How Districts Prepare a Globally Competent Workforce


by Heather Singmaster

Building global competence into all pK–12 schools throughout a district is a complex process that requires the engagement of the education, government, and business sectors, in addition to nonprofit, community, and parent organizations. But it can—and has—been done in districts throughout the country.

The specific shape of any international-education initiative will depend on the state’s and district’s education structures and resources. Here is some advice from districts that have already gone global to build a foundation with district and community stakeholders, as well as ensure you have the teacher support to make it happen.

Leadership and Building a Foundation

Every district interested in developing student global competence, must get buy-in from key leaders as well as the teaching staff, members of the community, and business. By building a foundation, a program can continue to grow and receive support. Seattle is an excellent example of how this can happen through the leadership at the top.

About 15 years ago, John Stanford became Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. Realizing the demands of a global economy and the diverse student population in Seattle, he proposed an international language school. Fast-forward a generation, and his vision has continued to lead Seattle in creating a network of international schools, featuring immersion programs and curriculum that prepares students to be globally competent in the 21st century knowledge economy. To create the first school, a group of parents and educators worked with local businesses—the future employers of Seattle public schools graduates—to understand the knowledge and skills needed to serve the local market. These businesses included international giants as well as smaller businesses working locally. When it opened, the John Stanford School for International Studies quickly became the top-ranked and most popular school in the district. In the years since, Seattle has created pipeline programs so bilingual elementary students can continue their education in middle and high school. In 2007, Seattle Public Schools announced plans to create a network of 12 international studies schools. The community continues to be involved through the International Education Advisory Board of Leaders, which meets quarterly and provides advice and support for the International schools. Learn more about the Seattle story.

Resources and Community Partnerships

So where do you start building these relationships? Where do you find the people and resources to begin?

Universities and colleges offer international specialists and professional development in world regions and global issues. For instance, the Arlington Heights School District 25 in Illinois has worked with Northwestern University and University of Chicago to provide their teachers with an international perspective. Title VI programs are mandated to provide resources to K-12 students and professional development to teachers. See this listing to find a program near you

Businesses offer student internships, donations, and executive-for-a-day programs. Think about presenting at meetings of your local Lions, Kiwanis, World Trade Councils, Rotary, or Chambers of Commerce. The Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford, CT has invited representatives of local businesses—many with international connections—to sit on a Business Advisory Board. These Board members are actively involved in the school acting as speakers, mentors, curriculum advisors and help to provide internship opportunities.

Cultural groups from local heritage organizations to museums to World Affairs Councils to embassies, all offer activities and materials. There are even groups in your community that you might not have thought of. For example the School District of Lodi in Wisconsin works with the International Crane Conservation Center to provide students with opportunities to do science and art project exchanges with schools in Cuba

Recruiting and Preparing Internationally Oriented Teachers

When hiring, you can look for teachers with international experience. At the Highland Park Independent School district in Texas, global competence has been written into the vision statement for the district, making it easier to look for teachers who can teach to the mission. As Sarah Jerome, superintendent at Arlington Heights School District 25 in Illinois says, “Look for teachers who have studied abroad; speak a second or third language; worked in the Peace Corp; participated in outreach programs that embrace the worlds’ people; are willing to travel with students and parents to explore the world together; and those who have demonstrated in several ways that they see a big picture of the world and our collective interdependence.”

For current teachers, there are many teacher professional development opportunities to help them gain an international perspective:

  • Primary Source offers online courses as well as curriculum units, study tours, and seminars. 
  • Stanford University’s Institute for International Studies (SPICE), offers professional development focusing on contemporary issues in the context of their cultural and historical underpinnings. Plus their website contains free curriculum downloads of over 100 units. 
  • Choices is part of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies and offers a series of curricular materials that address current and historical international issues and provide workshops for teachers at the secondary level. 
  • Yale University’s Programs in International Education Resources (PIER), provides summer institutes, travel, and field study opportunities, PD workshops, online classes, and lesson plans and resources.

These are just a few resources; there are many more listed here.

Travel programs can broaden and enrich teachers’ worldview. Many internationally minded districts encourage and support staff to travel during the school year by providing substitute teachers for them at no cost to them while they are gone. There are many other national groups that provide funding/scholarships for teachers to study abroad:

If you can’t travel abroad, school visits allow teachers to see how other schools are internationalizing. Visit schools with an established international education program and speak with teachers, observe classes, sit in on a department meeting. Then come back and speak with your colleagues and share what you learned. Here is a tool to help you make the most out of your school visit