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Future teachers learn to create global classrooms

| Judy Berthiaume

When Sam Rossmiller talks about his future teaching career, he describes classrooms filled with diverse learners who readily share their perspectives, ideas and cultural values.

His hope, he says, is that through these kinds of global learning communities his students will better understand each other and themselves as they figure out their place in the world.


Sam Rossmiller says his participation in the international research project will make him a better teacher.

“A global curriculum allows students to interact and engage in new ways of thinking, and allows a necessary contrast, which enables critical self-examination,” says Rossmiller, a broadfield social studies major at UW-Eau Claire. “This is certainly an idealistic vision for education, yet one I truly believe is worth pursuing.”

Lofty aspirations for a future teacher? Yep.

Possible? Absolutely, says the senior from Wausau.

After all, he spent time this summer in schools that already embrace this kind of global learning community concept.

During a student-faculty research project in Peru, Rossmiller worked as an aide in Peruvian schools that successfully incorporate the kinds of global curriculum that he says could work well in U.S. classrooms.

“In large part, the curriculum at the secondary level in the U.S. values diversity and awareness of cultural differences,” Rossmiller says. “However, an awareness of cultural differences is not enough. The curriculum in the schools we visited placed importance on an awareness of cultural differences, but also made a conscious effort to facilitate intercultural exchange and authentic interactions among people and groups with different values, beliefs and practices.

“Through this type of curriculum, students are better equipped to develop their own personal identities, and see how they fit in the broader context of their global environment.”

Rossmiller is among the Blugolds participating in a three-year action-research project in global learning involving education students and faculty from UW-Eau Claire and the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru.

The multiyear project is possible because UW-Eau Claire and PUCP established a partnership in 2015 that aims to create institutional relations, facilitate scholarly collaboration, and promote mutual understanding that will benefit faculty and students in both academic communities, says Dr. Eric Torres, associate professor of education studies at UW-Eau Claire.

“Our challenge is translating increased awareness about race, culture, intercultural relations, language difference, power relations and identity formation processes in the global commons into effective teaching practices,” Torres says. “My hope is that an increased level of awareness will result from careful listening and candid dialogue with our Southern hemisphere peers and global partners in Peru.”

Among the project’s goals is identifying basic elements that make the foundation of a curricular model that integrates authentic global learning experiences into secondary education programs, Torres says.

The research team also is identifying the elements of a diploma of specialization in global learning, which education programs at UW-Eau Claire and PUCP will jointly design and implement.

The project began last year with four UW-Eau Claire students traveling to Peru with Torres to test the research tools, apply the methodology and establish the collaboration foundations with PUCP peers.

This year, six Blugolds — all future teachers — spent four weeks in Peru serving as teacher aides in secondary-level classrooms, and conducting surveys and interviews with faculty and students at Colegio Mayor Presidente del Peru. UW-Eau Claire students also presented and discussed their findings at PUCP.

As teacher aides, the students worked with licensed Peruvian teachers to create and maintain global learning environments and provide leadership, Torres says.

All the activities during the service-learning time in Peru enhanced the students’ academic major or minor areas of expertise, while also identifying methods to develop global learning capacities and experience authentic intercultural engagement, Torres says.

Given the speed with which technology is accelerating communications, and modifying the way people live and learn, helping students to develop global competencies through their teaching education program is critical to their success as future educators, Torres says.

As they work to internationalize the education program and remain globally engaged, faculty also are modeling for future teachers how to develop global capacities in the spaces where they will someday work, Torres says.

Immersing students in other cultures will give the future teachers an edge as they begin their careers and look for opportunities to be leaders in their schools and districts, Torres says.

“As global scholars, our students will develop an increased awareness about the need to take informed and responsible action to address ethical, social and environmental challenges,” Torres says. “They will be able to apply knowledge and skills gained through curricular and co-curricular experiences to address complex, contemporary global issues from their diverse local perspectives, and critically connect their values to global contexts to recognize and anticipate diverse and potentially conflicting positions in the context of social and civic problems.”

Rossmiller says his experience in Peru and the work associated with the international research project already have changed how he thinks about his own approach to teaching.

“Creating a curriculum centered on global learning is an important and necessary task, but also an arduous one,” Rossmiller says. “Without firsthand experiences or immersion in new and different cultural settings, the task to create a global curriculum is almost impossible. My immersion in Peru, and the experiences and research conducted during this time, give me a framework in which I can confidently implement a curriculum embedded with global perspectives and narratives.

“Ultimately, this immersion will help me be an effective educator, better equipped to include my students within the broader global learning community.”

Before traveling to Peru, students completed a spring ”Social Foundations: Human Relations” course to prepare them to be international researchers. They also completed an Honors independent study class, giving them additional tools to engage in learning in an intercultural, global setting.

Now back on the UW-Eau Claire campus, the research team will continue its discussions and present its project at several campus and UW System research events.

The entire project has been a valuable learning experience, but working with students in a public secondary school in Lima was a highlight, says Rossmiller, who now is student teaching in a social studies classroom at South Middle School in Eau Claire.

“Developing relationships with the students and learning about their values, beliefs and traditions, as well as their perspectives about the world, had a profound impact on me,” Rossmiller says. “The classrooms and curriculum were set up in ways that challenge students to consider cultural differences at individual, group, regional, national and global levels.

“Students were able to grasp the social construction of culture, and how values are negotiated and always changing. They were better equipped to identify their own set of values and beliefs. Many of the students had a strong grasp of their own identity, which, for me, was incredible to observe.”

Every student participating in the project takes something different from the experience, Torres says.

“We have invested a significant amount of time and creativity to make it happen, and, yet, there has always been room to incorporate aspects and details not seen before because they arise in the context of the human interactions,” Torres says.

In Peru, Rossmiller and the other students excelled at gathering and processing data, using technology, mastering the methodology and communicating in Spanish, Torres says, noting that they also were sophisticated in their writings and professional in their interactions.

Still, their ability to adapt to circumstances that were out of their control most impressed him, he says.

“It was the evolving sense of letting loose and relinquishing the need to be in control that comes with positions of privilege in order to experience humanity at its finest,” Torres says of the Blugolds. “It was what they did not know that fueled their days and kept them going.”

Next year, students and faculty will complete the final part of the project when 16 Blugolds travel to Peru to pilot ways to make the experience a permanent platform for global engagement, Torres says.

Additionally, faculty will pilot an international, globally engaged version of the “Social Foundations: Human Relations” class in June 2018. PUCP and UW-Eau Claire faculty will co-teach the course.

“Much work needs to be completed as we move forward in the implementation of our vision, but we are doing it with enthusiasm and much expectation of surprise,” Torres says.

The ultimate goal, however, always will be to make UW-Eau Claire education graduates even more prepared to make positive change in their classrooms and schools, he says.

“In a world experiencing rapid change — where cultural, political, economic and social upheaval challenge traditional ways of life — education has a major role to play in promoting social understanding, peaceful interaction and positive coexistence on a global scale,” Torres says. “Our students are acquiring the skills, knowledge and dispositions to build and maintain relevant global learning environments and, most importantly, are learning to model how to construct that knowledge for their own students."

Top photo caption: Blugolds spent time in Peru as part of a research project that aims to help future teachers build global learning communities. The research team included (from left) Maggie St. Ores, Jenna Washetas, Leah Wagner, Ian Harvatine, Sam Rossmiller, Sebastian Torres (a Memorial High School student), Elizabeth Davis and Dr. Eric Torres.