Tag Archives: global society

How do you connect to the world?

Screenshot 2015-07-19 17.59.21

Current World Events

That was a title on a board that has been in a few rooms when I’ve taught Social Studies. The idea is that students need to connect with what is happening in the world.

Sounds simple.

Not really.

With the different worldview students bring to the classroom, world events can be a somewhat hotspot for discussions. Events around the world aren’t simple, not that they ever were. But we are now beginning to discuss what previously was non-discussable and that can be difficult in a classroom.

What are some of the different options that teachers have when trying to use current world events as points of discussion in the classroom? How can they address some of these issues? What if they have no idea where to start?

Avoidance

One option is not to. It’s sounds rather odd that the events happening in the world would be ignored but, for some teachers, this is the simplest way to avoid any type of controversy. Surface treatment of issues that mentions or references events can pass as “covering” if techniques of “read the article, answer the questions” is used. Short discussions that name people and places pass as covering the issue as teachers, worried about what might be said, avoid discussions or debates that might come up and certainly avoid any discussion of privilege, discrimination, oppression, persecution and other discussions that may make people, including the teacher, uncomfortable.

It’s important to reflect upon how our actions and words impact and influence students. When I began teaching, I wasn’t aware of my own privilege or how it provided a very narrow worldview of events that took place in the world. As I have been made aware of my privilege and come to understand that this privilege taints my own view of events, using world events in my own teaching has changed.

As a young teacher, I use to think that I had a pretty good idea of the different points of view of various events. Naive as I was, it did not stop me from using various sources to examine and open discussions about events as they took place. As the opportunity to connect with others became easier, the opportunity to see different views of events also became easier. Just as the images in a kaleidoscope change as you turn it, so to do views of any event change depending on the point of view. For a teacher, it can be somewhat difficult to know what to do or how to approach any topic in the classroom.

It  can be a challenge. Most definitely.

But the great thing is that students can often lead us if given the opportunity.

But we have to be willing to speak up.

Being Quiet Isn’t An Option

Early this year, David Theriault wrote a post The Injustice of Staying Quiet. Like all great posts, this one has had me thinking since I first read it. David makes some great points as he describes his own journey, one where I glimpse myself a few times but, truthfully, is much different from my own childhood growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan with little exposure to other cultures.  I was unaware of the various privileges that I had as I grew up and it wasn’t until much later in life I began to realize how this influenced my worldview and the impact it had on my teaching. My mother, who has had a great influence on me, was a leader, one of the first females to serve as a union representative, working at many projects as she raised three children and took care of my father who was hurt in an accident.  I was aware of being different,  not having the same “normal” family made one an outsider but I didn’t realize until much later the great sacrifice she made or the abuse she suffered because of her work. To this day I am forever grateful for all that she taught me, and still teaches me, about helping others.

When David says

And that’s one of the points I would like to make. If you are not listening to other voices, it’s hard to move beyond your fixed notion of what is right and wrong. What we call, in my family, social justice.

I still struggle with uneasiness, unsure of what to do or what to say, fearful that I will offend someone because of my lack of understanding or my ignorance of what is happening or simply because I do not understand at all.

So I remain quiet.

That is a mistake.

Connecting Students with the World

This past Thursday during #saskedchat, our topic for the chat was Connecting our students with the World. It was focused on different ways that teachers can use current events in their classroom. During the chat, I kept wondering how teachers approach social justice issues with students. Teachers offered ideas for discussing issues with students such as using different sources to examine how different points of view reporting the same issue and how social media sources such as twitter can be used for social justice issues. Whatever we do, I agree with David:

So what can we DO?

Well I’ll tell you what we can’t do. We can’t make excuses and we can’t just ignore things and hope they will go away.

