World Savvy Named One of the Top Education Innovators Worldwide

World Savvy is thrilled to announce that we have been selected as one of the top innovations in the world in the 2023 HundrED Global Collection. HundrED is a Finland-based, not-for-profit that discovers, researches, and shares inspiring innovations in K-12 education. 

Out of 3,488 worldwide innovations reviewed, World Savvy was among the 100 innovations from 54 countries selected, and only one of nine U.S.-based organizations. An academy consisting of 188 experts in education from over 113 countries reviewed the innovations.

“Innovations highlighted by HundrED are truly moving the needle in education reform around the world. Meeting the needs of students, parents, teachers, and communities, the innovations found in HundrED’s database are a go-to resource for anyone looking to catch a glimpse of the wealth of possibility in education innovation and transformation,” said Mike Dunn, Director of College Counseling, U.S.A. and member of the HundrED Academy Board.

The common threads across the selected 100 top innovations were:

  1. A focus on teachers as the heart of education transformation and innovation.
  2. 21st Century Skill development also called “life skills” or “soft skills,” which includes developing competencies through social and emotional learning, global citizenship, and entrepreneurship with a common focus on critical thinking and collaborative learning. 
  3. Student well-being and mental health including the cognitive, psychological, physical, and social aspects that drive educational outcomes. 
  4. Student agency and putting the student at the center of the educational experience to drive their own learning, develop their voice, and make choices about their educational experience. Agency is closely connected to student motivation, well-being, and a sense of meaning and purpose. 
  5. Centering equity including diversity, gender equality, special needs education, inclusion, access, and human rights.

“We are thrilled to be recognized among so many other innovative organizations and to have the opportunity to share our work to build more inclusive, equitable, and future-ready K-12 learning environments with a global audience,” says World Savvy CEO and Co-Founder Dana Mortenson. “It is a credit to our talented team and amazing network of school partners and leaders.”

A review from the HundrED Academy included, “World Savvy has key principles of universal interest in a learning ecosystem that makes its spread and adaptability. It provides a tool that helps learners connect, share and collaborate joining efforts to solve global problems.” 

The complete HundrED report can be accessed here. For more information about World Savvy’s Comprehensive School Partnerships go to

Teachers, We See You! Authentic Teacher Appreciation During Complex Times

Being a teacher includes moments that feel like you’re a rock star. When that impromptu, perfectly timed joke you insert into a lesson meets raucous laughter and a bit of friendly taunting from your students, while also infusing the class with energy and a sense of unity. That time a student wants to linger after class or eat lunch with you or reaches out after they graduate to keep talking with you about ideas from class. When you and the other faculty/staff secretly learn a dance routine and perform it at a pepfest or other school event, your dance song is barely audible over the students’ laughter. When your elementary student from three years ago still runs over and hugs you as you’re walking your students to the bus, or when your former secondary student emails you to tell you that they’re majoring in the discipline you taught. When you witness a student come alive as they engage with their community for your class or school, and they begin to recognize and cultivate their sense of agency.

At their most inspired moments, teachers are filled with the warm buzz of knowing that every day they are nurturing students’ curiosity, discovery, and knowledge of both themselves and the world. In more challenging times, teachers can feel like a cog in a system that is resistant to change, monitoring and coercing students to care about points, policies, and curricula that feel archaic and irrelevant.

Never have we demanded more from teachers than we do right now, and never have the challenges of teaching been harder. Teachers must innovate and experiment while coping with scarce resources and inequality and overcome inertia and muscle memory that hold tight to old approaches to old problems, luring us to “return to normal” because we’re not sure what else to do. Many feel isolated, lonely, detached from one another’s stories and experiences, overwhelmed by information and claims, and living in polarized communities fractured by cynicism and mistrust. As is the case with many global challenges, the past is not necessarily predictive or productive for strategically navigating the future; experts don’t know one-size-fits-all answers to our complex challenges in education. The way forward must emerge from curiosity, imagination,  innovation, and collaboration, demanding flexibility and experimentation in a space that does not promote or reward either.

Despite, and in fact because of these challenges, we recognize that young people today need to graduate equipped to collaborate and cooperate as active citizens in more diverse, local communities and with the knowledge and skills necessary for future jobs in a global economy. We need our students to emerge from K-12 education prepared as problem solvers, poised to address future local and global challenges that are increasingly interconnected and interdependent.

Teaching is a challenging job, not just because teachers have to support so many children in environments and circumstances that are often difficult in and of themselves, but because teachers have to do more than ever before. Kids used to come to school to learn information, and now they come to school to learn what to DO with information. 

Teachers are sacred guides who nurture spaces and experiences for young people to make sense of our current complex world, to build the skills to transform conflict and existential challenges, and to find hope and joy about what is emerging out of the uncertainty and disruption of the pandemic and societal polarization. 

It is an awesome task to adequately prepare young people for this complex and interconnected world, AND it has never been more urgent that teachers are successful. Teachers are nurturing the resilient peacemakers, courageous problem solvers, and passionate leaders our world so desperately needs.

So what can we do to truly appreciate and support teachers?


More than a doughnut, canvas bag, or water bottle, what teachers really need is school leaders who root their leadership in curiosity, humility, and willingness to lead a process of transformation in education. In leading through complex times, school leaders must see themselves less as experts and more as hosts or guides of a process of inquiring, understanding, experimenting, reflecting, and scaling up promising innovations.  To appreciate your teachers:

  • Provide time, support, and space for teachers to engage in inquiry and experimentation. Replace top-down professional development presentations and mandates with inquiry-based professional collaboration and learning, providing time and materials for teachers to collectively understand what’s going on for their learners and what school needs to look and feel like for children coming of age in the 21st century
  • Crystallize clarity around your mission and eliminate requirements, demands, systems, traditions, and expectations that aren’t central to creating an innovative, equitable learning experience that prepares students to navigate and contribute to a complex, global world. Less is more for teachers working from a place of mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Chart out a path for transforming teaching and learning at your school, and stay committed for years, enabling teachers and students to learn, experiment, reflect, and refine.
  • Learn about what it means to lead during complex (versus complicated) times. Our complex world demands that we lead without knowing all the answers and co-create the path forward through collective, iterative innovation. School leaders need to be hosts of this experimentation and innovation, nudging schools in strategic, positive directions. MIT’s Otto Scharmer states the job of leaders in today’s complex world is to transform awareness, to learn from the past and connect it with emerging future possibilities.

