Building Kindness and Empathy

Creating global projects got me thinking about the groundwork that should be covered before the connections with strangers can become a viable means to exploring global perspective. Finding global projects to explore the world through experiences that spark curiosity and intercultural opportunities is not difficult. The challenging part is building inter and intrapersonal skills beforehand; the skills to ensure mutual kindness, empathy, and deep learning.  If trust and respect are not formed, collaborations are destined to be somewhat superficial and shallow attempts to build global competency.  This requires considered preparation.  I found a website that is designed to foster meaningful connections among students, by doing just that-attending to the soft skills that are essential for successful global collaboration.

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Grow good kids

Most parent I know want their children to grow up kind, caring, honest, generous and respectful of differences. It’s good for them and for our world. Fortunately, solutions are not complicated.

This article stems from the US scene but its relevance is global. It has some simple steps for parents to take to grow empathy in their children whilst combatting the negative influences that seem to hover over our shoulders on a daily basis.

Take Action to Step Outside Our Bubbles – And Grow Good Kids

SKYNESHER VIA GETTY IMAGES

Among the big lessons the U.S. election of 2016 taught the world, it’s that Americans don’t understand each other. Polls and pundits hadn’t figured out what was under our noses all along: that we have been living in separate bubbles, with little or no experiential overlap.

Within each bubble, one side is deemed ignorant, irrationally religious, or racist; while the “other side” is viewed as elitist, too soft, or morally lax. You know who you are – or who you aren’t.

When we fail to get to know those who look, dress, speak, cook, worship, work, have fun, see the world, spend money or consume media differently than ourselves, it’s hard to build empathy for them. They become a statistic, a member of a confounding group, objectified. Our treatment of others is more likely to be informed by generalizations, not personal experience.

Separateness even affects us neurologically, as parts of our brains fail to light up when someone we don’t relate to suffers. The result might be apathy, as well as fear, anxiety and loneliness, just to name a few side effects.

This isn’t how I want to raise my children. Despite the antagonism, divisiveness, and greed that seems to dominate the headlines, I want them to grow up kind, caring, honest, generous and respectful of differences. It’s good for them and for our world. Fortunately, solutions are not complicated.

Small Steps Toward Empathy Make a Big Difference

I’ve been researching the most effective means for thriving in a global economy and how to raise global citizens for almost two decades.

Despite the complexity of the big picture, time and time again, the solution seems to lie in the little things: How we treat the cashier at the grocery store and the types of stories we choose to read at bedtime spill over into how we see the whole world.

Since our children are watching us, these small gestures become their model of behavior, shaping our kids’ wider social environments. Indeed, a pro-social, empathy-rich environment doesn’t just feel safer to be in, it’s been shown to enhance children’s cognitive ability.

With years of exposure to acts of kindness and images of diversity, the ability to think creatively, communicate more effectively, analyze, and empathize beyond a limited bubble is enhanced significantly. This is how “soft” skills become the sought-after skills of 21st-Century learning and global problem solving.

5 Ways to Step Outside Our Bubbles and Grow Good Kids

Approaches for stepping outside our bubbles might be as diverse as a family’s daily routine, so I offer these ideas as a simple beginning.

1. Start with stories. The fact that a great story can transport us to a new adventure or a far-off locale points to the power of stories for breaking out of our shell.

President Obama recently told the New York Times: “At a time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.”

For Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Black History Month or any day, make a conscious effort to choose stories to read or listen to as a family that start with a perspective that might differ from yours.

Consider posting a world map on a wall, or keep a quality World Atlas handy, and mark all the places you’ve read stories from. Conscious of the travels of your imagination, you might not only stretch your curiosity, but also your geography.

2. Gain a sense of being part of the larger human family. It’s difficult to imagine beyond our confines if we never think about it or “see” what it looks like.

Family-friendly films from around the world, as well as picture books showcasing the diverse lives of children from classic Children Just Like Me to my new favorite, The Barefoot Book of Children, allow readers of any age to step inside the homes, foods, games and interests of children around the world. Vivid images help create connections and light up that region of the brain that triggers empathy for others.

3. Gently peek into the practices and teachings of diverse faiths. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, you don’t need to attend a long or unfamiliar religious service to start to appreciate a different faith.

