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Building Partnerships Outside the Classroom That Work

Connecting to classrooms around the world can be exciting and engaging for students—but a lot of work for teachers. Today, Jennifer D. Klein, Director of Professional Development, World Leadership School, shares strategies and tips to help ease the way. And be sure to join Jennifer and her colleagues from the World Leadership School on Twitter for #GlobalEdChat this Thursday, April 14 at 8pm ET. 

By guest blogger Jennifer D. Klein

Teachers trying to globalize their practice often ask me how to develop a successful, socially responsible collaboration with a teacher, classroom, or sister school elsewhere in the world. There is no magic wand in this work. There is a lot of trial and error, a lot of struggling and risk, and a lot of work involved in building a successful partnership—and no guarantee of success. 

people.jpgBut there is also no question that students are moved by real human connections more than anything else we do in our increasingly global classrooms, so it's worth trying to bring authentic partnerships into that mix. In this article, I'll explore a few strategies, which I hope might help educators build their own partnerships successfully.

Look first to existing networks, relationships and organizations for your ideal global partner.  
Finding a good partner teacher, classroom, and even sister school community can be much more of a gamble than most global educators would like to admit. Even wonderful, established organizations like iEARN and TakingITGlobal—and well-developed programs for partnership like Global Partners Junior—have plenty of failures in their track record. It's difficult to develop a deep and collaborative relationship with colleagues in our own buildings, much less with unknown strangers across the planet!

Personal Connections
I've found that the best partnerships come from existing connections in the teacher's life and extended community. Have any of your former colleagues moved to work in schools in other parts of the world? Did any college friends end up doing unusual work globally? Have current colleagues taught abroad or do they know people who are doing so now? These questions can lead to much more personal, individualized connections—and are more likely to succeed because they will more likely spring from the vested interest of both educators.  

Social Media/Technology Connections
I also know plenty of educators who have found good partners by asking through Twitter using the #globaled, #globaledchat, and #globalclassroom hash tags; however, deep collaboration requires full investment on both sides, and this isn't easy to find. The yearly online Global Education Conference, and associated year-round discussion boards, function as a professional learning network, offering a forum for seeking global partners and sharing project ideas, and the conference itself often leads to new connections and collaborations. Similarly, international webinars and e-courses can be an ideal forum for developing projects, getting feedback on project ideas, and finding a global partner with similar interests.

Establish your partnership based on socially responsible and culturally responsive foundations. 
One of my biggest concerns about global education is the tendency of educators in the developed world to see the rest of the world as something to be explored for the sake of their own curriculum. There's a level of (unintentional) exploitation suggested in this common paradigm, which leaves one partner classroom working for the benefit of the other. 

Educators need to approach their partners as equals, with a willingness to start the conversation without too much of a personal agenda and with a curiosity about the needs and interests of the other teacher. The best partnerships grow out of collaborative, equal dialogue between educators—and students. Furthermore, mutually beneficial projects, such as having both communities work on a problem they share, can go a long way to helping our students see that global education isn't about saving or even helping others so much as collaborating toward a better world for everyone.

Partner your classroom for the sake of authentic connection over "exotic" cultural differences or distance. It's important to notice—and avoid—an "exoticism" mentality if it starts to emerge. I often work with educators who insist on finding a partner from the most distant and/or culturally different country possible, usually in the developing world—not because it's relevant to their curriculum but because it feels more exotic than partnering with a Canadian school. However, this mentality can often exacerbate social inequalities and stereotypes.

Global educators can't be blamed for wanting to develop something unique and far reaching for their students, but it's also important that students learn about poverty and difficulty in our own societies. The "glocal" education movement asks us to consider important global questions on a local level: Could your students learn as much about collaborating to end poverty by partnering with a food bank in your own city? Could they connect to ancient cultures and reach the same level of inter-cultural skills and relationships through a trip to the American Southwest as much as a trip to Peru? Most of our challenges are shared, borderless challenges, and understanding that helps open new avenues of action and engagement for students in global change at home. 

