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Nurturing a Global Mind

What educators can do to help students become global citizens
Pins and string making a map of the world

Curricular efforts from nations, including the United States, to teach children to be global citizens underscore the importance of learning to empathize with and form connections with people of all backgrounds. Yet with such high stakes, leaders need to know what kinds of programs are most effective to move students beyond a preliminary understanding of culture.

In the first study of its scope, Christina Hinton, executive director of Research Schools International (RSI), and her team examined global competency from 150 Round Square Schools (a global network of private and public schools with an expressed commitment to global citizenship) across the world. The researchers used measures from the PISA Global Competence exam to make their assessments.

Using quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze results, the team identified five learning activities that significantly correlated with the development and enhancement of global competencies like self-efficacy, adaptability, attitudes towards immigrants, and openness to diversity.

Here are the five activities Hinton and her team found supported global competence:

Volunteering services to help people in the wider community

  • Volunteering services was significantly correlated with engagement with others regarding global issues, global mindedness, openness to diversity, interest in other cultures, adaptability, awareness of global issues, respect, and self-efficacy.
  • 90% of teachers and 76% of students rated volunteer activities as either “effective” or “very effective” in promoting global competence.


  • Before engaging in volunteer work in a specific community, students need to be aware of specific challenges community members are facing and empathize with them.
  • Service activities should be frequent and allow students to form real bonds with community members.

Participating in events celebrating cultural diversity throughout the school year

  • Cultural diversity events were significantly correlated with building the following competencies: engagement with others regarding global issues, attitude towards immigrants, openness to diversity, interest in other cultures, global mindedness, respect, adaptability, and self-efficacy.
  • 83% of teachers and 68% of students found events that celebrated diversity as “effective” or “very effective.”


  • Events could range from conferences to holiday celebrations. However, they should also work to spark curiosity in students and promote respect.
  • Contextualize events so they are part of a larger educational strategy — have a learning goal or objective.
  • Create opportunities for students to become curious about other cultures, whether through readings or instructional content, to create intrinsic motivation for participation.

Learning how people from different cultures can have different perspectives on some issues

  • Learning about other cultures and perspectives was strongly correlated with openness to diversity, interest in other cultures, attitudes towards immigrants, self-efficacy, engagement with others, and awareness of global issues.
  • 86% of teachers and 81% of students rated learning about different cultural perspectives as “effective” or “highly effective.”


  • Provide activities in and out the classroom that focus on other cultures like international exchanges, diversity clubs, and forums.
  • Offer professional development opportunities to teachers to learn about how to support discussions and instruction around diversity and diverse perspectives.

Participating in classroom discussions about world events

  • Discussions about world events was strongly correlated with self-efficacy, awareness of global issues, openness to diversity, adaptability, and global mindedness.
  • 90% of teachers and 76% of students rated discussions about world events as “effective” or “very effective.”


  • Set aside significant time for discussion of what is happening in the world today. Read news sources from around the world and discuss current events; talk about bias and trust.

Learning to solve conflicts

  • Conflict solution was strongly correlated with adaptability, perspective taking, openness to diversity, intercultural communication, respect, global mindedness, attitudes towards immigrants, and awareness of global issues.
  • 82% of teachers and 71% of students rated learning to solve conflicts in a classroom setting as “effective” or “very effective.”


  • Activities that promote collaboration lead to opportunities to resolve conflicts. These activities include whole-class discussions, model UN, reading and discussing world literature, group presentations, performances, debates, and exploring global issues in foreign language classes.

Key Takeaways:

  • Consider the exposure students have to other cultures and languages in their school setting and devise opportunities to expand.
  • Students still need structure and context around experiences with other cultures—whether that’s in existing curriculum or around volunteer work. Providing opportunities for meaningful discussions is key to ensuring this work is engaging.
  • Conversations around global issues help facilitate meaningful learning. Teachers also need professional development opportunities to ensure they can structure discussions effectively and can explore complex and difficult topics around global issues.

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