Authentic, Sustainable Action…How?

 

As an IB educator the whole concept of action has been a baffling one to me! I love everything it embodies, in concept, but I have always struggled with the idea that I am manufacturing opportunities for action for my students. Surely, if I am truly embedding the IB principles and inspiring my class of learners to be masters for change they can discover these opportunities themselves?

Over the years I have seen some great examples of action that different teachers and schools have accomplished and, while I walk away so impressed, I leave wondering what I am doing wrong…why can’t I achieve this with my learners? I don’t believe in being inauthentic in order to tick a box and say “we did action”!

Of course there have been moments over the last 15 years where opportunities have been grasped and success has been achieved! Such as my 5th grader who was EAL and learning support and struggling to grasp the idea of having to tackle the exhibition. A project that seemed so out of his reach was achievable by allowing him voice and choice and the freedom to cater to his strengths not his challenges. His aunt was in a wheelchair and when he discovered my mum too was in a wheelchair he decided this was going to be the focus for his exhibition. He focused on interviewing via telephone to do his research and he channeled his research into how Germany (his Aunt) and Australia (my mum) accommodated for disabled citizens. He did a fantastic job and on the day he set up a course in the gym and had wheelchairs available for people to “have a go” at operating in order to gain empathy towards those physically challenged. It was GREAT and the pride and tears of his parents was heart warming. Yet as his teacher it was his action that I was the most proud of. He requested to come to school for the day in a wheelchair. To use it for the entire day and to see how well the school accommodated for the disabled student. He video’d, photographed and noted his experience and then wrote a letter to the school board and head of school to highlight the areas of the school that were wheelchair friendly and those that needed improvement. The school took notice and by the start of next term ramps had been installed.

This seems so long ago…15 years in fact, and yet it is still in the forefront of my mind! It is only now as I reflect on action that I realise what was probably a key factor for his success…voice and choice and working to his strengths. I didn’t force book research or essay writing, he journalled via video recordings and explained via photographs. As soon as taking the reading and writing focus away he was truly able to allow himself the freedom to explore him passion.

15 years later I have once again been able to see this authentic action again! Our Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry focused on “Children’s rights and responsibilities exist to enable equitable opportunities.” It was going to be followed by our small business unit for How We Organise Ourselves so we decided to merge them so that the small businesses would actually be “social enterprises” and therefore an action for the Sharing the Planet unit.

 

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The students started by owning their roles as students of the UN…what did this mean? What did it currently look like? What COULD it look like?

img_2992.jpg At the end of the Sharing the Planet unit the class brainstormed ideas for taking action towards helping children in Vietnam access more of their rights.

 

IMG_4961Students broke up into small groups focused on one of the child rights that they felt passionate for. They researched different NGO (non government organisations) and service learning projects within Hanoi and the school that would be a good partnership for them to work with. The made connections to one or more of the UN SDG’s (sustainable development goals). AND finally they created their social enterprise company name, slogan and logo!

All of a sudden 4A had 6 operating social enterprise’s that were addressing 5 different SDG’s and collaborating with 6 different NGO / Service Learning Projects. The impact that this had on the students was fascinating to watch. The small business unit always was a fun one that the students LOVED, but by adding this extra layer of purpose to their businesses the students were inspired and worked that much harder to be successful. They were writing to different people around the school to meet with them and discuss action ideas and were excited to use money (that was once used for a class party) that they raised to help children less fortunate than themselves.

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There were definitely the groups that needed more help than others, groups that had students who were less committed and needed more guidance but even these individuals and groups were learning. The skills that they had been honing in on throughout our student directed year (such as group work, communication and time management) were being put to use and they were EXCITED!

At this current point in time the groups are working with their partner organisations to arrange how their profits will be spent. We have the Great Green Gardeners heading off to go shopping with the school gardener, for items to create gardening kits to then distribute to families who will be able to grow their own food. Teddy Paws are purchasing the materials they need to make 25 teddy bears to take to an orphanage where one of the class members started her life in. Others are making clothing, blankets and toys for children in rural Vietnam, making stationary kits for schools in Sapa, organising a years internet subscription for a rural school who has 1 computer…the class is a buzz. No longer have the students wanted to donate the money and say they made cookies and that was their action!

Before we left for Spring Break we sat together as a class and discussed what we learned from this experience. That they explained what that because they knew they were going to be creating social enterprises based on a child right they started thinking about it from the beginning of the Sharing the Planet unit. They said that they felt special because they are lucky to be students at a UN school and that they hadn’t realised what that really meant before. One student said “I feel more socially responsible to help other kids that aren’t like me” while 2 others students asked if they could continue to work on their social enterprise in the future or if it was over now the unit was? Without realising it, these students were asking to create sustainable service learning projects! And I wanted to stand on the table and DO MY HAPPY DANCE!

Upon reflection I am seeing connections between this experience my class had with the year of self-directed learning they have had. They were able be successful because:

  • they had started to develop the skills they needed throughout the previous units
  • they had become more socially self-aware of what their role in society was as a privileged international school student
  • they were able to explore the area they felt the most connected to and passionate about
  • they were taking responsibility for their actions and were WANTING to do more for others

So after all of this I am left wondering…

  • How do we have this happen again?
  • For the Who We Are unit what will the students decide to do?
  • What skills can I foresee they will need in order for them to have the ability to authentically take action (whatever that may look like)?

All of a sudden planning is looking a lot different…

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