Supporting children confused by current world events

It’s funny how events in my life so often seem to align along themes, or maybe that’s just my mind playing tricks on me. As classrooms around the world continue to discuss and debate the meaning of surprise events like the UK’s Brexit and Donald Trump’s election win, I’m mentoring an intensive entrepreneur startup weekend centred on new ideas for education. What’s aligned in my mind? For me, the world events and the challenge faced by startup teams all revolve around dealing with assumptions and stereotypes. This is how classroom practice and school cultures could start to address much of the confusion children are currently expressing.

Assumptions and stereotypes

Facebook has suffered much criticism for allowing people to propagate simplified click-bate ‘news’ based on shallow assumptions, stereotypes and even completely fake information. In London, Boris Johnson paraded the streets in a bus plastered with wrong assumptions and I think the less said about Donald Trump’s campaign ideas, the better. Meanwhile, at this startup weekend, teams dynamically formed on a Friday night, attempt to put together a solid business model for an app, website or service to pitch on Sunday afternoon to judges.

swaklThis process, that I’m trying to mentor the teams through, has them stumble most on realising that their ideas are just assumptions. These are often based on stereotypes such as, “boys always like competition,” and halfway through the weekend they find it’s not always true and they no longer have a viable business to pitch. At the end of the day, wanting to simplify problems with assumptions and stereotypes seems to be human nature (note: I’m making an assumption) and thus is a theme that schools should be strongly focused on.

developing deeper thought

Any classroom activity will be filled with assumptions held by both students and teachers. Somewhere towards the beginning of most tasks, teachers can encourage discussions about challenging existing perspectives a normal part of the process. By doing this, it will help develop young people better equiped and informed to deal with world events like those experienced in 2016. Here are some common assumptions held by both teachers and students that subconsciously impact on class activity:

  • The teacher knows what’s best for me
  • The boys need strict discipline
  • You’ll find the answer with Google
  • All the students need to know this now
  • This app is the perfect tool

How do you know that?

swakl2We need to develop school cultures that understand the constructive side of everyone challenging their own thoughts as much as each other’s. As a startup mentor, I’ve been learning that how and when you challenge people is a skill that requires practice. This is why classrooms need to make debate a regular event with scaffolding to help young people and their teachers become better at moving discussion forward, strengthening relationships, and solving problems. The question, “How do you know that?” is a powerful one. It questions the background behind an idea as much as the idea itself. Asking students to validate their thoughts with evidence is something that often goes unchecked in classrooms focused on how ideas align with the curriculum’s target answer.

Now … how do I know that?

Thanks to Chris Clay for inviting me along to Startup Weekend Auckland and allowing me to learn so much from the Startup team and the other mentors.

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richard-wells-author-pic-sml-white-bnw
Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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What teachers could learn from startups

I was privileged recently to be invited by New Zealand Education innovator, Chris Clay to a Startup Weekend in Auckland. This was a very strange experience where I knew nothing about startups but my badge said VIP. I decided this stood for very ignorant person.  An opening statement by host Rowan Yeoman (@yeoro) was “realise everything is an assumption.” This was aimed at the participants to encourage them to question everything they held as fact. This might include such things as what they think customers will like, how much it might cost, who the business will need on staff, and what problem their ‘solution’ might solve. Rowen pointed out that a startup often fulfils it’s namesake and acts as a starting point that quickly morphs into a completely unforeseen type of business with a whole new customer base. So, like normal, this made me think of the classroom.

IMG_0459What teachers could learn from startups

The evening made me think about all the assumptions that education lives by. I thought I’d make myself a list of school modus operandi that rarely get questioned. As I pondered this, I realised that my examples came from all areas and aspects of education.

School administrations rarely question such things as:
  • Our results are good so our students are learning
  • Our community don’t want change
  • Our school vision impacts on who we are
  • Which ‘customers’ are catered for by their decisions
Teachers rarely question:
  • the need to organise students’ workload
  • the need to divide the day into manageable lessons
  • the priority of numeracy and literacy
  • if the relevance of their teaching has changed
Students are rarely encouraged to question:
  • the structure of their school day
  • the justifications for what they are offered to learn
  • the format of their assessment

IMG_0456

Let’s start-up questioning in schools

The issue for me is that ingrained assumptions have led the majority of the education sector to build an opposite environment to startups. They not only don’t question their own assumptions enough but many schools have such a prescribed day assigned that they don’t develop genuine questioning habits in their students. It was a little sad to see such an energised learning experience like this startup weekend being organised for adults, when the format of most lessons (assumption alarm) is relatively a closed deal before it starts.

The Startup Weekend was an agile experience where the process of problem finding and solving was allowed to develop naturally during the event. This is something that schools could learn from. To watch such an open-ended environment excite and drive learning was inspiring. I just hope a growing number of educators will realise that they can use such an approach to develop a new type of learner who expects to get teams organised so that goals, academic or practical, are achieved. I’ve done much experimenting with student empowerment in the last 5 years and I can confirm that people of almost any age are capable if teachers are willing to watch them work together to build their own learning successes, even if that’s not “the Uber for schools