Shoes to Walk in, Lenses to See Through

Shoes to Walk in, Lenses to See Through

By: Mohammad Khari

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee, 1960)

Think about students in high school and college. What is the most important thing in their lives? What stirs their passions? What are their needs? From our perspective, it is easy to assume that school is that central element: the source of their passions and provider of their needs. How easy it is to forget that when we were that same age, school was just a side event for most of us. Instead, we were focused on all the new things bursting upon us: moving out, making money in part-time jobs, falling in love, traveling, experimenting, and sometimes fighting with our families. As it was for us, our leaners are not as much pupils as pioneers.

In our Main video, Charisse Nixon builds her argument on two of the fundamental principles of neuroscience: That we are hard-wired to connect, and that the brain is plastic. She believes that, during adolescence, there is a window of opportunity letting us, teachers, take advantage of brain plasticity and foster students’ growth by making meaningful connections with them. Our students differ from each other in the ways their “prior knowledge” and their “lived experience” (here) are shaped by a combination of factors including parental influence, family economic status, physical and mental health, the impact of violence, out of school activities, and the neighborhood and the social class they come from (here); however, our students also share quite a few similarities, some of which are due to the biological development of the brain being restructured during this transition to adulthood. These similarities are:

    • having trouble controlling impulses;
    • struggling with outbursts;
    • and misreading facial expressions.

Some other similarities also come from the shared culture of the globalized consumerist world:

    • struggling with perspective-taking;
    • being obsessed with self;
    • being isolated/alone;
    • being affected by negativity;
    • struggling with identity;
    • being in limbo: neither a child nor an adult.

Nixon also refers to ABC&Me—the four basic needs that, according to Kipling Williams, every adolescent, or every person, has: the need for Acceptance, Belonging, Control, and Meaningful Existence, and believes that we should address them by rebuilding our standard approach to life and meaningful connections.

She concludes that there are four keys for doing so (Empathy, Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Humility) that adolescents can use to promote and maintain positive connections, and I believe these are also areas that teachers can explore to address the aforementioned needs, to make more meaningful connections, and ultimately, to step into their students’ lives outside the classroom.

Let us stop assuming “school is the central element” and drink in the wisdom of Beau Taplin’s words: “We are all so desperate to be understood, we forget to be understanding.”

So, in this issue, we have decided to step back from our school-centric view and consider how the students’ journeys, over old terrain for us but into virgin territory for them, impact their lives and their studies. What can we learn about their outside lives? And how do their outside lives shape their learning? Join us in an attempt to peek into their world and incorporate it into ours. It will help us learn how to teach the whole of each student, rather than just the fraction that comes to the side event.

Mohammad Khari is an English lecturer at Ozyegin University, Istanbul. He holds a BA in English Literature, an MA in Philosophy of Art, and a CELTA. Mohammad has been reading and researching on the integration of neuroscience into pedagogy, sharing his ideas through a series of professional development sessions.

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