Grabbing the proverbial bull by its digital horns: the start of my new professional digital competencies

Day 1: Sunday 15th March 2020

As a large part of humanity sits shellshocked in their homes as they observe how the new Coronavirus is shaping our realities and transforming our daily lives as we have come to know them, the educational world is on the brink of its own transformation. As an experienced teacher who has always tried to keep up with the times as much as I can in terms of my own pedagogy, I cannot help feeling that I am about to enter a stage of my career where I am forced to take notice of the many tools around me, in this case those of a digital nature, and figure out in no time what to do with them in a way that is both meaningful and effective. I am undertaking an unprecedented journey in which my ‘professional digital competencies’ (Engen, 2019) will be challenged, developed and ultimately improved in some shape or form. Having a clear ‘Continuity of Learning’ plan from my school in place, as well as hot-off-the-press guidelines from the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO, 2020) and many other fantastic resources to plough through, for example from the company In Thinking, I have decided that I am going to make the most of this opportunity to grab the proverbial bull by its digital horns and learn something about myself as a teacher. I am not sure that I have any choice in the matter, but as long as I am bound to this new virtual teaching space for an indefinite period of time, I am going to take the time to capture what happens as I ‘domesticate’ (Silverstone, 2006) technology; this will be ‘a process of adapting, integrating and redefining technology’ (Engen, 2019) within my own school and personal teaching and learning context. I am not pretending that the thought does not overwhelm me somewhat, but let’s see how far I get. Now where is that bull?!

References

Engen, B. K. (2019). Understanding social and cultural aspects of teachers’ digital competencies, Comunicar, 61 (27), 9-18

The International Baccalaureate Organization (2020). Online learning, teaching and education continuity planning for schools. IBO: Cardiff

Silverstone, R (2006). Domesticating domestication. Reflections on the life of a concept. Maidenhead: Open University Press

 

“Please, don’t make me reflect again!” Why reflection has become a dirty word and what we could do about it.

The sentiment in the title of this post sums up several utterances that I have heard from students in my time as an IB CAS Coordinator and MYP Service Learning Coordinator, and as a teacher within an international school. Particularly in relation to the Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) programme, students are tired of being asked to ‘reflect’, and teachers are tired of chasing students to do so. This is not the first time therefore that I have come to the conclusion that we are getting it all wrong. ‘Reflection’ has become a dirty word and I am not sure how and when it happened.

What I do know however, is that if someone tells me to ‘do a reflection’ at a specified given time, every part of me resists doing it. This is because my brain is not wired up to ‘reflect’ when someone asks it of me, but rather it prefers to select the moments when something is worthy of being noted. Does this mean therefore that reflection is tied in with emotion? I would argue that there is not enough recognition of this in the literature and research on reflection, certainly not within international schools and the International Baccalaureate Organisation’s programmes. The process of reflection itself is that it is related to highly individualised experiences, yet if I am not sure of what questions I should be considering, my thoughts wander off and become vague, shallow and descriptive. So what I do know is that if the questions are good, the answers are good. Whether I pose the questions myself, or someone else probes my thinking by asking me, there is certainly always the need to be guided and pushed beyond the comfortable limits of what I think I am capable of thinking. What students do not need is a sterile online environment where they are forced to reflect when told to do so; this only makes the dirty word even worse.

On the basis of these thoughts, and the fact that reflection should be a valuable learning process within CAS, I propose here some questions for IB CAS learners and teacher mentors that will hopefully help to spark a process of reflection that feels less stale, monotonous and forced. The questions are based on the seven CAS learner outcomes that currently exist in the CAS Guide (IBO, 2013) and can be used at any stage of a student’s CAS journey across the two years of their Diploma Programme. I would argue that predetermined outcomes do actually stifle the potential of CAS to be a personalised journey of inquiry, but that is another article in the making! What we need now however is to be able to help students to see reflection as a stimulating and enjoyable process, and to make CAS something tangible and meaningful for them. At the same time, we also need to support each other as teachers involved with IB students by sharing ideas and resources; if we all remain within our bubbles, we will suffocate and despair! My suggested questions to guide reflection are to be found below; they are written from the perspective of the student, but could easily be posed by someone else.

