Going Global in Teacher Education: Lessons Learned from Scaling Up
This chapter discusses a portfolio of university-based teacher education study abroad programs that aim to promote global and intercultural competence in ways that directly foster culturally responsive teaching practices. The inaugural education abroad program at the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut took place over 20 years ago. This program placed a cohort of approximately a half dozen teaching interns in London, England for a semester-long post student teaching internship. Over time, this initial program has grown into a more comprehensive international experience, including pre-departure and re-entry coursework. This initial program has also served as a model for the development of multiple education abroad international sites, including Cape Town, South Africa; Cusco, Peru; and two distinct content-area focused programs in Nottingham, England— one in Secondary Social Studies and the other in Mathematics Education. Presently, nearly 50 preservice teachers participate in these various programs, representing almost half of the students in the master’s year of our Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s program.
As one considers international programs across higher education, colleges of teacher education face significant challenges in designing and maintaining education abroad programs, and as a result, preservice teachers are an under-represented population in study abroad. According to a comprehensive report on study abroad trends (Open Doors, 2019), only about 3% of all students studying abroad from the United States are education majors. Thus, there are limited programmatic-level models upon which to draw guidance as one considers scaling up to fully integrate international experiences, including study abroad, into university-based teacher preparation programs. Despite the challenges of designing and maintaining education abroad programs, including issues underpinning requirements of licensure, there remains a need to prepare teachers who are on the path to an ethnorelative and intercultural worldview (Marx & Moss, 2011). At our institution, the development of a portfolio of programs is meeting this need, and as such we will address the challenges and successes we encountered in the scaling up of these study abroad international programs and offer a clear conceptual frame for moving in this direction.
Grounding the Programs in a Theoretical Framework
Prior to our discussion of our current study abroad offerings, it is necessary to address the origin of our education abroad programs that have served as the model for the development of subsequent international offerings, and articulate the theoretical frames that have guided our work. Participants in our semester-long teaching internship programs are matriculated in an Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s teacher preparation program. Eligible participants are from all of our certification tracks, including elementary (certification for grades 1—6), the secondary disciplines of mathematics, English, social studies and science, and the K-12 certification areas of special education and music education. Although the participants are abroad for a single semester, programmatically our international offerings are essentially a year-long experience, including the predeparture course work, semester abroad, and a re-entry semester seminar. Prior to the international experience, students have completed the bachelor’s portion of our integrated program, which includes four semesters of practice teaching (including a full semester student teaching experience) and the associated course work common to many university-based teacher preparation programs, such as a suite of methods courses, foundational coursework, and assessment classes. The international track features a summer course prior to going abroad, two semesters of school-based post-student teaching internships (one abroad and one homebased) and graduate-level classes (30 post-graduate credits).
In the early years, the school offered only one program—the London Program—which served only about 5—6 education participants, and was offered through the larger context of the University of Connecticut (UConn) Study Abroad in London program. Courses included those that offered perspectives on British history, London geography and other survey-type experiences designed to provide context and a sense-of-place for living and studying in London. Within just a few short years, primarily through discussions in the re-entry semester, it became apparent that issues of intercultural learning within the program were merely implicit in the experiences of students. With the desire to more explicitly attend to intercultural learning, and as the number of participants quickly grew to surpass a dozen, there emerged a critical mass that allowed us to spin the education program off from the core university London program, resulting in a process of curriculum design with the explicit intent of developing culturally responsive teachers. London was chosen as the inaugural international site for this program because it afforded opportunities for the teaching interns to engage in multiracial, multinational and urban cultural contexts, while being able to swiftly overcome many linguistic barriers, an essential necessity for our participants as they are almost exclusively speakers of English. The majority of our teacher education candidates are monolingual, white, middle class suburban individuals. Partner schools in London have been purposefully selected for performing at the high levels of academic excellence and achievement as documented by the Office of Standards in Education (Ofsted) in the United Kingdom. Thus, within their international internships, participants experience many best practices of education in a culturally complex urban setting. Making the study of culture explicit, with a clear focus on unpacking deep cultural differences and not steering away from the dissonance and challenges associated with immersive experiences is the key to such programs. The program elements and notions underpinning how we have made cultural learning explicit have been the key to our participants’ growth and successfully scaling up our program offerings and this will be the focus of the balance of this chapter.
Across our education abroad programs, the unifying conceptual frame for considering intercultural competence is the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) that articulates a continuum of perspectives from ethnocentric to ethnorelative, and can be probed by exploring one’s orientation to cultural difference (Hammer & Bennett, 2003). Bennett (2004) refers to an ethnorelative worldview as one that allows for “the experience of one’s own beliefs and behaviors as just one organization of reality among many viable possibilities” (p. 62). As such, the ethnorelative developmental stages are “ways of seeking cultural difference, either by accepting its importance, by adapting perspective to take it into account, or by integrating the whole concept into a definition of identity” (p. 63, italics in original). Being mindful of the ways culture and cultural differences impact our professional endeavors is at the heart of what Bennett (1993) has described as an ethnorelative worldview and that, we contend, is a key prerequisite for engaging in culturally responsive teaching practices (Gay, 2000).
In contrast, Bennett (2004) defines an ethnocentric worldview as “the experience of one’s own culture as ‘central to reality’” and where “the beliefs and behaviors that people receive in their primary socialization are unquestioned: they are experienced as ‘just the way things are’” (p. 62). Advocates for internationalizing teacher education via study abroad experiences propose that living and teaching in international contexts beyond one’s home culture offers the opportunity to uncover and impact preservice teachers’ ethnocentric worldviews and start them on a journey toward intercultural competence (Cushner & Brennan, 2007). It is important to note that simply experiencing a different culture does not automatically lead to ethnorelative worldviews. Thus, the various program components are designed to scaffold reflections and discourse that promote such growth. According to Cushner (2011), studies show that many preservice and in-service teachers are typically “on the ethnocentric side of this scale and may not have the requisite disposition to be effective intercultural educators nor possess the skills necessary to guide young people to develop intercultural competence” (p. 605). Although acknowledging the many challenges of fostering ethnorelative perspectives, we have in fact demonstrated considerable progressof our preservice teachers in their intercultural learning and development toward ethnorelative and intercultural mindsets. Hammer & Bennett (2003) state such progress demands a significant shift in thinking and strategies and, in this chapter, we propose that purposefully planned international teaching programs are an effective means to rise to the challenge.