College of Liberal Arts

Improving Teaching on a Global Scale

By Jessica Sinn, College of Liberal Arts
Published: June 21

In recent years, Saudi Arabian educators have made great strides toward improving the quality of the kingdom's school system.

To help them raise the bar, representatives from The University of Texas at Austin's UTeach-Liberal Arts teacher training program set forth on a mission to Saudi Arabia to meet with education leaders and offer expertise in teacher training.

"We went to the Middle East to assist in creating an experience-based approach to teacher preparation and that is exactly what we did," says Richard Flores, senior associate dean of academic affairs for the College of Liberal Arts and director of the UTeach-Liberal Arts program. "This was a good opportunity to build professional networks with educators in the region."

The overseas initiative, which occurred April 17-21, was part of a joint delegation with the Austin-based Alhambra-U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit that promotes international education initiatives in the Persian Gulf region. This was the first major collaborative project between the two organizations.

"This mission showed what is possible when you blend high-level connections and familiarity with local culture and etiquette with the world-class talent and programs offered by the University of Texas," says Anjum Malik, Alhambra co-founder and delegation member.

A nationally recognized middle and high school teacher preparation program, UTeach-Liberal Arts emphasizes practical, hands-on field experience in public school classrooms. The innovative four-semester program aims to transform secondary school teacher certification with a balanced, practical and theoretical approach to teacher preparation.

"Well-trained teachers have the instructional tools to create student-centered, active learning classrooms," says Rose Potter, UTeach-Liberal Arts clinical professor. " When students become successful learners, everyone wins. That includes students, their teachers, their parents, the community, employers, the nation as a whole and ultimately our shared world."

During the weeklong trip, the delegates offered a variety of teacher-training workshops, including active learning, effective teaching strategies, classroom management and optimum classroom design. They met with several high-profile education officials, including Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak, the minister of higher education and scientific research of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the First Lady's offices in Dubai, and top educators from more than 45 universities and schools across the Middle East.

The delegation also participated in the International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education in Riyadh, where they conducted a variety of workshops on topics including diversity in education, survival as a student in the United States, and active learning.

The mission was organized, facilitated and implemented by Alhambra as part of its commitment to strengthening educational opportunities globally.

"One of the most important things any nation can do is transform itself into a knowledge society," says Ambassador Sada Cumber, Alhambra chamber co-founder and former U.S. special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. "This mission helps give Saudi Arabia and UAE the tools to make that transition. Education is a great bridge builder. All of us want our children to have the best life possible, making education the common denominator between peoples and nations. That is why events such as UT's mission to the Middle East are so important."

Alhambra promotes educational, cultural and commercial dialogue between the United States and other nations, engaging in a wide range of consulting, training and partnership activities to support that vision. While the Chamber's mission is global in scope, much of its activity has involved the 57 Muslim-majority nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, with a special focus on educational consulting and teacher training in the Gulf region.