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  • Erin Austin

Global Education: What It Is, Why It’s the Future, and Why World Language Teachers Should Lead

“Yeah, sure. Global ed. That’s what I do naturally because I’m a world language teacher. It just comes with the territory.”

Although it pains me to admit, those were the thoughts running through my head when I was first introduced to global education as a brand new NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow. Listening to the brilliant Dr. Fernando Reimers speak with passion, conviction, and unmatched knowledge on the subject, I felt myself shrink. How could I be so naïve, so presumptuous? And most importantly, how could I retrain my brain to embrace the reality of global education while casting off my preconceived notions? I had a lot to learn.

What is global education?

While the contributions to the research and approaches to educating stakeholders by global education’s key “movers and shakers” varies somewhat, the central tenets remain quite close. These include the ideas that global education:

  1. Is inextricably linked to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

  2. Fosters empathy.

  3. Centers the building of global competence in students.

Like the approaches, the definition of global competence can also vary slightly, but my favorite interpretation is from Dana Mortenson, the founder of World Savvy: “Global competence is the ability to equip all students with the knowledge, the skills, and the dispositions to thrive in an interconnected and interdependent global society.“ 

Ultimately, those ideas can be synthesized into one, key phrase: Global education isn’t learning about the world; it’s learning with and from the world.

Education’s past and present largely focuses on learning about the world. It’s as if we treat the world like a visit to the zoo: We look in, we enjoy it, but we don’t share space; we don’t interact in meaningful ways. There’s always a barrier, and at the end of the day we go home. In order to examine where we’ve traditionally been and where we’re trying to go, it’s useful to look at the Asia Society’s Four Domains of Global Competence:


Examples of what we’ve traditional done

(Learning about the world)

Examples of where global ed calls us to go

(Learning with the world)

Investigate the World:

Students investigate the world beyond their immediate environment.

We read about other parts of the world, and we may watch videos as well.

We travel; we interview; we invite in speakers; we take advantage of the cultural richness of our own schools, neighborhood, cities, and state; we make connections across the world, and we ask questions and establish friendships; we foster curiosity. The key is to include voices and experiences outside of our classroom, in real time.

Recognize Perspectives: Students recognize their own and others’ perspectives.

We may briefly touch on our own perspectives, but we don’t analyze in depth. We discuss perspectives in our target language (TL) cultures, but we often limit it to one country, and often, one region within that country. For example, how many French classes have centered their curriculum largely around Paris?

Not only do we discuss our own perspectives, but we dig into the why: what about our history and experiences has caused us to hold this perspective? What may cause it to change? In analyzing TL cultures, we dig into the why as well (e.g., history, collective experiences), but we broaden our scope and include a wider breadth. For example, a French classroom would center francophone African, Canadian, and Caribbean voices and experiences instead of that of predominantly metropolitan French.

Communicate Ideas: Students communicate their ideas effectively with diverse audiences.

We communicate in oral, written, and non-verbal forms in the classroom.

We take our ideas out of our classroom: we publish; we blog; we create podcasts; we speak to other classes, teachers, and community members, young and old; we write to and/or video chat with students in other parts of the country or world. Our goal isn’t simply to communicate what we know; rather, it’s to effect change and use what we know to do it. We do this work using all of our linguistic tools, including translanguaging. It’s imperative that our communication transcends our classroom.

Take Action: Students translate their ideas into appropriate action to improve conditions.

This isn’t traditionally a focus in most classrooms.

After making connections with people outside our classroom (and, ideally, our town, state, and country), we collaborate and build plans together to effect positive change. We discuss, we brainstorm, we create, and we implement. We are always asking, “How can we work together (with the connections we have made outside the classroom) to make the world a better place?”

Why is global education the future?

We are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, to solve problems we have never heard of. And more than ever, the problems that exist in our world are global problems, and they require global solutions. 

Economically, of the top 10 countries the U.S. trades with, only two of them are English-speaking. Lack of cultural competence can be financially catastrophic. For example, Disney lost billions of dollars with Euro Disney, largely due to lack of global competence and cultural knowledge. Additionally, and especially post-pandemic, the rate at which old jobs have become location-independent and new jobs are location-independent from the start is noteworthy. Our students will have an expanded ability to live anywhere in the world while still maintaining U.S.-based jobs. Global education will support economic prosperity and flexibility.

Militarily, what could make us more secure than an entire generation of young leaders establishing connections and friendships all across the globe? And this is significantly more fiscally responsible than military action!

Environmentally, climate change affects our entire planet--all 195 countries. But 195 approaches to the solution won’t be nearly as effective as a united approach. To join forces, we first need to know how to communicate, build trust, and express empathy.

Implementing global education ideas, strategies, and resources into classrooms will build a future workforce that is prepared to deal with the complexities of an interdependent world. 

Why Should World Language Teachers Lead?

World language teachers are the best prepared professionals to lead this work throughout the field of PK-16 education. We’re multilingual. We are world travelers. We have a heightened interest in culture and connection. In fact, our language learning standards with ACTFL mention cultural competence not once, but twice

No other discipline has had the experience that we have had in teaching about other people, places, languages, and cultures. That, on its own, is not enough, nor is it future-oriented; however, it provides a base. It’s time we take the next step and shift from learning about the world to learning with and from the world.


If students grow up in a spirit of global collaboration, in a spirit of interdependence and global friendship, the world can be changed for the good at a faster rate than we’ve ever seen in human history. And we--world language professionals--can absolutely be the ones to springboard this work forward for the benefit of all.

Are you working to include principles of global education in your classroom? If so, share resources you love in the comments below!

Erin E.H. Austin is a National Board Certified French teacher in Fort Collins and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Original World Language Resources and Going Global in the World Language Classroom (coming September 2023). Ms. Austin is the 2023 CCFLT Teacher of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @Erin-EH-Austin.

Note: CCFLT members can get Ms. Austin’s book, Going Global in the World Language Classroom: Ideas, Strategies, and Resources for Teaching and Learning With the World, for 20% off at with the code AFL04 through March 1, 2024.

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