The Power of the SDG’s

This was originally posted in authors personal blog Empower 2 Be…

Now, let me start by highlighting a few embarrassing admissions…1. I am not a vegan or vegetarian but fully believe we all should be, 2. while I believe in the fair treatment for all living things I do NOT do enough to make this happen! 3. I know I should recycle and do everything I can to protect our environment but I am often LAZY and don’t make it a high enough priority! I don’t mind people being on their “soapboxes” about the above issues because we need more of the world to be sharing those boxes if we want to improve the mess that we have made!

In short, I am the biggest factor as to why the world is in the physical state it is in. Now I am not saying that I am the singular cause for all the devastation but I am part of the problem…the reason being that I am not an anomaly…in fact, I will put it out there and say I think I may be a sad example of the norm. I WANT to do more, I KNOW I should do more, BUT I DON’T!

As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP) teacher for the last 15 years, action has always been part of the plan. Getting our students to take action and DO SOMETHING from what they have learned in class. My big issue with this has always been that this action has normally been teacher initiated OR forced OR superficial OR a one-off event OR inauthentic OR ABSENT altogether! It has always been a challenge for me…how do I bring this great learning that is happening and enable the students to recognize the action they can take that is both authentic and sustainable?

In 2015 the United Nations did educators all around the world a HUGE favour! They released the Sustainable Development Goals…the SDG’s! At first, I wasn’t aware of the power that these 17 ambitious goals had but 3 years later (has it only been 3 years?) classroom teaching has changed forever!

ผลการค้นหารูปภาพสำหรับ SDG's

What started off 3 years ago as forcing connections between what we are doing in the classroom to the SDG’s is now a case of units changing and evolving as we see ways that we can make more authentic opportunities for our students to see the power that they have as leaders in helping the world achieve these goals! What started off being a blanket decision of “all grade levels will connect at least two units to an SDG throughout the year” has now resulted in many grade levels connected all of their units and representing ALL of the 17 SDG’s throughout the school year.

I am lucky to work in a school that has adopted the SDG’s as a leading force to all that we do. The SDG’s are up around the school, EVERYWHERE! We hosted the first IB Regional Conference that was themed around the SDG’s and ALL students, from the 3-year-olds in Discovery to the 18-year-olds doing the diploma, are exposed to them. The result is that 3 years in I am no longer having to “introduce” my 4th graders to the SDG’s as they already know them! We are now able to take our knowledge and build on it and use our voices to work towards them.

Here are some ideas that my students wanted me to share:

  • start up a group of “SDG Guardians” in your school! Warriors, who come together every week and discuss and implement ways to spread the word of the SDG’s throughout the school and local community #SDGguardians
  • challenge your students to implement Teaspoons of Change
  • facilitate the inquiry of your students learning about the SDG’s! What can they find? What do they connect with?
  • have your older students make SDG board games to play with your younger grade levels that will teach them about the goals and what they can be doing
  • connect with Teach SDG’s to find more ways to embed the SDG’s into your classrooms #teachSDGs
  • have your PYPx students work towards an SDG for their exhibition! Challenge them…can their work lead to a sustainable change?
  • empower your students to look around the school and find changes that can be made towards different SDG’s (for example…is your school still laminating? What is all this plastic doing to the ocean?)
  • connect with NGO’s and organizations in your community who are working towards one or more of the SDG’s…how can you work together to make a bigger impact?
  • incorporate the design cycle and inquiry cycle into their learning process…can the design cycle be part of the “taking it further” with the inquiry cycle?

What I have noticed in the last three years is that the more student agency I enable the more sustainable and meaningful the connections the students are making! Last year our 4th graders were able to choose the SDG they felt the most passionate about. They created a social enterprise and used their profits from their market day to work toward making their action proposal a reality! (see my previous blog post for more information!) This year it has been incredible to hear that some of these students have continued on with what they started, in grade 5 and are running bake sales and lemonade stands at school and in the local dog park, to continue working with the NGO they connected with in grade 4.

 

I have noticed that each year the students come in with a greater understanding of the SDG’s and a more heightened motivation to take action! We have students advocating for equal rights for girls and boys on the soccer pitch and meeting with the athletics department, students convincing peers to purchase bamboo straws as prizes for their SDG game rather than candy because the candy is wrapped in plastic, making recycling boxes for the classrooms, marching in the local LGBT parade to support equality for all…the list grows every year! To me, this is the power of a “whole school approach”! If the message is the same every year and the approach is through empowering self-initiated action NOT forced teacher-driven tasks, our learners will learn what power they actually possess to make a change!

As an educator and a facilitator of learning for my class of little humans, it is MY responsibility to ignite in them a passion to take action and make changes so that they don’t become another me! They need to DO more, ACT better and INSPIRE the older, and younger, generations to make a change!

