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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
Homa Tavangar Sees Empathy as Key to Global Citizenship
By Brittany Betts, TIE CEO 02-Feb-18
Homa Tavangar’s engagement with diverse sectors of society in the discussion on global competency and global mindset grew from her background in international and economic development and her observations about the state of the world and the increasing lack of empathy. The exponential growth of her work since her first book in 2009 has reflected the timely need for exploring these topics, both in education and elsewhere, and has led her to focus much of her time looking at strategies, best practices, and innovation. Drawing from all fields—from international development to neuroscience—her goal is to help teachers be their most effective in bringing the world into the classroom. Brittany: For many working in international schools, there is the assumption that the setting and makeup of the student body implies a global mindset, or that global competency is implicit and comes “naturally.” How can we do some myth-busting around this? Homa: I think that’s really a crucial question to begin an honest conversation around this issue. I see two sides to that answer. For one, international schools today are more and more serving local national populations as opposed to children of workers in multinational corporations. On the other hand, we need to consider what the terms “global competence” or “global mindset” or “global citizenship” really mean. At the heart of it, I think it is about exercising empathy and defining what you stand for as a global citizen. Through extensive research over the years, I have come to the conclusion that becoming a global citizen and building the capacity to raise up students that are globally competent is about developing a hyper-local muscle. By that I mean being sensitive and aware of what is happening in your immediate environment. For example, a lot of research has been done about the fact that an elite, educated person in New York City would have more in common with an elite, educated person in São Paulo than with a low-income, rural, less-educated person from New York state. It’s not really so location-based as it is based on developing that empathy muscle and filling in the empathy gap, which I think may be at the heart of many of the challenges that we’re facing in the world. Global competence has to do with being able to recognize different perspectives and solve difficult problems that are not only those you yourself might be facing, but those that others in your community might have to contend with. Global competence is not just getting on an airplane. It’s seeing what’s right around you. Brittany: Global competency has become somewhat of a buzzword in education in recent years and sometimes we see this leads to a diluted version of how schools implement practices. What are some pitfalls to avoid for a school that aims to embody these principles and this culture? Homa: Sometimes I joke that the “global” education that we hear about—food, film, festivals, flags—are kind of the global education “F-words.” In many schools, the administration, the teachers, even the parents may pat themselves on the back that they had an international food festival and then they think they’re done, and that’s the extent of their global learning. For schools to see this as an end in itself is the ultimate pitfall. It’s a first step. Another pitfall to avoid is having one or two champions carry the “global” torch. Often these are teachers who enjoy organizing this sort of festival or setting up Skype calls with a school in another country. They’re the ones who bring in the occasional guest speaker, and the whole school community ends up relying on them to do it. I think that’s one of the most dangerous things. Really trying to instill greater collaboration among staff, parents, students is key, so that everybody has a role to play in these kinds of initiatives. It is helpful in deepening, broadening, and sustaining the effort, and ultimately the culture or mindset. Brittany: Developing key foundational virtues in the school, staff, and students seems to be a common thread. You have spoken about these through the lens of inclusion in your work. What is your vision of inclusion and its role in a global mindset? Homa: I’m really happy that you’re bringing up the topic of inclusion. It’s often kept as a separate silo from global education. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are sort of a package. Oftentimes you’ll have people whose interest is global education and it will be a whole other population of educators whose interest is diversity, equity, and inclusion. As long as these manifest as two separate camps of thought, action, and individuals, both are bound to really suffer. In the U.S., they’ve almost been pitted against each other, fighting for limited budget resources and scarce staff time. This has been a real interest of mine over the past year. I think there are real simple ways to think about what inclusion looks like. If diversity is like being invited to the party, then inclusion is being asked to dance. Maybe at your school you have diverse kids sitting in the cafeteria; inclusion implies that they are not only together but are growing genuine friendships. It’s the emergence of genuine leadership, where everyone has a genuine voice and means to contribute to decision making. I think it’s remarkable the progress we have yet to make in fostering this sort of environment around the world. For example, recently there’s been a lot of backlash from women through the whole #MeToo campaign. The lack of women’s leadership around the world and the disparity in pay is really coming to light. It’s amazing to me how much farther we have to go. The role of schools in fostering inclusion is, in large part, to instill the skills needed to have this sort of difficult conversation. I think we are avoiding the difficult conversations because people haven’t learned how to have them, and it’s embarrassing, and awkward. People want to avoid questions about why certain people are not being included, why the school seems so elitist, why is there an undercurrent of cliquishness, or prejudice. You’re seen as a troublemaker if you raise such uncomfortable issues. What I hope is that, through some of the training being offered, seeing how these questions intersect with what it means to be a global citizen, more and more people can feel comfortable to have these difficult conversations. Only then can we begin to break down the barriers between people on a large scale. Ultimately, I think it’s about building oneness. Without that, global citizenship remains in the domain of the elite, and that’s not meaningful. Brittany: We are excited to hear you will be speaking at the AAIE conference coming up in New York in February and at the Women in Leadership breakfast as well. What is your vision of leadership in this arena? Homa: I think that there’s a bit of a consensus that the times we live in are like none other. We’re really at a crossroads. What kind of leadership is needed? Transformative leadership. There are different types of qualities that we really need to move our world forward, and some of those that I think of are more feminine, more global, more inclusive. A final one that I really think a lot about is this word: “abundance.” Acting and leading with abundance, as opposed to starting from a point of scarcity, is very freeing. It is acting without fear, without limitations. Increasingly, we talk a lot about the growth mindset, the global mindset—I think the mindsets we leave our students with are even more powerful than the skillsets. It goes back to some of those qualities and virtues such as empathy, service, grit, and creativity that all go into building a global citizen. A way of opening yourself up to these new modes of thinking. Focusing on these is a very powerful way to build leadership qualities and to lead. Brittany: Homa, thank you so much for spending the time to chat with us. We look forward to speaking about all your upcoming work again soon. growingupglobal.net
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