Should all children and young adults have access to (relatively) the same curriculum in terms of academics?
This is my response. What are your thoughts?
For a long time I read articles about American education and thought, thank Buddha I don’t live there, thank Zeus I work in international education. Our students and teachers come from diverse backgrounds; we have inclusive schools that espouse missions, visions and values grounded in equity discourse. We have a focus on mother tongue, we support enrichment and learning needs. We have no issues of equity. We have it made.
I would look at images such as the meme below and steam (3D, 2001).
We don’t want to chop young minds into replicas of our own thinking! We espouse personalized and individualized learning, character education, and global citizenship. Indeed, for a long time I dismissed the issues of equity within American schools as distinctly an American problem. As a Canadian, I framed the struggles in the USA within the context of slavery, and gun ownership, and the seemingly inherent violence of the American mindset. Even as a well-travelled, self-proclaimed global nomad, I couched all my American friends who lived away from the USA as free from oppression, and those who chose to stay as part of the system. How lucky, thought I, to have none of the problems in international education that are within American public schools.
And then, I looked again.
There has always been something lurking in the subconscious of most international teachers; together on a Friday night talk will turn to questions deep within the shadows of our minds. We question, are we teaching the 1% to just become more of the 1%? How equitable is it to force our way of learning on all these diverse children- demanding they espouse the inherently western values of our system? How many other narratives do we actually infuse within our practice? How equitable is our enclave of ridiculously priced education to the host nations we squat within? How equitable are we to the local staff that landscape, take our trash away, or clean our rooms? How equitable are we to the local co-teachers who earn a fraction of the wage of their international counterparts? Sure, they earn a better wage than they would get “outside” but this parsimonious justification seems wrong at heart.
We look to Kant’s notion that there is an equality of men grounded in a moral context (Mills, 1997, p. 16), but often within international schools we see this egalitarianism as only possessed by the fiscally mobile. Within the walls of international schools we seek to create “deliberate diversity” (IB World Magazine, 2014, p. 27), but our piece meal attempts at equity seem only to reframe the cultural patterns we have created and the accepted norms of how international education has always been.
In the light of day, I decided to poll my network of 6,489 connections on social media and was left with many more questions than answers.
Why had only 5 connections voted despite the tweet being interacted with 396 times? Who was it that voted yes, educators, parents, or non-educators? It was messy data that begged for answers I couldn’t get. Evans (2013) notes “taking charge of an equity agenda is more than ideological discourse and slogans” found within our mission, visions and values (p. 461). It is grounded in “talking out loud about issues” (p. 463) and focusing a beam of light into shadows. I suppose that beam of light for me starts with the silencing of my own voice. In listening to the community outside the walls of our school, or of those inside our school rendered silent by language, or socio-economic, or cultural barriers. Perhaps I can illuminate and make meaning of their stories (Guajardo et al., 2016, p. 27). Establishing relationships of trust through conversations give individual’s narratives power. They provide opportunities for schools to reframe truths, assumptions, and challenges instead as areas of ambiguity, spaces for reflection, and chances for innovation (Eubanks et al., 1997). Literally, inviting the stranger that works with us into a dialogue could be the key to better equity.
“[Richard Nisbett] uses conversations to shape a scientific inquiry, to help him link up questions so they have a narrative form. He starts in on a problem by trying to see how it works in real life. He interviews people. He surveys people over the phone. He snoops in archival records. He reads broadly. He triangulates on an understanding” (Steele, 2010, p. 21).
It is our job as leaders to triangulate on understanding by seeking and using the stories in our communities (Rigby & Treadway, 2015, p. 332). We need to shift to artists that speak with many tongues, with multiple sensibilities (Smith, 2009, p. 373). Through those voices we will become sharp instruments of transformation but rather than whittling down the true nature of our communities, we will turn that ax against the systems of hegemony that expect us to do just that.
Ax 3D. (2001). Using image reverse generator of TinEye this image was first trawled 02. 29.08 however the image itself is dated 2001. The image source is a mystery, and out of 16.6 billion images searched has 221matches on the Internet, which makes it a fantastic meme.
Eubanks, E., Parish, R., & Smith, D. (1997). Changing the discourse in schools. In Hall, P.M, ed., Race, ethnicity and multiculturalism policy and practice. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 151-167.
Evans, A., E. (2013). Educational leaders as policy actors and equity advocates. In Tillman, L. & Scheurich, J.J., Eds., Handbook of research on educational leadership and equity and diversity. New York: Routledge, pp. 459-475.
Guajardo, M., A., Guajardo, F., Janson, C., & Militello, M. (2016). Reframing community partnerships in education: uniting the power of place and wisdom of people. New York, NY: Routlage, Taylor & Francis Group, p. 27.
Mills, C. (1997). The Racial Contract. Cornell University Press, Cornell University., p. 16
Newbery, C., Ed. (2014). The continuing quest for inclusion. IB World: The magazine of the International Baccalaureate. September Issue 70, pp. 24-28.
Rigby, J.G. & Tredway, L. (2015). Actions matter: How school leaders enact equity principles. In Khalifa, M., Arnold, N.W., Osanloo, A, & Grant, C. M., Handbook on urban educational leadership. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 329-346.
Smith, Z., (2009). Speaking in Tongues, from New York Review of Books Feb 26, In Samet, E., D. (2015). Leadership: Essential writings by our greatest thinkers. New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., p. 373.
Steele, C., M. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: and other clues to how stereotypes affect us. New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company, p. 21.
There is a strangeness to becoming a third culture adult. You lose bits of yourself as you gain bits of the world. Zadie Smith in Speaking in tongues (2015) shares the idea that voice is related to our identity. Of course this can be overtly seen in such actions as little Korean and Thai children using my vernacular of soda pop, and garbage, and ‘eh’ to dot their English sentences, their voices clearly influenced by my own. It can be seen in me, now calling a very Canadian toque a very American woolen cap. These simple silly changes in our vocabulary shift who we fundamentally are. But these changes can also be insidiously invisible in our students and in ourselves as we lose our voice, our lexicon replaced by new multicultural slang, our accents evened out by the constant mix of accents around us, we take on the jargon of certain educational systems, and the silence that comes with not speaking the language of where you live. We cease to be part of our homeland, our heritage, and our identity and become something, outside. Koreans call us the, “waigook saram” or the outsider people, and I always thought it summed me up perfectly.
Smith describes this slip in voice as she explains how it happens in stages. In the first stage we feel trapped between two places, two voices, two competing belief systems. Later, we learn to become flexible between those voices. We take the time to hold a mirror up to our own culture and see the world from both sides. At the final stage our voice becomes disassociated and not stronger than anyone else’s (p 376).
Smith writes from an African-American point of view. She cites President Obama as a man who evidences this gracious ability to speak in tongues, of being between cultures, of embodying the “we” more than the “I”. But for me, this reading was personal. I struggle with my own voice. With honoring my past, the things I have had to fight for. The voice of strength and tenacity and resilience is often not the language of schools. I struggle with balancing the authentic me with the “game” people tell me I have to play to succeed at leadership. The vacillating between those voices seems different than the ease that has come from simply living as a third culture adult. The leadership voice seems fake and mono-narrative. It seems to say there is only one way to be as a leader in schools. People are not those things. They are messy and complicated, emotional and wonderful. As Smith states, people have multiple narratives (369). I wonder how to balance my variousness with the need for mono school-speak, or if that flexibility is something that should be honored and like Smith states, “needs work in order to be maintained” (365).
Smith, Z. (2015). Speaking in tongues. In Samet, E. Leadership: Essential writings by our greatest thinkers. New York: W.W. Norton, pp. 365-378.
