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November 15, 2012

Teaching for a Global Future

CIS’s fifth annual Chicago International Education Conference provided 100 educators with hands-on tools to connect their students with the world.

On November 9, the performance penthouse at the new Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts filled with K-12 teachers eager for ideas on how to better integrate the world into their Chicago classrooms.

The annual International Education Conference (IEC) highlights tools and resources  that are available for K-12 teachers and administrators to internationalize their curricula, and offers a unique opportunity to discuss how students can best achieve “global competence.” An increasingly widespread measure of American students’ competitiveness in the world, global competence encompasses the ability to recognize diverse perspectives, communicate ideas effectively, and investigate the world on both a local and global level.

The conference opened with a broad assessment of the challenges and opportunities that exist for all teachers interested in introducing global themes into their classrooms. Julia de la Torre, Executive Director of Primary Source, spoke to the one hundred educators in attendance on the theme of "Global Proficiency: Getting to the Core of Global Education."

To provide students with an adequate foundation for life in an increasingly interconnected world, De la Torre said, global lessons must be at the center of their daily education, and serve as more than interesting examples. She acknowledged that refocusing curriculum around global issues and ideas can be a daunting task, but emphasized the importance of the effort. 

“All of us know deep down inside that the world is not only getting smaller, but that globalizing our teaching is no longer an option, it’s something we have to do,” De la Torre said. “We’re preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet, a future we can’t even know. And that’s a really hard thing to do when you don’t have models for what best practice looks like.”

Primary Source provides learning opportunities and curriculum resources for K-12 educators to connect them and their students to people and cultures throughout the world. De la Torre suggested ten specific things teachers “can do now,” including auditing their own curriculum, leading a staff meeting with resources like those provided at the conference and by CIS, building a relationship with teachers and classrooms in another country, and creating global certificate programs to encourage teachers across disciplines and grade levels to work together in developing lessons.

To challenge students, De la Torre said, teachers also must challenge themselves. “Moving to a deeper more nuanced understanding of the world means putting yourself outside of your comfort zone every day. And it’s hard. But I’ll tell you, it’s the most invigorating teaching you can do.”

De la Torre said that conferences like the IEC remind her why she loves to teach. “Surrounding yourself with a hundred colleagues who care about this stuff is really energizing,” she said. “Coming together for these professional days is itself a critical piece of global education.”

The event marked the fifth time CIS has hosted the conference. The first four IEC's were developed as a partnership between CIS, Chicago Public Schools - Department of Language and Cultural Education, and Chicago Sister Cities International. The event has been cosponsored with generous support from the University of Chicago Office of Civic Engagement and the Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP) for the past two years. Speakers at past conferences include Brandon Wiley, Director of the Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network, and Gillian Sorensen, Senior Advisor to the United Nations Foundation.

Hundreds of teachers have attended the conference since it was first held in 2008. Jamie Bender, CIS Assistant Director for Programs, noted that attendance at this year’s conference reflects the University’s broader engagement with the community. “In recent years the conference has seen a significant increase in participation from UChicago NSP Partners, including several teachers from Murray Language Academy and Kenwood Academy High School,” Bender said. “Teaching for global competence is the responsibility of all educators. It should not only be left to world language or social studies teachers, but rather must be an interdisciplinary effort to educate and engage our youth on a deeper level.”

The University’s Senior Associate Vice President for Community Engagement, Sonya Malunda, also emphasized the importance of the IEC in the University’s engagement with Chicago as she welcomed the teachers to the new Logan Center. 

“Global education is an area that in particular I’m excited to be with you today to focus on,” she told the teachers. “We’re very committed as a university in education, and how we engage our city and you as an educator, so that we can continue to present the best options for young people.”

Malunda explained the many ways the University is supporting K-12 education, including UChicago Impact, which provides University-developed research and tools to help school districts across the country systematically assess and improve their educational programs. She also introduced the recently announced initiative called UChicago Promise, which will provide eligible Chicago high school students with full College tuition, and will offer workshops to students, parents, and educators as they prepare for college.

"There are students in the city who are not aiming, with their full potential, for the best colleges and Universities in the country,” Malunda said. “With UChicago Promise, we hope to partner with these students and their parents to help them aim higher and do better.”

After the morning plenary events, De la Torre also lead one of five breakout sessions with teachers on Friday afternoon. Her focus on “Globally-Minded Service for 21st Century Learners” guided teachers on connecting students with global issues and international non-profits through service-learning projects. Other curriculum development sessions lead by University partners and education NGOs addressed “Media Literacy and the Middle East” (Alex Barna, Center for Middle Eastern Studies); “Using Short Films to Introduce Global Themes and Multi-Cultural Awareness into your Curricula” (Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Global Oneness Project); “Leveraging Technology to Connect to the World” (Lucy Gray, education consultant); and “Art as an Interdisciplinary Tool for Teaching Global Competency Skills”(Lisa Davis and Michael Christiano, Smart Museum of Art). 

More information about the conference sessions and resources from all presenters are available at http://cis.uchicago.edu/iec2012.

This year’s conference was organized by CIS and cosponsored with generous support from the University’s Office of Civic Engagement, the Neighborhood Schools Program, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Smart Museum of Art, Southern Asia at Chicago, and the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies.

By Thomas Gaulkin