It is imperative for my students to be global citizens

By Melissa Collins

The Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize is a $1 million award presented annually to an individual that has made a major contribution to education. This prize vets and rewards teachers around the world, with the foundational belief that educators should be recognized, highlighted, and celebrated for the work that they do for the profession.

This award signifies that teachers and students matter, and I am honored to represent both Tennessee and the entire United States as a top 50 Global Teacher Prize finalist! Through this experience, I can connect and collaborate with outstanding educators around the globe to impact teaching and learning.

While this is an amazing opportunity for me personally, my calling is to bring all professional growth of mine back to my 2nd graders in Shelby County. It is imperative for my students to be global citizens, and essential that I connect them to the world in innovative ways. But, how do I think outside of the Volunteer State and take my elementary learners with me?

As a 2015 National Education Association Foundation Global Fellow, I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil and India. I brought back videos, so students can observe the countries that I visited, and I regularly share my personal experiences with the different cultures. I found this spurs the opportunity for students to research further a foreign country’s food, weather, religions, attractions, and attire, and then present their findings to others through school-wide and community events.

To help young students tackle complex global issues, I have designed projects and units that serve as simulations, bringing these diverse cultures to my classroom. While in South America, I noticed how Brazilians used the land to craft musical instruments, so I implemented a lesson called “Sounds All Around” for my students to create instruments with their own natural resources. And, when my students learned that some children in India sit on the floor because they do not have desks, I removed ours for a day.

This year, the students researched and learned about climate change with 250 schools in 64 countries across six continents. In engaging in these projects, young people are learning what climate change is, what it means across the globe and the drive for developing solutions. Exercises like this instill empathy, allowing students learn how to value and appreciate others.

“Your lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Teachers, the most critical factor in student learning, must have a voice in education policies and practices because we are on the front lines and know first-hand the issues that affect student learning and our profession, both positively and negatively. As a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, I have collaborated with 29 other educators from around my state to collect information from teachers about teacher preparation and induction programs, which will advise the Tennessee Department of Education.

Many of the teachers I spoke with this year have never experienced advocacy work, and I was glad to afford them the opportunity to add their voices on these important matters. The Hope Street Group Fellowship experience has also encouraged me to open dialogue with other educators year-round through Twitter chats and online webinars.

As teachers, we must continue to hone on our skills to ensure that we provide the best instruction for our students. Through opportunities like the Hope Street Group and NEA Fellowships, and now this Global Teacher Prize, educators actively work together to plan and review results in the classroom, advocating for the pathways that will advance our students academically. Likewise, students must be allowed to share their voices, so they can impact their own learning and be exposed to global learning opportunities — to truly enjoy school and have fun learning through hands-on, innovative approaches that maintain a high bar for all students.

We can get there together if we will collaborate with each other, and with all stakeholders, to improve the educational systems in our cities, states and countries. My hope is that all teachers will strive to be leaders as they work to impact student achievement, and I am grateful for the roles that have sharpened my tools as a teacher leader.

Tennessee Teacher Fellow Melissa Collins is one of just six American educators honored as finalist for the Global Teaching Prize. She is a National Board Certified 2nd grade teacher in Shelby County Public Schools. Follow her on Twitter at @CollinsNBCT.