International Mindedness

There has probably rarely been a time when the emphasis given to ‘International Mindedness’ in International Schools has come in to focus as more necessary or more pressing as a concept to be imbibed and understood.

To start – we need to be really clear what international mindedness and its promotion in schools is not – and that is frocks, food and festivals. You cannot say because you celebrate different religious and ethnic festivals, give children the opportunity to dress up and to try different foods then you have done what is needed to promulgate international mindedness.

It’s also not about some ambiguous claims about everyone being the same. Rather, the person who has international mindedness doesn’t stereotype people and is mindful and reflective of the prejudices they might have at an unconscious level. That can be an uncomfortable reflection at times. it’s not even about just simply being aware of diversity, but actually welcoming it, relishing it and seeing it as a positive.

International mindedness comes from a position of empathy, compassion and curiosity before doubt and cynicism. People who think this way acknowledge that whilst different people have different life experiences, perceptions and experiences, we are all connected. Some make the mistake of fearing that being internationally minded somehow means giving up something of who and what one is. In fact, there is no lessening of pride or connection with one’s own culture and origins. Retaining rootedness is an important aspect of identity and nobody is really advocating that everyone should consider themselves absorbed in to a single mass or entity that is humanity, devoid of customs, tradition, history or heritage.

The internationally minded person, because they feel connected, cares and considers that what happens to all people, anywhere in the world, matters to them. When thinking about politics, major world events, the inter-relationship between countries, climate issues etc. there is a need to think in inter-connected terms. It is no longer effective in an internationally shrunken world (through travel and the internet) to confine one’s caring and attention to what happens in your own backyard.

The greater the spread of international mindedness, the greater the benefits for all humans everywhere. International Schools can play a significant part in this, but leadership and teachers have to acknowledge that it’s a long road that requires unwavering commitment and the willingness to be a learning organisation, to introspect and reflect and to be self-critical when necessary.

In schools it starts with the vision, mission and values – the guiding statements and the extent to which they are lived, embodied in the day to day life of the school and especially in managerial practices, leadership and governance. There’s a continual need to assess the curriculum (both overt and covert) and syllabus delivery to determine the extent to which it embodies and furthers the core messages of inter-dependence and international mindedness. As much as possible, children should have the opportunity to learn languages other than there own as this is a significant bridge to international communication and understanding.

The importance of the element of caring is best served by promoting service learning as a key part of school life. This goes well beyond simply raising funds, but leads to full engagement with peoples whose life experiences are vastly different to those of the students.

I’m thoroughly convinced by the merits and value of promoting international mindedness through international schools. However, it’s vital that, in age appropriate ways it goes well beyond the superficial, the shallow and tokenism to enable box ticking. It must be a lived, fundamental part of the ethos of a school that can be sensed through all aspects of the life of the school and its pupils.

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Character as a Differentiator

As a young person, you want to stand out from the crowd? Is an extra 0.1 on your grade point average going to achieve that? Will one additional extra curricular activity on your biodata make the difference? In this day, it’s all pretty unlikely that your academic and other activities are going to make you significantly discernible from the mass of students applying for University places, or later for internships or jobs?

No, but as this well-written New York Times article makes clear, what will always make a young person stand out from the crowd is character.

New York Times – Check This Box If You’re A Good Person

It’s vitally important that our response, or that of our children, shouldn’t be to carry out altruistic acts for show or to tick boxes/ have others perceive us as empathic, kind and sensitive. It has to come from a genuine desire to help others, to treat others with respect and equality.

One question that will inevitably come to mind – can we teach this? How can we increase the likelihood of empathy in our children? This is a highly relevant and important debate in our schools as “compassion” is one of the values highlighted within the mission of the Tenby Schools, along with integrity. High empathy, caring and kindness won’t happen just because we tell our children that it’s right or the appropriate way to think and be towards others.

Firstly, I believe the likelihood is increased significantly when we, the adults, model empathy – in other words we show ourselves to be warm, kind, caring and compassionate to others – especially where there is difference. We need to show our children the mental processes of being understanding, thoughtful of others/ other-centric.

Over the last 15-20 years we went through a situation where, in education and in parenting there was so much emphasis placed upon building self-esteem. This led to adults stressing specialness, uniqueness and feeling good about oneself. Regrettably, as the children impacted move in to adulthood we’re seeing massive shifts towards narcissism and away from empathy, caring and compassion. The child brought up in the high self esteem environment is more likely to be seeking verification of themselves, endorsement of their feelings of self-worth. However, the child brought up to see being empathic to others will, more likely, find their self actualisation in acts of kindness and positivity towards others.

In schools, I believe there’s been a lot of good and positive work in this direction that can help us to move further. One example is the scope for using tools like Jenny Moseley’s Quality Circle Time with children of all ages. These processes allow children to be more reflective of the effect of their actions and behaviours on others and how they feel according to how others act. In this way, the children learn for themselves and guide each other to be more understanding of what others need and expect from them.

