Students Speak - Global & Future Vision Through Travel | Part 2

In our last Students Speak post, we shared about a student by the name of Makayla who took a 6 month sabbatical from life in Toronto to travel with her family to different parts of the world. 

In that post, she shared about her experiences visiting a school in Bali and it started me thinking about: the value of Experiential Learning; the integration of technology in the classroom; and the power of learning by doing. For this piece, Makayla gives insight into some of the important lessons she learned along the way. Again, I’ll share what I believe to be some of the implications for educators and students. Join us!

The most important lessons that I learned during my travels were: 

Not all the countries we visited have a democratic process for electing people into government. We are very lucky in Canada to have the right to share ideas and thoughts freely, to vote, and to speak out against the government for what we think is right. Some of the counties block anything negative about the government on the internet or some times even put people in jail because they spoke up against them. 

Powerful thoughts about the freedoms and rights we as Canadians have from a middle school student. Grade 5 students across Ontario are learning about the democratic process. Sometimes, those experiences can feel super dry, even some adults can relate to this! However, educators can make learning about democracy and government truly engaging by helping students to understand what democracy is and how it shapes our experiences as Canadians. Unless students have had to experience the harsh realities that exist in places where democracy doesn’t exist, many students are quite sheltered and perhaps don’t quite understand the privilege democracy affords. By sitting in their classrooms, watching the news, hearing conversations on transit or investigating a newspaper, students are more and more aware that individuals are migrating to countries, like Canada, seeking refugee status. By having courageous conversations in our classrooms, students can start to understand why there has been an increase in irregular border crossing and some of the causes.

Later on in this post I talk about allyship. Young people are the most empathetic people that I’ve had the privilege of working with. When they clearly understand the impact of injustices on others, they often seek ways to stand up and call for change and action. We live in a time where we have unprecedented access to information through the internet, and it’s up to us, as educators, to help students to think critically about what they read and to consider whose voices are included in stories and whose voices are missing. From there, they can help to advocate for the voices of those missing and help to provide opportunities for their voices to be heard in powerful ways, 

Another lesson that I learned is the importance of protecting our environment. We can all help by picking up garbage, not using plastic bags, turning off lights and supporting companies that help the environment.

The biggest problem I saw while travelling is that there are so many plastic bottles and plastic bags floating in the water or washing up on the shores in Vietnam and Thailand. I have some ideas on what we should do to keep this from happening. Clean up the beach of plastic and garbage. 

We could also reduce the amount of plastic that we use. This is important to me because it impacts the marine life and animals. I want to protect it because it’s our planet and we have to keep it safe and clean!

Students are understanding the impact of our choices on the environment. While working with groups of students, I have heard so many great ways that they are taking action. From choosing to purchase groceries from waste free grocery stores, to creating campaigns in their schools about the importance of eradicating single-use plastics, students are full of ideas about how they can bring about change in their local community and even in broader global community.

Their biggest problem in bringing about this change, has been not feeling as though their ideas are listened to, and subsequently, do not feel empowered to act. For some, their parents don’t realize the impact that even one family might be able to have on the environment and making the additional effort seemed more daunting than the impact their changes could have. 

The question therefore becomes, How might we empower students to be able to bring about the changes that they wish to see in the world? Many felt that they simply could not wait until they were adults as this would result in damaging the environment to a point that would require a more enormous amount of effort in the future. We know that students can have an incredible impact on the world, the big question is how do we get on board with their ideas and empower them to truly have a large-scale impact? 

Always try new things, like different foods and talk to different people and visit new places. Always, ask questions.

I love that Makayla is encouraging us to always ask questions. At Future Design School, we believe that empathy is at the core of everything. In order to be empathetic, we have to realize that we all have biases and in order to grow past the assumptions we instinctively make, we have to be willing to ask open questions and be willing to deeply understand others. 

When we equip students with the skills to ask rich and meaningful questions, we open up a door for them to navigate the world on a deeper level and 

engage with people in a significant manner. What questions are you encouraging your students to ask? From who? Are they googleable or do they require ongoing inquiry and a deepening of thought and empathy?

Learn a few words in a different language, so that you can say: “thank you, hello, how are you?” 

There’s such power in language. There’s power when we appreciate the nuances of different languages as well as in our willingness to learn the language of another. Makayla shares some important words that are universally important and remind me of the far-reaching impact that can be had when we help guide our students to develop effective communication skills. Simple words like these have tremendous impact when we stop and take the time to use them in our interactions and to truly appreciate those around us. 

Lastly, and probably more importantly… 

I learned a lot about the Māori people in New Zealand and their culture. They were the first people in New Zealand and in {my opinion], they are similar to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.

The most interesting person I met was Ernesto. He was our guide during our trek on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and we really got to know him because we spent 4 days and 3 nights with him. What I found interesting about him is that he taught us a lot about the Incas and how they carved big rocks so that can fit inside each other just like lego, to make their buildings and temples. These were built so well that they survived many earthquakes. In Inca culture, they also worshiped nature. He also taught us a few words in Quechua which was the language of the Incas. One of the words that he taught us was, “Tupananchiscama“ which means until we meet again and never goodbye.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, released 94 Calls to Action in 2015. Over the last number of years, there have been efforts to reflect on the generational impacts of colonization, discrimination and cultural genocide of Canada’s First Peoples and there have been steps made toward enacting these Calls.

As Canadians, we are all called to take steps to redress the legacy of residential schools and to advance the process of true reconciliation. In this overarching call, there are great opportunities for educators, alongside our students to take steps toward actively listening and hearing the stories directly from Indigenous Peoples. These stories equip us to better understand the experiences, allow us to better empathize and determine what steps we can take in allyship.

According to the Anti-Oppression Network, they define allyship as: an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. In our last Students Speak post, we spoke about the Experiential Learning Cycle. How might we connect our students directly to true Indigenous experiences in order to develop empathy and determine steps toward true allyship? In what ways might you bring Indigenous ways of knowing into your classroom and school and how might this inspire students to act towards truth and reconciliation?

I have to thank Makayla for her powerful words that inspired this post. Every time I have the opportunity to hear the wisdom that comes from students, I’m blown away. They truly have the power of and for greatness! Stay tuned for our next Students Speak post coming soon! 

Interested in empowering a global mindset in your classroom? Consider registering for our Certified Design Thinking Educator program starting in January! Join our next cohort of innovative educators who are eager to develop their skills and gain a toolkit of methods and activities to use in their classrooms and/or schools for solving big problems and engaging students.

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