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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Authenticity - A Tribute to a Friend

Disclosure 1: As you read this post you might think that it is not necessarily related to education but please read as I believe you will see the parallels.

Disclosure 2: This is written at a time when I should be report writing; however, as part of my grieving process I thought that it would be beneficial. 

Today I was privileged to share the celebration of life of Cathleen Cowie. I have known her as a close friend for the past 15 years to the date and on the 27.10.2015 she passed away at the age of 35. She left behind a beautiful five month old son Ryan and husband Brendon.

During today's service I reflected on all of the faces in the room. The auditorium was filled to capacity with over 2000 mourners all of which could testify as I the impact she had on their lives. As conversations and eulogies began the common theme was how positive, authentic and passionate she was. Even though Cat's schedule was probably the most full of anyone I knew she always had the time to share a word of encouragement or a listening ear. A saying that she had was "we all have 168 hours in a week and it is how we use them that is important!" She was a person who even though she was in an executive position in her work she never disconnected herself from the people in her care. Even on the day that she died she was serving her community facilitating a young mother's seminar.

Something I loved about my friend was what you saw was what you got, she had an open door policy and it was never a problem just to rock up and share what was going on in your life. She would always listen with mindfulness and encouragement and as a result you felt built up. Cat never used flattery and would not shy away from challenging you as she could see in you things that you had not seen in yourself and was able to call this out. She was connected to her community and was determined to love on them no matter what. The open door Cat had for her friends was as open to her community. So often I would hear of the pay it forward random acts of kindness she would offer to anyone who would come across her path.

Why I feel this post is important as an educator is this is the attitude we need to have with our students. Unfortunately many of us get consumed with the doing of teaching and lose sight of the being. This is something that I hope to learn to imitate from Cat life. I want to be present for my students and their families, I want to celebrate with them, learn them and walk the path with them. Cat taught me that knowing a person's heart gives us permission to speak into their lives and call skills, knowledge and talents out of them. As a teacher this is want I want to do for my students, calling out the positives in them seeing the possibilities that they are yet to see. I believe authenticity is the ability to be real and this is what I saw in Cat.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Moving Students Beyond Making Connections to Making an Impact - Empathy Connections

As I ponder global trends impacting global education I recognise the three major drivers. They are information technology, brain research around growth mindsets and neuroplasticity and cultural globalisation. With technology and globalisation I'm really excited to see how we can actually challenge some of the greatest issues in society. Currently we live in a world where communities and even nations are either coming together or pulling apart. The problem we have is a lot of the understanding children have around these issues are coming from a generational reasoning of stereotypical beliefs that are reinforcing the opinion that we are all so different from each other. As educators in not challenging these stereotypical beliefs we are allowing students to blindly accept this conclusion. In contrast as we intentionally get children to break down the walls and connect on an empathetic level they talk and engage, building understanding about culture and reconnect with humanity. By leveraging technology we are able to give students a global voice while dealing with some of the major issues in society and in the curriculum.

This year I have been privileged to have my class connect with so many amazing people from around the globe. These connections are designed with a purpose to create engaged and aware global citizens who are critical and creative thinkers. Empathy connections allow students the opportunity to see from another's perspective. They get a glimpse of what life is like for someone else. In this I encourage my students to be positive and encouraging, looking for common ground between them and the students they are meeting. We do this no matter the format: blog post/response, a twitter post, video chat or face to face.

This premise has allowed my students to understand that they are uniquely special as individuals but also very similar to the rest of humanity. The are very aware that they are not perfect and make mistakes. They understand that these mistakes are not fatal but obstacles used to help grow, develop and teach us. Carol Dweck describes this as a growth mindset, something that I work very hard in my class to establish. I believe my students brains and talents are just the starting point, their abilities can be developed through hard work, focus and persistence, where they learn from the past errors. They realized they have limitless potential and can have the moonshot thinking needed to be innovative in the 21st century.

My students have benefited from the experience of opening up our class to the world. They have learned they they have the ability to globally support and encourage students through the appropriate use of social media. They have learned that even as 7 year olds they practically can do things to advocate and help others. I have experienced that students don’t want to just make a connections. Students want to be making an impact. My students impacts have included:
  • raising money to buy books and pencils and making small wooden toy horses for a school in Uganda,
  • writing letters of encouragement to a school in Nepal after the earthquakes,
  • connecting through blogs and twitter to student from America during the Not Perfect Hat Club Blogit challenge.

They have also experienced the power of learning another language. In one of our connections the class we were speaking to only spoke Mandarin and my students were able to emotionally connect with them because they had this globalised academic experience.

I have found these experiences incredibly authentic and I firmly believe as educators embrace a willingness to tackle some of the major issues facing society by opening up their classrooms they will discover students will rapidly adopt a growth mindset. The mindset that sees the possibilities beyond the obstacles. As teachers begin to see the value in and teach more about emotional intelligences, I feel we will see greater connections between students from all cultural backgrounds. This not only benefit them but all of humanity.

An interview with Vicki Davis I did on Moving Students Beyond Making Connections to Making an Impact is available in the link below.

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