Alumna Bringing Global Citizenship Education to her Kindergartners

by Ashley Pellegrini  /   Nov 8, 2019

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In May 2019, Alumna Lauren Michels, B.S. '13 ElEd, Ed.M. '19 GSE, completed her master's degree in Global Studies in Education at Illinois. During a visit to campus in October for the College's Global Education Symposium, Michels shared about how the program has affected her classroom and her life.

"As a recent graduate, I am truly happy I chose the GSE program," says Michels, who draws upon her global experiences while teaching kindergarten at Kingsley Elementary School in Naperville, Illinois. Michels is passionate about inclusive education and culturally responsive teaching, and believes it's never too early to start integrating global citizenship education in the classroom. We asked her a few additional questions:

Why did you choose Illinois for your education degrees?
I chose Illinois because I believed the quality of instruction at and vision of a land grant institution would benefit me as a learner and future educator. I come from a family of Illini, including my mother, B.S. ‘83 ElEd and Ed.M. ‘86. The quality of her education and degree opened doors for her to a wonderful career as an educator. The people I met from the College of Education during my visit days, including Kathy Ryan, as well as the diversity of opportunities available to me on campus made my decision an easy one.

What made you pursue a master’s degree in Global Studies Education?
I chose this program because I found it unique. It stood out to me from opportunities elsewhere. The courses interested me, and the opportunity to grow through intercultural study abroad as part of the program really spoke to me. As an undergraduate in elementary education at Illinois, I learned early on that finding time to study abroad would be challenging. I found a way to fit it in and studied at the University of Queensland during spring of my sophomore year. I am so happy to see that the College of Education now has several terrific options designed especially for their students. One professor at UQ inspired me to continue my passion for intercultural study in education. I took her course on the Indigenous culture in Australia. The experience in her classroom was invaluable.

Were there particular Illinois faculty or staff who inspired you to pursue global studies?
Several faculty at Illinois inspired me, including Kimiko Gunji, Professor Emeritus of Japanese Arts and Culture and Director Emeritus of the Japan House; Dr. Bruce Michelson, Director Emeritus of the Campus Honors Program and Professor Emeritus of English; Kathy Ryan, my elementary education advisor; Sunny McMurry, who taught my course in children’s literature; and Dr. Liv Thorstensson Davila, my social studies methods professor.

Professor Michelson encouraged me to apply for an intercultural study tour prior to graduation. I did so and had an extraordinary experience traveling throughout Japan with Professor Gunji. Professor Gunji also taught a favorite course I took on rigidity and flexibility in Japanese arts and culture.

Sunny McMurry inspired the current collection of literature I share with my students. I remain cognizant of maintaining a diverse collection of literature reflecting different cultures and ethnicities. The lens through which I select new additions to my collection gained valuable focus in her course. Dr. Davila's course helped me discover ways in which to help my students explore, celebrate, and share their identities and histories. I met Kathy on my first visit to the College of Education. She was as cheerful then as she is now in her new role as Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs. I had the pleasure of traveling with her to Greece on our 2019 intercultural study tour.

What is the significance, or impact, of your GSE degree in a kindergarten classroom--how is it making a difference?
My GSE degree positively impacts my teaching practice. My experiences in class and through intercultural study abroad strengthened my cultural competence, which I believe is a critical competency for all educators. Exploring and nourishing this competence helps me become the best teacher I can be for all my students in kindergarten or in any other grade. I continuously reflect, analyze, and refine my classroom practices in order to create a safe and empowering space for all students and families.

I gained valuable knowledge through GSE that I share with my students as well as colleagues. I recently created a professional learning course for educators in my school district entitled Embracing a Culturally Responsive Lens. The course aims to open discussion among educators about how to intentionally create safe spaces, engage all students in learning, and foster global perspectives through global citizenship education for all students. I will teach the first session of this course in January 2020.

I believe students, as early as preschool and kindergarten age, deserve classrooms where they have opportunities to see and embrace their local and global communities. Opportunities for educators in the GSE program at Illinois allow them to develop their global perspectives and cultural competencies. They exit the program with valuable knowledge and skills, allowing them to foster these qualities in the next generation of learners. Students deserve classrooms where they feel a sense of belonging and where they are able to experience, explore, and celebrate diverse perspectives and cultures.

Read more about Michels' commitment to global education in this story from the Chicago Tribune's Naperville Sun...

This story is one in a series to recognize International Education Week, November 18-22, 2019.