The Transition From Teacher to Researcher: What Makes It Easy
Sit at a table with a group of long-term expatriates (expats) and share a few glasses of wine. What you find if you listen, and ask the right questions, is an explicit view of self that is shared by third-culture adults. The subtext of our lost in translation stories, or one-upmanship of terror and misfortune on the road, is a narrative of community bonding. This time spent together seems like a session of humble-braggarts patting each other on the back to the outsider, but to us it is a reaffirmation of belonging that comes from, not a passport, citizenry, or shared pop-culture references but a unique set of skills and attitudes that our inundation into other cultures has afforded us. This self-view often comes at a cost of being ‘out of touch’ with ones passport nation, the friends left in other countries, the norms of society as we knew them, but is rich in malleability, curiosity and flexible thinking. We pride ourselves as being global nomads, researching the planet though a distinctly unique lens.
This self-view has another heightened layer when we enter the realm of expat international educators. As moral crusaders, looking to fix the wrongs in the world, most international teachers that I know are driven as quasi-social activists with a passion for discovery, intercultural understanding and change making. International teachers express that they are driving innovative pedagogical practice, as they are often free from, or have ways around, the red tape of bureaucracy and the labyrinth of educational politics in order to practice education as they see fit. The dedication to global change underpinned by innovative educative practice is at the core of my personal identity as a teacher, an expat, a global citizen and a human. It is that curiosity and intrinsic love of research that I wrote about previously on my blog in the short articles, Action Research & Research Identity and the Journey Line of Research/Researcher that defines the character qualities of expats and makes the desire to be a researcher easy. It’s just the ‘how’ that makes it hard.
The Transition From Teacher to Researcher: What Makes It Hard
That same dedication to educational change and viewing myself as an activist and moral craftsperson in the classroom extends beyond my teaching practice to the social entrepreneur company I co-founded. This company has the mission to provide quality resources for teachers and parents that focus on values, social & emotional skills, mindfulness and empathy, in order to helps prepare kids to successfully face the challenges of learning, growing and developing in our complex and fast-paced world. My company seeks to focus on developing critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and global citizenship, helping create the next generation of youth change agents and social entrepreneurs, exponentially making an impact to environmental, humanitarian and societal issues for a better tomorrow. This mission is clearly driven from a personal identity of activist change maker, and the shift in my teacher to researcher thinking that I am struggling with right now is what Labaree (2003) states as, “…not to fix a problem of educational practice but to understand more fully the nature of this problem” (p 17). This seemingly huge step back from activism to non-action, observational, academic pontification is hard for me. Thus, what makes being a researcher inherently easy, an ingrained curiosity for how the world works and a desire to make it better, is exactly what makes it hard, in taking a step back to define and understand the problems more clearly. This dissonance challenges the expansive core concepts I have constructed as self.
The Transition From Teacher to Researcher: Where I am now
Reading back on the reflective entries I have done thus far, I am able to notice a shift in my understanding from what Murakami-Ramalho et al., (2011) describe as personal or intuitive knowledge to theoretical and intellectual knowledge (p 4). Note, understanding and doing can be at opposite ends of a scale. Although I love the game of playing with universal abstract ideas I still feel that is a frivolous hobby shared with my colleagues over dinner, rather than within the full-time teacher and part-time researcher framework. Not only that, but I wonder about how current administration and leadership would view providing opportunities for release, data collection and case studies for educational research that lacks immediate and scalable ramifications for practice within the school. Perhaps the answer is in what Labaree describes as scholarly research providing, “a theoretical mirror, which teachers can hold up to their own problems of practice in order to see the way that their problems are both similar to and different from those facing teachers in other settings” (p 20).
If I am honest, I am still floating between conformity knowledge or waiting to be imbued with understanding from extrinsic sources (just tell me what to do!) and capability knowledge or understanding that my research identity is an intrinsically constructed construct (E. Murakami-Ramalho et al., p 8). This is an interesting place to be because as a teacher, my pedagogical ethos is based in student ownership of learning- I am forced to ask myself, why would that be different my own higher education? To compound the difficulty in that self reflection is how to decipher which knowledge from a lifetime rich in experiences, skills and aptitudes is pertinent in order to develop a research identity and how to distill the vast, complex, intertwined and messy issues within schools to a clear and defined Focus of Practice.