It’s positive that we’re seeing more interest in schools putting a focus on social and emotional development. I’m particularly hopeful for programmes like the Ashoka Foundation’s “Start Empathy” Changemaker schools. It’s vitally important, though, to not treat empathy as just another subject area in school, to be packaged as a set of lessons or even just parceled as part of PSHE to be ‘delivered’ to children. Rather, it has to be built in to the ethos of the school, an integral part of everything from discipline policies to approaches to sports, learning and play time.

There is much work to be done. We have to do more for these children. Schools and education systems or societies that turn out predominantly narcissistic, self-absorbed children are going to find that they haven’t served them well to live their lives most effectively. They certainly won’t have prepared them well to be leaders of others in their lives. All this will, increasingly, make it likely that their university selection chances will be less.

We Need to Care …. Wow, Who’d Have Thought It?

Here’s an interesting article from Mindshift that makes a brief visit to some of the latest research findings about the power and influence of belief, expectations and attitude in learning outcomes.

Mindshift Article – Believing in Possibilities

There are a couple of aspects of the piece that left me saddened. Firstly, that some of these things really need to be said. Over 10 years ago i coined a phrase that has been part of the bedrock of all my approaches in education; “We’re not here to teach stuff, we’re here to teach children.” What I sought to convey was that the child and not the silly old nonsense in the textbook (or our administrative convenience) had to drive decision making processes of every teacher and administrator in schools. The second concern was the fact that the author of the article felt the need to acknowledge that despite the growing mountain of evidence, mainstream education is so woefully, painfully slow to change.

Somewhere, do we have to face an unpalatable truth that dare not be spoken – are there vast numbers of people in education who actually, really don’t care very much about children? People for whom it’s a job to be done to pull in a salary, for whom the idiosyncrasies of individual children are a pain in the neck?

I believe the writer is spot on when he talks about the crucial impact of care and acceptance for a learner to truly flourish and fulfil their potential. let’s face it – vast numbers of children today can’t even find much of these in their own homes, let alone in their school.

The final paragraph that talked about the critical fifth ‘C’ really struck a chord with me. That fifth C is Character – something I made a very particular point of including in the four core values of our current school. We’re in the early stages of the school’s development, but it’s heartening that Character already figures on the agenda in discussions amongst teachers, teachers and students and in the leadership team. In time, I believe the importance of Character and effective development will see subtle changes that will further enhance the ways that we build character development in to the school experience of every child.

‘Design for Giving’

With thanks and appreciation to all the staff who worked so hard to make a success of the meeting for Principals and the Press Conference. Turnout was a bit on the low side with fears of swine flu etc. However, the enthusiasm levels made up for any lack of guests.

Design for Giving is, undoubtedly, capturing the imagination of many children and that interest level will continue to grow in coming weeks.

My thanks to Gayatri Chaliha, teacher of Vasant Vihar campus for the report of the meeting below.

Ms. Kiran Bir Sethi
Founder/Director, Riverside School, Ahmedabad which is promoting
the School Design for Giving Contest
Ms. Sethi spoke with great feeling and enthusiasm about the nationwide Design for Giving Contest that has been initiated by the Give India Foundation. Through a short and simple video clip she demonstrated the feeling of joy that stems from an act of giving, however small and seemingly inconsequential …
Design for Giving is about formulating
ONE IDEA  ONE WEEK  CHANGING A BILLION LIVES
In this endeavour, children are the agents of change. Children can be the change they would like to see … and be changed in the process because, as she says, one cannot give without changing. Everything done under this programme has to stem from the children – what problems do they see around them that they would like to do something about? How would they go about finding solutions for these ‘problems’? … She inspired the children and brought home to them the fact that they do not have to be 18 years of age, or rich or powerful be able to act and give (this contest is open to the 10-13 years age group).

Explaining the procedure involved, the STEPS of the process were outlined and they are : –
FEEL  IMAGINE  DO  SHARE

The ‘solutions’ referred to above should have the following features:
 They should impact large numbers of people
 The ideas should be fresh and original. The word Ms. Sethi used was ‘audacious’ ideas!
 It should be over within 1 week (Whether this is something that the school or children would like to take forward for longer is a different issue)
 Need to note how you are changed by the change you have wrought

All stories of change are to be submitted by October 15th, 2009. The winner will receive the award from Dr. Kalam on Children’s Day.
Apart from the tremendous impact of an endeavour of this magnitude (the toolkit for registration itself is in about 7 languages as it involves schools across the country!) Ms. Sethi elaborated upon her attempt to give this another more lasting direction. The stories that will be born out of the Joy of Giving Week will be converted into a curriculum (also in 7 languages …) so that others can learn from these stories, be inspired and hopefully, carry this movement forward.
In the end there was a video of what some children from the Riverside School set out to do and accomplished – and it was a revelation! From the number of stakeholders that just … multiplied to include the rest of the school to parents as well, to the happiness and levels of energy generated amongst the children, those giving and those receiving …

