Purpos/ed: encouragement and opportunity

I’ve been asked by Doug Belshaw to add my voice to purpos/ed. And I keep coming back to two words.

Encouragement.

Opportunity.

Encouragement and opportunity. Easy words to say, but encouragement and opportunity can be hard to come by. With them, we can be more than we ever anticipated. Without them, we may still get there, but it’ll be a harder road to travel.

When I cast my mind back to my own education, and I think about the role I’ve played in the education of others since I began teaching 23 years ago, I think about encouragement and opportunity. I think about minds being opened, I think about seeing other points of view, I think about social interactions that might have had little to do with curriculum, but plenty to do with being human. I think about having and providing encouragement and opportunities.

You see, the institution that is a school is a very important cog in the societies we live in. I’m a firm believer in sending kids to school, in trusting in our education systems to nurture and guide, in those systems helping our young people to learn with and from others. I’m disappointed when I hear of education not delivering all that, but I hold onto the ideal that it can and must.

I grew up in a less than affluent area, and the committed and inspiring teachers I was fortunate to cross paths with provided opportunities for impassioned debate and thoughtful reflection. They believed in me and actively encouraged me to strive for an academic path through life. I remember a teacher sharing the story of a student at the school who had never entertained the idea of a university degree. His teacher encouraged him to think beyond the life he had imagined for himself. That student is now Associate Editor of ‘The Age’ newspaper, one of the most prestigious newspapers in Australia today. Would he have had the opportunity to pursue that career without the active encouragement of that teacher? A person who could see possibility and seed the idea that there was more out there than what that young man visualised.

A moment in my career stays with me. A Year Seven class, and students working in a computer lab. One young girl couldn’t get access, so instead she sat with me while others worked, and we talked about what was happening in her life. For me, it was an incidental conversation, one of many I share with my students. A couple of days later, the same young girl submitted her workbook. On the inside cover was a note;

“Dear Mrs. Luca,

Thank you for talking to me the other day. When I went home I felt really good.”

A few years later I took a call in the staffroom. It was that same young girl. She had just given birth to her first child, and wanted me to know. She was seventeen. She was seeking my encouragement, and I gave her that. Life had not provided her with an academic career, but she remembered someone who had taken an interest in her, and she sought me out when she was facing what was, without doubt, a daunting task at a tender age.

Not all of our students ride the busy motorways of life and reach the dizzying heights of career success, some take the quieter laneways. Their journey is no less important. All of them deserve our encouragement and their eyes opened to opportunity.

So, all of you out there. Do your job well. Do it well so that you can motivate others, spark a desire within them to reach for their dreams. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions to encourage and provide opportunity. You never know who it is that you are influencing, who out there is remembering the kind word, the supportive comment, the friendly smile, the nudge to extend themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of doing.

It’s the purpose of education; probably the most important thing we can do.

School’s out Friday

The TED Conference is being held right now in Long Beach California. This year’s TED Prize winner is JR, an artist from France, whose incredible artwork has been seen in the slums of Kenya, in Brazil, in India and even in Israel and Palestine. Here’s what they say about JR on the TED site;

Working anonymously, pasting his giant images on buildings, trains, bridges, the often-guerrilla artist JR forces us to see each other. Traveling to distant, often dangerous places — the slums of Kenya, the favelas of Brazil — he infiltrates communities, befriending inhabitants and recruiting them as models and collaborators. He gets in his subjects’ faces with a 28mm wide-angle lens, resulting in portraits that are unguarded, funny, soulful, real, that capture the sprits of individuals who normally go unseen. The blown-up images pasted on urban surfaces – the sides of buildings, bridges, trains, buses, on rooftops — confront and engage audiences where they least expect it. Images of Parisian thugs are pasted up in bourgeois neighborhoods; photos of Israelis and Palestinians are posted together on both sides of the walls that separate them.

JR has been awarded the prestigious TED Prize. His wish? To use art to turn the world inside out.

