Firstly, I would like to be clear about where this approach has come from. I started this blog about five years ago to document the journey that I was embarking on with my friend Valeria in Argentina. We created a nutritious food and creative educational activity program for primary school aged children in the vulnerable community Monte Chingolo, Argentina. The project has changed a lot since the beginning, and so have I. An unexpected thing that I learned over this time is this: ‘to work with children, is to work on yourself’. I never dreamed of the huge changes that I would see in myself.
The whole journey has been about trying to provide opportunities for kids in vulnerable situations. What has resulted from that process has not only been an unimaginable amount of learning experiences in community development and education, but it has also been an investigation into myself as a human being. What I have found out is that it is impossible to work with kids without looking inwards at yourself. Children expose every aspect of your inner being. I have also learnt that when working with kids, it is imperative to look inwards to become the best example of yourself, because one of the strongest influences in any learning environment is the example that is set by the facilitator. Not what the facilitator does or says, but what the facilitator is!
I’ll give an example. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I didn’t know how to be wrong! When I was wrong I would take any objections to my viewpoint personally and would find ways of justifying my answer. It was a matter of pride to stick with my viewpoint and defend my position. For instance, I wanted to stop working with the foundation that provides us with young European volunteers. I was appalled by the living conditions of the hostel that the foundation provided for the volunteers. I had made a decision to terminate our partnership, despite all of the positive outcomes that were happening because of the volunteers.
I saw all of the reasons why the hostel was in such a pour state as excuses. Even though we arranged a meeting to discuss the situation, my mind was made up. I didn’t listen to their side of the story and spent the whole meeting not really listening and waiting to explain how unacceptable the living conditions were. The facts are that renting and maintaining buildings in Buenos Aires is a nightmare! The buildings are all old and rundown, the plumbing is seventy years old and anybody who has been contracted to fix it has done a quick fix botch job because really fixing it would mean tearing down the building and starting again!
What Valeria, and maybe also Argentina, have taught me, is that there is a context to every situation. No situation is black and white and when given the context it should be completely acceptable to admit being wrong and change your viewpoint. We had decided to let the dirty water settle and come back in a couple of weeks to readdress the situation. Valeria and I both walked out of the meeting with sick feelings in our stomachs, but both for different reasons. Her feeling was that we were making the wrong decision. My feeling was that I was right and they were making excuses.
After a couple of weeks letting the smoke clear and talking it over with Valeria, we arranged a meeting for me to go back with my tail between my legs and apologise for not being able to understand the context around the situation. We decided to continue receiving volunteers from the foundation. Despite the living conditions, the volunteers were all having an amazing time, they were learning amazing life lessons in Food for Thought, they were gaining valuable life skills, the children and families of Food for Thought were benefitting hugely from the volunteer’s presence, and the volunteers were learning about the realities of life here in Argentina. There were so many positives that were outweighing the negatives. The hardest part of all of that was admitting that I was wrong!
That was such a valuable lesson for me to learn, and I am thankful for the context which allowed me to learn it! It was a great lesson for me to learn not only as an adult as part of society, but also as a member of any organisation or team environment. It is also something that I believe should be taught to children. I have to be able to understand it and live it before I can share it with children. I can’t, and no facilitator should, expect children to do something if I can’t achieve it myself.
The framework that I have been working on came from not only looking into the best approaches in supporting children and their families in this community, but also from looking at ways of supporting myself. Working here has not been easy, so the most important part of being able to continue this work, has been looking into ways of making sure that I stay healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally. I wouldn’t say that I am completely practicing what I am preaching. It is a process.
In my experience teachers are usually the best advocates for ‘do as I say, not as I do’. It is in the best interests of everybody for teachers to be in the healthiest state possible. This framework is aimed at facilitators and learners. This approach is just a theory at this stage. We have been experimenting since the day we started and the trial end error approach seems to be working in terms of refining our effectiveness as an organisation. The idea is to begin to implement it this year with the kids and within the team environment to see how it goes.
There is no silver bullet in education. Learners are always evolving and adapting, and so are facilitators. There are millions of social, cultural and environmental variables that contribute to every unique learning context. Technology is changing the world for the better, or worse, every second. The population is growing, fast. Jobs are changing. Parents don’t know what we should teach their children. Poverty, and prosperity, and all of their implications, create barriers to learning. There are more obstacles than there have ever been, but also more opportunities!
