Three Ways Educators Can Help Prepare a Globally Competent Generation

Posted by: Dana Mortenson - Executive Director of World Savvy

March 30th, 2016

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The most powerful argument I’ve seen for global education is the recent hate speech and xenophobic rhetoric emanating from the presidential campaign trail. Across the country, from our classrooms to our dinner tables to the streets of our communities, we’ve seen the ripple effect reflected in conversations around race relations, refugee resettlement, and religious freedom.

Though there is much we can’t predict about the future, here’s what we know: we will all be more globally connected, and we will live and work in more diverse communities. By 2042, the U.S. Census predicts that no single ethnic or racial group will comprise a majority of the population in the U.S. This is already the case for the population under 18. And the Urban Institute, in its Mapping Americas’ Futures project, demonstrates that we’re becoming more diverse not just in urban areas, but across the entire country, from rural areas to large cities.

If diversity is our common future, then inclusion must be our collective goal. Research, including a number of studies cited in this Scientific American article, tells us that diversity enriches our communities in so many ways. However, it often generates friction in the short term. The opportunity that increasingly diverse communities represent must also bring a change in our approach – from how we create inclusive neighborhoods and communities to how we educate the next generation of leaders. To create sustainable change, education – our K-12 schools and learning communities – must lead in this effort.

As our reality becomes much more global, wherever we live, the critical question is what this more globally connected age, and more demographically diverse communities mean about how we prepare for the future. What skills and dispositions will be vital to thriving in 10, 20, and 50 years? What should the future of learning and education look like, to prepare young people for this reality? Here’s a global competence tool that we use in our work with schools and districts across the U.S., which helps answer a number of these questions. The global competence matrix identifies specific skills, values & attitudes, and behaviors that educators can pinpoint, then develop in themselves and foster in their students.

Across the country, many districts are placing an increasing emphasis on preparing students as global citizens. They are prioritizing the kind of preparation students need to become future leaders and global citizens, and recognizing that this work and basic literacy and numeracy are not mutually exclusive. They are beginning to learn how to leverage diversity as an asset, and building plans to make global competence a central lens on teaching and learning, not an ‘add on’ activity or isoGlobalCompGenlated celebrations of food, flags, and festivals.

While there is no easy answer or specific formula, here are some lessons from our district partners as they seek to build a system-wide approach to building global competence.

  1. Shift your curriculum and approach to emphasize collaborative problem solving and student-driven inquiry using project-based methodology. Help students learn core content and build engagement by allowing them to work in diverse teams, addressing complex problems across disciplines, and focusing on envisioning solutions. Here’s how a California middle school teacher is using this approach to strengthen her students’ global competence.
  2. Leverage diversity as an asset. Seek out environments where your students are able to work with and understand people who are different from themselves – with diverse backgrounds, narratives and identities. Foster opportunities for their diverse perspectives to be organically sourced through collaboration and problem solving. Here’s an example of how one Minnesota principal whose students are recent immigrants uses global competence to build resilience among her staff and students.
  3. Measure what matters. Rote memorization is useless in an internet age. The world doesn’t need better test takers – we need more creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, and empathetic citizens who can work together. We need a generation of globally competent leaders – with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to navigate a more diverse, global environment. K-12 education can play a critical role in ensuring this is the foundation for every citizen in our democracy. Too often, the success of our schools is measured by short-term or subject-specific trends as opposed to taking a deep, skillset-based approach with a focus on the whole child, and effectively equipping students to manage interactions that require more developed competencies. Here’s how one group of teachers at a private middle school are assessing what matters – specifically the acquisition of global competence skills.

As our demographics continue to shift, we have an opportunity to become a model for inclusion and raising a globally competent generation. It’s exciting to see this momentum building in many of our nation’s schools. Is yours among them?


Dana Mortenson is the Executive Director of World Savvy, a national education nonprofit founded in San Francisco.  You can follow her at @DLCMSavvy or @WorldSavvy.

One response to “Three Ways Educators Can Help Prepare a Globally Competent Generation”

  1. Great blogpost, especially the third point about ‘measuring what matters’!

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