Lifelong Learners

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As an educator, we need to be armed with a hefty toolbox of resources, including our own skills, knowledge, strategies, experiences, behaviours, and opinions. We also need to be able to breed motivation when children seemingly have no desire to learn. We are sometimes challenged to inspire boys and girls with engaging learning opportunities that are relevant to their everyday lives, and we must be able to create welcoming and encouraging learning spaces that are tailored to suit their needs in order for them to take risks with their learning.

Most importantly, I believe we need to instil the belief that learning doesn’t end. To become lifelong learners is something that we all must preach and practise. I feel this is particularly important as an educator as we are the ones fortunate to be involved in the learning experiences of so many children year after year. We lead by example, and for those of my colleagues who have reached the ‘end’ of their most recent learning journey, I implore you to keep the momentum going throughout your professional practise.

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(Longworth & Davies, 1996, p. 22)

Immerse yourself within an inspiring community of professionals and continue to widen your network (virtual and otherwise) as the years progress. Give back to your community and share what you can with others, whether that be encouragement and support right through to your professional advice. Most of all, remember that we are a part of the largest group of professionals on the planet, so you are not alone! You just need to keep moving forward, as both a teacher and a learner.

Happy teaching!

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This post is dedicated to a cohort of educators who are preparing to cross a virtual threshold this evening as they submit their ideas, suggestions, and hopes for future learning spaces. If their experience in discovering the possibilities of learning spaces in education was anything like mine, then the past several months would have been eye-opening, challenging, inspiring, and worthwhile. Good luck to everyone with your future endeavours, and thank you for allowing me to be a part of your experience.  

LONGWORTH, NORMAN, and DAVIES, W. KEITH. 1996. Lifelong Learning: New Vision, New Implications, New Roles for People, Organizations, Nations and Communities in the 21st Century. London: Kogan Page.

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Where does change begin?

In the past few weeks I have had the privileged opportunity of participating in a community of teachers and discussing the role of educators today. Part of these conversations revolved around learning spaces, what they are, who they are for, and why teachers need to have a sound understanding of them in order to maximise the student experience. This alone makes for stimulating conversation.

However, one final comment from my mentor has once again left me pondering (as so often they do). He was commenting on the understanding that we are all aware that education has the power and ability to change lives. Yet, he encouraged us to remember this:

you are an arbiter of that change – do not leave it to others when it can be you who makes the change!” (Staples, 2016)

So often we feel that there are other people more qualified to make significant change. They are more capable, more skilled, more available, more experienced, more dedicated, than us. However, the reality is that as educators, we all have that power every single day that we are in contact with our students. What we choose to study with them, the conversations we choose to have, the experiences we choose to provide them with, and the global awareness we choose to bring into our classrooms will all contribute to make change.

We are the ones who are qualified to do this because we are educators. We are part of a global network of educators who have the ability to have a powerful and positive impact on the students we come in contact with. It is from this global network that some incredible professionals make a decision to make an enormous change to their daily lives in order to bring about change for others.

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https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/22/isle-of-wight-superhead-running-makeshift-school-for-refugees

However, as an everyday teacher (and I mean this with no disrespect whatsoever) it may seem that we are not able to solve the educational crises we see around the world, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t (and don’t!) have an impact. The knowledge, skills, understanding, and behaviours that we assist our students to develop will add to how they choose to interact as members of a global society in years to come.

We will touch the lives of countless students during our time as educators, and it is important that we realise that even though it may seem that we are not the ones teaching the children from the most dire of circumstances, we still have the privilege to be the arbiter of change through the choices we make for ourselves, our students, and our professional networks, and our school community.

So, take a moment to enjoy being a member of one of the world’s largest professional groups and make the decision that change will start with you.

Happy teaching!

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References:

Staples, A. (2016, October 30, 13:18). Online forum: Final week.

“Generation Standstill”

I have had the opportunity to revisit the Syrian refugee crisis over the past few weeks for study purposes. After looking into it intently almost a year ago, and then revisiting it in May of this year, it is somewhat disheartening to see that although some progress is being made, there is still an awfully long way to go.

Throughout my latest research, I came across a documentary about Syrian refugees titled “Generation Standstill”. The title immediately resonated with me as it perfectly and succinctly captures the precise dilemma faced by millions of Syrian refugee children. Not only have they lost the tangible and familiar objects of their past, but they are being robbed of their futures as well. Globally, the UNHCR reported just last month that over half of the world’s refugee children (3.7 million) have no school to go to.  Adding to the problem is the rapid rise in worldwide refugee numbers, including children. In 2014 alone, the refugee school-age population grew by 30%, meaning that an additional 12,000 classrooms and 20,000 teachers would be needed annually to meet the demand (UNHCR, 2016). 

The conflict in Syria has reversed the positive educational trends that the country once enjoyed, with school enrolments dropping from 90% in 2009 to only 60% in June this year (UNHCR, 2016). That 30% drop means that 2.1 million children in Syria are without education. Every. Single. Day…..Indefinitely.