Reflection on Learner Outcomes: Suggested Questions for Individual and Group Reflection

The following questions related to the CAS learner outcomes act as a guide for meaningful individual and group reflection on CAS engagement.

Identify own strengths and develop areas for growth

  • What have I found easy and / or difficult so far?
  • What skills and abilities have I been able to offer that have been helpful and / or useful to others?
  • How have I managed to apply and/or learn new skills?

Demonstrate that challenges have been undertaken, developing new skills in the process 

  • Where and when were there moments that challenged my previous convictions / beliefs / understandings?
  • Have I been taken out of my comfort zone in any way? How?
  • What was a particular personal challenge for me and how did I approach it and / or overcome it?

Demonstrate how to initiate and plan a CAS experience

  • Did I take initiative at any point? How did that work out?
  • Did I spend time planning for something and then carrying it out? Did this plan turn out according to my expectations?
  • Have I shown leadership in any way? How?

Show commitment and perseverance in CAS experiences

  • How have I shown that I am able to persist with something and not give up at the first hurdle?
  • How have I shown that I can be resilient?
  • How have I personally committed to something beyond the minimum that would be required of me?

Demonstrate the skills and recognise the benefits of working collaboratively

  • Can I give an example of how I worked with others in a team? (What was my goal? What were my roles? How did I work out who did what within that team?)
  • What did I learn from working with others?

Demonstrate engagement with issues of global significance

  • What global issues are connected to my CAS experiences? (suggested use of the UN goals as a guide)
  • How do my experiences link to the themes explored in my different subject areas?
  • How do any of my experiences relate to the concept of sustainability?
  • How can I continue to take responsible action as a result of what I have learnt about certain global issues

Recognise and consider the ethics of choices and actions 

  • Have there been any situations that have made me feel uncomfortable? How did I act and why?
  • Did I have to make any choices about how to behave? What did I decide to do and why?
  • To what extent do I consider the nature of my service learning experiences to be ethical? Why / why not?
  • Were there any times that I tried to act in a responsible way?
  • Did I make any effort to act in accordance with what I believe is right?

Whilst these questions may help somewhat to eradicate the sense of reflection as a meaningless, monotonous process, what really counts is that there is someone there to listen; learning without a listener is like cooking a meal without someone to eat it! Our role as teachers, mentors or advisors therefore is to listen, acknowledge, provoke and engage; without that human exchange, reflection may well just die a lonely death.

References
IBO. (2015). Creativity, activity, service guide. Cardiff: International Baccalauerate Organisation.

 

 

 

 

Alright Stop! Collaborate and Listen….

Vanilla Ice was right. That’s what we all need to do.

One of the things that we like to talk about a lot in schools is collaboration. Team work. It takes a village. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and all that. Yet how often do we get to witness examples of what this really looks like on a daily basis? I am motivated to write a little something on this topic after having just returned from a high school music concert. It was the last one for our grade 12s, and so a rather special occasion. It felt like one. I am writing to share my thoughts with those of you that missed it. For those who like to talk about the importance of collaboration and who try to make sense of what that means in practice, but who don’t get to see the wonder of it going on right in front of us.

Making music is one of the most powerful collaborative learning experiences that there is. When you play as a group, a double act or in an ensemble, you are dependent on the others around you, and they are dependent on you. There is no room for ego or flying solo. There is no room for a momentary lapse. The music – making happens in the here and now, no faking it, no holding back. I often wonder at the capacity for human beings to be able to work wonders when we get ourselves together, and this concert was testament to that. Witnessing the catching of an eye, the changing of a tempo, a nod of the head, a smile; all of these make music-making unique. Who knew that the youths of today would choose to pay homage to some classic tunes from their teachers’ teenage years and that they would dress in outfits that look like something from a 90s episode of ‘Top of the Pops’? Who knew that a bunch of unassuming young people could entertain an audience for almost two and a half hours with their eclectic musical tastes?

