by Clinton Labrador
We are at a critical time in education right now. Teachers are over-burdened with data, initiatives, and a growing number of students with adverse childhood experiences, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), and a multitude of other diagnoses. Teachers and students alike are overloaded.
As a turbulent ocean, information and initiatives are coming at us from all directions. We are drowning, forgetting what it’s like to keep ourselves afloat, attempting to balance the multiple demands of being a teacher while nurturing our students, our own personal lives, and our original intent of being an educator. So how do we cope, or ride the waves, instead of flounder? How do we traverse the ever-changing tides of education? And how do we prepare intently for the next WAVE of education?
Just recently, Hawaii’s own double-hulled canoe called Hōkūleʻa navigated the world. . Interestingly, with all the technology in the world, Hōkūleʻa voyaged without using modern instruments. They only used the elements of nature such as the stars, wind, and waves. The mission of the voyage was Mālama Honua, to take care of our island Earth. However, part of this mission was not only taking care of the environment, but also taking care of ourselves as people, as humans on this small planet by returning to simplicity, Aloha, and human connection. The belief is, when we take care of ourselves, everything else will follow. The same is true with education.
The intent of the DOE and BOE is not to overburden us. Stress reduction and mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn writes: “The big issues of yesterday are literally nothing today, the big issues of today will be nothing tomorrow.” We often stress ourselves out as teachers with the current initiatives. But there are always hoops we are going to jump through, currents that we are going to face. There are ALWAYS going to be initiatives to follow. However, we need to revisit our constant, our WHY and reflect back on the reasons we entered the teaching profession in the first place. Using our why, we are allowing ourselves to navigate or ride our own personal visions, our paths with integrity. By charting our paths we are, in a sense, going back to the original essence of being an educator, similar to the Hōkūleʻa. Simplicity can reveal our true integrity and mission. What might it tell us about navigating the rough, ever-changing waves of education?
The current vessel that is being explored in the education world is social and emotional learning (SEL). Ultimately, I believe it will help us navigate through the challenging currents. With all the distractions of modern, digital technology, our children are also getting lost in the currents. They are literally immersed in a digital reality of instant gratification. Social media has turned the tides of social interactions, which sometimes works for the worse. For example, I have witnessed students become popular in school overnight just because of the amount of followers they have accrued through a social media app. At the same time, I have seen students feel rejected because they have not received the recognition that they feel they deserve. Studies indicate that more adolescents than ever suffer from depression and anxiety, which can be exacerbated by social media.
As educators, it is our responsibility to take them back to the humanity of person-to-person connection and contact. We need to guide them through the emotions and rejection they are feeling, irst by exploring themselves. We need to find out what their WHY is. What drives them to be passionate about life? Is it social media? Technology? Ultimately, their WHY may be far from anything we might be able to comprehend because of the generational gap. However, by attempting to understand their WHY, we may tap into their schema of the world and together chart a course through life.
So who is to steer this SEL vessel? And what is the tool to steer? Ultimately, teachers have the power to create an environment where children can freely navigate and chart their own paths. Instruction should start with the children first and build from there. As teachers we serve as guides to steer the children in the paths that will help them navigate the ever-changing world of technology. For example, a teacher should understand that children (not to mention many adults) are constantly on devices feeding their brains with instant information and gratification. This is one of the reasons why traditional teaching such as lecturing is obsolete. Information can be obtained in an instant. But the ability to think cannot. As teachers, as steersmen, we need to use tools such as mindfulness to engage children to be aware of all the stimulation by teaching them to be aware of the wave of their thoughts and obstacles they face. We need to guide them in quieting their minds and to be able to cope, judge, and respond appropriately to information they may be exposed to. We also need tools that will engage them to think about their course in life, their personal voyage.
As a teacher, I have used my passion for mindfulness, SEL, and relevance to fuel my teaching. Especially on the rural island of Molokai, it is important that I tap into the students’ perspectives because they are brought up in an environment that is unique from most of the world. At the same time, I still see the effect that modern technology is having on this rural island with a population of 7,000. I teach the students Response Ability: the ability to respond to emotions of rejection, failure, and loss. Everyday, I use metaphors to connect to the children. On a daily basis, I refer to my class as OUR canoe. My writing rubrics mirror a fishing tournament. When I talk about accuracy, I mention hunting. And I constantly relate everything they learn to WHY it’s relevant to their future and life and let them know that I genuinely care about them.
The next WAVE of education is to start with the students, understand them, build them up with relevancy and compassion, and connect with them so we can help steer them through the currents of life. Social and emotional learning and patience are the vessels that will help us take care of our future stewards. Once we have instilled the passion to learn, and engaged their minds, they can voyage across the world like Hōkūleʻa, riding the wave of life.