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How Lipscomb University is Integrating Intercultural Understanding in Teacher Education

This blog article is part of the Global Education Faculty PLC Professional Development Series, sponsored by the Longview Foundation. The writing series aims to elevate the perspectives of international scholars, including teacher educators, graduate students, and alike, to offer insights into how Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) can integrate intercultural understanding within their programs. AACTE members interested in participating in the series should contact Brooke Evans at mailto:bevans@aacte.org.

Faculty members often help candidates build intercultural understandings during individual courses. Still, embedding this into already packed teacher/leader preparation at a programmatic level can be a challenge. Those of us in educator preparation programs (EPPs) can agree with Andreas Schleicher, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) director for education and skills, who says, “It takes deliberate and systematic efforts to create the global competence through which we can share experiences, ideas, and innovation with others, and increase our radius of trust to other countries and cultures.”

Programmatic global competence requires intentional planning, consistent implementation, and thoughtful reflection to ensure candidates see these understandings as integral to teaching and leading. While every college develops these skills differently, in this blog I detail some of the ways our college works to integrate intercultural understanding, depending on the level (undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, graduate) and the program (teacher or leader).

Traditional initial candidates, undergraduate and post-baccalaureate, complete two student teaching placements at different grade levels and are differentiated by school or school population characteristics, a feasible requirement given the diversity of the schools around us. Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is a large, extremely diverse urban district with more than 81,000 students from 145 student-birth countries speaking 135 languages, 28% limited English proficiency (LEP), and 14% students with disabilities (SWD). Some districts have comparable student diversity, offering a wide range of possible partnerships. Student teachers can also choose international posts around the globe for their second placements. In addition, we host community students on campus through partnerships and programs, with our candidates actively involved in those activities. Also using simulations, we encourage candidates to develop intercultural skills when they communicate both with parents and students and to understand what situations others may be navigating.

Through specified clinical placements, traditional undergraduate candidates have experience in classrooms and schools representing a variety of student populations throughout their program. In addition to a required course designed to explore how cultural perspectives influence relationships among families, schools, and communities as related to instruction, students can choose to participate in the university’s global learning semester and numerous mission opportunities.

In advanced programs, experiential learning hours are also required in diverse school settings and populations. These are enhanced by a focus on culturally responsive teaching and leading, though these candidates have fewer opportunities to be in schools other than their own due to work schedules. Advanced programs have taken candidates into the community to interact in a variety of places and ways, including faith centers, student service organizations, and schools.  For partnerships, the principal prep program developed school-community tours to broaden candidates’ worldviews by engaging with transformational leaders in urban, charter, and special education settings. That program also incorporates a set of simulation videos and an ethical decision-making framework encouraging leadership candidates to consider responses and paths forward when faced with complex leadership situations, including those impacted by cultural perspectives.

To increase global competence within all programs, the college implemented a push to embed global literature and diverse authors at all levels, undergraduate through doctoral. Faculty of literacy courses in particular have expanded the choices offered there to ensure candidates understand the need for global perspectives in their classrooms. One college event, “Global Voices,” is presented annually, offering K-12 educators a conference-style professional learning day designed to provide them with research-based instructional strategies, literature, and tip sheets that can enhance their classroom practice immediately.

The focus on global understanding extends through the doctoral program, with a required Ed.D. course containing an embedded short-term travel component. During travel, candidates visit schools, universities, educational organizations, and government and policy organizations to examine international policies (especially those designed for equity and inclusion), structures, practices, assessments, and educator prep. Anyone who cannot travel (or everyone during a pandemic) has synchronous and asynchronous sessions offering similar opportunities. These experiences demonstrate educational borrowing and lending, allowing developing leaders to examine common challenges, opportunities, and results in context and explore practices, policies, and possibilities in settings both like and unlike their own.

While individual faculty members continue to offer assignments, exchanges, and partnership opportunities in individual courses, EPPs can work to embed global competence and intercultural understanding through program curriculum and design. As a result of planning, consistent implementation, and thoughtful reflection at the program level, candidates will see global competence as vital in their classrooms and schools.

Deborah Boyd, Ed.D. is dean emerita and professor in the College of Education at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.  She is also a member of the Longview Foundation-supported AACTE Global Education Faculty Professional Learning Community (PLC).

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