So, the goal posts are always moving, and because of that, it might seem like an impossible task to teach anything that does not rapidly lose its relevance! There are so many the variables, but there are also many basic human needs that seem to be constant. I believe that instead of looking objectively at the process or the approach of learning, we should concentrate on the most important part… the learner! Look at the example of how indigenous cultures and minority groups all over the world are being under served! The most important element of the equation (the learner) is not being taking into consideration.
My belief is that if we can concentrate on those basic human needs, we can rethink education as being as simple as health. If you are in great health, physically, mentally and emotionally, the barriers to learning dissipate and learning just occurs. I believe that if we concentrate on holistic health first, the learning happens naturally!
If we can concentrate on health, then during the process, learning returns to what is it to be a child. A child is naturally inquisitive, imaginative, energetic, and has an innate interest in learning. Why can young children learn so much and so quickly? Because they are healthy!! Concentrating on health means that we could work towards eliminating their biggest barriers to learning! So, if we can’t always see the variables, if the goal posts are always moving, what are the constants? What are the things that every person needs to be healthy? What is holistic Health?
Here is something that I have been working on in relation to holistic health. It is something that I have created that aligns with my personal values and moves in the direction of the healthy development of my view of a healthy moral member of society. This approach to learning has a very big emphasis on the resolution of some of the biggest social problems that exist within today’s world. Those social problems are the barriers to learning that I believe are important to eliminate.
The idea is that it be simple and applicable in any context. I remember stressing out at teacher’s college trying to incorporate the appropriate links to the curriculum in the lesson plans. Maybe it was my inability to do so, but I feel that any type of health framework should be easily applied by anybody and in any context.
I am extremely interested in creating a simple framework onto which a holistic form of education could be based. It’s not a formula, and at the moment there is no emphasis on content. I feel that because every learning context is different, so too should the content be different according to that context! The idea is not to make a fail proof system. The most valuable learning comes from making mistakes. Promoting trial and error is an imperative aspect of the process.
With this in mind, those who are implementing the approach should be encouraged to do the same! There has to be space to move and experiment within the approach. What seems to be an international theme is the lack of respect and confidence in teachers and the need to create a structured ‘production line’ style approach to education. There has to be confidence in the facilitators who are implementing it!
It is work in progress, and I am open to changing this as more helpful information arises. Any feedback or ideas on the subject would be much appreciated. I’m also not sure about the name of it yet. Here is a draft of this idea.
THE HEALTH ECOSYSTEM - Elements of holistic health
The theory behind ‘the health ecosystem’ is that it is possible to break down into specific parts, what it is to be a whole, healthy human. Each element is connected, interdependent, and contributes to overall health. If we can promote the ‘positive development’ of each and every one of the individual elements, the sum of all of its parts equates a healthy whole. It’s like a motor that will run perfectly if all of its individual parts are functioning well, but if one of its components fail, the whole motor will stop running. During the process of making the motor run nicely, valuable tools in learning are discovered…
Being - forming emotional responses
- Self – self connection
Connecting and understanding one’s own thoughts and feelings.
- Social – social connection
Connecting and understanding others through social interactions.
- Emotional – understanding connection
Interpreting and understanding the connection with one’s self and others, which translates into an emotional state.
Brain - processing and interpreting information
- Critical Thought – information to action
Processing information and making well thought out decisions on how to transform that information into action. Being flexible, asking questions and creating values through this process.
- Communication – information to connection
Interpreting information and creating appropriate responses and interactions. This process leads to connection, collaboration and the development of relationships.
- Imagination – information to creation
Translating information into creativity and expression. Forming new ideas, solving problems, and developing confidence and character during this process.
Body - caring for the physical self
- Exercise – motion
Moving the body so that oxygen can be carried to the brain. Maintaining this movement for muscles and organs to stay healthy and active.
- Nutrition – diet
Consuming adequate nutrients for the body to optimise it’s functioning.
- Environment – home
Supporting the growth of a healthy, sustainable environment within which we live.
So, there it is. Because we are not motors, but humans, there is also a values section that I haven’t included. It is also work in progress and is a little messy at the moment but I’m willing to share it if anybody is interested.