Thursday 3rd of November 2016

GESF Transforming Classrooms Around the World

The planning committee for the Global Education Skills Forum (GESF) had little idea the level of impact the 2016 event would have on a school district located over 7,400 miles from Dubai.  However, those two days were destined to have a lasting influence on a community far removed from the iconic landscape of the UAE’s most famous city.


Effingham is a progressive community located in the heartland of Central Illinois in the Midwestern United States.  The school district I teach at has developed a reputation throughout the state as a leader in innovative instructional practices.  The district administration is always looking for new ways to provide teachers with the tools and training they need to empower our students to become global citizens.  That’s why I was so excited when Superintendent Mark Doan suggested that both of my building principals, Jason Fox and Cody Lewis, accompany me to Dubai to attend GESF and the awards ceremony for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize.


The GESF event provided my administrators with an opportunity to meet and collaborate with teachers, policymakers, and educational advocates who are globally recognized as leaders.  The event hosted the who-is-who of individuals that care deeply about education and became the perfect place for my administrators to construct a framework that would assist in further opening the doors of creativity and innovation for students and teachers in Effingham Unit #40.   


By the return flight home the following concepts had emerged:


  1. A strong need to create global citizens who understand how other cultures operate and the process for communicating with them.
  2. Students need to be assessed in a manner that allows practical application of skills and knowledge gained vs solely paper and pencil assessments.
  3. The theory that our vocational programming and planning is an essential part of student learning and the experience must be connected globally was validated.


My principals and I were invited to share what we had learned at GESF at a school board meeting and at a convening of local community leaders.  In addition, a committee was established at the district level to develop new ideas on how to promote teacher leadership and innovation in classrooms across the district.  Finally, and innovation program was started at our high school.  Several teachers were selected for the initial program.  The teachers were asked to look at new ways to help connect the curriculum to the world to help unlock the doors of creativity in the minds of their students. 


The new innovation program gave our teachers the flexibility and support they needed to completely revamp their learning environments.  The opportunity ignited a fire in them that is transforming learning opportunities for students across our district.    


Rebecca Mitchell is a teacher with an advanced degree in curriculum and instruction and over 24 years of classroom experience.  She was one of the initial teachers invited to participate in the program.  Listen to how it has reinvigorated her love for the profession:


After twenty-four years of teaching English, I cannot wait to get to school to hear more and more of each student’s story and how he or she can influence and enhance the lessons being taught.  I have discovered that by letting go of the pen to paper test as the end-all be-all method of teaching and allowing innovative and creative methods to be part of the lesson, I have once again become a learner and am experiencing amazing success with my students.”


Similar discussions can be heard from teachers in math, art, physical education, graphic arts, and science classrooms.  The results have been staggering and continues to impact classrooms across the district as the leadership team looks to work with teacher leaders to discuss how to embed the thought process in classrooms at every grade level.  The students are the ultimate beneficiaries.  The learning opportunities for the students in our community continue to grow as teacher leaders and administrators constantly search for new ways to empower them with the skills they need to become productive citizens in the 21st Century.  Thanks to the 2016 GESF event the opportunity for our students have increased exponentially. 

By Joe Fatheree

These blogs are the opinions of the individual teachers and not the Varkey Foundation. 

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