Thursday, August 22, 2013

Summer Reading & Response- Esther Miranda

I have struggled with how best to respond to the summer readings. While enjoying the readings and trying to respond to the two big questions posed by Rebecca "What implications does globalization have for the programs we offer? What implications does it have for how we teach and how they learn?" I find my reactions and response  are defined by my early life experiences (born, raised, and worked in India), traveling extensively overseas, and working closely with people of many diverse cultures.

More recently, over the last 22 years of living and working in Texas, I have often tried to engage other educators in this exact conversation. (Confession: Little successL). So let me begin by expressing how thankful I am to be breathing a 'rare, invigorating air' in Cambridge, the opportunity to work alongside so many talented faculty members at BBNS, and this summer reading assignment, which is both timely and important for me personally.

I have often had this question posed to me, "What is it about the Indian student, (or the Chinese, or the Koreans, etc.) that makes them so successful? Is there a secret?" I responded that there really was no secret. In my opinion it was a determined, disciplined work-ethic, coupled with a family lifestyle that lent itself to successful outcomes. I worked closely with colleagues and clients from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Korea, China, and Japan, besides several groups from western countries.  Similar to Daisy's comments, the matter of global competencies was a given. This assignment made me ask why. I believe it is because the people of most Asian cultures live, or interact with global challenges daily; certainly to a far greater extent than most students in US classrooms. They intuitively adapt and respond to daily challenges. When one is forced to share limited living space, or limited resources, you learn to share and assist. You learn patience, and tolerance, and that different does not mean deficient. You work extra hard to remain competitive in the midst of a large, equally competitive population! You develop competencies and a disposition that I believe is being alluded to in the definition.

The definition for global competence provided to us includes the call to educators to 'develop capacity and disposition in our students, to be able to understand and act on issues of global significance.' Developing capacity, I decided, was relatively easier. After several years as a campus administrator, tasked with making decisions on which curriculum resources to adopt, which service projects to offer, and which essential skills to focus on in any given school year, I have come to the conclusion that classroom environments develop minimum capacities at the very least, if we present adequate and appropriate content, that challenges and sufficiently informs students at each grade level. Since there is no teaching without learning, this effort requires that we also provide sufficient opportunity for students to demonstrate knowledge acquisition and application. We must constantly question whether our classrooms are interactive, encourage critical thinking and creativity, support collaboration, and inspire an environment of inquiry, exploration and self-discovery. Do we teach, and provide sufficient opportunity to practice the important life skills of organization, planning, collaboration, time management, budgeting, responsibility, rewards, and consequences?

 With regard to the second component of the definition, disposition, I found myself asking "How do we direct teaching and learning opportunities in and outside our classrooms, so we develop in students good habits, and the values of empathy, kindness, sensitivity, compassion and service. I have found this to be a much harder task. I believe in forming good people, not just good students. We are together engaged in promoting not just their intellectual, but physical, social, and emotional well-being, as we prepare them to become well rounded, life-long learners, adequately prepared for a competitive global workforce and marketplace of the 21st century.

Our challenge is to maintain the balance between pursuing innovative learning opportunities that develop these global competencies, and ensuring the mastery of skills and content at, and across, grade levels. At the present time, we have the largest number of unprepared, underprepared, or unsocialized students in classrooms across America. Forming the minds and hearts of students to be confident, compassionate, inquisitive, knowledgeable, and goal oriented can only happen through the daily efforts made inside and outside the classroom. It comes from the standards we set, the ways in which we teach, the opportunities we provide for research and discovery, the coaching and mentoring that happens in hallways or locker rooms, the skills we repeat in drill and practice, and the processes through which we guide students. While most classroom activities promote skill building, knowledge acquisition, and application, I believe that empathy, relationship building, and a 'flexible' respectfulness towards people outside their everyday environment are skills that students do not easily develop. So we must seek out and introduce opportunities that allow them close and meaningful interaction with the larger world, a world outside their own. It is important to remind ourselves that with changing family dynamics, and the full and busy life-styles of families today many students do not get these opportunities at home.

I believe that issues of racism, injustice, intolerance, and bias usually begin at home but must be addressed in the classroom or workplace. Therefore we are also tasked with allowing and leading important, uncomfortable, inconvenient conversations with our students. What we do not confront, we condone. As an avid world traveler I believe in the value of learning foreign languages, and engaging in varied international experiences. Service learning (also mentioned by some colleagues on this blog) cannot be taught. It does not develop though a yearly canned food, coat, or blanket drive, all worthy efforts in themselves. A 'servant heart' develops though seeing, hearing, feeling, and doing. With so much need in our world, often requiring unique, creative, and risk-taking solutions, I often ponder whether we need more compassion or competition! Regardless, the learning process we lead is about transforming learners so they in turn transform their world.

 Numerous talented individuals graduate from schools like BBNS, and institutes of higher learning every day. When it comes to success in the global workforce and market place, what puts some closer to, or over the top than others? What causes some students, but not others, to develop the disposition we are concerned with at this time? Let me conclude by calling it a "with it-ness; a sensitivity and sensibility to people and situations…….empathizing, reflecting, responding, and leading, according to the needs of every relationship. An ability to share 'a common language' even without speaking it.

Our challenge therefore is to continue to identify and provide for our students learning opportunities that allow them to grapple with real world challenges they will confront after graduation. I look forward to joining my BBNS colleagues in this effort, and continuing this conversation within, or outside this blog.



Esther Miranda

Program Director, LS


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