#67: Teach through the A.R.T.S.

CC licensed image by Flickr user Judit für NEUE STIMMEN

CC licensed image by Flickr user Judit für NEUE STIMMEN

Last month, I facilitated a workshop at the Educating for Peace and Justice Conference at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education on ‘Teaching Ethics and Social Justice through the A.R.T.S.” While the workshop provided teachers with arts-based activities for engaging students in expressing their ideas, it mainly focused on 3 aspects of my classroom teaching and learning about social justice (and many other subjects, for that matter) that I have found to be recurrent and foundational in my pedagogy over the past 7 years. My workshop drew mostly on my classroom experience, along with my knowledge acquisition over the years on issues of social justice, along with my lifelong passion for the Arts. This blog post will provide a brief overview of those 3 foundational components (more on the arts-based activities in another post).

A: Awareness. These days, students are bombarded with information from a wide array of sources. Raising a critical awareness in students is an essential first step to being well-informed, effective agents of change. Teaching students to identify bias in different contexts of their lives and understanding something as seemingly (but often not) basic as the difference between facts and opinions, sets students up with important building blocks to becoming critical thinkers. Teaching the students to embrace critical feedback and challenging them to ask questions that venture into new thinking paths, can help instil not only the skills, but the confidence to navigate the complex web of information that surrounds them (from their peers, the media, adults, faith groups, family, news articles, books and more). One simple yet foundational activity I do with my students in order to set the stage for thinking and learning about justice is to identify the difference between a fact and an opinion. Surprisingly, even youth have difficulty with this concept. In response to a provocative media piece, students come up with one sentence that is either a fact or an opinion about the issue they just witnessed. They then share that sentence with another student, who then passes on their partner’s sentence to someone else. It’s eye-opening for students to see how difficult it is to really listen to what their peer is saying to them and then repeat it to someone else without changing the language to fit their own biases. As students learn to be critically aware of the way information is portrayed and how they themselves portray information, they can then get one step closer to being critically aware.

R: Relatability. Relatability is about compassion. Students may have a great deal of awareness but they also need to feel a deep sense of compassion and connectedness with the issues at hand in order to embrace social justice as a personal value and a way of living and being, and not just as an isolated classroom project. Making the content relatable to their lives and their communities helps bring about this compassion, which can lead to empowerment. Animals bring about a great deal of compassion in kids as well. Using music and voice is a great tool for helping kids express their fears, dreams and questions about issues of equity and justice and ‘feel’ each other through a compassionate lens.

T.S. Taking a Stand. One can be aware and one can have compassion but ultimately, effective, sustainable action is needed to bring about change. Taking a stand is about standing up for issues that the students have come to embrace as important, crucial and perhaps unjust. It’s about using effective communication strategies to speak about what they want to change and it’s about working collaboratively and uniting together to have a voice around the issues that matter to them. Writing letters to political leaders, using movement and drama to express critical, challenging issues and visual arts to give visibility to those who feel invisible are some ways of taking a stand.

This is a complex topic that I’m continually navigating and tweaking, but it was a privilege to be able to share some of my ideas with fellow colleagues who attended my workshop.

Posted in Helping People | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#66: Let us remember…and let us learn.

CC licensed image by Flickr account, UK Ministry of Defence

CC licensed image by Flickr account, UK Ministry of Defence

Lest we Forget…and lest we not learn. On this Remembrance Day, I hope we can unite in not only reflecting on, remembering and paying homage to the incredible soldiers who fought and sacrificed their lives for justice and peace, but on the critical learning and perspective that needs to come from such life events, in order to strive for true justice, today and tomorrow.

Posted in Helping People | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#65: Nominate!

image from here

image from here

I would like to humbly thank Aiyshah who blogs at Aiyshah’s English Page, for nominating me for the Liebster Award. I was pleasantly surprised and very appreciative, humbled and honoured upon receiving her nomination.