Visit an art museum with collections inspired by those traditions. Listen to their music or chanting. Read short passages of their sacred texts. Learn perspectives of various parents through blogs or ideally, in person, informally. Read children’s stories like Prince of Fire: The Story of Diwali, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns, and many others for a gentle introduction.

4. Enrich libraries near or far. When my friend Maggie saw The Barefoot Book of Children for the first time, she decided to donate copies to area libraries around her rural hometown in central Pennsylvania, an area where few residents travel outside the United States or get exposure to global cultures.

Reading a beautiful book shouldn’t be just for privileged children, and it might have the power to start bursting some bubbles. Helping “seed” a school or public library with diverse and multicultural books is powerful; involving our children in the project can also get them excited about choosing titles to donate.

5. Show moral courage/Be an upstander. With the rise in anxiety and tension within schools and public places since the 2016 U.S. election, there is a critical need to show moral courage, to stand up for those who may be targeted for their differences. How can we and our children have empathy for and stand up for those who might be different from ourselves?

You might ask this at the dinner table or in morning meeting at school. This short video recounts what it might look like for an adult to use one’s privilege in a daily experience. Good stories, like The Boy Who Grew Flowers, also can illuminate moral courage. This literature list for all grades includes additional helpful titles.

As we embark on a journey of growing our understanding about diverse cultures and ways of thinking, we’ll discover many more creative steps for breaking out of our bubbles, at any age. It’s good for our kids and it’s good for our world.

Jack Ma on the way we teach

“If we do not change the way we teach, 30 years later we’re in trouble.”

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, questions the knowledge based education system of the last 200 years.  With the onset of robots, he says humans cannot compete when it comes to knowledge output.  He wants to see an education direction that allows humans to be smarter, by teaching sport, art and music to hone the soft skills- values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork and caring for each other.

In the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning Competencies, Citizenship, Collaboration and Character correspond to Ma’s call and in the International Bacclaureatte Primary Years Program Learner Profile, Caring, being Principled and Open Mindedness answer the same call. Both of these programs pay attention to the personal attributes that enable learners to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people-skills that robots cannot emulate. In the Victorian and Australian Curricula, the Personal and Social Capability emphasises these soft skills.

What makes a great global project?

As part of Global Leadership Week I’m took my first steps to enter the real time world of connected learning.

I was to start a Twitter Chat on Global Projects  using the hashtag @globalprojects   

Now if you’ve hosted a real time chat you’ll know that countdown time is quite a tense one.  Is everything in place. Will I sound cool? Will I have followers?

But just 15 minutes before my start time I decided to search my hashtag.  Yes, it had already been used, which meant I’d be bringing people into the discussion who would have no idea what I was doing. Mad rush to change that hashtag to … #glopro  This one sounded on trend! Continue reading

Switched on Schools

Being the change you wish to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhil.

Two schools across the country are showing leadership in environmental ansd sustainable change. Agents of societal change, students from Freemantle Senior High School and Melbourne Girls College are partnering with local community, influencing policy makers and through change leadership, are intrinsically motivated to make a difference. Pedagogical transformation to an otherwise outdated and uninspiring curriculum has led these students to deeper learning and more ambitious expectations about their own future.

In 2012, Freemantle SHS became the first Carbon Neutral High School in Australia by reducing their fossil fuel use, implementing renewable energy projects and capturing carbon emissions through tree planting and using a ‘whole-school’ approach and with the help of community partnerships, Freemantle SCS, cut their carbon emissions by over 15% in the first three years of the Carbon Neutral Project.

Watch their video: Champion, audit, partner, action, repeat 

With the aim of making their school carbon neutral

Melbourne Girls’ College is an award winning sustainable school, proudly partnering with the City of Yarra with the ambition to be Carbon Neutral by 2020. MGC is the 2015 recipient of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, receiving funding to put plans into action and now boasts an interactive PV solar array, pedal and ergo generators, a microhydroturbine and solar powered seal fountain with a strategy to reduce energy use to achieve their goal.

I had the pleasure of visiting Melbourne Girls’ College during a student led sustainability conference late last year. The passion, co-learning and collaborative culture among students from a number of schools involved in the conference was inspiring.

The MGC students also held an action to celebrate their school’s pledge and send a message to decision makers to follow their lead and power all schools and Australia with 100% renewable energy !

Huge congratulations to the MGC environment team, students, staff and parents for leading the way and adopting the pledge !