    “Attention, aligned with intention, can make mountains move… Almost all major challenges we face call on us to respond by letting go of the past to co-sense and co-create what is wanting to emerge.”
  • Create a professional environment of curiosity, learning, failing forward, and reflection. Model curiosity, humility, not knowing, unknowing, bravery in experimentation, and innovation. Encourage and support teachers’ quick, safe-to-fail experiments to notice what seems to be working for innovating towards post-pandemic educational transformation.
  • Clearly and frequently communicate with your school community about your process of transforming teaching and learning as we emerge from the pandemic, so that your whole school community shares a common narrative, understanding, and invitation to participate in inquiry and innovation, and so that teachers aren’t each having to individually communicate about changes in your school.


  • Recognize that teachers and students are navigating an unprecedently challenging, complex time in the education world. Author Arundhati Roy calls the pandemic a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. Creating a transformed learning experience that is relevant and equips young people with what they need to live as engaged global citizens involves experimentation and innovation. To appreciate your children’s teachers, let them know that you support innovation and transformed learning even if it doesn’t look and feel like your school experience from the 20th century. Ask how you can be of help.
  • Understand that we are living in a complex world that is actually quite different from the world of our childhoods. Trust teachers and school leaders as they reinvent education for the 21st century. Be curious rather than critical when the school may change its schedule, grading/assessment system, or what assignments look and feel like. Meet the world with curiosity and hope. Transformative change requires courage, collaboration, experimentation, humility, and resilience. School leaders and teachers need to forge a path into somewhat unknown terrain; let them know that you appreciate that they are developing a learning experience for students that is relevant and transformational. Most students and teachers alike are desperate for a change in what “school” feels like. 
  • If we want students to be creative, collaborative, and knowledgeable problem solvers, they need case studies with which to practice understanding and engaging with globally significant issues in their communities. What’s going on in your neighborhood, community, and/or workplace? How could you partner with your children’s school to share your network and resources to welcome students as investigators, collaborators, and contributors working on real, significant challenges in your community?


  • Just like students so desperately want to be seen and heard in their communities, your teachers are working in a job that is both hyper-social and lonely at times. Their hard work, resilience, intellect, compassion, and creativity are rarely noticed or celebrated in the education system. Teachers are fueled by hope and by faith that the seeds they are planting and nurturing in their students will flourish and be fruitful in the years and decades to come. Take a moment and tell your teacher in person, via email, via a brief note jotted on an assignment – “I see you, teacher.” I see those ice breakers you plan and those interactive activities you coordinate to help us learn. I appreciate the feedback you provide to help me deepen my thinking/writing/creating skills. I notice that you remember things about my life and that you smile at me. I see you bravely creating space for us to discuss, investigate, and understand what’s going on in our complex world and helping me figure out how I can contribute to make the world a better place in my life. I see you modeling how to be reflective, how to learn from mistakes, and how to be brave even when you might feel nervous.” Experts say that we humans need five pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of negative feedback. The busy, chaotic life of teachers provides plenty of challenging feedback. Be creative, generous, and persistent with your spontaneous positive feedback!
  • When your teacher is trying something new or an activity doesn’t work as well as intended, help your class engage with your teacher as co-creators of learning, experimenters and innovators. Provide feedback. Offer to help. Step up to help build momentum and meaning for projects, recognizing that learning is something that you and your classmates do in a proactive way rather than something that happens in response to teaching.

Teachers, we see you. 

We see you…

  • Caring and differentiating for your students even though you may have seen only half of each of their faces all year.
  • Learning and experimenting with how to create a more equitable community in your own classroom, school, and in the world.
  • Navigating COVID-related absences that are continually disrupting your classroom community.
  • Agreeing that the education system needs to be transformed and exhausted by the urgency of the day-to-day and outdated PD and requirements.
  • Helping students learn in your classroom while staying connected with kids who are quarantining.
  • Supporting students to know more, care more, and do more in their lives and communities.
  • Looking for energy and relevance and resources and a reminder of “Why am I doing this?”

World Savvy appreciates and supports teachers this week and every day!

World Savvy appreciates each teacher’s gifts and talents, which serve as the foundation for their students’ learning. We help teachers reconnect with what brings them joy as they cultivate fertile ground in their classrooms and communities where students learn and grow. To provide support for the awesome task that teachers have at this moment in time, World Savvy partners with schools and communities to prepare youth for our complex, global future. Our program prepares students to thrive in our globally connected world by re-imagining K-12 education, focusing on increasing student engagement, expanding teacher capacity and cultural competence, and strengthening school and district leadership. Using evidence-based tools and best practices for culturally responsive pedagogy and student-led learning, World Savvy is empowering teachers to make school inclusive, relevant, and engaging for all students, inspiring them to learn, work, and thrive as responsible global citizens.

The many globally minded elements of Melanie Peterson-Nafziger’s last 25 years converge as she eagerly joins the World Savvy team as their Professional Learning Facilitator in Minnesota. Melanie first discovered World Savvy in 2012 as one of five US educators for the World Savvy/American Youth Leadership Program, supporting U.S. and Bangladeshi students in developing global competency, investigating climate change during a month of travel in Bangladesh, and learning how to turn knowledge into action to live in solidarity. Melanie also worked as an Educator Advisor in World Savvy’s development of the Global Competency Certificate program.

Global Competence is Social-Emotional Learning: If We Want Students to Know More, We Have to Care More

Lessons from the Pandemic: A Brain in Pain Cannot Learn

At this point, educators must assume all students have been impacted by stress and trauma, from the pandemic or otherwise. The specifics of most traumas will never even be identified. In order to support students academically and emotionally, global competence skills such as empathy, self-awareness, and reflection must be intentionally embedded into classrooms in order to help students process emotions and develop resilience. In fact, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona recently tweeted, “Mental health challenges can impact a student’s ability to participate in learning. As we recover – it’s important to go beyond literacy & math to helping students build their social, emotional, and mental health skills.”  

