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Lessons in Global Competence from Agricultural Educators

Posted by Caitlin Haugen on November 14, 2014 at 12:19 pm

In my work to advocate for and support internationalization of teacher preparation in the United States, I meet a lot of naysayers.  I interact with people across the teacher preparation space – from institutions of higher education, state education offices, and associations – who argue that they are hindered by innumerable barriers.  They cite everything from state and national regulations, assessment, and new mandates to budget constraints, policy, and bureaucracy.

Last week was an exception. 

I attended the Global Learning in Agriculture Conference at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) last weekend. Daniel Foster and Melanie Miller Foster, faculty in the College of Agricultural Sciences, organized the event, supported by their Global Teach Ag! Team. I met nearly 50 agricultural (ag) educators from around the United States who do not see internationalization as an obstacle, but rather an opportunity. These educators are facilitating incredible programs and opportunities to develop their students’ global competence.

What are they doing?

They are providing international study opportunities – starting in high school.  Eric Sawatzke is an Agricultural Science Educator in Cokato, Minnesota who is organizing a trip to South Africa for students in his secondary Agriculture Business and Global Agriculture course.  Megan Merrill, an Ag Science Educator in Springport, Michigan organized an educational trip to Costa Rica last summer.  Miller Foster and Foster partnered with two faculty members at the University of Florida to provide short- term study abroad course in South Korea last summer for pre- and in-service educators from Florida and Pennsylvania. At the conference, they all shared lessons learned and strategies to facilitate similar experiences.

They are effectively fundraising, not allowing expenses to hinder them.  Sawatzke will be able to lower the per-student cost from $4,500 to $1,200 for his trip by through a number of innovative strategies – such as seeking grants and individual fundraising efforts (such as raffles). Merrill also successfully fundraised to support her students using similar strategies.  The trip to Korea was funded by a Fulbright-Hays grant, and GLAG itself was supported by five different entities

They are collaborating.  The conference bridged the K-20 divide by bringing together pre- and in-service agricultural educators and teacher educators. Sawatzke is globalizing his curriculum with the support of PSU’s Global Teach Ag! Team.  PSU Global Teach Ag! is hosting an international fellow – Nur Husna, a doctoral student from Malaysia.  The South Korea course paired participants with Korean ag educators to develop curriculum and co-teach.

Last year, I attended a day-long conference at the University of Maryland that brought together global educators and international education administrators from all levels in the interest of state-wide collaborations to support larger internationalization goals.  GLAG was similar in approach, but unique in that it addressed internationalization from a national, discipline based perspective. The momentum and K-20 partnerships that resulted were consistent, however, illustrating that internationalization of teacher education benefits from creative collaborative approaches.

In reflecting on the conference, Nicole Weaver, the PSU Global Teach Ag! Fellow and an ag science educator in Pennsylvania notes, “I saw great partnerships and clever ideas to incorporate global learning.” She continues that she was struck by, “…the enormity of what we are doing, but we are not alone.  Now we have a network of individuals committed to encouraging this initiative.”  Husna noted that GLAG provided, “New ways of looking at global learning from presenters and participants.”

They are using technology.  The ag educators at GLAG were not afraid use social media to engage with those at the conference and beyond (search #GLAG14 on Twitter).  I was amazed and how seamlessly they have integrated technology into their classroom practices, and communicate with multiple organizations, schools, and institutions.  It is no wonder how they forge such effective partnerships. Foster and Miller Foster will present at a social media webinar in partnership with GTE and the Longview Foundation next month to share social media strategies to support internationalization.  

How are agricultural educators different?

Agricultural education programs are unique, comprised of elements that provide a foundation that allows global experiences to thrive. Students in agricultural education programs frequently travel with their teachers because they are required to participate in student leadership organizations – such as the National FFA Organization.  This combined with home visits (a component of Supervised Agricultural Experiences, another part of the ag ed model), allows teachers to form trusting relationships with students and their families and become comfortable traveling with students in a lower risk environment.  SAE and other experiential learning expectations require ag educators to be savvy fundraisers in order to fulfill federal, state, and local program expectations. Participation in national leadership organizations allows K-20 partnerships to grow and thrive – and engaging via technology helps them stay strong.

Agricultural educators also understand the global implications of their profession.  Earlier this year, the Longview Foundation and Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning surveyed ag teachers in the United States, and 94% of respondents supported the integration of global perspectives into their classroom practices. With issues like hunger and food security, ag educators know their students must be ready to face global challenges in addition to local, and that future teachers must be prepared accordingly.  Initiatives like the World Food Prize further support the globalization of ag ed curricula and programming.  This is due to the fact that agricultural education has worked hard, with the support of national and state organizations, to articulate the importance of being globally minded.

What can we learn from agricultural educators?

Few disciplines outside agricultural education have mandated home visits and regular travel, but ag educators can share trust building and risk management strategies they have developed as a result, and how they can be applied in international contexts. 

Every profession has global implications.  Mapping the Nation illustrates every state and county in this country is in some way connected to the larger global economy.  Ag teachers and their educators are different because they have come to this realization, and understand that students and future teachers in their field need to be prepared for this reality.  This is where ag educators are really important.  Educators across the board must call on agricultural educators to help them understand that global competence does not have a “natural home” in certain disciplines.  It is – and should be – part of the fiber of our education system.  It is ag educators that will help turn our naysayers into “yay-sayers.”