What Global Education Means to Me

Last night I accepted the 2013-14 World Educator Award from the World Affairs Council of Seattle. It was a fun night with family, friends, colleagues, and students in attendance. Although I wasn’t interrupted by music, my six-minute speech didn’t leave room for extensive thank-yous. I would like to add an extra shout-out to the Center for Teaching Quality. CTQ has supported me in so many ways during the past few years. Most significantly, my teacherpreneur role has made it possible to immerse myself in a wide range of professional opportunities outside of my classroom while still teaching every day. Much of the work for which I was honored with this award was only possible with the flexibility of time and space that my hybrid role created. Thank you CTQ! 

My acceptance speech:

Paolo Friere, the great Brazilian educator and philosopher wrote, “Education must begin with the solution of the student-teacher contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.” This vision – of teachers and students as equals – recreating the world together, couldn’t be more important today.

The courageous work of people like Dan O’Neil, Penny LeGate, and Micah Albert – who I’m so honored to share this stage with tonight – reveals some of the many complex, interconnected problems that we face on our planet today. Global climate change. Access to clean water and improved sanitation. And of course, universal public education that serves all students equitably.

We often tell youth that they hold the keys to the future – that they must figure out how to solve the many problems that we and the generations before us have left for them. That’s a lot of pressure.

We don’t have the luxury of waiting for youth to lead. We as educators have a responsibility to get out of the way and to encourage our students to be leaders not just of the future, but leaders TODAY.

Teaching became a more personal endeavor for me six years ago when my daughter Elana was born. Now, with the addition of my son Ezra, when I stand before my Global Leadership class each day, I am always thinking about the planet that will be their home for many decades to come.

Sharing responsibility with youth in the classroom has given me a new sense of hope – hope that our future can be bright. And witnessing the tremendous leadership of youth at Chief Sealth International High School has helped me understand that our school is really serving as a laboratory – we’re testing what is possible. And what we do at Chief Sealth can be done at any school in this state – in this country. And I am committed to seeing that become a reality.

Now I’d like to say a few words about Global Education.

A few years ago I thought that I was a global educator. I taught my students about the world around them. I told them stories about my adventures abroad. I even travelled with students to Guatemala and China. But global education isn’t just learning about the world – it’s developing the skills required to work with the rest of the world.

It was through working alongside my students to develop and carry out our first World Water Week festival four years ago that I started to see what global education can be.

Global education is learning how to communicate effectively across cultures, to collaborate in groups, with people who have different worldviews. And most importantly – most urgently – it’s developing the initiative to take action.

Some of these real-world skills I’ve mentioned probably sound familiar. We often call them 21st century skills. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning identifies them as the 4 C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. These critical skills are usually not assessed on the standardized tests that are used to measure success in our education system. But we know that they are what are most important for our students to be successful in the real world after graduation.

There is another word that starts with C that is often associated with global education. That word is competition. The need for our students to be able to compete with students from other nations is often at the forefront of the rationale for teaching globally. I want to challenge those of you who share this vision of global education – one of economic competitiveness – to make some room for what I believe is far more urgent – another C-word: cooperation. Only through global cooperation will we have a chance to solve the complex, interconnected problems that we face as human beings on our planet today.

I am only up here tonight because of many partners in both my professional and personal lives.

Thank you to the World Affairs Council for this amazing honor. A special thanks goes out to Tese and Laura for bringing the Global Classroom program to teachers around the Puget Sound. Global Classroom events are by far the most relevant, enriching, and enjoyable professional development that I have experienced as a teacher.

I am fortunate to teach alongside many world educators every day at Chief Sealth International. I share this award with them – none of my work would be possible without their collaboration.

Are any of my students out there? You are why all of us are here tonight. Do not let anyone tell you that you are too young to lead. Your voice is powerful. Use it. And we will listen.

To my friend, colleague, and mentor, Chris Fontana and all of my colleagues at Global Visionaries – an organization where youth truly enter as learners and leave as leaders. 

Thank you to the many people who have encouraged me to be a leader. Jackie and Mike Bezos – thank you for sparking a journey four years ago that I could never have predicted. Barnett Berry and my colleagues at the Center for Teaching Quality – for the past three years you have made it possible to lead without leaving my classroom behind. Thank you to Karen Kodama for your vision of global education for Seattle Public Schools and for your continuous encouragement and support. Thank you to my current principal Aida Fraser Hammer and to my first principal, John Boyd, both of whom are here tonight.

Thank you to my wife Taryn for being the most loving, patient, and supportive partner I could ever hope for. And thank you for dealing with bedtime tonight.

And thank you to my parents, Ken and Andrea, who from the day I was born, have given me the best global education I could ever hope for. 

Thank you.