Cultural Diversity – more important than ever!

Their laughter traveled across the water park as they chased each other in the shallows.  I watched my son from the distance encourage the other boy to continue the game.  They were about the same age, four years old, and obviously enjoyed similar games.

What was different was that each boy spoke a different language.  “H” fluent in English and this other boy who appeared to be of Middle Eastern decent spoke a different dialect.  Although the boys faced a language barrier they did not let it detract from their game.  As they continued their “super hero” game, the other boy’s mother came up to the water’s edge and watched the boys at play.  We both looked at each other and smiled.

In a World where it seems the media and politicians want to so often highlight our differences as a thing to fear, these boys could not care less.  It got me thinking – when do we start caring?  When do stereotypes start impacting us?

It got me thinking – when do we start caring? When do stereotypes start impacting us?

Leading Anti-Bias Educator, Lousie Derman Sparks, states in a lecture, to the UUA Assembly in 2012, that at around 6 years old we start exploring our self and group identity e.g. gender, cultural and racial.  At 8 years old we can identify and critically think about interpersonal dynamics of racism, sexism and classism, and how to interpret them. They understand scientific explanations for skin color and how individuals get their skin color. Understand nature and harm of stereotyping.  This understanding continues to grow and with it the impact of misinformation and stereotyping.

This impact was highlighted by recent comments from political leaders at home and abroad.  Peter Dutton, Australian Home Affairs Minister, declared that Melbourne residents were afraid to go out to restaurants because of African Gangs (Peter Dutton says Victorians scared to go out because of ‘African’ gang violence, The Guardian, Wed 3 Jan 2018).  The leader of the free World, Donald Trump, then decided to refer to African nations as “shitholes” (African Union, African UN envoys demand Trump apology, CNN Politics, Jan 13 2018).

Rather than put our hands up in the air, it should make our belief in the need for schools to combat this stereotyping and fear mongering, even stronger.  In my teaching career I have been fortunate to teach in schools where multiculturalism and diversity were celebrated.  My first permanent teaching position was in a school that at the time had students from around 82 different cultural backgrounds and over 57 different languages spoken at home.

What have these experiences taught me?  That often it is the adults that impose the stereotypical views and barriers upon young people.  Children have an amazing ability to see past differences, be it cultural, racial or socio-economical.  I have seen Vietnamese girls Greek dancing, African students singing traditional Maori songs and Caucasian kids understanding the meaning behind Aboriginal artworks.  I have seen friendships blossom oblivious to the cultural and social divides that may make it impossible to outside the school gate.  Children, families and colleagues have taught me not to tolerate cultural diversity but to embrace it.

As Thomas R. Hoerr explains in his book, The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills, “Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us.  This attitude acknowledges our history of differences while empowering every person to succeed and enables all of us to come together in a caring, respectful, and productive way.”

“Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us.” ~ Thomas R. Hoerr

It is the easy option to use our differences to form negative stereotypes and judge others. As teachers we must challenge and support our students to not take the quick and simple option.  We understand that teaching children to embrace diversity can be challenging.  Hoerr explains why “teaching children to embrace diversity will be an uphill struggle because we are running counter to centuries of prejudice; we aren’t starting from zero.”

The struggle is worth it.  Through appreciating and embracing diversity  we are ensuring our students are tearing down the mountain that centuries of prejudice has created.

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Just A Teacher Podcast: Episode 3 – Go into bat with Matt

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-er92k-829776

In this episode of Just A Teacher Podcast, we are joined by Matt, a teacher with over 14 years experience, for what is an insightful and entertaining conversation.  Matt shares his experience of teaching in regional areas, the UK and metropolitian schools.  He discusses his passion for story-telling and how teaching brings out the best in him.

Just A Teacher

“I’m just a teacher” – a comment that I think nearly every educator has made at some point in their career.  I know I have made it more than once.  As educators we make the comment even though we know how complex teaching is, the challenges involved and the stress and pressure that comes with accepting the role of a teacher.  Not everyone can be or would want to be a teacher but yet as a profession we still downplay the role and it’s impact.

This is even though over 5.2 million people have watched Taylor Mali’s video of his poem “What do teachers make?”.  Many of those 5.2 million would actually be teachers!

So WHY do we choose to utter the words “I’m just a teacher” when faced with the question what do you do?  When receiving praise for the amazing job majority of teachers do or when asked to share something incredible they are doing in their classroom?

My personal opinion it is the perception of teachers and status in society that has been reinforced through many media outlets and political agendas.   Education being used as a political football and the subsequent effect of the headline grabs sees teachers having to defend what they do.  The use of high stakes data like NAPLAN and PISA by media outlets to create league tables, results in pressure from education systems, schools and parents that flows through to those in the trenches – teachers.

Don’t get me started with how old comments like “you are always on holidays” and “you only work 9 till 3” get!