The COVID-19 Pandemic manifested itself in schools like an emergency room triage, with educators doing all they could to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students and their communities. This period of upheaval has had lingering effects on the mental health and anxiety levels of students, teachers, and administrators alike (see THIS ARTICLE from The New York Times). While our education system is deciding how it wants to move forward from here, something we all agree on is keeping Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in every classroom. According to Dr. Bill Daggett, of the National Dropout Prevention Center, “For trauma-impacted students, doubling down on instruction is not likely to produce increased content mastery.” In other words, a brain in pain cannot learn. 

If we want students to know more, we have to care more. At World Savvy, we believe a primary way to heal trauma-impacted students is by providing them with concrete social-emotional learning strategies to develop the skills and dispositions they need to navigate a complex and ever-changing world.

SEL is Global Competence

SEL is global competence, which is not content-based but rather can be applied across all grade levels and subject areas. Identifying and nurturing connections between individuals and issues makes learning more personal and relevant, and thus more engaging for students. It is false to think that educators should have to choose content or standards over key competencies such as social-emotional learning.

World Savvy addresses this with school partnerships to support preemptive planning that integrates social-emotional learning to cultivate connection and create classrooms where all students feel valued. Laying this foundation early in the school year has proven effects on bolstering resilience and making academic success more attainable. 

Comfort with ambiguity & unfamiliar situations

Trauma can look different for different people, and what might be traumatic for a student may not be traumatic for you. The pandemic and school shutdowns were unpredictable, dramatically increasing the incidence and impact of trauma for our youth. It is important to keep in mind that students’ perception and the emotional impact of trauma is more important than the source of the trauma itself. In order for students to be successful in school, the feeling of psychological safety must be reestablished. By maintaining SEL strategies in daily routines, students are more likely to feel equipped to handle ambiguous and unfamiliar situations. This way, they are moving past being trauma-informed, and toward being skilled to work through trauma by drawing upon global competencies rooted in social-emotional learning that provides a sense of grounding security when navigating inevitable situations outside of their control.  

How do educators address the pressure to catch students up, while simultaneously modifying school climate to rebuild resilience in trauma-impacted students? World Savvy believes in helping schools create systems and routines that prioritize building connections with students, while also making space for student voice in classroom culture, curriculum, and instructional decisions. In addition, we collaborate with educators to lead activities that help students to boost skills relating to resilience, self-regulation, and self-management in order to ensure they are prepared with the social-emotional learning tools to persevere through challenges. Our work supports educators in cultivating connections and intentionally integrating SEL into their classrooms as a useful tool to help students find comfort in ambiguity. 

Empathy & Appreciating Multiple Perspectives

Social-emotional learning really takes flight in environments where diversity is celebrated and multiple perspectives are valued. According to a report by the OECD, “Future generations will need to interact in person with other young people whose opinions, backgrounds, and personalities vary widely. This interaction is essential to cultivate a future society in which people are curious, compassionate to needs other than their own, and able to listen deeply in order to understand one another.” With a more ethnically and culturally diverse school-aged population than ever before, classroom practice needs to reflect the evolving needs of today’s students. Diversity is an opportunity to make learning spaces more empathetic and culturally relevant. World Savvy understands that this change does not occur overnight, and like all growth and learning, it is an intentional process. The foundation of this process lies in social-emotional learning practices that focus on developing global competence skills such as self-awareness and empathy. Empathy occurs when judgment or indifference is replaced with understanding and caring. Students must have a strong understanding of their own self, thoughts, and feelings before they can empathize with others. By supporting how students better see themselves in others, they can more aptly relate to those with diverse experiences and challenges. 

Committing to the Process of Continuous Learning and Reflection

Reflection is a social-emotional learning strategy that propels learning forward, for adult and child learners alike. It also has boundless positive impacts on mental health, but for many, personal mindfulness can feel unnatural or overwrought. Rachel Wlodarksy, Ph.D. in Urban Education, says, “Reflective processes take time, and consequently… reflection must reach a level of practiced engagement so that, when the pressures of decision-making emerge, the professional defaults to better quality decisions.” 

World Savvy agrees reflection is a skill that requires effort and must be rigorously taught in order for students and teachers to achieve any of the numerous benefits. In order for reflection to become practiced and consistent, we support educators to integrate it into their practice in a variety of ways that feel true to their individual styles. We also encourage educators to prioritize reflection, which means not to sacrifice it, even if they are running behind and the task list seems insurmountable.

The key to implementing meaningful and purposeful reflection practices is finding the approach and framework that most authentically suits educators’ and school leaders’ needs. Some forms of personal reflection activities World Savvy offers focus on relieving stress and connecting to and processing emotions. Another way World Savvy integrates reflection into classrooms is as an academic exercise, for example setting aside time daily for students to consider how they more effectively consume and learn content. Students can benefit academically from reflecting on their workflow, collaboration skills, and productivity as a way to imprint information. Finally, reflection is helpful as a tool for school leadership to peacefully alter student behavior in lieu of traditional disciplinary actions. Teaching students how to reflect on their actions can foster intrinsic motivation to change, rather than more traditional methods that include imposed consequences or punishments.

Reflection is an essential tool to facilitate the personal development of teaching professionals. In our workshops, there are frequent opportunities for reflection to connect learning to one’s own teaching practice. In addition, during 1:1 coaching, reflection comes in the form of targeted open-ended questioning and thoughtful contemplation of feedback or assessing student work in order to grow as an educator serving deserving communities of diverse students. This not only benefits professional growth, but it also helps teachers model this practice for students in an authentic way. 

If We Want Students to Know More, We Have to Care More

The trauma caused by the COVID-19 pandemic unfortunately cannot be fully erased by educational intervention. That said, what educators can do is establish systems and practices that incorporate social-emotional learning so they can mitigate the long-term effects of trauma. By providing students with the tools to become more resilient, collaborative, and emotionally intelligent individuals, rigorous learning in a post-pandemic world becomes more attainable.

With so many demands on educators, starting to integrate social-emotional learning, or even maintaining it throughout the school year, can feel daunting to balance on top of other school and district requirements. Nonetheless, influential philosopher and education reformer John Dewey provides the timeless belief that educators have an awesome responsibility to determine, with the help of others in society, what content and activities enhance individual personal and social growth and lead to the improvement of society. World Savvy is here to do just that – help educators select authentic activities that boost personal and social growth. By partnering with schools to establish mindful classroom rituals in collaboration with students, World Savvy assists educators in providing students with the skills necessary to be resilient global citizens.

