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Global Education Mentors Program: Improving Education and Society

by Tom Hanlon / Oct 19, 2021

Global Education Mentors

The College of Education’s new Global Education Mentors Program accelerates pre-service teachers’ growth and infuses them with new ideas that are placed in a practical context by alumni teachers who accompany the students on study abroad trips. The result? Both mentees and mentors are changed, perspectives are broadened, and teachers come back armed to make beneficial adjustments in classrooms. That will benefit not only future students, but our society as a whole.

It started, says Allison Witt, almost by accident.

“We had a few graduate students who were teachers on a study abroad program,” says Witt, director of the Office of International Programs for the College of Education. “And they stepped in naturally as mentors. We saw this great mentorship possibility. We said we need to make sure this always happens—intentionally.”

Thus, the Global Education Mentors program, which pairs successful alumni teachers with pre-service teachers on study abroad trips, was born.

“We want to make study abroad just like all the rest of our teacher training, which relies heavily on the mentor teacher,” Witt says. “This program is so important because to work with mentors is a foundational piece of teacher training.”

Because COVID-19 has crimped study abroad plans, the program has been delayed to—hopefully—spring. “We have ten countries who are actively involved,” says Wei Liu, associate director of the Office of International Programs. “the United States, Italy, Korea, China, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Panama, Peru and Kazakhstan. We are in the process of getting schools set up in Japan, Singapore, and Sweden as well.”

“As soon as we can travel again, it starts,” Witt says. “We hope to have two mentors for every program. If we continue to open programs back up, we’ll probably be running six or seven programs a year, so we’ll have maybe fourteen or fifteen mentors participating each year.”

Recruiting Alumni Mentors

Lisa Denson, assistant dean for advancement, says the Office of Advancement will be reaching out to alumni teachers regarding upcoming travel abroad opportunities. “Our hope is that these in-service teachers—these mentor educators—will help our pre-service teachers think critically about how they might bring these experiences back to their future classrooms,” Denson says. “We also want the inverse to happen, for in-service teachers to learn from our pre-service teachers and the classrooms abroad, and incorporate new concepts into their classrooms upon return.”

Denson defines mentor teachers as those who are bringing new and innovative ideas and concepts to their students. “We’re looking for those teachers who are willing to keep learning and bring back ways to incorporate new instruction into their classrooms,” she says.

“We’d love for one or two mentors to be going on every one of our programs,” Witt adds.

Both Mentees and Mentors Benefit

The program creates an environment where both pre-service and in-service teachers can benefit, says Witt.

“Practicing teachers are the bridge between what we see abroad and what we need to do in the US,” she explains. “Practicing teachers provide context, seeing not only what’s possible but what adaptations would be necessary in a US classroom to make it possible.”

The pre-service teachers learn from their mentor teachers—and the practicing teachers get plenty back from the college students as well, Witt says.

“Practicing teachers get all these new ideas and this enthusiasm from pre-service teachers. The experience reenergizes teachers who have been teaching for a long time and doing things the same way. All of a sudden, they’re surrounded by this new energy and enthusiasm.

“Both sides benefit because they need each other.”

Study Abroad is Essential to Pre-Service Teachers’ Growth

Wei Liu says the study abroad experience helps students grow in ways they otherwise couldn’t.

“Study abroad provides opportunities for students to reflect on their own culture and practice, examine the assumptions and biases that they have, and hopefully develop a greater appreciation for multiple perspectives and a greater sense of cultural sensitivity,” she says. “After all, these are our future teachers who are responsible for cultivating the next generation to become global citizens. In order for them to create an inclusive and diverse classroom environment for their students, they have to be able to recognize their own biases and have a better understanding and appreciation for other cultures.”

Unique Program Will Help Improve Education, Society

The Global Education Mentors program is unique, according to Witt. “Other schools are not yet taking advantage of their alumni in this manner, though they will after they hear about this!” she says, laughing. “It makes a lot of sense because it benefits both alumni and students.”

And it makes sense because students are introduced to new ideas about education. “Teachers abroad are doing all kinds of different things,” Witt notes. “Some of it might be wonderful, some might be terrible, and some might be shocking. All of that is good for our pre-service teachers to see because when they step into a completely different system, their assumptions and expectations of what they thought school was are broken open and new ideas flow in.”

And those new ideas are critical, Witt says, because pre-service teachers need to envision how education can be better.

“If we’re going to keep developing as a society,” she says, “we need to keep doing better in education. We can’t settle for what we have now. Every year it has to get better. Our students have to look for spaces for improvement, how it could be better, what we could do differently. That’s what study abroad is so great for.

“And that’s ultimately how our society is going to grow and improve.”