Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reflection on My Year as the World Affairs Council Teacher in Residence

The year I spent as Teacher in Residence at the World Affairs Council was a great gift.  The opportunity to be more closely involved with the World Affairs Council in general, and specifically the Global Classroom taught me that teachers are not working alone and unsupported in our efforts to provide children with accurate information and exciting and relevant experiences to further their learning and knowledge of the world.  The World Affairs Council of Seattle, now celebrating its 60th year, brings our community together to learn about contemporary world issues and practice civic engagement.  The Global Classroom arm of the organization sponsors lectures and workshops designed to help teachers prepare classroom experiences that will engage students. It also reaches out to high school students directly with a Global Summer Institute and many opportunities to attend community programs during the school year at no cost to the students.
Cover of one of the fifty page resource packets
prepared during the 2010/2011 school year.
My year as the teacher in residence also provided me with weekly opportunities to research relevant online curriculum resources for teachers and students, and to create bibliographies of books at all reading levels around a topic or theme.  Now that I have returned to the classroom this year I find myself turning again and again to the online resources available at the World Affairs Council Global Classroom.  The resource packets are arranged by topic and were originally designed to support a specific workshop. The packets are extensive, however, and the articles, websites and book and film lists can be used to support many classroom social studies activities.  Knowing that the resources have been previewed can save teachers valuable time.  We all know that great information is readily available and that teachers are no longer isolated in a classroom with outdated social studies textbooks, but finding the time to search for the perfect site can still be a challenge.   During my year as the teacher in residence I always felt fortunate to have the time to wander from one website to another following a long chain of connected ideas.  

My class at the Columbia City Branch of the Seattle Public
Library to pick up books for our classroom.

Now, as a teacher with a classroom of students during the day and emails to write and lessons to plan in the evening I am happy to turn to what I know is a reliable source of current information.

It was in May 2010, at the International Leadership in Education dinner, that several ideas came together for me, and I understood more fully the need for a person to focus on early childhood and elementary level global education.  For the 2010/2011 school year I was able to do just that.  Here in Washington we have the most diverse school district in the nation located just a few miles south of Seattle.  The global community has truly come to us.  But how are teachers to prepare relevant curriculum to connect to the lives of these students?

Experiencing the city skyline from Elliot Bay.

Young children see and are aware of differences and similarities in their classmates.  Their natural curiosity is the greatest asset available for teachers to provide a forum for learning about and discussing varied cultural perspectives. In a classroom environment where differences are not acknowledged, children naturally assume that their curiosity about their classmates is unwelcome or rude. Empathy is replaced by silence, which creates an elephant in the room.  Young children do not have the learned biases of older students and adults.  By providing accurate information and relevant education in the elementary grades I believe biases can be begin to be replaced with greater compassion and understanding.  The challenge continues to be finding the time in most schools to immerse students in a study of a place far away and the culture and traditions of people who live there.  Teachers are asked to dedicate more and more time to basic skills and what students need to learn for the next required assessment.  But doesn’t it make more sense to make those skills relevant by using them to understand the world?

With Camille on a Puget Sound
beach on a field trip.
This September I joined a remarkable school community just entering its tenth year next fall.  The Lake and Park School is the vision of a truly gifted educator, Camille Hayward. 

Working together to dig a river on the shore of
Lake Washington.
I took over the Primary Classroom at Lake and Park where I am able to create integrated units of study for a mixed-age group of students.  We go out into the field on a regular basis, mapping the neighborhood, and as our name suggests using the shores of Lake Washington and the natural environment of Mt. Baker Park as a starting point for our exploration of the world.  Students learn by doing.  To understand world geography it is important to understand your local geography. 

After a year of reflecting on meaningful global education for young students I am back in the classroom more committed than ever to help create a learning environment where students can begin the journey of becoming world citizens.  What are your favorite resources to use in your classroom?