Marley Wertheimer is World Savvy’s Professional Learning Facilitator in the Bay Area since 2021, and holds a CA State Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential, Montessori Secondary I&II Credential as well as a Masters in Education (M.Ed). Marley believes it is crucial for education to take place both in and outside of traditional classroom walls, which includes rich immersive and project-based learning experiences, in order to prepare students to be globally-competent citizens.

Centering Students in Education

Power. Resilience. Boundless Curiosity. Humanity.

These were the themes of SXSW Edu 2022, and as I moved around from keynote to workshop to podcast to meet up, I saw these themes being lived out and explored.

As a former classroom teacher and current staffer at a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate and prepare young people for life in a global community, I could not help but think of these themes through the lens of the student experience. How are we empowering them to take action on the issues they care about? How are we encouraging them to be curious citizens who can find comfort in ambiguity and change? And how we are seeing and honoring all the identities that our students bring to the table? 

Student Voices in Materials and Curriculum:

On Tuesday morning, journalists Antonia Hylton and Mike Hixenbaugh took the stage to discuss their podcast “Southlake”, which details a Texas town’s battle over race and American identity.  They were joined by librarian Carolyn Foote and author George M. Johnson who are both on the front lines of this battle as they fight to ensure that libraries and schools are places where all students can see themselves and have access to diverse stories that show the true breadth of humanity. It was heartening to hear how these individuals were challenging the playbook used by parents and school boards across the country to ban books and curricula that elevate the stories of marginalized groups. It was also a call to action. 

The materials we use in schools must be diverse and inclusive – a true representation of the real world. 

In addition, school should be a place where students explore their own identities and learn to appreciate the identities of others. We need only look at the baseless invective about Critical Race Theory and the vicious laws passed in both Texas and Florida that aim to dehumanize the most vulnerable among us to know that our country is failing to embrace and honor the experiences of ALL who live here. It is scary for teachers to wade into these “debates” and put themselves in the path of angry parents and legislators, and I do not want to underestimate how hard that is. But we also have to think about the students whose identities are being maligned and erased from the school experience; they need us. As English teacher Lamar Timmons-Long said during his meet-up about Civics Education, “If the materials I choose don’t encourage my students to think about who they are and who they want to be, then I’m not doing my job as an educator.” 

Student Voices in the Classroom:

If we want young people to feel empowered and curious about the world, then we have to elevate their voices inside the classroom.

Teachers need to design curricula that can adapt to the interests and needs of the students in front of them. We need to focus less on the content being taught and more on the WAY we are teaching it. How can we create processes for learning that allow us to respond to student needs and interests while also ensuring that we are preparing them for life in a complex and diverse world? If we can see curriculum as not just WHAT is being taught but HOW things are being taught, we can create classrooms that are both academically rigorous and responsive to student interests and needs. 

We do not have to sacrifice rigor or skill development when we center student voice and agency

As we heard during the workshop from World Savvy’s Chief Program Officer, Mallory Tuominen, and Finnish educator and consultant Petteri Elo, phenomenon-based learning is an effective way to both center student voice and develop the essential skills that young people need. In order to call something “Phenomenon-based Learning”, the phenomenon must come from a student’s own lived experience–the starting point is something to which the student is connected. This sets it apart from project-based learning, which could be about anything from Ancient Rome to WWII. But while the starting point is more personal, the learning process is the same. This proves that we do not have to sacrifice rigor or skill development when we center student voice and agency–it is not one or the other. In fact, when students have a real hand in their own learning, when they feel seen and valued, and when they know their ideas matter, they will perform better.

Student Voices in the School:

For far too long, education has been something that happens TO students, not WITH them. 

We often talk of parents as being our partners in education, but rarely if ever do we talk of students in the same way. As we come out of the pandemic and begin to rethink how we do school, it is imperative that we include students in these conversations. Want to know what schedule would work best for your students? Ask them. Want to know what curriculum changes will benefit students most? Ask them. As Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona commented during his keynote on Wednesday morning, “We serve THEM. They are the experts in what they need. They have to have a seat at the table.”

Centering student voices and honoring the diverse experiences they bring to our schools is how we ensure they are prepared to positively engage in this complex and ever-changing world. When we empower students to make choices and take action, we encourage their curiosity. By providing them with a diverse array of stories and voices, we give students space to explore the issues they actually care about. When we help them find comfort in ambiguity and change, we build their resilience. And when we incorporate their stories into the curriculum and let their voices shape our schools, we honor their humanity.  

We cannot lose our sense of urgency to transform our education system into a place that serves everyone, and students must be partners in this work. 

KK Neimann has a Master’s in Teaching and Curriculum from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has been working in education for almost 20 years. She has taught social studies at every grade level between 5th and 12th in both public and private school settings, and presented at both regional and national conferences on how to grade for global competence. Prior to coming to World Savvy, KK spent 9 years at the Blake School in Minneapolis where she designed and implemented a Humanities program for 6th graders that blended reading, writing, and inquiry with the goal of building students’ global competence.

Top 10 tips for stronger youth and adult partnerships

Engagement efforts for youth are often developed and conjured by adults without a listening process. If you want deep learning, then you have to have engagement, and if you want engagement, then you have to know how it’s defined by the people who are most proximate to the work.”

Dana Mortenson

Last month, World Savvy had the great fortune of partnering with youth leaders from Bridgemakers, Cole Stevens and Talia Moreno, and youth development leader and President of Youthprise, Marcus Pope. Together, they sat down with World Savvy’s CEO and Co-Founder Dana Mortenson for our virtual event, Supporting Youth-Led Systems Change, and discussed real solutions to elevate student voices and collaborate with adults in meaningful and productive ways.

The conversation left us inspired and activated! If you didn’t get a chance to join us, view a complete recording of the conversation.

We have pulled together a list of top insights from the discussion for designing stronger partnerships across this generational divide. Our panelists have also helped pull together answers to the great questions we did not have time to answer.

