College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Global Engagement - Great Communication Begins with Connection

By Jane Chadsey & Travis Hardy — March 15, 2018 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Editor’s Note: Empatico, an initiative of The KIND Foundation, is a free tool for teachers of 7-11 year olds to connect their classroom with others around the world. Today, Jane Chadsey from Educurious and Travis Hardy from Empatico, share the lessons they have learned to date.

“Great communication begins with connection. What makes us different from one another is so much less important than what makes us alike—we all long for acceptance and significance. When we recognize those needs in ourselves, we can better understand them in others, and that’s when we can set aside our judgments and just hear.”

Oprah Winfrey

Our world has never been more interdependent: we’re all global “neighbors.” Yet it also seems as though we are becoming more and more divided. Recent tragedies and divisive politics serve as a reminder of how important it is to build bridges of understanding. Key to this effort is providing opportunities for students to communicate with other young people from around the world who, on the surface, appear to be different from us. Teachers (and the methods in which we bring young people together) play a important role in helping students learn to communicate across culture, language, and distance.

High-Quality Student Engagement in Global Exchanges

Students and teachers can engage in globally relevant investigations and practice perspective-taking in many ways. Particularly accessible are online interactions that are asynchronous (e.g., blogs, sharing artifacts) or synchronous using video platforms (e.g., Mystery Skype, Empatico, Global Youth Debate). Each of these requires different approaches to keep participants engaged throughout the experience, developing meaningful interactions, and ensuring deeper learning.

Most recently we’ve partnered to create activities that foster meaningful connections between students. In our work with teachers and partner organizations, we’ve found the following are important considerations to keep the engagement high and the communication productive.

Choose Relevant and Engaging Topics

Young people need to care about the challenge, project, or discussion topic. Our rule of thumb is engagement first. Start with a local problem, issue, or topic that has immediate relevance. Then investigate how others experience this same issue or topic.

For example, through an activity on Empatico called Ways We Play, students talk about the ways they play in and out of school. Through a synchronous video exchange, they move from their local context to discovering how young people play across the world. What do we have in common? What are the differences and why? What can we learn from each other? What new ideas can we try?

At Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle, students in the Bridges to Understanding afterschool program started by examining the global food crisis using digital stories from children in India and South Africa and then looked at local food issues.

Organize Groups and Structure Synchronized Exchanges

Consider how you will include all students in video interactions. This is challenging when you have a big class, a wide range of abilities, or limited technology. Teachers can pre-organize groups of students in each class. Small groups can then prepare for the engagement. During the live exchange, small groups take turns being the designated speakers to the partner class.

“I wanted to make sure all students had a chance to talk. Half of my kids wrote questions, half prepared to answer [the other class’] questions, so all kids had a chance to participate.” -Monica Naranjo, Weddington, North Carolina

Interpersonal Connection

While organizing and structuring communication so all students can participate is important, so is spontaneous creativity and self-expression. For example, in one video exchange, we observed students launching into an animated discussion of which book series they were reading. This was a wonderful connection, and it happened because the teacher stepped aside and let the students take the discussion in a direction they were curious about.

If the adults are leading the dialogue, students aren’t able to build their capacity to engage in it. Daily practice in student-led discussions such as Morning Meetings provide opportunities for students to practice. Teachers are on standby in the event that help is needed.

“I think we were on for probably 90 minutes! Literally every single kid came and talked to the camera. Our kids showed their kids how we step and dance! It was kind of like a teachable moment, it wasn’t just show and tell, more like how we do what we do. And then of course everyone was amazed to find that they play ‘rock, paper, scissors!’ the same way...the kids couldn’t believe they watch the same TV shows, they get the same channels. - Stephen Ritz, Bronx, NY

Reinforce Listening

Communication isn’t just about speaking; it’s also about listening. Listening includes listening for similarities and differences between ourselves and the classroom we are partnering with and acknowledging what we are hearing. Improved listening can lead to deeper exchanges. In one Empatico exchange about play, a conversation about common interest in playground activities led to students in Arizona discovering that their Hawaiian partner classroom’s playground was under construction due to a larger renovation of the school’s campus on a U.S. Army base. The initial engagement about play led to a deeper conversation about students’ families and lives.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Because open-ended questions require more than a one- or two-word response, they are vital for inspiring discussion and demonstrating that there are multiple ways to perceive and answer a question. Have students think about the ways they would answer the question before they pose a question to someone else.

Great communication begins with connection. Connection is the glue that bonds people together. When there is an empathic connection, people feel understood, they feel seen. This is how we can build bridges of understanding.

Which of these approaches are you using to build bridges? What have you found to be especially effective in keeping your students engaged in student-led, global dialogue that fosters meaningful connections? Share in the comments section below.

Connect with Empatico, Educurious, and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

Photos used with permission of Empatico. Photo credit: Chris Willard

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.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What Will It Take to Get High School Students Back on Track?
Three proven strategies can support high school graduation and postsecondary success—during and after the pandemic.
Robert Balfanz
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of students making choices based on guidance.
Viktoria Kurpas/iStock
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion An Economist Explains How to Make College Pay
Rick Hess speaks with Beth Akers about practical advice regarding how to choose a college, what to study, and how to pay for it.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says College Enrollment Dip Hits Students of Color the Hardest
The pandemic led to a precipitous decline in enrollment for two-year schools, while four-year colleges and universities held steady.
3 min read
Conceptual image of blocks moving forward, and one moving backward.
College & Workforce Readiness Letter to the Editor How We Can Improve College-Completion Rates
Early- and middle-college high schools have the potential to improve college completion rates, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read