Teacher Treks Inspire Learning thru Global Travel

Originally published on Huffington Post.

Today’s teachers are preparing future employees, helping to create future business leaders, scientists, diplomats, entrepreneurs and artists. They are members of our community, parents of our children’s friends and important role models in the lives of our children. In my research on developing a global mindset, I have found that a teacher’s desire to model open-minded, curious behavior and demonstrate a desire to explore the world can help a child enormously in becoming globally aware. I’ve spoken to hundreds of successful internationalists who attribute their international interest to a teacher who inspired them with a map, intrigued them with a history lesson, encouraged them to study another language, or captivated them with stories from a trip they’d taken. Moreover, teachers play an important role in spreading tolerance and understanding of other cultures and can have a profound impact on their students’ lives.

But most teachers do not have the means to travel. Based on a recent survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers by Hilton HHonors, most teachers don’t get to travel or experience the world they educate their students about:
• Half travel less than once or twice a year
• 93% believe that travel provides cultural education that can’t fully be taught in a classroom
• 85% believe they should travel more
• 79% believe their students would benefit from hearing about their travels
• 92% cited finances as the main reason they don’t travel more

But now, thanks to a creative partnership between the Institute of International Education (IIE), one of the world’s largest international education leaders, and Hilton HHonors, the loyalty program of Hilton Worldwide, they now have a new resource, Teacher Treks Travel Grant Competition. Teacher Treks will fund 15 K-12 teachers to experience first-hand content relevant to the subject they teach, enriching their curriculum and inspiring students to explore the world. It’s important to note that all subjects can be taught through a global lens. Whether analyzing a historic work of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa after seeing it up-close in the Louvre in Paris, or telling a riveting tale of the ancient civilization of Machu Picchu after exploring the ruins in Peru, teachers can bring a little bit more of the world – and their excitement and passion for their experience – into the classroom.

“Getting children outside of the classroom is so important. In my experience as a teacher, those out of class experiences really make a difference and create memories that will stick far beyond just reading a book,” says Perea Blackmon, 2012 Washington, D.C. Teacher of the Year. She adds, “The same goes for teachers – they need to get outside of the classroom and learn, which is why I’m so happy to have teamed up with Hilton HHonors for the launch of Teacher Treks, an award program that will grant 15 winners the cultural excursion of a lifetime. It benefits the teachers, the classrooms and students – it opens the eyes of children to the endless possibilities of what they can discover and learn through travel.”

Here’s how it works. K-12 teachers from across the US and Puerto Rico are invited to apply online. They are required to submit two essays between 300 and 600 words detailing their proposed global adventure and their plan for sharing their experiences with students and colleagues; a 140-character entry summary, telling voters why they should win; a letter of recommendation from their school’s principal; and a photo. The application deadline is March 15, 2013. Information and the application can be found online at the Hilton HHonors Teacher Treks site.

Thirty finalists will be selected of whom 15 will receive a trip valued at $6,000 to travel to their desired destination. In addition to the trip, each winning teacher’s school will receive a $2,500 grant to use for cultural activities or enhancements. The 15 runners-up will each receive a $2,500 grant for their school. In addition, one winner from all submissions will receive a cultural excursion for their classroom valued at $1,500.

This creative partnership satisfies a need. Through Teacher Treks, Hilton HHonors hopes to grant more teachers the opportunity to experience the world they teach first-hand, as well as foster a love of travel and the rich cross-cultural experiences that come with it. In IIE, it found a partner that has the expertise and knowledge to create, maintain and administer a program that can make a difference in the lives of 15 teachers multiplied by the number of students these teachers touch.

I think this program has the potential to be terrific – one more innovative way to help our young people prepare for an interconnected global world. I’m glad to see a global company getting involved; we need their voices to join us. I passionately believe that a global mindset is as critical to the long-term economic success of the United States as it is to other nations. And while the debate continues on whether we need global education or not, technology continues to create a borderless global economy. The fences, check points and borders of yesteryear are increasingly irrelevant to the way trade, cultural and scientific exchanges proceed, and our students need to understand how to operate in this new world marketplace. Our teachers’ abilities to teach today’s students how to understand and deal with the world will have a direct impact on economic and political security tomorrow. Changes are happening much faster than we realize, and so we must change the way we adapt to the world to keep up, let alone get ahead, to ensure success.

Teacher Treks is one more step in the right direction. Bravo to IIE and Hilton HHonors for recognizing the importance of travel and cross-cultural experiences as a critical teaching contribution.

I know quite a few teachers with whom I’ll share this information. I hope you’ll do the same.