Rigor, Relevance, and Respect: 3 Reasons Why You Should Think Globally While Teaching Locally

Rigor Relevance and Respect

This week marks International Education Week, an annual initiative led by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Education to encourage programs that prepare Americans to succeed in a global environment. The U.S. Department of Education’s Framework for Developing Global and Cultural Competencies defines globally and culturally competent individuals as those who can effectively navigate intercultural and international professional settings, communicate in multiple languages, recognize and appreciate diverse cultures and perspectives, and think critically and creatively to work effectively across cross-cultural contexts. This set of competencies is of vital importance for national security and economic competitiveness. As a 2007 National Research Council of the National Academies report warned, “A pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages in this country threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry.”

In the decade since this report was published, our world has become even more interconnected, and students’ lives are all the more entwined with people and places from all corners of the globe. When schools infuse global competence into teaching and learning, it not only benefits our nation; it allows each of our students – from pre-K through high school – to access a curriculum that is rigorous, relevant, and respectful of diversity.


Globally competent teaching equips students with the knowledge, skills, and mindsets they need to thrive in college and careers of the 21st century – and beyond. It integrates global perspectives into content-area standards through inquiry-based instruction that encourages students to ask questions and investigate the answers to complex problems (e.g., water shortages, overpopulation, pandemic diseases). Furthermore, when students seek to solve global issues alongside their peers, community-based partners, or classrooms halfway across the world, they simultaneously learn how to collaborate and communicate across diverse contexts. In short, globally competent teaching cultivates in students the requisite skills that the National Association of Colleges and Employers identifies as paramount to career readiness, particularly critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and global/intercultural fluency. 


Globally competent teaching also allows students to see why what they are learning matters. When teachers give students the space to explore how what they are learning connects to the current realities of their personal lives, local community, and wider world, students become engaged and excited about school. As Jessica Stovall, a high school English teacher in Oak Park, Illinois and ASCD Global Educator Advisory Council member, explains, “Global education turns the flat black and white text of a textbook and propels it into the 3D technicolor of reality.  Our students don’t live in national silos in an insular world. They live in a worldwide community in which their actions (or inactions) have a far-reaching ripple effect, a world in which their multiple identities and intersectionality mean something.” Tyler Sanders, another ASCD Global Educator Advisory Council Member who teaches 3rd-5th grade science in Harlem, New York, agrees: “The connections and coursework of a global curriculum are essential to the development of 21st century citizens. Global education acknowledges the digital age we live in while recognizing that even if our perspectives on issues vary, we are all connected. It is globally-minded programming that allows us to synthesize what we teach and what we learn into concrete realities, and to empower us to address injustices and create solutions at every age.” 


In today’s climate of increased political, social, and cultural polarization, there is an urgent need to teach students to respect those who hold perspectives that differ from our own. The social fabric and safety of our local communities depend on it. Through global learning, students see the world through diverse perspectives, and come to learn to respect differences and empathize. I recently had the privilege of visiting schools that are part of DC Public Schools’ global studies program, and was amazed at how students from kindergarten through high school expressed an understanding of the perspectives of others and compassion for a common humanity. For example, fourth grade students engaged in civil dialogue as they took on the perspectives of historical characters, calmly asking each other to explain “Where is the evidence for that?” or “Why do you think that?” when they weren’t sure they agreed with comments classmates made while pretending to be Christopher Columbus or the chief leaders he first encountered. After reading a story about the 2010 Haiti earthquake from the perspective of a young boy trapped under the rubble for a week, second-graders expressed the need for the U.S. to share their resources with places who needed the help and to care for and love all people.

As Jessica Stovall summarizes, If we want our students to reach their greatest human potential, they must first know what it means to be human.  And the word ‘human’ knows no nation.  Therefore, our students need tools to build empathy, and not walls, if they truly want to create a legacy of positive change for their fellow global citizens.  In a time when the media shouts repeated examples of oppression, violence, and bigotry, global education provides one of the most powerful antidotes.”

As K-12 and higher education institutions celebrate international education this week, let’s remember that the rigor, relevance, and respect inherent in global learning should make it a priority all year long.

Ready to dive into globally competent teaching? ASCD is here to help.

  • Explore the Globally Competent Learning Continuum, a free online self-reflection tool and resource repository of books, articles, classroom videos, lesson plans, and more, designed to help educators of all grade levels and subject areas continuously develop global competence.
  • Attend the Global Leadership Summit co-hosted by ASCD and GlobalEd Events on March 23, 2018 in Boston, MA as a special pre-conference event to ASCD’s Empower18: The Conference for Every Educator. The day-long event will convene classroom teachers, school and district administrators, and thought leaders in an interactive, engaging program that aims to move the needle on global education towards advocacy and implementable actions in classrooms, schools, districts, and policy arenas. Register here today!

Ariel Tichnor-Wagner, Ph.D., is the Senior Fellow of Global Competence at ASCD. In her role, she advocates for, develops, and implements innovative ways to support educators and education systems prepare students to thrive in a diverse, interconnected world. Ariel began her career teaching elementary school in Phoenix, Arizona, and received her doctoral degree in Education Policy, Leadership, and School Improvement from the School of Education at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.  Her research on global competence and school improvement has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals.