Creative Arts And Global Ed

Approaches to #GlobalEd: Understanding and Solving Global Problems

10/6/2013

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“There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you.  The world doesn’t care what you know.  What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.” –Tony Wagner

Another essential goal of global education is to help students understand the roots of our most pervasive global problems, and to develop students’ ability to come up with new solutions.  Young people are often told they’re being prepared to lead change in the future, yet youth movements are creating real and immediate change as much as any other grassroots movements on the planet.  The truth is that young people can be catalysts of change now, but to do so they need to understand the history behind and nuances of our most pressing, borderless problems.  Even more importantly, students need their divergent and creative skills developed so that they can learn to ask good questions and ultimately develop innovative new solutions.

This requires a significant shift toward student-driven, inquiry-based pedagogies in the classroom; rather than teaching toward a set of known answers, we now need to foster classrooms where an unusual, unexpected answer is the best answer, and we are preparing students with the habits of mind which will allow them to navigate an uncertain, volatile future.  As teachers, we need to pose questions with many possible answers, and to help students see every answer as valuable and worth considering if it offers a constructive solution to the problems faced by our increasingly interconnected societies.

At the Moses Brown School and the Berkeley Carroll School, students chose from the Millennium Development Goals and worked in teams explore the nature of the problems underlying each goal–where these problems exist, what the repercussions are, and what solutions are being posed and tried by governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Using the platform of TakingITGlobal to connect with organizations and youth around the world, students worked together to analyze solutions, and each team presented on what they believed to be the best solution for their global problem in a particular context.  At Moses Brown School, 9th grade students produced videos and letters designed to persuade their student government to invest in the organization of their choice.  At the Berkeley Carroll School, students put on a global issues fair for their peers, to educate their broader community about a myriad of global issues and solutions.  Please note that both projects will be presented at the annual conferences of the National Council for Social Studies (November, 2013) and the National Association of Independent Schools (February, 2014).

Try this in your classroom:  
Create a “global village” activity in which teams of students are given the roles of different countries–and their share of 100 pennies based on the actual economy of that country.  This can also be adapted to include objects for household use or other resources.  Give the whole class a set of everyday challenges (food for family, education for children, home, health care, clean water, etc.), and have students work in teams to determine how to best spend their limited money (be sure that no team has enough resources to afford everything, so that choices are required).

See an excellent, more developed model of a global simulation with middle schoolers at the Heifer Global Village.  This approach is not just for older students, either; see John Hunter’s extraordinary work with 4th graders through the World Peace Game.

Humanizing the World through the Creative Arts: The WORDshop and an Argument for Art’s Sake

5/20/2013

“COMMONSENSE HAS TRAMPLED DOWN MANY A GENTLE GENIUS WHOSE EYES HAD DELIGHTED IN SOME TOO EARLY MOONBEAM OF SOME TOO EARLY TRUTH… COMMONSENSE AT ITS WORST IS SENSE MADE COMMON, AND SO EVERYTHING IS COMFORTABLY CHEAPENED BY ITS TOUCH.  COMMONSENSE IS SQUARE WHEREAS ALL THE MOST ESSENTIAL VISIONS AND VALUES OF LIFE ARE BEAUTIFULLY ROUND, AS ROUND AS THE UNIVERSE OR THE EYES OF A CHILD AT ITS FIRST CIRCUS SHOW.” –VLADIMIR NABOKOV

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by Jody Lynn Nye, from http://twentytwowords.com/
Many years ago, I had the good fortune to meet and work with poet and legend Nikki Giovanni.  It was just after 9/11, and I remember driving her around Denver in my old Subaru and her talking to me like she’d known me for years.  In particular, she lamented the fact that we were turning to poetry for consolation only after tragedy has struck, when really we should realize that it offers preventative medicine and could keep us out of conflict to begin with.  If only we could use our creativity to help us connect across boundaries and share our most authentic experience and perspective with each other, from our joys to the grit under our fingernails, maybe we could start to understand each other and recognize how interconnected our lives really are.Audre Lorde put it best: “…poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”I have to be honest–I’ve gotten really tired of having workshops on humanizing the world through the creative arts turned down by conferences which consider themselves innovative.  I’m tired of how hard it is to convince anyone anymore that artistic expression matters for its own sake, not just when embedded into the latest STEAM initiative.  My heart is still that of a creative writing teacher, the daughter and granddaughter of musicians and artists, someone who wants to bring out the best in students’ ability to express themselves, who wants to bring something to life for students, through writing, that is about living with a deeper sense of connection to our common human experience, that is about communicating across the boundaries which separate us, and being our most authentic selves with each other.My colleague Erin Sanchez and I have developed a new project we would love to bring into your schools,“The WORDshop.”  We want to create a safe and transformative space which helps your students connect with themselves, the world, and their own best words to describe their experiences.  We want students to connect with their best, weirdest, most important visions of the world and learn to evoke them for others.  Please scroll down in the flier below for more information.Below the flier, please find a few of my favorite poetry videos.  Let them help you connect with something deeply human, let them draw you to the pen, the brush, the chisel, the camera, the piano, the cello, whatever it is that you speak through best. Remember what it means to be alive, and then share your favorites with your students and other people you love.  Make creativity matter again, even just by valuing art for art’s sake.

Still one of my all-time favorites, “Yellowbird” is Andrea Gibson’s swan song in support of arts and creativity.
“To This Day” is an exceptional spoken word and digital production by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan.
Anis Mojgani’s “For Those Who Can Still Ride in Airplanes” offers a modern take on the same themes as W. B. Yeats’ “Stolen Child.”
This is Sonya Renee Taylor’s favorite performance of her poem “Beautiful,” and the revelations are mind blowing.
This nearly wordless film is a poem. “With a Piece of Chalk” reminds me of the
gifts beneath every rough surface and hard experience, and it makes me wish
every classroom could be as safe as that empty warehouse,
a space where the gifts of every child can flourish.

 

A Photographic Opportunity in #GlobalEd?

3/15/2013

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I recently discovered the “360Cities” project online; in this fascinating project and application, people are taking 360 degree photos around the world and are uploading them into a common space.  Once loaded, viewers on a web browser can use keystrokes to explore the image in all directions, and the mobile app actually has motion sensors which allow you to feel you’re inside of the photograph.  The mobile app also walks participants through photographing a 360 degree image, which makes it ideal for schools with iPads and other mobile technologies in use to contribute their own photos.  Students can also search for photos via an integrated mapping tool, based on the places they’re studying in school–check out this photo, for example, taken inside Notre Dame in Paris (when viewed on the mobile app, you can actually look up and down as well).

While most of the photos posted so far are by adult photographers and tourists, I see great educational potential here–what if teachers around the world had their students adding photos to 360Cities?  Talk about constructing knowledge–I can only imagine the kinds of vibrant images we might see from students all over the globe.  For $1.99, this app is a worthwhile addition to any global educator’s toolbox.

Transforming Teachers, Transforming Classrooms: Driving School Change through Professional Development Travel

2/24/2013

PictureA French-Canadian teacher navigates Quechua in Patacancha, Peru

As teachers, we spend the bulk of our careers playing the expert, whether we want to or not.  It makes perfect sense–we need our students to see us as people whoalready know and therefore have something to teach, and that expert persona often becomes the key to disciplining students and warding off skeptical parents.  That said, teachers know that life-long learning is the heart of good education, and that we are not immune ourselves to the human need to admit our weaknesses and grow beyond them.  It is powerful–fun, even–to turn off the persona and allow ourselves to take the position of learners, to admit what we don’t know and immerse ourselves with the kind of naïve, enthusiastic curiosity we so want to inspire in our students.

Professional development travel does exactly this; it puts someone else in charge of the daily workings of life, and it allows teachers to take off their caps and gowns and immerse themselves in learning and exploring with as much innocence and curiosity as they hope their students will bring to travel.

Amazing things begin to happen the moment teachers let go of the need to have all the answers and direct the experience.  From this comes a sort of surrendering to the experience, and with surrender comes a flurry of questions and new insights, a deluge of creativity and imagination.  The more the teachers are nudged out of their comfort zones by a very real on-the-ground, developing world experience, the more they realize what they’re really made of–and as their resilience and flexibility are tested, their comfort zones expand as well.  Many participants experience an overwhelming fear of the unknown (yes, even among adults), coupled with a need to find their own courage and discover the real limits of their mettle, their ability to adapt to new and uncontrollable circumstances.

And this is where the learning curve reaches its zenith–just as it does for students, service learning in the developing world shows teachers that they’re capable of handling far more than they’ve ever realized, and that they too can develop “global grit” by absorbing, engaging, and asking good questions.

Bringing Global PBL to Life: Lessons for Inclusivity in the Schoolhouse

Just as authentic project-based learning uses an “entry event” to grab the attention and curiosity of students, driving their inquiry and fostering their “need to know” throughout the given unit or project, any professional development experience should include an entry event as well.  On World Leadership School’s faculty development trips, teachers are asked to participate in a Scavenger Hunt, ideally on their first morning in-country.  In the activity, teachers are asked to gather information about their host community–from the most surface-level questions, which can be answered cursorily by pure observation, to the most profound community questions, which can only be answered if one has the language and cross-cultural skills to engage in dialogue with community members.