Top 10 tips for more successful youth and adult partnerships to create systems change:
  1. Show that you care about the person. The adage is true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. See young people as human beings first, before you see them as students. Their well-being and mental health matter above the grades or ability to get into college.
  2. Listen with intent. Allow those closest to the issue to speak for themselves, and when youth do, make sure you are actively listening instead of thinking about or declaring your own thoughts or opinions. Ask more questions. Intentionally schedule time with young people, especially those who may be in an administrator or leadership position. Take a look at your calendar and ask yourself how often you hear from those who are the most impacted by your work.
  3. Make everything more relevant. Engagement thrives on relevancy. Unfortunately, many of our systems for young people are not intuitively designed to support this, which means there can be an artificial separation between community and school. So, how can school be a way to reflect what young people authentically care about and what we actually want them to go out into the world and be able to do? This requires educators with great intentions to let go to create student-centered environments where students are leading, and educators are facilitating that process instead of directing it. “There is no reason schools shouldn’t be community centers and places of innovation and ideas,” Cole Stevens.
  4. Be honest about what you can achieve and the timeline for change to occur. There are numerous entrenched systems and practices that prevent change from happening easily. Be upfront about what it’s going to take to get something done. Young people can handle it.
  5. Don’t be afraid to challenge young people. Young people are not always right. Do not be scared to challenge the ideas you disagree with, just as you would with a fellow adult. Young people are smart, but they don’t know what they don’t know. Challenging youth when they are wrong is how they become better problem solvers. Do not sugarcoat feedback or paint an inauthentic picture. Youth want to understand the problem so they can help design solutions.
  6. Value young people as experts. Don’t expect students to always volunteer their time. They have jobs and bills to pay. Just as you would for adult experts, there might need to be some payment or credit for their time. Their lived experience matters and has value.
  7. Consider starting small to build trust. Simply asking for youth engagement will not always result in immediate participation, mainly if there has been a history of authoritative decision-making. Recognize that young people have not always had supportive adults in their lives who value their opinion. You will have to earn their trust. Start small as a demonstration of your commitment. Their engagement will eventually follow.
  8. If you invite a partnership with a young person, be prepared to act. Authenticity matters. If you say you want to transform the system, be ready to follow through with actions.
  9. Be bold, be courageous and stand up. Don’t be afraid to take a bold stand with youth if you believe in the change they are calling for. It won’t always be easy to take a stand, but change cannot occur without courage.
  10. Accept together that change is messy. Youth and adults may agree that a particular change is needed, but the strategy to create change may vary based on perspective. How diplomatic are we versus challenging and calling people out? Do we leverage social media, and how? You will encounter unexpected hurdles as you take one step forward and two steps backward. Recognizing together that the path to progress is rarely smooth will help you get back on track to achieving your goals.

Answers to Live Audience Questions 

Bridgemakers Event: Audience Questions

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3 Ways to Reimagine Learning

As we at World Savvy think about 2022 and all that this year could bring, there is a quote from the incomparable bell hooks that we have been thinking about a lot: “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.”  

There are countless articles about the current state of education – about educators’ fatigue, low test scores, debates about Critical Race Theory, and the achievement gap. There is no shortage of news detailing the persistent problems that plague our education system. And while it is good for people to understand the challenges that we face, we often find solutions lacking in these pieces. We will never make the progress we desire for the future if we only rehash the present.

Let 2022 be the year that we tell a different story. Let this be the year that we heed the words of bell hooks and move beyond just telling it like it is and begin to imagine what is possible.

Here are three important ways to reimagine learning and create a system that helps students know more, care more, and do more.

Elevate skills: If we want young people to be responsible and engaged citizens, we need to teach them the skills and dispositions this requires. We must rethink and reimagine the classroom experience and the traditional assessments teachers have used. No longer would we be grading to see if a student knows who was president during World War I–they can google that. We would be grading their ability to think critically about the information before them, ask deep and probing questions, seek out the perspectives they need to understand, form opinions based on fact and exploration, and find comfort in ambiguity. In life, there are no easy answers. Why should school be different? 

It is also time that we shift our language when describing empathy, resilience, and collaboration. These are not “soft skills.” In our complex and interconnected world, they are essential skills, and they should be taught and assessed with intention and urgency. As we look around the world right now, we can think of nothing more important than ensuring human beings have the capacity for these three things. 

Elevate relevance: Students can practice critical thinking, research, empathy, and collaboration with any topic, so why not give them topics relevant to their lives right now and that prepare them to engage in a world that is complex, interconnected and rapidly changing? Explorations of the Civil War and Reconstruction should include explorations of redlining and mass incarceration today. Explorations of immigration in the early 1900s should consist of explorations of the border wall, ICE, and immigrants’ lived experiences today. We can give students work that directly connects to the world beyond the classroom so that they can begin to make sense of the world in which they live.  

Elevate student choice and agency: Many schools offer students choices when it comes to the classes they take. French or Spanish? US History or Economics? Computer Science or Theatre? It is good for kids to have options, but none of those choices matter as much as the choices they get to make once they are IN the classroom.  

Students need to have a voice in their own learning. Essential skills like critical thinking, coping and resilience, and questioning prevailing assumptions can be demonstrated in a myriad of ways, so let’s give students some power over how they show growth in these areas. When teachers move from the center of the classroom, a place where they are the keepers of knowledge, and into the role of facilitators of their students’ learning, they create a space where students can fully and authentically engage with the material and learn to think for themselves. There is nothing more powerful than asking a student, “What do you care most about?” and seeing their curiosity ignited. Schools can help students identify their passions and take informed action on the issues that matter to them.

School should not be a place that kids have to get through in order to do something more exciting; it should not be a box that has to be checked. School should be a place where important and complex work gets done, where students feel seen and valued, and where they learn how to see and value others. By centering the development of the essential skills and dispositions that young people need to thrive in this ever-changing world, teachers can create learning spaces that are relevant, inclusive, and engaging – places where students WANT to be. We can transform classrooms into places that move beyond WHAT kids know and instead focus on what kids can DO with what they know. This is what the world needs – a generation of young people who are curious, empathetic, critical thinkers who will take action on issues of global significance.

At World Savvy, we are committed to creating an educational system that inspires students to learn, work, and thrive as responsible global citizens – and we’ve reached more than 808,000 students since our founding in 2002. As the pandemic has so harshly demonstrated, we are all connected. We need to raise young people who possess the skills and dispositions to be leaders and changemakers in their diverse communities, locally and globally. 

Together we can reimagine schools and create a new reality for both teachers and students. 

Let this be the year that we imagine what is possible.

Change begins with you.

