Vol. 3, No. 1: Spring/Summer 2007

Globally Minded Teachers

by Alison Hamm

High school teachers apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to global issues while enjoying campus life and university resources.

Imagine being a teacher in Indiana. You want your high school students to think critically about international issues that will affect their futures, keeping in mind the vast number of perspectives on any given issue. Not an easy task, especially if you’ve never had the personal experience of conversing with someone from another country, let alone traveling outside the United States. But as globalization becomes increasingly relevant in our daily lives, it’s crucial for teachers to incorporate the means of understanding and addressing global problems into their school curricula. So how can teachers reinforce these ideas to students? Can all high school teachers earn sabbatical leave? Probably not, unfortunately—but there’s good news.

You don’t have to be a world traveler to succeed in this task. In fact, you don’t have to leave the state. Since 1997, the Indiana University Center for the Study of Global Change and the Office of International Programs have offered the International Studies Summer Institute (ISSI) for seventh-to twelfth-grade teachers. The two-week residential program takes place on the Bloomington campus with participants from 28 U.S. states and 27 countries to date, who learn to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to global issues while enjoying campus life and university resources. The institute’s academic programs are organized with the support of IU’s vast international academic resources, such as the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the African Studies Program, the East Asian Studies Center, and the Russian and East European Institute, just to name a few. It originally started in 1996 for students only, and for a time (1998–2003) both students and teachers could participate. But since 2004, the institute has been strictly for teachers.

ISSI has grown steadily over the years, to 31 participants in 2006—when 14 Americans and 17 international participants took part—and promises a similar number for 2007. The center heavily recruits its participants from International Baccalaureate Schools and the IU Overseas Alumni Clubs. According to Deb Hutton, Assistant director at the center, participants consistently come from Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, China, and India, and she notes that one college in India, the Royal College of Commerce and Economics, is sending its fifth teacher to the institute. “We’ve started reserving a place for them now,” she says.

Participants work with IU professors, local and international experts, and prominent speakers to explore such topics as global environmental change, international trade, at-risk populations, and conflict resolution. They accomplish this through a variety of activities—lectures, group discussions, games, and live, interactive video links with Africa, Europe, or Latin America.

“The program is so rich,” reports Andy Ritchey, a former participant. “They have experts on every topic.” That’s no exaggeration. With experts such as Graham Pike, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Prince Edward Island University in Canada, teachers get additional guidance about how to address global subjects in the classroom. Other impressive past speakers include current and former members of Congress, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the former Interim President of Liberia, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Pike is pleased to be part of the program each summer. “It provides a fabulous opportunity for teachers to spend time with colleagues from around the world and to engage in conversations with leading experts on contemporary global issues,” he says.

Hutton adds, “It’s a way for local teachers to connect to a worldly experience even if they’ve never left Indiana. You really bond with [the other participants].” She mentions the added “bonding” the teachers experience by living and eating in the residence halls together. Ritchey agrees—“You get to know people pretty well,” he says. “You’re making connections with people from all over the world. Plus, everybody is a teacher, so that is really neat.”

Ritchey, who teaches a class called “World Languages” at Jackson Creek Middle School in Bloomington, found the experience easily applicable to the classroom. He hopes to get his class involved with pen pals from Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, or Bolivia, using his connections from the institute. “Since I teach world languages, anywhere works,” he says. In another class, his students are studying immigration. He has the students take different viewpoints on the issue, using the same techniques he and fellow teachers used at the institute when discussing nuclear proliferation.

Understanding and listening to different viewpoints plays an enormous role in the program. For the teachers, thinking about how to incorporate multiple perspectives into the classroom is both challenging and empowering, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive comments they share after the program. Comments such as, “I go home changed, and that makes all the difference to me, my students, and my world,” and “I will never look at the world, other people, or even my own classroom in quite the same way” are the theme. Hutton confirms that she often hears teachers describe the institute as an “eye-opening” and life-changing experience.

For Emily McCord, a social studies teacher at Batchelor Middle School in Bloomington, the experience confirmed her belief that teaching about global issues is both interesting and essential. “I also developed a real appreciation for how guest speakers, especially panels of people with differing viewpoints, can be used to expand students’ thinking about a given issue,” she says.

One panel discussion regarding farmers’ use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) stood out for McCord, because it changed her approach to the subject. The panel members included an organic farmer, a farmer who used GMOs but questioned the practice, and a farmer who strongly believed in the use of GMOs, McCord recalls. “I was strongly against the use of GMOs prior to hearing the panel discussion. After the panel discussion I still questioned the use of GMOs, but I also better understood the position of the farmer who used them. I understood each farmer’s position in a real, human way. The issue was no longer an abstract issue, but something that really impacted people, and this changed my approach to it.”

McCord would like to humanize global issues for her students in a similar manner. After leaving the two-week experience, she says she felt a renewed drive and urgency to be a great teacher. To help her students develop a deeper understanding of content, she now utilizes activities like videoconferencing, panel discussions, and guest speakers—activities she enjoyed and learned from in the institute’s programs. “Also, my seventh-grade classes, which focus on Eastern hemispheric studies, are much more global issues–oriented than they had been in the past,” she adds.

And this is exactly the impact Hutton hopes the institute can have. She describes it as a “pipeline” of information—by telling kids early on about globalization and IU’s international resources and opportunities, participant teachers provide them with the necessary tools to address and understand global issues from a young age. It also serves as a great recruiting tool for the university. Amy Lynn Herman, an IU senior majoring in both international studies and African studies, discovered her future majors, as well as IU’s many other international opportunities, thanks to the institute, which she learned about from a high school teacher. Herman, who is originally from Evansville, might not have come to IU without this initial recommendation. “My reason for coming to IU was twofold,” she says. “One, I wanted to stay in state; two, the International Studies Program.” And without the institute’s help, she might never have heard of the program.

Even though the institute is now only open to teachers, students can continue to benefit as long as the ideas are reinforced in the classroom. “It doesn’t really matter what you teach,” Ritchey says. “I’ve recommended the program to pretty much everyone at school. The global issues we face can be integrated into any subject.”

If the other past participants are following Ritchey and McCord’s lead, then the institute certainly leaves a lasting impression—not only on the participants, but just as importantly, on their students. “It’s only two weeks, but it has such a huge impact,” says Ritchey. “In a way, it’s a hard program to sum up.”

But Pike can do it. He puts it simply: “It’s a wonderful experience for the globally minded teacher.”

Alison Hamm is a Web content specialist in the IU Office of Creative Services.

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