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How to Be an Engaged Educator

Editor's note: Letitia Zwickert, a high school teacher at Naperville Central High School, recently spoke to the OECD's education team in Paris about what it means to be an engaged global educator. Today, she shares those thoughts with us.

by guest blogger Letitia Zwickert 

What is Engaged Teaching?

My life's experiences and career as an educator have led me to develop the idea of engaged teaching. I feel strongly about changing the K-12 narrative, reframing it to highlight educators as impactors and students as pioneers. I believe engaged teaching can revolutionize our education system. 

Engaged teaching, as I have defined it, is an instructional approach of developing students' skills through real-life projects that give them opportunities to connect, develop, and innovate in a local and global context. I believe there are three essential components to engaged teaching: 

  1. educators are locally and globally involved actors;
  2. lessons have local and global connections; and
  3. students are pioneers outside of the classroom.

Engaged teaching can be very impactful for students and teachers. As teachers foster local and global connections, they become engaged with new communities and partners, which helps maintain motivation for teaching and for creativity in the classroom. Students learn from their engaged teacher and through these new connections. They benefit from projects that bridge the divide between k-12 and higher education as well as the corporate/institutional divide. The graphic below highlights the many benefits engaged teaching offers both student and educator: 

letitia engaged teaching graphic.png

Three Steps to Help YOU Become More Engaged

1. First, find a topic that moves you.
Here are some prompts to help you narrow down a topic: Is there a subtopic within the content material you teach that interests you? Do you have an interest area outside of your classes that can complement what you do? For example, think about topics that make you want to learn more. If you wander into a bookstore, what subject would you be drawn to? Or, if you could take any university class you wanted, what would it be?

2. Next, assess where your experiences lie.
Do you need more local or global knowledge? Are you involved with organizations, institutions, or fellow educators locally? Have you traveled outside the US? Which region, country, or culture interests you? Why? Where can you build a network that will serve you and your students?

3. Now, find your target.
With these answers, you can move on to selecting which experiences you should target so you can become engaged, gain the knowledge, perspective, and skills you need, and help connect your students to a world of possibility.

Global Connection

If you need to travel and learn about other cultures, there are many opportunities available to you as an educator. To make global connections, apply for any number of Fulbright program options or programs and fellowships offered by the Institute for International Education or the American Council for International Education. There are also a number of other wonderful global education programs offered specifically to educators, such as Teachers for Global Classrooms.

I would also suggest applying for a study tour—many of which are free for educators. I participated in a fully-paid study tour to Brussels and Luxembourg in 2012, which changed my life. While there, long-lasting global friendships were sparked. 

Take a look at the area study centers at your closest university. Traditionally, these centers have federally supported outreach programs with a plethora of incredible resources designed for educators. For example, the European Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh offers a paid trip to Brussels for K-12 teachers. Here is a list of federally supported National Resource Centers (NRC).

You can also connect with education stakeholders right from your own living room. The European Union Center at the University of Illinois has created the Transatlantic Educators Dialogue (TED), a program open to anyone in the world that brings educators, administrators, and others in the education field together in transatlantic conversations on various topics. This is a perfect opportunity to be a part of a global dialogue, expand your global knowledge, and develop a global network.

Local Involvement

Involvement and engagement with local networks is just as important as developing a global mindset. First, reach out to your sister department at a college or university nearby. (Collegestats.org lists all colleges and universities in the US, and the World University search engine lists higher education institutions around the world). Next, find a professor that teaches similar classes and connect with them. Suggest collaboration on a project or develop a workshop together. Work with them to invite a guest speaker to speak with both your students and theirs, and then you could consider holding mixed group discussions. There are so many options, and the impact will last a lifetime. 

Don't forget local businesses and other institutions can also serve as excellent collaborators for developing project-based experiences for your students. Look into companies or nonprofits in your community that do work either aligned to your subject area or that use the skillset you want to teach in your classroom. Contact a Community Outreach Coordinator, a Public Relations Director, or someone in Human Resources who could direct you to the correct person for your goals.

Engaged teaching relies on teachers' full engagement in the local and global landscape. They are involved in networks that allow them to be active participants, contributors, and impactors. This helps the educator maintain both motivation and keep their finger on the pulse of their topic. The educator then uses that knowledge and the connections to specialists to help students understand local and global needs and explore possible solutions.

Maintaining Your Networks

Develop a method for maintaining the local and global networks you've developed. I am involved on LinkedIn and find it's a great tool for staying aware of current issues, receiving updates from those in my network, and giving me a forum for sharing updates and asking for help. 

I'm also on Twitter, and believe it is a useful tool for keeping up with institutional, organizational, and individual work and programs. I also find it valuable to share what I'm doing with others, and receive both support and feedback.

Lastly, I suggest Facebook groups. Following a group you're interested in can keep you updated on news, activities, and offer useful exchanges. You can also create your own private Facebook group that includes those in your network, working toward a common goal or topic. I'm a part of four private groups, and I developed my own Facebook page for a dialogue series I created. This really is a wonderful way to stay in contact, share information, and collaborate!

Engaged Teaching in Action

Educators have many options for engaged lessons. By using the global connections and local networks you've established, you can develop projects with those who have first-hand experience with the subject and skillsets you want to teach.

So, what does engaged teaching look like in practice? You would see and hear:

  1. Experts in your classroom sharing their experiences and inspiring your students to become involved. To do this, reach out to your network, colleagues, family, and friends in person or via LinkedIn, or get involved with Skype's educator options, to find a specialist.

    letitatweet1.png
  2. Discussions with people across distances on common issues and concerns, with the goal of increasing understanding and creating projects that address the issues. Alongside your own network, try registering with OneWorld Classrooms or PenPal Schools and explore the connections you and your students can make. 

    letitiaTweet2.png
  3. Students collaborating with higher education students or other local partners outside of the classroom.

    letitiatweet3.png
  4. Locally and globally connected lessons, created with network partners. You can collaborate on lessons that allow your students to develop work that is not only connected and informed, but also provides information back to the local and global community. Students assure their skillsets and knowledge are current, engage in 21st century work, and help address the community's needs or challenges. 

Your Ultimate Goal

Pioneering work undertaken by your students will be the end result you seek, building upon all you have achieved. Your own active local and global involvement and impact will have informed your lessons and projects, enabled connections between specialists and your classroom, and inspired your students to be local and global explorers and innovators. 

How Can We Promote Engaged Teaching?

Each society depends fully on the success of its education system. In order to move education to the more prominent position it deserves, we desperately need to reframe K-12 education as a pioneering field where educators are innovators and engaged actors, connecting students to their local and global communities. Educators need to discuss the importance of engaged teaching with local representatives and reach out to our networks and on social media to share what we and other educators are doing to reframe K-12 education.

Institutions, organizations, and businesses must also do their part to help engaged teaching flourish. They can increase the number of grant opportunities to teachers to help them develop partnerships between K-12 education and higher-education, the business world, and civil society. They can also create K-12 outreach positions that support K-12 involvement in the local community. Finally, universities, businesses, and government institutions can help reframe the image of K-12 teaching as pioneering through fellowships, ambassadorships, and special thought-groups.

Teachers who are globally engaged, locally involved, critical thinkers, and prepared to solve problems are passionate about creating a better world. Could anything be more important for our youth and our communities?

Connect with Letitia and Heather on Twitter.

Graphic image created by the author and used with her permission. Tweets are the authors and used with permission.

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