I did know it actually, because I have been part of and witness to the efforts of music students for a number of years now. I have seen what music – making can do for those who choose it and stick with it. I have seen the different characters come together and find their own personal niche. I have seen how young people transform over the years, leaving school as a different self. Making music is really a gift that should be treasured. There is nowhere else where collaboration has a truer meaning. Come along next time. Take a peek into that world; better still, be part of it!

Feeling good about doing good

Walking through Heathrow airport towards the train into London, a woman heading in the opposite direction with an Australian accent and a large luggage trolley stopped me and asked me whether I was here on holiday or coming home. Whilst I felt in a bit of a rush to get the train, and my first reaction was to be a bit bothered by this intrusion, I immediately chastised myself for feeling this way as she reached into her pocket and offered me a still valid ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus in London. She told me that she had wanted to find someone to give it to and would be glad if I would take it and use it. Even though I already knew in that moment that I wouldn’t need it, as I was heading straight to Cambridge for a conference, I took it and thanked her warmly for having been so generous and kind. Why I did that I only considered once I was sat on the train. I had wanted to make the woman feel good about having done something good. If I had been in her position, I would have also wanted to pass on this ticket and not let it go to waste. I would have also wanted to have felt good about having done something good. With the said ticket in my pocket, destined to fail in serving its intended purpose of letting someone ride around London taking in the sights, I felt compelled to pass it on as well. Standing on the platform, I sized up a few people and asked two different men who I had thought were on their own and might have looked like tourists. They turned out not to be, but were thankful all the same for my offer. Once inside the train, I spent a few minutes working out whether the woman sitting next to me might be a tourist, and, after having seen her suitcase and caught sight of her texting in English (hence she would understand me and not think me some crazy woman who was offering something incomprehensible, both linguistically and culturally), I offered it to her. She told me that she was actually here on business, but that she had no plans for the next day, and would be glad to take the ticket. Maybe that was true, but maybe she also just wanted to make me feel good in having done some good. If she had rejected it, she would have had to sit next to me for the next ten minutes having rejected my kindness. Who knows what actually happened, and whether the ticket got to fulfil its destiny. What I do know however, is that people can be strangely lovely, and it is moments like these that make me feel good to be human. It’s good to feel good about doing good.

Reflections on Youth Forum Switzerland 2019: Sustainability through Sustaining our Ability to Care

Since having experienced the student-led YFS event in my own school that simply blew me away in terms of its sheer professionalism, slickness and magnitude, I have been pondering on some of the biggest takeaways for me and what they now mean for our school community. Some things have certainly stuck with me and I feel that I would like to be able to articulate what they are so that we can look forward and consider what comes next. In my role as experiential learning coordinator, I see it as my duty to help students and teachers to come to terms with what just happened and to translate words into actions. We need to find an approach to everything we do that underpins the beliefs and hopes that we have seen emerging. How does the current, overwhelming sense of hope and anticipation for change become a reality? What does sustainability mean in our context? Is ‘sustainability’ the term that we are looking for, or should we be talking about a framework for global citizenship perhaps, where sustainability is just a part of a wider approach to our learning? How are we sustaining our ability to act as changemakers? I will try to answer these questions by focusing on some key words and messages from YFS 2019 and then conclude with a proposed framework for our pedagogy that could well offer some guidelines for ethical, collaborative, sustainable practice.

2.We need to get angry!

To get to a point where we feel motivated to change something, we need to have experienced a feeling of anger about it. Feeling angry means that we have recognised an area of injustice and we are moved by both our emotions and our reason to address it. Indeed, Oxfam recognised some time ago that a global citizen is ‘outraged by social injustice’ (Oxfam, 2006) and it is this outrage that can take us beyond a more passive stance of recognition and understanding to a more determined active stance. There was talk at YFS about young people becoming involved in democracy and feeling that their voices are heard, so yes, if we want our students to become more political, we have to enable them to discuss, engage and participate. Our role as teachers in this is to facilitate and support a space that is both safe and brave (Cook-Sather, 2016); if students are going to take risks, then they need to feel that they are in an environment that supports them in doing so. Debate, critique and dialogue with people with opposing opinions is a good thing, and we could all learn a little about what it means to experience this and get through the other side without judgement. As Trevor Downham from Genesis in South Africa said in his talk at YFS, “feeling glad, sad or bad is not enough; you need to get mad!” This is indeed something to consider when we think about the purpose and future of our exposure to and engagement with other communities through our service learning, both locally and internationally.

