Places establish narratives

These pups were hiding from the rain in Jeju.

I”m struggling through this idea of a conceptual framework right now. What is driving my study, what are my theoretical understandings? Sommerville (2010) talked about the different underpinnings that have defined her work, and the authors who helped her clarify her understanding.

Both of us have been moved by Gruenewald (2003) who challenges us to take part in a place responsive pedagogy. We need to deconstruct and decolonise our relationship with place, we need to know more about how things have developed, where the power lies and try to sort out what that means for us.

This is a challenge to most modern thinking that doesn’t believe or value the idea of a specific or special place. Schooling, Sommerville (2010) argues is the perfect placeless area. Schools want us to be standard, to be normal, to not have outside aspects influence our learning or our thinking. We should be able to apply anything to a global level, without thinking about place specifics. This deeply challenges ecosystems and most systems thinking (from an environmental perspective at least).

For me, so far, this always goes back to love, and how to love. We need to spend time in our places and really get to know them. We need to love them, see how they work and value the places for what they are (not what we want them to be). I’m wondering I guess, how do we get out of that way of thinking, how can we really deconstruct ourselves, is this even possible for international teachers?

Sommerville, M. (2010) A Place Pedagogy for “Global Contemporaneity”. Educational Philosophy and Theory 42(3)

Who is here?

Our grade 3 students are looking at how migration happens as a result of challenges, risks and opportunities. one of their activities we were working on was interviewing people in Chinatown.

At first the students were hesitant, they were a little shy and they didn’t know what to expect, but it worked out much better than I had anticipated. The adults around Chinatown were really curious about what the kids were up to and many waited in line to be interviewed. We wanted students to feel confident talking to others, but also learn how to collect data with purpose. Their biggest take away was people come from everywhere.

Sometimes when ex-pat students are living in a new country we have a tendency to think everyone is either from the places we are from or a local, this showed us how blurred those lines really were and the students loved it.
After we worked on the interviews we explored some reasons why people may have moved and how things have changed in Singapore over the past 700 years, but the reasons for migration are pretty much the same. It helps tie our present situations to other’s feeling throughout history and now.

Place and immigrant teachers

I’ve been reading over some more papers. And this paper by Elbaz-Luwisch has really intrigued me, she draws on Casey (1994), Orr (1992) and Clandinin and Connelly often, which may be why she intrigues me, but she wants to know more about immigrant teachers and their relationship with place. Not many people are exploring this, and while the teachers she has studied do not work at international schools, I feel they may experience the same sorts of tensions.

Teachers are often asked to represent cultures, or be an active (re) creator of the cultures we live in. However, when people are not “locals” I wonder how we can really focus on, or think about developing a culture we aren’t really a part of? Casey (1994) talks about about the tensions most people feel about not really feeling secure in a space, I wonder more about how people who are transient by nature can really feel at home. If we don’t feel at home, how can we work at developing the culture of the place?

It seems as though this paper suggests by spending more time in a place, any by co-culturing a place we can change it from a location to something more meaningful. I wonder how we can work with teachers to work on this co-construction. We have to remember though that the people in the community also co-construct place, and how they interact with a new person can also shape a person’s sense of place.

There’s a lot going on in this paper, but I really wonder about how we can work with teachers to make more of a sense of place, how do we help new comers feel welcome and share in our stories, how do we make global citizens and teachers more local?

Casey, E. (1993) Getting back into place: toward a renewed understanding of the place-world (Bloom- ington, Indiana University Press).

Elbaz‐Luwisch, F. (2004) Immigrant teachers: stories of self and place, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 17:3, 387-414, DOI: 10.1080/0951839042000204634

Orr, David (1992) Place and pedagogy, in: Ecological literacy: education and the transition to a post-modern world (Albany, SUNY Press), 125–131.

Do you think place matters?

This guy wanted the path.