Advertisements

The Untouchables

Sometimes the things that need to be questioned the most, are the things we feel we’re least able to question. The parts of the education system that carry the guise of being ingrained, natural, and untouchable. Things that have “always been” and things that will “always be”.

Like:

– grade levels

– curriculum

– assessment

– reporting

– timetables

– units

– classes

– classrooms

But if we really want to pursue more agency for students and shift the current paradigm of education, then maybe these are the very things that we should be critically questioning, challenging and re-imagining.

Sometimes this is difficult to do because these human-created systems have seemed to almost calcify overtime to the point where it’s hard to figure out how to remove them, or change them.

But if we ask ourselves George Couros’ famous question…

(Image source – Principal of Change Blog)

… with the intent of creating a place that respects and supports each student’s agency as a learner and a human being and supports the processes of learning as they naturally occur… would those elements and structures be part of the design?

How can we stop seeing these elements as untouchables and start having critical conversations about:

the purpose they serve, or perhaps don’t serve…

the way they support learning, or perhaps inhibit learning

the way the help students flourish, or perhaps prevent students from flourishing

the impact they have, or perhaps their unintended side-effects...

I’m not saying that they’re all bad (or that any of them are bad) I’m just saying that making an informed choice as an education community about the structures and systems we choose to have to support learners and the process of learning, is very different than passively accepting elements of the educational paradigm that have been passed down, or passed off as “untouchable”.

Which “untouchable” elements of the current education paradigm do YOU think need to be critically questioned?

What’s worth learning?

Recently I gathered a group of volunteers from Grades 4 and 5 to help me look at our strategic plans for the coming year. We had identified three areas of focus (space, community, engagement) and I asked the students for their ideas, suggestions, questions, wonderings, thoughts and opinions for each area. There were so many inspiring and thought provoking statements that have caused me to pause and reflect. But today I’d like to look at one line of comments they wrote down, “we always have the same subjects… more variety/options.” I asked our learners what they meant by this and they asked me why school is always about English, Math and History? They wanted to know why couldn’t they learn about other areas like Psychology, Design, Carpentry, Mechanics, Video Games, Robots and Statistics.

I’ve been thinking about these questions and statements over the past few weeks. And I am stumped. Why can’t we learn about these other areas? Why do we tend to focus on just a few subjects? Do our units of inquiry allow enough breadth? How do we know what we need to learn and teach? Is it still relevant for today?

What is worth learning?

As I thought about this I saw a Twitter post (with linked blog post) by Eric Sheninger that made me think further about what might be worth learning:

Screen Shot 2018-04-23 at 12.17.23 PM

The skills listed refer to jobs of the future as outlined by the World Economic Forum: “advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology, and genomics.”

Are skills what is worth learning? Is that what we should be really focusing on? Then what about knowledge? While I can see the math and science within each of these future jobs I do not see the point of learning these subjects in isolation. Should we be looking at more opportunities for transdisciplinary learning?

And so once again I return to the question posed by our students, what about other areas of study? And therefore what’s worth learning? I am beginning to wonder what are we teaching? And do we focus too much on what we think should be the learning?

Sugata Mitra said in his TED Talk, Build a School in the Cloud, “I think we need a curriculum of big questions… but we’ve lost sight of those wondrous questions. We’ve brought it down to the tangent of an angle.” Are we focusing too much on the “facts” that need to be learned and not enough on the passion of learning?

The Teacher Questions in a PYP Unit of Inquiry are often written last and many times as an oversight. But without really good questions where is the inspiration for curiosity? We have determined what should be learned and we have the scope and sequence (or curriculum objectives, standards, benchmarks) to back us up. But have we considered what’s really worth learning and what will inspire our learners to think creatively and discover their passions?

When we plan our Units of Inquiry we write Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry as statements of what we think our learners should understand and inquire into. These inquiries have to fall under one of six Transdisciplinary Themes. Is this too confining, is it really all that is worth knowing? Does it allow for voice, choice and ownership?

Can we forget about the scope and sequence, the planned units and focus instead on wondering, questioning, discovering? Can we accept that children will learn even without adult intervention and curriculum objectives? Aaron Browder suggests in his article, “Can we stop obsessing about learning,” that we can and I am inspired by this idea.

