The world is getting flatter as people engage in global collaboration, learning, business, and content creation. Using social media, video conferencing, and virtual office tools is the norm—I use tools like WhatsApp to work with educators in Kazakhstan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Ecuador. Children and teens discuss common interests with others across the world in their native language. Translation is a single click away.
Schools need to prepare students with the global professional skills (GPS) that will give them a competitive edge when navigating the expanded opportunities that are available today. The task is deceptively simple: helping students build skills like communication, collaboration, creativity, problem solving, empathy, perseverance, and growth mindset.
Where to Begin?
Many school systems, like Isle of Wight County in Virginia and Center Line Schools in Michigan, have a graduate or student profile to outline what skills learners will develop by the time they leave school and start university, job training, or careers. These profiles state implicitly the global professional skills that the school stakeholders value for giving their students a competitive edge in the world.
If your school or district wants to develop this kind of student profile, the first step is to decide on the global professional skills that are most important for your students to develop by the time they graduate. Some schools identify four or five skills as their focus for staff and students. They launch one or two skills and help students learn them deeply, and later add the other skills one by one, giving each its due attention.
What Is Needed?
Once the key global professional skills are identified, they need to be unpacked into learning charts for teachers and students to use. The common language needs to be specific, observable, and practical.
Following these guidelines enables the skills to be taught, coached, and assessed. For example, Center Line High School developed a chart that uses clear language, as in this example of a collaboration skill: “Listens to others: eye contact, nod and paraphrase for understanding, body forward.”
Isle of Wight delineates what the critical skills look like for different age groups—a critical thinking skill for K–3 students like “I find new information using texts and technology,” is slightly more complex when they are in grades 4–6: “I will gather information using evidence from reliable sources.”
The grade ranges were developed for two reasons. First, skills look different at different ages. The complexity and nuance of skills evolve as students get older and are exposed to this language and related experiences each year. What is expected of high school students is significantly different from what is expected of a first grader. Second, the ranges allow for the gradual introduction of skills; one or two indicators can be introduced at the lower end of the range, followed by more in the upper grades. Only one indicator may be introduced in kindergarten, for example, and more can be gradually added up to grade 3.
What the examples from Michigan and Virginia both include is common language for observable behavior. The language enables teachers to align activities with specific behaviors as a focus. When students work in groups, they will know what listening means, and they can reflect on their actions based on specific feedback from teachers or peers. They can also explain their actions using the specific terminology in the chart.
Putting It Into Action
Just as students need descriptions that are specific, observable, and practical to understand the identified skills, teachers need the same language when systemically implementing the global professional skills in classrooms. And there are two more key points in this work.
1. Schools need to provide staff development: There are a variety of ways that schools accomplish this. Some use internal expertise to facilitate the ideas along with the charts, sharing the why and then explaining the how for using the developed charts and a GPS Strategy Guide of instructional tools. Including staff in the development of the charts is a way to build buy-in while teaching the how-to simultaneously.
The TIP Chart created by Henrico County Public Schools is a practical reflection tool used by teachers to track their implementation of specific skills and to monitor student participation. It includes a library of annotated lessons and units to model developing the skills in students as part of classroom practices.
2. Teachers need to engage students in practice and reflection: Global professional skills charts lay out competencies that students strive to master as language for their grade level. Use the charts as an active part of students’ work. If left unaddressed, they soon become like wallpaper, invisible and ignored. Post the skills charts and provide students with an understanding of them.
Many schools I’ve worked with introduce one chart per semester when first rolling out the global professional skills. Culture building takes time. Over two to three years, students can become fully immersed of the whole skill set because of the experiences provided them across grade levels. Facilitate student reflection on one chart or indicator three to five times a week, giving students a chance to assess themselves and their peers.
Developing global professional skills in students requires that teachers teach them as we do the academic curriculum. Providing common vocabulary and behaviors that are specific, observable, and practical gives teachers clear ways to teach, coach, and assess. More importantly, students can practice, reflect, and grow strong in the skills, which enables them to successfully navigate a smaller and more complex world.