World History Connected Home    
Home List journal issues Table of contents
Printer-friendly format  Article citation        

Engaging Students to Become Global Citizens: Redefining the Role of World History Teachers to Become Facilitators and Problem Solvers

James A. Diskant


     One of the joys of working with teenagers is seeing them "get it"; that is the wonderful moment when someone says "so, that is what you mean" or she says "so that is what the source means" or better yet, the gleam in a student's eye to show that he understands a connection beyond the material to the world in which he lives. Too often though these moments of discovery are only limited to the classroom. It is less clear how transferable these skills are to the outside world that awaits them after high school unless we get them to the outside world. Field trips are nice, but they rarely involve students in active learning from which students work on acquiring and maintaining a set of skills that involve communication, compromise, and negotiation. Yet, these are the skills that teenagers need to succeed beyond high school.1 Fortunately there are many ways that teenagers can acquire these necessary skills through a variety of supportive and engaging academic competitions, such as History Day, Model United Nations Conferences, and Debates.

     It is in this context that our job descriptions shift from controlling teacher – organizing all the materials for students "sitting in front" of us – to supporting teacher/facilitator –advising and problem solving with students. The shift is genuinely in the students' interest in that in these situations – as many of us know – that teenagers truly blossom. They show themselves and us all the wonderful things that they can do. Still it is a change for teachers, who may be used to being in control as much as possible. This, however, is real learning, when we – as teachers – acknowledge that we do not know everything about the past and the world around us and instead help students learn by coaching them in addressing issues influenced by the past and can be changed in the present.

     In the literature about history teaching, there are numerous ideas about this kind of teaching: student-centered and activity-based.2 These activities are, of course, time-consuming and often run afoul of our priorities, our school environment, and lack of administrative support, but many of us engage in them as we recongize that they do make a real difference for students, as well as in our relationship with them. Unfortunately, schools reward teachers and students either for sports or high powered academic competitions, rather than more prosiac active learning that take more preparation time in school, as well as more time outside of the school. Obviously these competitions have their place; but if we are working to prepare students for their life beyond high school only a minority have a privilege to engage in such competitions, whether academic or sports-related. Moreover, few administrators put emphasis on the role of teacher as coach and instead praise and reward teachers for a competitive model of engagement, even if they claim that they are doing the opposite.

     Nonetheless, the rewards of participation in these kinds of competitions are numerous: prior to the event students prepare by researching, writing, and communicating their ideas; at the event they have exposure to other students, where they work on their communication skills and improve their self-esteem to communicate and share; and finally after the event they find that all of these skills are indeed transferable to other situations and to the movement towards independence: life after high school.3 Given all of these rewards, there are a number of things that we – as teachers – can do to incorporate these learning strategies and goals: adaptations within the classroom, connections beyond the classroom at school, as well as participation in competitions.

First, as I have argued in previous essays and most pedagogical literature addreses, debates and other student-centered strategies need to be essential part of one's teaching repertoire because through them,students learn to and appreciate the value of sharing and exchanges ideas in a familiar setting and gain confidence and skill in doing so4. I have recently employed one such activitiy in an elective course, Contemporary Global Issues, [see Addendum A]. If one has laid the groundwork in this way, getting students interested in either joining an after school club or making participation an essential part of a course requirement are logical next steps.

     Second, one needs to find out what kinds of supportive and yet challenging competitions are available in one's area.5 Most organizations are looking for more members. Once the activity is set, decide on the structure for one's students: whether after school or as part of a course. There are advantages and disadvantages to both strategies: after school activities are inherently preselected and encourage those students most interested and perhaps most skilled in these activities, while in-class activities involve students with greater range of abilities and interests. This spring my approach is a combination of both methods: the core group of 15 students come from a Debate and History Club that a dynamic group of seniors created, while the remaining 9 students come from the qbove mentioned elective course: Contemporary Global Issues (while the class has 14 students, 5 of them are also members of the Club). Having students play key roles in assignments is essential; in that way they take greater ownership of the work that they need to do and the teacher's role is redefined: coach or facililator instead of director or leader. As I recall at a Club meeting, when assignments for the Model United Nations Conference needed to be made, the three Club officers seemlessly arranged it and magically made eveyone (15 high powered teenagers!) happy without any assistance from myself. Addendum B shows the outcome and my school's assignments.