References and Further Reading
Labaree, D. (2008). The winning ways of a losing strategy: Educationalizing social
problems in the United States, Educational Theory 58:4, 447-460.
Murakami-Ramalho, E., Militello, & M., Piert, J. (2011). A view from within: how
doctoral students in educational administration develop research knowledge and
identity, Studies in Higher Education 1-16
In 2012 and 2013, a group of colleagues and I researched the 'Action' component of the PYP at our small international school in Germany. Conducted as an action research study we gathered data on a part of our pedagogy we hypothesized wasn't being full-filled for and by students and teachers. We collected data, looked for patterns, dove deep into a case study. From the gaps we identified in our research we created curricula, a website, a children's book, resources and organized a TEDx event in order to engender action taking within our learning community.
“We envision embedding the action phase document into the school culture and making sustained action a more inherent part of the curricula throughout grade levels, in order to shift the perspective of action from primarily an organic by-product of learning to more of an empowered state of mind. ” Tosca Killoran 2013
Years later, my colleagues and I have found that the children's book and website full of resources has been wildly popular in schools around the globe. However they, in addition to the curriculum framework we created to help scaffold children to become change agents has remained untouched at the school in question. How could this be? We found a gap in our own school. We gathered data from our school's planners and documentation. We analyzed surveys of the teachers within the school. We create a framework based on the gaps we had assessed. We wrote and published books and websites and resources to help. We were part of the community. We had it published in a peer-reviewed journal. We were legit.
Now that I am able to reflect on that piece of research, I realize that we conducted that research on people rather than with them. The politics of our good intentions were just that, good, but we still failed.
As a teacher-researcher this in the very technical sense, sucks. But failure is a good thing, after all how do we learn? As a researcher, coach and leader I would like to better involve all stakeholders in each stage of any future action research. Providing equal representation of voice is something I struggle with as I have not yet discovered how to do this when immersed in schools that operate as silos of learning. However, I believe that a stronger knowledge of the tradition of Participatory Activist Research will help define some of those skills and attitudes needed to make better connections and redefine power narratives within my own learning community.
Citations and Further Reading:
Guajardo. M., & Guajardo. F., 2008. Transformative Education: Chronicling a Pedagogy for Social Change. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Vol. 39, Issue 1, pp.3–22, ISSN 0161-7761, online ISSN 1548-1492. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1492.2008.00002.x.
Hunter. L., Emerald. E., & Martin. G., 2013. Participatory Activist Research in the Globalized World: Social Change Through the Cultural Professions. Springer NY
Murakami-Ramalho. E., Militello. M., & Piert. P., (2011): A view from within: how doctoral students in educational administration develop research knowledge and identity, Studies in Higher Education. DOI:10.1080/03075079.2011.578738
To state the obvious -- one’s life story is viewed retrospectively and is often re-interpreted through the lenses of new experiences and contexts. Embarking on the doctoral program is a fortuitous moment to stop and take stock. This reflective journey with new guideposts of readings, thinking, dialogue, and writing will fortify you to address your goals and outcomes.
The following is a short digital story about a moment from my life that shaped who I am as a teacher and leader.
It was a sultry evening and the sun was about to set… isn’t that how a scary story goes?. The neighbour boy had dared my sister and I to come explore the haunted house down the road. We brought butterfly nets and the boy’s scruffy dog, as you do when you are hunting ghosts. We tromped down the road in our bell bottoms and pepsi cola singlets- listening to the crickets chirp and the moths buzz by our ears. It was 1979, I was four, but remember it like it was yesterday. Scared but thrilled, my insides were vibrating, I was determined that I would see with my own eyes what all the scary things that went bump in the night really were.
We approached the dilapidated Victorian beach house as the sun dipped below the horizon and red faded to blue, then black. The neighbour boy whispered, “Here they come!”.
