World Savvy Educators Spotlight
Mary Lynn Bryan
When social studies teacher Mary Lynn Bryan first participated in World Savvy Classrooms (previously called World Savvy Challenge) 16 years ago, it didn’t start off too well.
“We were terrible – just awful. We didn’t know what we were doing,” Mary Lynn recalls. At the beginning, she struggled to incorporate World Savvy’s approach while still meeting her own curriculum goals. It was a challenge to highlight different global issues, help students think critically about those issues, and shift their thinking toward problem solving. But through it all, one thing was clear: her students were hooked. They were challenged with global issues and questions in ways that they hadn’t before–not only were they learners, they were also active problem solvers. Students were willing to give up their lunch hours, and spend time after school to work on their World Savvy projects. While none of her students’ projects received awards in the competition that year, Mary Lynn knew that she was on to something.
Over time, Mary Lynn learned how to provide overarching context to big global. For example, she often uses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals today and foster in students the ability to unpack global issues, which were not found in their textbooks. Mary Lynn noted how much more engaged her students were because, “they chose what they wanted to look at – they had control over their learning.”
As she allowed students the space and time to focus on their topics of choice, she saw that they grew more invested in generating solutions to their issue(s) and were working on their Knowledge-to-Action (K2A) projects. As students were diving more into projects, she’d have them provide short presentations on their topics, and face questioning from 2 additional teachers to ensure they had gained the background knowledge to inform where they would go next with their projects. At the beginning, her students were challenged and often unprepared, but they would later become strong critical thinkers, effective researchers, and confident communicators.
World Savvy tools that Mary Lynn, her colleagues, and her students found to be invaluable were World Savvy’s case studies and the Knowledge to Action Collaboratory. The case studies (example) provided her a curated set of articles around a specific topic that she shared with her students to engage with, challenge their beliefs, understand global issues, and modeled how to gain additional information as they ventured off to do their own research. The Collaboratory provided students the opportunity to work collaboratively (synchronously and asynchronously), and gave a welcoming structure for students to go through the design thinking process in a accessible way.
Mary Lynn recalled, “In the early days of World Savvy, our students would work on projects that would help people in this country or that, but there was no real connection. As my teams dove deeper into project-based learning, human-centered design, and design thinking, we started to latch on to the global-to-local connection that we learned to bridge. That meant that students were able to help chip away at global issues but manifested their solutions locally–and tangibly. Even for the students that didn’t fully complete their projects–it was still much more concrete and satisfying, knowing that they have agency, and can make a positive difference right where they are.”
Her students and their projects have left an indelible impression on Mary Lynn. While attending a former student’s recent wedding, she couldn’t help but recall that this student was part of a team that wanted bring members of Thailand’s government to justice for their involvement with human trafficking. She also recalls other student projects over the years—from songs, raps, and performance art pieces—and she sometimes even hums to those beats or lyrics herself.
Today, Mary Lynn is an Academic Specialist at the River School in Napa and has had opportunities to lead World Savvy programming both there and at Blue Oak School (also in Napa), where administrators have been willing to integrate project-based and inquiry-based approaches to everyday curriculum. Having implemented the program at both schools herself for many years, Mary Lynn finds herself recruiting and supporting other teachers to take on the mantle of World Savvy implementation.
Mary Lynn shared, “I’ve taught social studies for a very long time. When I think about the teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom through the support of World Savvy – I can’t think of anything that’s more important than that. We need more engaged world citizens and community citizens – we want them to be aware and to take action. It’s okay if they don’t remember what happened every day of the Civil War, so long as they learn their content and build off that so that the grow to be good citizens of the world.”