rethinking my guiding question:
Initially, I boiled my long list of guiding questions down to:
The Unifying Nature of Story: How sharing personal stories -- joyful and tragic, funny and poignant, ancestral and present -- informs and empowers our understanding and acceptance of multiple perspectives, enriches our sense of discovery and develops our ability to communicate by building our active listening and vulnerability skills.
BUT, then I realized, with our whirlwind tour in India, days jam-packed with school visits and meetings, days spent teaching in my host school in Kolkata and nights in my hotel room blogging and fighting jet lag, I had precious little time to just sit and talk to anyone, much less the school children and their families in order to really discover and explore "The Unifying Nature of Story." This was disappointing to me, at first, but I am not one to see a roadblock and be deterred by it.
Instead, I shifted my focus.
I recognized and was impressed that the Indian school system encourages its students and teachers to spend time in meditation and the practice of yoga daily, often as a part of the morning gathering to begin their day. As a religion teacher I often begin my classes with a short mediation and have found that this practice helps to calm the students and prepare them for learning. But in India, this daily, school-wide practice and focus on spirituality and centeredness granted both students and teachers the opportunity to prepare for and reflect upon their school day. It encourages all to take responsibility for the way they will spend their time at school, honing their energy and preparing their minds and bodies for the day ahead. I was also impressed by the way no specific religious belief or practice was focused upon. Each child could spend this quiet time with their own thoughts, beliefs and traditions. The participation was mandatory, but without any specific ideology or intention prescribed.
After returning home and reflecting upon my experiences, I first thought about how my school could incorporate a similar type of mediative time into our schedule. An Independent Catholic school, we "pray" a lot. We celebrate Mass weekly as a school community and enjoy other Catholic celebrations, so meditation is already a part of our tradition. We don't, however, practice it daily or as a part of an "all school" gathering. I'd love to give it a try!!! There was something very special and unifying about row after row of young people, all focused and present in the moment, all sitting quietly in meditation. I remember thinking, "How in the world do they accomplish this kind of spiritual calmness with 500 rambunctious school children?" It seemed miraculous to me. And I am accustomed to recognizing the miraculous in my midst!!!
So, my focus of inquiry shifted and was redefined by circumstance on my trip, but I have not given up on my initial guiding question, or my plan to write a book inspired by my global experiences. I realize, now, that I needed to first learn everything I could absorb from the Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship. It became foundational in the planning for my book. TGC has helped me to begin the research I'll need as I move forward with my project, and has been pivotal in helping me hone my idea into a plan that makes sense as I go forward. I have begun, the best thing anyone can claim when their dream is so palpable in their daily life. The working title, which will be changed numerous times before completion, is:
In Search of Story: A US Southern Mother's Quest to Heal and Unify the World.
Lofty, I know. But true to who I am. I can almost see the children and hear the stories unfold. I have charted the countries I need to visit and listed the questions that must be asked. I have the vision, now to figure out the way.
I have spent the past few months working out how best to accomplish my goal of giving voice to the voiceless, chronicling the stories of families, especially children, from around the world into a book dedicated to the exploration of "The Unifying Nature of Story." What I really need, but do not have immediate access to, is a person with deep pockets who wants to help me realize my dream. Or maybe a company with similar interests that would like to read said book and share it with the world. Anyone know Oprah's direct line? I am not sure how to find either of those, so I will begin where I feel more comfortable...
In a more practical realm.
I plan to apply for a Fulbright Global Scholar Personal Project Grant. Unfortunately, I have missed this year's application deadline, but I am nothing, If not persistent. This type grant will provide me with the time I need in a variety of countries to sit down and visit, to get to know the people whose stories I hope to share. It is only through familiarity that we can build cultural understanding. It is only through sitting across the dinner table with each other that we can build the trust and friendship needed to express our deepest and dearest, our joys and tragedies, our loves and losses.
So, I am not giving up on my original guiding question. After all, questions that transform the way people think take time to brew and develop, to plan and, ultimately, to come to fruition. I'm well into the brewing, development and planning stages. I'll keep you posted on the path that will lead me to fruition. Stay tuned!
The following is just an example of how I globalized my lessons, making sure that I met all requirements of the state standards. You can use this example to help you globalize your lessons.
Example of how to globalize lesson plans to fit specific state standards:
Tennessee State 7th Grade World History and Geography Standards:
World History and Geography: The Middle Ages to the Exploration of the Americas
Middle Ages in Western Europe, 400 A.D./C.E. – 1500s
Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, social, and religious structures of the civilizations and recognize and relate their significance to today’s world.