2. We should strive to be significant rather than successful

I wonder what this means to us? If we aim to be significant human beings rather than successful ones, what does this look like in terms of our own behaviours and actions? In hearing Trevor from Genesis South Africa speaking in the same session at YFS where he mentioned anger, his comparison between significance and success also made me think. In our world, we tend to judge ourselves and others in terms of our success if we have a well-paid job, a nice place to live and if we have managed to secure positions or achievements that we or society has placed upon us. Do we, however, ever stop to think about our own success in terms of the effect that we may have had on other people? Is success ever measured in kindness, patience or love? If we begin to think of our own personal behaviours and attributes and how we apply them in interpersonal circumstances, we may just begin to understand the idea of what being significant looks like, rather than measuring what we do in terms of success. If, like Trevor, we witness an individual dying of AIDS, and that moment is the one that changes everything we do and try to do, we may just be in a position to understand what significance looks like. I would say that as teachers, students and simply as human beings, this shift in our thinking could help us to address those same injustices that we might be acting against as a result of our anger.

3.Authentic student voice means authentic participation

In talking about youth and democracy, a grade 9 student advocated for the fact that it was time for young people to speak out and stand up for what they believe in. I am not sure that many people would argue with that; we have all seen what can happen when young people do not make it out to the polling stations. Yet I sat in the session entitled ‘Democracy is Fragile’ wondering whether there is a tendency to talk only about polling stations when we are talking about youth, voice and democracy. If there is indeed a need to encourage more young people to become more politically active and to use their voices, then surely there is a need for them to learn what democratic participation looks like. If we think about our general school practices, to what extent are we creating conditions for authentic student voice? Are we in danger, for example, of having a student council and claiming that this is our effort at incorporating student voice? To what extent could our efforts be said to be ‘tokenistic’ or ‘manipulative’, (Hart, 1992) suiting a very much adult-led agenda? Should we be having students involved in different committees or teacher working-groups, such as grade level or curricular teams or professional learning communities (PLCs) ,or could we have students sitting on a council representing different areas of the school, for example fundraising or PDWs? In addition, if participation is also about co-creation, to what extent do we allow student ownership of the way that our units evolve? If we were to take an inquiry-led approach that began with student assessment of what could be interesting or meaningful to them, or where there could be an authentic need in the community (this would be a service learning cycle of inquiry, Berger Kaye, 2010), then students would very much be able to experience what partnership looks like. I am sure that nobody would agree that students are merely vessels to be filled with information (Freire, 1970), but rather that they are individuals with rights to participation (UN Convention on the rights of the child, article ….). Therefore, if we want to consider what democracy might look like for the young people under our care, then we could start by considering how our structures and curriculum provide spaces for collaboration and democratic participation. We cannot advocate for voice if we are not providing and encouraging it; cliched or not, it still rings true that practising what you preach is the best way to get people on board.

A framework for a Pedagogy of CARE

In order to move towards a more ethical practice of collaboration and participation, with a sense of social justice at its heart, my own practitioner (teacher) inquiry undertaken just recently with a group of students led me to develop a proposed pedagogical framework of principles and attributes. Before YFS came into being, a group of seven grade 11 students, named ‘Team Change Makers’ worked together with me on a collaborative CAS project that saw us researching the topic of service learning and how it could be more ethical and meaningful in our school. As a result of our research and inquiry, and the implications that it could have for practice in our school and beyond, the ‘Pedagogy of CARE’ came about. In light of the thoughts about YFS above, I will give an overview of the principles and attributes of the framework here, including some food for thought about ways forward for our school.