And out of the insect filled night sounds came the eeriest, out-of-world sound my four short years on the planet had ever heard. The house erupted and filled the sky with clicks and squawks and the swooping of soft wings and I felt sure that every demon in hell had descended on this decrepit house. And then the neighbour boy screamed waving his net from his insane perch on the equally dilapidated picnic table, “I GOT ONE!”
At that moment the dog leaped into the bushes, and I in a wild panic, thought it best to follow the one of us with the biggest teeth dove in after him, sprinting on my stubby 4 year old legs pushed on by my adrenaline rush of terror. I heard my sister call after me but I kept running until.. I lost sight of the dog. In the darkness I was blind and entangled in brambles. With no way forward and no way to go back, I stayed absolutely still and listened.
There was something coming through the underbrush, and it was moving fast. It had the smell of rotten eggs and death and was whimpering like a hurt.. dog. The boy’s dog flew past me scared and smelly he was running back to his owner still catching ghosts. I stepped in behind him and he wafted a scent trail for me to follow.
As I tumbled back onto the lawn and looked up to the starry sky I saw the silhouettes of wings, and in my mind I made the connection. They are only bats, Tosca. Only bats. I nearly peed my pants giggling.
How is it that this is a story about being a teacher-researcher?
A journey line of research and being a researcher is made of these moments that define who we are. Each of the moments that I identified equally but differently shaped me as researcher.
This particular story is a reminder:
Design thinking as a model for educational reform:
Design thinking is not simple surface beautification or upcycling of old ideas but of digging deep for real world changing solutions to existing problems. It aims to remove us from our filter bubbles and engage with opposing ideas and constraints for innovative solutions. Underpinning design thinking is social sciences and anthropology as design thinkers desire to not only understand the way a community thinks, feels, acts but also what is important for them to make changes to better their lives within the context of the human whole. Design thinking is a form of action research. Designers are not sitting at desks pontificating about possibilities but rather they are out in the community, prototyping ideas, using elbow grease, embracing failure and developing empathy. However, in order to dig deep and reach true innovation the wild card of ideas has to be played by willing mavericks. Those crazy ideas are built on to create from the seemingly impossible to the totally scalable and buildable. These mavericks need a safe place to break rules, ask the impossible, the silly, the fun the crazy- with a community that celebrates those ideas and builds on them. Most importantly, the mavericks in schools are not a special breed of person, but rather those who have built their creative confidence and are interested in educational reform.
Improvement Science as a model for educational reform:
All education reform starts with a nugget of a good idea and then is often lost in the ‘how’ of implementation on a large scale. By focusing on changing the parts of the problem we can apply change to the whole. BUT.. ‘does it scale?’ is in my opinion the question that kills innovative, wild ideas. And so, improvement science strives to make scalability only obtainable as a contextually relative construct. The idea of “profound knowledge” or the meta knowledge of systems, variation, psychology, and metacognition requires an intimate and empathetic knowledge of the context (Lewis 2015). Thus, change through idea diffusion is a social process. It requires moving beyond telling people to change, policing them to change, rewarding them to change towards engendering safe places in which there is solidarity and power within the change. Human interactions are essential, and only when researchers work alongside practitioners is sustained change possible (Gwande 2013).
Call to action:
How do you build the creative confidence of educators around you?
How do you use design thinking to make changes in your educative communities?
Share in the comments to start the discussion.
Citations & more reading....
Brown, T. 2008. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review June
Bryk, A. 2015 AERA Distinguished Lecture Accelerating How We Learn to Improve. Educational Researcher, Vol. 44 No. 9, pp. 467–477
DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15621543 http://er.aera.net
Gwande, A. 2013. Slow Ideas Annals of Medicine The New Yorker July
Gwande, A. 2007. The Checklist. Annals of Medicine The New Yorker December
Lewis, C. 2015. What Is Improvement Science? Do We Need It in Education?
Educational Researcher, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 54–61
DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15570388 AERA. http://er.aera.net
Hey cool cats...