.Integration of Global Education
7.34 Demonstrate understanding of the conflict and cooperation between the Papacy and European monarchs, including Charlemagne, Gregory VII, and Emperor Henry IV. Begin to understand the importance of religious and cultural perspectives in establishing world order and multiple points of view. (H, P)
7.36 Conduct and collaborate in a research project explaining the significance of developments in medieval English legal and constitutional practices and their importance in the rise of modern democratic thought and representative institutions worldwide. Ask questions and seek answers about the topics and relate knowledge to the contemporary world using all stages of the inquiry process: Ask, investigate, create, share, reflect, revise. (H, P)
7.37 Examine the spread of Christianity north of the Alps and the roles played by the early Church and by monasteries in its diffusion after the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire. Demonstrate how religion and culture play central roles in the progress and development of political, economic, social, and religious structures of the civilizations and
multiple perspectives and understandings. (C, G, H)
Specific Lesson Plan Modifications for Global Competency
Students will analyze the geographic, political, economic, social and religious structures and understand the importance of each in the development of perspectives in establishing point of view.
Students will collaborate with other students and demonstrate openness to diverse ideas and perspectives through active dialogue.
Students will ask questions that spark global research beyond the prescribed Western European confines of the course.
Students will present their project findings to groups of students, teachers or people in their community.
Students will use multiple media and demonstrate digital literacy in a purposeful manner to present ideas, incorporating visual, print and audio segments.
Informal Outcome Assessments
Students will be able to collaborate and write a research paper that analyzes the influence of Christianity on the geographic, political, economic, social and religious development of Western Europe.
Students will be able to conduct a discussion that evaluates the most important aspects of this time period and relate those aspects to the contemporary world.
Students will explore these developments beyond Western Europe to recognize the interconnectedness of the world and relate it to the contemporary world.
Islamic World, 400 A.D/C.E. – 1500s
Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, social, and religious structures of the civilizations and recognize and relate their significance to today’s world.
Integration of Global Education
7.3 Identify and explore the physical location and features and the climate of the Arabian Peninsula, its relationship to surrounding bodies of land and water, including Northern Africa, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Nile River. (G)
7.4 Describe the expansion of Muslim rule through conquests and the spread of cultural diffusion of Islam and the Arabic language to recognize and compare and contrast this time period and events with those previously studied to develop and better understanding of the connectedness of events and people throughout world history. (C, E, G, H)
7.5 Trace the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of Muhammad, including Islam’s historical connections to Judaism and Christianity and examine how each religion grew and spread throughout the modern world. (C, H)
7.8 Examine and summarize the contributions Muslim scholars made to later civilizations in the areas of science, geography, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, art, and literature and recognize the connectedness of human development throughout human history. (C, G, H)
7.9 Describe the establishment of trade routes among Asia, Africa, and Europe and the role of merchants in Arab society making note of how people traveled and transported goods. Compare and contrast information about these routes with trade routes of today and how goods are moved throughout the world. (E, G, H)
Specific Lesson Plan Modifications for Global Competency
Students will use technology collaboratively to research and write a research paper analyzing the geographic, political, economic, social, and/or religious structures of the civilizations in this unit.
Students will understand the connectedness of historical events to the present world and recognize the complexity of the human experience.
Students will model questioning strategies to ask globally competent questions for the understanding of multiple perspectives studied in this course.
Students will analyze and evaluate characteristics and purposes of geographic tools, knowledge and perspectives and apply them to the past, present and future.
Sweat most precious...
A rivulet of sweat trickled down my back, only diverted by the now soaked elastic waistband of my floor-length skirt. Fans whirred overhead, positioned so closely together that I wondered if their blades might collide, their sound a drone-like backdrop to the raucous street noise from the opened windows. Sixty high school students and 8 teachers, 3-times the number of students I had ever taught in one class, filled the space. Narrow desks with benches were lined up in 3 columns, only a thin aisle between. Days before I had realized my inability to tune out the chaotic symphony of background noise to focus on teachers and student responses. Now, I panicked. How would I answer student questions, if I couldn't hear them? I couldn't even move closer to students because the aisles were blocked, stacked high with backpacks.
