Bridging the World of Teachers and Students

“Put your hands up if you can name a YouTuber.”
“Two Youtubers?”
“Keep your hand up if you know three YouTubers.”
18.
Then, 11.
And finally, seven hands remain in the air.

“Hands down.  Now, raise your hand if you know what is going on in neighboring Myanmar.”
Two hands hesitatingly raise up.

This fantastical visual served as a reflection of the need for a call to action.  The necessity to bridge a divide between a students’ world and that of ours, adults. Generation Z, or Zoomers, have an ocean of information to swim in, right at their fingertips.  However, just as I wish that students begin paying closer attention to the world around them, I too should have much to gain from taking a deeper dive into  what captures their 12 and 13 year-old attention.

 

Beginning With the “Why”

We may profess that we promote environments where students become caring global citizens, yet how might we move beyond mere words and into action? At the school where I teach, an intentional approach was taken to provide opportunities for students to speak, listen and learn about the world, ourselves, and what is currently taking place around us.  This mission was designed to help us maintain focus on why we do what we do.  Further, it is aligned with a three item list that is a header on our weekly meeting agendas.  To design with the following in mind:  agency (voice/choice); promote a robust array of opportunities to develop skills of reading, writing, speaking; and to prioritize meaningful learning that motivates and becomes transferable.  Furthermore, our aspirations as social studies teachers is further backed by our school’s vision statement:  “to enrich communities through the intellectual, humanitarian and creative thoughts and actions of our learners.” 

 

How A Teacher Might Get Started

One method of going about this is a robust current events integration.  This begins by our modeling of a presentation.  This year it was an event about Elon Musk and Space X.  Specifically how on average every two weeks of 2020 there was a commercial space launch. The Hong Kong protests was a close second.  After the presentation we invited students to comment positively and specifically.  Following this, we roll out the rubric.  Simplified, the one standard addresses communication and a students ability to engage in discussion on public issues.  The “discussion” is ultimately the passion a student is able to spearhead in class.  Can they proficiently speak loudly, clearly, and knowledgeably? Is a visual utilized to help guide the presentation?  And, is there a call to action?

 

At a More Granular Level

Once students are on board, we invite students to a simple Google Doc calendar and they self-select.  Some think of their soccer games and upcoming band performances.  A few students usually are quick to sign up to be first stating that they are either excited or “just want to get it over with.”  Whereas, others assign themselves towards the end, in an effort to be wise and build off the learning from all those before them.

A Google Slides presentation houses everyone’s presentation, to create a quasi archive in the making. Seven slides are intentionally placed at the start:

Now we make no claim that this is “the way” to do it.  Simply, we have found that it works for our students.  The directions for how to create the slides are explicit, yet allow breathing room for students to fill out with creativity. And they do!

Directions are to select one current event article to focus the presentation. This should be something the student cares about or possibly just wants to know more about.  The first semester students selected everything from whale migration to Black Lives Matter protests.  After reading the article and familiarizing oneself with the event, some students possibly will research more, but this is up to the individual.  Next their three slides are crafted.  The only parameters for the slides are that no slide should have more than 5 words.  This engenders brevity but also leads to the creation of talking points, as opposed to turning and reading slides during the presentation.  Note: this sometimes is challenging as “Death by PowerPoint” presentations have taken root and been accepted for far too many years.  It’s time to bring back tht personality of a presentation.  Remember Show and Tell and how much fun that was?  Imagine a first grader reading a PowerPoint to tell about the item they are showing!

Further, students are invited to thoughtfully incorporate the use  of visuals on their slides.  A range often is selected; charts and graphs, often along with provoking images. Last, we highlight the importance of structure. To begin with a title that hooks and to conclude with a call to action. Also in the beginning, the inclusion of a map will help the audience with context.  From the start the “what” and “where” is already highlighted. Logically, next students will touch on who, when, and why.  The call to action, the “how.”  The conclusion one that hopefully will leave us empowered either to change a habit or behavior. Or maybe just interested in educating ourselves more.  Ostensibly, all 5 Ws and How are addressed in the presentation. For students who may require or desire a template for more structure, we provide a graphic organizer to help with planning.