For those who have fled Syria, only 39% of Syrian school-aged and adolescent refugee are enrolled in schools in Turkey, 40% in Lebanon, and 70% in Jordan. These numbers equate to a further 900,000 children accessing education. Every. Single. Day….Indefinitely (UNHCR, 2016).

So, where does education fit in within a liminal space for those who are now part of “Generation Standstill”? UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, states “As the international community considers how best to deal with the refugee crisis, it is essential that we think beyond basic survival. Education enables refugees to positively shape the future of both their countries of asylum and their home countries when they one day return.” (UNHCR, 2016).

One thing that has remained constant over the course of my 15 months of reflecting on the Syrian refugee crisis is the reluctance of many countries to actively work to address it. It is evident that the task at hand is too great for Syria’s neighbouring countries, and some countries have gone above and beyond in terms of welcoming refugees and assisting them to settle, recover, assimilate and start new lives. However, the silence of others is deafening.

There are challenges for Syrian children to attend education. Some are turned away from schools for not having the necessary paperwork even though legislations states they are able to attend. Others are concerned for their safety when commuting through parts of large refugee camps or foreign countries, or suffer bullying whilst struggling through language barriers. Ohers spend their days, seven days a week, being the sole breadwinner for their families, cutting their education short in order for their family to survive. It is time that the future of learning spaces for refugees adequately addresses these challenges. My mentor suggested mobile education – education that comes to the children. Another suggestion I considered was education via television, as many have access to a very basic television, even in some of the most appalling living conditions. Many others before me have discussed the benefits of education via online channels. All of these are worthy of being considered if there is the chance that children can begin preparing for their future again.

So, what can we do when we are not there to help firsthand? What can I do, here in Melbourne? What can you do? Take an interest. As an educator, educate your students to the realities of what life is like for children around the world, refugees and otherwise. With awareness often comes action. We want to ensure that the children whom we are educating today will make informed and empathetic decisions when interacting within their global society. Furthermore, we want the students in our classrooms to understand that refugee education “is one of the few opportunities we have to transform and build the next generation so they can change the fortunes of the tens of millions of forcibly displaced people globally” (Grandi, UNHCR, 2016).

And in the meantime, we want to do all that is within our own power not allow “Generation Standstill” to lose both their pasts and their futures. We wouldn’t allow it for our own children, so why should we allow it for any child, any where?

Happy teaching!

Practise what you preach!!

As educators, we are constantly asking our students to try new things, take risks, make mistakes, bounce back, and try again. And we do this for good reason. We know that growth is achieved through challenging and extending our learners. But, (there’s always a ‘but’), why do we so often find ourselves reluctant to do the same thing ourselves? We are educators and we know what steps need to be taken to achieve new skills and knowledge, but when it comes to putting it into practise for ourselves, somehow we suffer from stage fright and aren’t quite sure we can do what we are asked to. Why is it so uncomfortable to try new challenges and take risks ourselves when we are the cheerleaders for these growth mindsets in our own classrooms?

I have wondered whether this is because we are comfortable with the status quo and therefore don’t believe the reward (ie. new skills and knowledge) is worth the risk (ie. failure, embarrassment, time ‘wasted’)? However, even when the learning is connected to skills or knowledge that we want to master, we are often still reluctant to try something new.

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As adults, particularly as educators, we are accustomed to being the ones that guide or initiate the learning and challenges. We are not necessarily the one with all the answers, but we are certainly seen as the ones in charge. And it can be unsettling to loosen that grip on our own self-image and change from master to novice again. However, in order to continue our own development, it is crucial that we actually put into practise the learning behaviours that we preach as it is virtually impossible to achieve new growth following our old patterns. (There’s a reason there is a very famous quote about this phenomenon – you are not alone in being hesitant to take risks or trying something new. And neither are your students!)

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As an educator who was recently involved in a lot of professional development, I have a newfound respect for our ability to continually challenge, upgrade, and sometimes totally reinvent ourselves. That isn’t to say that the process was always easy (spoiler alert – it wasn’t!). But, it was absolutely worth it. I didn’t always master everything. I certainly didn’t always master things on the first go. I had to let my guard down, be prepared to enter the area so many of us avoid at all costs – a liminal space – unknown territory.

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However, just as we expect our students to evolve and attempt new challenges, we, too, need to be willing to do the same. As an educator, when it is our turn to try something new and your inner voice starts to whisper words of self-doubt and express a fears of failure, this is your chance to put on your best teacher voice and be your own best support. What would you say to your students if they shared the same worries and concerns with you? You would tell them with confidence, patience, and belief that they should just have a try, that you would be there to support them, and that you knew that they would come out the other side having achieved some element of new learning.

