This semester I have been working on a unit on sustainability with my year 5 classes. Their challenge has been ‘How can we become more responsible users of plastic as a community?’ I’ve learnt a lot about this topic through preparing resources for these classes and from what the kids have discovered and shared. But in a round-about way it has also led me to reflect on my teaching practice.
Last week I attended the 2019 EduTECH Conference. I was really lucky to be able to attend to learn from connect and share with so many amazing educators. I was also lucky and grateful that the conference was held in Singapore. Food and eating is very important in the Singaporean culture. There is so much variety and everywhere you look, there are restaurants, cafes, Hawker stalls or street food. So as you do in Singapore …I ate out a lot!
One thing I noticed about eating out so much is the amount of single-use plastic Singaporeans use and it made me think about my year 5 classes and the problem I challenged them with. It made me think about how authentic it would be to challenge them with how Singapore could reduce their plastic use. At this point, I have to say I’m not having a go at Singapore or accusing them of overusing plastics. I’m sure it’s something they’ve been thinking about and working on, long before I started this blog. After all, they are an island and don’t have near as much space for landfill or issues associated with disposing of plastics.
However, it got me thinking about global issues of the future and how kids in my classes today are going to be faced with solving them. It got me reflecting on whether I am doing all I can to prepare them to face these big challenges and what could I do better. It got me thinking about what is required to prepare kids for this. And the results of my musings are:
Mindsets – Nothing good can occur without the right frame of mind. Emotional intelligence needs to be something all teachers are developing in students, not just for life beyond school, but for their learning in school also. Students need to have the attitude to understand the difference between failure and failing. The ability to value and build on mistakes. Afterall, some of the greatest inventions the world has seen came from failures. Teachers need to be careful in modelling these mindsets in class. Things like praising effort rather than just talent. Highlighting and celebrating failures. Being vulnerable enough to admit their own failures. Pointing out that there are more ways than one to get an answer and constantly encouraging students to aim for progress rather than perfection.
Collaboration – I have been listening to an audio book by Shane Snow called Dream Teams. He discusses the benefits of working as a team. Using each member of the team’s unique backgrounds, cultures, experience or point of view as a way of not just solving problems or creating solutions but to provide a variety of methods and options. The big issues of the future such as global warming, lack of water, medical breakthroughs are going to require teams of people collaborating to create solutions. Teams that are going to be able to value others’ ideas and contributions as well as their own and build on these. Individuals who will be able to compromise and sacrifice their ideas for the benefit of getting the best result. Teams that accept diversity and are able to collaborate globally. Teachers need to provide learning experiences where students can connect with a variety of people. Opportunities for students to collaborate and develop communication and teamwork.
Provide authentic learning experiences – By providing authentic learning experiences, students will not just develop a sense of, ‘I can do this’ but will also understand ‘why’ they are learning this way. These learning experiences need to provide students with opportunity to collaborate with others. Perhaps other students or teachers outside of their classroom or experts in the required area. Opportunities where students get to empathise with consumers or those affected and get to experience things from a different point of view. To experience a world outside of their own. Opportunities where students can develop confidence and understanding of the importance of a growth mindset. Opportunities where students can be empowered by working on problems, with people, like in life beyond school.
Even the oldest students I teach are 6-7 years away from graduating school. What will their world look like in 2026? One thing I do know is that the world around us will continually change and, as a teacher, I need to change with it. I need to have the mindset to keep developing my practice. I have to collaborate with others to do this and I have to bring my authentic experiences, like observing the world around me (like in Singapore) into my classes.
Will my students be prepared? I’m counting on it…