Our multi-year school partnerships are designed collaboratively with school leaders to align with each building’s strategic vision and goals.

Let’s Work Together

Celebrating MLK and Reflecting on the Work Ahead

As an organization committed to engaged, responsible global citizenship, we and our community have been deeply impacted by this month’s violent attack on the Capitol, and the underlying and systemic issues that created the conditions for these events. And today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are deeply reflective about the implications. What transpired was appalling, but not surprising.

White supremacists have plagued this nation since its founding 245 years ago; their power has increased over the past four years with political leaders who share this ideology from state houses and Congress all the way to the White House. Marching through the People’s House to undermine the peaceful transition of power isn’t just an assault on our democracy, it is an assault on our humanity. Our team and our community of educators is committed to the continuous work of deepening our understanding of these issues, actively helping and supporting young people in finding their own agency to build a stronger and more equitable democratic society.

We must think carefully about how to repair the damage that has been done to our nation and dedicate ourselves to measurable action. How do we ensure that people do not fall prey to conspiracy theories and misinformation? How do we create a society that values and celebrates the diversity within it? How do we center equity when our systems weren’t designed by or for so many of our fellow Americans? How do we encourage democratic process participation with empathy, compassion, and a critical mind? And, how do we collectively support educators, young people, and families to be the local and global leaders and changemakers we all need?

It is these deep challenges that World Savvy was founded to overcome. We are working to educate and engage youth to learn, work, and thrive as responsible global citizens. Our community of educators integrates empathy, understanding, and inquiry-based competencies into classrooms to ensure the next generation can communicate across differences, think critically about facts and information, demonstrate empathy, and collaborate and problem-solve complex issues with diverse stakeholders. These events have made it clear there is much work to be done and we need to continue to learn, hone, practice, and improve in our efforts to advance our society beyond where it is today. 

We need to strengthen our democracy and build the foundation for a more equitable society where there is no safe place for racism and prejudice. We must press on to reimagine learning for the 21st century in order to equip our children to address complex, real-world challenges, including an American democratic system that has been undermined by white supremacists. 

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, it is he who said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Even as we further develop our intelligence by deepening, expanding, and adapting programming to answer these pressing questions and meet these challenges as an organization, we are also deeply introspective. We need to focus on our character, doing all we can to examine the ways we have participated in perpetuating systems of injustice, missed opportunities to be bolder and clearer about injustice, or failed to create transparent pathways for our community to hold us accountable. We invite you all to continue on this learning journey as well, and to call us out and in as we work to always uphold our values: to notice and disrupt exclusionary patterns, lean into  complexity, believe big things are possible, and see the whole person – to name a few. This introspection and accountability will also help ensure we can achieve our urgent mission: to ensure the next generation of leaders have the skills and dispositions to thrive and lead in our diverse, interconnected global society. 

Look for resources and support in leading dialogue with young people in your community coming from us in the months to come, to aid in this journey. Thank you for being a part of this community.

With hope and commitment,
The World Savvy Team

What is a Patriotic Education in a Complex and Uncertain World?

By Ovie Oghenejobo, Fadesola Ojeikere, Dana Mortenson and Fernande Raine

When President Trump announced plans to establish a government body — the 1776 Commission — to promote “patriotic education” in America’s schools, we were concerned by the intentions behind this move; but it also got us wondering: What is a ‘Patriotic Education”? As educators, we have our own ideas and have been talking about what that could mean ever since. Though President Trump will not serve a second term and go on to see the 1176 Commission through, this election made abundantly clear that educators and students must learn to engage in civil discourse in a holistic and inclusive manner.

A patriotic education teaches students to engage in the habits of democracy. That means engaging in civic — and civil — discourse, including with people who hold radically different views. And it means teaching students to study their country’s real history, with all of its pain, so that we can heal and make it better. With a new incoming administration, the time is ripe to think critically about the future of our civic education.

Encouraging civil discourse and truthful history requires a fundamental shift not just in what we teach, but how we teach. We became educators to raise young people to be citizens of democracy. We believe in education that challenges students to think, analyze, and contribute to the conversation rather than just passively receive information. We believe in encouraging students to ask questions and find answers, because not only does this help them understand and retain subjects, it also builds the critical thinking skills that they will need to adapt, innovate and thrive in a world of rapid change.

Currently, most students learn a monolithic, whitewashed version of history through standardized textbooks. The goal of these textbooks may be to weave a common national identity, but they usually do the opposite: by minimizing diverse voices and perspectives, they promote an identity that’s fundamentally exclusive. National nostalgia is not the formula to prepare thoughtful and informed citizens.

A truly patriotic education that aims to teach students about our country, and equips them to improve it, would invite them to lead their own conversations on America’s complex past and its reverberations in our present. Education should help young people wrestle with the fact that our nation grew on complicated roots, and that from these roots sprang both radical ideas of freedom and justice, but also great inequities and suffering. It should teach them to think critically about whose stories we honor and what “truth” means in history when all stories aren’t equally heard or valued. Students who think critically about the parts of American history that inspire shame, as well as those that inspire pride, will be better positioned to lead the next chapter of the American saga.

These kinds of conversations can be hard, but they are possible. Indeed, they already are happening at Great Oaks Legacy Charter school in Newark, New Jersey where students have been learning about the history of Cesar Chavez and farm workers. Soon they will turn their attention to the poor conditions farm workers continue to endure and will analyze which demographics consistently work in lower-wage jobs and how systemic racism is an impediment to a better quality of life. Ultimately, these students will define what justice looks like for communities based on this information.

These challenging discussions can even draw in the larger community as is happening in Kansas City, where teachers are wrestling alongside museum educators through how to approach systemic racism. Via their Learning Collaborative, they are creating powerful local resources. For example, the Johnson County Historical Society designed the first local learning journey for teachers and students into the topic of redlining, offering learners the opportunity not only to explore what the effect of racist housing policy was in the past, but how those policies shaped the very neighborhoods in which they live today.

A patriotic education also would equip young people to participate in, and one day lead, our diverse, global, modern society. Technology has made our cultural and economic borders more porous. Affordable products arrive in your local Target via supply chains and workforces spread across continents. The constant movement of people among and between countries has become a defining trait of our modern society. Our schools must teach students to navigate these global complexities.

