The New Equation for Global Competencies = PBL + SEL

smart planet
smart planet

The themes of President Obama’s speech earlier this week were about our American democracy and the importance of our citizens. Schools serve as the foundation for college and career, yes, but also citizenship. As Tom Vander Ark wrote in the Smart Cities book, “Learning is best formula for promoting economic growth and reducing the crippling effects of poverty…Schools can serve as the foundation for highly functioning democratic and sustainable communities and societies.”

Despite trends towards nationalism in America’s recent election and in other places around the world, we believe global competencies are needed now more than ever. Our American students are becoming more diverse. We have large-scale problems such as climate change that impact everyone, regardless of nationality. We have massive migration across borders due to conflict and economic and environmental change. We are more–not less–interconnected.

Brandon Wiley, a global edleader and Chief Program Officer at Buck Institute for Education (BIE), summed this up by writing, “The world will not be less global in 5, 10 or 15 years. It will only be more interconnected.”

Brandon Wiley, Buck Institute for Education (@BWILEYONE).png

We surveyed global education leaders–some working in schools and districts in the United States and those that support schools in reaching more students around the world. We asked how we cultivate global competencies. Here are our favorite responses from eight edleaders on equity, PBL and SEL in a global context.

Have something to add? Tweet at us @Getting_Smart and #SmartPlanet.

Equity: Opportunities and Challenges

On the challenges we face to promote equity, Travis Franklin (@SpokaneIntlAcademy) of Spokane International Academy, wrote “In some instances, we are attempting to broaden the worldview of students who have a completely opposite view being reinforced at home. When you promote equity among races, classes and genders you may be unintentionally sparking controversy with families who in no way share your views. If the aftermath of this past election taught us nothing else, it showed us that our country is not as far along as most of us thought it was or where it should be. It is vital that we continue to promote equity across every instance so we can prepare our next generation of leaders to be more tolerant, accepting and empathetic.”

Jason Van Heukelum (@jvanheukelum) of Winchester Public Schools wrote about what’s working in global education. Some “high poverty schools have embraced global education as a framework through which to teach content. In these contexts, minority students see their race and culture as a value-add to the school environment because the entire curriculum framework is viewed through cultural awareness and appreciation…When our students believe they belong and actually ‘own’ the school as if they are shareholders, they approach learning in a different way.”

Erin Dowd (@eedowd27) of Level Up Village wrote, “Global education can be Pandora’s box because it requires a different way of thinking about teaching and learning…Walls are broken down. And by doing this, both the good and the bad in the world becomes a learning opportunity.”

Janice Ward (@JaniceWard09 ) of Participate, wrote, “All students, regardless of their zip code or background, deserve access to high-quality global education. While we are making strides to ensure this happens, we still have a long way to go to ensuring global education for all. We must ask ourselves, ‘What would it take to make global education a reality for every child, in every classroom?’ Once we have that answer we must strive to make it a reality. Given today’s environment, we can’t afford for a select few to have access to the global competency skills we’re all promoting.”

Dana Mortenson (@DLCMSavvy) of World Savvy wrote, “When schools adopt an asset-based approach to diversity, global education can be leveraged in deeply meaningful ways to promote equity; where diverse perspectives are not only valued and sourced frequently in classroom learning and discourse, but are required to fully engage. This is a holistic approach that isn’t just about offering opportunities to marginalized students, but to transforming how all stakeholders in the system think about global competence and equity.”

SEL and Global Competencies

Chris Plutte (@Global_Nomads) of Global Nomads wrote of his organization’s mission to create more global citizens, “We believe global citizens are empathetic, globally aware and taking action to solve the most pressing problems in their communities. Our curriculum gives our students the opportunity to develop their self-awareness and gives them opportunities to understand the perspectives of others.”

Travis Franklin (@SpokaneIntlAcademy) wrote about the connection between SEL and global competencies, “When students feel that they are valued for who they are, what they believe, what they look like and what language they speak they will feel more part of their school. Students who see themselves represented in lessons and books will also be more willing to be part of the larger culture of the school and more willing to share about their own culture.”

Janice Ward (@JaniceWard09) wrote, “We must first know who we are, the emotions we have, and how to manage them before we begin to develop the skills needed to interact with others from varying backgrounds. Once students are able to grasp these concepts and manage them, we can move into how we interact with others and that’s where the beauty of global education comes in. We apply the SEL skills to recognizing one’s own perspectives and the perspectives of others, communicating ideas, and taking action.”

Project-Based Learning

Brandon Wiley, Ed.D. (@Bwileyone) of Buck Institute for Education wrote, “Schools that design and utilize projects that incorporate globally-significant issues, such as poverty, hunger, environmental sustainability and civil rights, tend to experience a high degree of engagement and ownership by students. Students generally want to make a difference in the world, locally, globally or both. High quality projects can capitalize on students’ passions and innate curiosity about why things are the way they are, especially things they perceive as unjust…High-quality project-based learning affords students the opportunity to develop agency and take ownership of their learning, instead of being passive recipients of knowledge.”

Amy McCooe (@AmyFMcCooe) from Level Up Village added, “Technology and better internet access is making innovative, deeper learning a reality every day. Innovative thinking has also created new models for collaborative project-based learning. For example, LUV was a sponsor of a ‘Tech Wheels’ STEM bus that travels throughout Mumbai, providing our courses and Internet connection to students who would otherwise not have access.”

We want you to join us.

Call To Action

We challenge you to join us in creating a #SmartPlanet. Be a globally connected educator and invite others to join too.

  1. Connect. Sign up at Participate to access FREE online resources and join in the conversation with other globally aware educators.
  2. Create. Create a resource on Participate to share, or comment on someone else’s. Check out the specific resources for our #SmartPlanet series.
  3. Share. Join an #Edchat to share your own best practices and learn from others.
  4. Guest post. If you are interested in sharing your story about innovations in learning and global competence, please email [email protected] with the title “Smart Planet.” See our guest posting policies for more.

This blog is part of our #SmartPlanet series in partnership with Participate. Check out #SmartPlanet and engage in the conversation on social media. Head over to to view and create lessons and join a community of educators to promote global education, in the US and around the world.

For more, see:

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Bonnie Lathram

Bonnie Lathram is a student advocate and former teacher.

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