Going with the ebb and flow of change

I wrote this text for our Cultura Inglesa Teachers’ Portal editorial for the week between 01/11-7/11. However, as our Portal is undergoing some changes and we’re unable to invite comments and so forth, I decided to share the post in my blog as well.

I have to say that, on reading the text a week or so after having written it, I’m struck by how very “political” it is. But that’s how I’ve always seen teaching and I think that’s what’s always appealed to my ever-so-non-conforming nature. 

Photo taken by @ceciliacoelho from #ELTpics

A week or so ago Jeremy Harmer wrote a challenging blog post about change agents and added his own thoughts on the people who exerted a degree of influence in his own professional development. He also invited all of us to reflect and share through comments their own thoughts.

Who would have thought that such a simple question could generate a fascinating thread of comments on the issue. The best thing about all this was that it was clear how people have such differing points of view, yet they all share the following in common: the power to reflect, express opinions, reformulate ideas and ask new questions.

But they share another aspect in common: they’re all teachers.

You see, it’s long been my belief that those of us who chose to become teachers chose this profession because there is, deep down, a feeling that “things cannot continue the way they are.” We chose a profession in which we are at all times playing the role of “agents of change”. Our understanding and view of agents of change may not be the same as Steve Job’s (although I would agree that death and even the prospect of near-death can significantly change our outlook on life), but we certainly have no naïve ideas about how we can stimulate, or for that matter, restrain a learner’s potential.

Yet, for change to minimally have the chance to happen, we need to ensure there is dialogue and interaction. We need to ask difficult questions. We need to be ready to hear challenging answers. We need to be ready for learners to subvert the activities we have set up in class. And this will happen.

For each and every activity we implement in class, learners will bring their own goals and motives in order to carry out the tasks. This is when the intersubjectivity and dialogic interaction established between a specific group of learners will mean that no same activity will ever happen the same way with another group. This is also what allows learners to construct new Zones of Proximal Development and create completely different learning opportunities from the same activity. Learning will happen in different ways with different groups. Change also follows the same “rule”. But at least we know that SOME change will happen.

The bottom line is: education is about change. Change does not maintain the status quo. So, education is highly subversive in nature! So, we’re all rebels at heart!

Or at least we could be.

Last week in a revolutionary and innovative move Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clanfield shared via TheRound a pdf sample of their first publication entitled 52. The idea of this activity book for teachers is to engage teachers and learners in discussion and language work which deal with real-world issues. The activities do not lend themselves to pastel-colour responses. They stir things up a bit. They remind us that education and English language teaching is about CHANGE!

Ultimately, a belief in change and the agents of change is the best option we may have. In one of the most inspiring projects for social change, El Sistema in Venezuela tries to introduce poor children into the world of classical music through the formation of orchestras (watch the 60 Minutes documentary to learn more about El Sistema).  One of the great talents to come out of the project is Gustavo Dudamel, who now is the Music Director of the LA Philharmonic Orchestra and is also the Music Director of the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra. When you listen to the Simón Bolivar Orchestra it is clear: the potential for change is within all of us and change can be contagious.

Standing on the cold, wet sand we leave footprints. The flow of the tide covers them. As the tide ebbs we only see faint footprints or perhaps nothing at all. But we know, nothing is ever the same again.

A mark of change has been ingrained somewhere.

6 thoughts on “Going with the ebb and flow of change

  1. Your sentence “education is highly subversive in nature” reminded me of the book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time – “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” by Postman & Weingartner. It talks a lot about change which probably results from the fact that it was published at the time of the great social upheavals in the 1960s. And thank you for pointing out 52 – have already checked it out!

  2. Wonderfully thoughtful post, Valeria.

    As one of the teachers who joined Jeremy’s discussion, and one who knows what you mean when you say “things cannot continue the way they are”, I think many teachers are focused on the potential of our students, of our future, of what could be. Tough shoes to fill, but I think we’re driven there by that feeling you’ve mentioned above.

    Personally, I try to counter that feeling with acceptance too. It’s hard to always oppose what is and to what more than what is our present. Like anything else… a bit of a balancing act.

    Thanks again for this thought-provoking post ! Cheers, Brad

  3. While education can undoubtedly be an agent for change, it is unfortunately more commonly used as a way of reinforcing the status quo so that the rich elite remain the rich elite with their wonderful, life affirming and life ‘changing’ education, and the poor are kept stupid and downtrodden and fit only to perform the menial jobs that the top 1% don’t want to do.

    I am sure that Cultura Inglesa is doing its best to help change the prospects of the 99% and not just the 1% that can afford to pay the fees.

    1. Thank you OWS for the comment. Glad you found the time to read the blog post.

      But yes, you´re right, education in many countries can be a way to keep the status quo. Having lived through different educatonal systems I know full well how far this can be the case. It´s not, I’m afraid, restricted to the Suthern hemisphere – it´s in the choice of curricula in many a northern hemisphere countries with their talk of democracy et al.

      Yes, Cultura Inglesa is a private language school and do we cater for an elite? Well, yes in a manner of speaking we do, although we do have very many students who do win scholarships and study for free as well and we have a Foundation which caters for over a 1000 students from needy communities: same level of teaching quality for all learners. It´s a drop in the ocean, yes, it is. But I always think if each of us do our part and contribute to the community we will get somewhere. We change things by taking action and not by waiting for governments to take action…

      But, I also think that whoever you teach, we must always see education as a vehicle for change. If I can minimally show a language learner how important it is to be active and fight for change (and this means discussing issues related to poverty, social inequality and human rights in class, for example) we are building up the possibility of changing the future….that´s how a teacher can be a change agent, no matter in what type of educational institution we work at..we all have a duty as educators to change things.

      Now, I was just wondering where you´re based (no idea of your name either, what a pity, we could have discussed this more transparently if you weren´t sort of “hidden” behind a general label) as I do wonder where you got your stats from??????
      Please let me know.
      Looking forward to your anwser.
      Thanks once again.

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