It takes a special person to nominate someone for an award. Such a person is extremely selfless in appreciating another human being, by going the extra mile to seek out a relevant award and taking the time and effort to complete the nomination requirements. They do this simply because they want to acknowledge the value of another person to this world and put a smile on someone else’s face. This remarkable demonstration of appreciation is humbling to me and while nominating someone for an award is intended to celebrate the outstanding recipient, I’d like to take a moment to also acknowledge the everyday heroes who so selflessly nominate others. Awards do have their value. In being a nominee or an award recipient, it is certainly uplifting and encouraging to be so thoughtfully recognized by others, but the best rewards are intrinsic–that is, the true fulfillment coming from a completely authentic, internal sense of motivation, not reliant on external factors–and I think this can be achieved by nominating someone else. It’s truly a win-win situation, and it’s a beautiful thing.  Continue reading

Posted in Helping People | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

#64: Put on your perspectacles

CC licensed image by Flickr user Christiaan Triebert

CC licensed image by Flickr user Christiaan Triebert

I’ve woven the topic of gratitude throughout this blog; the appreciation and even disbelief I often have that I am safe, happy, well-nourished and free to pursue my aspirations and goals, in my great country of Canada, while many others have very little of that. However, I too occasionally get caught up in stress-ridden traps of narrow-mindedness and neuroticism over relatively minor things, which at the time seem insurmountable. One way for me to overcome this is by putting on my ‘perspectacles’–a term that is so congruous with working towards equity and gratitude, and a term that I came upon in this well-expressed article by Glennon Doyle Melton. If you are like me and have a financially, socially, emotionally, politically and physically stable life, you are living the lottery by global standards. Putting on your perspectacles and letting go of the need (and STRESS) of having ‘more’ (whatever form that may take) can get you closer to being freer and happier, by allowing you to focus on the wonderful experiences and moments you do have with friends and family. Furthermore, it can make way for more giving in your life. I couldn’t have said it better than Glennon did in her article. 

Posted in Self-Help | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

#63: Let learning run freely

CC licensed Flickr image by Pink Sherbet Photography

CC licensed Flickr image by Pink Sherbet Photography

As the dawn of a new school year approaches, I hereby pass on a few personal and professional reflections on the topic of #learning. These are no doubt inspired by educational leaders from my own schooling, watching and working with other amazing educators, the media (I am so grateful for this episode on TED radio hour on ‘Unstoppable Learning’, which speaks to me in so many ways), and my own experiences over the last decade as a teacher myself. Here they are: Continue reading

Posted in Helping People | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

#62: Don’t feed the wildlife!

pigeons

I saw this signage recently at Dana Point, California. I like how it also provides an explanation; understanding the reasons behind a requested action can help provide greater impetus for people to follow through. Kudos for good signage and promoting a useful message with some education.

Posted in Helping the Environment, Kid-friendly Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#61: Speak with conscious intention

Dr. Martin Luther King speaking against war in Vietnam, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota. CC licensed image by Flickr user Minnesota Historical Society.

Dr. Martin Luther King speaking against war in Vietnam, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota. CC licensed image by Flickr user Minnesota Historical Society.

I recently heard a friend speak at a school related event. He spoke with authenticity, carefully providing some meaningful advice on life and personal growth, to a room of young students, with parents and teachers listening in as well. He spoke in a low register, with a quiet, assured voice. He paused before making key statements, allowing the silence to permeate the room and guide understanding. He spoke in the comfort of his own unique personality and paid careful attention to the words he chose. He spoke from the heart. His speech related to graduating elementary school, growing from children into aspiring young adults and being grateful for family. He described some of his personal moments and feelings about parenthood, about what is feels like to hold your little newborn baby in your arms and, about the dedication of a parent to try everything possible just to see their child giggle. He spoke to the students about integrity, about doing good and showing gratitude to their parents and family. The room was silent. He had a captive audience. I, along with many other students, parents, and teachers held our breath, some even holding back tears. He spoke authentically, intently, powerfully. We were undoubtedly moved by his words.