A stream of sweat charged down the side of my face, stinging my eye as it headed South. I wiped it away with the scarf that helped cover my shoulders. My full face of makeup now marred the blue and white pattern of the scarf. I fingered the black eyeliner smudges on the tassels. I should have planned better for the heat. Oh, the heat!
I had been asked weeks before by my host teacher, Rita, to teach a creative writing class to upper school students at Carmel High School in Kolkata, India. I could choose the topic of my choice. I had prepared 6 different lessons and, standing before the class, was still unsure which one to teach. Character Development in Short Fiction? Rising and Falling Action? Flash Fiction? Prose Poetry? Writing Your Truth in Creative Non-fiction? None seemed quite right.
Can anyone say, "Intimidated?"
The students had filed in silently. I never thought that was possible and was a bit thrown off by their orderliness. I finally got a grip and began, only to be interrupted in the middle of introducing myself. A shy student presented me with a microphone. "You are not used to speaking loudly. We thought you might need this," she said.
I was not only deaf, melting, indecisive and stunned, but now I was tethered on a short cord with 3-foot radius. Could my day get worse? At least the mic didn't squeal when I introduced myself again and dove in to my class on Setting as Character in Short Fiction. Where did that come from?
The hour flew by.
I have never experienced students with such rapt attention. Every eye was on me, each pencil poised to scribble down my every word. Not one student fell asleep. Heck, they didn't even slouch. Even the teachers, seated so far away from me on the back row, I wondered if they were a mirage, sat perfectly engaged, jotting notes and nodding in agreement as I spoke. Then, I freaked them out. I told a personal story. A beautiful young girl on the front row wiped a tear from her eye. I'm not kidding! She shed tears in my class! What had I done or said that deserved such an emotional response?
They were also visibly and momentarily taken aback when I asked them to write a short paragraph using the techniques I had described. But their pause lasted only seconds. Pencils then flew across their pages, heads bowed in concentration. When I called time and asked for someone to share, 60 hands flew into the air.
Now, it was I who freaked out. This had never happened to me before.
I strained to hear the few we had time to hear, even calling a couple up to the microphone so we could all appreciate their efforts. They vaulted the backpack mountains with great dexterity. Their writing was lovely, expressive, emotional, much more polished than any writing exercise I had ever done. And their reading was eloquent. Their poise and elocution far beyond their years.
I ended class with a simple, "Thank you so much for inviting me into your class and sharing your beautiful writing."
They responded by standing and chiming in unison, "Thank you, Miss."
I turned to gather my things and put down the infernal microphone and realized after a couple of beats that...
No one had moved. No one had said a word or began packing up. They were still standing with perfect posture, waiting for something.
The tearful girl on the front row whispered, "You must dismiss us, Miss."
I did, but still, not one student left. Instead, they swarmed me, bare palms extended for an autograph. An autograph, of all things! "Why would you want my autograph," I asked.
"We will take pictures of it so we can keep it forever and share it on Instagram," one girl responded.
"Please tell me more about your writing process," another asked. " Do you write daily?"
"Is it difficult to come up with plots?"
"Do you have ideas about how to find writing time with a busy schedule?"
The other teachers, who had remained distant until now, approached. I'm saved, I thought. But no, they had questions of their own. No more autographs, but plenty of questions.
So ended...or rather began, a most joy-filled week of teaching. I still have no idea what I did that held their attention that day, or the following days when I taught. I presume the students had anticipated our arrival for so long, been excited about teachers from the US visiting their school, that we seemed very special to them in some ways.
I learned so much from the Carmel High teachers and students. In spite of their strict schedule, their hefty test regime, their uncomfortable surroundings, they love teaching and learning. They squeeze every ounce out of every day, only to return the next day to do it all again. They are disciplined and mannerly, determined and inquisitive, humble, gracious and spiritually centered. I miss them all already, Carmel High School, surely, but India itself. There is a spirit there, life lived in full color, that I've never experienced before, and a calmness that resonates through the chaos, leaving a simple and endearing peace.
processing it all...
I arrived home yesterday after almost a month away, first in India for 3 weeks and then in France and England with my daughter for a week. I had planned to write blog posts more frequently, but sluggish Internet connections prevented me from keeping up with that plan. It is probably for the best; it will take me years probably to process all that I have experienced on this incredible adventure. I'm sure I will blogging about it for years to come.
