Instilling Global Citizenship within the International School Network

Adam Carter, Global Education MagazineAdam Carter

Global Citizen, Teacher and Social Action/Education Expert. Founder and director of Cause & Affect Foundation as well as the creator of Academic Social Action Collective.

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Abstract: Promoting “global citizenship” has become a popular trend within international schools. There is a huge benefit for students, schools and the world as a whole when students are aware of the world around them engaged in contemporary issues both on a communal and global scale. There exist four major ways to develop global awareness within the international schools: 1) curriculum design which embraces themes of awareness, empathy and a more holistic educational approach; 2) the use of technology that fosters connections between classrooms and destinations around the world; 3) social action projects that use service-based learning to create a deeper awareness of global issues; and 4) extra-curricular projects that offer a variety of tools to promote global citizenship. By creating global citizens, we are helping give rise a better world.

Keywords: Global Citizenship, global education, global awareness, social action, service learning, international school, non-profit, philanthropy, micro-philanthropy, Adam Carter, cause affect, cause and affect, iearn, tiged, challenge 20/20, pen pal, community service, global issues network, social action club, academic social action collective, ASAC, teach now, global citizen, global awareness, students, schools.


One of the hot trends in education today is “promoting global citizenship,” but this somewhat amorphous cause can often be as difficult to achieve as it is to define. Being a global citizen goes well beyond simply traveling on the international stage or living an expatriate lifestyle; it refers to a more holistic view of the world, understanding the commonalities we share and recognizing our responsibility to help our fellow man and safeguard our planet’s future.

The multi-cultural setting of international education lends itself to a more natural development of global citizenship. From this starting point, there exist different approaches to developing this global awareness, such as: 1) curriculum design which embraces themes of awareness, empathy and a more holistic educational approach; 2) the use of technology that fosters connections between classrooms and destinations around the world; 3) social action projects that use service-based learning to create a deeper awareness of global issues; and 4) extra-curricular projects that offer a variety of tools to promote global citizenship.

Firstly, one of the most prominent forms of cultivating this awareness is by creating a scholastic curriculum around its encompassing ideals. The Academy for Global Citizenship, a highly-acclaimed Chicago charter school, has based an entire scholastic approach on “environmental stewardship, holistic wellness and a global perspective.” A similar approach has been adopted within international schools like Yokohama International School, where the Former Head of School James MacDonald implemented the innovative “Global Citizenship Degree” which allows students an opportunity to do extra-curricular activities in order to obtain a supplementary degree upon graduation. Beyond these school-wide approaches, teachers can develop ways to link their existing curriculum with these principles of global awareness. This requires them to seek underlying lessons that can be drawn from course materials and classroom activities. For example, a geography class on desertification can be expanded to include the testimony of people who have been forced to flee their villages due to the lack of grass for their animals to graze and water for them to drink. When students recognize the human impact of an issue, they become more engaged in the learning process and start to develop this awareness we are hoping to inspire.

The second tool that can be used to advance these ideals is through the use of digital technology. For years, sites have offered classrooms the opportunity to link up with other classrooms in order to learn about each other’s cultures and countries, but the current trend is to take these partnerships beyond the traditional “what is life like in your country?” model. Nowadays, partner schools can research social issues afflicting our planet and then propose and carry out concrete plans of action to create positive change. In some cases, the partner schools team up to address a local issue afflicting one of the schools, while other programs unite the schools to address more global issues. There are also a number of web-based programs that connect classrooms around the world to foster a cultural exchange. Projects like this can be carried out on a class-by-class basis or can be implemented on a school-wide level. Two of the most innovative programs are iEarn (International Education and Resource Network) and TIGed (TakingITGlobal for Educators); each connect schools around the world to global issues and provide a framework for collaborative projects that expose students to global issues and hands-on solutions. For those teachers or administrators interested in exploring these options, I would also recommend taking a look at Challenge 20/20, Adobe Youth Voices and Shout Initiative (run through Microsoft’s Partners in Learning).