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As educators we need to be the biggest advocates for the importance of teaching and how multi-faceted the profession is.  Teachers are faced with many challenges on a daily basis and pressure from multiple angles but there aren’t many jobs more rewarding.

Teachers know the rewards that happen between the “four walls of the classroom” far outweigh any extrinsic reward.  There are not many professions where you can literally change the life of another human!  How amazing is it to see a young person learn to read, discover a love of learning and develop the confidence and resilience to overcome challenges life presents.

What am I doing to advocate for the teaching profession I hear you ask…

I never allow like “I’m just a teacher” or “I’m only a teacher aide” go unchecked.  I reinforce that there is no JUST about it.  This has then led me to create the podcast Just A Teacher.

A podcast that aims to shine a light on the people who accept the responsibility of being a teacher.  Explore why someone would want to become a teacher, how teaching really is a profession where you never stop learning, examine the challenges faced and most importantly share the many successes experienced.  I am hoping there will plenty of insights, affirmations and take aways for not just people in education but everyone across our society.

Click here to listen to the first episode of Just A Teacher podcast

Teacher Excited

Teacher Excited

Definition: The excitement of developing and/or attempting a new learning experience that you believe has the potential to engage and challenge students.

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Recently I got “teacher excited” about an idea I had come across on my favourite professional learning network, Twitter.  The idea involved using OneNote to create an Escape Room Math experience for students.  I read about this on the OneNote Education blog and instantly thought my Year 3 math enrichment students would love this!

I am always looking for new ways to engage the young mathematicians while also consolidating their learning  and challenging them in new ways.  The Escape Room seemed like the perfect tool to achieve these aims.

Rather than escape from actual rooms students were required to work their way through a number of sections on a OneNote Notebook.  Each section was password protected.  To unlock the section, students needed to solve a math problem and use the correct answer as the password for the next room or section.

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During the semester, we had been learning a range of problem solving strategies and the Escape Room provided a great way for students to put this understanding to the test.  I intentionally selected a range of questions that required different strategies and progressively got more difficult as they worked their way through the rooms.

Now back to my “teacher excitement”.  I wanted to take the Escape Room to the next level so I included a video introduction and a special video in the final room of the challenge.  I stayed up past my bedtime creating the Notebook, choosing the math problems and making the video segments.  I emailed the finished product to one of my colleagues to triple check the layout, video and passwords worked.

The next morning I raced into her office and asked if she got my email?  She said she had and then went on to say how cool it was and she wanted to make one for her Year 5 students.  I said that would have to wait a minute because I needed to share the Escape Room with my Year 3 group.

I sent out the Notebook link and then literally raced to the Year 3 classrooms…

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“Check your email, check your email I have sent you something really cool!”

Students weren’t 100% sure what I was on about when I started rambling about escape room, math, passwords…then students checked their emails and they were in!

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The challenge of unlocking the rooms had students instantly hooked.  I had students outside school hours (remember they are in Year 3) emailing me about the questions and strategies they needed to employ to solve the questions and get the next password.  I was impressed with the confidence and persistence the learning experience generated.  The collaboration between the students took me by surprise as I had set the task as an enrichment activity and had foreseen them completing it individually.  However, before school and at breaks they were discussing questions and how they had worked out answers.

On completion of the challenge, students shared that they really enjoyed having to solve the problem to unlock the next room and wanted to know when I was creating the next Escape Room.  It was great to see my excitement for the task matched by the students.

“Teacher excitement” is one of the best things about our profession.  The opportunity to be lifelong learners, accept challenges and light a spark in a young person’s life are aspects of teaching that set it apart from other vocations.

“I love my job.” #teacherexcited

What we have in common…

Inspired by a tweet from 2016 Alabama Secondary Principal of the Year, Danny Steele

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I decided I wanted to know what my team thought were the 3 things highly effective teachers have in common.  I changed the descriptor, “best”, to highly effective because “best” can imply that teaching is a competition.  I wanted our team to focus on the qualities highly effective teachers share in common.

At our staff meeting I asked teachers to reflect on:

  • Their own practice – to self reflect on their own pedagogical practice and consider what elements they would describe as highly effective.
  • When they have watched others work.  All the teachers participate in WOW (Watch Others Work) time.
  • Professional learning – readings, courses, professional development and conversations.  What does research indicate as key practices and beliefs of highly effective teachers?

Teachers then shared their reflections with their learning partner.  Following this sharing session, partners needed to narrow their list to three things.  A common question during this activity was “Can we have more than three?”.

Once they had narrowed their list to three, teachers shared it on the collaboration page in our OneNote Staff Notebook.  It became apparent from the lists shared that there were common themes and we could summarise our responses into three main things that highly effective teachers have in common:

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It was both inspiring and empowering to know our team puts students at the centre of our planning and decision making, demonstrates a passion for teaching and learning, and reflect on their practice with the aim of continuous improvement.