The Learning Tree

A space for sharing learning experiences and personal reflections.


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If I were an idea in your school…

Are you a teacher passionate about learning and new ideas? Are you a lifelong learner who is proactive and self driven? If  you answered ‘yes’ to the questions above, then this may interest you.

Throughout my years as an educator, I have always found that school cultures and their approach towards innovation and change are directly connected with how they deal with ideas. It all boils down to simply observing and noticing how ‘ideas’ are treated in your school, in meetings, throughout the corridors and classrooms. What becomes of those ideas?

I have been part of different school cultures, where I have seen ideas being challenged, blocked and sent straight to their deathbeds; and it is in those schools that change is immensely needed. Although it may not be an easy task, however, it is our responsibility as educators to constantly reflect and strive to create the conditions for ideas to be heard, believed in, adopted and shown the light to their existence.

If I were an idea in your school:

  • Would I be met with an ‘open-mind’ or with a ‘no time for this year’?
  • Would I find a hospitable environment to ‘live’ and ‘grow’?
  • Would I be received by a community that ‘listens’ and are willing to try?
  • Would I be told my conditions to flourish are dependent on ‘certain people in the school’? Or I would have the space to breathe out my way into being.
  • Would I be able to find a family of other ideas to connect with?

If I were an idea in your school, what will become of me?…


Where do you call home?

There are not so many places that one would call ‘home.’ It somehow takes a strong affinity towards the place, the culture and most importantly the people to call a place ‘home’.

The time I lived in Bangkok was everything but unswerving. The four years I lived there allowed me a perspective on Thai life through the behaviours and practices of the Thai people; what united them, what they valued and what they held closely and truly to their hearts. It was always fascinating to see that despite the many political unrests that polarised the country and its people, all stood united for the love of their king: King Bhumibol Adulyadej. There are many instances that you would notice Thai people’s solidarity and nationalism; on the sky train and in parks when the national anthem played every day twice at six in the morning and in the afternoon. I first noticed that when my four year old student held his hand against his heart as he proudly chanted the  Royal Anthem during school assembly.

This weekend as I sadly followed the news of King Rama IX’s passing, strong sentiments evoked in me the urge to want to be in Bangkok during this time. I am not sure what it is, but perhaps it’s true that ‘we leave something of ourselves behind whenever we leave a place.’ And as we shed the old skin and evolve into ‘who we are’ at the present moment, we can not but be grateful to what led us to ‘here and now.’

I am forever grateful to all the lessons, the joys and sorrows; Thailand, where I forever call home…

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Reflecting on the Story of School

Or is it the story of learning?

Everyday, we educators as we step into schools, we create stories.

Last week our school hosted an international conference. During the event, a series of workshops and conversations focused on ‘redefining schools’. I have been part of these conversations for a while now, and sometimes I feel that it’s beginning to sound like a ‘broken record’. Those slogans about ‘breaking molds’, ‘revolutionizing learning’, advocating for change, etc., etc.

Yes, of course, systems need to be reviewed and schools have not changed in a long time. Businesses are running schools to run business. Students are getting skilled for jobs we might not have. But…

Somewhere in my school, and in your school and in every school, a child is being loved and nurtured because her parents are away most of the time making money so she could go to school. And another whose talent and character are being  extended  because of the many experiences in and out of school setting that he is experiencing. When we focus on ‘learning for learning’, we realize the many different ‘pockets of light’ that are actually taking place in schools.

Here are some ‘pockets of light’ that I would like to highlight from my school:

  • Safe environments and spaces that allow students to make and learn from mistakes
  • Conversations that focus on student learning
  • Experiences that promote student character, voice and leadership
  • Social and emotional learning emphasized in the curriculum
  • Individuals that believe in ‘possibilities’ rather than problems

If we want education to improve, it is important that we shed light on the practices that are taking place in every school that are creating the conditions  for ‘powerful learning’. 

… and if we really want to create a change, it is crucial to believe that it is possible and that a ripple effect can be created by a single act, by ‘you’.

So, when you walk into your school tomorrow, what stories about learning will you create?

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“You have been created in order that you might make a difference. You have within you the power to change the world.”
Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters

 


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Inquiry and the teacher’s stance

Having the opportunity to visit and be part of many different classroom is very interesting. It is very exciting to experience the many different ways students construct their own learning. Yes, learning is personal and is different for students as each has their own learning style; however teachers play a vital role in helping students develop their curiosity and extend their inquiry.

