Sophie Barr: Reflections from Global Teaching Summit 2016

Voices - 17 May 2016

Sophie Barr from our 2015 cohort was one of four representatives from New Zealand at the annual Teach For All Global Teaching Summit, held in Malaysia this year. 

Think of a moment in your life that challenged and changed your perspective of the world; an experience so powerful that every time you think about it, it motivates and moves you.

Think of people you have met who reflect your passions and share a common goal with you. People who are understanding of, and interested in, your work, and yet inspire you with their stories.

For me, the Global Teaching Summit and Head of Training conference hosted by Teach for Malaysia in Miri at the beginning of May was that moment in my life. ‘Life changing’ may be cliche but it is an accurate reference to the 5 days of conferencing, workshopping, connecting and community experiences. While there were many moments that I could share, there are three words that have particularly stuck with me.

“Life is now.”

The Teach for All director of Transformational Leadership Tim Davis shared this in a workshop in a very cool conference room on a Wednesday morning. It’s a mantra that I’m sure we are all aware of, but often one that is forgotten in frantic pace of everyday life...ironically.  Though simple, the profoundness behind this phrase has the power to control our actions and thoughts in each moment. I found this thought especially inspiring as a teacher because it’s not just my life that is happening right now; it is life of each and every student sitting in front of me. As a teacher, we have the incredible privilege to influence and positively impact each life within the classroom.

Upon returning from the conference, I asked my classes to time travel 10 years into the future. I asked them to write down: 1) what they want to have achieved in 10 years from now 2) what career they want to be in and 3) what qualities they want to have. A number of them wanted to finish school and embark on some kind of future study or play for a professional sports team. A few of them had a clear goal of a career they wanted to pursue. Interestingly, almost all of them had an idea of the person they wanted to be. Within 10 minutes, the students were beginning to build their vision of what life they could have and who they aspired to become- not one imposed on them by teachers, parents or friends- but one that they wanted for themselves. They taught me a very important lesson: never underestimate your students. They know who they want to be.

Dreams and untapped potential exist in learners minds all over the country. So, how often, then, do we actually ask the students what it is they want from their hours sitting behind desks? And, how is it that New Zealand, with the largest achievement gap in the OECD, is systematically failing many of those dreams before they can really have a chance to begin? If “life is now”, we must listen to the future architects, tradies, leaders and champions in the classroom, and use their voice to motivate our actions in order to prepare them for their future in the face of inequity. If “life is now”, we cannot wait until tomorrow to solve the important issues that exist today.