I highly recommend you take a moment to read through David’s whole post as it is extremely thoughtful and thought provoking plus David has taken the time and effort to add some great resources. One great resource that David shares is a social justice twitter list with different people on twitter that I recommend following. However, for me, one of  the greatest resources that David provides is his honesty and straightforward approach to the subject and his challenge for educators to address social justice issues.

How Do I Connect?

Just this weekend, Vincent Hill, someone who I know via twitter, shared  the resource Speaking Truth To Power with me that I then shared with others. Twitter is a great place for finding and accessing different resources for the classroom such as Unpacking Culturally Responsive Pedagogy,  The Truth and Reconciliation Report , and an article focused on the Truth and Reconciliation Report. 

But what good are resources unless we are willing, as David says, to set aside our own “fixed notion of what is right and wrong.” and begin to question what is happening? To start bringing these issues into the classroom? To open up the dialogue with students?

I don’t have answers. In fact, I have many questions and am still uncertain about so many things. One thing I am certain about though is that, as teachers, we cannot avoid talking about these issues. With so many resources available and, more importantly, access to people who can help us and speak to students about these issues, there is someone who is wiling help us if we just reach out and ask for their help and guidance. We live during one of the greatest periods of change in history and it’s important that we involve students in discussions about what is happening.

I Wonder….

So often our focus is planning and assessment, an almost obsession with assessment in its various forms, that relationships and the changes society and the world are experiencing seem mere data points on someone’s data chart.

…. what might change if we began with the conditions and stories of students lives before we worried about which assessment tool/format teachers were using?

…. if learning is truly the goal, why we are fixated with assessment instead of all the wonders of learning and possibilities that are available for children to explore what is happening in the world?

…. if helping students develop skills for the future, why so much emphasis is placed on knowledge of the past?

…. how teachers might change their practices to allow for more opportunities to explore various societal issues in meaningful ways?

Raising expectations

As our students are leaving school and entering a more global society, we have become more interested in how they are doing compared to others around the world. We compare them using various test outcomes, pinpointing where they’re successful and where they need to improve. These results then drive the data driven decisions that districts and divisions use to create outcomes and implement initiatives.

Many of the students in our school have been exposed to much more of the global scenery in recent years. They are touring much more, going on exchanges, meeting people from other countries and interacting with them much more than in the past. They have access to media that shows them the happenings in other countries, the plight of many global citizens and the impact a migrant population can have on another country. Yet, with all of this, there are many who still see it as “something out there” while they will continue to live like their parents with the same expectations. For some, this might happen. However, for a great many, this view of how things will work is severely crushed when they leave home and begin to compete in the economy. With many of them not really understanding that a job-starved economy doesn’t mean you can show up late, not do what is asked or disrespect others without there being severe consequences, they aren’t ready for what is coming. Yet, in a way, schools have set them up for this in many ways.

Huh?

We have. In many instances, some of these students have been allowed to continue on their merry way as teachers have allowed them to move through the system. I’m not saying that it is just the teachers. When this type of thing happens, it a systematic function where all parts are contributing.

This is where our mindset needs to change from a “confrontational” mode to a “solution” focus. Instead of fingers being pointed as we look around, there is a need to be self-analytical and examine how we might have contributed. At the beginning, it needs to begin with the staff, being self-reflective practitioners, exploring their own expectations. It also requires the staff to state what the expectations are in the school. This discussion will be the cornerstone to future discussions about everything from curriculum planning to grading to parent/staff relationships. What are the standards that are important in the school?

No more standards!!

Now, I’m not going to give a list of “standards”. We all know we’ve enough of those! Instead, I’m going to look at what students might need to do well as they leave school. From here, you can decide the expectations you have for these.

