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Teaching a Global Curriculum During Distance Learning

Students may be isolated at home these days, but it’s still a good time to learn about people and cultures far away. Use these resources to get started.

September 4, 2020
Illustration concept for international education
Alex Nabaum / The iSpot

Our world is more interconnected than ever before, even while we’re social distancing in unprecedented ways. We educators can use this increased isolation to look inward and pull away from others—or we can embrace this pandemic as an opportunity to celebrate and learn about the world’s increasing interdependence. Whatever jobs our students have when they join the workforce, it’s likely that they’ll work closely with colleagues around the world.

The Need for Global Awareness

As leaders of learners, we have the power to help our students become effective global leaders. In 2008, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) worked with education organizations like the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and the National Education Association (NEA) to identify the most necessary skills to prepare students for the new global economy: global awareness, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.

In 1952, Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton wrote, “A teacher works in a sensitive area in a school room. There he shapes the attitude of young minds towards the society in which they live.” That is as true as ever. There are several ways that we, as leaders of learners, can integrate global awareness into curriculum and school culture.

Teach students about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: In 2015, the UN’s member states unanimously adopted 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. These goals outline “a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” Learning about these goals teaches students how to be empathetic, the importance of creating and working toward specific achievable goals, and the power of teamwork.

Our students will inherit responsibility for managing and improving the environments and societies left to them. To expose students to these lofty future responsibilities early, UNESCO has compiled curriculum and resources aligned with each goal that are appropriate for various age groups and subjects.

Create pen pal relationships with schools around the world: PenPal Schools connects teachers and students in 150 countries to build relationships and collaborate on predesigned and custom projects aligned with learning standards. is a similar resource where teachers can connect their students with peers who share common languages and interests. The Teachers’ Guide to Global Collaboration has additional resources to build pen pal relationships and create internationally minded learning projects.

Use international sources when building curricula: BBC Teach, the British Council, and ABC Education have thousands of high-quality resources for literacy, math, science, history, and arts, including videos, worksheets, and games. These sites expose your students—and you—to stories and news sources you might not usually read.

Create an observance calendar: When posting your physical or digital class calendar, include holidays and festivals that may not be as commonly celebrated by your students and staff. If appropriate, invite students to share traditions practiced during those special times. This gives students the power of being an expert about a topic that’s important to them, and it can help build community.

Share your own travel stories with students: As Amanda Machado wrote in The Atlantic, “Traveling teaches students in a way schools can’t.” By sharing travel stories with students, you strengthen your relationship with them—and might inspire them to travel.

When I taught Chinese history, for instance, I mixed pictures of myself at the Great Wall into a PowerPoint presentation. When my middle and high school students start exploring their postsecondary goals, I share stories and photos from the semester I spent studying on a ship. I’m also transparent with my students about how I budget for traveling and what I do and don’t enjoy.

Activate your network: Remember that if your school belongs to international education organizations like the International Baccalaureate or Round Square, you have access to resource libraries and colleagues from around the world.

Read books that celebrate differences: Reading books that celebrate difference, either independently or in book clubs, gives more students the opportunity to identify with the characters they read about and learn about cultures and viewpoints that are new to them.

For elementary students, check out these reading lists recommended by School Library Journal. This list of 80 young adult books includes fiction and nonfiction stories set in countries around the world. This is a list of books commonly read by secondary school students in 28 countries. This list, for students in pre-K to 12th grade, was compiled by state and national teachers of the year, and highlights books that help teach social justice and cultural awareness.

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