The word CARE serves as acronym for four principles (consciousness, action, responsibility and experimentation) and four learner attributes (conscious, active, responsible and experimental). The principles are the values themselves and the attributes are these values in action. The principles and attributes are all intentionally underpinned by the stance and the act of caring, hence the intentional use of the acronym CARE. They all interact and connect with one another to form a complex, non-linear, non-hierarchical framework, which I envision as a pyramid model as shown below (figure 1).

pyramid model
Figure 1: Pyramid Model for a Pedagogy of CARE
In the model, each principle is joined by each attribute on each face, showing that it is possible to combine them all with each other e.g. one could engage in a practice of experimental responsibility or conscious action.

The following short descriptions give a very brief overview of the principles and attributes that belong to the framework, and make links to what could be a more ethical and sustainable approach to our practice in school as a result of the YFS event that took place.

1.Consciousness / being conscious

This principle is about being critical and aware of the ourselves and the world around us, and through this criticality, we are moved beyond a passive state to an active one. We develop a sense of responsibility and feel driven to take risks and experiment.

The inclusion of this principle is inspired by Freire’s (1970) concept of conscientização, or ‘critical consciousness’; a dynamic process of action and critical reflection upon the world in order to transform it. Being conscious is about being engaged in an ongoing process of critical reflection that allows us to see ourselves as ‘historically formed creatures capable of learning and transformation’ (Stevenson, 2012, p. 148). It is about being aware of our place in the world and questioning the structures and systems within which we find ourselves.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be conscious after YFS, I suggest that we work towards a critical approach to our community partnerships, where we identify genuine, sustainable needs and reflect carefully on the power relationships between us and them.

2.Action / being active

The principle of action is about exercising agency with critical intent. Action is related to consciousness as described above, however it takes the learner beyond a mere process of critical reflection or ‘disposition of critical intent’ (Habermas, 1972; Kinsler, 2010) towards being able to exercise agency in a situation (Elliott, 2005). This agency is exercised through practice which is oriented towards an ideal.

A learner who is active goes through processes of inquiry that are geared towards fighting against the unjust practices or conditions that one uncovers through being critical. An active inquirer strives to bring about change and to achieve social justice through engaging in a practice that is in itself democratic. Being active is the process of becoming an engaged, doing subject rather than a passive object. In the process of action, we translate democratic values into democratic behaviour, and we are involved in ‘sensuous human activity’ (Bernstein, 1971, p. 11) or praxis.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be active after YFS, I suggest that we assess our own behaviours and look for opportunities to make direct and lasting change in collaboration with others. We should not rely on others to tell us what to do, rather take initiative and lead from the front.

3. Responsibility / being responsible

The principal of responsibility is about listening; it is an act of reciprocity and ‘mutual affection and care for one another’ (Fielding & Moss, 2011, p. 48). Responsible practice is a ‘person-centred’ education (Fielding, 2011; Fielding & Moss, 2011) that is about the relationship between person and community.

A responsible teacher or adult listens to students and facilitates their voices being heard, guiding them in the process by being open, honest and flexible. A responsible school leadership team listens to the voices of teachers and responsible students listen to each other. Responsibility is also about respect, mutual understanding and an appreciation of individual subjectivities and perspectives; it is a two-way, reciprocal process.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be responsible after YFS, we need to evaluate our own relationships with other people in and beyond our school community and to ensure that we are providing for opportunities that allow for different voices to be heard. We also need to consider cultivating a sense of both environmental and social responsibility through being conscious and active.

4. Experimentation/ being experimental

Experimentation is when teachers and students, as co-inquirers and co-learners, are willing to think differently, to take risks and to try out new ways of doing things. It is also about a willingness to be resilient in the face of the consequences of our actions.

An experimental learner is willing to put oneself up for scrutiny and to open oneself up to both critical self-reflection and to critique from others. If this critique is also complimented by responsible practice, then there can be no danger of it being damaging or harmful.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be experimental after YFS, we need to continue to look for opportunities where we engage in critical dialogue with each other, even if this might mean that we come up against conflicting viewpoints. By first creating safe spaces where relational dialogue can involve problem-posing and critical self-reflection, we can ensure that brave spaces can also become part of our practice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I propose that we see such an awe-inspiring event as YFS as a springboard to action, and that we continue to drive the cog wheels of momentum as much as we can. The key to making anything meaningful is this momentum and an investment in its sustainable nature. As I see it, caring is at the heart of ethical learning, hence the ‘Pedagogy of CARE’ outlined here. As teachers, we may begin from a stance of caring through personal experiences or emotions, and we want our students to experience and feel something similar. We may care about our students, education or certain social injustices, and we work towards sharing our passion with others. Ultimately, caring is the beginning, middle and end of an ethical teaching and learning practice, and, indeed, a human existence. Is this what Trevor meant have meant by being significant? I would like to think that it does.