A patriotic education is one that positions young people to envision and work toward a better America — to learn and analyze so we can make our world a better place. This is happening at Byram Hills High School — a school that partners with World Savvy, a national education nonprofit reimaging K-12 education for a more diverse, interconnected world — in Armonk, New York. Educators there ask students to identify an issue in their community, gather data, seek out multiple perspectives, and design and execute a project to address it. This fall, they took on increasing voter participation in the November election.

Many of our country’s founders were aspirational. While they set out core values for the United States in our founding documents, they recognized that the pursuit of those values would have to change over time. They would have eschewed an uncritical celebration of history as an impediment to achieving that change. Ultimately, a patriotic education should build a strong connection between our nation’s youth and these bold ideals of our founding because so much of the work our founders envisioned still lies ahead of us.

Along with World Savvy, Got History, and all other organizations that are fighting for better history teaching, we call on all historians, parents, and educators to engage in this critical conversation and build a movement for education that matches the legacy of our country, the complexity of our world and, most importantly, the needs of our students.

Ovie Oghenejobo is assistant principal in the Lee Summit School District in Kansas City and a founding member of the Kansas City Learning Collaborative. Fadesola Ojeikere is a director of curriculum and instruction at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School Network, co-founder of the Teach For America Alumni Board and a World Savvy Ambassador. Dana Mortenson is co-founder and CEO of World Savvy. Dr. Fernande Raine is co-founder of got history?

Dana Mortenson is the Co-Founder and CEO of World Savvy. Dana is an Ashoka Fellow, was named one of The New Leaders Council’s 40 under 40 Progressive American Leaders, and was winner of the Tides Foundation’s Jane Bagley Lehman award for excellence in public advocacy in 2014. She is a frequent speaker on global education and social entrepreneurship at high profile convenings nationally and internationally, and World Savvy’s work has been featured on PBS, the The New York TimesEdutopia and a range of local and national media outlets covering education and innovation.

When Will Education Return to Normal? Hopefully Never

By Dana Mortenson and KK Neimann

The challenges of education in the time of Covid-19 are unprecedented. Our children are stressed and anxious by the move to distance learning and the unknowns about how the school year will unfold. Children are disconnected from the support of their school networks and their friends, and the ongoing effects of social isolation are starting to show. In addition to worrying about their jobs and providing for their families, many parents are concerned about dealing with an entire school year of managing their children’s school work (wait, how do you multiply fractions again?). Under these circumstances, it is easy to understand the desire for a return to “normal.” Who hasn’t fantasized about putting kids on the bus and getting back into the regular school routine?

Even as we all grapple with these new challenges and adapt and rise to meet this moment, we are still struck by the opportunity presented in this crisis: to eventually come back better than before and resist a return to normal with our educational system. Normal wasn’t working.

Our education system is rife with inequities and rooted in a methodology from the Industrial era that hasn’t aged well when it comes to meeting the global challenges of our rapidly changing and indelibly interconnected world. As we think about the lessons we could learn from this global pandemic, we want to rebuild our education system so our young people are prepared to thrive and participate in the world as it is today and will be tomorrow–not as it was 10, 20, or 50 years ago.

This is not to diminish in any way the swift and big-hearted response of educators and administrators when Covid hit. On short notice and with no guiding precedent, districts and teachers moved classes online, set up meal programs, and partnered with a range of organizations to modify and supplement curriculum and provide emotional support. The achievements educators made, and continue to make, are laudable and remarkable, and we applaud and appreciate them.

As a middle school teacher and a national education leader, we were both heartened by these efforts not just because our families have benefitted, but because it shows that when pressed, schools and districts can make large-scale changes. Let’s capitalize on that momentum, and create a new normal that is more adaptive, inclusive, and future-ready.

At World Savvy, we are committed to creating an educational system that inspires students to learn, work, and thrive as responsible global citizens- and we’ve reached more than 730,000 students since our founding in 2002. As the pandemic has so harshly demonstrated, we are all connected, and we need to raise young people who possess the skills and dispositions to be leaders and changemakers in their diverse communities, locally and globally. To do that, we need to shift from a system that values what students know and move to a system that values and assesses what students can DO.

Here are three important ways we can re-imagine learning, whether it be in a classroom or over Zoom, and create a system that prepares students for the world:

Elevate skills: If we really want young people to be responsible and engaged citizens, then we need to teach them the skills and dispositions this requires. We have to rethink and reimagine the classroom experience and the traditional assessments teachers have used. No longer would we be grading to see if a student knows who was president during World War I–they can google that. We would be grading their ability to think critically about the information before them, to ask deep and probing questions, to seek out the perspectives they need to understand, to form opinions based on fact and exploration, and to find comfort in ambiguity. In life, there are no easy answers. Why should school be different?

It is also time that we stop using the term “soft skills” to describe empathy, resilience, and collaboration. As we look around the world right now, we can think of nothing more important than ensuring human beings have the capacity for these three things. At World Savvy, we help students to know more, care more, and do more in the world. Eighty-nine percent of students increase teamwork and collaboration skills and 93% of students are more open to new ideas and ways of thinking. These skills are absolutely essential to thrive in our complex and interconnected world, and should be taught and assessed with intention and urgency.

Elevate relevance: School does not need to be a right of passage; something kids suffer through so they can get to the next phase of their lives. School should be a place where valuable and important work is being done–work that directly connects to the world beyond the classroom. It should be a place that helps young people make sense of the world in which they live. Explorations of the Civil War and Reconstruction should include explorations of redlining and mass incarceration today. Explorations of immigration in the early 1900s should include explorations of the border wall, ICE and the lived experiences of immigrants today.

Students can practice critical thinking, research, empathy, and collaboration with any topic, so why not give them topics that are relevant to their lives right now, and that prepare them to engage in a world that is complex, interconnected and rapidly changing?

Elevate student choice and agency: Many schools offer students choices when it comes to the classes they take. French or Spanish? AP US History or AP Economics? Computer Science or Theatre? It is good for kids to have options, but none of those choices matter as much as the choices they get to make once they are IN the classroom.

Students need to have a voice in their own learning. Essential skills like critical thinking, coping and resilience, and questioning prevailing assumptions can be demonstrated in a myriad of ways, so let’s give students some power over how they show growth in these areas.

