A little while ago, we came across a thought provoking blog post from Jennifer Klein, exploring the sometimes complicated, but rewarding world of global connections and collaboration. With Jennifer’s permission, we are re-publishing the post as a three part series, with the intention of starting a conversation with the wider #globalclassroom community. We hope you will take the time to read through, and share your answers to our reflection questions in the comments below.
Part 1 of the series is published here
Don’t expect immediate success–deep, constructive global relationships require a marathon, not a sprint.
The challenges of global partnerships are many, and teachers have to develop the same inter-cultural skills as they hope to foster in their students in order to be successful. The learning curve can be long–and that means global partnerships are rarely efficient, easy to organize, or completely successful the first time around. The worst thing you can do, however, is jump from partner to partner in search of the “perfect” pairing–the best partnerships are rarely perfect to begin with.
The moral of the story is to work at it, to think of the partnership as a long-term relationship which will improve with time and effort, and to expect things to be messy for the first year or two. Whether it’s navigating time zone differences (east to west), school year differences (north to south), trouble-shooting differences in technological access, or just trying to communicate regularly and well, you can expect this relationship to take effort–and to get richer and deeper as you put in that effort.
It’s essential to accept the limitations of technology and work within its potential, but it’s also important to think beyond technology as well. Global communication and relationships reach their deepest level through in-person experiences–and no matter how much technology has done for the global educational field, it will never replace the value of international travel for teachers and students with relationship-oriented organizations such as World Leadership School. Whether this is a teacher traveling to connect personally with their partner teacher(s) or students traveling to connect their communities, there is no question that deep relationships–especially on the level of sister schools–require more than email and Skype calls.
Keep your expectations realistic in year one–consider small successes, significant successes, and build something bigger from there.
It’s reasonable to say that most teachers go into global partnerships expecting too much their first time around, largely because the prospect of a global collaboration is so exciting and we have trouble controlling ourselves. Much of the time, however, when teachers try to accomplish too much too quickly, they leave the topics students find most relevant. By creating a space for less content- or standards-driven dialogue about favorite movies or day-to-day life, we can help build the foundations for much deeper dialogue later by helping kids see what they have in common. Bigger successes and deeper virtual events on global issues and perspectives might come later, but small successes count in the meantime.
Just knowing how to connect Skype doesn’t mean there will be a deep and meaningful dialogue between classrooms; in fact, navigating the awkward silences and discomfort of the first few Skype sessions is often what turns new teachers away from global education. I’ve seen huge, high-tech global events go to heck in a hand basket on million dollar equipment, and I’ve seen a no-budget Facetime call change students’ lives. Remember that deep global experiences aren’t about fancy technologies and big events–they’re usually about small accidental moments which occurred because the teachers created the right context for dialogue and didn’t push the kids too far too fast.
I’ve had many experiences where a simple, seemingly innocuous question in a video conference drew out something meaningful and helped students connect with the world authentically; if you’re hungry for examples, see “Creating the Conditions for Accidental Learning: Dialogue with Syrians, Palestinians, Canadians… and Wookies.”
Consider building smaller experiences and “one-offs” with individuals to fill the gaps while deeper partnerships develop.
Sometimes it makes best sense to supplement the developing partnership with a few Skype sessions with relevant individuals who can help to take the conversation deeper. People all over the world are involved in creating change in their homes, schools, communities and beyond, and most are so passionate that they’re thrilled to engage with classrooms and inspire the next generation to become leaders in their fields. Especially in the first few years of developing a deeper partnership with a classroom or school, these one-off experiences can really help globalize the dialogue in your classroom immediately, and speakers can be found in non-profits, non-governmental organizations, and even your alumni directory.
Particularly among higher-level teachers, I’ve noticed a tendency default to Skyping with semi-famous or major “experts” in a given field, and this makes sense when an expert can answer student-generated questions better than a young person can. However, I’ve found that sometimes more important connections happen when kids get to meet an individual who’s closer to their age and not yet considered important for their efforts. For example, I often connect classrooms with Yasser Alaa Mobarak, a young Egyptian photographer who has done a great deal of work with iEARN. He shares his photography, talks about what he hopes viewers will see, answers questions from the kids, and then invites students to continue the photographic dialogue and sharing in a private group he’s set up on Facebook. Honestly, no number of experts in Middle Eastern politics could ever impact kids as much as just one of Yasser’s photographs because they’re real, raw, and relevant. Most importantly, connecting with someone like Yasser demonstrates that young people don’t have to be famous to make a difference through their individual efforts and passions.
- How can we best share our experiences to support new and emerging global educators, so they learn from our mistakes?
- What advice would you give to an educator / colleague starting out on their global journey?
- Can you share anecdotes / stories of how small incidental questions have led to unexpected global learning outcomes?
- Would you be interested in being mentored by an experienced global educator? Or would you be happy to be a mentor for another international teacher? (See the Global Classroom Mentoring Project)