George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

John Stanford International School

Grades K-5 | Seattle, WA

Teaching Students How to Make Global Impact

The John Stanford International School has been a model for developing global-awareness curricula. Now they’ve expanded their lessons to teach students how to take action to help others.

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Tips for Teaching Grade School Students How to Make Global Impact (Transcript)

Nicole: So, we’re getting to the end of our festivals of light unit.

In this project, the students explore different cultures and world religions.

All of you have chosen a festival to learn about, to research. And now that we’re getting to the end of this unit, we’re going to do a little bit of reflection.

All along, we do talk about things, but I don’t necessarily say why exactly we’re doing this because I want it to come together for them.

And so, your question to think about in your journal is why do you think we are learning about different festivals of light and people of different religious backgrounds?

For me, teaching tolerance with kids is really important and building empathy along the way… yeah, it’s part of being a global citizen and how might that affect the decisions we make.

If you’re done, can you share with us why do you think it’s important to learn about different cultures, different religions and things like that?

Student: I think we’re learning about different festivals of light and different religious backgrounds because if we ever met somebody of that religion, not only do you know some of their religions, you would also know a little about that somebody.

Nicole: Okay so, when you have interactions with people, you’ll be able to know more about them and be more comfortable.

Student: I think that it might be because if you go to a different country, you don’t know what will might offend them or something.

Nicole: Right, that’s... you guys are getting really close. You’re really figuring this out. We talked about this a little bit the other day, about this phrase. I want to see if you remember this, that it was global competence. Can you say that?

All: Global competence.

Nicole: Like any kind of vocabulary, if they have the experience, the point of reference, then they’re able to make that connection. Because they’ve been in a school that’s really emphasizing global competence...

What it means to be globally aware, aware of what’s happening in the world...

When we worked on defining it and putting terminology to it, they made the connection right away. A globally competent person is something that’s very important, but taking action is a piece of that, is how do you go out and help other people be globally competent.

And so, now it’s our time in this unit to take action. And the way that you are going to take action is through your presentations. You are doing PowerPoint presentations to teach others.

They present their festivals of light. And they compare and contrast it to their own culture and whatever they celebrate. We take action by teaching others. We have a certain knowledge. And now it’s our responsibility to go out and share that with other people so that they can be exposed to the things that we’ve learned about.

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Teaching Global Competence

Founded with a vision to prepare students for a globalized future, Seattle's John Stanford International School (JSIS) is an internationally themed, model public elementary school. 

JSIS seeks to teach students to be global citizens while raising academic performance. This is done through language immersion in Spanish or Japanese for half the day -- teachers conduct the other half of the day in English. In addition, the focus of the global curriculum is not just to talk about social issues, like a lack of potable water, but to do something about these problems.

It takes special teachers to work at JSIS. Teachers must be experienced in international education; have language skills; participate in professional-learning-communities (PLCs); and, most important, be lifelong learners.


Resources and Downloads for Global Competence 

How It's Done

How to Encourage Global Perspectives in Your Students

Build On What You Care About

"You can take any unit and change it a little so that students really start to see the world globally," explains fourth-grade teacher Nicole Silver. She described one of her units called Festivals of Light (PDF). "A more traditional unit might have been: Learn about three holidays. Instead, I wanted students to think about the need for tolerance in the world," Silver explains. She has students choose a winter festival from anywhere in the world, then raise questions through the inquiry process, conduct research, and think critically about issues of religious tolerance. During the unit, Silver encourages students to consider their own feelings and think about whether they have ever felt like an outsider. She takes the discussion deeper by asking students, "What was it like to not fit in?" And, as an action step, "How do we welcome everyone?"

Hiromi Pingry, who has been at JSIS for ten years and teaches Japanese, math, science, and social studies, constantly challenges herself to connect language lessons to global issues. "How can I expand from teaching about the culture of Japan to a more globalized view?" she wonders. In the past, for instance, a unit about the rainforest might have focused on animals and habitats. "Now, we dig into a global issue like deforestation," she says. To infuse language study into science, she has connected her students with people from Japan who are working on environmental issues in Africa. For teachers new to global education, she advises, "Start with something that you find interesting, something you have a passion for. Build global perspective from that."

Harness Parent Power

At the start of each year, kindergarten and first-grade teacher Julie Colando surveys parents about their careers. If their work takes them outside the United States, she invites them to share their experiences with students. "These bring to mind mini-TED talks," Colando says, but geared for audiences of five- and six-year-olds. Parents have given classroom presentations and hands-on demonstrations about everything from oceanography research to vaccines to sanitation in the developing world. One parent, working on clean-water issues, opened his chat by showing photos of homes around the world. He simply asked students what they noticed. Next, they compared images of food from around the world. Then, toys. Then, toilets. "The way he did it was not guilt-inducing," the teacher observed. "It got students thinking about, 'What if you couldn't wash your hands? What if there were no bathrooms? What might happen to your drinking water?'"

Keep It Fresh

Silver changes her curriculum every year. "That keeps it fresh for me," she says, and also allows her to connect with students' experiences. She starts each school year by taking time to find out, "Where are my students from? What are their prior experiences?" If students are immigrants or English-language learners, what can they teach their American-born classmates about other cultures? Keeping it fresh also allows Silver to respond to global events. During last year's election season, for instance, her students took part in their own mock election. They also investigated voting rights around the world and evaluated information sources for reliability. Regardless of topic, Silver asks thought-provoking prompts such as: "What's the world like outside my experience? How could I find out? How can we listen to and learn from others?"

For more suggestions about teaching students to become citizens of the world, download a free copy of Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World (PDF) by Veronica Boix Mansilla and Anthony Jackson. After JSIS teachers discussed the book as a staff, they were better prepared to plan units that emphasize principles such as teaching students to recognize and express their own perspectives, examine the perspectives of others, and act in ethical and creative ways to improve the world.

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Rob Wohleb's picture
Rob Wohleb
Software Engineer

I'm really curious about the device the teacher is wearing around her neck. Is that a teaching aid or medical device?

Melissa Forney's picture
Melissa Forney
I am a writing teacher from DeLand, Florida

I love that this strategy takes some of the emphasis off of SELF and refers children to being part of a whole. This outlook enables writers to look to a broader audience and become change agents..

remhab's picture
8th grade.Morocco

I think it is very difficult to have a global competence especially when talking about religion because a person needs to know all religions deeply and rightly in order to be a global competent .

Matty Todt's picture

It is like a microphone. It is wireless and is connected to speakers in the ceiling or to an ear device for a specific student. Not only does it augment sound for a hard of hearing student, but it can also be good for the teacher's voice so she doesn't have to raise it for extended periods of time.

Jennifer Kelly's picture

The device is a microphone for an amplification system. It may also be used for creating teaching logs or videos like FrontRow.

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