We all have them – those rigid ways of thinking, seeing and being in the world that stand between us and new ideas like bars in a jail cell. They are the byproduct of many things – our upbringing, experiences in school and the workplace, even the books we’ve read. The good news is that human beings are hardwired for change – to look beyond the limits of our current beliefs and wonder, “Is there a way to make things better? How can I contribute by challenging and growing myself?”
One of the best barometers of the need for change is our emotional well-being. We know, for example, that children who feel safe, understood and supported learn more effectively. Likewise, teachers who are trusted and encouraged to expand their horizons pass their passion for learning on to their students. So why is it that our schools are plagued by violence and bullying? More importantly, what are we going to do about it?
My own approach to this challenge is the “Not Perfect Hat Club,” a book and program designed to give every kid a place to hang a hat while teaching them to value and embrace what makes them unique. In Australia, the response to the Not Perfect Hat Club has been gratifyingly positive. Unlike U.S. schools, where teachers are often discouraged from teaching “soft skills,” Australian educators have the flexibility to incorporate social-emotional learning into their classrooms. They are also open and eager to find and utilize programs and tools that increase their students’ well-being.
Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to see me lobbying for a “jailbreak” in U.S. based Twitter chats. I believe we must take down the walls of our schools – literally and figuratively. This means exposing students to a wide variety of people, cultures, beliefs and ways of being in the world. It means giving them the tools they need (both emotionally and mentally) to make sense of what they experience and ways to share what they discover with others. With CritterKin, we are doing this through a combination of multimedia storytelling and project based learning (PBL), but there are many others as well.
So I urge you to join us in our quest to teach the whole child – to address our students’ emotional as well as intellectual well-being. Get out your pickaxes and hacksaws to take down the walls. Become meddlers in the middle who encourage your counterparts around the world to question what and how to teach. Dare yourselves and your students to care more about the process than the tests; or as Ms. Frizzle would say, “take chances, make mistakes and get messy.”