When I take a look at my learning philosophy, I begin to think of different learning theories and how my learning has evolved from childhood. One thing that became evident to me was that this topic was completely unknown to me, but the answer was right in front of me all along. This past weekend I had the chance to attend the annual HOBY conference in Baton Rouge as a Facilitator to one of our groups of ambassadors. I was able to mentor about seven high school sophomores and observe them as they learned during our seminar in Louisiana. It became evident to me here what kind of learner and teacher I was. I have come to believe that learning is an organic, holistic process that involves studying ideas in the classroom and in the real world. Learning is a lifelong process that we all have to use in our daily lives to seek new knowledge about the world we live in.
As I was taking a look at learning philosophies and my role as a facilitator, the idea of “constructivism” was the great answer that I was looking for. It is a learning theory and philosophy, which uses the belief that, “people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, rather than reflecting on those experiences.” This best explains the learning that we do at HOBY, as it uses a constructivist method to teach leadership to our students, the “ambassadors.” During the seminar, we used panels and speakers to teach our ambassadors about how to be a leader in their homes, schools, and communities by having them ask questions about experiences they had. A panelist would talk about various things like volunteering in their community, and the ambassadors would ask questions to further their education. Afterwards, their beliefs of a previous idea might change.
On Saturday, we took the time to perform community service projects to emphasize real-world learning and having our ambassadors gain new experiences. This challenged their ideas about what they knew about volunteering in charities and helping in social service organizations. There were trips to nursing homes to play bingo, helping veterans at the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge, and helping at local food banks to make sure that homeless people have food to eat. As a facilitator I had the chance to stay involved by using the “growth mindset,” as described by Dr. Carol Dweck, to provide guidance to our ambassadors as they completed tasks that challenged their way of thinking. According to Dweck, a great teacher, “believes in the growth of the intellect and talent, and they are fascinated with the process of learning.” She goes on to add that great teachers have to provide high standards, a nurturing atmosphere, and hard work to make a great environment for learning. I would go on to add that a great learner has to have the standards of challenging themselves, using the “growth mindset” on their own skills and talents, and developing a great attitude among themselves to make sure that the knowledge which is being imparted to them seeks to grow their imagination. This makes the learner a “critical thinker” and a great citizen to have in our society.
Teachers are here to impart knowledge to their students by lecturing. Learners must take the knowledge given to them by their facilitators and learn from that. According to the Wharton School of Business website, “the objective of education is learning, not teaching.” I completely agree with this idea and the ones I presented above. On Saturday morning, we also had the ambassadors complete a task to build their own teamwork skills and see how far their imagination can take them. The task was to build a tower using materials on each group’s table, such as notecards and tape. They took the time to stack chairs, use candy, cups, and even tennis rackets to build the tallest tower that they could. The ambassadors had 15 minutes to complete the task, and there were numerous catastrophes that were used to test their courage. For example, after five minutes, some groups were disqualified from building their tower, had to demolish it, or were prohibited from using certain materials, like chairs, in the building of their towers. The facilitators could not give any instructions, nor could we help out. My group had a small tower by the time the clock ran out, and the ambassadors struggled to find things to use and build with. But, we learned a great lesson about making something out of nothing and relying on other teammates. This emphasized “critical thinking and group leadership” that we were trying to incorporate in our HOBY curriculum the whole weekend. This gave me the chance to push the ambassadors to grow intellectually, make them work hard, and provide a nurturing atmosphere by allowing the ambassadors to know that I believed in their abilities. It was tons of fun, and I think we should put it in our program for next year.
Later in the day, we had reflections, where we let the ambassadors and facilitators share their ideas about all the activities we did throughout the weekend. For many of us, this was a life-changing experience that we will never forget. For us facilitators, though, we get to do this every year, once a year. Many of us never get tired of it. I think it is probably all of the exposure to new ideas that we get to hear! As a facilitator, I believe that my learning actually never ends, and that my mind only grows more each year, especially at HOBY conferences. According to the Italian educator Dr. Maria Montessori, “children are encouraged to pursue their interests, make responsible choices for themselves, and direct themselves to constructive activities.” I believe that her model best exemplifies the method of teaching that we use at HOBY to coach our ambassadors about leadership, community service, imagination, and critical thinking.
Another resource that I found interesting was the book Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTigue, “Teachers are designers…An essential act of our profession is the crafting of curriculum and learning experiences to meet specified purposes.” During the seminar, we also had stories from inspirational speakers that taught our ambassadors and myself about their life experiences and the “human knot.” The human knot is a game where everyone in a group gets into a circle, grabs each other’s hand and attempts to unravel the knot one person at a time. This emphasized HOBY’s attempt to teach “individual leadership” by making ambassadors understand that they each play an integral role in their schools and communities by working with each other to accomplish great goals. So, when I think about my innovation plan in the previous course, I thought I was just an activity coordinator in a human resource department that tried to show people how to use technology.
Even though this was the end of my 10th HOBY seminar, I now know that I am a full-time teacher, even as a volunteer, and it is my job to shape the minds of tomorrow the same way that my teachers shaped mine. As a change agent, I never thought of HOBY as a learning experience like school, but I now realize that it is. I am a lot more than just a facilitator; I am a teacher. I really think that teachers are designers and that Dr. Maria Montessori was correct in her assumptions. So, when it comes to my learning philosophy, I think that Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the great mentor to Hugh O’Brian, probably said it best—“The most powerful thing you can do for a young person is to teach them how to think for themselves.” I want to continue to change lives in the HOBY program by mentoring ambassadors to make them better global citizens at home and in their communities. This is my OUTSTANDING learning philosophy.
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