When teachers move from the center of the classroom, a place where they are the keepers of knowledge, and into the role of facilitators of their students’ learning, they create a space where students can fully and authentically engage with the material and learn to think for themselves. Students in World Savvy programs are Eighty-eight percent are more knowledgeable about themselves, their communities and the world.

There is nothing more powerful than asking a student “What do you care most about?” and seeing their curiosity ignite. Schools can help students identify their passions and take informed action on the issues that matter to them.

So rather than retreat to what we had before, let’s seize the opportunity that this major disruption presents. Let’s provide the support that educators need to build their own practice and connect with their peers about student-centered learning models. Let’s change the conversation about learning and teaching so that communities value the development of empathy and critical thinking over test scores and memorization. Let’s resolve to mend the inequities, adopt new methodologies, and empower the next generation to take their places as citizens of the world. We can do this. Let’s start now.

Dana Mortenson is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of World Savvy, a national education nonprofit working to educate and engage youth as responsible global citizens.

KK Neimann is a 6th grade social studies teacher at the Blake School in Minneapolis, Minn., and has a Masters in Education from Harvard.

Dana Mortenson is the Co-Founder and CEO of World Savvy. Dana is an Ashoka Fellow, was named one of The New Leaders Council’s 40 under 40 Progressive American Leaders, and was winner of the Tides Foundation’s Jane Bagley Lehman award for excellence in public advocacy in 2014. She is a frequent speaker on global education and social entrepreneurship at high profile convenings nationally and internationally, and World Savvy’s work has been featured on PBS, the The New York TimesEdutopia and a range of local and national media outlets covering education and innovation.

Profile of a School Partnership: Montgomery Middle STEAM Magnet

By Dana Mortenson

Whole-school partnerships are at the heart of World Savvy’s work. Since our founding in 2002, we’ve worked with schools across the country to build inclusive, adaptive, future-ready learning environments.

Our World Savvy Partnerships program supports whole schools and districts to integrate global competence throughout leadership, teaching, and learning. This holistic approach allows us to reach the greatest number of students while creating deep, meaningful, and lasting shifts in K-12 education.

But what does that look like in practice?

This summer, we wrapped up nearly three years of partnership with Middle STEAM Magnet, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) school, located in the Linda Vista neighborhood of San Diego, California.

Montgomery Middle is part of the San Diego Unified School District, the second largest school district in California, and their students are ethnically and religiously diverse, representing more than 15 ethnic groups and more than 60 languages and dialects. At Montgomery Middle, 35% of students are English Learners, 18% of students have an Individualized Education Plan, and as a provision 2 school, all students receive free breakfast and lunch.

The 3-year World Savvy–Montgomery Middle partnership focused on interdisciplinary thinking, building student agency through community research and public presentation, and design thinking in a STEAM environment.

We kicked off year 1 of the partnership by engaging 20 teachers in a day-long workshop. Teachers broadened their understanding of global competence, further explored how to apply STEAM to student learning, and practiced developing a project-based learning unit around the case study of food deserts.

Following the workshop, teachers received active coaching from World Savvy throughout the school year to design and implement two major inquiry-based units that include action projects for their students. We also partnered with Montgomery Middle to plan a design thinking STEAM camp for rising 5th graders.

In our second year of partnership, teachers built on their understanding of design thinking to support students as they developed Knowledge to Action projects.

Students learned about the Sustainable Development Goals and worked through World Savvy’s Knowledge to Action process to develop solutions to global and local issues.

One group of 7th graders was concerned about access to healthy food in their community. In order to provide consistent access to organic produce, they found a food truck that wasn’t being used two days a week, partnered with the owners and local farmers, and created a business plan to sell produce out of the truck.

Another group of students built a sculpture shaped like a wave made up of plastics and trash that they gathered from their neighborhood, saying –

“We wanted to raise awareness about how trash affects marine life and that they’re dying because of it.”

The second year also included support for Montgomery Middle to create a vision for their school that established a shared purpose and a common language for all community members and will help guide their work in the future.

In year 3, World Savvy worked with teachers to organize a fall exhibition and spring showcase of student work. World Savvy encouraged teachers to reflect and adapt and model those practices with their students. Training also included a focus on equity-based classroom practices.

At the end of the third year, students hosted their bi-annual Exhibition of Student Learning. In their Knowledge to Action projects, sixth graders focused on the history and future of the San Diego River. Seventh graders asked how they can be changemakers in their community and designed solutions to local and global challenges. Eighth graders focused on finding their voice. Students wrote poetry to increase awareness on topics connected to the Sustainable Development Goals and designed games highlighting the choices that people need to make in order to survive.

We’re invested in the whole school model of partnership because we know that it maximizes our impact on school culture and student learning.

Teachers at Montgomery noted that their ability to implement a project-based unit greatly increased as a result of working with World Savvy. For many teachers, their ability to help students apply design thinking also grew substantially and they felt more supported in their efforts to build an interdisciplinary STEAM curriculum.

When asked what she took away from the experience of working with World Savvy Jewels Krueger-Selle, a Montgomery science teacher, said, “so many things that I didn’t know before — this whole design thinking process. I always say I’m a scientist before I’m a teacher. I’m an environmentalist. I know there are problems. How do you take these things and inform the kids, but instead of being up in front at the board and saying, ‘This is what’s happening; write these notes down,’ actually bringing this idea of ‘How can we solve things?’ And letting the kids come up with ideas of their own instead of preaching ‘This is what we should do.’

These kids are our next world leaders. They have to figure this out themselves. So knowing now not to be that kind of teacher that I was when I first started ten years ago, when it was mostly me teaching and talking. Now it’s more about guiding the students.”

This is just one story of a World Savvy partner school, and we know that every school is unique. That’s why every World Savvy school partnership is custom built in collaboration with the school in response to their specific needs. Are you interested in becoming a school partner? Get in touch to start the conversation.

Dana Mortenson is the Co-Founder and CEO of World Savvy. Dana is an Ashoka Fellow, was named one of The New Leaders Council’s 40 under 40 Progressive American Leaders, and was winner of the Tides Foundation’s Jane Bagley Lehman award for excellence in public advocacy in 2014. She is a frequent speaker on global education and social entrepreneurship at high profile convenings nationally and internationally, and World Savvy’s work has been featured on PBS, the The New York TimesEdutopia and a range of local and national media outlets covering education and innovation.