Speech has the power to influence, to move, to catalyze into action, for better or for worse. The spoken words of such figures as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Socrates, Winston Churchill and many other great leaders of the past, have had the power to influence societies and people’s thoughts for generations. Check out this site, which lists their picks for the 35 greatest speeches in history. In our day-to-day life, the words of the people we surround ourselves with and the words we hear in the media, can uplift us or bring us down, can open our minds to new, inspiring ideas or can taint us with unproductive, upsetting thoughts. I used to love public speaking throughout my childhood and youth (and still do) and participated in many public speaking competitions and speaking events (i.e., MC’ing ceremonies and the like). Now, as a teacher I also speak in front of large groups of impressionable young people everyday and on occasion, to groups of adults as well. I realize now, more than ever, what a privilege it is to be given the opportunity to speak in front of a listening audience–to be trusted and respected to share my ideas and be heard by others. In fact, whether speaking in front of a large or small audience, or even one-on-one with anyone, every opportunity to speak and have a willing listener on the other end is a gift. I am grateful for these moments and will try my best to say ‘thank-you for listening’ more often now. :)

I once read that “Speech is the edge of thinking” (my apologies, but I don’t have the reference for this phrase). This incredible sentence has stuck with me for years as it puts into perspective the importance of something (speech) that we may otherwise easily take for granted. Our speech is one of our main tools for conveying our thoughts and portraying who we are–it provides a window into part of our inner world; the truth of us. However, before becoming a influential speaker, we must be an even better listener. Continue reading

Posted in Kid-friendly Posts, Self-Help | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

#60: Hand it down

CC licensed image by Flickr user Lucas Cobb

CC licensed image by Flickr user Lucas Cobb

I once heard on the radio that in France, giving second hand items to another child is seen as an act of love because it symbolizes that the item had been previously loved and cared for. I couldn’t find any evidence of this tradition, but I like this way of looking at hand-me-downs. It’s all about perception! More often, the perception of ‘new is better and more thoughtful’ and ‘used is worse and less thoughtful’, prevails. This has led to a culture of wanting, buying and acquiring new, producing more and eventually, more waste in the atmosphere and in landfills. Continue reading

Posted in Helping the Environment, Kid-friendly Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#59: Love what is

CC licensed image by Flickr user BK. lovequotes.symphonyoflove.net/category/b/byron-katie

CC licensed image by Flickr user BK. lovequotes.symphonyoflove.net/category/b/byron-katie

I recently came across the book “Loving What Is” by Byron Katie and have been immersed in her ideas. I’ve been inquiring into many self-help concepts for over a decade now and Byron Katie’s work has particularly made a mark in my thinking. Byron Katie teaches people how to reach true personal freedom, by freeing the mind of stressful, negative thoughts. Through a process she calls ‘inquiry’ or ‘the work’, she challenges people to dissect their negative thoughts one at a time, look at reality for what it is, and turn their thoughts around to ones that are positive, loving, objective, empowered, compassionate, and in the present moment.  Continue reading

Posted in Self-Help | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

#58: Create community

The women of Nombe, rural Uganda, dancing together during my visit in 2012...what a beautiful community.

The women of Nombe, rural Uganda, dancing together during my visit in 2012…what a beautiful community.

I’m sitting at the computer in my home office. The room has a window facing the back of my house, which backs onto a little park. It’s Sunday morning and I have the window open. I hear the sound of a steel drum band playing (right now, they’re actually playing the theme song from Mario Brothers…so cool!!!), kids playing, the water from a splash pad fountain spraying, dogs barking and people mulling about. It’s the weekly community farmer’s market. Every week the community comes together for fresh, local food, music, activities, socializing and simply, connecting. I feel a sense of comfort, giddiness, and happiness, knowing that people are coming together in my neighbourhood in such a positive space; there’s an air of camaraderie amongst strangers and a level of trust within the community, on this fine day. I feel proud seeing all that my community has to offer. It’s the same feeling I’ve gotten on other occasions when I’m in a venue filled with people coming together for a common purpose: my grad school convocation, the Bon Jovi concert, the Beaches Jazz festival in Toronto, the Canadian Breast Cancer Run for the Cure, the Victoria Day fireworks celebration at Ashbridge’s Bay in Toronto, my school’s Remembrance Day assembly held in the gymnasium, my salsa dancing performances, the beautiful women of rural Uganda dancing together to their heart’s content at sun down, and my son’s first birthday party, are just some examples that come to mind. Continue reading

Posted in Helping People, Kid-friendly Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment