Director of Learning Programs
Key Takeaway from Skodel: Identifying wellbeing issues as they arise
“Learning happens best when we feel good about ourselves, about the people around us and about what we are learning. When there are emotional blockers in the way of any of these three elements, then learning is stymied. Skodel gives us the opportunity to assess the emotional well-being of our community, and to respond to blockages as they arise.”
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I went to traditional public schools. I hated it. Everything was the same. Memorize, regurgitate, repeat. My last year of high school, I signed up for a psychology class. The teacher had run an alternative school for a decade, and was still conducting his classroom as such. The learners drove the topics and discussions. The class felt like a community--we supported each other, democratically resolved conflicts or made important decisions, and we use our lives as fodder for conversation. The teacher also related to us as human beings and showed us unconditional positive regard. Up until that point, I did not know any of this was possible. Inspired by my experience, I started university the next year with the desire to know more. As part of my coursework, I studied progressive education and visited a half dozen progressive schools in New York City. At the same time, I had a work-study job as an assistant teacher in a public school in Brooklyn. It looked and felt like a prison. Contrasting this school with the progressive schools I was visiting, my purpose in life became clear: education had to change.
Describe one moment that made you realise how special it is to be a teacher.
Sometimes teachers have an immediate impact on the lives of our students. Sometimes we have to play the long-game. At one of the high schools where I worked, I requested to move up with my students from their first year until their graduation. All of my students would be the first in their families to go to university in a school district where fewer than 15% of students go to university. Many of my students doubted if going to university would ever be a reality for them. One learner in particular had what felt like fortnightly crises. “I’m giving up, Devin. I can’t do this.,” she’d say. The pressure to drop out and start working, the negative self-talk telling her she was not smart enough, and the fact that no one in her community but her teachers had been to university, made the four year journey a rough one. This is why victory was so sweet when, after four years of saying she was going to give up, she gave up on giving up. She graduated from high school, with her entire extended family there--vacillating between tears and cheers--to celebrate her graduation and acceptance to university.
Learnlife is a different model, describe the thinking behind starting it and in particular, the why.
A realistic look at the global educational landscape, makes it abundantly clear why Learnlife is an imperative. Most schools still look like they did during the First Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has and will continue to bring about such radical changes to our world that schools have to change. Partner this with the staggering statistics about the rise of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues for youth, clearly we cannot continue with business as usual. The world needs and young people deserve learning communities that provide them with opportunities to explore who they are and what they have to offer, to develop 21st Century skills, to become agents of change, and to learn what they will need in order to thrive throughout their lifetimes.
Why did you decide to bring Skodel in to Learnlife?
Learning happens best when we feel good about ourselves, about the people around us and about what we are learning. When there are emotional blockers in the way of any of these three elements, then learning is stymied. Skodel gives us the opportunity to assess the emotional well-being of our community, and to respond to blockages as they arise.