Mumbai – Being the Change

Mahatma Gandhi - Be the change

I’ve been back from my trip to Mumbai for about a week now, so it’s probably about time I get some thoughts down on paper (or nearest virtual equivalent) before those thoughts drop out of my mind completely. “Teach for Australia” is part of a global network of organisations who all essentially do the same thing: put graduates into schools in disadvantaged communities. This network (Teach for All) had their big annual conference/workshop thingy, and somehow my application to go was successful. The conference was in Mumbai, India and hosted by Teach for India. We spent a couple of days in classrooms in slum communities in Mumbai, and the rest hearing from the Teach for India guys as well as from each other.

If I do this right, each of these sub-headings will get their own blog post – but with my blogging patterns being the way they’ve been we should all just be thankful if this post ever sees the light of day. So here are my “take-aways” from the conference, in no particular order:

1. Integrity in the classroom

The only way I would want to introduce this point is by relaying a story we heard in the conference. Naturally, it’s a Gandhi story: a mother had a boy who was eating too much sugar. His mother had repeatedly asked her son not to eat sugar, but to no avail. Knowing that her boy respected Gandhi, she took her boy to him to have Gandhi tell her son not to eat so much sugar. As she explained the issue to Gandhi, Gandhi said “come back in a month”. Naturally the mother was confused and a little frustrated, but she nevertheless went away and returned one month later. When she reached Gandhi, he told the boy that sugar was bad for him, and that his mother was right: he should not eat sugar. Of course this infuriated the mother: “Why wouldn’t you tell him this a month ago?” Gandhi’s reply was simple: “Until a month ago, I was eating sugar”.

I’m struck by the way that integrity is not something that is ever discussed in teaching – certainly not in relation to how we interact with our students. There’s a “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” mentality – as long as students don’t know that you don’t really believe what you tell them, it’s OK. Exploring what integrity in my teaching means is certainly a rich vein of thought – and one I intend to continue exploring.

2. Feel, Imagine, Do, Share

This one comes courtesy of Kiran Sethi, who was really impressive in her presentation to us. Kiran was my first introduction to the idea that to enact change we follow a progression of “Feel, Imagine, Do, Share”. First you feel what the problem is and not just from your own perspective. Imagine what the situation could look like, both in a practical planning-type way and in a dreaming type way. Do: Get out there and have a go. Do what it is that you are thinking about. Share: make sure that no matter whether your efforts are a success or a failure (and it’s pretty rare for anything to be either completely), document what you did, so that next time others (or you again) learn from your experiences. I think at different times in life I’ve been much better at one than the others. More thought also required here.

3. Self-confidence, Collective confidence, Expanding your locus of control

This one came from a workshop, but was a highlight of the week for me. In describing how the Teach for India “fellows” hoped to bring about systemic change in education in India, they described the progression as build self-confidence in who you are and what you are hoping to do, then find others on the same mission and together build the collective confidence, then gradually you expand your locus of control. This made a lot of sense to me as a way of “building a movement” – which was another key part of the time: feeling like I’m part of a global movement to confront educational disadvantage.

4. Take responsibility

Mixed in with the previous point is a very clear call to take responsibility for what I want to see happen in my school. Lots of the past year has been about drawing some very clear boundaries around what I’m responsible for: my classroom. But it’s got to be bigger than that. I feel like this upcoming year has me in a position ready to really start changing some mindsets: in particular in the attitude to students and their potential.

Hopefully all this gives you a bit of an idea of how Mumbai was for me. The optimist inside me says I’ll get a post out about how each of these points is going to look practically for me, the pessimist says that there has barely been a post in the past 6 months. We’ll see.

Go all the way

I realise this blog has been low on content and (for the last couple of posts) high on stealing other people’s content. But you can deal with it, because I loved this YouTube video – Bono reading a poem by Charles Bukowski.

I know Bono can be a fairly divisive figure, but I love him and this sort of stuff is some of the reason why.

Ken Robinson on why education is broken

Great video from RSA Animate on why education needs a complete paradigm shift. I’m sure lots of you have seen his TED video, but the guys from RSA Animate do an amazing job with all their videos to put pictures to audio. And if you haven’t heard any of Ken Robinson’s stuff – I strongly recommend this as a starting point. Great viewing.

Is there any point teaching recall in the 21st Century?

