CEHD Hosts International Educators from Around the World

Posted: December 6, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: December 3, 2010 at 3:02 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

CEHD professor Farnoosh Shahrokhi, third from right, poses with teachers participating in the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Award Program during an excursion to Washington Harbor. Photo courtesy of Farnoosh Shahrokhi

As part of the program called the U.S.-Russia Language, Technology, Math and Science Program: Teachers to Teachers, Rebecca Fox and Wendy Frazier spent two weeks last summer meeting with 20 secondary school teachers in Vladivostok, Russia’s largest port city.

During their visit, Fox and Frazier, professors in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), conducted a needs assessment and orientation for their Russian counterparts, and these same Russian teachers recently completed four weeks of professional development at Mason.

Funded by the U.S. State Department, this program is just one of several cultural exchange programs in CEHD’s Center for International Education (CIE) that welcome educators from across the globe to learn and study at Mason.

CIE focuses on research and international education beginning in kindergarten through the university level. The center also provides professional development activities that help educators better understand the importance of cultural diversity and how to promote this in the classroom.

“International education has a variety of definitions, and at CIE our goal is to foster intercultural communication through the sharing of ideas and expertise,” says Beverly Shaklee, professor and CIE director.

“This is the first time that we have hosted this many educators from around the world at the same time, and we are very excited to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from this diverse group of people.”

In addition to the Russian teachers, Mason welcomed nearly 60 educators to campus over the past few months as part of the following programs intended to promote diversity and cultural understanding:

  • The Greek Teacher Professional Development Project (GTPDP), directed by associate professors Debra Sprague and Anastasia Kitsantas, hosted 20 humanities teachers from Greece.
  • The Teaching Excellence and Achievement Award (TEA) Program, directed by assistant professor Farnoosh Shahrokhi, hosted 20 teachers from countries throughout Europe, Asia and Africa who teach English, foreign language and social studies.

During each four- to eight-week program, the educators participated in a variety of seminars and workshops that focused on teaching methodologies, second language research, reflective practice and action planning. These plans were complemented with hands-on experience — the educators worked with mentor teachers several times a week in Fairfax County Public Schools.

When the teachers weren’t in the classroom, they were learning more about American culture firsthand. CIE faculty members planned several excursions to locations in the Washington, D.C., area, such as the Smithsonian museums and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Some of the teachers from Greece even traveled as far as New York City.

Focusing heavily on effectively integrating technology into the classroom, the educators created electronic portfolios as part of their final projects. The portfolios allow the teachers to share their educational and cultural experiences at Mason with one another and with their colleagues in their home countries.

“These programs provide a great opportunity for professional development and meaningful cultural exchange between both the international educators and Mason faculty,” says Shahrokhi. “It is not surprising that most of the individuals involved find the experience transformational.”

During the visit, the CIE faculty teams were busy working on a comprehensive joint research study involving all of the international educators. Throughout the programs, the teachers were asked a series of similar questions to determine several things: how the educators define international education based on their countries of origin; how their self-confidence develops after learning and implementing new teaching techniques; and how effective Mason is at creating and delivering professional development to international teachers.

“There have been very few research studies conducted of this scope, and we hope to gain some valuable insight into the teaching practices of international educators,” says Shaklee. “The study delves into various notions of diversity, such as race, religion and culture, all of which influence students throughout the world.”

Although the researchers have returned to their home countries, the joint research project hasn’t ended. The CIE faculty teams have been busy organizing and analyzing the personal reflections they received from the teachers about international education.

The CIE teams will gather more data in spring 2011 when the project directors meet with the educators in their own countries to determine if they have successfully implemented the skills they learned at Mason.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu