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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers Step Up and Assist with Global Issues

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

In southern Sudan, a region wracked by decades of civil war and famine, hope is rising. A new secondary school is going up in the village of Marial Bai. But, as teachers know, learning requires more than bricks and mortar. That's why Teachers Without Borders is reaching out to its global network of educators to assist this humanitarian effort by providing professional development for new staff.

"That's exactly what our members are good at," says Heather Carson, membership director for Teachers Without Borders. "It's a wonderful time to be a teacher. Wherever you live, you really can make a difference."

Teachers Without Borders was founded eight years ago by Fred Mednick, a former teacher and principal from Seattle. His vision is to tap the power of the world's teachers -- 59 million strong -- to solve the serious problems confronting communities around the globe.

Why focus on teachers as change agents? Mednick recognizes that teachers are the largest professionally trained group in the world. What's more, they have deep knowledge of their own communities. As he explains, "Teachers know who is sick, who is missing, who is orphaned by AIDS, who needs attention, and who has special promise."

Teachers Without Borders is a lean organization, with a small staff but a global network of 6,000 members in 160 countries. With no membership fee, teachers come together primarily online, using its networking toolkit to exchange information and assist one another across distances and cultures. Some members wind up traveling to provide colleagues with on-the-ground assistance, but much gets accomplished in cyberspace. "There's plenty you can do without ever leaving home," Carson explains.

Requests for help typically start at the grass roots. For example, an educator in Peru may need help designing professional-development opportunities. Or perhaps a new teacher in Ghana -- online at an Internet café -- seeks advice from more experienced mentors to plan a science inquiry lesson. "We can live in different places, but if we're teachers, the same things drive us," says Carson, who spent eight years in the classroom. "We can lift each other up."

With funding from Cisco as part of its commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative, and others, Teachers Without Borders is poised for expansion. Although activities will continue to be driven by the interests and needs of members, a few key issues are expected to command special attention in coming months. These include bridging the digital divide and encouraging the education of girls as a strategy to accelerate social welfare. Look for Teachers Without Borders to be a force in helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

These are challenges of a global scale, but they get solved one community at a time. From the Sudan to Seattle, teachers are stepping up to be part of the solution.

Are you part of Teachers Without Borders? What have you gained from the experience? Please share your story.

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