Promoting quality education for all.

The Power of Exchange Programs

Randal Mason, 

4th Global Teaching Dialogue Explores Education in an Interconnected World

In our increasingly interconnected world, how are American schools preparing youth for successful futures? This was the central theme explored at the 4th annual Global Teaching Dialogue hosted by the U.S. Department of State. Hundreds of participants attended the event, including alumni of U.S. government-sponsored international exchange programs, education champions and experts, and international education organizations.

Caroline Casagrande, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Academic Programs, stated in her opening remarks that “Education is everything” and spoke about how globalizing U.S. classrooms inspires youth with new ideas, helps them to analyze and communicate about complex world events, and lets them learn and share strategies to become leaders.

She also announced Global Education 101, a free, introductory, self-paced course designed to support educators across the United States. Through readings and videos, multi-media quizzes, video chats, webinars, discussion boards, and reflection exercises, teachers gain understanding around global competence, grow as globally competent educators, and learn practical strategies for incorporating new content and approaches into their classrooms.

Multiple teachers spoke during the Dialogue about the value of international exchange programs and learning to infuse world perspectives into their curriculum across a range of subjects—math, science, technology, art, and social studies. They shared numerous ways educators can incorporate global competencies into classrooms across the U.S. and learn about and share educational practices with colleagues in other countries, by sending American teachers abroad, hosting international teachers at U.S. schools, and conducting virtual exchanges with students and teachers overseas.

Exchange Programs Open Doors

Dana Patterson Nelson, a teacher for Kansas City Public Schools, described her experience on the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program as “a lifesaver and a career-saver.” As one of the few African American teachers in her school district, she rarely saw people in positions of authority who looked like her.

But traveling to Colombia on her fellowship and being among indigenous and Afro-Colombian people made her feel that she was in a space where she belonged. It gave her the opportunity to speak with students and teachers about issues of social justice and how they fit in the world. Since her Fulbright experience, doors have opened for Ms. Nelson professionally, including new research opportunities. She describes how international exchange experiences can help, “revitalize what you already know, and also learn things that are unknown.”

Mandarin with a Southern Accent

Paul A. Bonner, now Principal at the Academy for Academics and Art in Huntsville, Alabama, spoke about his former school, Providence Elementary in Huntsville, Alabama, that hosted teachers from China through the Teachers of Critical Languages Program (TCLP). He was consistently impressed with the caliber of the TCLP teachers. “These teachers were profoundly masterful with pedagogy,” he said. Getting to know the Chinese teachers also made him realize that “A good teacher is a good teacher.”

The visiting instructors brought with them cultural insights from China, an exchange of information on education, and language skills as native speakers. Through the program and the school’s other efforts, a number of their students became proficient in Mandarin.

Virtual Exchanges, Real Results

In addition to the plenary session and individual speakers, the Dialogue offered an array of workshops on topics such as Globalizing Your Elementary Classroom to Media Literacy & Critical Thinking to Diplomacy Simulations for the High School Classroom.

In a workshop on virtual exchanges Randy French, a Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) alumnus from Genesco Central School in New York, and David Eisenberg, a TGC alumnus from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Maryland noted that such exchanges allow students to make personal connections and learn from people around the world firsthand without the expense of traveling.  They also help students develop their communication and other 21st Century skills and allow them to explore how their peers in other countries are similar and different from them.

Randy and David offered a range of options for virtual classroom exchanges: sharing Google Slides or PowerPoint presentations around common topics, exchanging videos and photographs, and hosting real-time group chats via Skype, WhatsApp, or other platforms. Throughout the Dialogue, teachers also shared useful websites that help bring global perspectives to schools and classrooms including Global Kids, iEARNGlobal Nomads, and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

The Purpose of Learning

Keynote speaker Sydney Chaffee, the 2017 National Teacher of the Year, described her experiences traveling around the world as a Department of State speaker. In Ethiopia, she received an unexpected question from an audience member: “What is the purpose of learning?” Originally thrown off by something she considered self-evident, Ms. Chaffee has since concluded that the purpose of learning is connection—connecting with humanity, with one another’s ideas, and growing together. 

Get Involved

Teachers are now welcome to register for Global Education 101, a free, introductory, online course designed to support educators to begin to understand global competence, grow as globally competent educators, and learn practical strategies for incorporating it into their classrooms. Throughout the course you will hear directly from elementary and secondary teachers from urban and rural areas about how they’ve successfully integrated global education in their work. This self-paced, multi-media course includes readings, videos, interactive group discussions, classroom activities, and quizzes.    

About the author: Randal Mason has 25 years of experience working in international development on issues of education, youth development, and human rights. An independent consultant, Randal advises organizations on diversity and inclusion strategies and leads trainings on gender-sensitive education, LGBTQ engagement, and fundraising. He previously served as a senior executive at IREX, an $80 million/year global development and education organization operating in over 100 countries. Randal was previously a contributor to the Huffington Post on issues of education, gender, and human rights.

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