Well, with the launch of 10 books, moving to Bangkok, and lack of teacher submissions, I am taking a mini break from this blog... but NO WORRIES, I am still going strong on my other blog, that focuses on EDUCATION, is full of resources, thoughts and awesomesauce on
Don't worry, I will pick this one up again in a bit...
However, if you are a teacher and would like to share the awesome teaching and learning happening in your classroom, give me a shout and I will without a doubt feature you here!!
This afternoon I visited Suzanne Kaegi's room (but everyone calls her Suzie) and it was pretty wonderful. I came into the art studio, full of kids I had taught three years ago, and not one of them greeted me with the ‘Mzz Tawska!’ drone that I usually get. All eyes were glued on Suz. I sat on a table at the back of the room and started documenting the learning, and what unfolded was simple, pure and engaging.
“One of my grade 2 classes are tuning in to their unit on How the world works and specifically how states of matter can change. This is a perfect, authentic opportunity to link single subjects within the context of the inquiry. I mean, what better example of matter than a piece of pottery? We wanted to hook students, get them interested in the process of pottery, but also assess their prior knowledge of clay making. We constructed a front-loading experience to explore the process of clay - from its wet stage to a fired piece of pottery. The students used drawings I had created in order to scaffold sequencing the process and this was especially helpful for the second language learners in the group.
The students were invited to sort and order the process of clay making from their prior knowledge. They worked collaboratively to analyze, debate, justify and construct their understanding. As they finished we gathered as a group on the carpet to reflect and address misconceptions. We then started to move away from the 2-dimensional representations I had created of the process and explore the real tangible materials. We examined the properties of each stage of pottery. Drawing on adjectives, and descriptive language the students had been working on in literacy. Great conversation was generated. The children were engaged and I came away with a very clear understanding of their knowledge, vocabulary and individual comfort with the processes of clay. This was all beneficial information to feed forward to their homeroom teacher and add to their portfolio!!
Engaging students in learning experiences like this is a powerful thing to be part of. BIS is my first International school experience, previously I had been teaching in New Hampshire for four years. I worked at three different schools, all part-time, out of my car, with no art budget, and taught in a pottery studio whilst creating my own work. I was busy!
Here in Germany, I teach primary art, grades one through five, over a two-week rotating basis from one nicely decked out art studio. The international mix of students, their love for a variety of mediums, and their willingness to share and pass on information is inspiring. I find that by enabling kids to see how they relate to big concepts, materials and artists, they open up to the possibility of viewing themselves as artists too. Their enthusiasm motivates me each day.”
Suz is right. I was inspired too. The kids were switched on. They wanted to know the steps of pottery making so they could produce a final product. They were focused and invested in the learning.
And that is super cool.
But Ms. Suzie hasn’t shared the coolest bit, so I will for her. This year, along with a colleague, Jo Tilton, Suzie collaborated with teachers across the PYP, MYP and DP to create a scope and sequence for visual art that spanned all three programmes. This was an incredible amount of work that will enable students and teachers to have quick overview of the skills, vocabulary, artist studies and materials explored within the context of IB programmes. The document allows the transitory, third-culture students that enter our school mid-year or mid-programme to assess where they fit in the scheme of learning, to identify skills they already have, as well as those they are working towards. It empowers students to look at their learning and see what they have been able to accomplish over a year, and if they have been at the school long enough, over their educative career.
What an amazing iterative document to create for the school! Suzie and Jo then fed that forward to educators at the ECIS conference in Amsterdam in November.
<strike>I have provided it here for you to share in their process. Why don’t you check it out and give Suzie feedback! I am sure she would love to hear your ideas!</strike>
Thanks again to Suzie for sharing the teaching and learning happening in her classroom!
(*Please note this post was edited at the request of the teacher. The curriculum document is no longer available. Sorry if this inconveniences you, or if you had bookmarked this resource.)
BUT, hey- Don't despair, I can hook you up! if you want a research-backed, FREE, curriculum phase-document that @JeffHoffart and I created in order to help kids to take action and make a difference in the world through service learning- check it out here: HelpTakeAction.