“Global Citizenship,” “Cultural Competence,” “Global Perspective,” and “Global Awareness” are all terms that parents and students may hear around the topic of global learning. But the terms themselves don’t describe what is at the heart of this learning, and what this work looks like at each of Parker’s three school divisions. So we sat down with the Head of School Kevin Yaley, Head of Lower School Dr. Bob Gillingham, Head of Middle School Dan Lang, and Head of Upper School Dr. Monica Gillespie, to learn more about what this programming means for our students.
Conversations have been edited for space and clarity.
Bob: We are trying to raise the student’s awareness of global citizenship. We want them to feel comfortable wherever they go, whatever kind of people they meet. Since I have been at Parker, I’ve noted a huge increase in the diversity of people on campus—both racial and cultural. We have an enormous array of cultural representation at Parker and I think one of the beautiful things about Language and Culture Week at the Lower School is that we are able to provide a unique volunteer opportunity for parents. The kids learn about other cultures, sample new foods, hear other languages, and they become comfortable with things that they may not see in their own lives or in their own homes.
Dan: We pick up on the Lower School’s work in Middle School. We also have World Language Week; the timing of the two connect the divisions a bit. Our advisories adopt a country and take a deep-dive into learning about that country and its people. Throughout the week, students work to create a museum about that country and during advisory class time, the groups move around from advisory to advisory learning about the research that students have done. It really reflects the work that we are trying to do.
In the eighth grade year, our grade-level theme is global awareness, and it builds on the sixth-grade theme of self-awareness and the seventh-grade theme of community awareness. All of those pieces, starting with the self, moving to our local community, and then moving to the global community, are there to prepare the eighth graders for international travel during Discovery Week in the spring. Making them aware of the difference between being a tourist and a traveler is a big part of our eighth-grade curriculum. Our goal is for our students to be travelers; to immerse themselves in another culture, to learn what it is like to stay in another home in another country, to be a part of a completely different culture, using another language that they are learning here at Parker, and to appreciate that we are an interconnected and interdependent world. Learning that first-hand is a pretty amazing experience for them.
Monica: We carry that through to the Upper School both in our curriculum and through our global studies courses. These courses allow students to really understand other countries, other cultures and how they came to be. We extend beyond that through our clubs, world languages, and literature studies. It’s beyond understanding what it means to be a global citizen—the focus is more on cultural competence and what does it mean to be able to interact with, understand, and communicate effectively across cultures. Those skills are so critical. We build on those lessons that start in the Lower School, expand in the Middle School, and draw on the depth of the experiences of those who are right here in our community.
Kevin: While we sometimes think about a program like this as a discrete program, separate and apart from everything else that we do, in fact, this is a unique opportunity for us to further develop those critical skills and characteristics that are foundational to a Parker education. You hear things like “curiosity” and “empathy” and “inclusion.” Those are critical to the development of our kids who will truly be global citizens. It is remarkable to think about how much we are doing and how much we can do from Junior Kindergarten all the way up to Grade 12 when they graduate from Parker.
What is the end-goal of global learning? What are the learning outcomes?
Bob: The richness of the experience—it’s a life journey for kids to be willing to open their eyes to new experiences, new ways of doing things, new ways of understanding things—it makes them stronger when they can consider diverse perspectives, and take those perspectives and compose reasonable opinions about things they are facing. It’s going to make them better citizens of the world. And, eventually, who knows, we might be able to find some solutions to some of the more pressing issues from around the globe.
Dan: In the broadest brushstroke, I’d like to think this is what our namesake challenges us to do. Colonel Francis Parker’s philosophies were about bringing the world into the classroom and taking our classrooms out into the world. If you look at the programming that we offer throughout the School, that’s what we are doing. We are bringing kids to places outside of their classroom—more than just learning about another place, they’re going to that place. They are experiencing that place. They are interacting with the people who live in that place. And there’s no substitute for that.
Kevin: The final measure, that we may not see until they are 18, 28, or 38 years old, is that they do come to that full understanding that, “I am a part of this global community,” which is not just because they have traveled to distant places, but because (borrowing the Middle School model) first, “I understand my own identity,” second, “I understand myself as a member of my community or my communities,” and finally, most completely, “I understand the significance of and the responsibility therein of my participation in this global society.” At a high level, that’s what we’re shooting for.
What is Parker’s goal for integrating global learning JK to Grade 12?
Bob: We have been working on our curriculum at the Lower School to ensure that it is as inclusive as possible. We want to be able to share with our students a much more diverse perspective. Interestingly, one of the best things that happens for us are visits from Middle and Upper School students. The kids are absolutely transfixed by the tales of the experiences that the older students have encountered during their global travels. They are like rock stars to the younger kids. They learn so much. This program has become more polished over time and the older kids are very good at presenting to the classes and engaging our much younger students.