     Third, one needs to figure out reasonable and attainable preparation steps that allow students key roles in their own preparation: working on writing, speaking, and negotiation skills. Typically the organization provides materials, web links, ideas, even speakers, and advice. Invite guest speakers – as long as they are student-centered – to help prepare. Show film excerpts of what can be anticipated at the conference. Help work through issues with students concerns and problems that they may have. In other words: act as coach, supporter, cheerleader, not leader in a classical mode of teaching. While for some teachers this role may be challenge, the rewards are so great at the event that it is worth working on making such a shift prior to the event.

     Fourth, one needs to plan for the event itself. Depending on the particular event – whether it be a debate, History Day, Model United Nations Conference – students will have opportunities to engage in discussing, exchanging, and problem solving world issues as are done by adult debators or diplomats. They learn skills as diverse as patience, listening, note taking, perserverance, ad hoc speaking, negotiating, making one's points clear, using evidence carefully and persuasively, writing, and competing in a safe and supportive manner. And one's role as a teacher: sit back and drink coffee? While some teachers may do that, I prefer to watch, assess, and evaluate (and for those who are taking it for credit, assess: see Addendum C for students' version of post-test which I use to compare with my own assessment), and also help, when needed. The kind of help varies: review historical and contemporary literature, advise negotiate skills, assist with students' self-confidence for those who need a pep talk, and the one I find most rewarding: problem solve. When a student complains that something is going awry – help "fix" it by giving the student the incentive to do it on their own. In most cases – as was recently clear at a Model United Nations event – the students' instincts were correct; they needed help in being heard by a trusted adult.

     Finally, these events have "real-life" transfers and connections that pay back for overcoming those irirtating hassles (administrative challenges, organizational difficulties, keeping track of students, time commitment, and/or personal financial contribution): students come back to school acting in more mature ways, they acquire skills that can and do use in other situations, as well as talk and talk about whom they met and the connections they have made (just as we do, when we go to conferences and workshops!), and are better prepared to leave the support that the high school environment provided them and give them greater self-confidence to tackle the next stage in their life: college. And who knows, perhaps some of their new connections will end up at the same college. Meanwhile we – as teachers – can feel assured and that we have taught (yes, facilatators are still teachers) the subject matter and engaged students to care about it beyond a class discussion. What better way to carry out our role, after all?

James A. Diskant, Ph.D., World History Connected's editor for Pioneering New Classroom Approaches, teaches at the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury (Boston), Massachusetts. He can be contacted at

Addendum A

Contemporary Global Issues
Dr. Diskant
Making Sense of the Revolutions of 1989

Garton Ash concludes his book, The History of the Present, (NY: Vintage Books, 1999) by arguing for the integration of Europe. He also acknowledges the opposite development of nationalistic movements that divide Europeans and of the emergence of many small states in the former communist countries of eastern Europeans, along with the continuing divison of Ireland. Our discussion for today's role play will revolve around the following question: "What will the new Europe look like?


1.) Mayor of Berlin, Germany, active in the Revolution of 1968 as a college student

2.) Poet in the former German Democratic Republic, hounded by authorities in the mid-1980's for alleged contact in the West

3.) Nationalist Russian from a small town in Russia, the former Soviet Union

4.) Supporter of former President Mikhail Gorbachev from St. Petersburg, Russia

5.) Chechen nationalist, seeking independence

6.) Supporter of President Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic

7.) Member of the Catholic Church, Warsaw, Poland

8.) United Nations representative, sent to keep the peace in Kosovo

9.) European Union delegate, based in Strassburg, France

10.) United States multinational corporate executive

11.) British multinational corporate executive

12.) Albanian farmer, affected by the break up Yugoslavia

13.) Muslim migrant in southern France from the former colony, Morocco

14.) Member of the Catholic Church, Dublin, Ireland

You'll have 10 minutes to use the book, other materials, and your creative intelligence to prepare your role; then we'll open up a discussion to discuss the Europe of the 1990's to make sense of these contradictory movements.

Addendum B

UNA-GB 2010 Regional Model UN Conference
for High School Students

Friday, May 14 – Saturday May, 15, 2010
Northeastern University
Boston, MA

We have been assigned four countries: our delegates will be from Nigeria (who will represent the United Nations' Security Council and the World Health Organization or WHO), from Rwanda (who will represent the Disarmament and International Security Council or DISEC, Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee or SOCHUM, and Economic and Social Council or ESC), from Saudi Arabia (who will represent WHO, DISEC, and ESC), and from Slovenia (who will represent the United Nations Development Program or UNDEV, DISEC, SOCHUM, and United Nations Children's Fund or UNICEF). These 24 delegates will come from both the class and the Debate and History Club. Given their experience and interest, members from the Debate and History Club have already chosen 15 of these 24 slots: Nigerian Security Council delegates, one delegate for WHO, Rwandan delegates for SOCHUM, Saudian Arabian delegates for UNDEV, and for ESC, and Slovenian delegates for DISEC, for SOCHUM, and for Unicef. Since 5 of these 15 people are also in the class, there are now 9 slots for the rest of the class to fill: 1 delegate to be the second Nigerian delegate for WHO, 2 Rwandan delegates each for UNDEV and ESC, 2 Saudian Arabian delegates for DISEC, and 2 Slovenian delegates for UNDEV. See reverse side for description of topics.