But I also wonder how our learners will discover what they don’t know? How will they learn if they are unaware of the options for learning? If we never introduce them to multiplication will they figure it out, if they do how much time will be spent on the journey, is it worth it?

slide1
From: https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/dojo/lessons/not-sure-about-uncertainty

rumsfeld-unknown-unknowns-752x284

From: https://poststatus.com/known-knowns-known-unknowns-and-unknown-unknowns/ 

So if the purpose of school is not to teach bits of knowledge that can be found through any good Internet search, is it to teach subjects that would never be learned in isolation outside of school? Or is school a place of wonder, where we discover ? A place where passions are born and students learn how to learn? Sugata Mitra said it best:

“It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

Let’s look at how we can set the process in motion, how we can inspire and provoke and question. How we can show our learners their unknown unknowns? Let’s reconsider what’s worth learning

From Followers to Learners

from-followers-to-learners-1-e1524400967683.jpgIn my teacher preparation program we were taught to comply with “best practice” for lesson planning as determined by the public sector of education.  This meant extensive lesson plans created to ensure preparation by the teacher to engage students in learning specified content.

Let me say that again….

Extensive lesson plans created to ensure preparation by the teacher to engage students in learning specified content.

I was expected to know how to differentiate for diverse needs of all my students. I met this expectation by thoughtfully planning scaffolds, modifications and strategies for various student needs. For my first formal observation in student teaching my lesson plan for one 40 minute period was 8 pages long.

That’s correct…. 8 pages.

I planned for what I was going to say, what students were going to say and do- the entire process of learning according to me. This sort of detailed differentiated lesson planning is considered best practice in many education circles. It’s actually what is expected in many teacher training programs and schools.

With all the planning and focus on differentiating for content delivery, I left little wiggle room for students. There was no space in my plan for student questions, interests or any exploration of the concepts beyond what I knew or told them.

And then came Ms. C’s feedback. Ms. C was my cooperating teacher who was graciously overseeing my development as a student teacher for 5 months.

Ms. C’s feedback was in a different language juxtaposed to that of my first formal program evaluation. In response to my 8 page lesson plan, Ms. C wrote, “You’re great at stifling students in overly structured lessons saturated with content that you deliver. How would you feel if you were in the desk chair during this lesson?”

Ouch. Just ouch.

The beautiful part is that there is so much growth in pain. Ms. C ignited the fire in me to begin a transformational reflection journey- and for that I am forever grateful.

What if instead of me doing all the work to plan completely structured lessons to deliver content, I spent more time understanding the learners and helping them understand the learning goal?

Cue paradigm shift. My entire philosophy and purpose as a teacher began an instrumental change even before I was a “teacher”.

As a teacher to be, I was becoming conditioned by a system to create perfectly structured learning experiences for students. Upon reflecting I was forced to consider exactly what I was taking away from learners by creating those very learning experiences.

The answer was pretty blatant. When I was doing all of the work in planning, I was also doing all of the learning.

I believed in planning and the necessity of differentiation. But, I also wondered… if I create all the steps for learners to be successful, where is the learning process? Will students be able transfer the scaffolds I create for them to different scenarios?

In my quest to answer these questions I found that when the teacher does the cognitive work, finds the resources, and plans the steps for learning- students are walking down a predetermined path…. as followers.

How egotistical is it to think that all students will succeed with my scaffolds, learning process, and differentiated plan… for them.

Meaningful learning is a process that isn’t perfectly structured or completely planned for. It involves learners setting up the process through which they learn. Can they do this naturally? Not that I’ve seen… without support. Teachers support by setting up processes with students for them to learn, not by processing learning for students to follow.

This is where my journey began. From followers to learners. It begins with the teacher; a mindset shift.

“Management of Students” to “Advocating for Learners”

19 tally marks in my notebook.

That’s the number of times the word “management / managing” was used in a 30 minute meeting to describe a student of concern.

19 times.

I rushed to my desk with angry tears and clamored to pull up Rita Pierson’s, “Every kid needs a champion“. This is my strategy for dealing with the silenced rebel in my head; assurance that my thoughts and perspective is not unique. I am not alone.

After Rita, I looked up the definition of management.

The process of dealing with or controlling things or people. Synonyms: dominate, maintain, regulate, oversee, handle.

19 times.

Call me crazy, but none of those words would be my choice to associate with students, learners or education. Certainly not words I would associate with agency in the context of learning.

Sometimes I just wish I could scream in frustration at the irony seeping through disguised as “here for the kids”, and “in (insert student name)’s best interest”.

What if instead of “managing students” we shifted our mindset to “advocating for learners”?

What if we advocated for our learner’s roles, rights and responsibilities instead of trying to “manage” them?

What if we focused our energy on insisting our “problem” students become the best they can be?

They can be.

Not what we can (choose management synonym: dominate, maintain, regulate, oversee, handle) them to be.

Some learners will not fit our predetermined mold or our idea of a “traditional student”.

What if instead of trying to control them to fit our boxes, labels and expectations- we advocated for them to be…. them.

The best version they can be- of them.

What if?