References

Bernstein, R. J. (1971). Praxis and action: Contemporary philosophies of human activity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cook-Sather, A. (2016). Creating Brave Spaces within and through Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, Spring 2016(18).

Fielding, M., & Moss, P. (2011). Radical education and the common school: a democratic alternative. Abingdon: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury.

Habermas, J. (1972). Knowledge and human interests. London: Heinemann.

Kinsler, K. (2010). The utility of educational action research for emancipatory change. Action Research, 8(2), 171-189.

Oxfam (2006) Education for Global Citizenship – A Guide for schools. Oxford: Oxfam GB

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Remembering the good stuff

As I return home from my fourth full school day after my year’s sabbatical writing my thesis, I have now finally remembered what the good stuff in education looks like. I am more than relieved to say the least. I was beginning to lose hope just a little.

The first week back at school, before lessons started, had involved so much talking and administration that I almost ran for the hills on a couple of occasions. After a year of freedom and so much time to read, reflect and write about education, was doing it going to be how I imagined it, or at least how I have come to imagine that it could be? Were the hopes and dreams that I discovered, nurtured and developed throughout the writing of my thesis going to simply disappear into thin air, never to be seen or heard of again? Was I going to be disappointed that the reality of school and classroom teaching would not look the same as the imaginings that I have had over this year? Was there a place for democracy and student voice? Would it be realistic to believe that spaces could be created where students could be both safe and brave? What I will tell you is that I have found my groove again and I have been reminded why I love this job so much. The reason for its rediscovery has been, unsurprisingly, due to the students.

One of my roles at school, alongside being a German teacher, is to coordinate service learning; a form of experiential learning through engagement in a service partnership with a local community (Annette, 2015). This week, as an introduction to service learning, I have presented to the students in my high school about what I understand to be the good stuff in education; the opportunities that are given to us to learn by doing, to come to know who we are and what we can contribute, and to work with others for the good of others. What is interesting is that I never quite know how much the students have taken in until they begin to approach me with their own ideas for group projects and initiatives within the school. There was one specific moment this week however when I did understand that something had resonated with someone, and it made me truly fall in love with my job again. I will mention this moment here.

After one of my presentations about service learning, three boys came to talk to me about their idea for a collaborative student project. They talked about how they think there is a need for a space where boys can get together and feel comfortable creating more emotional and supportive bonds with one another, as this is something that does not happen in regular classroom settings and within the culture of a school. This idea was genuine and it came from the hearts of three students who were brave enough to suggest leading something that they cared about. I was moved. These boys had understood and responded to my emphasis on choice, voice and individuality, and that all of us are different, yet we all have something to give. They had understood that there was a potential learning space for them that was at the same time ‘safe’ and ‘brave’ (Cook-Sather, 2016); they would be supported in their own individual choices by me and in doing so, they would in fact be being pretty damn courageous.

Reflecting on this moment, I had to write it down. I am on my own learning journey all of the time, and this year I have certainly learnt how writing about practice is such a powerful way to shape and change it. Recognising this moment as significant has certainly helped to reignite the hope that I have felt whilst being out of the classroom for a year. The hope that we can be ethical in a practice that starts and ends with caring. The hope that we can encourage and nurture student voice and choice. The hope, ultimately, that we can inspire students to be brave by letting them know that they are safe in doing so.

References:

Annette, J. (2002). Service Learning in an International Context. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, Winter 2002 (VIII)

Cook-Sather, A. (2016). Creating Brave Spaces within and through Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships. Teaching and Learning Together, Higher Education, Spring 2016(18).