Tag Archives: community

‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

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I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

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Filed under Coaching, Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Experiential Learning, Explore, Learners, Learning, Networking, Potential, Practitioners, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Teaching, Technology, Values

Let them be heard: Voice of the Children

A 9 year old child writing an ‘open’ letter on behalf of the class after a prolonged period of standardised testing in New York State. They want their voices heard and have asked if we can help them to do this.

This is not ‘our’ blog, so we shall write no more. This blog post belongs to the voice of this child and their class. 

Voice of the Child

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Engaging safely, fairly and fully in St Modan’s…

We had the privilege of being invited to spend a morning in St. Modan’s High School, Stirling. Our visit began with introductions to staff and students in the Autism Provision…complete with coffee and a selection of chocolates!

Our immediate impression was one of ‘community’ and the feeling of being welcomed whole-heartedly into their daily routines. Several special moments occurred as individual students came to meet and greet us in their own ways. Some with handshakes, some by name, some by standing nearby. Each one will stay in our memories. 

A tour of the school building took place, accompanied by Mary Yates (Teacher) and one of her students. We were met with smiles and politeness from all…and loved the modern space dedicated to dance! 

We accepted an invitation from students to join their Personal Development class. And what a treat this turned out to be…

The overwhelming feeling of inclusion and acceptance was evident. Students who were aware of each other’s individual needs and teachers who went the extra mile to ensure that all were valued, accepted and given the opportunity to engage safely, fully and fairly in their own way. 

The session began with a ‘check in’ and a general introduction from us – visitors who had arrived from South Wales! A bonding moment occurred when they realised we had also met Neil Oliver and showed a photo of the moment from our iPhones. Neil Oliver had recently performed the opening of their ‘shop’ in Stirling Arcade – a highly successful enterprise project where each student took on team and shop roles. (Our own meeting with Neil Oliver was less planned and more accidental – we literally bumped into him on Glastonbury Tor during his filming for ‘Coast’, whilst we all sheltered from torrential rain together!)

After the excitement of comparing photographs, the students took a ‘fist-to-five’ vote on which charity they would support. An interesting debate took place, including mature discussion as to why certain charities were preferable to certain students. Yet a compromise was reached and a charity chosen. 

Intrigue followed as students were shown a graphic on the whiteboard and asked to write a question that came to mind on the front of a sealed envelope. These questions would be used later to plan future learning experiences. The students were then told to open the envelopes and investigate the content – which turned out to be a replica of the graphic. They had 30 seconds to cut it into 6 pieces in any way they wanted. The pieces were put back into the envelopes, swapped with a partner and then an instruction to recreate the graphic in the shortest amount of time. Discussions were occurring about how best to do this along with specifics about the graphic. 

Bananas were then put on the table, along with ‘banana products’ – cake and smoothies. Students were invited to taste. Mixed responses! ‘Yuk’ through to ‘that tasted better than I expected’! Realisation that the graphic was in fact the Fair Trade logo.

At this point the session moved on and the idea for the next enterprise project was introduced. A ‘Brilliant Banana Event’. The students were grouped together and flip chart paper handed out. They were reminded of their community contract for working together and then asked to brainstorm and record ideas for this event. We joined the groups and couldn’t help but contribute as we got caught up in the excitement of sharing ideas! 

Each group came up with individual ideas ranging from whole-school competitions, sale of banana flavoured items, fancy dress, songs and much, much more. The groups took turns to feedback.

Just before the bell went, we had time to perform an impromptu song in Welsh to the students – all about bananas. 

A special note about the ‘Community Contract’. We were given permission by Scott to publish a photograph of the contract. He had designed and produced it himself on behalf of the class. It is proudly displayed on the wall. Scott was able to talk to us about the meaning behind the contract. We certainly witnessed students who aspired to fulfilling this contract within the session. The blurring on the photograph is purposeful in order to disguise names of the students – we would not wish Scott to think that we had distorted his poster for no reason!

On reflection…

What did we witness?