A hurdle every year is for students to trust themselves enough to present without the use of a script or cue cards in hand.  The expectation is to speak, as opposed to read.  However, with practice all students have demonstrated success in this.

 

Beaming at the End

The final step, a favorite, largely hinges on classroom culture. Applause usually ensues following a presentation.  Then, students have an opportunity to comment positively.  Hands often shoot up across the room and the presenter selects.  Observing amidst the “audience,” tears have welled up in my eyes on more than one occassion.  Kind and specific words spoken directly to another.  A boost in confidence noted on a child’s face, easily detected even though masked.

Since the precursory, “Put your hands up if you can name a YouTuber,” I made the decision to educate myself and join the legions of youth.  To do so, I openly took the recommendations of students.  Quickly three YouTuber names surfaced: Try Guys, Dream, and MrBeast.  The first, Try Guys clearly is a niche unto themselves.  Their online streaming of comedy already has 10 seasons of content. With an even larger fan or following base, Dream has close to 20 million subscribers.  This YouTuber is known for producing Minecraft and speedrun content videos.  The third, MrBeast, is just that.  Offline, known as Jimmy Donaldson, MrBeast has more than 50 million subscribers. A number larger than the population of Spain!  His videos often are expensive stunts, which combine his skills as an entrepreneur, along with philanthropy.  For example, successfully raising 20 million dollars to plant 20 million trees.  Then, there is of course the video of his preposterous counting to 100,000.  Sped up, over 40 hours of MrBeast just sitting and counting is condensed to a full day. Nearly as asinine would be someone spending a day watching MrBeast count.

Whose World?

Though I do not lay claim to have fully swung open the door to our student’s world, I feel positive to have begun to glimpse inside. In doing so, it is intriguing to observe how our teacher and student spheres can intersect, collide, or even casually orbit unto themselves. Yet, one thing I am certain. YouTubers have a magnitude of influence. Their style, wit, and communication patterns emerge in student projects, but also in day to day interactions. In a world still gripping with a pandemic and where officials launch lawsuits against a city’s board of education in order force opening of schools, it is refreshing to enter the world of our students. If even to watch a YouTuber pull off the painful stunt of completing a marathon in American size 40 shoes.

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Addendum:

Curated sources we encourage students to utilize can be seen below.  Some allow students to select their reading level which is a big help.  Additionally, we aim for our resources to be balanced and not necessarily promote any one country’s bias.

Newsela The Good News Network Dogonews BBC– British Broadcasting Corporation Time for Kids
CBC Kids News Kids News– Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Kids News– Australia News for Kids Newsbank
(our school database)

Deserving Permission

Two bits recently grab my attention as I grapple to better understand each.  The first is simply a matter of syntax but the words I hear and choose to use clearly have an impact. The second is of much larger context and regards the commodification of education.

“The self-talk you use regularly creates your reality and your destiny,” states Christopher Bergland in an article published in Psychology Today titled, “Scientists Find That a Single Word Can Alter Perceptions ~Language has the power to make the invisible appear real”.  Understanding this, two words seemingly have the power to raise the hackles on my hairless back.

“Deserve.”

And “permission.”

Consciously I no longer use either, a disappearing act from within my lexicon.  The first, “deserve”, exudes entitlement. “Have a great break, you deserve it!” Or, “Go ahead and eat dessert.  You deserve it!”

Caroline Myss, five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker asserts, “The attitude of ‘deserve’, as a rule, is a one-way street.”  As if to say that the world and others are simply to revolve around an individual. Myss further adds, “Expectations do not get filled by themselves. Someone has to ‘make’ you happy; someone has to ‘provide’ security and safety; someone has to ‘provide’ love.”