His work has such appeal he just might be able to inspire people to run with this idea. Imagine if our schools connected, and we worked cooperatively to make an impact on issues our world faces using art as our impetus.He has started Inside Out: a global art project. I think it will be amazing.

“INSIDE OUT is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Everyone is challenged to use black and white photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world. These digitally uploaded images will be made into posters and sent back to the project’s co-creators for them to exhibit in their own communities. People can participate as an individual or in a group; posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window to a wall of portraits on an abandoned building or a full stadium. These exhibitions will be documented, archived and viewable virtually.”

There’s something in that, and considering the art faculty of our school were thinking of including the work of JR in the curriculum, maybe this is something we need to discuss next week!

Enjoy your weekend. Spend some time on the TED site and get inspired. : )

Creating a Library for the future – Part two!

Recently, I wrote about our new library and how we had tried to create a library for Toorak College that would meet the future needs of our school. There are lots of photos in that post, but most were taken before our furniture had arrived. I thought I’d provide an update with more pictures and discuss some of the furniture choices we made.

Making spaces flexible was always a motivating factor behind our choices. We have flip tables on castors in our large conference space. The chairs are incredibly comfortable and are on a sled base. (We are still waiting for our full complement of chairs. In the photo above you can see some loan chairs that will be replaced with the orange 3D chairs once the next shipment arrives) The sled base makes them really easy to move around. We are constantly reinventing this space to meet the needs of large groups and special functions, so easy movement of the furniture is important. It’s not back breaking work sliding chairs and wheeling tables away! You’ll notice a portable interactive whiteboard off to the side in the picture above. We have three of these in our library and they can moved to where they are needed. Floorboxes dot the floor and have power and data points within them. They are constantly in use as our school is a 1:1 laptop environment and access to power is critical. There are large sliding doors that can close this room off, and we are finding it’s getting constant use.

What we’ve been really excited about this week was the arrival of what we call our ‘Snake Lounge’. This is a very large signature piece that winds its way through what we call the Learning Commons part of our library. It’s been enthusiastically embraced by students and staff alike. Seeing people’s reactions to it when they see it for the first time is incredibly rewarding. We are thrilled with how our vision was translated by the furniture craftsman, Abbas, who listened to what we described and built something that probably has surpassed our expectations. Judge for yourself from the following pictures.

 

It is beautiful! Watching the students use it is so gratifying. Today, during lunchtime, every part of it was being used. Some students were relaxing and talking while others were working at both the attached tables and the benches. The ottomans serve as both stools and tables for laptops and books. Once again, they can be easily moved around -the ottomans that is! The Snake lounge isn’t going anywhere -it’s a permanent fixture. I’m not about to go breaking my back moving that one!

Our Multimedia room has been fitted out with desktop Mac computers.

I included this picture in my last post about the library, but it remains one of my favourite spaces, although it’s probably tied with the Snake Lounge now! We called it the Presentation Room, but our students have coined it the Beanbag room, and that name has stuck. It gets constant use, both with classes and as a relaxed space for students during recess, lunch and after school.

All of these spaces require teachers to rethink their use of the library. Our previous building had clearly designated class spaces that mimicked classroom configurations of the traditional classroom. This new library is very different, and students find spaces that work for them. Quite often a class is not contained in one space; they spread out and use breakout rooms, couches and tables. We are seeing our senior students gravitate back (they have their own senior centre) and they especially enjoy the small breakout rooms that allow them a quieter space for study. (You can see the breakout rooms behind the Snake lounge in some of the pictures above). That’s another thing I am pleased about having; the quiet spaces that we never had in our previous library. There are some who crave quiet, and others who are content with ambient noise.

I am so pleased with how this building has turned out. We still need end panels for shelves and some more relaxed seating options. The end panels will arrive in the coming weeks, but other new furniture options may be on the backburner for awhile. Vinyl lettering and designs for our walls is something else we are putting thought into. It’s exciting to be involved in a project like this, and truly wonderful to walk into work every day and see a vision realised.