preparing for the crystal ball

“n. A seeker is someone who looks for answers, who asks questions, who gets up after every fall and keeps looking. A seeker has a vision and a goal, and won’t stop until he/she reaches it.

 

Students must become equipped to compete in a global marketplace. In order to do this, my students will learn to consistently maintain high expectations for themselves and consequently develop critical thinking skills to adapt to changing environments. They will learn to persevere through both academic and personal challenges, and produce answers where they can’t find them.

As they enter sixth grade, students will increasingly become partners in this creating this change. They will learn how to consistently set their own goals, create concrete steps for attaining these goals, and measure their progress towards them. Most jobs also require students to be able to interact with others, and leverage their own strengths in a team environment. We will simulate different team environments, through structured in-class and outside class activities, over the course of the year in order to create an understanding that teamwork can increase the efficiency and enjoyment of work. “

–   Seekers’ Class Vision, New English Secondary School (2015-16)

 

I spent an entire year teaching a curriculum centered on three core values: grit, ownership, and teamwork.

 

Both hard and soft skills, such as communication, programming, or structured leadership, are unquestionably necessary for today’s students. However, certain values and mindsets set the base for learning any other skills or competencies. And to a large extent, the values and mindsets that are emphasized in school should be contextually determined.

 

For example, I taught in a relatively patriarchal, Hindu community. The girls didn’t have many strong female role models, especially those who followed their careers outiside the local neighborhood. Feminism became a pervading theme of our classroom, encased in the voice of equality. Both my male and female students had to fight against stereotypes and gendered expectations. Boys not just learned to treat girls as equals (they had no choice when the girls’ math scores time and time again exceeded theirs), but they learned to be vulnerable. To express their emotions and not tease each other for tears. It was hard, because it was not what they saw when they went home – wasn’t what their parents and grandparents expected of them. The struggles were both external and internal, and grit became a necessary attitude for all.

 

Moreover, our classrooms were segregated by “learning ability.” This imprecise and sometimes hurtful separation seeded many doubts in my mind.

 

But our high potential classroom amazed every visitor, including my Program Manager. The students developed a growth mindset – which is the key to gaining a gritty attitude – and a strong sense of ownership and teamwork. Even on days I couldn’t stay after school to spend extra time teaching, they would take it upon themselves to make sure that nobody was falling behind. Most students did the homework even for days they missed school, because classmates had visited their house to check up on them and share what happened in school.

 

It was a slow process, a punctuated tap-dance between the teachers and our lessons. My co-fellow structured math class teams to leverage different students’ strengths and made them accountable for each other’s learning. I used texts about ownership and grit, and had each student develop a personal vision. Through repetition and emphasis, students learned how to take ownership of their own learning process, to persevere against all odds, and to do it together. When I left, I felt comfortable that whatever they set their mind to – from professional football to accounting to software —  they were equipped with the mindsets that would help them gain the relevant skills. No one set of skills will transcend across different career paths, but kids have to be ready to learn the skills. When they are prepared for change, they are prepared for the future.

 

 

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