LATTICE: Weaving Together an International Learning Community
November 2014 LATTICE group session.
Linking All Types of Teachers to International Cross-Cultural Education (LATTICE) is a nonprofit organization that aims to challenge preconceived attitudes and beliefs about cultural differences by forming practical links between MSU's international community and local K-12 classrooms. Its members are international educators—mostly MSU graduate students and international visiting scholars, along with a few faculty members—and Michigan teachers.
The organization's primary activity is simple: Invite everybody to be part of their monthly sessions. Cook up some great food, discuss and share experiences related to a chosen topic, which can be anything from technology to current politics to world hunger.
Of course, there are some sophisticated purposes behind this simple program. Dwi Yuliantoro was LATTICE's graduate coordinator until he received his Ph.D. in Fall 2014. Working in partnership with Matinga Ragatz—director of the monthly sessions, member of LATTICE's board, and Michigan Teacher of the Year in 2010—he was responsible for planning, presentations, and communications, including the website and an interactive newsletter/blog.
"We set a theme for each year and then follow it through the monthly sessions," said Yuliantoro. "We decide on urgent topics, for example Russia and the Ukraine, and ask ourselves, ‘How can this big, international adult topic be taught to school kids at appropriate learning levels?' We help teachers think about these social issues and how to teach about them. LATTICE brings a cross-cultural perspective into the classroom: 'Why is this issue important? What part of it is important for educators? How can we create a lesson that's engaging and aligned with MEAP curriculum standards?'"
Many of the MSU members are experienced educators in their own countries who came to MSU to get a doctorate. The teachers mostly come from Greater Lansing, but some come from as far away as Detroit and Grand Rapids. Monthly session attendees usually number about 40-50 members. Yuliantoro said there are no formal membership requirements, just an interest in and experience with schools. "But we do ask them to be consistent," he said. "If you're going to come, make a commitment. Don't just come once or not regularly. It can be a challenge to retain first timers and keep them interested."
Educators are beginning to see the benefits of joining professional learning communities. Organizers of local professional development opportunities today allow members to engage in much more pedagogical discourse than in the traditional sit-and-get-PD formats. At LATTICE, we take things a bit further by inviting participants to network with educators from different parts of the world as well as to engage in "shop-talk" at a global level. Every month, local teachers are introduced to international perspectives in every presentation, at every meal, during every performance, and around every table discussion. They leave with wonderful ideas and unbiased information to take back to their classroom. International scholars are introduced to American education at levels that dissolve ongoing stereotypes and media headlines. As we encourage K-16 students to become more global, we must embrace and act on the fact that teachers need to expand their perspectives beyond their schools, communities, and national borders.
One of the most powerful elements of LATTICE is the fact that it is not a one-time-only professional event. Meeting monthly allows participants to grow as global educators throughout the year(s) and reflect on this growth every time we meet. LATTICE quickly becomes family to every participant. As local teachers return to their classrooms and international scholars return to their home countries, they all take with them the most wonderfully diverse network of "teacher-friends." This is the fantastic way to truly become an engaged and connected educator.
In addition to the monthly sessions, LATTICE has "a lot of unofficial activities," said Yuliantoro. "We do cultural excursions and try to tie them into school curricula. We visit museums and use their resources for teaching."
They also conduct school visits, based on teacher invitations, that are tied to specific topics. They go to international "fairs" like Haslett High School's One World Day and Mason Middle School's World Cultures Day.
LATTICE was started at MSU in 1995 by educator Sally McClintock as an international education partnership with schools in mid-Michigan. It has grown to encompass about a thousand members in more than 40 countries now. Fourteen school districts and most of the MSU units with international interests support the partnership.
LATTICE is not the only project Yuliantoro has had a hand in during his time at MSU. Between 2008 and 2013, he worked with Dr. Margo Glew, coordinator of global initiatives at the College of Education, to develop the Global Educators Cohort Program (GECP). He and Glew also cofounded the Global Initiative Forum for Future Teachers (GIFT), a learning community modeled after LATTICE, to help GECP students embrace the world's diversity and its issues related to education in a formal setting. He worked with the Consulate General of Indonesia, his home country, to facilitate the development of partnerships between MSU and universities in Indonesia. For these and other activities he received the 2010 Homer Higbee International Education Award for outstanding contributions to promoting cross-cultural understanding at MSU.
During the 2013-2014 academic year Yuliantoro undertook a mentored community engagement experience through the Graduate Certification in Community Engagement1 sponsored by University Outreach and Engagement and the Graduate School, with LATTICE as his community partner. He worked closely with the board of directors, session director Ragatz, and a planning team composed of active members who volunteered for such activities as food and setup, promotion, fundraising, and content for learning
The collaboration started by mapping organizational assets that might be available to identify and address challenges that LATTICE faced in 2013. These included declining teacher participation, dwindling organizational spirit, and the need to offer more technology-related learning experiences for educators. The issues were identified by looking at the previous year's attendance as well as feedback that had been gathered at the monthly sessions and presented to the board over the course of the year. It also became clear that while LATTICE's social and cultural capital were strong, financial capital was minimal, relying almost exclusively on donations and community volunteers.
Ragatz and Yuliantoro developed a proposal for the year and got the go-ahead from their board of directors. One facet of the plan was a move toward more interactive communications online, along with a lot of coaching at the monthly sessions to help everybody get on board with the new technology. "We wanted to make sure that members would be familiar with it and able to navigate the website on their own with ease," said Yuliantoro. "It was part of our effort to build individual capacity."
They conducted a two-minute survey at the end of every session to collect feedback on what the attendees learned and to solicit ideas for future sessions, which were then discussed at planning team meetings. "We developed the questions and analyzed the answers together so that we could continuously improve the quality of our learning," said Yuliantoro. "It was our way to hold ourselves accountable." At the end of the year they produced an annual report for the board.
"My role in this partnership was to strengthen it by introducing a new model for the learning community," said Yuliantoro. "By new model, I mean the integration and infusion of technology into designing, planning, and running the monthly session in order to reinforce LATTICE's organizational spirit. Matinga and I believe that technological pedagogical knowledge is important and needed by our members. These days they are required by the state to introduce and incorporate technology in their teaching. In addition, the various committees that we instituted were part of an effort to increase the members' sense of ownership. We both agreed that more of a culture of collective responsibility and collaboration among members was needed."
Yuliantoro said that the mentored community engagement experience has improved his leadership skills as well as his understanding of community-engaged scholarship. He is proud that some of LATTICE's board members told him the 2013-2014 sessions were among the best they had had in the 15 years since the organization was established. "Our sessions clearly carried out the mission and vision of LATTICE as a professional learning community," he said. "This success cannot be separated from the learning I gained through my participation in the MSU Graduate Certification in Community Engagement."