Meet Carla – A Teacher’s Journey to Global Teaching

Meet Carla – A Teacher’s Journey to Global Teaching
June 14, 2019

Meet Carla Kelly, one of the first graduates of the Global Competence Certificate Program.

World Savvy’s Global Competence Certificate program had a profound impact on Carla Kelly’s personal and professional growth. It expanded her curiosity, engaged her students in hands-on learning, and connected her to a supportive network of other teachers.

Education as a profession was something Carla avoided early in her career. School was difficult for her growing up. While she had a few great teachers who supported her and helped her see that she was good enough, she had also had many teachers who stood by while she was bullied and did not make her feel safe or significant. So she came away feeling ambivalent about the institution and little desire to pursue it as a profession.

After earning her bachelor’s degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, Carla was interested in athletic sports science and thought she might want to become a sports doctor. But she also had a passion and talent for music, which led her to a position at Universal Music Group.

When Carla’s brother was killed in the Iraq war, she began to reassess her life and career path. She realized she could not continue in a job that was not having an impact on people’s lives. She felt that if her brother had had teachers who believed in him, like she had, perhaps he would still be alive. In her words, “he didn’t have teachers that saw the greatness in him. How many other young men and women need someone to challenge them to do something else? That would be a job worth being tired from at the end of the day.”

Carla Becomes an Educator

Carla joined the New York Teaching Fellows program to become a special education teacher. She chose that focus because, as a gifted student herself, she felt she would be able to relate to other students on the spectrum. She also wanted to teach either kindergarten or high school because she believed she could have the most impact on students at either the very beginning or the end of their academic careers. Finally, she wanted to serve her own neighborhood so that she was connected to the community and would see her students and their parents outside of school.

Carla was able to meet all three of these goals in 2009 when she began teaching special education at DeWitt Clinton High School, and urban public school in the Bronx, where she also had the chance to showcase her exceptional versatility as an educator: in one day, Carla taught health, living environment, earth science, and intro to occupations. Her students came from 46 countries and spoke a range of languages, including Spanish, Urdu, Bengali and Arabic.

The GCC: “That’s Me

After five years of teaching, Carla was ready to take on a new challenge. She wanted to avoid becoming rote, stagnant, and unable to adapt to the changing education system. She began to think about going back to school, and when she heard about the Global Competence Certificate Program (GCC) from a friend, her first response was “that’s me!” Just before the GCC deadline, Carla was accepted into a program for lead teachers through the United Federation of Teachers. This not only gave her the confidence to complete the GCC application, but also supported her to become a teacher leader at her school and have more opportunity to apply what she learned in the GCC.

Carla also had the support of her administrator and other colleagues to participate in the GCC, which was important for her journey. For Carla, the GCC was about making learning fun and engaging again. She wanted her students to feel like she used to feel about school. In her words, “[it felt] like you went someplace after you went through a topic. Like you accomplished something. Now you can have a conversation that you couldn’t have before. A lot of that is missing in education today – no child left behind has made sure that children are left behind.”

Diving into Coursework

In reflecting on her coursework, Carla felt that she got something out of every one of her classes and made a conscious effort to apply at least one to her teaching right away. The Intro to Global Competence course was the most challenging for her, because it pushed her to adjust her vocabulary and really stretched her brain to think in a new way. One of her favorite courses was Inquiry-based Learning, because it allowed her to think creatively about what the educational environment could be if she could make it anything she wanted. She also got a lot out of the Global Systems course because it opened her eyes to how many innovative things are happening in other parts of the world and really challenged the “American exceptionalism” that is such a common part of our national narrative.

In general, Carla found the online courses to be much more engaging that she thought they would be. She also felt more connected to her peers in the program than she imagined she would. One of her first courses was Dialoguing in Global Education, which served to open participants up to one another, while her Aesthetic Experience course provided insights into her peer’s lives and helped her understand them better. So even before she met some of them during the Fieldwork experience, she felt close to the other GCC participants.

Carla began to make connections and apply what she was learning to her work early in the program. She shared, “we want to make a difference as teachers, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.” One of the first things the program did was make Carla feel connected to other parts of the world, and she was able to translate that into her classroom immediately. Six months into the program, she shared this example: “It started much more broad, but now I’m starting to think about more specific things that can be done. I wanted to do a reading club, now I’m thinking about making that a global literature reading club. How can I sprinkle the global into every lesson and help my students that hail from other places feel connected?”

She also taught a unit on death and dying in which she added a list of death rituals around the world and then had students choose 5 that they thought would be a really great fit for their personality and explain why. She shared, “my student from the Webster ave projects was really fascinated by how in South Korea, they turn their loved ones into gems. These kids wouldn’t think that they can connect to other parts of the world.”

Experiencing Ecuador

For her global fieldwork experience in the GCC, Carla travelled to Ecuador with eleven of her peers for fifteen days. They began their trip in the capital city of Quito, where they learned about Ecuador’s history, people and education system. They also visited two schools, one privately-funded school focused on preserving indigenous Quechua culture in Quito and another government school in Pedro Moncayo. After getting acclimated to the country, the group travelled to a rural village called Tumbatu in Chota Valley, where they stayed with families and worked with community leaders to implement a community-based project.

Carla’s approach to fieldwork was to absorb and learn as much as possible, and to let go any assumptions or desire to confirm or showcase what she thought she already knew. She also spoke Spanish, so she did not have to deal with the lack of understanding and difficulties with communication that some of her peers faced. For Carla, the fieldwork experience helped her to apply what she had learned in her courses and deepen her understanding of the core concepts of global competence. For example, she shared, “going into the different schools and communities, I could see why it was important to take a class like global systems. You can see how nothing happens in isolation. Everything we’re looking at is the result of complex relationships.” She also remarked how the perspective she gained from the Aesthetic Experience course encouraged her to look for meaning in different cultural symbols and “gave meaning to everything we saw in Ecuador.”  

