This blogpost was originally posted on EdWeek on April 24, 2018: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2018/04/using_partnerships_to_build_a_better_world_through_education.html?preview=
By Dr. Jennifer Williams
"Your efforts to work collaboratively as educators are a good start. Though if we are going to reach these global goals, we must find ways to move beyond working in collaboration alone and instead join together in solidarity." These powerful words spoken by then-United Nations Ambassador of Grenada, Ambassador Dessima Williams, have stayed with me for well over a year. Said with hands together, fingers interlaced and firmly locked, I believe this word "solidarity" continues to echo for all of us that were in that meeting that day.
Standing outside on the steps that had earlier led us into the United Nations building, with flags of the world now moving in unison as the cold New York City January wind blew past, and after tasked in our meeting by Ambassador Williams and a team of UN delegates to find ways to use education to help realize the Sustainable Development Goals, I remember looking at my colleagues—fellow teachers who also knew we needed to do something, anything, we just were not sure what—and, saying "Well, how about we start with a hashtag?" And, at that moment, #TeachSDGs began.
Charged with advancing the work of the UN in relation to education through advocacy and outreach, we quickly recognized that our group of four educators all from North America, though steadfast and determined, was far from representative of a world that knew many definitions of teacher, school, and system. To meet a universal call to action that ensured no one would be left behind, we needed more voices. So, with no more than a hashtag and a little determination, we set out to find others who were ready to mobilize and get to work in our grassroots efforts to help reach these 17 goals that hold a promise of transforming our world.
Sustainable Development Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals, though last in line numerically in a sequence of goals that we as a world are committed to reaching by the year 2030, is one that is viewed by many as a connector goal binding the 16 before it. SDG17, represented in dark navy blue with five white circles that overlap and converge at many points, prioritizes coordination, cooperation, and global partnership. Though many outside of education are quick to associate only SDG4: Quality Education with teachers, educators today are faced with the need to engage with all the goals as our classrooms of students know poverty and hunger, inequality and injustice. As teachers, we take action for the climate and for clean water, and we seek well-being and peace for our students and for all citizens of our world. We, by design as a profession, are focused on all the goals. As I see it, Global Goal 17, much like the job of a teacher that looks out for all students in a classroom, is the essential caretaker.
Connecting Points: Strengthening Worldwide Partnership
The complexity of the global goals requires sound infrastructure and unified vision. Inspired by SDG17, we as the cofounders of #TeachSDGs developed a plan to prioritize process and coherence in our efforts to bring global educators together in conversation and cooperation to transform the world. Too, as we believed it was critical to be aware of our privilege and perspective, we worked to move beyond our networks and empower the voices of others. Four soon grew to 17, which then, through a process of pledge-taking, expanded to over 1,200 global educators. Lines on a symbolic map that connected #TeachSDGs would now cross oceans, continents, and borders and pass through beautiful lands with names such as Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Romania, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Paris, Akungba Akoko, Ghana, Iran, San Diego, Islamabad, Sri Lanka, Buenos Aires, Brussels, and many, many, many other world locations.
Distributed Leadership: Removing Hierarchy to Prioritize Solidarity
Sustainable Development Goal 17 calls on us to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnerships for sustainable development. For us, when formulating our efforts and our processes, we could not envision that a system built on a hierarchy of power could effectively allow for transmission of ideas or sharing of knowledge and expertise. Just as the global goals belong to each and every citizen of the world, we believed that #TeachSDGs belonged to all educators. For facilitation of any type of progress, the approach needed to be integrated, equitable, and accessible. To flatten leadership, we knew we wanted to move to a model of leadership by committee, and we were set to keep #TeachSDGs a movement that was for and always by teachers.
Onward: Seeking Out New Ways of Communicating & Innovating
Today, we are organized by committee with a focus on responding to the call to action to meet the Sustainable Development Goals through (1) global projects, (2) resources and publications, (3) world events, (4) advocacy and outreach, (5) communications, and (6) partnership. With 104 ambassadors leading the way, we recognize that for our world to succeed in hitting the targets by 2030, we must have sufficient means to access and implement the goals. The goals invite and encourage us to reconsider the ways we communicate and share information. For us, use of collaborative forms of technology has been the accelerator to scale out messages, ideas, and announcements. We have engaged in technologies with free tools such as Twitter, Skype, Voxer, WhatsApp, Empatico, and Flipgrid. We've brought global educators together in Twitter chats, in global games with Kahoot!, and in global student learning experiences with World's Largest Lesson. Technologies connect us and allow us to make data-driven decisions based on people-centered strategies.
Each day, educators take the pledge to teach the SDGs at www.teachSDGs.org, and we are working to provide the needed resources to our ambassadors and others that aim to get the message out to those that may not have access to technology or reliable information. Bit by bit, it is through partnership and in solidarity that we move forward. We invite you to join us as a partner in the movement to #TeachSDGs by trying one or more of these ideas framed according to direction provided by Sustainable Development Goal 17: