By Kim Campbell, Year 5 /6 Teacher
The Thai Civic Education Center supported by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Thailand with the cooperation of the Monash University, Australia is organizing a project on “Enhancing Thai Democracy through Education Links to Australia”.
Funding support for the program has been met through an Australia – ASEAN Council Grant from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade with administrative support from the Faculty of Education at the Monash University and in Thailand from Chulangkorn and Mahidol Universities.
In 2016 and 2017, two groups of Thai teachers visited Australian schools and university to observe and participate in CCE lessons with teachers where they had an opportunity for further discussions with teachers about their teaching methods and the curriculum content.
In this final year of the project, Australian Civics and Citizenship Education (CCE) teacher educators and leading CCE classroom teachers visiting schools and university in Thailand from 2-6 July 2018.
The Australian educators’ group are leading CCE in Australia and include Drs. Marc Pruyn and David Zyngier from the Faculty of Education, Monash University, as well as Kim Campbell from Wooranna Park Primary School, Nicole L Richards from Elwood Primary School and Adriana Abels from the John Monash Science School.
A Trip Abroad
I went to Thailand in a group made up of two lecturers from Monash University and three teachers, myself, a teacher from John Monash Science School and a teacher from Elwood Primary. The Thai Civic Democracy Project is part of a four-year program which aims to improve the way that they teach civics and citizenship in Thailand. Educators are starting with a system in which teachers who want to move forward in the way they educate are still in a place where they get told what to teach and how to teach it. Censorship is very real in the lives of ordinary citizens, who remain unfamiliar with the history of protest in their country. One of the guides who was taking us around one of the universities, and now showing us a documentary about a civil rights movement, said to us, “I’m a university-educated person, and this is the first I knew that that had happened in my country in the 1970s.”
The thinking behind the program is to encourage Thailand to be a more democratic country and to move towards a more social justice-oriented country. To do this, they are implementing a civics and citizenship program which starts educating young people from an early age. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, together with Monash University have been bringing educators from Thailand to tour Victorian schools who are pushing boundaries or teaching civics and citizenship. The teachers come from all the different regions of Thailand. When they return, they are expected to give PD based to other teachers in their area. When in Australia, they attend sessions at Monash run by Senior Lecturer, David Zyngier, who runs the Civics and Citizenship project.
The expectation is that the Thai teachers will return to their regions and bring more people into these new ways of learning. By our standards, the new ways are are exercises like Think-Pair-Share, which seem traditional here. But the idea that students are not just vessels to be taught information is the real change. Consequently, I heard teachers asking themselves, “How can I teach about climate change when I have to teach geography?”
Over the last four years, they’ve been coming here and David had been going there and they’ve been running their own professional development sessions based on things they’ve discovered here, and to schools in Germany as well. On this leg of the program we visited schools to see how they’re implementing some of the things they’d been learning. We were asked to give them feedback and advice, and answer any questions teachers might have. We also presented how our schools implement civics and citizenship on the final day of the visit.
Wooranna Park! Wooranna Park!
It was a really busy week but every single aspect of the trip was interesting. We were treated like royalty. We would get to places and be introduced as, “This is so-and-so from the school. Well on hearing ‘Kim from Wooranna Park’ the audiences people would look at me go, “Oh, Wooranna Park, Wooranna Park.”
I realised that for all these years in which Ray has been saying, people in other countries are watching what we’re doing, he was speaking the absolute truth. They’re not just watching, but what we are doing at our school is resonating with them, and they’re taking it on board. There’s book on the program that is put together by the organisation which is, not surprisingly, in Thai. When you flick through it, I estimated that there are maybe 80 pictures in it. Well, 40 of the images are of learning spaces from Wooranna! The school has made such an impression.
I was later informed that whenever the Thai educators return from visiting Wooranna, they are required to debrief others for hours, just to talk out what they’d seen, make sense of it, and workout how they might bring what they’ve seen into their schools in some way. So, it filled me with pride to know that people had such high regard for our school.
I admit that, sometimes, here when I have seen visitors walking through and you wonder about what they making of what they see. You don’t know if they’re seeing what we think we’re doing. I was happy to think that if the visit just got a conversation started, and they asked, “Why are they doing it that way, and what does that lead to?” then, you know, we are part of changing things for the better of education.
But before I went, I was mostly worried about my lack of experience of presenting to large adult groups. I was only too aware that I’ve only been teaching for six years. Then as I started to look into how Wooranna Park teaches civics and citizenship the students kept saying to me, “But we don’t just do civics and citizenship on Tuesday afternoons.” And then, I think it might have been Jennie said, “Kim, then, that’s what you say.”
Then I started looking in even more detail into what we do and I realized that it was all in our Raison D’etre.You always hear about it and, of course, you look at it, you realise what’s been happening around my school. I started realizing and seeing the many connections that underpin everything we do. I mean we really attend to the underpinning reasons for being by modelling and valuing democracy.
The way we value student agency and then the more I looked at it and the more I looked at what people around the school we’re doing, I found myself having a great opportunity to just stop and look and feel so proud of the people that I work with. Rather than, I’m not going to be able to talk, I was like throwing answers out, by channeling Jennie for one question, channeling Lucia for another. I work in an amazing environment with all these teachers who should be educating educators. They’re above and beyond anything I saw in any of my teaching placements. And the way that they hold you accountable for what you do is equally good. Like when Jennie says, “But why are you doing that? What’s your purpose in that?”
What we take for granted
As this is my sixth year, and I’ve had a moment to stop with peers who interrogated what I do, I realise there’s so much of what I do as a teacher at Wooranna has become part of my language. For instance, when you do Literature Circles and bring social justice issues through exploring the themes and characters of a text. I don’t know if I could do it any other way. If someone said to me, “Okay, you’re going go another school tomorrow, and you’re going teach a math class followed by an English class followed by this-and-that class, and you need to stay strictly on the content,” I don’t know how I or anyone could do that and feel passion, like follow the students’ learning.
At the same time, I know there are gaps in my abilities as an educator. There are gaps in the sense that we often need to allow more time for skills to be embedded. We talk about this as a team. But then I see my own son is in grade two who hates going to school on Wednesdays because he has geography. Loves to travel, talks about all the countries in the world he wants to go to. We’ve traveled around Australia, loves all of that, but he hates geography because. When I ask him he says, ‘We sit down and the teacher tells us stuff about geography and then sometimes we might…if it’s a good day we get to do a worksheet.”
Contrast this with how geography is taught at Wooranna when two years ago, the students all got a passport and every week they investigated different countries. It was an amazing thing to watch the whole school and all the different things that the children integrated into geography. You don’t do geography, you immerse yourself in it!!
There are no neat solutions
Yet, despite our innovative ways, our school still fights against the same problems that schools everywhere fight against. We all make the best plan but then there are those last minute things that come in and overturn them: a dog visit or a great opportunity that can’t be missed and so things get changed. So the timetabling, is under the constant process of being change. As a part timer, my responses would probably be different to a full timer because as part timer you never feel like you’re really able to do it all in three days.
For example, I love doing the Community Kitchen Project. It’s absolutely exhausting for me and the students tell me they fall asleep in the car on the way home at the end of it. In the project, they’re doing so much maths like, they’re doing maths that they didn’t even know they could do. But then two weeks later, if I were to say to them, “What’s one-half plus one-half?” can they still answer the question? But they can in the kitchen. So it’s getting those opportunities to really solidify those links between the hands-on, real life and the student led. And the fact that in the real world they will be required to answer maths questions on a piece of paper, framed by a strangely-worded question.
One thing we’ve noticed that’s really helped in terms of maths is that a lot of our EAL students now are getting maths sessions as part of the EAL. So I’m finding a lot of students who do EAL this year saying, “I finally get some concepts.”
I can’t see any easy answers. For instance, I sometimes feel we do change plans in response to student voice which later I think about and say to myself, “Maybe we should have stuck with that.” But then I realise that I we would have stopped the students achieving some other really rich outcomes … like on the day when gay marriage laws were changed and, we watched the parliamentary session. Yes, we were meant to be doing something else but we put that aside because we believe that “This is real world,” and real world learning… think of the learning around just the statistics in the discussion, not to mention how important that children discuss the issue with their parents. This is monumental moment. Could I say that day if a child might have finally understood how to divide three digit numbers? I don’t know the answer is to finding more time in the day!!
So in Thailand, I made use that I said that, yes, I’m from this really innovative school but we have challenges too. We have our imperatives like when we judged by our NAPLAN results. Why aren’t the results better?” How can I explain that what standard tests don’t measure what we value…there’s a quiet about that measure. I spoke to one teacher who seemed to understand what I was saying, “But they say I have to do geography. I want to know, how do social justice?”
I suggested he choose a novel set in the geographic setting, set in the country that you want them to explore, and then through the discussions your exploring geography and social justice,” He then made it clear, “But I have to do it this way.” I came to appreciate that, like us, they’re taking little bits at a time and they’re relying on each other’s passion gradually get the message out to make changes.
As I talked and presented to very groups, one of the Australian teachers said to me “Your school is doing things I haven’t even thought to do. Australian schools need to come and learn from you.” My response “Maybe all innovative schools doing progressive innovative stuff should have more team to share what they’re doing.” The impediments to progressive practices are very real, perhaps none more so I realised than when we went to the University, Institute for Human Rights and Peace studies. The people there were amazing. But one teacher educator reminded us that she would have the military in her classroom because they believed she was trying to teach democratic ideals to her students. She was teaching through the use of literature after coming away from our school, but she said, “You know, I’ve been teaching literature and it’s really working. My kids are really engaged. But they have to worry about their physical safety and all their family.” That’s real courage, as they’re still pushing through.
We are not intimidated by the military in our classrooms, so what’s stopping all of Australia adopting what we doing at Wooranna. I mean, at university I was how progressive ways of teaching got better learning outcomes. Then I’d go on my placements and watch how no innovation was practised in the classroom.
Finding inspiration in 7-year-old-activists
I plan to speak about the Youth Empowerment Conference and the Community Kitchen, our principle of student agency and about what we do in Lit Circles. But I started with the Grade 2 Parliament because I find the story incredibly inspirational. I just think about those children who as young as grade 2 already have the belief that, “I can make a difference to my world. I have a voice, I can be a socially active citizen.”
They’re going get to go to the parliament because the law has now changed because of what they did. When I told people about them, they were blown away. These were Grade 2 children. So I end up talking mostly about them and about how we work in very organic, authentic ways. We plan everything. We sit and have a massive discussion about what we thinking after firstly interviewing the children at the end of last year. What have you been proud of this year? What do you want to do? What are you interested in? What are you passionate about?
Then we go through all that and we identify what common areas they have. And then we talk again and layer our work – what are the big ideas that are coming through that we want to keep growing? And then we come up with our understandings. Such planning takes a long time. We set down all the things we want to get to. All the key questions we want them to understand. And this is not all of it. How we are going to do it through our Literature Circles, Enigma Missions and Learning Symposiums. Symposiums are a great way that we share the ideas.
There’s nothing like the topic today is … but I know we do that as well, you know, we do do that. We do workshops, we do do assessments. We do all of that stuff as well, but our passion is waking up children to know that they have a responsibility to be the best learners they can be.