Empowering

This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

Our final day of the summit is a day of action.  Through our questions, we have been able to pinpoint the areas of action and change, which reflect what we have seen, experienced and discussed.

There are 6 areas of change which were recurring in all of the conversations;

  • Transform curriculum
  • Transform teacher training
  • Transform learning
  • Transform learning environments
  • Transform support
  • Transform assessment

As we form our groups for the culmination of ideas, it is a picture of empowerment as the local principals, parents and young people are the key holders of conversation.  For us who have travelled it is a great opportunity to take a back seat, allowing the people who collectively form education in Rwanda, to take control.

Sarah, a volunteer teacher from New Zealand had opened my eyes to idea of ‘fly in, fly out’ people.   They see many of these in Rwanda. Early on I resigned to the fact that I was a ‘fly in, fly out’ visitor and I was conscious of this when I responded in discussions. As someone who had only been in the country a few days I was well aware of my lack of understanding of the real obstacles that Rwandans face, so I was therefore not qualified to make decisions on their behalf.

Rwanda has shown remarkable strength in how they have shifted culture since the Genocide in 1994. As 800,00 people lost their lives, the rest of the world held back and in the end it was the troops of Kagame’s RPF, which brought an end to the Genocide.  Since then they have stood as one and stepped forward together to create a country of unity. When empowered to create your own solutions it produces an inner strength worth so much more than any gift. As aid agenceies have learnt, you can not continue to give without any ownership as it builds no inner strength or skill. Just as with education, we can not spoon feed students learning. It gives it no meaning or worth. We must own our own learning.

With these thoughts heavy in my mind I am pleased to see the actions being created by the people who will shape them for Rwanda. I sit back and hear Sam, a parent, share his ideas of using teacher training time on pedagogy, focussing on how to teach rather than what to teach.  Barack, the young entrepreneur, shares his ideas of adding school placements to teacher training. It is inspiring to hear and I can’t help wishing I could bottle it!

The  principals who have worked with us will now take these actions back to their schools.  I have confidence that these conversations will be popping up in schools all over Rwanda.  I know as I head back to Australia I will take with me the confidence that with the people I have met, and the message we share, education reform is not only a dream but has a reality about it.  I am thankful for the experiences, conversations and laughter shared with amazing people who prompted me to reflect on my own ideas and find direction in my own thoughts.

Collision of Minds

This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

We once again become a collective in the beautiful surroundings of the Cathedral where we move into our second and third converstaions. With the more we see and the more we talk about, the more questions come to mind, making it a tough decision on which conversations to join.

  • How do you teach individually in large classes?
  • How do we create a secure environment for students?
  • What needs to be thrown out of our practice to allow change?
  • What would child centred PBL look like in a school in a developing country.
  • Are teachers capable of teaching job creating skills?
  • Do current assessment/exams help or hinder learning?
  • How do we change the priorities of our communities?
  • When we adjust minor things are we just repainting the wall?
  • Do we need a new paradigm?

I start by joining the group looking at PBL and am refreshed at Matthew’s opening statement regarding how limiting a label can be. By labeling Rwanda as a developing country we put limitations on what they can achieve and the size of the steps they can take in reform. I enjoy the opportunity to listen in this group and choose not to offer my ideas, soaking in the conversation.

Today I do move groups, making the most of the open space as I  join the group discussing how to increase community in schools. In this conversation my passion takes over and  I throw in a few questions; What creates a community? Can we force the forming of a community?  Can we make people be part of a community? Unfortunately the conversations are cut short as we are required to move on.

As the last two days have continued I have become more and more frustrated with the structure of the summit.  I was first enticed by the idea of an open summit where the collision of minds would be the focus, not the timing on the an agenda, so stopping in the middle of great conversations has been difficult for me.

As I reflect on how I feel about having these amazing conversations restricted, I try to put myself in the shoes of others at the summit. Many of the delegates are principals who have not experienced this type of open space learning before, and for them working in groups with free flowing conversation is a learning they will take back to their schools and put into practice. This reflection soon morphs into my big question of the day.

