Caring about education: An international high school teacher’s manifesto

Having just been through the highly emotionally charged process of defending my educational beliefs and research approach through my initiation ceremony (viva) into the world of educational academia, I feel brave enough to put this text out there. It forms the concluding chapter of my thesis, intending to portray my current thoughts and stance on education as a result of the practitioner inquiry that I undertook. I take my lead from the style of a ‘manifesto’ or Dewey’s ‘Pedagogic Creed’ (Dewey, 2013), where my writing is seen as a call to action.

For me, being heard and listening are vital to an education system that I dream of. Ultimately, when one cares about something, one wants to speak. When one cares about the person speaking, one listens. What follows is therefore my own manifesto for education. It is written from my own perspective as a teacher-researcher in an international school, calling upon others in the same situation to join me in my thinking. It is my voice, but, as I belong to a community of teachers, it is written to express what ‘I feel ‘we’, as a community need. It is not written in order to influence a political election campaign, but to interest anyone concerned with what an alternative education system could look like. You don’t have to be a dreamer like me to consider it worthy, but, having read the rest of this thesis (which my examiners had), you can hopefully understand where it comes from.

The Teacher

We need to listen to our students. We can all achieve things for ourselves, but if nobody is listening to us, there can seem no point. It is our job as teachers to listen to the students and to give them the opportunity to be heard. This does not mean that we simply ‘appear’ to be listening, but we act on what we hear, and show the students what happens to their opinions.

We need to listen to each other. A school is not a playground where different cliques play off against one another. It is a place where our colleagues are valued for the contribution that they can make. We may not always agree with what others care about or are trying to achieve, but we respect each other in the process, and allow voices to be heard. We do not see each other as competitors, but as fellow humans with values similar or different to our own. We all have a shared goal of believing in the power of education and we all play our part in our community in our own way.

We need to see ourselves as learners. We should not pretend that we are owners of knowledge and that we have something ‘finished’ or ‘complete’ to deliver. We should be open and honest about ourselves as inquirers and we should present ourselves in this way to our students and colleagues. There is no room for ego. We are not in the teaching profession so that we can wield our power over others and speak the loudest, drowning out others’ voices.

We need to see ourselves as mentors. We are not deliverers of knowledge or merely facilitators of learning. As teachers, we are mentors, role models and guides for our students. We are guardians of learning, able to recognise the potential of our students and to draw on what they are capable of.

The School

We need a school that listens to us. This means that those in power should not see themselves as untouchable, all-knowing individuals who are above others in the school community. There should be no holding on to power for fear of being exposed. Every person in the school community should feel that there is a way of contributing to a discussion or a decision, even if they are not the ones who speak the loudest or whose face fits.

We need a school that listens to our students. When individual teachers listen to our students, this is not enough; we need others in the school community to do the same. Leadership in a school should not be a ‘top-down’ approach, but rather one that commits to engaging with students in genuine, ongoing and trustworthy relationship. Decisions should not be made on the whims of people in power who sit hidden away in offices, but by informed professionals who have reached out to the student body to hear what they feel and want.

We need a school that lives out its own values. We need to believe in our school. We need to know and understand the values of the school we work in and see them as part of everyday school life. We need to see ourselves as part of a school community and not lone, isolated voices. If our school does not respect its own values, then we will not respect them, and in turn the students will not respect them either.

We need a school that is not afraid of change. Holding onto policies and guidelines just because time was invested in them is not a successful way to work. Times change, people change, the world changes. A school is not an institution that is set in stone, but a moving, growing, ever-changing place of learning.

We need a school that values inquiry. High school teachers are so caught up in the demands of their subject area (s) that there is no time or opportunity for them to realise that teaching is a process of inquiry. Teachers should not inquire for the sake of it, as a result of someone else’s agenda or fad, but they should be given the opportunity to plan for inquiry if this is what they desire. They may not know they desire it however if the school does not encourage and support it. As long as a school ultimately views teachers as being accountable for grades, and not for the learning processes that go on in and outside the classrooms, then there can be no hope for teachers in the role of inquirers.

The Community Partners

We need reciprocal relationships with local and international communities. We have something to offer others and they have something to offer us. We need our school to be less of an island and see it as part of a local and global community. This means that we need to reach out to others and establish relationships with them. These relationships need to be built upon mutual understanding and respect, and not seen as a one – way learning opportunity.

We need to understand the historical, situational and political nature of ourselves in relation to other communities. We need to address the nature of ourselves in relation to others and consider the role that we may play in keeping the status quo. We must look beyond dehumanising discourses and allow authentic, indigenous voices to be heard.

The Research Community

We need to listen to the research community. We should not be afraid of research. It should not be put on a pedestal as something alien. There should not be a fear of ‘academic’ knowledge as something only accessible to those working in universities. We should open ourselves up to educational research and welcome and encourage it. ‘Theory’ is not an ugly word. ‘Academics’ should be invited to work with teachers on their professional development, and should be seen as learning partners for teachers. Our schools should support access to literature and give us time engage in discussions informed by it.

We need a research community that listens to us. We should be respected as professionals with experience in our field, and as people that are willing to learn. Our practice as teachers, our in-situ experiences, and our capacities as learners should be acknowledged and celebrated. We have knowledge of education that people who are not teachers do not possess. We should be made to feel empowered by this knowledge and welcomed as professionals. The educational research community should work with us on our agenda and not only theirs.

The Student

We need active, questioning students. We do not want our schools to churn out students who will simply succumb to being part of the capitalist economy. We want students to question the structures that they are part of and make those in power accountable for what they do. Rather than students expecting to be told what to do, they should be given the opportunity to figure out for themselves what should be done.

We need students who are informed. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but they are most effective when backed up by knowledge. Students need to know how they can support their opinions by evidence. This means that they learn how to consult or involve others through the process of inquiry. Bringing this kind of knowledge to the table strengthens their voice and helps them to developed informed perspectives and opinions.

We need students who feel empowered. We want students to believe in the strength and weight of their voices. School should provide students with the capability to contribute to society and make changes.

We need students who are not afraid to fail. Taking risks is an exciting part of life. We want students to feel their own hearts beating in trepidation and adrenalin as they embark on something new. A risk is such because success is not always guaranteed.  If success is seen in the risk taking itself, then one does not set oneself up to fail. Life is about ups and downs, and students need to recognise and accept this.

We need students who are allowed to dream. The future is never certain for anyone, but we want to feel that we are able to dream of one for ourselves and others. If our students are not encouraged to imagine what might be possible, then they their creativity is cut short. Imagination is part of living, and it is something that keeps us going in the face of adversity. If we let students dream, possibilities are opened up, and hope emerges in place of fear and anxiety. Students should not be afraid of pursuing their dreams, and we should support and encourage them in finding out what they are and how they could be achieved.

These principles are, in my opinion, how I imagine education to be; they are the manifestation of my educational imaginings and what I have come to learn through this inquiry. Such an education system is where one is listened to, whether as a teacher or as a student. What one cares about is respected and validated by others. It is a system where being professional is about being informed, and being informed is what makes us professional. It is a system where hierarchies are dissolved and relationships are at the forefront. It is a system that both starts and ends with caring.

References:

Dewey, J. (2013). My Pedagogic Creed. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (4 ed., pp. 33-40). New York, NY: Routledge.

 

 

 

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