Dan: We’ve been so fortunate to be able to partner with Lower School classrooms as we travel. Most of our trips have a service component built into them. On one of the trips that I’ve attended, we visit an orphanage, and a Lower School classroom will partner with us to reach out to the orphanage ahead of time to find out what their needs are and how we can help them when we visit. One of the neatest parts of that and the response they give us is that their biggest need is simply for our students to come and be with them, to be people with them and let these children know that there are other people in this world that know they exist and who want to spend time with them. It’s super simple stuff. That includes bringing books to them that are in their language and bringing things to play with and then playing with them and reading with them. The Lower School partnership helps make that happen. Our kids do get to return to the Lower School and get those kids excited for taking that trip themselves in the eighth grade.
Monica: As the divisions stay integrated, the fundamental goal really is about understanding each other and respecting each other’s worth and dignity, which is really central to understanding what it means to be a part of the Parker community and, in turn, the larger world. That is not something that you are automatically just able to do, it comes over time and it comes through difficult conversations and amazing experiences. I’d like to think, also, that we’re not only building a program for those kids that rise from the Lower or Middle School, but also those students who are new to Parker have the benefit of our global focus in that we have it in our classrooms and other experiences as well.
Why is this learning important for students to obtain at an early age?
Dan: These are lessons that are not easily acquired and I think that they reflect a life-practice. Empathy and cultural competence are not things that people just “figure out” once they turn 18, so the sooner that we can ask our students to start thinking about these things, the better. This comes out in structuring programming in a way that’s developmentally appropriate, where they are “appropriately uncomfortable,” I like to say, and, as Monica said earlier, it’s in our curriculum. If you walk into a social studies classroom for example, and they are talking about geography, the teacher wants students to understand not just what the geography of a country looks like, but the people’s connection to the land. The purpose for geography studies is not to locate a place on a map, it’s to know that the geography of a place affects the people, and that keeps us coming back to developing an understanding of the people. Understanding what it’s like to try and put yourself in the shoes of another person. Those are challenging lessons which are a life-practice that all of us continue with for many years. We hope that we are giving our students the opportunity to get exposed to that and to start practicing that from an early age.
From a very practical point of view, these are the skills that you need in order to be successful in today’s world. Our world is super closely integrated. Just our own proximity to an entirely different country just 15 miles south of us helps us realize that we don’t live in a bubble, we don’t live in a little separate spot of the world. This spot of the world is connected to all of the other parts of the world and that connection is real.
Monica: When our students have that understanding at an early age, it moves us into a place where there is true respect for one another, and I believe that is one of the great benefits of our global focus at Parker. We don’t believe that there is something that we have that others do not. We believe in that shared experience and I’m very proud of that. It takes a lot of work to truly have a program that has that level of respect.
Kevin: Oftentimes people will ask us, “How did this become the work of the school?” Developing these critical skills, getting kids to the point where they truly understand what it means to be empathetic, and to truly respect and value other people. I think what’s exciting for us is that we can say, “It has always been a part of this school and the core values upon which it was built.” Colonel Parker was very clear when he said that the work of the school is defined by the needs of the society, and the greatest need of society is to develop good citizens. So, I think we are doing exactly what he envisioned some 100 years ago, and at the end of the day, we can say that along with our parents and the larger community, that we helped develop decent citizens. We should feel good about what we are doing here at Parker.
How does global learning prepare students for college and career readiness?
Monica: One of the things that we know, is that when our students leave us, the end of the journey is not going to college. It really is being engaged in the world. One of the critical skills that will allow them to be successful is the ability to form relationships, develop understanding, and communicate effectively across cultures. It is an essential skill in any industry, whatever the technology may be when they graduate. It is an essential skill that allows them to see multiple perspectives and develop their understanding of how to communicate well and form relationships that are meaningful. It allows them to push areas of discovery and interest beyond what they may be used to because they have these skills and experiences.
I had the opportunity to meet with leaders from Amazon and Microsoft a few years ago, and I asked them what they were looking for in their future employees. They said, “The ability to form strong relationships across cultures.” It’s just the right thing to do.
One of the things that makes Parker the great place that it is is that we have culture right here. We have global culture in many of our faculty and our students. Our community members come from diverse backgrounds, were raised in other countries, and each of us brings that to the community. We often talk about going out into the global world and I never want to lose sight of the fact that it is also right here. It’s rich, and exciting, and extraordinary, and it allows us to build upon that foundation. It is present in our community and that’s the right place for it to be, right here surrounding us where it is so rich and diverse.