Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What can we learn from Honduras's teachers and schools?

Natelee is a teacher from Honduras
Here is my second contribution to UNESCO's #TeacherTuesday. You can find all of my posts for #Teacher Tuesday here.

Natelee is a teacher on the Bay Islands, Honduras. She started teaching when she was 19. As I read Natelee's story, I was struck by a couple of key points:
  • When Natelee discovered that one of her students was autistic she required professional development to properly meet that students needs.
  • Natelee often invited community members into her classroom such as police, firefighters and dive masters.
  • Natelee discovered that her travel experiences helped her to better understand why intercultural education is important in a multicultural context.
  • As a student, Natalee was hyperactive and benefitted from teachers who didn't "bash" her -- but rather saw her potential and modified their teaching to meet her where she was at.
  • In Honduras, there are 9 indigenous groups (Miskitu, Tawakha, Lenca, Tolupan, Maya-Chorti, Garifuna, Nahao, Pech, Negro de Habla Ingles) and 7 languages. Two groups have lost their language and became fragmented. One of those languages (lenca) is almost extinct, there is now a process to try and keep that language alive. Despite this, in the Bay Islands English is the main language of instruction and on mainland Honduras, Spanish is the main language of instruction. Natalee has found success by striving to use a learner-centered approach, which places the child at the centre of the learning process -- so her classroom has an approach that embraces a multicultural, multilingual and differentiated approach to reach all students.
I am struck by 1 BIG IDEA from Natelee's story:

1. Inclusion is for everyone. It's easy to say that we want to build a great school for all children, but it's not easy to agree how we will actually do it. Should all children get a great education? Absolutely. But that doesn't mean everyone should get the same education. We have to stop assuming we can meet all children's needs by pretending they all have the same needs. Having high standards does not require standardization. Alfie Kohn reminds us that "uniformity is not the same thing as excellence - or equity." What could be more inequitable than expecting everyone to learn the same things, to the same level of competence, in the same amount of time? Ultimately, standardization is about meeting the system's needs, even if it means ignoring the children's needs. 

The best schools understand that it is developmentally inappropriate to demand all children progress in the same ways at the same time, but that doesn't require children to be segregated, isolated and excluded from their peers. Top-down mandated, prefabricated, content-bloated, scripted curriculums are problematic because they are insensitive to the needs of children and community (the same is true of standardized tests). Curriculum is not something that should be designed and laminated by distant authorities and mailed to the school -- curriculum must be co-constructed by the teacher and the student with the support of their local school and community.

When we allow public schools to track and stream students by ability, low achieving students are often pushed into low-track classes and schools, separate and apart from more successful students which leads to classes and schools to be segregated by race and socio-economic status. We know that de-tracking often benefits children who need the most help. We also know that the gap between rich and poor is growing -- our schools and students' scores are a reflection of our societies socio-economics. It's important to remember that while racial integration is an important aim, so to is economic integration

After all, the best way for us to understand and value different people is for us to be surrounded by them.

For a wonderful read on inclusion, check out Mara Sapon-Shevin's book Widening the Circle: the power of inclusive classrooms.

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