The second, “permission”, appears especially out of place in the context of education.  A place where empowerment and innovation are essential.  Some these days even are proclaiming “fearless inquiry”.  Boldly questioning and willing to try everything. Yet, still hanging on are the enduring remnants of tradition and hierarchy.  A colleague in another school shared a pervasive example of a school community writhing in dysphoria.  “You have the permission to send Meghan to the office when she tells you to be quiet.”  A knee jerk reaction would surely need to be kept in check, a biting of the tongue just the same.  For surely there would be a desire to sarcastically respond, “Geez, thanks!”   Unfortunately this is not a stand alone example.  I have also overhead educators ardently disclose, “Jill (the principal) said we had permission to purchase supplemental materials with our PD funds.”  Like 7 and 8-year old children, professional practioners, those in the trenches, are so disempowered that they need to be given “permission.”  These examples are even more preposterous when we consider “teachers make over 1500 educational decisions every school day, a constant juggle of manager, content holder, master communicator, and support system.”

Occupying more of my thinking, at a 20,000 foot altitude is how might higher education be 10, 20, or 50 years from now.  Specifically, in the United States.  A proponent of alternative models and interested in learning from the past but also the pandemic present, a part of me is not entirely optimistic.  I have no sources to back my thinking, just experience.

Last year, Forbes reported how student loan debt is just behind mortgage debt, a figure of $1.56 trillion.  Clearly a broken system, however with all the talk about the unsustainability of student loans, I posit “What would happen if we emptied the higher ed institutions of privilege?”  What if not a single American student attended the Yales, Harvards, and Princetons?

A vacuum.

That’s my prediction of what likely would see.  As true as gravity.

A flood of F-1 student visas would result.  The elite from developing countries would fill the hallowed halls and desks up over night.  Education, a commodity bought up.  More than mere fad, attending such schools is a symbol.  Just as driving a fancy car, wearing certain designer clothes, or toting a $3000 purse.  In Bangkok, the city where I live, shopping is considered by some to be the nation’s favorite pastime.  With countless luxury malls, boutiques as well as upscale brands help fill a sort of void. Opulence a sort of addiction. Status but also appearance, the priority.

Education is no different.  A commodity.  Only in much of Asia, education is rooted culturally, the pathway to success.  Therefore, what is considered the “best” or “first-tier” naturally is what is sought after. Not necessarily for better or worse.  An Ivy League sweatshirt worn with pride.

However, what is different is the messaging. A more progressive view wells up in the United States.  One example is the rampant rise in credentialing. This appears far more aligned with what it means to learn and work in the 21st century.  In the United States alone there are over 730,000 confirmed credentials.  According to Credential Engine, “Through an increasing array of credentials – such as degrees, licenses, badges and apprenticeships – job seekers, students, and workers have more options than ever to help them get ahead.”Again, I have just experience to make these claims.  Yet, for now my recommendation is to just give students “permission” to pursue an alternative approach.  After all, they “deserve” it!

As Education Evolves, We Must Continue to Integrate Parents 

Schooling and learning have changed. From passivity to authenticity. Transferability the clear goal.  An analogy that might help better understand this evolution is the user experience of shopping and how it has morphed, almost into an unrecognizable state. The advent of shopping catalogs can be traced back further back in history than one might assume, however we are but a couple generations removed from the “Golden-era of mail order.”  You may even have memories, fond or otherwise so, of the 1980’s when we saw the likes of Lands End, J. Crew, and Sears.  The retail catalog business  estimated at $164 billion in 1989.  Catalogs now are but a faded memory, yet they were the  building blocks for the budding behemoth, Amazon. Nowadays there is talk about the use of augmented reality to assist with virtual shopping.  Amazon being one such company utilizing patented mirror technology.  The evolution of shopping is an illustration of an undeniably different world than the one adults experienced as children. This is not unlike our schools and classroom.   Yet, unless you never left school, many adults today may not have realized this transformation.

 

One Question Remains

Before the turn of the millennium I started teaching in an urban school in a large city in the United States. Three quarters of the 8 and 9-year olds in my class would not share the end of the school year, as name tags would tirelessly be replaced with the incessant cycling in and out.  Transience was often a result of families being evicted from government subsidized housing.  Most headed by a single parent, always mothers.  The young women’s experience with education, negative more often than not. To get them to come for a parent night or conference was a stretch.  Families merely surviving.

Fast forward to another reality, teaching in Asia at a respected international school.  Standards, compliance, and well resourced; many students have help at home: maids, tutors, coaches, and extended family.  Two parent households the norm; both often highly educated.  Conference attendance is nearly 100 per cent.  Still, one question is worthy of asking. 

How well do parents really understand what school is today?

In both situations above, intentionality is essential. How are we welcoming parents in, helping educate them on how the world has changed, and how this translates to being a student today?  Unless we do so, the divide likely will remain.  A disconnect where seemingly a more scientific rather than artistic means of measuring wins out.  The quantifiable, hard and fast grades prioritized over the qualitative process of learning.  Commanding teachers as opposed to empowered students.  

 

Just Where Are We Now?

During the pandemic Zoom was used in more than 90,000 schools in 20 countries.   In effect, this meant that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of classrooms were opened to parents.  Sitting on the periphery, or in the case of younger students possibly directly in front of the screen with their child. Parents had an opportunity to be fully integrated, immersed in the learning even if virtual school was different.  Smeared or possibly even “broken,” it was a “window” nonetheless.  Zoom certainly required teachers to be vulnerable.  

Ted Dintersmith, author and film producer, of “What School Could Be” optimistically reveres the pandemic as a remarkable opportunity.  “Will we rush to go back to ‘normal,’ piling on the worksheets and fact-based exams? Or will we learn from what worked this past year and use these insights as a springboard for reimagining school??”  A component of this “reimagining” hopefully will be the critical role of parents.

Dr. Diana Hiatt-Michael, a professor of education at Pepperdine University for more than three decades, examined the historical role of parents in education.  Published by Academic Development Institute, Parent Involvement in American Public Schools: A Historical Perspective 1642—2000,” attests to how the pendulum has swung back and forth. “From strong parent involvement in the home and community based schools of the agrarian seventeenth century to the bureaucratic factory model schools of the industrial revolution,” writes Dr. Hiatt-Michael.  What the impending Information and Experience Age propagates is still left to tell.  However, what is not in question, is the profound impact parental involvement has in a child’s education.  

However, hiring out or programming the lives of children is not call. Rather, the quiet strength in truly listening to children. As well, especially in the pre-teen and teenage years, maintaining trusting child-parent relationships where artful two-way conversation is a part of family’s home cultures.  This communication about friends, things a child may be excited or even nervous about, as well as what is being learned in school.  Parents and children alike never have expressed titillation from the generic deadend conversation that begins with, “How was school?”  

 

What We Can Do (3-2-1 A Common Technique in a Teacher’s Toolkit)

Parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning but how might we better facilitate this? Furthermore, how might we as students, parents, teachers, and schools have a more shared vision of what education can be?  Let us finish with some hopefully easily applicable ideas for paving a luminous path.

3 Things Teachers and Schools Can Do:

3 Invite families into the classroom to observe.  And not just once or twice a year.

2 Share regular “newsletters,” updates, or e-mails to help keep parents informed and involve .

1 Share recommended resources that can assist with building greater understanding of the world of children and education today.  As well, parenting wisdom.  For example, Madeline Levine’s Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World.”

 

2 Things Parents Can Do:

2  Set down your phones and create time daily to speak with your children.

1  Parents teaching parents:  volunteer to provide or attend a workshop.  Topics such as as self-management and finding balance with technology are often especially valuable.  

 

1 Thing Students Can Do:  

1 Do not wait for events like student-led conferences to share your learning and lives with adults. 

 

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