Victorian schools are encouraged to adopt renewable energy practices with the help of Sustainability Victoria, but so far none have achieved carbon neutral status.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training said two-thirds of schools’ total energy use was consumed outside of school hours. It also estimated that as much as 40 per cent of all energy use in schools is not essential.

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What is most impressive is that both schools have leadership teams that enable student led deep learning.  The students experience the CNP at South Fremantle SHS in all learning areas. It is embedded deeply in the school curriculum, for example in sustainability themes in Science, Marine and Ocean, and Earth and Environment studies. It is embedded in qualifications such as our students’ achievements and hands on experience in conservation through endorsed community programs such as the Rio Tinto Earth Assist Program. It is equally embedded in community service; since 2008 South FreemantleSCS students have propagated and planted over 29,000 trees in the school grounds, in the Wheatbelt and in bush-fire affected Toodyay via our ‘Seed to Tree’ project.

Tree planting in the wheatbelt

Tree planting in the wheatbelt

By involving students in deep learning they become active in caring for our planet’s future, applying their learning in meaningful ways inside the school and outside in the community. South Fremantle SHS is one of only two schools in WA nominated to participate in STELR, a national initiative that encourages students’ participation in Maths and Sciences with a particular focus on renewable energy. Twenty one students attended the 2013 Australian Youth Climate Coalition Event – ‘Start the Switch’ workshops, mentoring and training in sustainability leadership.

It makes me so proud to know that young people are doing great things to make positive change in their schools and communities. These are the global citizens of tomorrow, TODAY.

Working out loud

You’ve got to love what digital connection and social tools can do.

I recently reached out on LinkedIn to broaden my professional learning network and connected with Ciarra Greene at Portland University, Oregon.  I asked Ciarra about global education and her reply set me thinking.  I had an ‘aha’ moment.  She gave me the missing dots to connect so many ideas rushing about in my head. Ciarra mentioned place-based learning and whilst I understood the concept I had not heard that name.

Place-based learning immerses students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences, using these as a foundation for the study of other learning areas across the curriculum.

I immediately thought of My Place by Nadine Wheatley and the wonderful offerings for learners relating to PLACE.  I’ve wandered from my original pathway!

Ciarra is connected to the Nez Perce tribe, who are an Indigenous people of the plateau, living in the Pacific northwest region of the United States.

Indigenous tribes in the USA are in the news right now, battling Trump’s directive to the Army to continue laying the Dakota Access pipeline across sacred sites with the threat of contaminating drinking water.

What if learners in the United States exchanged their understandings of the traditional cultures of indigenous tribes with learners in Australia and their understandings of the traditional cultures of our First People, the Aborigines?  What if the identity and indeed existence of these indigenous tribes was being threatened?  What if environmental issues are being exploited?

I think Ciarra and I are learning just in the same way we want our young learners to learn-through collaboration, communication and deep thinking.  Through technology, our learning has shot past the four walls of the classroom and entered the biggest ‘classroom’ that is our world.

How amazing!

 

Authentic writing-a pleasure

 

kids-on-computers

In an article, Do Students Enjoy Writing? the latest UK data shows that while children and young people’s enjoyment of reading has been increasing in recent years, enjoyment of writing is heading in the opposite direction.  So much so that the National Literacy Trust is now calling for a focus on writing for enjoyment in schools. Results of its sixth annual literacy survey of more than 32 000 eight- to 18-year-olds, released this month, show 44.8 per cent said they enjoy writing very much or quite a lot in 2015 – down from 49.3 per cent the previous year and 10 per cent lower than the 2015 figure for enjoyment of reading.

I pose the question, “How would I respond to this disappointing trend in attitudes to writing?”

What seems lacking is student motivation and engagement.  The enjoyment of writing is greater enhanced by the learner choosing the topic.

Writing in the 21st century has changed and has expanded beyond the genres commonly taught and the development of traditional pieces.  We now need to learning to write in a digital space- to think about using social tools for writing, coding, to write with precision and brevity, sometimes within 140 characters, to write using hyperlinks, to use the skills of curating, archiving and sharing.

How can you create the context to connect your students to a real audience beyond the classroom?  By stimulating curiosity and encouraging learners to envisage a purpose for writing, inspiring learning can be fashioned.

