Friday, July 24, 2015

Our Global Neighborhood Conference



Guest Blogger, Beth Ulring, Grade 4 Challenge Teacher, Roosevelt Elementary School



Beijing, China      July 4-12, 2015

Authentic Learning in Action


        “A vision without a plan is just a dream.  A plan without a vision is just drudgery.  But a vision with a plan can change the world.”  The vision of the GEC, to build global partnerships between teachers and students, so that the world can have a peaceful and meaningful future, is a vision that epitomizes the principles of this proverb, for the 3rd annual GEC conference is an example of a vision with a plan. Here at GEC’s Elementary Education International Conference we have been enjoying authentic learning in action. We have been part of a “vision with a plan”, and we are engaging in groundbreaking educational initiatives that could change the world.  Embedded within the conference’s workshops and throughout our days, we are building partnerships with educators and students around the world.

Authentic Learning with Friends

A vision without a plan is just a dream.  A plan without a vision is just drudgery.  But a vision with a plan can change the world.


         Throughout the conference, our stay has been enhanced by a continuous stream of hospitality, punctuated with enthusiasm and graciousness. From the very beginning, we were treated as honored guests. We were greeted at the airport with much care and concern. At our hotel, we were showered with greetings from three of our Beijing friends who have been our guests at the School District of Janesville in Wisconsin.  And this hospitality story has continued each day. We have been accompanied back and forth from the hotel to school. We have been greeted in the halls, at the conference door, during lunch, dinner, seminars, and tours. Our needs have been anticipated and each question answered twofold. The old adage, treat others as you wish to be treated, must have been replaced by treat others better than you wish to be treated!  Yet, all of this attention has allowed us to receive something much greater than comfort in another land, it has allowed us to make many, many friends.  Beyond our Chinese hosts, we are sharing this conference with Chinese educators and other seminar presenters and workshop leaders from around the world.We are all working together in an authentic learning atmosphere to build and expand excellence in global education. These are the people that we hope to keep as our neighbors in GEC’s expanding global community. These are the people with which we hope to raise global education standards. These are the people with which we hope to build a more peaceful and meaningful world for the future.
Here we learn authentically with a greater purpose in mind, in a respectful learning atmosphere, teacher as student and student as teacher. So, purposefully and strategically, the conference began with the seminar on Coaching Teachers for Authentic Student Learning by Jack Dieckmann and Kari Kokka from the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE). This is a challenging topic for educators anywhere, but to tackle this topic in a bilingual and multicultural atmosphere really brought home the idea of teacher as student and student as teacher. When we work together in this atmosphere, no one is exempt from the role of learner and all are teachers. We are both learner and teacher because embedded in this classroom emerges the challenges of our global community. This global classroom, an authentic learning challenge superimposed on an authentic learning seminar, demanded that all of us reformulate how to learn and work in a global community. Here in the Dream Theater of ZhongGuanCun No. 3 Primary School in Beijing, China we had our own United Nations working to improve our world. This was an appropriate place for an appropriate dream!
        All of our seminars demonstrated outstanding staff development practices that were masterfully intertwined.  The Authentic Learning seminar had many concepts that were reiterated, integrated, applied or expanded in the Global Schools for the 21st Century seminar by Martin Krovetz and Honey Berg from CES, a Coalition of Essential Schools in California.  The Effective Teaching Seminar with Cathy Zozakiewicz from SCALE taught and demonstrated explicitly many of the teaching strategies demonstrated in the first two seminars.  In the final day, we could see these concepts demonstrated in virtual classrooms led by teachers from China, Canada, Finland, and the USA. Here we could see and evaluate authentic learning classrooms. Watching teachers from around the world work with a classroom of Chinese students was wonderful entertainment for a group of educators, but seeing our seminar work in action was an invaluable way to share and reflect on this learning experience also. We were very fortunate to see so many outstanding educators practicing their craft. 




        This kind of staff development requires an enormous amount of preparation, expertise, and inspiration; this is the same commitment that we expect teachers to provide for students every day.  It demands the same hours and hours of preparation and effective teaching practices that we require in the classroom. In addition to these outstanding professional development offerings, the presenters all learned to work in a global school atmosphere requiring advanced communication skills, inventive collaborative strategies, and amazing abilities in the areas of flexibility, creativity, and problem solving. We owe much gratitude and appreciation for their dedication, perseverance, resiliency, and commitment to these amazing days together!  These are the same skills we know our students will need in this new interconnected world. As we continue to explore and experience what this world will be, we need to continue to recreate our classrooms too in order to meet these expectations. We will need to continue to ask ourselves how we can prepare students to live in a transformed planet that we can only try to imagine.  Like artists have learned to represent a three dimensional world on a two dimensional page, we still struggle to represent the 4th dimension in our three dimensional world, since we can only imagine the 4th dimension.  Similarly, we can only imagine what skills that citizens of the future will need.  So it is important that we work together with other educators from across the world, like we have this week.  We might not even realize how important our learning has been until we continue this process in the years to come and look back on all that we have learned and from where we began!  
        Special thanks again to our Chinese hosts, to all the Chinese educators and students that worked with us and made us feel at home, to our workshop leaders and seminar presenters, and to all of our friends across the globe!

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