Another strategy to foster students’ sense of empowerment is by engaging them in social action projects. Partnering with local non-profits is an excellent way to not only impact the community, but to engage students in fostering positive change. Research shows that this model of “service learning” benefits students in many ways. First of all, young people experience a greater sense of self-efficacy as they see firsthand what a positive impact they can make. Meanwhile, they develop ideals of empathy and compassion which cultivates community development and nurtures global citizenship that lasts long beyond high school. Involvement in these projects has also proven to increase academic achievement as students learn problem-solving skills, how to plan activities and important team-work abilities. Many of today’s leaders in public service point out how their formative experiences volunteering or engaging in community service helped form the civic engagement skills that has defined who they are today. This just goes to show the deep impact that service learning can have as international schools seek to foster global citizenship.

Just as important as the effect upon the school and the students is the impact on the individuals benefiting from these community-based programs. After all, these recipients – be they elderly, hospitalized, deaf, mentally-challenged or poor – are the reason students, teachers, parents and community leaders mobilize their efforts. It is heart-warming to see how community members take a fresh look at the youth of the community once they see them lending their assistance. When I took a group of at-risk high-school boys from the inner-city of Chicago to volunteer at a homeless shelter, numerous residents commended the boys, telling them “It’s so great to see you all in here helping people instead of being out on the street gang-banging.” For most of the boys, this was the first time they had been in a position to lend a hand to someone in need and I could see their self-awareness and self-worth skyrocket before my very eyes.

In order to achieve a meaningful service learning project, there are a few guidelines that should be followed. First of all, the project must be based on real community needs. Just because kids are learning about deforestation does not mean they should be out there planting trees if their efforts could be better applied addressing a more urgent concern. Service learning projects should be focused on the priorities of the community; remember, the lessons of empathy and productiveness students take away is often more important than the exact issue being addressed! Secondly, the young people must have active and meaningful leadership roles. Too often, teachers have designed these projects in a top-down manner and told kids, “Okay, today we will go clean up trash on the beach.” When students can study the issue first, then brainstorm for ideas and propose solutions on their own, they take a lot more from the experience and display much more enthusiasm in making it a success. Active and structured reflection is another integral component; the more the students can really think about the issue and their role in helping, the more profound the lesson will be. A fourth component I have discovered to be a key in effectiveness is showing a sustained commitment over time. Sure, one-day visits to an elderly home are beneficial to everyone involved, but when this collaboration lasts over the course of the school year and students establish a rapport with the people they are assisting, they often look for deeper ways to help and take away more from the experience.

Since it has been established that projects like this help foster this global awareness we are so keen on instilling, the next question is how to go about designing a project like this. Though some of the on-line resources listed above provide a good framework, it is quite possible to establish an effective program without relying on digital technology. In many cases, the most important step is finding a reputable partner organization. By speaking with community leaders, parents and students themselves, schools can locate efficiently-run community-based projects to partner with. Most local organizations or non-profits are keen to partner with schools if they realize that such a collaboration allows them the opportunity to deepen their impact by engaging young and motivated students to help support their mission. Partner organizations I have worked with have benefited from the new energy and enthusiasm that young volunteers bring, especially when they are able to capitalize upon the unique abilities each young person brings. Involvement with an international school also helps these organizations increase their public profile; sometimes these projects work in the exact neighborhood of these schools, but were unrecognized until someone within the school proposed a partnership, resulting in increased visibility for the project within the community.

My non-profit, The Cause & Affect Foundation, has served as partner organization for several schools projects and through these experiences, I have learned some valuable lessons that are applicable in this context. First of all, choose one specific issue to focus your efforts on. Designing a campaign around “saving the environment” may look good on paper but unless kids really understand exactly what is the issue and how their involvement will improve the problem, most will not be interested. Secondly, introduce the issue to students in the most engaging manner possible. A field visit is ideal, but if this is not possible, photos and videos are imperative in sparking an emotional connection with students. As they say, “An image is worth a thousand words.” Thirdly, involve the students in brainstorming for a solution and proposing a plan of action. When teachers march in and say, “We are going to help a local homeless shelter. I need everyone to bring in ten cans of food,” the student gets nothing out of the experience and sees the effort as another empty assignment. But if they visit the shelter first or watch videos about life on the street and are then asked to brainstorm for ways to help these people, they will be a lot more active (and ultimately, more successful) in their efforts.

