Human-Centered Teaching

In the Spring, I had the opportunity to hear Rachel Wente-Cheney speak at the Kitchener “Google for Education” summit. A lot of what she said resonated with me, but there was something that she said at the end of her presentation that has been on my mind this week.  She told the audience that we are moving from teacher-centered classrooms to student-centered classrooms, but what’s also needed is for us to start moving from student-centered classrooms to human-centered classrooms.

If you are like me, your social media stream has been filled to the brim by posts about the attacks in Paris (mainly) and Beirut (to a lesser degree) and the response of politicians to the Syrian refugee crisis in light of the violence that occurred there.  There was also a lot of varied advice about how to talk to kids about it.  I work in different schools and it was interesting to see varied responses from “don’t talk about it and tell them to talk to their parents” to others providing different resources and even creating spaces for students to express their thoughts and feelings.


Two articles this week struck me.  The first was the overwhelming response by Nova Scotians when asked to phone 211 if they were willing to help Syrian refugees.  The second was an article in the Globe and Mail about Canadian response to the hate crimes in Peterborough and Toronto this week.  Both centered around human responses.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a Grade 6 group prior to the launch of their “passion projects”.  With the help of Kevin Brookhouser’s materials from his website, which is in part inspired by Daniel H. Pink’s book “Drive”, we are trying to show kids that their projects need to be autonomous (self-directed), that they have to try and master something and that their projects have to have purpose (and help others).  He was a speaker at the same Google for Educators summit.  I shared with this group of students the things that I am passionate about such as food shortages in Nunavut.  Here is a picture of my kids and I sending some food to a family in need.


I shared that I’m passionate about becoming a better French teacher and co-created #fslchat with a colleague.  I shared some more examples too.  I’m not “getting” a reward for these activities.  My motivation comes from the fact that the activity itself is the reward.  It’s about being intrinsically motivated to do something compared to being extrinsically motivated.

Well, my most recent passion is my concern over the plight of Syrian refugees.  At my church, there was a call to action and a “Red Tape Challenge” issued by John Davidson, father of Jesse Davidson, who started “Jesse’s Journey” several years back and Kevin George, who is the priest at St. Aidan’s. They helped raise over $30,000 during the “Red Tape Challenge” campaign.  It was talked about on the local news and on CBC radio.  And like the reaction to current events, some of the reactions to this money being raised were disheartening and down right offensive.

But for me, it’s not enough to listen, read, and to talk about this complex issue.  It’s not enough to Tweet or post opinions and reactions on Facebook about the refugee crisis.  It’s time to take action.  My reaction to the news lately and attraction to certain articles that I have shared has been because I have two families on my mind that make the issue a bit more “human” and “real” for me.

In the next three months, I will be a part of a group supporting two families coming to my city.  We had a meeting this week where we were provided with some of the details on these two families including where they are now, what Syrian city they come from, names, the age of the parents and children as well as some medical and language details.  We were informed by others with real experience with refugees about the realities of their adjustment in Canada.  We were cautioned about some forms of “help” that are really not helpful at all.  I also learned that it is often the most vulnerable that come to Canada first.  It was a reality check.

For now, this is my passion project.  I’m going to be using my abilities to help support these two families.  I’m doing some research so that I am better informed.  I feel like I’m more attentive to the information I’m coming across because for me it’s about real people that I will be meeting soon.  My own children will be witnessing this and will be involved too.  I’m going to share with them age appropriate information about why these families are coming and where they come from.

All of this has me wondering.  If I was in a classroom right now, how much of this journey would I share with my own students?  One of my schools has a group of Intermediate students that are poised to take action.  Once I know more about what is needed for these families, I will be sharing that with them so that they can mobilize their school community to provide assistance.  Also, I’ve started some conversations with fellow educators that are in leadership positions.  How will our schools and school board respond and support these new families as they begin school?

What can you do to help others and what action can you take?  It does not have to be about Syria. It could be about bullying, the environment or any other issue that you care deeply about.  I challenge you to share the action you are willing take based on things that you are passionate about with your students.  Not only that, but have them explore their own passions with the goal of helping others.  It’s not just about exploring your own gifts, it’s also about making a difference.  How can you use your talents to help others?

This is what we need to model for our children and our students.  We need to model a human response to complex problems and teach this to our children in thoughtful ways.


3 Responses

  1. Kevin at |

    This is a wonderful post.
    Given the raants that people are placing on social media, it is good to read something which is so life-giving and encouraging. Martin Luther King had it right. Darkness cannot drive out darkness is only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate… Only love can do that!

    Teachers have a tremendous capacity with our young people to show what light and love look like. I believe that is never been more critical than it is at a time like this, when children are exposed, whether we believe it or not, to so much negativity around the politics of today. Children sit around dinner tables and often hear less than loving conversations about big issues of the day… Today I am sure one of the highest areas of interest is the Syrian refugee crisis. Educators have such a unique opportunity to engage our young people by modeling behavior which is positive, life-giving, and caring.

    Teachers were among the most influential people on my journey. When I think about how much I looked up to my teachers – I am thrilled to hear you encouraging teachers to share ways that they are engaged in passion projects. We shape the leaders of tomorrow by mentoring. You do this well Jen, and I’m glad to see you encouraging your colleagues to do the same.

    Thanks for this post and for your efforts at our church!

  2. Tammy at |

    Wow Jen. This promises to be a huge experience, for you and your family. I will look forward to you updates. I am wondering about the advice you had from people with real experience? It occurred to me, in reading your post, that those of us who haven’t any, probably have an altruistic vision of the possibilities. There is a group in a town near us bringing in a family too, that we are contributing to, but we will miss the direct experience.

    I love your blog. I find it thought-provoking and inspiring.

  3. Jen at |

    Thanks for the comment Tammy! I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn along the way. We will be supporting these families for a year and then they will qualify for assistance by the government (if needed). Church groups tend to spoil the refugees and then it’s hard for them to adjust when they are more on their own. Also, bombarding them with goods is tough, but letting them choose and then taking things away is better. You also don’t want everyone dumping all their “old” stuff on them. I’m going to be taking the lead on “education” for both the children and parents. I may or may not be doing some tutoring. I look forward to learning about ESL supports for children and parents in my community. I think overall just remembering to treat these people with dignity and honouring their choices.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar