Tagged: community

Thinking Aloud

There are some great minds out there in different circles. Leaders and teachers doing creative things to explore and examine Who we are and Who we want to become. You just have to look at the steady stream of books being published about the importance of people, relationships, community and culture development in schools, and for life in general.

It’s all great stuff!

For inquiring minds, it creates time and space for contemplation and introspection. However, this is only where the seed is planted. The real growth happens when the germination of ideas breaks through the soil to reveal one’s conscious effort and energy to put words into action. Not only to learn more about Who we are, but to understand why we are the way we are.

It all starts with the notion of ‘Working From Within.’ We need to work on ourselves before we expect our culture or community to change. The climate of our culture, environment and community is a direct reflection of who we are as individuals.

Challenge: Over the course of a week, when chatting with people about a concern or issue do an audit on whether the person you’re talking to is doing one of two things:

  1. Looking at external factors or forces to explain or make sense of how things could be better; or,
  2. Looking within to explain or make sense of how things could have been handled differently.

There are many ways you can view the above circles depending on the situation and context.

How can we increase the circle of “What I say to other people,” in the way of honest feedback or challenging negativity without placing pressure or straining the relationship?

While all these books tell us to have radical candor, give feedback, be open and honest…. it’s all great stuff, it really is. In theory. In practice, when feedback is given or there is challenge, the reality is, that after such an interaction, things shift. In the end, we are human.

How can we truly express the things we want to say or more importantly need to be said with grace and honesty, in a way where others understand and the relationship deepens?

We all know of people who are forward and have a steady stream of consciousnesses. We all know of people, who live in their heads and keep it locked there. And then there is everything in-between.

Right now, it feels like (it is like) we are always skimming the surface. We talk a big game, yet we’re constantly traversing and balancing our weight on a tight rope filtering through these circles.

Is it just in schools that it is like this? A lot of us have never left school in the way of a being a student and then coming back as a work place. I wonder what it is like in the police force, hospitals, business firms, law office, construction site……….

It’s not what we say to people, it’s how we say it. Easy to say, more difficult to do.

Developing a culture starts with you. Parts to the whole. What is one thing you’re going to do to be true to your inner thoughts?

 

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A Mindful School (with 1 l)

What is a mindful School? Let’s narrow that a bit to satisfy our learning context…..

“What does a mindful School do to promote mindfulness?”

This can mean many different things and seeking clarity on defining this would be an inquiry worth exploring together as a School. For the purpose of bringing this even closer to the middle, what does this mean when thinking about prioritizing and synthesizing the things that should matter in School.

In essence, the below points was a process we went through in determining the Time Space Philosophy. What really matters and where should we be putting our intellectual energy?

Being mindful all boils down to having the capacity and wisdom to listen.

Never underestimate the power of listening. Recruiting and harnessing that power of listening has the potential to unlock a cornucopia of ideas, emotion and thinking. This process promotes a lot of soul searching by being introspective and extrospective. It allows us to listen to ourselves and the things (people) around us. We either get caught up in our own internal existence or other external forces…… and a lot of the time – both, depending on the situation.

How can we delineate between our ‘perceptions’ of what we think is happening, against the ‘reality’ of what is happening? And how does this distort our choices and actions in what drives and motivates us to do what is right, fair or ethical, with everyone and everything in mind? How can that mindfulness influence the things that matter or where our attention should be fixed on?

Listening.

Raw and honest listening, without fear or judgment.

Stumbling over this Philosophy still stands the test of time. These are as true now as they were when first written, all those years ago. Taking the time to connect again and recognizing my own growth (and failings) in these is such an invigorating and timely reminder about being true to our beliefs and values and why it is important to breathe life into them. For us, bringing them into focus again is important. We recognize that importance, so these can once again manifest and transpire in ways that create the best learning environment and conditions for teachers and students to thrive and flourish.

I just shared these with our Primary teachers, asking if anyone is interested in exploring these to examine what, how and why we do what we do. How seeking simplicity will bring us back to our purpose. And coming up with ideas to make these work effectively for our School community. The response was overwhelmingly positive and full of gratitude and appreciation.

This has now led us to use these to guide our own inquiry into how we can be and do better. Working from within, just as we do with students. After our Pi Mai break we are going to do an eight week inquiry into finding ways to take tangible action. Already some ideas are floating around such as having once a month Barbecues at School to socialize and interact…. another idea is that we create the timetable for next year…..and on and on.

We have no idea where this is heading or what the outcome(s) will be. And that is the exciting part. Having teachers feel united and lead an inquiry to plan and prepare for 2018-2019 is incredibly energizing and motivating!

Listening to the things that are important and then working together can only result in one thing. Developing a Culture of trust. A culture where people feel valued and respected to be part of the growing and learning. Being part of the decisions as everything we do ripples. Taking action that empowers us.  And having the fortitude and humility to listen to one another, because we know that is where the real power lies – inside all of us to create a mindful School! A School that we co-constructed together as we amplified voice and listened carefully.

How would these ripple out in your School?

What do you think about these as important elements in creating a mindful School?

  • The world is increasingly rushed, frantic and discordant. Most schools have become this way too, many of them even worse than the world outside their walls.
  • Nothing powerful, creative or innovative ever happens in a rush.
  • Allowing teachers and students to focus on “now” rather than always thinking about the next thing.
  • Removing as many things as you can from school calendars that have nothing to do withimproving learning.
  • Being strong in your beliefs when working with parents.
  • Being creative with the timetable – giving yourselves the time to be creative with the timetable – so that time is used effectively.
  • Fostering a culture in the school of making explicit connections between time and improving learning.
  • Making it unacceptable for school leadership to allow themselves to lose touch with how teachers use their time compared with how they use theirs.
  • Looking for opportunities to free up time, not fill up time.
  • Working continuously with school boards to help them see the difference between positive andnegative approaches to time.
  • Honesty about the role time plays in putting peer-to-peer relationships under strain.
  • Practical ways to remove administrative tasks that don’t improve learning.
  • Creative strategies to encourage a general sense of “slowing down”.
  • Recognising and celebrating mindfulness and its impact on behavior and learning.

Take your situations… and turn them into learning

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We are renovating the outdoor space in our Early Explorers area. Because of a number of practical issues, the work is being done while we are at school.

This is obviously quite a disturbance, and also has an impact on the space that is available to the students for outside play.

This could be very annoying and could be a cause of stress to teachers… and therefore to students too.

However, all situations that come up around us can easily be opportunities to learn – if we allow them to be. We can choose to be unhappy about such things – like bad weather, powercuts, big events, things not working, disturbances, distractions, unforeseen circumstances etc… or we can choose to make them part of the learning. Very often, these opportunities lead to much powerful learning than we could ever have planned for!

This week, our Early Explorers teachers “lifted the curtain” on the construction work that is going on in their playground. Not only were the students fascinated by it, they were also invited to help out! So, suddenly you have a group of four-year-olds rendering a real building, using real tools and real materials. The man supervising the construction was so excited about this that he is going to continue to look for simple, safe ways that the students can be a part of the construction work.”They are the next generation of adults” he said, clearly imagining a whole group of young architects or builders in the next twenty years!

Naturally, the experience has provoked all sorts of play, art and questions in the Early Explorers classrooms… and teachers are planning many ways to take them further.

So, next time there’s a thunderstorm… open the windows and see how your students react. Next time something breaks your routine or disrupts your usual plans… run with it. See what effect it has on the learning… a different type of learning than the one you had in mind! As you become more comfortable with this, perhaps… in the future… you might start actively seeking these opportunities.

Oh… and p.s… this doesn’t only apply to early years teachers.

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Time for the world of education to be bold

I recently gave this talk at the Learning2 Conference in Manila. What I am basically saying is that things need to change, that we need sudden and urgent change in the world and that schools – if we stop deluding ourselves – can be a powerful source of that change.

There are many things about life today that we passively continue to accept:

  • that success = money
  • that waste is OK
  • that pollution is inevitable
  • that destruction = progress
  • that new is best
  • that media = truth
  • that Hollywood represents social/cultural ideals
  • that school = work
  • that education is the key
  • that its OK for technology to lead the way
  • that we have no control over the future

I could go on… its really interesting to start a list like that! However, its more interesting, and indeed sobering, to look at education and schools through those lenses and to see just how much we perpetuate the things in the list, to see how much we transfer those ways of thinking to kids.

In my talk, I use the metaphor of moulds… and I think I can take this idea one step further by saying that moulds help us to play it safe. I think schools persistently play it safe – we go about our daily existences in fear of persecution from parents, governing bodies, governments, testing companies, universities, media companies, big business, religious groups etc… As a result, not only have we become passive, we have also become rather bland.

I challenge any school to seriously reflect on its impact on society. Has it made a positive impact? Has it made a negative impact? Has it made any impact at all? What is it doing about that?

Everybody goes through school. People’s school “careers” define their futures. So, what kind of futures are we defining? Do we know? Can we be bothered to find out? Are our alumni making a positive impact on society?

These are HUGE questions. But, surely its time to start trying to find out, trying to discover what our actual impact is as perpetuators of the status quo or as agents of change.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not happy with the status quo.

Creating Studio Classrooms

A couple of years ago, I made a posting and video about  the power of setting up classrooms to suit the nature of the learning going on at the time. The context, at that time, was visual art and each student was involved in their own visual art project. They were artists. Turning the classrooms into art studios was a natural step towards making them really feel like artists.

You can do this for any context.

In this clip, the Grade 5 classrooms at my school are becoming art studios and the students are creating their own workspaces and innovation boards. One student said “its organized… but its organized in our own way”.

Schools and the bigger picture

A school is a part of a wider system, a bigger picture.

But what is that bigger picture?

How does your school reflect the systems, cultures, communities and directions that lie outside the school… and what role does the school play in those?

I wonder if many of the international schools we work in have anything at all to do with the bigger picture of the city, community or culture they are part of. I also wonder if they reflect that bigger picture too much!

Imagine, as I am at the moment, that our schools represented and lived up to the ideals and visions that were espoused in their mission statements. Can we truly say that we see those ideals and visions being reflected in society as a whole when we step outside the school gates? If a school is an idealistic island surrounded by the ills of society, is it truly going to have any effect on the world around it? Indeed, it may be more true that those ills are equally present in our schools. And, soberingly, the very existence of the school may depend on the presence and perpetuation of those ills.

I’ll leave you to decide what they are…

Mission impossible?

After the first few pages of the book I started reading yesterday, I was already questioning the way my profession works – I work in international schools which are all committed by their mission statements to making the world a better place.

The story begins on a rubbish dump in an Asian city and follows a family that ekes out an existence by sifting through everyone’s waste.

People live that type of life in all of the cities and countries in which international schools exist. As they make their way to another day of “making the world a better place”, our students pass those people without noticing they exist. Let’s not kid ourselves either… most teachers do too. You see, I am not sure we are all doing this in order to improve the world… I have a sneaky suspicion that we’re doing it for the domestic help, the incredible lifestyle and the exotic holidays. Luxuries possible only because of the massive divide between rich and poor.

Many of our schools perpetuate that divide. Many offer zero scholarships. Many pay their local staff so little that they are desperate for overtime just to survive. Many have deplorable environmental practices. Many make no real expectation that members of its community will ever really look or see beyond their own needs.

I wonder when we will start to see the evidence of the world being a better place because of our schools. I wonder when we will see these big, wealthy establishments putting their money where their mouths are. I wonder when we will stop tolerating the things we know are going on around us and actually do something about it. I wonder when we will stop waiting for the world to be a better place and actually make an effort to have an impact.

I wonder when we will go and get that family from the rubbish dump, give them a home and a job and educate their child. “Oh, but we can’t do that for every family” is the predictable opt-out clause for that one, of course. But, we can do it for one family… which is better than doing it for none. Maybe then our mission statements will be possible, visible and tangible and not just some lofty, ambiguous ideal that we will never really be accountable for.

Children who attend international schools should be the luckiest children around. Not because the schools have the best facilities and because they get to go to a tropical beach at the weekend. They should be lucky because they are surrounded by reality, a reality that is often beautiful but in need of attention. They should be lucky because they live in places where it is possible to make a difference. They should be lucky to know how good that feels.

Children learn by doing. What exactly is it that we have them doing towards making our mission statements real?