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International mindedness and global citizenship: what about language?

I attend quite a few conferences, both academic and practice-related, for the purposes of sharing knowledge and continuing my own learning. In 2018 I had the opportunity to speak at four international-school industry conferences, on various topics pertaining to languages in international schools. During that year, the academic and practice sides of my world collided in a way which has required some deep-thinking, and that process came to a head at the AAIE Leadership conference in New York last week. In March 2017 I was compiling the data from my case studies for the chapters I was writing for a book. These were case studies of schools which were innovating in some area of languages in international education. As we pulled together common themes, it became clear that the most important factor for improving language-related provisions in international schools was leadership, top-down, and leadership of school heads in particular. During that same month, I presented at both CIS Symposia, in the strand relating to language. There were two other strands, on topics of global citizenship and international mindedness. It was striking to notice, in contrast to my current research findings, an almost complete absence of school leaders in the language strand, at both events. There were many school leaders at both events, but choosing for the other two strands rather than languages.

In an effort to go to where the leaders are, this year I put in a proposal to present at the AAIE Leadership conference, on the premise that if they won't come to me, then I will go to them! I had the pleasure of presenting a panel on English and World Languages with Lori Langer-de Ramirez (Dalton School, New York) and Jon Nordmeyer (WIDA) on the theme of: Transforming Cultures; Transforming Programs; Transforming Practice. Despite a conference attendance numbering in the hundreds, we had nine audience members for our panel. The sessions on global citizenship and international mindedness were noticeably better attended. We had a great time in our session, and lots of interaction with our small audience, but the difference in attendance led me to reflect on a critical issue in international education.


So here is the question of the day: How can we be so interested in global citizenship and international mindedness and not be interested in languages in schools? It seems both counter-intuitive and counter-productive to me to have leaders and schools heavily investing in the first two, and ignoring the latter. One of the most pressing issues I see in international schools is students moving through years of schooling learning little to none of the language of their host country. This doesn't seem to fit the ideals of either global citizenship or international mindedness. Nor does the common paradigm of students arriving speaking a (non-English) language and leaving as mainly monolingual English speakers.

Language is a huge part of learning about ourselves, our community and the place where we live. Becoming a global citizen requires moving out of an English-only mindset and into a place where we learn to communicate with others through their own languages. Becoming internationally minded requires seeing value in investing in learning other languages, as portals to other cultures, other ways of thinking, other ways of doing.

It's time for international schools to step up to the plate, with their leaders at the head, and do a better job on languages; EAL/ELL, host country languages, home languages, world languages. All of these are essential building blocks of the mission of international education. Otherwise global citizenship and international mindedness are just empty ideals. We need school leaders to also be leaders in the area of languages, to feel responsibility for how languages are taught and learned in their schools, and to strive to improve this area of education as well.

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