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MR. RAHUL BOSE
Actor, Activist and Brand Ambassador for the School Design for Giving Contest
Mr. Rahul Bose had the assembled audience, especially the children, riveted from the word ‘go’ – and we all know how hard that is with children especially this age group!! He spoke their language – in more ways than one.
Mr. Bose begun first by sympathizing with the children, appreciating how they must feel at that moment – like so much cattle herded into the hall, and how unappealing the subject under discussion must be to them … He had felt the same, he said, when involved forcefully in SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) which had been the equivalent, when he was in school (and many of us staff as well, if we care to recall), of what was being attempted by this contest. However, as it had yielded neither the all-important “marks” nor was a requisite for graduating to the next class, he had found it boring and uninspiring.
He proceeded then, to two stories gleaned from his experience of travelling through the country, one about the lack of communication facilities on one of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands devastated by the tsunami because of which they could not be informed of what was to come, and the second about two former IIT students who, while travelling in Bihar, came across a village which had no water, and begun an endeavour that involved digging a canal and went on to starting a school, etc. These two pioneers were shot to death, finally, for the simple reason that they were lent helping hands by people who were experiencing the joy of giving and doing to the extent that they forgot about the differences of religion and caste between them, and that was not acceptable to the political forces active there as they banked on these very differences for their survival …
In the manner of the Panchatantra and Jataka Stories, he used these stores as analogies to show to the children and Principals/ teachers present that had he been allowed, when in school, to choose what he would like to do with the one hour of SUPW time, and how he would like to go about doing something useful and productive for others – he would have done something about the situation described in the stories above. And it would not have been so meaningless then … What was therefore unique about the School Design for Giving Contest is that it gave the children that choice. “The brilliant part of all of this is – there are NO RULES!” he told the children. It was all up to them. And if they really did feel, then the ‘imagine’, ‘do’ and ‘share’ would follow. However, if they did not feel, then there was no point getting involved. Too often education is focused only at the head and not the heart, but this experience could change all that …
The Home work he set for the children was to try harming someone the next day, and also try helping some one, anyone. And to “compare and contrast” the differences!! Helping, they would be sure to find, would be a great feeling that would make their “hearts big and strong” – a feeling like no other. That is what the “Joy of Giving” is all about.
He sympathized with the Principals present regarding the vastness of the curriculum they had to get through in the year and the concomitant problems of that. Yet, he made an appeal to them – “If not now, WHEN? If not us, then WHOM?”
The “two Indias” were brought into the discussion – the one represented in the hall by children who … were not poor and did not have to worry about the next meal, and those who were not as fortunate and had to worry about every and indeed any meal. He spoke of the 100 million such children, around the same age as those in the hall, and appealed for even the smallest deed that could benefit them in any way.
Perhaps the most important message conveyed in Mr. Bose’s speech was that of magnitude. The message was that the magnitude of the act envisaged, or how far-reaching or sustainable it might be – these were not to be considered for this endeavour. It was important just to make a start, however small. And the ‘small’ would all add up and contribute in our attempt to turn around the fate of our people and our country, now likened to a gigantic rock fast making its way downhill, to make it simple for the children. He said in his own lifetime, it might not be possible to see the rock stopped. Just to slow down its journey downhill would be an achievement. The children, though, might have the good fortune to be instrumental in not just stopping the descent, but also turning it around on a path uphill
In the question and answer session in the end, when asked what did become of the two stories he had spoken of, Mr. Bose informed us that in Bihar, although the canal had been dug, was operational and the village did have water, the other projects, the school and toilets for women had been stalled. And as far as the Islanders were concerned, Mr. Bose’s organization had helped fund mobile phones for them …

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Caring Confrontation

In these times of so much debate and discussion about children’s vulnerability to bullying, ragging, aggression and other inappropriate behaviour educators have to be ready to explore all avenues for what can be done to find the best ways to minimise destructive and negative behaviours and replace them with good, healthy ways.

Whether as a child or an adult, a sense of alienation or ‘aloneness’ can be one of the worst and most debilitating feelings for anyone. In schools, despite the ‘crowds’ such feelings can come about in many ways, driven by a sense of competition, by a sense that only some can succeed in relative terms (for which others would inevitably have to ‘fail’ or perform less well.

A scarcity mindset can so easily create beliefs that success and achievement are limited and reserved for the few. I believe we need to develop a real, strong sense amongst our students that if they are in competition with anyone, it’s with “them out there”, the rest of the world and not with their colleagues inside the Shri Ram School community. In fact, all their interests can best be achieved if, within the community they are really there for each other, really giving each other genuine support and help, boosting each other up, helping ensure that all achieve to their highest potential.

With these thoughts in my mind i really loved this article from Educational Leadership online magazine, so wanted to share it.

Enjoy!

Caring Confrontation

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