Defining a Global Mindset

Homa Sabet Tavangar

In my work with a wide range of schools and organizations, I often encounter attitudes on two extremes when it comes to “global mindsets.” On the one hand are “traditionalists” who proudly cling to the way things were, who resist changing curriculum and teaching methods to reflect diverse perspectives, global forces, “fads” in communication, and may see an “us” versus “them” equation when it comes to economic opportunity, ideology, and even who gets included in their circle of family and friends. On the other hand, are “internationalists” who follow their sense of adventure to uproot themselves and their families to experience life in new lands, and get a lot of satisfaction from exposure to exotic foods, aesthetics, and habits.

The first attitude has obvious limitations, and increasingly seems to reflect a generation gap: younger people are more open to change, and ready to transcend borders when it comes to communications, job opportunities, new technologies, multicultural experiences and diverse friendships. We see this gap in the demographics of Brexit voters: Those who overwhelmingly voted to stay in the European Community – a slight minority – were younger, urban dwelling and more educated1. While they may feel the sting of not possessing the skills that make them competitive in a global job market, they realize future job opportunities often transcend borders.

The second, “internationalist” attitude also has its pitfalls. These can be serious since the attitude might nurture complacency that one is “global,” but in fact gaps in empathy might be perpetuating attitudes of superiority, exceptionalism, and entitlement. As a community of international educators, this might be one of our greatest challenges. Just because we travel and live globally doesn’t mean we possess a global mindset. Practicing humility, empathy, and deliberate reflection doesn’t come automatically with a passport. Fortunately, taking a few conscious steps toward filling that empathy gap is within the power of most educators (and parents).

Filling the Empathy and Skills Gap With a Global Mindset

The model of global mindset which I use here rests on three foundational pillars: Intellectual Capital, Psychological Capital, and Social Capital. This framework can serve as a powerful tool in considering how to fill the gaps in skills as well as empathy which challenge today’s students.


Source: Thunderbird Najafi Global Mindset Institute

While this model was created with the purpose of preparing global business leaders, I find it equally, if not more, instructive in K-12 educational environments. The qualities of Global Mindset can deepen or illuminate 21st Century learning and innovation skills, which are characterized by 4C’s: Cognitive complexity, Collaboration, Creativity, and Communication. These 4C’s overlap with intellectual, psychological and social capital, instead of being contained neatly in one category or another. For example, Communication (one of the 4C’s) calls for knowledge of the world and an appreciation of its complexity (manifesting Intellectual Capital); while fluency and effective communication rest upon a passion for diversity in order to drive curiosity and self-assurance that allows for mistakes and iteration (Psychological Capital), and a level of empathy and diplomacy that creates fluency beyond what plugging foreign words into Google Translate can ever deliver (Social Capital). Integrating these pillars becomes a powerful practice at the K-12 level, since the opportunity to deliberately practice these qualities earlier in life (the famous 10,000 hour rule for mastering a complex skill), creates a much greater chance that this mindset will stick, becoming a part of a global citizens’ identity and a clear skill set they bring to the job market – and to life.

To try deepening your Global Mindset skills, the following questions can help drive classroom activities, school culture, and teaching practice:

To build Intellectual Capital, consider some of these driving questions or basic scenarios:

  • Global Business Savvy (applied to K-12 learning, we can think of this as Knowledge of the World): If you needed to have a layover in Helsinki, Kuala Lumpur, or Accra, would this take you way off your direct route home? Is their currency so devalued that you might benefit from shopping at that airport?
  • Cognitive Complexity: Superimpose the question of international transit layovers with foreign currency exchange rates and potential delays along the way to make complex decisions about the real cost of that cheaper airplane ticket.
  • Cosmopolitan Outlook: While this matter falls in the intellectual capital category, it also contains an important element of empathy skills. When one practices a cosmopolitan outlook they might take a simple question about the American Revolution or recycling and consider what the impact might have been on those living in another country, yet impacted by local decisions, outcomes and events.

For healthy Psychological Capital, consider some of these driving questions or basic scenarios:

  • Quest for Adventure: Do you not only go along with change, but find ways to embrace it? How can a trip around the corner turn into an experience of discovery?
  • Passion for Diversity: When one possesses a passion for diversity, a goal of “tolerance” for diversity becomes far too limited. Can you experience or inquire about new cultures, beliefs and practices with your whole heart?
  • Self-Assurance: With self-assurance, healthy risk-taking becomes part of the learning process. One feels empathy with others, so that asking questions about authentic experiences that differ from your own is not seen as a barrier.

To build Social Capital consider some of these driving questions or basic scenarios:

  • Intercultural Empathy: Rather than observe the lives of others who differ from you from a detached perspective, can you put yourself in their shoes? How might this affect the way you see the decisions they make? Consider what you have in common (not only differences) with those whose lives differ significantly on the surface from yours; how does this change your potential relationship? How might you treat them differently?
  • Interpersonal Impact: When someone is in a position to be of service to you or your family, do you consider how you treat them and some of the conditions and challenges they are living through? How does this impact the way you treat them? This has been a particular challenge for expat children, living between cultures, served by individuals from the host country and not being shown an example from other adults of treating those working in service positions with kindness and humility. In what other ways can your life or learning create interpersonal impact?
  • Diplomacy: From the youngest ages children can learn to navigate between complete honesty and diplomacy. For example, they might try a new food they don’t care for. Rather than make a face, refuse to try it, or show another form of disapproval (often resulting in offense to the host), they try a bite, graciously decline more, and learn to keep their displeasure to themselves. Consider other examples of where diplomacy could enhance bonds in collaborating on group projects, navigating social obligations in a new city, or reacting to opinions you disagree with.

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