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Once we were students… May 20, 2012

Posted by Editor21C in Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Sarah Powell

“Get back here now!”

I keep walking.

“Get back here, Sarah!”

I’ve left the classroom.

“Get back here now, or you’ll be on detention for the rest of your life.”

How did this start?

Doesn’t actually matter.

The thrown pencil case; sitting at the wrong desk; wearing the wrong shoes; refusing to put my poster on the wall; speaking out of turn; arguing; questioning everything; but all the time the boredom.

I simply didn’t matter. I dared to challenge their authority and that had to be quashed (yes, ‘squashed’ without the ‘s’). I was just a kid. Not a real person yet.

“I have to see her next lesson, and you’re telling me, that’s all I’ll have to do and she’ll respond?”

“Yes. Trust me.” My loyal mother.

“Sarah. I know we’ve got off to a pretty bad start, and I’d like to say “sorry” for the part I’ve played. I don’t care who said what or who was right and who was wrong. I’d like to start all over again. Wipe the slate clean as it were. What do you think?”

“Yeah, okay.”

From that moment, school was different. I became human, significant. He saw me as a person in my own right and for a short time we would be travelling the same road. I reminded him of this story just the other day, now 20 years on. He was my Music teacher and whilst he didn’t solve all my troubles with other teachers, he tapped into my passion for music and singing, and that made everything else bearable. This was not just about the fact that he was a caring, passionate teacher. He understood, more than most, that there’s a key that unlocks every child.

This is the heart of Significance.

Significance is one of three interrelated dimensions that form the NSW Quality Teaching Framework (2003). According to this framework, learning should be meaningful and accessible to all students, by providing experiences that “draw[s] clear connections with students’ prior knowledge and identities, with contexts outside of the classroom, and with multiple ways of knowing or cultural perspectives” (p.9). It begins with recognising that every student is an individual, with individual expressions of culture and personality; individual social standing and understanding; individual personal histories; individual capacities; and individual identities.

Possible Selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986; Freer, 2009, 2010; Sica, 2009; Cross & Markus, 1994) is a way of considering the formation of identity, and in the school context this is a particularly important and vulnerable time for the adolescent. As an aspect of self-concept or self-definition, Possible Selves define an individual’s future self, in terms of what they would like to be in the future, their ideal. This future self, a possible self, is generally defined in one of three ways: what a person wants to become, what they expect to become, and what they want to avoid or fear becoming. Cross and Markus (1994) suggest that Possible Selves bridge the gap between present self and future self. They are a way of organising the beliefs and actions of an individual in order to achieve a particular, desired outcome. According to Markus and Nurius (1986) Possible Selves inspire direction, modify behaviour, and are discrete representations of experiences and personality. The adolescent identity is not yet fixed or definite and therefore, it is essential to provide authentic, positive and meaningful learning, so that students can have access to a range of opportunities and possibilities, allowing them to confidently make choices about what they want to do, can do, who they are, and what they want to be. This, again, is at the heart of the NSW Quality Teaching Framework’s notion of Significance. In essence, if I have a good experience of something in the present, I am more likely to pursue it in the future. The opposite is also true.

My own experience has been that one teacher took the time and trouble to recognise me as an individual and connect my learning to my personal context. This meant that in the uncertainty of adolescent identity, and in the midst of all sorts of negative messages from other teachers, I chose to follow one possible and positive self. This choice has since opened up a world of possibilities.

Once we were all students… and yes, it was a battle.

References:  Cross, S. E. & Markus, H. R. (1994). Self-schemas, possible selves, and competent performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86(3), 423-438.    Freer, P. K. (2009). ‘I’ll sing with my buddies’ – Fostering the possible selves of male choral singers. International Journal of Music Education, 27(4), 341-355.   Freer, P. K. (2010). Two decades of research on possible selves and the ‘missing males’ problem in choral music. International Journal of Music Education, 28(1), 17-30.    Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41(9), 954-969.    NSW Department of Education and Training (DET). (2003). Quality teaching in NSW public schools. Discussion paper. Sydney, NSW: Professional Support and Curriculum Directorate.    Sica, L. S. (2009). Adolescents in different contexts: The exploration of identity through possible selves. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13(3), 221-252.

Sarah Powell is a doctoral student in the Centre for Educational Research in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is undertaking her PhD in music education and is also a sessional academic who teaches into our Master of Teaching (Secondary) initial teacher education program at UWS. Sarah is passionate about the need for teachers to understand and respect their students, and is the first of our postgraduate students to contribute to 21st Century Learning.

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