schools Access

The Seattle area enjoys an embarrassment of global riches. Educators and students have access to opportunities centered on global content and a variety of in-school and after-school activities sponsored by local organizations or universities; opportunities that are often not available in rural communities. As we began to connect with new schools, two barriers quickly surfaced: limited access to resources and fewer opportunities for professional development around global content due to dispersed geographies and funding disparities.

Through this yearlong effort, we sought to reach students and teachers outside of the Puget Sound area. While Seattle schools are easily reached, we wanted to ensure that all students and teachers could be engaged, informed, and empowered regardless of community or school size, location, or demographic characteristics. We aimed to provide a menu of interdisciplinary curricula, student-centered pedagogy, and global education resources to decrease this existing gap and internationalize classrooms. A starting point was to make local-global connections and understand what was already happening in participating schools. As part of this process, we utilized Asia Society’s Global Competency Framework to inform our work.

Our rural cohort schools represented a diverse cross-section of age levels (primary through undergraduate), disciplines (social studies, language arts, science, visual arts) educator experience, school size, and demographics. We started by assessing teachers’ and students’ current global education knowledge and skills and then created a flexible plan to address the needs and interests of each school. Using local, state, and national frameworks, we worked with teachers to find meaningful ways to integrate 21st-century skills and global-competency components into engaging lessons.

Teachers in one of our rural primary schools were enthusiastic. First, we utilized rubrics to assess elements of global content and skills currently being used in the classroom. Then, we strategized ways to bring global education into individual lessons and whole school projects. For example, students learned more about service-learning through the lens of local and global water issues during a school assembly featuring a watershed expert and my work in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Teachers then incorporated global, service-learning lessons into their classes, and students chose to take action by supporting a project in Sierra Leone.

Collaboration with teachers took many forms and utilized both virtual and on-site professional development customized for individual contexts:


  • In a high school, students researched and created policy proposals in collaboration with a German school to address environmental issues locally and globally.
  • One rural primary school participated in an interdisciplinary art exchange with a school in India. Students in both communities created pieces of art representing local culture and then shared their reflections and questions through an online platform called VoiceThread.
  • A middle school participated in a virtual exchange with a school in Saudi Arabia, which cultivated cross-cultural understanding and a deeper knowledge of common global issues impacting communities near and far.

Lessons Learned

This project provided many lessons for working in diverse school communities across Washington. For all schools, but especially those in rural areas, making efficient use of time and understanding the local context as it relates to global jobs and heritage are critical first steps in developing professional-development experiences. Other lessons learned can be summarized in the following ways:


  1. Develop trust and collaborative relationships with key educational stakeholders in each school.
  2. Empower students and teachers to take ownership of the process.
  3. Contextualize resources and opportunities for each unique setting.
  4. Enhance what teachers are already doing by providing high-quality supplemental resources and professional-development opportunities.
  5. Grow a network of global educators across the state that can support each other and collaborate on projects.
  6. Utilize partners who share the same passion and vision for diminishing the global education gap across communities.
  7. Provide students with meaningful opportunities to make connections between local and global issues, creating relevancy and leading to local projects that allow students to take action.
  8. Encourage interdisciplinary collaboration within and across schools to infuse and expand global education knowledge and skills.

As Seattle moves forward to deepen our work in these schools and expand to include new ones, we hope that our efforts to internationalize classrooms will inspire students and teachers to enhance their global competencies. By intentionally addressing the gap in access to global education, we can equip educators and students with the knowledge, skills, and tools to be actively engaged citizens in our diverse world.

Connect with Seattle World Affairs Council and Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Image created on Pablo.

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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