Schools can go Global

Ideas Your School Can Use to Go Global:

We know by now that one International Day at school, with a carnival-like atmosphere, will not make our children globally-minded. At its best, a day-long celebration will heighten curiosity, teach a lesson, and launch a process of exploration – usually among those already inclined to these ideas, and from families that encourage global knowledge. In the worst-case, these events have reinforced an “otherness.” Looking at how different the foods, games and traditional clothing are, some children can feel doubly alienated and remote – especially if that is their one-and-only contact with those customs. If the exposure to international concepts is limited to the International Day, then it is natural that this topic would be seen as an isolated issue (if at all) by the child, not part of their own reality.

To avoid such disconnection, international understanding should be integrated into overall curriculum and become a part of the school’s own culture. This is a huge leap for some schools, but the acceptance that every school needs to train students that will be able to compete in the global economy is leading educators and communities to conclude that this step is inevitable. A successful integration of international topics in the school day increases empathy and connection with diverse people; it also helps to hone critical thinking skills and make the study of topics like science, math, and foreign language apply to very real issues confronting the world. If this integration does occur, then a program like an International Day will feel more like a culmination of the learning that has been taking place, not a stage show. It would also reinforce your efforts at home. Here are some of the specific steps a school can take to realize this vision – what would you add to this brief list? Please share!

Sell a chocolate bar – change the world – support your school. Try an alternative to selling wrapping paper for a school fundraiser, and raise global consciousness while you’re at it. Equal Exchange offers fair-trade coffees, teas, chocolates and other treats, and Global Goods Partners sells hand-crafted gifts made by artisans earning a fair wage.  Through both of these organizations the school keeps a sizable percentage of the sales revenue and makes a just difference for people living in some of the world’s poorest countries.

1. Teachers can take a fresh look at their curriculum and their physical classroom. 

  • In each lesson of English, science, social studies, or even math, is there a “global” perspective that can be brought in, or an impact on someone in another country that could be explored?
  • Do the art and music programs incorporate contributions made by world cultures?
  • Do classrooms have a world map (not just a U.S. map) hung on the wall in a convenient place?
  • Do the items used to decorate the classroom take advantage of diverse cultural styles that are available, particularly among nationalities represented in class (e.g., on a tablecloth, a piece of art on the wall, an educational poster, a craft project, etc.)?

2.  Take advantage of the experiences and perspectives of parent volunteers, international families and staff.

The tasks in the previous point might seem overwhelming to a teacher, but some of the parents of children in the class might have experienced living or traveling abroad, or can share their own cultural perspective.  The more organized the teacher, the more the class can benefit from the parents’ experience or willingness to help.  For example, if the teacher finds certain topics would be enhanced by outside assistance, an advance note with specific requests can be sent home.  Parents don’t need to be experts on the topic, but be willing to make the effort to get the right information for the class.

3.  Use tele-conferencing to “meet” children in different countries. 

This technology has become relatively cheap and easy to use. One place to “meet” or collaborate with students from other schools is through iEARN (International Education and Resource Network), at Global Nomads Group ( connects North American classrooms with places like Afghanistan and Antarctica, using inter-active media and technology so young people learn about and discuss global issues affecting their lives.

Caryn Stedman, the 2004 winner of the National Council for Social Studies Award for Global Understanding, set up a video teleconference between her students and students in Baghdad so they could share perspectives just sixteen days before the Iraq war started. She also set up a post-invasion teleconference so students could talk about life before, during, and after the war. [i]

4. Find a partner school.

Just as there are sister cities, your school can initiate a partner school or twinning program. Partnerships might connect pen pals or go as far as advancing environmental and scientific knowledge, through NASA’s GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program, which your school can join at:

5.  Discuss the origins and trading routes of products you use on a daily basis. 

In English schools, Oxfam UK prepares curriculum to help elementary students on up to trace the journey of an item like a banana or a T-shirt sold in a local shop. Where did it come from? How did it get here? How many people were involved in getting it to your local store? Who earned what in the process? Global Exchange, from the U.S., offers a curriculum showing kids where one of their favorite products, chocolate, comes from. Children from schools around the nation have taken action, like writing to the Presidents of major candy bar companies to protest child labor and other conditions that go into their beloved candy. This is the type of project one or several parents can assist with.