In a KG classroom, the students were exploring inventions. As part of the inquiry, the students had to ‘deconstruct’ a computer. They had tools, they had the computer and they were inquiring ‘freely’. The students worked  ‘in parallel style’, removing parts and putting them down.  Observing from a distance, I felt that at least one of those students was ready to take his inquiry into the next level.  Using the ‘right questioning’, the students started working together removing the parts and trying to find connections to how these parts worked together. They also tried to figure out what the function of each part was. Provided with a ‘personification’:” How would a computer resemble a human body?”, the students started giving attributes to parts of the computer  and to ‘justify their reasoning’: ” Look (pointing to the memory card), this is the brain because without it the computer would not work.”

“No, it’s the heart because it makes the computer work. It’s the most important part”, said another student.

The next day, those students were still very much ‘connected’ to this inquiry station and wanted to continue exploring.  The level of creativity and learning continued to extend as each child participated in sharing their perspective on how the parts connected together and formed a ‘system’.

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Being part of this ‘inquiry learning’ and ‘teachable moment’ was fascinating as it gave me affirmation on how imperative our role is as teachers in inquiry learning. Believing in ‘the various possibilities’ that inquiry learning encompasses,  how do you view your role as inquiry teacher and how do you help your students advance their learning to another level?


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Outdoor Education: Reconnecting with our true selves

“Who misses their parents more than they miss their iPads and electronic devices? ” asked a student during ‘reflection time’ at the Grade 5 Camp.

It was the third night of camp and students have been reflecting on ‘ Who we are’, looking at the different experiences they have gone through that affected their well-being. For some students, it was the first time they rode a bike on a ‘bumpy road’, for others it was their first experience in Kayaking, while for others it was simply quality time in nature. But for many, it has been the growth in character, the friendships that deepened and nurtured, the challenges that’s been conquered.

How does outdoor learning influence character building?  Here are a few points:

  • It allows one to connect with nature; reduce stress and develop serenity- (Mindfulness)
  • It allows one to connect with their ‘true self’; face their own fears and conquer challenges- (Grit and Resilience)
  • It’s an opportunity to make positive memories – (Positive Education)
  • It’s an opportunity to develop, nurture and deepen friendships – ( Positive Interactions)
  • It’s an opportunity to appreciate home, family and daily routines that we often take for granted – (Gratitude)

As educators, how much to do allow for ‘outdoor learning’ to be extend on your curriculum?

There’s so much we can still do as educators to maximize ‘outdoor education’, break the walls of the classroom and step outside; where real and authentic learning is!

 

 

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A Grade 5 student on the way back from camp :” The first day of camp, some screamed when they saw an insect. The third day, they picked up a leaf and carried the bug out of the tent back where it belongs! We should go camping more often!”

 

 

 

Positive Education: the battle of what not…

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Today our staff completed a series of workshops on Positive Education.  Although this kind of initiative is relatively new in our school, the impact was profound. Our training focused on ‘teacher well-being’, us as individuals. Taking time to reflect on our character strengths highlights the concept of seeing through one’s areas of strengths and using those as resources to overcome obstacles and develop resilience. There lies the power of ‘positive education’ as it developed to focus on the well-being of students, it has been defined as an umbrella term encompassing theory and research in relation to what makes life worth living (Noble & McGrath, 2008).

Using this idea and extending it beyond the classroom, sheds a new light regarding how we view individual learners and embrace differences while developing students in a holistic way that focuses on well-being.

According to Barbara Fredrickson, in her book Positivity, the ten positive emotions can be experienced by each one of us ‘if we choose to do so’. . We can teach ourselves as well as our students to cultivate positive emotions by engaging in practices such as random acts of kindness and gratitude. The implications to developing into a ‘positive school’ is evident: allowing ourselves to be immersed in practices that ‘stem from the heart’ and speak to the heart. If your student is unhappy, your student in not ready for learning. If teachers are not happy, teachers are not able to give their best. In his talk, Srikumar Rao discusses strategies to connect to oneself and achieve personal happiness.

 

 

The idea is not so complex; focusing on the process liberates us from investing our energy in what is beyond our control. In our schools, when we place more value on connections, meaningful relationships, interactions, individual differences and more rather than developmental expectations, curriculum standards, report cards, meetings, deadlines, score and labels, perhaps we would win the battle to more positive and fulfilled individuals and learners.