For years, I thought I was checking all the “global education” boxes. Committed to diversity, building global competencies, and supporting my students to seek out different perspectives and viewpoints, I was set on making sure my young students were preparing for a world that would require them to work and live as global citizens. We placed emphasis on reading about cultures different from our own. We learned about holidays and customs of people in distant lands. Daily language practice included English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. As early adopters with technology, we aimed to make connections to global issues and current events around such topics as the environment and human rights.
Then, around 2010, I realized that though I had been checking boxes, my instructional to-do list as a global educator needed to move students beyond simply learning about the people and issues of our world to a new level of action.
The Four Domains of Global Competence offered by the Asia Society (2005) (See Figure 1) showed me that globally competent students need the knowledge and skills to:
- Investigate the world
- Recognize perspectives
- Communicate ideas
- Take action.
Figure 1 : Four Domains of Global Competence
The first three domains – that was where I was existing. Take action – that was where we needed to go.
Looking back, I would say that was the first defining moment that changed my course as a global educator. The next was in 2015, when I met the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The Sustainable Development Goals are humanity’s to-do list for a sustainable planet, a roadmap for a better future.” – United Nations Office at Geneva
The 17 Global Goals that our world together agreed to reach by 2030 cover critical topics such as life on land, climate action, gender equality, clean water, and food security. We in education even have our very own Global Goal in SDG 4: Quality Education. As I explored the SDGs, I started to see how we as educators can fit into this global conversation and universal call to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the lives of all people.
Over the years, I have gathered with like-minded educators from all over the world who are also committed to bringing the SDGs to our classrooms and schools. Mobilized as a professional learning network and coming together in collaborative spaces such as Twitter and with projects such as the Goals Project (www.goalsproject.org), we see education as one of the greatest paths to achieving the SDGs, with teachers and students working together in solidarity and with purpose.
The TeachSDGs community
The start of TeachSDGs, now a community of more than 50,000 international educators taking action for the Global Goals, really came from the idea that the goals could be the roadmap for teachers seeking new ways of teaching and learning.
I remember sitting with my global education friends Alice McKim of New Brunswick, and Amy Rosenstein of New York and thinking together that the goals were what we had been searching for – the bridge to connect the work happening in classrooms out to the world and to industry. For us, the goals became the entry point into how we as teachers, along with our students, could join the conversation and have a “seat at the table” – be it in New York City at the UN headquarters or at the level of local policy or projects. The Global Goals, in our minds, laid out the plan and also the pathways into the work.
After being tasked by the UN to organize as a Global Goals Task Force, we knew we needed to move beyond being a handful of North American educators. We set out to invite in our global colleagues, many of whom we had never met and only knew from social media. We did what we knew best – we created a hashtag (#TeachSDGs) and a simple website (TeachSDGs.org), and we got to work. Soon after, we went from being a few educators to 17 to now tens of thousands, all working for this shared purpose – to support and empower students and teachers to take action for people and the planet through the work of the SDGs. And now that we have entered this Decade of Action, with less than ten years left until 2030, we are all operating with urgency and a clear vision of what we can do to help.
Why the SDGs? Why now?
So why the Global Goals? Why now? We seem to be at a pivotal moment in education. We are seeing students rise up as activists to inspire and create needed change based on their viewpoints and the needs of our world; we as citizens of planet Earth are tackling climate change and combating human rights violations and global pandemics; we are seeing new technologies change the way we live and work at just the time when we are also prioritizing the human part of living and working, with emphasis on social-emotional learning, well-being, empathy, and design thinking. We as educators have been on the front lines of the change – seeing the shift as it occurs and pivoting and advancing right along with it.
The Sustainable Development Goals bring opportunity. They bring hope and a guide to get us there. Within classrooms, I see how the goals allow for collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Just as the goals are for everyone, everywhere, they also see no boundaries within curricula, allowing us to cross content areas and work as teams toward a common purpose. The Global Goals are the sciences and the arts; they are language and humanities. They are our history and our future, and for us as teachers, they can be the “today” of our teachings.
Goals Project: One way to jump in
After several years of our work in building awareness of the goals, we started to hear teachers saying, “Now we see the ‘why,’ but what about the ‘how’?” In 2019, I was inspired by one of my former university students, who shared with me a project she did with teachers around the ABCs. If a project around 26 letters of the alphabet could work, I thought, why not build one around the 17 SDGs? I decided to see if teachers from the TeachSDGs community might be interested in joining me for a short project on the goals.
Once again, I created a name (Goals Project), a hashtag (#GoalsProject), and a free website (www.goalsproject.org), and started to share it on Twitter. My original stretch goal was finding 16 other classes. Within weeks, more than 350 people had asked to join, and in that first year of our Goals Project we had nearly 2,000 classrooms participate. The 2021 Goals Project kicked off on January 25, welcoming in nearly 3,000 classrooms from more than 120 countries. Students aged three–20 are joining in to take on the SDGs in a six-week project of solutions. For us, it is a space for exploring of ideas and building hope for a better planet as stewards for the environment and for the goodwill of people.
Create your to-do list for action in the classroom
For educators ready to dive into the Global Goals today, here are five tips and then a listing of top resources designed to help K–12 educators take action on the SDGs in classrooms.
- Clearly identify your own instructional goals and bring the Global Goals in naturally.
- Consider your own interests, skills, and curiosities. Your excitement around specific goals and targets can inspire and motivate students!
- Keep your to-do list short, specific, and manageable. Focus on collective action over time, and build action into your routines and even lesson plans.
- Connect to events and organized projects. Check out the SDG Planning Calendar (listed below), established global collaboration projects, and even local community events, and align with activities happening throughout the year.
- Share with a friend – near or far. As you take on this new challenge, invite a teacher from your school (or find someone from another part of the world) to join with you as you jump in and start checking things off!
Free printable classroom resources
Print out and post the SDG Poster or the individual Global Goals: http://bit.ly/SDGposter
The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World (UN, 2019) suggests SDG actions you and your students can take from your couch, your home, your community, and your work/school: http://bit.ly/LazyPersonsGuideSDGs
Download and share infographics, GIFs, and translations for inspiring action in your school and community: http://bit.ly/SDGinfographics
Create your deck of action cards with the 170 Daily Actions to Transform our World resource from the UN Office at Geneva: http://bit.ly/170actioncards
Activities and lesson plans
Download the annual World’s Largest Lesson and access videos, printables, and other resources from http://bit.ly/worldslargestlessonSDGs
Do you work with students ages 4–8? The Explorers for the Global Goals lessons are a great place for you to start. Learn more at: http://bit.ly/SDGexplorers
Gamify learning with the Go Goals! SDG Board Game for Children offered in 21 languages. https://go-goals.org
Help end hunger by playing the Freerice online learning game by the World Food Program. For every correct answer, five grains of rice will be donated to people in need of food. http://bit.ly/playfreerice
Opportunities to connect and collaborate
Connect with thousands of educators from around the world who teach the Global Goals in their classrooms. Visit www.teachsdgs.org and follow the #TeachSDGs conversation on social media.
Join the annual Goals Project to be a part of a six-week online experience to learn about the goals and collaborate with classrooms from more than 120 countries. Visit www.goalsproject.org and follow #GoalsProject on social media.
Check out all the events and international days on the SDGs Planning Calendar: http://bit.ly/SDGcalendar
Banner Photo: Adobe Stock