My immediate thoughts are that the world is a wondrous place populated by people who are, for the most part, doing their very best to survive and make the best of their life. The people of India, as well as the government, are challenged by the sheer number of people there. In Delhi and its surrounding areas alone, over 40 million people work to carve out their place in it all. 40 MILLION!! How does one city manage that many people? There are not enough resources, enough jobs, enough food, enough SPACE! I've learned that the education system has made it a priority to educate every child through grade 8, every child will receive an education, one way or another. And these children, the ones in school today, are the first generation to be educated. Can we in the US even imagine? The parents of this first generation of learners are not educated, so think of the challenges they face to help their children succeed, when they have not had that privilege. In some Indian states, ministers of education have given every child a bicycle to help them be able to get to and from school more quickly, since most children must rush home to help their family make enough money to survive. The states are also providing uniforms and monetary assistance to encourage parents to allow their children to attend school. It seems that the government recognizes that the only way for its people to have a future is to educate the children NOW.
In Delhi, the Minister of Education has also put into practice in all schools The Happiness Curriculum. This program, initiated first by the Dali Lama, focuses children on not only developing their mind, but also their body and spirit to help them understand what true happiness is and how to achieve it. (Not focusing solely on monetary success or selfish desires.) Every student learns and practices yoga daily in school, they spend time in silent reflection and learn to control their bodies and emotions through meditation. The benefits of the Happiness Curriculum has been discussed recently on many news channels and on social media. After seeing it in action, I wonder how our US students could benefit from such a holistic approach. The Indian students seem to be thriving and are very focused and calm.
I will continue to ponder what I've learned and I appreciate any comments or ideas you'd like to share. This experience has certainly deepened my understanding of the world and made me more mindful and grateful. It has altered the way I look at my responsibility as an educator and infused me with a new sense of determination to open the world up to my students.
Thanks for listening. Julia
My time to write has been very limited, every moment filled with activities, teaching and visiting places around Kolkata so we can learn even more about the unique cultures here. I have come to an understanding that we do not really have a true “American Culture” from which we can draw inspiration and personal grounding. (Other than the rich heritage of our Native Americans, who have maintained theirs, for the most part.) India, however, has held on to its many cultural traditions, from classical dance to traditional foods by state, from regional and sometimes village-specific languages to the richly nuanced festivals and marriage traditions that date back centuries. The US is home to people from so many diverse countries, it is hard to identify any single, truly American cultural tradition with which all Americans identify. We have no national dances to learn in school and share when people from other countries who come to visit. Our foods run the gamut of many countries, but other than hamburgers and hotdogs, I am hard pressed to think of one food that we can all call our own. We share Thanksgiving, but even that holiday is celebrated in different ways according to region.
All of this makes me wonder how this absence of cultural identifiers has altered the American populace. Since we do not possess these threads that weave together and unite us, that tick together our differences into a colorful and unique textile of American society, are we missing out? Are we, as Americans, from whatever ethnic or cultural background our parents or ancestors have come, being adversely effected because we rarely share a cultural identity of our own? Would having such traditions help to combat the vast divisions so many people feel? Would they help us to bridge the gaps of hate and intolerance that plague our society?
I realize that no single cultural identifier can dissolve the issues that divide Americans, but my observations in India of the very rich cultural traditions they enjoy have taught me that there is an acceptance here of diversity. Yes, even though the caste system was abolished, it does still exist and many people are marginalized or ignored. But it seems to be that the traditions and cultural norms of each group within this vast country are respected. Bengalis can explain the unique practices of the people in Kerala, northern Indians appreciate the traditions of those living in the west. We could learn much from the Indian people. I hope to share some of what I’ve learned with my students and colleagues back home.
Today we will drive north from Delhi to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal! Daily I feel like I need to pinch myself to believe this is really happening.
Photos of The Institute
Wednesday, july 17
After an eventful day of teaching and observing at the Carmel School, Rita, our host teacher, took us to southern Kolkata to visit an NGO, The Institute for Mothers and Children. Started over 25 years ago by Dr. Sajeet, who was encouraged and inspired by Mother Teresa, The Institute is both an orphanage and a vocational school, a medical clinic and home for the physically challenged, a daycare and a place of rest and recovery for those suffering from severe burns and tropical diseases. It has also built over 38 schools throughout Kolkata. We have learned that the Indian government has made primary education to grade 8 compulsory, but often the schools are very crowded. Dr. Sajeet’s schools help to alleviate that problem and offer a more well-rounded education for students from the poorest parts of the city.