Don't expect immediate success—deep, constructive global relationships require a marathon, not a sprint. The challenges of global partnerships are many, and to be successful, teachers have to develop the same inter-cultural skills they hope to foster in their students. The learning curve can be long—and that means global partnerships are rarely efficient, easy to organize, or completely successful the first time around.

The worst thing you can do, however, is jump from partner to partner in search of the "perfect" pairing—the best partnerships are rarely perfect to begin with. Work at it and think of the partnership as a long-term relationship that will improve with time and effort. You can expect this relationship to get richer and deeper as you put in that effort.

Keep your expectations realistic in year one—consider small successes significant successes, and build something bigger from there. Much of the time when teachers try to accomplish too much too quickly, they leave out the topics that students find to be most relevant. We can and should build foundations for much deeper dialogue later by helping kids see what they have in common. Bigger successes and deeper virtual events on global issues and perspectives might come later, but small successes count in the meantime.

Don't let frustration with technology be a barrier. I've seen huge, high-tech global events go awry on million-dollar equipment, and I've seen a no-budget Facetime call change students' lives. Remember that deep global experiences aren't about fancy technologies and big events—they're usually about small accidental moments that occurred because the teachers created the right context for dialogue and didn't push the kids too far too fast. For an example, see "Creating the Conditions for Accidental Learning: Dialogue with Syrians, Palestinians, Canadians... and Wookies."

Consider building smaller experiences and "one-offs" with individuals to fill the gaps while deeper partnerships develop. Sometimes it makes sense to supplement the developing partnership with relevant individuals who can help take the conversation deeper. People all over the world are involved in creating change in their homes, schools, communities, and beyond, and most are so passionate that they're thrilled to engage with classrooms and inspire the next generation to become leaders in their fields. Especially in the first few years of developing a deeper partnership with a classroom or school, these one-off experiences can really help globalize the dialogue in your classroom immediately, and speakers can be found in nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, and even your alumni directory.

Sometimes important connections happen when kids get to meet an individual who's closer to their age rather than an expert or famous person. For example, I often connect classrooms with Yasser Alaa Mobarak, a young Egyptian photographer who has done a great deal of work with iEARN. He shares his photography, talks about what he hopes viewers will see, and answers questions from the kids. Honestly, no number of experts in Middle Eastern politics could ever impact kids as much as just one of Yasser's photographs because they're real, raw, and relevant. Most importantly, connecting with someone like Yasser demonstrates that young people can make a difference through their individual efforts and passions, regardless of fame or fortune.

Remember that communication will take patience and inter-cultural skills, particularly in cases where teachers don't share a common language. While language differences can slow down the initial steps in a global partnership, teachers have an opportunity to develop—and model—inter-cultural communication skills. By making use of local language expertise—among colleagues, students, and parents—we can help spotlight the gift of foreign language proficiency, and help students see the value of learning another language in real terms.

By testing (rather than avoiding) the technological tools available for translation, we can also help students become more discerning about their value and better at identifying accuracies. My suggestion is usually that teachers communicate in their native language and use resources (people, translators, etc.) to understand what they receive, but there is great value in trying and practicing your partner's language as well—and there is little more valuable for young language learners than seeing the example of adult learners taking risks with a new language.

Read what's out there and learn from what others have tried; more progress happens when we stop reinventing the wheel. There are far too many good publications for global educators to list them all, but I'll name a few I've been enjoying lately. I hope readers will add to the list by commenting about books, articles, and other resources worth exploring.

Books:

Blogs:

  • Suzie Boss (Regular Edutopia blogger with expertise in Project-Based Learning who often shares stories of successful global partnerships and projects)
  • Silvina Tolisano's "Langwitches" (Varied Global and Educational Technology Topics from a Classroom Practitioner, The Graded School, Brazil)
  • Kristen Goggin's "Stories from the Garage" (Global PBL in Middle School Math from a Classroom Practitioner, Town School for Boys, California)

Follow Jennifer, Heather, and Asia Society on Twitter. 

This piece originally appeared on the Principled Learning blog. 

Image courtesy of World Leadership School. 

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