Fascinating discussion over at “Dangerously Irrelevant”, in the context of a discussion with a Biology teacher about whether students needed to memorise the parts of a neuron. From the post:

“In an era of near-instant Internet search, it’s possible that knowing the parts of a neuron isn’t really that important. For example, if I don’t know what the parts of a neuron are, I probably can find a couple dozen images of neurons – with parts labeled – in about 5 seconds using an online image search engine. It seems to me that what’s more important is generally knowing what neurons are, how they work, why I should care about them, how they impact my health and well-being, how current cutting-edge neurological research may impact me in the future, and so on.

Will I need to learn the parts of a neuron in the short term so that I can understand these bigger issues? Yes, most likely. Six weeks from now, will it be important if I still remember the parts of a neuron? Probably not, because I always can look it up again. But the bigger-picture understandings about neurons and how they impact me? That’s what I need to remember six weeks from now – and six years from now. That’s the stuff that’s important. Assess on what’s important.”

“Knowing the parts of a neuron isn’t really what’s important” – Dangerously Irrelevant

This ties in with some of the things that have frustrated me already, specifically in the IT curriculum: from University down. With fact-based information being so readily available – what could the point be in me requiring students to recite facts back on their assessment? And information accessibility is only going to improve: where does that leave educators? Asking the bigger questions, or refusing to take the outside world seriously.

One of the commenters on the post thought that this video was relevant: hard to argue.

Content

So having been welcomed to our heart’s content, last night and then today was mostly just focused around some genuine pedagogical content. Exciting times! It’s been a relief to get really stuck into some meaty stuff and find that I’m not completely out of my depth, and might actually have useful contributions to make. Definitely feeling the beginnings of the transformative process into my teaching alter-ego: Mr Matheson.

There’s something really fantastic about being in lectures with people who are so unequivocally engaged with the subject matter. It draws you in further, and almost has you wondering what the next insightful question will be. We were forced to hold questions at a number of points during the day due to the need to cover the required ground in the timeframe. It just becomes an exciting learning environment to be a part of, and it’s certainly inspiring to say the least.

I was fascinated today with the address from Ros Black from the Federation for Young Australians (www.fya.org.au). Her lecture was focused around the report “How Young People Are Faring” (which you can find at http://www.fya.org.au/media/publications/ ) – and specifically what was working in schools in the efforts to fight disadvantage. Check out the report, and also the “Impact of Racism” report on the same page. Genuinely useful research.

Sorry for the necessarily rushed nature of these posts, I’m afraid I can’t see a lot of depth coming into the blog while the Intensive is running: there’s just a whole lot that is going on. But I’m endeavouring to provide daily updates on things I’ve found interesting, and hoping that it helps me remember later on… I guess we’ll see.

“Doing School” – A must read for any would-be teacher

Doing School
"Doing School"

For a brief while (and I’m sure this will be revisited at some stage) I had an addiction to education content on iTunesU. For the uninitiated: iTunesU is a resource provided by Apple and a wide variety of universities to make some of the university content available as either audio or video to the general public. This eventually brought me to a presentation at Stanford University by Denise Clark Pope: essentially promoting her book “Doing School: How We Are Creating A Generation of Stressed-Out, for sale Materialistic, advice and Miseducated Students”.

“Doing School” is a compelling and fascinating read. Clark Pope follows five “successful” students from a variety of backgrounds, tadalafil at a likewise “successful” school, for a whole year. Maintaining the integrity of the study, she looks at the high school education experience only from the point of view of the student: following them for their entire school day (and sometimes in their extra-curricular activities) and interviewing the students themselves across the year.

The stories of these five teenagers are certainly absorbing. Each provides an insight into the pressures placed on high performing students: from parents, teachers, the college admissions system as a whole and certainly the students themselves. But more extraordinary was seeing the impact these pressures had on each student – as they cheated, manipulated, wore themselves into the ground and compromised to build up the all important GPA, or to better their chances with a college admissions board.

While there are undoubtedly parts of the book that are noticeably more relevant for US readers than for us here in Australia, there was nevertheless plenty to be gained for a prospective teacher like myself. While for the most part teachers play only bit-parts in the student’s stories, there were a number of places where teachers showed up: as enablers of poor behaviour, manipulated and naïve cogs in a much bigger machine, and occasionally as wise counsellors – able to see a bigger picture of unhealthy single-mindedness. All in all, “Doing School” represents a sobering look at how (and indeed what) we teach our “best and brightest”. I’d recommend this book very highly to anyone working in education.