I was struck the other day by a tweet from #MichaelFullan1 quoted above. As the end of year fatigue gets interrupted by staff Christmas parties and replays of Home Alone on TV, it’s definitely worth taking a moment to look for ways we can end the year with an optimistic perspective ahead of our entry into the new year.
Why is this important?
Humanity is the human race, which includes everyone on Earth. It’s also a word for the qualities that make us human, such as the ability to love and have compassion, be creative, and not be a robot or alien.https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/humanity
Consider for a moment the things we see on our screens every evening – reports of war, racism, poverty, crime, financial collapse, political upheaval. And then consider how difficult it is to navigate our way through all of this – challenged with feeling overwhelmed, threatened, isolated, defeated… it’s not pretty.
At a macro level many are concerned that we’re seeing some of the greatest challenges to the stability of our society – globally. The essence of our humanity is being eroded and the behaviours we’re seeing in many quarters serve to remind us of just how fragile our human ecosystem is.
Now consider the possibility that the if the current trends and behaviours continue we’re getting only a glimpse of what the world will be like that the young learners in our classrooms and schools are going to grow up into. The narratives about equipping them to thrive or flourish in the future become stalled when facing a world that may not be at all conducive to thriving or flourishing in!
As educators we must take an active interest in this, and understand that it is entirely in our power to be a part of the solution. In fact, not just a part, but a significant driver. Consider the following quote from a recent UN policy brief written in the context of the impact of COVID on global education systems:
Education is not only a fundamental human right. It is an enabling right with direct impact on the realization of all other human rights. It is a global common good and a primary driver of progress across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a bedrock of just, equal, inclusive peaceful societies. When education systems collapse, peace, prosperous and productive societies cannot be sustained.From Education during COVID-19 and beyond. United Nations Policy Brief, August 2020
Look for the bright spots
So what could it mean if we were to take Michael’s challenge to us seriously? What would a resurgence of humanity look like, and what could we do to make that a reality?
A useful place to start might be to reflect on the signs we’ve seen of humanity at it’s best in the past year. I know there are countless examples of the darker side of humanity (war, mis-information, poverty, inequity etc.), but in the midst there have been glimmers of hope, some bright spots that give a glimpse of what could be. These are the things that don’t necessarily make the headlines in our national media, but there are plenty of great stories you can access to remind yourself of the good that does exist, including:
- the many great stories in the Education Gazette over the past year
- those “good sorts” slots at the end of the news each night – so many of which come from education settings
- the gems that emerged in your own school context over the year, those small successes that made such a big difference in the lives of individual learners or families/whānau.
As you review some of these things, ponder how they might illustrate the good of humanity – the essence of what makes us human and the qualities we’d expect to see if there were to be the ‘resurgence’ that Michael challenges us about.
Where could you begin?
So how might we demonstrate our humanity to others? Judy Pono offers the follow advice:
- Always Look For The Good in People. Just like there are two sides to every story, we all have our good and bad sides too. …
- Focus on People’s Potentials. …
- Choose to Love. …
- Treat Everyone As Equals. …
- Love Yourself. …
- Love Everyone As You Would Your Brothers and Sisters. …
- Forgive. …
- Show Compassion.
Displaying this list, or one like it on the wall of your learning environment (staffroom or classroom – or both!) could provide a useful point of reference for your learners whenever there is a discussion being had about a social action project or debating how to resolve a particular social issue.
Using these (all or some) statements as a simple ‘litmus test’ provides a way of reinforcing the values that make us human, and therefore ensuring our decisions and actions will be consistent with what we believe is for the good of humanity.
And it’s not just about the decisions we make in the moment that these prompts can be useful. They are examples of the sorts of things that should be considered when we are designing our curriculum, or developing school policies and procedures for example. They should also inform the things we include in our school mission statements, values, and graduate profiles.
Our students – the Future Makers
As educators we have the opportunity we have to help realise the resurgence of humanity and to create a better future for our learners by investing in them today as Future Makers. But this will require some radical changes to how we currently operate, and to the mindsets that serve to protect the status quo!
In their book Education to Better their World, Marc Prensky and colleagues make a pitch for a new and better approach to education. They argue that..
… at its core, this will be an education whose ends are to empower kids to improve their own world, starting with when they are students.”
They add …
This emerging education benefits all of us – far more than the education of today. It benefits our kids more by enabling them to think more effectively (and far more practically), than our current education does, and, in addition, it empowers our ids to act, relate, and accomplish effectively in the world. It offers young people not just the pride and joy of real-world accomplishment, but all the self-confidence that comes with it.”
This is where our approach to curriculum becomes so important. The need to engage learners in authentic contexts, to find local solutions to real-world problems, to be risk-takers, collaborators and problem solvers etc. There are so many opportunities to do this that schools and educators can explore – right on their doorstep. In addition, the educational resources supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provide some excellent starting points for projects and inquiries.
When does the future start?
For many people, including educators, the concept of the future is simply too difficult to imagine. The everyday pressures on schools to improve outcomes (i.e. grades) and the myriad of other issues facing teachers on a daily basis demands most of our attention, with little space left for meaningful engagement with larger issues. To do that we need to work with tools that enable us to rise above the tyranny of the urgent and free our minds for at least a while to focus on what matters.
Jane McGonigal uses the following questions as a starter when working with groups in her futures-thinking workshops:
Question 1: When you think about the next ten years, do you think things will stay mostly stay the same and go on as normal, or do you expect that ost of us will dramatically rethingk and reinvent how we do things?
Question 2: When you think about how the world and your life will change over the next ten years are you mostly worried or mostly optimistic?
Question 3: How much control or influence do you feel you personally have in determining how the world and your life change over the next ten years?”Jane McGonigal in Imaginable
Jane invites her workshop attendees to rate themselves on a scale of 1-10 in response to each of these questions, where one is low and ten is high. She then explains in her book, in much more detail, how you might unpack the responses of a group and work with them to create an ‘imaginable’ future which they can then commit to working towards.
Such questions (and the other tools Jane introduces in her book) are worth considering to use in staff meetings, with senior students and with parent groups as you seek to imagine a more positive, optimistic, future-focused view of how we operate as a school community and as an education system.
Seize the season!
It seems appropriate that this post is being written as the images of Christmas are appearing across our screens and shop front advertising. It always seems ironic to me that the messages of Christmas that I remember as a child (Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all) are becoming increasingly subsumed by the lust of materialism, individualism and consumerism – the very things that represent a threat to our humanity into the future.
That’s why I think Michael has a point – perhaps we can use this moment in time to imagine a different future, one where our humanity triumphs over the despair we see around us. This isn’t such a lofty thought that it is beyond the control of individuals in our system. If we all seized the season and determined to make just some changes in the way we think, speak or act – and in the way we design our curriculum and organise learning in our spaces – perhaps we could see a resurgence of humanity in our classrooms, schools and communities.