As you consider which position you would like, think about the country (that is are you interested to learn more about that particular country?) or is you interest greater on particular issues? Each of you will be responsible for the two topics for the Committee on which you sit: researching and writing a position, representing your issues at the Conference, and working towards creating resolutions to solve those problems. This work will count as half of your Project Grades for each Term 4 and Term 5. Preparation and Position Papers count in Term 4 (which closes Friday, May 7th) and Preparation and Participation in the Conference count in Term 5. If you will not be able to come on Saturday, May 15th due to work or family commitments, I need to know that no later than Tuesday, April 13th with a signed note from a parent explaining why that that is the case, since that information will affect your placement: your partner will need to commit to be there both days.

Later in the week I will distribute information about the specific issues that you be representing and researching. Position Paper due dates: Initial Draft of Position Papers: Friday, April 30th and final drafts: Wednesday, May 5th via email and a hard copy. They need to be emailed ahead on Thursday, May 6th.

Conference Committees and Topics



Security Council

  • Nuclear Threat of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
  • Israel/Palestine Conflict

Disarmament and International Security Council(DISEC)

  • Weaponization of Space
  • Piracy (Maritime Disputes)

World Health Organization (WHO)

  • Child Immunization
  • Maternal Health

Sal, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee (SOCHUM)

  • Genocide
  • Migration

Economic and Social Council(ESC)

  • Toxic Waste Trade
  • Technology Transfer

UN Development Programme (UN Dev)

  • Green Building and Sustainable Development
  • Clean Water

UN Children's Fund (Unicef)

  • Orphans and Vulnerable Children
  • Primary Education

Addendum C

Contemporary Global Issues
Dr. Diskant
Participation in Model United Nations Conference

Answer the following questions on the lined paper.

Question #4 is the most important question: it is worth 60% of your total score (10% for each category: Country Representation, Knowledge of UN System, Knowledge of Topics on Agenda, Knowledge of Rules of Procedure, Diplomatic Composure, and Involvement); #2 & #3 are each worth 10%; and #5, #6, #7, & #8 are each worth 5% of your total score.

1.) Attendance: what was your Committee? Did you attend only on Friday? Did you attend both days?

2.) What did you expect would happen at the Conference?

3.) Were your expectations met? Exceeded? Not met? Explain your answer with as much as detail as possible.

4.) Use the Conference's Rubric on the reverse side to evaluate your performance. Be sure to explain why you gave yourself that assessment for each of the 6 categories.

5.) Consider either the delegates who won the award for Best Delegation in your Committee and/or your observations, what did other students appear to do or have that gave them an edge?

6.) If you were to do this again, what suggestions do you have for yourself?

7.) What suggestions do you have for the Model United Nations staff to improve future conferences?

8.) What suggestions do you have for me to improve my role in preparing you for the Conference or in assisting you while you were at the Conference?


1 There are numerous tiles on this subject; a few examples include: Diane Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (New York: Basic Books, 2010), Linda F. Nathan, The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test: Lessons from and Innovative Urban School (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009), amd Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Furure of Teaching the Past (Philadelphia: Temple Univeristy Press, 2001).

2 A few examples include: Wineburg, James F. Percoco, Divided We Stand: Teaching About Conflict in U.S. History (Portsmouth, N.H., 2001), Daniel T. Willingham, Why Don't Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means For the Classroom (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009).

3 See above titles, web pages for History Day, for example: &, as well as web pages for Model United Nation conferences.

4 See my recent essay: Engaging Students in Jigsaw Learning, Poster Projects, and Ad Hoc Debates To Encourage Them to Become Critical Thinkers in

5 The web is the obvious place to start: links should lead to relevant local organizations; alternatively local unviersity edcuation departments may be useful.


Home | List Journal Issues | Table of Contents
© 2013 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Content in World History Connected is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the World History Connected database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Terms and Conditions of Use