Sunday, 30 April 2017

Teacher Training for Humanity

By Suzzanne Pautler

Global citizenship, humanitarianism, international mindedness; all are buzz words that infiltrate conversations at faculty meetings as well as mission statements posted on classroom walls.  How do we ensure that our students develop into such individuals?  Who shoulders the responsibility?  Which subject’s curriculum documents the plans to achieve such goals?

Teachers are under a lot of pressure to deliver content in a timely fashion through platforms that reach all learners: English paragraphs with text-based evidence, coordinate geometry, science dissections, stop-motion videos for French class. How do we fit in content about humanity?  The truth is we don’t want to just fit it in. As passionate educators, we truly believe in our hearts and our minds that this must be introduced to our students now so that they can develop the life skills of empathy and compassion, the essentials of respectful dialogue, and the realization of one’s rights and responsibilities.

We invited teachers from around the country to join us on the quest to teach our students about humanity. Teachers from Ajman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Al Ain signed up for Necessary Arts’ first teacher training workshop held in the UAE. According to the results from the pre-workshop survey, 90% of the participants have not attended any workshops on this topic during the past year.  Most responded positively to questions about best teaching practices and using technology in the classroom. The results were slightly lower for teaching about humanity in their classes, and the results were even lower for using drama techniques in the classroom.

Our first teachers arrived 90 minutes early, and thankfully, we were ready!  Our participants included a university student, two learning assistants, an operations manager, an English teacher, a kindergarten teacher, an ESL instructor, and a Spanish teacher. In addition, the workshop leaders are a drama teacher and an ESL teacher. Although our group is varied, we have a common focus: HUMANITY

We began the workshop by identifying the top characteristics defining our 21st century learners. Responses include: actively engaged, creative, critical thinkers, open-minded, respectful, risk-takers, collaborative, connected, communicative, knowledgeable, and globally competitive.  Knowing our learners and their needs is just the beginning.  Best teaching practices were identified as the core ingredient to a student centered classroom. The ideal learning environment is one that uses research based teaching methods to guarantee results.

An example of one strategy we shared was the “Art Gallery.” Teacher participants were invited to walk around the classroom looking at strategically placed photos, words, quotes, posters, and books focused on the theme of global humanity.  We questioned the teachers if walking around and observing was enough to engage all of our learners.  We decided not.  , we added probing questions for the participants to answer with a partner as they walked around.  The answers could not be found in the art gallery, but rather they required critical thinking skills.  Brain research suggests that the student doing the talking is the student doing the learning. This approach might engage a few more learners, but we still weren’t sure that we had engaged all of the learners.  We introduced the teachers to the app Aurasma on the iPhone because we know many of our students easily engage with electronic devices. Aurasma uses augmented reality to turn a photo into a video. We had linked videos to four of the photos in our art gallery. Technology seems to be a tool that easily reaches today’s 21st century learner.

We asked each group of teachers to choose one of the UN Global Goals as their focus.  Our groups chose: peace and justice, good health and well-being, and reduced inequalities.  We utilized various teaching strategies and learning activities hoping the participants could use the same activity in their classes, or tweak the activities to suit their learners. Of course, our leader suggested they "twerk" the activities, but we knew that didn’t sound right.

In one activity, we asked the teachers to create a socio-drama piece where they had only ten seconds to plan and then ten seconds to create a tableau with their bodies to identify each goal.

It was amazing to witness their creations.  We moved onto a written activity which resulted in similes comparing their global goal to a concrete item. “Peace and justice are like the Maldives because they both feel like paradise.”  “Good health and well-being are like a collage because they involve many equally important pieces coming together.”  “Reduced inequalities are like an extra large pizza cut into different sizes so everyone gets what they need.” Who knew there was a connection between the Maldives, collages, and pizza?

By the time the workshop ended that afternoon, we were all exhausted, yet inspired!  The participants completed a post-workshop survey where they confirmed that all objectives were met.  And most importantly, 100% of the teachers said they would recommend future training workshops by Necessary Arts to their friends and colleagues and 100% of the teachers are confident they learned something today that they can bring into their classrooms. Awesome!

The teacher comments include the following. “It was an enriching experience.” “Great work by the team.”  “You both are super professional.” “This was truly a session that I can take back to my students.” “I like the way it was chalked out with fun filled activities and was not boring as all were actively involved. It was a very friendly environment and all were upfront with the best smiles and listening ears.” Every participant had positive feedback to share. One comment that I particularly enjoyed was “The message is clear. Action leads to learning, and humanitarianism is action!”

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