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The Nature of Cultural and Global Learning: Key Concepts for Teacher Preparation

The author and her collaborators will be presenting a free AACTE webinar Wednesday, April 12, 3:00-4:00 p.m. EDT on “Building Teachers’ Cultural and Global Awareness to ‘Reach and Teach’ All Students” (see this blog for more information). The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

Various education-oriented groups have sounded the call for increasing attention to global competence among our nation’s PK-12 students. Recent reports from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society, the Longview Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have underscored the need to prepare all students to live and work in an interconnected, interdependent world. What does this mean for the preparation of their teachers?

Standard 2 of the InTASC model core teaching standards says that teachers should use “understanding of individual differences and diverse cultures and communities to ensure inclusive learning environments that enable each learner to meet high standards.” In my state of Kentucky, a number of opportunities have been developed to help provide teachers with this understanding and the skills to extend it to their students.

One very effective program at the educator preparation level provides the opportunity for preservice teachers to practice student teaching abroad. Participants describe this program as transformative, broadening their cultural perspectives and opening their eyes to cultural biases and new perspectives. While it is heartening to see the impact this program has on candidates who participate, unfortunately, the percentage of candidates at the University of Kentucky who student teach abroad is quite small – about 5%. When study abroad is not available or not feasible, alternative methods of developing the cultural and global awareness necessary to effectively “reach and teach” all learners can be helpful.

As I mentioned in my last blog on this topic, I’ve made use of the My Cultural Awareness Profile (myCAP©) Suite of Resources from NAFSA: Association of International Educators to help address this need. Designed to promote the development of cultural and global awareness of preservice educators through a variety of methods, these resources can be used to support students who are fortunate enough to study abroad as well as those who are place-bound. With permission from NAFSA, I’d like to highlight some of the key concepts and activities included in the instructor guide for these resources, based on three interconnected dimensions:

  • Understanding of cultural and global contexts
  • Integration of cultural and global perspectives in the curriculum
  • Responsiveness to the influence of culture on teaching and learning

Understanding of Cultural and Global Contexts

Educators should have a basic understanding of cultural and global contexts, such as –

  • Knowledge of and interest in international issues and global systems
  • Cognizance that individual choices may have a global impact, and awareness of ways individuals can take action to address global issues
  • Familiarity with the concept of culture, including the general cultural categories used to compare and discuss diverse cultural practices
  • Curiosity and respect for the diversity of human cultural practices, both globally and within the local context

Ideas for teacher educators to facilitate learning:

  • Ask teacher candidates to generate their top-10 list of global issues that are important to them, and find avenues that would allow them to learn more and get involved.
  • Encourage students to attend events and join organizations (not education-focused) on campus or in the community. Consider supporting and acknowledging such involvement in newsletters and on social media.

Integration of Cultural and Global Perspectives in the Curriculum

To be able to integrate cultural and global perspectives into the curriculum for PK-12 students, teachers need to develop –

  • Knowledge of the international and global issues found within the disciplinary fields/subject areas they teach
  • Commitment to developing curriculum that engages students in explorations of international and global content, concepts, and skills
  • Familiarity with ways in which the study of culture and intercultural understanding can be integrated into curricula across all content areas
  • Awareness that all educational and curricular decisions are value-laden and that teachers play an important role in critically examining and questioning ways that the normative culture can impact policies and practices, particularly regarding education

Ideas for teacher educators to facilitate learning:

  • Ask teacher candidates to review the national standards in their discipline areas for explicit and implicit connections to teaching for global learning.
  • Use a lesson plan for a topic for which candidates might struggle to see the cultural aspects (e.g., a science or math lesson) and challenge them to find ways that culture is explicitly or implicitly embedded in the plan.

Responsiveness to the Influence of Culture on Teaching and Learning

Educators need to develop cognizance of themselves as part of a culture, understand that others may hold different cultural perspectives, and attend to the ways cultural identity impacts teaching and learning. This involved understanding –

  • Their own cultural identities and how cultural identities influence the way one makes sense of the world
  • The need to learn about the cultural backgrounds of students as a vital component of teaching
  • The need for critical analysis of the ways in which culture and cultural identities (their own, their students’, the school’s, the community’s) influence teaching and learning

Ideas for teacher educators to facilitate learning:

  • Ask candidates to brainstorm all the ways to complete the statement “I am a ______” (e.g., sister, student, New Englander, historian, etc.). Use their answers as a springboard to discuss their identities and the different cultural groups to which they belong.
  • In a think/pair/share activity, ask candidates to recall a time when they felt like a cultural outsider and to explore what made them feel that way.

Whether your candidates are fortunate enough to study abroad or will be completing their preparation locally, these concepts and exercises can help them become more culturally and globally competent. I hope you can join my webinar April 12 to discuss these, ponder curricular shifts to address local demographic changes, and consider other strategies to help candidates teach with a global perspective.

Finally, if you’re looking to explore these issues in much greater depth, my webinar presenters and I will be leading sessions at the NAFSA Global Learning Colloquium on Teacher Education, to be held May 30 in Los Angeles. NAFSA is offering a 20% discount to AACTE members to register for the colloquium—just contact Heather MacCleoud at heathermc@nafsa.org if you’re interested!

Sharon Brennan is associate professor and director of clinical practices and school partnerships in the University of Kentucky College of Education. Heather MacCleoud of NAFSA: Association of International Educators also contributed to this article.


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Sharon Brennan

University of Kentucky

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