Together with a number of content partners, AFS is convening the AFS Global Conference under the topic “Global Competence: Our Future, Our Responsibility in Budapest this September. Ms Kaya Henderson of Teach For All is one of the distinguished speakers who will address hundreds of stakeholders from different sectors who will gather at the conference to explore global competence. We thank Kaya for sharing her insights on global competence, education reform, leadership and new technologies in this interview.


Kaya Henderson

What are the necessary competences, strategies and tools that educators require to successfully foster global competence in learners?

When I think about what it takes for educators to successfully foster global competence in learners, I believe it begins with the mindset of the educator. Today’s educators need to have a natural curiosity and commitment to constant learning, as the global landscape is dynamic and ever-evolving. They need to be comfortable with that dynamism and  be able to foster flexibility and adaptation within their students. Educators must value diversity and understand how to work with people from different cultures. Finally, they have to be able to connect the dots between their local context and what’s happening in the world.

I think each educator should determine the best strategies to help their students become globally competent given their particular situation. They have to consider what the curriculum requires, what resources are available, and what is most engaging to their particular students. Each community usually has a variety of tools at their disposal that they can take advantage of to help broaden their students’ perspectives: technology, people in the community from other countries, embassies, cultural organizations, etc.

Kaya, your work focuses on locally rooted, globally informed leaders who bring positive change in their communities. What impact have you seen in communities created as a consequence of globally competent leaders?

When leaders are globally competent, they don’t just look within for solutions. They tap into the best thinking out there around how to solve a problem and use those ideas to craft solutions that work for their communities, with their fellow citizens. Globally competent leaders recognize that leadership comes in different races, genders, shapes, sizes, backgrounds and is no respecter of official position. They bring a variety of voices to the table, especially those closest to the problem they are trying to solve. And they are willing to lead alongside other important actors and institutions in their communities.

As a result, we’ve seen results that have shifted from single-issue solutions to comprehensive solutions. We’ve seen these solutions sustain themselves over the long-term because the community owns the change. Finally, we’ve seen initial successes give way to even more successes because these leaders have figured out how to pull the best from the world and from their own communities.     

“The AFS Global Conference is a unique opportunity for educators to learn with and from one another, to connect with education stakeholders from all over the world, and to build the kinds of solutions that will redefine how we educate students from this point forward.”

How significant was global competence in your work to turn around the DC public schools during your tenure as the Washington DC Public Schools Chancellor?

Global competence was a key factor in my work to turn around DC Public Schools. First, DC is an international city, with institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, embassies and consulates, cultural organizations, and citizens from many countries. Part of our competitive advantage was maximizing those resources to create a broader vision for students beyond just academic outcomes.

Families from the most successful to the most challenged all want their children to be prepared to compete for and be successful in any job in the world. We know that when students participate in a year-long partnership with an embassy, when they are guaranteed the opportunity to become proficient in a foreign language beginning in elementary school, when they are exposed to other students and cultures through tools like virtual exchange or international food days, when they have the ability to study abroad regardless of income, when they have internships with international organizations and non-profit organizations, those experiences prepare students to thrive in a world that is increasingly diverse and interconnected.  

So, those are the programs that we put in place and expanded within DC Public Schools. Our families flocked to those opportunities and our students were more deeply engaged in school because of them.

What is the value of new technologies in advancing global competence?

I believe that new technologies can be very helpful in advancing global competence. From connecting students in different countries through virtual exchange, to keeping students connected at low or no cost through social media, to spreading the reach of language and other special subject teachers who can now reach students beyond those in the same location, to allowing students to literally see other countries through virtual reality, new technologies are helping to rapidly connect people in every corner of the world, and making global competence more possible than ever before.


Meet other speakers at the AFS Global Conference

Kaya Henderson leads the Global Learning Lab for Community Impact at Teach For All. There, she seeks to grow the impact of locally rooted, globally informed leaders, all over the world, who are catalyzing community and system-level change to provide children with the education, support, and opportunity to shape a better future. She has served as Chancellor of DC Public Schools, a Fellow with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Georgetown University, among other positions. Her board memberships include The Aspen Institute, The College Board, Robin Hood NYC, and Teach For America. She chairs the board of Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC), an organization that she co-founded.