A medical student from Italy toured us around the facility and was soon joined by several other students from many countries who had come to volunteer their time and expertise to the organization. Dr. Sajeet receives over 400 volunteer applications a month from university students all over the globe, all hoping for the chance to serve the impoverished women and children of Kolkata. The Institute does not recruit these students, but instead, students returning from their time here spread the word to their friends and now there is a steady flow of volunteers, all eager to help out.
Dr. Sajeet travels regularly, presenting at universities and medical schools worldwide on the challenges of tropical diseases. People can donate directly to The Institute or they can sponsor a child, as Rita has done for the past 7 years. It was a pleasure to meet her sponsored child and to share in the tender moments they shared on our visit.
The vocational school teaches women and children many useful skills, including how to spin yarn and weave beautiful textiles for saris and other clothing and household items. They are then given micro loans to help them start small businesses, which will keep them off the streets and afford them the resources needed for food and shelter. Classical dance is taught to connect them with their heritage and cultural traditions. Many orphans who have grown up at The Institute return to volunteer and help others.
Of all the schools and organizations we’ve visited, this place resonated with me most. The love here is palpable, the dedication and passion of everyone is enlightening. While there Dr. Sajeets’s daughter received word that she has been accepted into medical school. The excitement lit up the whole facility. Here, this talented young woman, the daughter of the founder, will now follow in his footsteps and continue his work long into the future. The daughter had been Rita’s student at Carmel High School, so the medical school announcement thrilled Rita, who recognized her part in this young woman’s life.
Tuesday, July 17
I have already written so much about the sense of the magical here in Kolkata. Yesterday’s visit outside of the city to the Sundarban Tiger Preserve was no different. So many rivers flow into and mingle with the Ganges River here, which then flows into the Bay of Bengal, all making for a lush and tropical landscape of mangrove forests, the largest in the world. The day was perfect. The journey an adventure I never thought I would ever experience.
But juxtaposed against the beauty of the land and water is the poverty, which still startles me and brings me great sadness. There is no way for it to become commonplace. It strangles me with tears so close to the surface at every turn. The unfairness of this world is a tough reality with which to grapple. There is no excuse, in this world of wealth and great waste, for anyone to be subjected to such harshness. There is no justification that can make eaking a living out of nothing alright. I will not even try to discuss here the complexities of worldwide poverty and the failures in food distribution. What I did learn, however, was that, in spite of their surroundings, in spite of their struggles, in spite of their daily stress of figuring out how they will feed and shelter their family, the people of this strong and proud country seem happy and content. They go about their daily chores, working SO incredibly hard, and make it somehow. Like all of humanity they struggle and fail, they readjust and try something else tomorrow. Those who are lucky enough to have land, a home and/or a job are the most determined and disciplined people I’ve ever seen. Those who don’t keep going somehow. From where they find hope, I don’t know, but they keep trying.
For moments at a time I have been able to set aside my shock and sadness to look more deeply into their eyes. There I see all of humanity fighting the good fight. Struggling day in and day out to do what is needed and necessary. There I see Christ. I am inspired by these people, amazed by their strength. I wonder, but never want to find out if I, too, would be able to reach that deep within myself to do what it takes survive.
Sunday, july 15
Noun — a harsh discordant mixture of sounds
Before coming to India I thought I understood the meaning and reality of this word, but experience has demonstrated that I was wrong. There is a life music here, a constant pulse, percussion, rhythm, and melody that ebbs and flows through the streets, as if a master musician is conducting a vast orchestral of remedial students. The sound envelops you the moment you step outside and your pulse quickens in an effort to keep up, to feel it completely, to embrace it and all it has to offer. Add to that the visual stimulation of life lived in the moment, life lived daily within this cacophony, and one is swept up into the rhythm in one great wash of joy.
I love Kolkata. Color is everywhere, chaos is ordered, and the people are pleasure personified.
Santa, (pronounced Shanta), is an upper level Geography teacher at Carmel. I complimented the beautiful lahenga she was wearing and discovered that she is a clothing designer with her designs showcased in several boutiques around Kolkata. We were privileged to be able to go to one of the boutiques to appreciate her work...and purchase some pieces. I was so impressed by Santa’s determination to express herself creatively. Not to mention that she is a passionate and beloved teacher at the school, one who is setting a positive example for her students in so many ways.
Today we will return to the school to celebrate mass with the Sisters and the Catholic parents. After lunch we will explore the rich history of Kolkata on a sightseeing tour.