Learn from other schools.  The Office of Language and Cultural Education of the Chicago school district is a good place to see how bi-lingual and world language programs are run.  The site also has resources for teacher training and support and a publications section that includes various curriculum guides prepared locally on Arab, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Polish and South Asian heritage and culture.

6. After-school programs for everyone, not just children from affluent families.  

OneWorld Now! serves economically disadvantaged students in Seattle public high schools with after-school classes in Chinese or Arabic, leadership workshops, summer study abroad scholarships, internships and college preparation help. The International YMCA, a branch of the YMCA of Greater New York, offers resources to other YMCA’s in providing after-school international enrichment programs and summer exchanges, trainings, and other opportunities.  Both of these not-for-profit organizations, as well as local employers, might be called on to help a school with limited capital begin its own new program.

7. Public school districts, of varying funding capacities, can launch their own international schools, in partnership with the community.

In Chicago, leaders recognized the need to train the city’s children to be globally competitive. They saw the large influx of immigrants as an asset, and strengthened ESL and foreign language programs. Predominantly Hispanic schools teach Mandarin Chinese along with ESL, so the children are virtually tri-lingual by the time they complete middle school. These children aren’t a burden to the system, they’re helping strengthen it. The government of China and corporations like Motorola have donated funds and teaching materials to help advance the goal of a substantially increased number of students learning Chinese. The Chicago Public Schools co-initiated the Confucius Institute (, house it at a public high school and provide learning resources for parents, teachers and students in learning Chinese. Chicago now has the largest Chinese language program in the United States.

At the John Stanford International (K-5) School in the Seattle school district, the University of Washington’s Language Learning Center provides curriculum development and staff support for the mandatory Spanish or Japanese language immersion program.  The business community provides mentors and funds to support foreign language requirements. Its students test better than district standards in reading and math, even though those courses are taught in Spanish or Japanese for half the day (the other half of the day classes are in English). [ii]

8. Build up your library’s resources – and go an extra mile. 

Get to know your children’s school librarian and learn about the selection of books, so that you can make a difference with your donation and your time. When looking for new books for the library, try to find titles depicting life in diverse cultures as well as non-American classic stories – particularly from the cultures of families represented at the school. A gentle reminder to parents to give books can come in the form of a dedication card sent home around the date of the child’s birthday, or about a month before the holidays. The card goes on the book’s first page showing “This is a gift from… In honor of …” It could have a picture depicting the world or diversity to remind donors you are aiming for a range of perspectives in the new books.

You can go an extra mile in stocking your school library by adopting or partnering with another library in a needy community (in the U.S. or abroad) to which to donate new or used books and duplicates.

9. Use outside expertise to help you.

The Asia Society is a rich place to start. Their site supports schools’ efforts to go global, with analyses of numerous issues and school experiences, as well as a state-by-state look at initiatives underway and the results to date.   Use this information to inform and influence your elected officials, particularly at the state level.

Improve Your Geography Knowledge: 

Geography knowledge is a building block for learning about the world but U.S. schools are widely criticized for too little attention to the subject. In the 2006 National Geographic/Roper poll half the 18-24 year olds surveyed could not find New York on the map and just 37 percent of them could find Iraq, even though tens of thousands in their own peer group have been deployed in war there since 2003. Just before the war, in the 2002 survey, 13 percent of those surveyed knew where to find Iraq – and more than twice as many knew the remote South Pacific location of that season’s Survivor TV show. [iii]

Our schools may feel too overloaded with material they must teach, so geography falls between the cracks. Spinning a globe and imagining where you’ll visit next or live in twenty years, or competing with friends or family over who knows the most countries in a continent can be fun. My mother-in-law astounded us with knowledge she retained as a child about seventy years ago in Iran learning each country on the map, with capital cities and key industries. Almost like a jump rope song, she could still recite “Chile: Santiago, copper; Argentina: Buenos Aires, cattle” and so on through each continent, to my and my children’s amazement.

This chapter includes more ways to get started supplementing geography learning at home or in the classroom…

[i] From Wire side chat: Advancing the need for International, Global Studies. Article by Ellen R. Delisio, Education World®; Copyright © 2004 Education World; 11/15/2004

[ii] From Oct 6, 2005 Intel Corporation News Release “Washington And New Jersey Schools Named Top Winners At Intel And Scholastic Schools Of Distinction Awards.”