  • The purposeful building and maintaining of community
  • Independence and interdependence
  • Engagement and active learning
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Reasoning and justification of opinions, thoughts and ideas
  • Inclusion and valuing of the individual
  • Real, purposeful and meaningful context for learning
  • Development of employability skills and attitudes
  • Mutual respect between students, teachers and peers
  • The occasional challenge – what ‘real classroom’ would not present this!
  • Personalisation and Choice
  • Enjoyment and Challenge
  • Responsible Citizens
  • Successful Learners
  • Confident Individuals
  • Effective Contributors
  • and much more…all within a 40 minute session.
We were sorry that the bell went and that we had to leave!
(Although we were immediately ushered into the staffroom to share in a home-made lunch! Huge thanks to the staff in the Autism Provision for providing this! What a talented bunch!)
For us…it is important that what we do makes a positive difference for others. The opportunity to spend a morning with the students and staff of St. Modan’s was invaluable. 
Thank you all. 
Lynne and Andrew
🙂

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Rebuilding Gilboa-Conesville…

Many of you know Pete and Jane Fox. They have been good friends of ours for many years and are still very much involved in Single Steps Learning. 

They are now working tirelessly alongside other residents to help the community of Gilboa-Conesville following the devastation of Hurricane Irene.

The news clip shows some of the residents talking about their experiences, and also Pete talking about the school and arrangements to help support the students.

More information can also be found at…

http://www.fox23news.com/news/local/story/Rebuilding-the-Gilboa-Conesville-School-District/h8Z2ZKN_5UCWXnB6dZt6kA.cspx

If you have a way of offering support but are unsure how to contact the school/community, please email us at info.singlestepslearning@gmail.com  and we will be able to pass on any information.

Information about making donations to the REBUILD GILBOA fund has been posted on our Single Steps Learning facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/notes/single-steps-learning/rebuild-gilboa-fund/274566992555646

 

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‘Without community, you have nothing.’

This was once said to me and I have thought about it often since – ‘without community, you have nothing.’

Today, we are thinking about our friends in and around Gilboa-Conesville School, NY. News items in the UK do not even begin to highlight the full extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene. We know that many, many families have lost their homes and belongings. We know that towns have been devastated, and some even lost, due to major flooding. We know that areas around Gilboa have no clean running water, electricity, phone lines or passable roads. And won’t for the foreseeable future.

Yet what they do have is ‘community’. And the local community is pulling together to help each other out in whatever way they can – whether it is shelter, food, helping to clean up or rebuilding roads and property. It is a strong community in action.

You can never underestimate the importance of nurturing and maintaining a community. However small or big.

We are thinking of you all.

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Great learning happens in groups…

…and it certainly did this last week! Really pleased to be back in Stirling mixing laughter with learning…and the occasional ‘Pink Floyd’ song! Great to work with Primary, Secondary and ASN Outreach in one cohort – a real wealth of experience and knowledge. 

(…and yet more people who remember ‘The Adventure Game’!!)

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Back to school…

Glanffrwd Infants School, Ynysybwl

A trip back to Glanffrwd Infants is always good for the soul! The Nursery/Reception class I had are now in Yr1/2 and most of them are experiencing visits from the tooth fairy!  

“Where are you on your journey now?” said one of my boys! Another just wanted to report that he thought his mother was in love with a man in a hat (it turned out to be Matt Cardle!). 

I love the fact they keep my coffee cup under lock and key for when I return!!!

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Gilboa-Conesville Central School, NY

School Entrance

Once again we received a warm welcome from all the staff and students in Gilboa-Conesville Central School, NY. It was great to see the Welsh flag flying in the canteen.

 

The varsity basketball game had Andrew on the edge of his seat with tension! It took a while for the adrenalin to drain!! 

 Many thanks to the teachers who invited us to spend time with their classes – Kindergarten Art through to 9th Grade Poetry! A fabulous experience…and we hope we didn’t lead the 9th Graders astray when we joined their challenge groups as co-learners (…never mind teaching the 4th Graders some noisy community builders and African chants!!)

The day ended with a training session for the Elementary Faculty. Learning combined with fun and laughter….

 

Flag of Wales (Y Ddraig Goch, Welsh for the Re...

Image via Wikipedia

 

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