This activity immediately brings out teachers’ fears and tests the limits of their inter-cultural skills, just as it does for students on WLS trips.  For teachers, however, there are additional insights, particularly for those who work with an international or otherwise diverse student body: an authentic understanding of how hard it is to navigate a foreign environment for many of their students, whether for geographic, socio-economic or myriad other reasons; an authentic recognition of how exhausting it is to navigate a new culture and use a foreign language for even 90 minutes, much less all day; and an authentic understanding of how hard it is to dig beneath the surface of anything as a cultural outsider.

This is true, on-the-ground project-based learning; this initial inquiry sets the tone of an entire trip, setting into motion a process of self- and other-exploration which ultimately leads to more globally vibrant, authentically collaborative classrooms.  Participants figure out who their language speakers are in the group, and the questions begin.  They realize who their most brave and culturally savvy are in the group, and the dynamic shifts.  In other words, through this entry event, teachers learn to navigate a new and different situation collaboratively, making constructive use of every gift across the team–the goal of global learning in our classrooms as well.

Recognizing the challenges involved in authentic global exploration can help educators become far more sensitive to the social-emotional needs of students inside their schoolhouses, particularly their international and second- or third-culture kids.  Whether those students are navigating a new country, a new school culture, socio-economic differences or some other form of diversity, what teachers can accidentally perceive as a lack of core knowledge and academic skill usually comes down to a language or cultural difference.  When we grade students based on their intake and delivery of information in a non-native language, it is far harder than we realize for our students to demonstrate what they know.  And then we criticize international and ethnically diverse student groups for sitting together at lunch, when really we are all exhausted by being immersed 24/7 in a stream we don’t really understand.

There is comfort in a common language, a mother tongue, and we can’t lose sight of that as western educators–we can strive for dialogue and diversity in the classroom, but it may be culturally nearsighted–and even egotistical–to impose that idea of diversity, to assume that a “diverse” student body needs to include a rainbow of colors at every lunchroom table.  A powerful global experience helps teachers understand this better, largely because they are suddenly living their students’ experience.  Teacher groups tend to bond deeply on professional development trips, particularly if the teachers come from the same school; as with students, their fears make teachers seek out support, and being an outsider is balanced by the comfort of belonging to a group.  Recognizing our own social-emotional needs always makes us better teachers, more able to help students feel good about who they are and embrace the world on their own terms.

Developing the Urge to Inspire Change

On a WLS Faculty Development Trip to Peru in the summer of 2012, young non-profit manager Kennedy Leavens spoke to teachers from Ontario, Canada about the weaving cooperative she founded in her 20s, Awamaki.  As she does with student groups, Kennedy traced the growth of her organization and the challenges she’s faced as a local leader in the rural communities in and around Ollantaytambo.   But she also told teachers of her first trip to Peru in high school, and of the teacher who led that trip and first inspired her to want to create change in the world.

Walking back to our rooms after the conversation, I reminded the group that every one of their classrooms was filled with potential Kennedies, the next generation of change makers, and that every one of us had the potential to inspire the young people in our lives, just as Kennedy had been inspired to step up and make a difference in the world.  I’ve never seen a group of adults fall so silent.

This experience moved several teachers in my group very deeply.  One teacher found it initially astonishing that Kennedy had given up bigger career opportunities in the U.S. to run a tiny non-profit in Peru, but ended the conversation just as willing to give up his big-city life as she was, as he captured her passion for the people in how she explained why she’d stayed.  Another teacher told us at the close of the trip that Kennedy had inspired him to be a better teacher, to become the kind of teacher who could inspire his students to be the next generation of agents of change.

These are moments of great transformation–the moments when we recognize our need to grow as educators and humans, our want to be consistently better at what we do, our hope to make a positive impact in the world through the work of our classrooms.  When we are transformed by the world as teachers, we never teach the same way again–we never live the same way again.

When we seek out global experiences which change us as individuals and members of the human family, which remind us of our good fortune and our obligations to the rest of humanity, our classrooms become more global, more vibrant, more a place of inspiration, growth, and constructive change.