Does Rwanda first need to make the same mistakes as other countries in the world before they can really reform Education?

I had heard someone describe Rwandan Education as missing the Industrial Revolution when making a statement of how far behind in education reform they are. This should be an empowering position to be in. If we look at many of the mistakes made in education in the past, standardized testing comes to mind, does this not put Rwanda in a perfect position to reform education?  A place where there is less shift to make, less learning to unlearn.

This also correlates with my reflection on the summit itself.  If the principals involved in the summit were making leaps in the change they were experiencing, why not go all the way? Maybe this just reflects my character – why take small steps when you can get there quicker in leaps and bounds? Yes we make mistakes along the way but we also pick ourselves up quicker too. By taking more risks we can achieve more.

Education: Use By DD/MM/YY

This post forms part of the Rwanda Series after attending the Rwanda Education Summit in Musanze from 21st – 26th May 2012.  Read further posts in the series here.

After our first two visits to schools we head back to the cathedral to form our questions and discuss what we have observed.  It doesn’t take long for the board to fill with questions.  As the first 6 are chosen they are quickly replaced by more, which will shape the discussions tomorrow.

Our first discussion questions are;

  • If you could change one thing in Education what would it be?
  • How can we increase the number of females in school?
  • How do you address the total lack of resources?
  • How do we build a bridge to a real career?
  • How do we create a physical learning environment?

All good questions that could be put on the table of any staffroom, in any school, in any country!

As the questions are stuck to the wall, people choose the discussions they wish to be part of, with the freedom to move from their group and join another discussion at any time. Interestingly we all stay put, the conversations flowing and ideas bouncing.

I join the careers discussion and we start to build a conversation around many different ideas, creating more questions than answers.

  • How do we engage students in real world learning?
  • How can we build passions into learning?
  • Could project based learning work in Rwandan schools?
  • Should there be a career subject?
  • Is the curriculum too limited with no variety?
  • How could guided choices support students?
But we did come away with some statements
  • Children need to be confident collaborators in order to prepare themselves for careers.
  • Creativity and innovation should be part of the curriculum
  • We need to use the community connections in schools
  • Using business projects (Eg; Collaborative groups to own a chicken and use to make as much money as possible
  • Career Education should start with identifying likes/dislikes and strengths/weaknesses
  • By understanding ourselves we can identify realistic goals.

We were also able to sum up some of the major obstacles, which we felt were important to identify before we could move forward.

  • Students dreams and aspirations are not realistic and based around society expectations.
  • Students dreams and aspirations are directed by their parents and the needs of the family.
  • Students do not have the skills to think for themselves.

It wasn’t until the next morning that the biggest obstacle of all came through. One of the participants shared a question, which had been playing on her mind for some time.

“One child spends 12 years in Education while another spends this time working in the field with his family.  After 12 years they end up in the same field, digging the same patch of dirt. What is the point of education?’

The obstacle here is not unique to Rwanda.  We see it in many of our schools where standardised testing, content based curriculum and compliance education is the norm.  The obstacle is that education is seen as an end product. It is expected that at some point learning ends and we are delivered a piece of paper like some kind of guarantee.

We can not put an end date on education.  Learning is forever.  But to prove this we need to teach life long learning and show our students that education is something more than a piece of paper.  It is dreams, hopes, aspirations and passion with no end date on opportunity.

There continues to be more questions than answers and the one I can’t shake is, ‘How do we create a society where Education is is part of a journey, not an end product?’

Are you teaching for the 22nd Century?

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet up with some amazing educators to kick off our PLP ConnectU project.  This is a project funded by DEECD (Dept of Education in Victoria) is an opportunity for teachers to challenge the traditional view of teaching and learning.  Sheryl Nussbaum–Beach and Will Richardson, two educators who I highly respect and admire, kicked off the project yesterday.  We had many wonderful discussions about education and what we believe it should look like in the 21st century.

eye_between_two_fingers-t2

In one discussion we were asked to answer the following questions

What about the world and society has changed since you went to school?

What about students has changed since you went to school?

What about schools has changed since you went to school?

What should school 2.0 look like to accommodate learners of the 21st century.

