Monday, 29 January 2018

#CBLchat and #TeachSDGs

When my good friend Fran Siracusa mentioned that I should chat with Ada McKim, I knew it would be a meaningful experience. I really had no idea, though. I didn't know it would lead me to join a movement to spread the message of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals as a Global Goals Educator Task Force member (now considered a Founding TeachSDGs ambassador). I had no idea it would send me flying 11,000km to meet with passionate Model United Nations educators in Doha, Qatar. I didn't have a clue it would start me at the inaugural meeting of the #MUNImpact movement founded by Lisa Martin and a crew of dynamic MUN enthusiasts who are making waves to ignite MUN groups all around the world for positive action. And I didn't realize I would begin to look at everything I did in my class through a lens of this global "To Do List" affectionately known as the Global Goals.

I want to share an amazing moment I had with you. Speaking at the Qatar Leadership Conference in Doha, Qatar was a 2017 highlight for me. As I was considering what my workshops would look like, I couldn't help zero in on the particular global goal on which Lisa Martin wanted the conference to focus: SDG 5 - Gender Equality. Not having been to Qatar before, I had some nervousness about sharing a message of women empowerment with the students there. And I felt extremely inadequate to do it. In fact, when I would tell my colleagues that I was going to the Middle East to talk about gender equality, I would always get this look of "You?" with the following words: "I'd be careful if I were you."

There was one thing I knew and knew well, though. Connections-based learning is not just a teaching approach. It is, as I explain in the Connections-based Learning book, a lens with which to view your actions. I am really used to being inadequate in the classroom. Stem cells, innovative power production, Mars, creating circuit boards, 3D printing: all these I have needed to teach to my students. The only way I have been able to do that well is through connecting with experts. Could I connect to experts to prepare to share Sustainable Development Goal 5 in the Middle East? Of course.

I began by connecting with Mareike Hachemer, a fellow Task Force member. This is the kind of connection you make when you are completely unconnected to the field. She is an amazing Global Goals speaker and activist and has crucial relationships that span the globe. She connected me with Miriam Mason-Sesay, a champion educator for women empowerment in Sierra Leone. I also Skyped with Yazeed Al Jeddawy, a fellow educator I knew from Yemen, considered one of the least gender equal countries in the world. He in turn put me in touch with Hind Aleryani, another champion for women empowerment. Finally, I connected with Stephanie McAnany, our first TeachSDGs ambassador who had done some work in Ghana and had shared with me a powerful story about her work there. I was able to gather soundbites from these conversations to share with the students in Qatar.

But there was no way I was going to go into a workshop like this and tell people what to do. Not only is that a bad way to help people grow in a certain area, but it never really works anyway. I have to give credit to Mareike when she mentioned the idea of sharing scenarios with the high-school-aged workshop attendees. In preparation, I also gathered 10 actual scenarios where women around the world were treated differently than men. During the workshop at the Qatar Leadership Conference 2017, I shared those ten scenarios with the students: women considered half of a witness in one country, childhood marriage in another, experiencing pay rate discrimination in another, experiencing vulgar remarks or violence. As the students grouped up around these scenarios, I would ask them these three questions:

What obstacles does this woman face?

Rank this situation out of 10 in terms of gender equality
1-horrible to 10-perfect

What would you say to this woman?

I remember clearly the thoughts one group shared out during my session at the conference. The scenario they were given went like this:

All your life you have been told that you are simply not as smart as the boys.  “No girl can be,” they would say.  You are one of the few girls enrolled in school.  There were just 10 girls enrolled in your school but now there are only six as four left due to pregnancy.  Now at school, you hear something different.  Girls are just as smart as boys.  It is hard to accept this.  You feel pressure to quit school and go to work harvesting rice. What is your reaction to this situation?

Several boys had this scenario to discuss and when they shared out, they expressed how wrong this view of women was. They considered this a 1/10 in terms of gender equality and would say to the young girl: "This girl faces the obstacle of a lie. Girls ARE equal to boys and she should not go work in the rice field. We would say to her to stay in school. Keep fighting. Get your education despite the pressure."

But it wasn't the boys report out that was so memorable for me. It was the reaction of the girls surrounding them. There were smiles. There were nods. The girls looked emboldened, validated, vindicated. And I realized that it is this generation that we have to help see the damage that is done when half of the population of a community is suppressed. The rest of the discussion went the same way, each group sharing their disdain for the inequality. Each group nodding in agreement. I ended my Champions of Gender Equality session with a single word on the screen: YOU. You are a champion for women and it is your actions that will make a difference.

The question for the CBL Voxer Community this week is how does the connections-based learning approach help you to #TeachSDGs. This experience sums up my answer. I see a perfect marriage of connections-based learning and teaching the Sustainable Development Goals--both in my class and personally.  The Sustainable Development Goals gives us the curriculum. Connections-based learning gives us the conduit. The SDGs give us the mandate. CBL gives us the power. In fact, I ask you: how can we make a difference without making a connection?

You can find out more about MUN Impact and check out some more of my experience at the Qatar Leadership Conference in this THIMUN Qatar article called: THE POWER OF GATHERING THE PASSIONATE AT #QLC17.

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