|Principal's Reflections 05/08/2008|
REFLECTIONS FROM THE WOOLF FISHER AWARD
Teachers Are Doing It
One overriding impression in my travels has been that in these times teachers take very seriously their responsibilities as educators. Many have an almost messianic view of the part teachers have to play in fostering international understanding and goodwill. For them education is very much about developing international citizens able to communicate beyond cultural borders.
Of course, this consciousness has much to do with the impact of the bombings in New York and London and of subsequent events in the Middle East, an awareness which is inevitably heightened each time one ventures on the underground or through airports in cities like London, Chicago and Boston.
Recently, I have been reminded how in good schools classrooms are such an important forum for promoting the development of intelligent thinking and informed discussion.
Whether it be listening to 17-18 year old leavers in Chicago sharing their reflections about the value of schooling after five years of education in a school dedicated to producing international leaders, observing 15-16 year old Norwegians discussing their responses to a viewing of the film Once Were Warriors, or watching 13 year olds in London, mainly from Muslim and Hindi families, presenting the results of their research into the world’s main religions, one is left with the same impression: teachers do play such an important role in facilitating understanding of and respect for human differences.
One of the striking and reassuring features common to these classrooms has been a genuine interest in understanding the values of people of different cultures, a curiosity cultivated by teachers who bring a global perspective to their work.
The young Americans I met value the manner in which their best teachers have encouraged them to think critically and arrive at informed but tentative judgements. They feel short-changed by teachers who do not relate their curriculum to contemporary national and international developments or concerns.
A skilfully managed exchange of viewpoints enables Norwegian teenagers to gain insights into the issues facing their own migrant minorities from the cultural dislocation experienced by Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand.
And few would question the place of Religious Education in the core curriculum in England when taking into account the opportunities given to students to understand the background of many of their neighbouring communities.
Another feature of these culturally diverse schools is their success in creating a safe, harmonious environment for their student populations. In this regard it may not be a coincidence that three of the six English schools I visited had principals with Indian and Bangladeshi backgrounds.
In a fortnight Western Springs College will host Chinese principals and students from the Jingying High School in Shijiazhuang. We expect to reciprocate by sending a party of students and teachers to China in April next year. Just two events among many in a future which will offer our students an increasing number of educational experiences involving international exchanges and cross-cultural contacts.
For those of you who have been concerned that I may not have allowed enough time for rest and recreation – in the knowledge that a Woolf Fisher Fellowship mandates 50% of the time to be spent on r & r – be reassured: our time in London found me watching a top seed clash ( Ancic versus Ferrer ) on centre court at Wimbledon, in attendance the following day at the Black Caps win in the last ODI at Lord’s, enjoying David Calder as King Lear at The Globe and, most impressive of all, seeing, from Australia, Mubarek, the story of Aboriginal resistance put to music. I had better remain silent about the rest!