If you partner with a local non-profit or an outside organization like Cause & Affect, be sure to lay out what is expected from each partner and make it clear that your school requires some sort of field visit or video report to present to the students so they can see the fruits of their labor. I produce “field report” videos and then post them to You Tube so students can watch them in school and also share them with their parents and friends. Even if they do not get to deliver the aid firsthand, they can take pride in knowing they played a role in the project.

Lastly, make sure that students realize that the project undertaken is just one example of how they can be proactive in helping the health of our planet or the well-being of a family on the other side of the planet. It is important they realize that each project can be replicated or expanded upon. This is where it can be helpful to highlight the work of an activist who has dedicated his/her life to an important cause. For example, I like to tell students about my personal hero and mentor, a retired school teacher from San Francisco named Marc Gold, because it was his person-to-person “micro-philanthropy” model that inspired me to pursue my own form of humanitarian work. I explain his approach (making small, targeted donations to directly improve the lives of those in need) to show students that all of us, as individuals, have the ability to cut across borders and backgrounds to improve the lives of people in need.

When highlighting the inspiring work of others, teachers should try to incorporate videos and live testimony as much as possible. When I saw Marc Gold, this little 5’4” sixty year-old man trudging through the garbage dumps of Cambodia, it made a lasting impression on me. When I show video of him to young students, I can see it has a similar effect. The fact that he distributed more than a million dollars to improve people’s lives taught me that yes, one person  can  make a difference. Global citizenship does not end when the school bell rings; it is an awareness that will direct their decisions for the rest of their lives!

The fourth approach to developing global citizenship within the international schools is on the extra-curricular level. Luckily, due to their resources international schools often have more opportunities to pursue globally-based projects on an extra-curricular level than public schools. Social Action Clubs are one of the most popular ways of cultivating student activism. The basic structure of a Social Action Club involves a teacher or administrator overseeing the club, first by seeking out students interested in becoming members. Obviously, the more engaging and dynamic the club activities and description, the more students it will attract. Once the club has been established, it is up to the teacher and students to decide their course of action. In general, they should choose an issue and as they begin their research, they should identify a specific problem within that general topic on which to focus. They can then identify stakeholders (those impacted by the issue) and go about assessing the needs and strengths of the community related to the issue, by first finding out what (if any) organizations are working on the same issue and how best to address the situation.

The next step is to assemble a team. Again, here it is often best to partner with other organizations or recruit friends to help. Students, working under the supervision of the club’s faculty member, can then design a project to their resources and draw upon their strengths. The most effective Social Action Clubs work under a direct action model in which the members decide a course of action and then create a plan to carry out a project. After the implementation of their action project, they should be encouraged to monitor and evaluate the effects. By keeping data, surveying participants, and tracking the results of the project, they are not only able to measure their success but also approach future projects in an effective, quantifiable manner.

Beyond Social Action Clubs, there are other extra-curricular options as well, such as the Global Issues Network (GIN) wherein schools create teams that address global issues and then attend regional conferences where they collaborate with each other in seeking solutions to these problems. Though the framework is similar to Model UN, GIN encourages a more hands-on approach, motivating schools to pair with local non-profits and apply their activism in tangible ways outside of the school structure.

As we have learned, global citizenship is not just a buzzword within present-day education circles, but is a worldwide phenomenon that is changing the way people think about the world and their place in it. As educators, we must help instill in our students their interconnectedness with the world and their responsibility to act to improve it. When addressing students, our personal experiences can be a great departure point for planting the seed, but we must look to some of the tools described above to properly instill this invaluable consciousness in our students. Once they develop this awareness, they will excel as students and more importantly, will add value to the world and the communities in which they live. The effects are yet to be seen, but it is already glaringly obvious that by creating global citizens, we are helping give rise a better world.

This article was published on 10th December: Human Rights Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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