First, you should become familiar with common tools such Twitter, Facebook, Seesaw, Blackboard Collaborate, Edmodo groups, Google docs, Sway, blogposts, WhatsApp, Skype groups, Padlet and Global Projects including Flat Connections.  As educators, we cannot expect to be confident facilitators unless we have some working knowledge of digital tools.

Now for a purpose?  What would learners like to find out?  What do learners wish to say?  Learners easily adapt to online communication to seek answers to their own questions.  Martha Payne, a young school girl from Scotland, started her blog, NeverSeconds as a writing project.  Her blog went viral and involved school children across the globe to write. With a reason to write, learners found their voice and expressed themselves in their unique style.  A global audience is waiting-an audience of varying cultures, ages, faiths, gender, beliefs and experience.

Writing becomes authentic.  This has been measured to increase motivation and engagement.  Success can be shared with the school community as well as with wider audiences.

How can you enrich your learners’ experience of writing with a real audience beyond the classroom?

 

What works for me… and us!

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There are so many exciting experiences happening in classrooms all over the world.  Ordinary teachers doing amazing things with their learners at the heart of each experience-professional learning networks of teachers willing to share in order to strengthen the skills and awareness of their learners.  You’ll find digital and/or global learning examples right here in this posting.    

Colleague, Julie Lindsay, of Flat Connections constructs a learning model whereby all learners have freedom to communicate across borders rather than up or down – with no hierarchy.

On Global Collaboration Day (15th September), experienced global educators and professionals will host connective projects and events. The goals of this whole day event are to demonstrate the power of global connectivity in classrooms, schools and universities around the world, and to introduce others to the tools, resources and projects that are available to educators today. 

Take a look at the active global projects from iEARN. This organisation enables interactive curriculum-based groups to create, research, share opinions and become global citizens.

How can you engage your learners in learning about the world from the world?

 

Cambodia and Laos-a travelling experience

It wasn’t easy to explain my visit to Cambodia and Laos, in fact I found it tricky to know exactly what I’d be involved with. I wasn’t disappointed in the opportunities to support those with less opportunity in life than I have.  I am truly blessed. Thank you Robyn and Uniting Journeys.

Cambodia

Once upon a time, some years back, I travelled with a slightly cynical perspective. I’d observe and retell, often in humourous guise, the societal and cultural differences I noticed with a view that my ‘world’ was the marker by which everything I saw was measured.
Call it ageing, maturity or just eating humble pie, we in the west have a lot to learn from other cultures and people. My visit to Cambodia and Laos, and in particular, to a village about 30 kms out of Siem Reap, has given me plenty to think about.

I came home with so much more than I took-no not luggage, but learning.  I’ve written entries and will publish them every few days. Watch out for my entries and feel free to comment.

The Journey or the Destination

At a recent sports day for young children I reflected on the purpose and learning opportunities of the event.

Fun Run
The organisation of the morning was outstanding.  Every element from volunteer assistance, evacuation procedures, entertainment, medical facilities and choice of not for profits to support had been thought through in detail.
Lesson no 1:  My community will go to great lengths to make an event relevant to my age, ensure my safety and at the same time make it fun for me.  They will give me an opportunity to help others through my effort.
Children were registered by families and were sponsored by relatives and friends.  The proceeds of the morning were donated to a not for profit chosen by families from a small range that the organisers had thoughtfully selected.
Lesson no 2:  I can ask my loved ones to support my efforts to help others.
Events were offered in varying lengths and staggered across the morning.
Lesson no 3:  I have a chance of completing the event, feeling proud and fulfilling my commitment to my sponsors.
Toilets were brought in, sunscreen and water were on hand and even fruit was freely available.
Lesson no 4:  As a child my needs will be looked after.
Children ran, walked, were pushed and were held. Their adults walked dogs, pushed strollers, prams, supported and encouraged their children’s efforts. Bystanders offered words of praise. Certificates available to every participant at the finishing line acknowledged the effort not the winning.
Lesson no 5:  I’m a champion for participating and trying hard.  Winning is for one; participating is for everybody.
After the events, families shared picnics, listened to music and mingled. Children could involve themselves in activities set up in the ‘Giving Tent’, where families could meet representatives of the not for profits. The ‘Giving Tent’ was set up to foster a spirit of generosity and participation for social good.
Lesson no 6:  I can enjoy helping others.
The big lesson I learnt today: It’s not the speed but the journey.  There was so much to learn along the way.