Local Thinking Applied Globally

by Tina Johnson-Dunn

Thomas L. Friedman’s book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century begins with a chapter titled “While I Was Sleeping.” These words exemplify the transformation of schools from traditional academies that teach reading, writing and arithmetic into ever-changing learning centers that equip students for the diversified global economy in which they live. This transformation happened while most of us were unconscious, unaware, sleeping.

What we now realize is that as educators we make a difference not only in the individual lives of our students but also in the global community that we all share. With this understanding comes the responsibility to work even harder to prepare our students to be members of this community. The problem becomes clear when we look at the big picture: Information access, supply and retrieval require the ability to process information. Students must be able to read and comprehend, not just decode, the information they encounter. They must be able to understand its meaning, apply its concepts, compare and contrast to other concepts, make evaluations and create new models. In short, they must be able to integrate Bloom’s Taxonomy of Understanding. As educators, we must equip students with these tools and then expose them to tested and proven, reliable and valid information.

Connecting Well
What we must understand more deeply about leadership in education boils down to one thing: The skill of administering and receiving the communication of purposeful information in an atmosphere of community is our connection. Lack of communication breeds ignorance. Real leadership is not me, me, me, “my vision, my mission, my organization,” rather it is “our vision, our mission, our organization.” Lee Bolman and Terry Deal, in their book Reframing Organizations, write: “The point is not that those who are already leaders should do less, but that everyone else can and should do more.”

The global community must accept responsibility for our students’ well-being and our students’ access to curriculum-rich information, and we all have a role to play in sustaining it.

Successful school leaders are those who learn how to disseminate information, those who know how to encourage a quest for more information and those who can communicate information on many levels and from many positions.

“Conversely, one can be a leader without a position of formal authority. Good organization encourages leadership from many quarters,” say Bolman and Deal.

It is our goal as educators to cultivate and bring out the strengths in students. This goal becomes most feasible when we embrace the understanding of the global connections within all of our students. Understanding global connections causes us to teach them the ability to trust others to lead, even when they are not the leader. It prompts us to teach the necessity of and the appreciation for reaching outside the box, especially when the benefit is greater and yields better understanding, communication and accountability structures. Yes, it is important for educators to have vision, strength and commitment, and to lead with a global perspective.

Close Collaboration
Friedman, in his book, states: “It is not the global which comes and envelops us. It is the local which goes global.” It is this idea — of the local that goes global — that leading schools and school systems should include as part of their overall learning matrix. It is not enough to have television channels where the programming is in various languages. Schools can broadcast courses in various languages as well. How interesting it would be to offer a French course at a school in Los Angeles that is being taught by a French teacher in France. The French teacher could teach in person to students in a classroom in France and at the same time teach French via videoconference to students in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles students, via videoconference, would get all of the pronunciation, decoding and subtle differences from the French teacher the same way the French students do as though they all were sitting in the same class.

This application would also work for home-schooled students, students who are on leave because of illness and those in continuation schools. These students could take part in the actual classroom lectures and discussions via videoconference, probe for explanations, even access one-on-one tutoring.

Thus, schools in America need to build partnerships with international schools with a focus on collaborating to formulate new ideas and share resources on many levels. We are not just referring to students surfing the Internet or sending letters to students from other countries, but rather students attending classes and being involved with class discussions in other countries. When students learn to collaborate globally, they grow up and become adults who can collaborate effectively in a global market. It will not be enough to just know other world languages, it will also be necessary for students to know the customs, the culture and the nuances of various nationalities to effectively exchange resources and further global connections.

The transformation of education is under way. It is time now to equip and enlighten our students to a local-to-global perspective of knowledge.

Tina Johnson-Dunn is a doctoral candidate in education leadership, administration and policy at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.