Responding to Our Changing World

Responding to Our Changing World

Principal, Prairie Waters Elementary School – My 15-year-old son asked me the other day, “Dad, has the world ever been this messed up since you’ve been alive?”

It was a great question. His question was prompted by his knowledge of recent current events that include, but aren’t limited to: increasing tension with North Korea, White Pride rallies, athletes kneeling during the national anthem, and devastating hurricanes that seem to arrive one after another. Not to mention, the Las Vegas tragedy, which occurred more recently. I replied to him somewhat sadly, “I’m not sure that I have.”

We know that if there is one thing that is constant, it is change. However, the pace and complexity of this change seems to be growing. Our world is becoming increasingly connected. Information moves rapidly and our individual and collective decisions can have significant impact, both positively and negatively.

Rocky View Schools’ mission is “We engage all learners through meaningful and challenging experiences, preparing them to understand, adapt and successfully contribute to our changing global community.”

It is an inspiring and worthwhile mission; however, as expected, it leaves us begging the question, “How?” The question becomes particularly complex considering that by the time many of our students in Kindergarten join the workforce as an adult, Earth is expected to have approximately another 1.2 billion humans joining the 7.6 billion that already share this planet (United Nations, 2017, June 21).

I believe that to respond to this extraordinary complexity, our children must become internationally minded in a way that is extraordinarily uncommon. It lies in our ability as educators to develop tremendous compassion for others and a humbling ability to be open-minded. The International Baccalaureate Organization believes that we must “encourage students … who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” This way of thinking is somewhat contrary to what many of us have been taught; however, to successfully respond to our world’s challenges, we inevitably must think differently.

As parents and educators, it is important that we deliberately and mindfully look for ways to build compassion and open-mindedness in our students. Should we create more opportunities for our students to be involved in service learning opportunities? How do we provide opportunities for our kids to be exposed to and learn from our differences? Should we explore issues more deeply through multiple and “competing” perspectives. And, as parents and educators, how do we approach multiple perspectives without bringing in our own biases that will limit our kids’ abilities to approach challenges deeply with an open mind.

Maybe if we are successful in answering these questions, our children’s children will have more optimistic questions to ask their parents.

Of Course We Want Meaningful Learning – But How?

Of Course We Want Meaningful Learning – But How?

blog_pic_chapmanPrincipal, Prairie Waters Elementary – It is not uncommon in today’s schools and on social media to listen to someone speak about the importance of authentic learning, purposeful learning, and meaningful learning. Others might preach about the importance of students doing “real life work” to prepare them for the “real world.” I certainly have used all of those buzz words and sometimes all within the same sentence on occasion. However, what is spoken about less often is HOW a teacher or a school might shift what they do to provide an environment where students access authentic, meaningful, and purposeful learning opportunities.

I certainly am by no means an expert on creating this type of environment for students. However, I am increasingly learning that it needs to be grounded in community and relationships. While this may sound simplistic, it is very complex and requires a long-term commitment and lots of ‘buy in’.blog_pic_russ

To provide students with learning experiences that are purposeful, authentic, and meaningful, educators must eliminate the walls that confine our teaching to approximations of what we are trying to achieve. Truly authentic experiences can’t happen day after day in closed spaces. By accessing opportunities and connections in the community our students’ learning can gain purpose and relevance. If we want our students to know “why” they are learning something, getting them out of the school or bringing the right people in can help a lot. Yet, a desire to engage with our greater community isn’t the whole answer. That is the easy part. The much harder part is developing the relationships that allow this to happen. This demands a commitment that takes years to develop and countless conversations to change paradigms.

Business owners, agencies, artists, and trades people don’t traditionally interact a lot with schools and students. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to. By developing relationships with them and engaging them in our desire to shift what schools look like, we can change our learning environments to look more like the ‘real world’ and less like the factory inspired model that they were built on. That invites the question – What can you do to build relationships with your community to impact your student’s learning?