Incorporating global competency into your classroom


By Ariel Tichnor-Wagner and Hillary Parkhouse

Why does this matter? If there’s one question that teachers should be able to answer about every lesson they teach, it is this one. When students feel emotionally connected to what they are learning, see themselves in the material covered, and understand how the lesson applies to their present and future lives, they become engaged, invested, and excited about school. So, if there is one question that teachers should ask as they plan out the school year, it should be: How will I make learning relevant and meaningful for students?

Globally competent teaching is one way to make lessons relevant and meaningful. The world that students live in is globally connected, from the people with whom they interact (both in-person and online) to the products that they buy to the food they consume to the problems they grapple with in their homes and communities. Globally competent teaching is the interrelated set of dispositions, knowledge, and skills needed to foster in students the attributes that they will need to thrive in this diverse, interconnected world like appreciating diverse perspectives and cultures, understanding global conditions and events, communicating and collaborating with people from diverse countries and cultures, and acting on issues of local and global importance).

As we write in our book Becoming a Globally Competent Teacher (ASCD, 2019), globally competent teaching “incorporates best teaching practices that emphasize providing real-world contexts for learning in order to develop higher-order thinking skills and validate students’ unique backgrounds” (p. 11).

Are you ready to become a globally competent teacher? Here are three teaching strategies that will help you engage your classroom and develop your lessons with the real world in which students live in mind.

1. Create a classroom environment that values diversity and global engagement

The tone you set in your classroom can nurture students’ curiosity and motivate them to learn about the world and see how they fit in it. Start by filling your classroom with resources that represent the diversity of places and people around the world and in your own school community. Remind your students that they are a part of the web of humanity that traverses our planet by celebrating and sustaining the diverse cultures, ethnicities, races, religions, and languages with which your students identify.

Guide students to have meaningful conversations with those who hold different ideas and worldviews by modeling respectful interactions. For example, when discussing potentially controversial topics, you might remind students that if a classmate says something that they do not agree with, don’t shut them down by saying “That’s not right” or “You’re wrong.” Instead, encourage students to use phrases such as “That’s a really interesting point you made. Why do you say that?” or “Tell me more about why you said that.” Consistently use these affirming phrases yourself and reinforce your actions by putting the affirmative phrases in a visible place as a point of reference for students. Creating this type of environment gives students the comfort level and courage to speak up when they have a differing viewpoint and engage in conversations with people with different beliefs and perspectives.

2. Integrate content-aligned global learning experiences

Incorporating global issues, connections, and perspectives into everyday instruction helps students see the relevance of the content you have to cover as part of your standard course of study. Put on “global glasses” as you plan for all instruction, asking yourself where global connections and perspectives might naturally fit in.

This can be as simple as incorporating texts from diverse authors during a poetry unit, or as complex as engaging students in a design challenge to develop a solution for a global issue they deem important. When teaching math, for example, use real-world data sets on population, wealth, trade, and disease as the basis for practicing arithmetic, algebra, and statistics. In science, you might examine the effect of climate change on ecosystems and human populations in different parts of the world. Adding a global lens to music might involve incorporating songs from musical genres that represent different cultural traditions within and across countries. As these examples suggest, global connections can be made across any and all content areas.

3. Develop local and global partnerships

Providing authentic contexts for students to collaborate across physical and imagined borders helps students master content-area skills in an engaging way and expands how students see themselves actively involved with the wider world throughout their lives and careers. Whether it’s through a face-to-face discussion or a virtual exchange, engaging with partners allows students to practice the important skill of collaboration in real-world setting. Partners can include classrooms and schools in different regions or countries, universities that have international programs, cultural institutions, businesses that have a global footprint, and nonprofits whose missions address global issues of interest to students (e.g., the environment, reducing poverty, gender inequities). Where can you find partners for global learning? Tap into your own personal and professional networks for a DIY approach, or utilize organizations who specialize in connecting classrooms around the world (e.g., Empatico, iEARN.)

Becoming a globally competent teacher doesn’t require you to be an expert in international affairs, multilingual or multicultural, or a world traveler. It does require you to have the desire to learn about the world, an appreciation for diverse people, places, and perspectives, and the ability to translate that into everyday instruction so that students see why what they are learning matters to themselves, their communities, and the wider world.

About the authors

Ariel Tichnor-Wagner is a lecturer in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University and former Senior Fellow of Global Competence at ASCD. Hillary Parkhouse is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. You can learn more about all twelve elements of globally competent teaching in their book Becoming a Globally Competent Teacher and on the Globally Competent Learning Continuum website.