These questions were actually questions I had asked myself in the last couple of weeks as I was reading ‘The New Rules of Engagement – A guide to understanding and connecting with generation Y,’ by Michael McQueen. If you get a chance this is a great book and as it is not too long so it makes for a great weekend read.

The book begins by looking at the different types of generations and the worldly events, which have moulded each generation and concludes with strategies for educators and parents to engage different generations.

It addresses the fact that one generation can never be better than another, but each generation reflects the world of its time and is a production of the generations before it.

One thing that amazes me is that teaching has had limited change, where as learning has changed considerably.  Why, when we are teaching a generation of the ‘How and Why’, do we we continue to teach them the ‘When and Where?’   We are teaching a generation of children who have the content at their fingertips, understand the notion of lifelong learning, anytime, anywhere.

I was told last week that children who have a birth date post 2010 have a a fair chance of making the 22nd century.  To me this is a very powerful as I am not now just teaching for the 21st century but the 22nd century as well!

How will you teach students in the 21st century so they are still learning in the 22nd century?

How do you think the world, students and school have changed since you were a child?

Please leave a comment.

First Time Twitterers!

Last week a friend had her first experience with Twitter.  It came late at night and after what I fear was an hour of yelling at the TV during Q&A!  So of course her first Twitter came with the hashtag #qanda.  The following night over dinner I couldn’t talk enough of how good Twitter has been for me.

Today I see her curiosity has got the better of her as she jumped onto Twitter once again.  Although I am sure she felt the same as I did when I first started – what do I do now?

I had heard so many people talk about how wonderful Twitter is for educators and I had an account for about a year before I started using it.  Now it is the first place I go to ask a question or share ideas.

twitter_logo_header

So where to start!

I first started by reading Sue Waters and Kathleen McGeady’s wiki and blog posts about twitter.  These are both great for Twitter newbies and this was where I really found out what Twitter was all about.

Here are my tips for First Time Twitterers:

Start Simple – I started by following some news outlets to get a feel for how Twitter works.  This is also an easy way to get updates of the news throughout the day. (It was through Twitter I was able to get the news straight to my classroom that Australia had its first female Prime Minister!)

Write a bio - You will have the opportunity to write a short bio about yourself in the profile section.  When I follow someone I always check the person’s bio to make sure they have a connection to education. And please add a photo or avatar.  The little default bird makes people think you don’t know how to put a picture on!  It also makes it easy to recognise your tweets.

Ask a question – you need to get yourself out there.  This is a great way to get responses from like minded people, especially if you use a hashtag that is relevant to you. If you know people on Twitter, get them to send a tweet to introduce you.

Use a hashtag –  A hashtag is the keyword that will allow people to search a specific subject. It will be a word with the # symbol in front of it (#hashtag).  You can also search for hashtags, which will help you to find like minded people.

Get yourself a desktop application –  I use Tweet Deck on my computer and Twitterific on my iPad.  Simply this is a place to organise your tweets and it keeps all of  your searches in the one spot.  Also if Twitter is blocked at your school this usually allows you to access it.

Build up your following list – A great way to start is to follow people from their blogs.  You will find as you start to add people they will also start to follow you, especially as you become more active.  This is how you build your personal learning network. You can add searches to your Twitter application and from here you can easily find people who are tweeting the same things as you.

In Australia, for Victorian teachers, you can search the hashtag #Vicpln and #Ultranet to find teachers.  You can also check out this site for a list of education hashtags across the world,  Education Hashtags. For Victorian tweeters there is also a list of DEECD teachers who use twitter.

Look for Twitter Buttons – You will see many different buttons on blogs and webpages.  This is an easy way to start follwing someone. Or if you have a blog put a button on yours. You will probably find many of your favourite sites have Twitter accounts.


Get Twitter Buttons

Safety First – always remember that your tweets are out there for all to see.  And don’t make the mistake of thinking your handle doesn’t give your identity away.  Your name will appear next to it!  If you want something to remain between you and the person you are sending it to, write a direct message.

What are your experiences of using Twitter?

Leave a comment to add any tips you have.