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Mutually Beneficial Professional Development for Teachers in North and Central America

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Our world is increasingly interconnected economically, politically, technologically, ecologically, and socially (Merriweather, 1998). Our schools worldwide must prepare students for work, private, and public life in a global society (The New London Group, 1996). This means that in addition to college, career, and civic ready, students must also be global-ready. Global-ready means ready to work, live, and interact with anyone in the world from anywhere in the world (Zhao, 2010). Global-readiness includes global competence and 21st century skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills & VIF, 2014). Teachers are expected to promote global competence and 21st century skills in their students, but may not be globally competent or 21st century literate themselves.

Experiential Learning for Global Competence

Experiential learning theory places experience as primary to the learning process (Kolb, Boyatzis, & Mainemelis, 2002). Kolb, Boyatzis, & Mainemelis (2002) describe the four steps of experiential learning as concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Direct experiences with people of different cultures has been reported by pre-service and in-service teachers as the most influential means of gaining cultural competence (Merryfield, 2000). This has lead researchers to examine experiential professional development as a means to increase teachers’ cultural knowledge and intercultural sensitivity. Much literature has been produced about study abroad experiences for pre-service teachers, but what about teachers who may not have the ability to live abroad for months at a time? 4 THE WORLD’s Global Experiential Learning Excursion takes educators to schools in rural Belize and Guatemala on fall, spring, and summer breaks. Educators experience life in the developing world and learn the history, culture, and contemporary issues of our Central American neighbors.

Professional Development for K-12 Educators

4 THE WORLD is a US non-profit organization that provides support for communities around the globe. 4 the World has provided books, school supplies, and technology; constructed school buildings, playgrounds, and restrooms; initiated pupil feeding programs and supplied food; mended water purifying systems; granted secondary school scholarships; conducted fun and educational day camps for children, and provided teacher professional development on topics such as literacy and technology. Their mission is to identify and collaborate with communities across the globe to empower them to identify and solve the most pressing needs of their communities within the areas of health and education. By partnering with communities and educators, 4 THE WORLD provides a critical link that utilizes the assets of each partner to help meet the needs of the other partners.

Historically, teachers in developing countries have limited formal training in teaching.  In Belize, only 49% of primary school teachers held an associate’s degree or higher (Ministry of Education and Sports, 1999, p. 49). Less than 60% of teachers in Belize had any pedagogical training (UNESCO, 2005). 4 THE WORLD is acutely aware that every teacher, every school, and every community has specific needs and desires and that these must be fully taken into account before professional development is implemented. In order to respect the autonomy and dignity of these teachers, I conduct an annual survey of teachers from beneficiary schools to ask if professional development is desired and if so, what topics are pressing. North American teachers who apply for the trip are asked about their experiences and areas of expertise. The list of professional development topics are then matched with North American teachers’ experiences and areas of expertise. Lessons from past professional development sessions will be shared at the conference presentation.

Educators on Location

Traveling teachers from North America follow 4 THE WORLD’s iterative model for problem-solving: (a) identify the problem, (b) assess the solutions, and (c) collaborate to implement a solution. This model emphasizes working with the people affected by the problem in order to solve the problem in a sustainable way. 4 THE WORLD’s model for problem-solving works for small groups of children in a classroom all the way to international organizations working on vital development issues.

4 THE WORLD organizes trips from North America to Central America for pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and teacher educators. The North American teachers choose a global theme from their curriculum to explore from diverse perspectives while traveling.   (The conference presentation will include discussion of past project topics.) 4 THE WOLRD provides professional development on how to use global themes to integrate problem-based learning with global learning.

4 THE WORLD’s global learning model is listen, learn, and act. In professional development sessions, teachers consider issues of importance in Belize and Guatemala by listening to teachers, students, and community leaders in-country.  Teachers then identify a pressing problem to investigate and learn about the issue from diverse perspectives.  After assessing the possible solutions, the teachers facilitate collaboration for students in North America and Central America to partner and take action to implement a solution.  The process then starts over, as the teachers and students listen to those affected and assess the solution, identifying strengths and weaknesses and learn from the experience in order to improve the world one project at a time.

While in-country, the North American teachers provide professional development training sessions for teachers in Central America.  The session topics are based on Central American teachers’ requests on the annual survey and North American teachers’ potential of expert knowledge.

These experiential global learning trips support capacity-building initiatives for the communities, professional development for teachers in North and Central America, and global experiences for the traveling teachers. Ultimately, these partnerships help everyone connected contribute in the present and continue to grow and thrive in the future.



4 the World. (2014). Retrieved from http://4theworld.org

Kolb, D. A., Boyatzis, R. E., & Mainemelis, C. (2001). Experiential learning theory: Previous research and new directions. Perspectives on thinking, learning, and cognitive styles, 1, 227-247.

Merryfield, M. M. (1998). Pedagogy for global perspectives in education: Studies of teachers’ thinking and practice. Theory & Research in Social Education, 26(3), 342-379.

Merryfield, M. M. (2000). Why aren’t teachers being prepared to teach for diversity, equity, and global interconnectedness? A study of lived experiences in the making of multicultural and global educators. Teaching and teacher education, 16(4), 429-443.

Ministry of Education and Sports (1999). Belize: Education statistics. Retrieved from http://www.childinfo.org/files/LAC_Belize.pdf

Partnership for 21st Century Skills & VIF. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/our-work/global-education

Statistical Institute of Belize. (2012). Abstract of Statistics: Belize. Retrieved from http://www.statisticsbelize.org.bz/

Zhao, Y. (2011). Preparing globally competent teachers: A new imperative for teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(5), 422-431.

The New London Group.(1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics. (2005). Education for all: The quality imperative. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/efareport/reports/2005-quality/

Join me as I present this topic at the Global Education Conference on Friday, November 21 at 10am US Eastern Time.  All presentations are virtual.  You can find my session information at http://www.globaleducationconference.com/forum/topics/mutually-beneficial-professional-development-for-teachers-in and view the calendar at http://www.globaleducationconference.com/page/globaledcon-schedule-gmt-5


Author: 4 the World

4 the World identifies and collaborates with communities across the globe to empower them to identify and solve the most pressing needs of their communities within the areas of health and education. By partnering with the communities in these areas, we provide critical support and capacity-building initiatives to ensure these communities are capable of continuing to grow and thrive in the future.

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