  1. Communication skills – delivering their message clearly without misconceptions. Much of what we see happening around us is driven by communication. Those who are skilled at it move along much more easily than those who struggle. We all know someone who is very knowledgeable in their field but not a great communicator – hey many of my profs were like this! – and someone who, although not as knowledgeable, was a great communicator and was able to make advancements while the other person seemed to stall. Heck, read the paper and you’ll see examples of this all the time – scam artists are the extreme end of this. Teaching students to communicate their ideas in a variety of formats will be vital to their success. Doing it well may be the key to their success.
  2. Collaborative decision-making and work strategies. Groups are vital to progress – working together to create a product is found in nearly all professions – from construction to high-tech scientific work. Up until now collaborative – group – work has been “done” but there seems to be a lack of focus on learning those essential dynamics for productive collaboration. Really, I collaborate regularly on the weekend with mybuddies while watching a sports event – we have a group, everyone has a role, we have a goal and we usually achieve the goal by the end of the group activity – pizza is all gone, beverages are finished, guy hosting is in trouble with spouse and we leave him to clean up and kiss up. Mission accomplished. However, this isn’t the kind of collaboration that companies are looking for, unless you’re a tester of pizza or beverages. There needs to be direct instruction on effective and non-effective collaboration.
  3. Production of high-quality, new material. Instead of constantly re-inventing essays that can be copied, students need to be able to produce authentic and high-quality end results regardless of what they are doing. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t be able to keep my job if all I did was do D work. In fact, as we become more individually accountable in more and more professions, those who do not understand this will find themselves left behind. Yet the system really doesn’t encourage novel ideas or divergent thinking. Instead, there continues to be a dominate frame of reference that if you “learn” enough information and can then answer the questions on a test, this will do you well for life. Yes, gathering background knowledge is important but I think there are a few more ways to do this.
  4. Solution focus. Problems abound. You don’t have to leave your classroom or office to go find one. They’ll come to you. Mine usually have an attitude, are very unhappy and don’t want to talk. Problems aren’t unique to any profession. How you handle them will set you apart. Knowing how to move past blaming and side-taking and into solution seeking is a skill that students will need to begin to learn. It’s not that we’ll be seeking mastery here – I’m still working on this one! Instead, focusing on the strategies that are used in these situations will help students to see that there are more ways to solve problems than yelling, name-calling, fighting or worse. They may not immediately choose them, they will need guidance and patience, but they need to see them at work.
  5. A global narcissism. By this I mean that instead of looking at what’s good for me, we introduce ideas that focus on global perspectives. Students are mostly “me” focused, it goes with the age. However, by moving through that stage and bringing in more global concepts, the groundwork is there for later development.
  6. Accountablilty for actions. This is one area that I believe we need to work with our communities in order to create a dialogue about people being accountable for what they do. The reason I say communities and not individual parents is because some parents will not join the conversation. However, if there is a community understanding of issues, there is a greater likelihood that there will be a congruence between the school and the community. I often run into this incongruency when it comes to respect or individual actions. The community/school isn’t always at the same point of understanding which can cause problems in regards to certain activities or actions. In this way, actions that are deemed inappropriate at school will be seen as inappropriate in other community venues – the local sporting complex. No bullying/harassment means no bullying/harassment anywhere and not just at school.

These areas, I believe, are keys to helping students develop the skills necessary for becoming successful once they leave school regardless of what they choose to do.

Oh, one more thing. We need to expand our options for students who aren’t ready to be in school. There are a number of students who, for whatever reason, just are not ready to be in school, at least, school as it is now conceived. If there isn’t going to be changes to school structures, then there needs to be some type of option for those students who don’t want to be in school. They find it stupid, a waste of time, irrelevant….. making the life of those around them much more miserable than it needs to be, especially during the teenage years when things aren’t always that hot to begin with. In some way, these students need our most creative thinking and problem solving. Unfortunately, at this time, they usually receive the least. Suspension comes to mind. As an administrator, my options are pretty limited which I find frustrating. Yes, I could create something and work with the local community and the division. However, I have very little life as it is. That’s the rub – wanting to do something without it taking over. Maybe by beginning to discuss expectations, there can be a lead into something else. I don’t have the answer? Any suggestions?