The Fieldwork was also a deeply emotional experience for Carla. Since so many of her peers came from different backgrounds and experiences, they all processed things differently. And although they knew one another from the coursework, being face to face provided a new opportunity to build relationships. But it was challenging to be simultaneously building relationships among the group and trying to build them with the community in which they were staying. She shared, “I understood that what we were doing wasn’t as important as creating relationships with the people. That helped me have the right kind of focus for my interaction.”

It was the homestay where the importance of building relationships really sunk in for Carla. She shared how grateful she was that she had already taken dialogue and discussion leadership, because they provided her with the perspective and tools to engage with her host family and other community members more authentically. She shared, “I’m really glad we had some of that training before we went, or else some of those moments of silence could have been very uncomfortable.”

One of the most impactful experiences for Carla during the Fieldwork was the visit to the indigenous school. Seeing the effort they had made to bring the indigenous lens to help kids see themselves in what they were learning made Carla think more deeply about what cultural inclusiveness means. She recognized that living in such a diverse country as the US, so many cultures are still invisible and many kids do not see themselves in their textbooks or courses.

As a whole, Carla saw the fieldwork experience as an important way to model what she wants her students to go through. In her words, “you have to go through what you’re asking your students to do before they can trust you.” This showcases Carla’s deeply held belief that professional development and personal development go hand in glove. What happened in Ecuador was an example of the importance of educators putting themselves in the role of student and focusing on their own development before they can translate that into the classroom. For Carla, the fieldwork “made us more globally competent as people…we’re going to be able to use that to enrich our students’ experience, but I believe quite a bit of that was to help us deal with our own personal level of competence.”

Putting it all together

When Carla returned from her Fieldwork, she had a few semesters left before completing the certificate. During this time, she continued to take courses and began working on her capstone project – a curriculum for a global health course. Her goal was to create a course where students saw themselves in the content and learned something they could use later on in their lives. With 46 cultures represented in her school, she wanted to be sure that students did not feel invisible. In her words, “even if they pass all their tests, they feel like education is not for them because they don’t see themselves.” Over the course of several months, Carla created a course that helped students compare health concepts across different countries and regions in the world.

Impact of the GCC

Carla is the kind of educator who puts her whole self into her work, which means that every professional development experience is also a personal development experience. The GCC is designed for educators who are willing to work on developing their own global competence in order to teach for global competence. Carla was a model example of this connection. In her words, “first change yourself. Then when you ask your kids to do it, they look at your face and know that you know what the struggle is like.”

In addition to the relationships she built with other GCC participants, particularly those with whom she went to Ecuador, Carla was also deeply grateful for the high quality of the course instructors. In particular, she appreciated the passion and authenticity they brought to the courses. She joked, “I was able to get an Ivy League education in my pajamas.”

Carla is used to being the only one of her kind wherever she is, and described her first night in Ecuador when she realized that she was the only black person in the group. She found herself feeling somewhat isolated, but was also able to remember that she was singular and had much to contribute. In particular, she was able to communicate more effectively in Spanish than many of the other participants, so she was able to support her peers in that way. When the group got to Chota Valley and met the Afro-Ecuadorians, Carla felt like she was among family. From that moment, “I definitely felt like I was one of many.”

Program Impact: “It became more fun to teach.”  

Carla ‘s experience in the GCC was profound, and had a deep personal and professional impact. The GCC brought her personal experiences being exposed to the world from a young age and provided the background and context to really understand and analyze them more deeply. In her words, “the GCC was wonderful because I got to read things that supported things that I had grown up seeing my entire life. It took something organic and brought it to the level of academic.”  

In reflecting on the program’s impact on her teaching, Carla shared, “I saw the change right away. It became more fun for me to teach.” She described how time seemed to go much faster in her classes because students were more engaged in what they were learning: “I found my students saying ‘are we done already?’” She also remarked, “My own personal curiosity expanded, so I felt like my classes were more interesting to teach. And if I’m having fun, the kids have fun.”

As a special educator, Carla often does not know what she will be teaching semester to semester, but regardless of the subject matter, she plans to continue to integrate global content and comparisons in her courses. While she came to the program already well versed in adapting her curriculum based on what is happening day to day, through the GCC, “having this global lens to look at the world has given me more to work with. Period. Instinctively now I go beyond America.” For example, she has integrated a global perspective into her earth science across her units. When she teaches about extreme weather, she has students learn about events that happened around the world. She has also begin integrating “the human story” – like clean-up efforts or water contamination – into these lessons. In her words, “now I can go deeper.”

What’s Next for Carla

Carla’s primary focus is on building a model classroom and ensuring that the quality of her instruction remains high. But she is also always looking for the next opportunity to learn and grow, personally and professionally and to “keep my curiosity level up.” When asked what she plans to do next, Carla shared that she is “looking at what else can I do to make my teaching ability more vast and to make sure every kid in my classroom, regardless of the subject I am teaching, can have a really great experience compared to the kids who don’t have me.”

Carla is now a US Learning Specialist at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, NY, supporting students across grade levels and leveraging her GCC experience every day.

Carla was featured in a New York Times story about World Savvy and “Preparing Young Americans for a Complex World”, by David Bornstein (link to the article here). World Savvy is currently seeking higher education partners to deliver the GCC – please contact Connie Rensink at for more information.

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