Self-Identity and Global Connections

Laying the Groundwork and Inspiring Classroom Practice

When you think about global awareness, introspection may not be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it probably wasn’t something that came to mind at all. When we think about the word "global," we think big, complex, and, in many cases for teachers, overwhelming. There’s so much to do already, how could I possibly take my curriculum global? It is a valid concern, but if we take a step back and look at the foundations of global education, it becomes clear that global doesn’t have to be an extra and overwhelming obstacle; it can be part of every day and who we are as educators and as humans.

More and more schools are beginning to open up the world to their students through the use of online video conferencing and platforms that enable students to meet their peers all over the world. The business world models this behavior and will expect graduates to be able to communicate and collaborate across cultures and apply creative and critical thinking strategies. Introducing gifted learners to these opportunities provides a layer of instruction that cannot be reproduced in the classroom in any other way.

However, it’s easy to jump into the novelty of global collaboration and connection without thinking about the skills students need before they engage in conversations with kids on the other side of the globe. One way to prepare students for these experiences is through the examination of identity.

The Importance of Identity in Meaningful Global Connection

Who am I? How do I interact with the world? By knowing about yourself, you can tell about yourself and connect with others. Identity impacts the way we approach and view the world. This can change depending on what parts of our identity feel threatened, secure, or challenged.

Identity is how you define yourself and what’s important to you. It might be represented by personality traits, profession, and interests or broad categories like gender, race, nationality, religion, or family relations. Knowing about the elements of your identity contributes to developing empathy for others and ultimately creates the foundation for stronger interpersonal connections. Empathy requires perspective taking, and foundations of empathy are built by understanding where our values and beliefs originate.

All children in general and gifted kids in particular need to grapple with different parts of their identity and how they relate to their peers and community. Frequently, gifted students can feel isolated, so it's essential for them to understand that identity is not fixed, and it is not one-dimensional. You can be gifted but also many other things. You don’t have to trade one part of yourself for another.

Understanding identity also aids in breaking down stereotypes. When students recognize that their identity is complex and dynamic, they will be able to empathize that the cultures they are learning about are made up of complex and dynamic individuals too, and that culture is a set of shared beliefs, values, and norms, but that there is great variation within these generalizations.

Helping Gifted Students Develop Their Identities

Bringing identity into the classroom provides opportunities for students to build relationships with teachers and peers and can be an excellent way to encourage deep reflection.  Encouraging students to think about how cultural norms, values, and biases shape their beliefs helps them realize where these beliefs originate. This develops empathy and perspective taking which are both necessary skills for global connection.

Here are some prompts for discussion and reflection that can be used throughout the school year:

  • Question frame: What does it mean to be________ in ________?
  • Example: What does it mean to be a woman in leadership? Muslim in America?
  • Why are some aspects of identity more important to you than others?
  • Is it more important for you that your identity highlights your individuality or highlights your group affiliation? Why?
  • Are there aspects of your identity that only become apparent when you are around people who are different from you? Can you give an example? How might you have described your identity in different settings? Why do you think that is?
  • What stereotypes are associated with the parts of your identity? How are the stereotypes challenged as you examine the varied layers of your identity?
  • What assumptions do people make about identity (or an element of your identity)? What are the perspectives in the room? What perspectives are missing? How could you find out more about that perspective?

Classroom Applications

In addition to discussion frames and reflective practices, there are many other ways to infuse identity development into all classrooms and across subject areas. Here are just a few:

  • Socratic seminar—topics could include stereotypes, how individuals identify themselves, or what happens when identity is threatened.
  • Visual representations of identity—draw, collage, or paint and add to this visual as new identity elements are discovered throughout the school year.
  • Cross-Cultural Literature—diversify your classroom library by choosing literature from many different cultures and perspectives. Discuss the identity of the characters and how these elements connect with your students.
  • Graphic organizers—these are useful when students need a starting point. Begin by asking questions like “what do you like to do?” or “how would you describe yourself to someone you just met?”
  • Reflective writing—use the prompts above, or student-created prompts.
  • Cross-curricular connections—how does what I’m learning connect with my identity?

Once students have an understanding of their identity, they can reap the benefits of connecting with peers around the world. Connection first with classmates and then with others outside of their classrooms and communities opens up opportunities for meaningful connection and allows students to approach a new situation with curiosity. Connections make way for collaboration toward meaningful projects and authentic action on a local and global scale. This opens up the possibilities for learning both in and outside of school.

Author

Erin Dowd is a global education consultant and founder of www.JRNEY.org, a website dedicated to amplifying teachers' voices around the world. She is also a member of the NAGC Global Awareness Network.

References

Dullaghan, B. (2016) A Focus on the Soft Skills. Teaching for High Potential, Summer, 18-19.

Fadel, C. Bialik, M. & Trilling, B. (2015). Four Dimensional Education: The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed. Boston: The Center for Curriculum Redesign.

Lee, C. (2016). Helping Gifted Culturally Diverse Students Cope with Socio-Emotional Concerns. Teaching for High Potential,  Summer, 8-11.

Robinson, K. (2015). Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. New York: Penguin Publishing Group.

Siegle, D. (2007-2009). The Gifted Children’s Bill of Rights, Retrieved from: https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources-parents/gifted-childrens-bill-rights