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Globally Minded Teaching

I appreciated a comment posted on this blog a couple weeks back about supporting American teachers and celebrating the great achievements in the American schools, particularly as international comparisons have put the spotlight on school systems abroad. My colleague, Neelam Chowdhary, executive director of global learning programs at Asia Society, shares a conversation she was part of at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education that I think gives us all needed perspective.

During the 2012 American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) annual conference last month, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel that explored the promises and challenges of preparing teachers to be more globally minded to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

We planned to discuss ways to incorporate the development of globally minded teaching practices into the teacher preparation curriculum and how to build meaningful assessments to measure classroom performance.

However, much of the discussion quickly centered on the fact that the United States is falling behind in math and reading scores, and that our students are not prepared to compete with their counterparts in the international arena. If educators are not prepared to teach for these growing demands, will the next generation of students will find themselves unprepared to participate in a growing global economy?

For most of us in the room, these arguments were not new, as Dr. Yong Zhao pointed out during his keynote presentation earlier that morning, America's "love affair" with the education systems in other countries can be traced back to the 1950's. This long infatuation is particularly strong during economic downturns and times when we felt our national security was compromised.

Zhao encouraged American educators to not be so tough on ourselves because what we do here is something that other countries, particularly Asian countries, fail to do: to foster innovation and self-confidence in students.

He presented three key points for American educators to consider:

The first was that Americans should debunk the belief that education in certain other countries is superior to ours. Zhao emphasized that education systems around the world have a "myopic perspective" of what constitutes high-quality education. This perspective is usually related to test scores, and the belief that high test scores indicate "educational excellence." He argues that the link between economic growth and assessment outcomes is not linear nor direct. American students have a long history of poor performance on international assessments, yet the United States continues to be the largest economy in the world.

His next point had to with the fact that the education systems of these so-called high-achieving countries are not perfect. They, too, face challenges. For example, Asian systems struggle to provide students with experiences that nurture innovation and self-confidence. In Finland, educators face the challenges associated with an increasingly culturally and ethnically diverse population.

Finally, Zhao encouraged U.S. educators to learn from other countries, but not at the expense of destroying what already works in the American system. He argued that our broad and well-rounded curriculum combined with teacher autonomy and the celebration of diversity provides a framework for our students that encourages entrepreneurialism—something that the rest of the world admires.

So I was left to ponder this question: what does it mean to be a globally minded teacher?

Although I agree with Yong Zhao's attempt to dispel the misconceptions about the place of American education in the world, I do wonder what they mean on a practical level.

One conclusion we considered on the panel, yet still needs broader consideration, is the idea that being globally minded goes beyond curriculum in the classroom. It's an operational framework; one that recognizes the qualities of the American system, but also learns from the strengths of countries different than ours. Being a globally minded teacher requires an introspective outlook, one that recognizes perspectives, and acts upon them on a local level.

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