So, when you are in the position to extend your own skills and knowledge, remember to be kind to yourself, but never sell yourself short. Flip the knee-jerk panic reaction that you may be personally experiencing and treat it as if it was coming from one of your students. Be supportive of your own learning, lean on those around you who can guide you, and just have a go. You may just amaze yourself with what you are capable of.

Happy teaching!

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Being on the precipice of change

Change. It does strange things to people. Some people thrive on change. They seek it out, deliberately trying to bring excitement, newness, adventure or difference to their day-to-day lives. Others avoid it at all costs. For some, even the smallest change can be enough to disturb their inner sense of self, their understanding of their world and/or their ability to cope or function, and as such, change is feared and avoided at all costs.

Whether we are able to cope with change or not, the irony is that change is one of the few constant things that joins us on our path throughout our lives. There are the obvious physical changes that we all go through as we age from newborn to adulthood. There are the intellectual changes that we progress through, some though formal learning and others through lessons of life. Then there are also the emotional changes that we experience, and some may argue that these are perhaps the most influential of all, particularly when it comes to how we perceive future changes.

Being on the threshold of change can be cause for emotional turmoil, particularly if you are unsure what that change is actually going to be, such as in the case of many of the Syrian refugees I have been studying lately. However, being on the threshold of a known change, whether a change by choice or by necessity, can also be cause for a similar response. Some people say it is the waiting, the not knowing, that is the worst. Preparing for the unknown. Very few people crave uncertainty. But, it is part of life. So, how do we help our students cope with it?

There are many variations of a popular quote, but ultimately I see this as a way of trying to intellectually remind ourselves to try and reduce the impact of our impulsive, emotional responses to liminal spaces.

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After studying just some of what the Syrian refugees in Za’atari are coping with, I would argue that sometimes it IS about what has happened to you. But, I would also agree that how you react matters as well. The most inspiring things about the Za’atari refugee camp was the ability whereby so many people displayed a commitment to overcoming their adversity and to making steps towards their inevitable changes becoming positive ones. This is no easy feat, especially given the dire state of affairs and limited resources at their disposal.

On a slightly different tangent, I have also seen the enormous challenges that my own son, who has autism, has had at times with change. With a great deal of guidance and tuition, he has learnt tools to help him cope with change. He has gotten particularly good at coping with the little, annoying changes that may not even bother many people, but they are ones that are significant enough to come up on his radar and disturb his emotional-balance at that moment. He is now able to reduce the emotional impact of these and concentrate on how he reacts instead. Not always, but a lot more than he used to be able to do.

However, one thing he still struggles with, as do so many others (whether they be on the autism spectrum or not), are the long, drawn-out changes. The ones where we aren’t sure what is actually going to happen. The ones with no definitive answer….yet. The liminal spaces filled with ambiguity and uncertainty. It is during these times that we often rely on our own inner voice to reassure us that we can get to the other side in one piece. For my son, that is when he needs others to become his inner voice to quiet his fears. For many Syrian refugees, I believe it is similar – they need citizens around the world to demonstrate that we will help alleviate their fears about the changes they are forced to face.

As an educator, perhaps how we approach change in our classrooms can help equip our students with some of the tools they will need now and in their futures. Liminal spaces, or being on the threshold of the unknown, offers an opportunity for a person to reflect and evaluate what is important to them and for them as they prepare to react and move forward. Perhaps if we encouraged our students to look inwards during times of uncertainty we could help guide their inner voice to react in a way that offers optimism and confidence. This would offer chances to highlight and remind students of past times when they were faced with, and coped with, change.

If we could assist students dealing with change to not view it as unavoidable, annoying part of life, but rather as an opportunity to learn about ourselves and our incredible abilities to transform (even without noticing), imagine how this might prepare them for the changes they will face throughout their futures?

Change is the essence

 

A mindmap for Za’atari’s future learning spaces

I found it useful to use a mind map to highlight areas that need to be considered and addressed whilst developing useful and meaningful learning spaces which respond to the educational and developmental needs of the children in Za’atari.

Mind Map

 

I am an educator. My hope for the children of Za’atari.

What can I do for a child

with innocence lost

whose young eyes have seen things they should not?

 

What can I do for a child

watching with a guarded stare

whose life has been changed, seemingly beyond repair?

 

What can I do for a child

filled with anger and fear

who no longer believes in dreams once held dear?

 

What can I do for a child

whose despair is shared by the faces they see

who begins to forget the child once filled with curiosity?

 

I am an educator

I strive to open minds and touch hearts

but we must transform these spaces so we can all take part.

 

I am an educator

I promise to show patience, kindness and empathy

in an effort to remind you that you are important to me.

 

I am an educator

I will offer you a safe space to learn and grow

where you can remember how to dream and strive for more.

 

I am an educator

I will encourage you to reflect and explore

so that you, too, can stretch beyond these limits that should not be your ‘norm’.

 

I am an educator

I will be here for you every step of the way

and we will work together for you to find hope again one day.

 

 

By Kayri Shanahan