Fostering Global Leadership: The Patiently Impatient Path to Change

1/13/2013

PictureJoseph Hindogbae “Hindo” Kposowa, Sierra Leone

“There could be no creativity without the curiosity that moves us and sets us patiently impatient before a world that we did not make, to add to it something of our own making.” —Paulo Freire

Every communication I receive from Joseph Hindogbae “Hindo” Kposowa begins the same way: “Dear Aunty Jeni.”  It started almost a year ago, just before TakingITGlobal and Promethean worked to send him from his rural region of Bumpe, Sierra Leone to Lagos, Nigeria to be part of the Education Fast Forward (EFF5) Online Debate, “From Learners’ Voice To Global Peace.”  It is no small thing to be considered family in Sierra Leone, and I honestly feel as connected to Hindo as I have to any student who crossed the threshold of my classroom over the 19 years I taught teenagers.

My connection to the Kposowa family began in 2010 through my work for the World Leadership School, when a high school sophomore at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn asked me to help her make connections in Sierra Leone.  She had the vision of bringing former child soldiers to a United Nations Student Conference in New York; after reading Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, she was deeply concerned by child soldiers’ lack of voice and agency in such arenas.

Two months later, I met Hindo’s sister Sarah Culberson at the National Association of Independent Schools’ People of Color Conference in San Diego.  Director of Service Learning at the Oakwood School (California) and co-founder of the Kposowa Foundation, Sarah was speaking on the biography A Princess Found, which chronicles her life as an adopted multi-racial child and her eventual discovery that her biological father was Sierra Leonean royalty.  I approached Sarah after her presentation–would she be willing to help create a connection between the Berkeley Carroll School and Bumpe, where her father was the high school principal and her uncle the regional chief?

Two years later, I find myself amazed by how far we’ve come–not just in educating young New Yorkers about life in Sierra Leone, but in a partnership which is bringing new educational opportunities to Bumpe High School’s students and teachers as well.  We were not able to bring students from Sierra Leone to Brooklyn because of U.S. visa challenges (go figure), but BCS student leader Elena Hirsch wrote grant applications, held major fundraising events, and raised enough money to offer a significant scholarship for local amputees to attend Bumpe High School, as well as supporting local programming around AIDS awareness and prevention in the broader Bumpe community.  In November, 2011, Elena presented on her experiences at the Global Education Conference “GlobalEdCon” with me and BCS’s Head of Upper School Suzanne Fogarty (click here to launch the full recording).

I wrote in November about the importance of thinking about benefits on the “other side” of any global partnership, and there is no case where I’m more aware of that responsibility than in my work with Hindo.  He demonstrates Freire’s “patient impatience” in his uncanny eye for my live presence on Facebook and Skype, as well as texting to my phone occasionally, so few days pass without a greeting from him.  Having just graduated from university in Freetown, Hindo has returned to Bumpe and is now in his first year teaching History and Government at Bumpe High School, where his father Joe Konia Kposowa is principal.  Hindo knows he has been fortunate; he knows how much it means to have the education he does, and he has returned to Bumpe to help lead his community forward.  He will also be entering law school this month because, and I quote, “There is no justice in my community!”

Recently, Hindo shared his project for a TakingITGlobal professional development e-course he participated in on Environmental Stewardship, with instructor Deanna Del Vecchio.  Thanks to the generosity of donors, TIG is currently able to offer scholarships to young teachers across the developing world, and I have encouraged Hindo to get his colleagues involved as well.  Deanna told me, “Hindo’s eagerness to learn impressed me, as did his commitment to bettering his community through education. He developed an excellent final project that successfully applied the course concepts to needs in his own community, and spoke eloquently to express his ideas and opinions.”  He asked my advice on the project, in which he wants to develop awareness and action around environmental stewardship and waste disposal in Bumpe, but he didn’t really need my help–he already thinks like a leader and a teacher at only 23.  I encourage all readers to watch Hindo’s project film, to learn more about his plans and community support, and to visit Hindo’s Give for Youth project page to support this young visionary.

Just as I discovered a way to create constructive change through working with teenagers in Costa Rica and the United States, so Hindo represents an opportunity to do the same.  I don’t want to shape Bumpe–I want to support Hindo’s growth as a leader and teacher.  By offering him encouragement, support, and access to strategic global partners, I hope to empower him to believe in himself and his vision of change for his community.  And Hindo, in turn, is providing incredibly powerful, authentic experiences for young people in North American classrooms.

When people speak of needing to allow students to “construct rather than consume knowledge,” my mind always goes to both Hindo and Elena. Over the years, the knowledge that young leaders sit in my classroom has driven the majority of my practice, both inside the classroom and now in my work with teachers.  In fact, the knowledge that teachers have the opportunity to affect change through our students is what gets me up every morning to do this work, what keeps me hopeful about humanity’s future in spite of our heartbreaking present.

And there are millions of potential Hindos and Elenas sitting in classrooms around the world, ready to create change.  We just have to provide an environment which empowers them to believe in their own best solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.