Where we are matters. The places we live influence our identity and our work.
How do we make sense of our places? How do we understand them and our role in them?
In our current globalised world, we may often think of places as interchangeable or
relatively similar; however, each place may be unique and contribute significantly to how
we see ourselves. As we try to make sense of our mobility, how we think about where we
have been, how we think about what we have done, and how we try to rationalize what
we are doing we make connection to who we are, how we do things and the multiple
ways we can make sense of these processes, we may realize everything is happening in a
place. Tuan (1977) understood people to be spatial being, and we developed our ideas of
ourselves as we constructed the meaning of our social and spatial lives. While we try to
understand ourselves we may be able to turn to our place to help us find solutions to both
local and global issues (Relph 2008). A sense of place describes the interactions between
a place and people within a location to bring forth an understanding of reality for an
individual who is in that place (Relph 2008, Tuan 1977). Places teach us how to be in the
world and how the world works, moreover, places make us by shaping our identity and
culture (Gruenewald 2003, 2008). If we understand more about the places we live, we
may be able to make a significant impact on how we live.
According to ISC research, the October 2019 data shows there are 11, 321
international schools, with 559, 000 teachers serving over 5.7 million students with about
51.8 billion dollars involved ( Many of these teachers are from a
place that is different from where they work. If where we are matters than what impact
does this mass migration of teachers have on education? Can students develop a sense of place if teachers are displaced? With so much money going into an international
education, and so many students involved should we be thinking about how teachers feel
in a place and how that influences their identity?

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). Foundations of Place: A Multidisciplinary Framework for
Place-Conscious Education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619-

Gruenewald, D. A. (2008). The best of both worlds: a critical pedagogy of place.
Environmental Education Research, 14(3), 308-324.

Relph, E. (2008). A pragmatic sense of place. In F. Vanclay (Ed.), Making Sense of
Place. Canberra: National Museum of Australia

Tuan, Y.F. (1977). Space and place: The perspective of experience. Minnesota:
University of Minnesota Press.

Wondering about sense of place at the museum

I took this photo at the NUS museum.

I’ve been in the museum this week, and in the back of my mind is my paper. The links I can see in the paintings, make sense to my understanding of chapter one, but it is so difficult to clearly articulate my thoughts. Below is an attempt at my opening paragraph.

The places where we reside and work influence our professional and personal lives. Where we live can shape how we live. A sense of place describes the interactions and feelings shared between a place, people and a community to bring forth an understanding of reality for an individual who is in that place. Places teach us how to be in the world and how the world works, moreover, places make us by shaping our identity and culture (Gruenewald 2003). Tuan (1977) was instrumental in shaping how we think about sense of place. Over the years other thinkers (Relph, Massey, Greenwood, and many others) have continued to develop this idea and our understanding of this complex concept is continuing to develop. We know that place impacts our identity in multiple ways, but little research is being conducted into how expatriate international school teachers understand.

I guess I’m wondering how to really put it all together, I wonder how to make it clear to others what I want to study, and how I plan to go about it, I’m worried no one really cares or it won’t matter (but I’ll put those thoughts aside for now).

So I guess, how is this connected to the learning going on in the museum? I’m trying to share stories of place, which I read is important. But in this specific museum is a painting of samui women working. Not many people know of the samsui women, not many people know how important they are for shaping our place (and our identity as a nation). So I’m just trying to help our teachers and students learn a little more about where we live.

Thinking about globalised standards

Through our assessment course I’ve been thinking a lot about what global standards create. I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how this impacts our students. Do we really think there is an ideal global person? Do we want people to be the same? Can we really compare people who are so different?

When we have standards that focus on the whole world, or perceived global outcomes or expectations, do we limit teachers, students, learning opportunities?

My hope when focusing on a more local learning context is that we show value for diversity. By focusing on things that are different we can broaden our thought process and maybe create a more interesting world? I don’t know.

Trying to figure things out

International Baccalaureate (IB) schools all over the world aim to build an individual’s international mindedness in order to create “good” global citizens who are responsible to and for the world around them. The goal is to use international mindedness in a local context to create globally responsible learners (IBO 2009). In order to explore the effectiveness of their program, some questions need to be addressed. Firstly, what is the role of assessment on a global, national and local level in IB schools? Secondly, who decides what these values are? Finally, is there any way assessment can aid us in the development of becoming a “good” person (either local or global)?  By exploring these questions one can see if assessment plays a role in the IB’s development of responsible global citizens.

In Making the Primary Years Program Happen (MPYPH) the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) asserts it works with local, national and international organizations to create engaging learning opportunities with rigorous assessment. Usually Primary Years Program (PYP) schools use three different levels of assessment; international standardized assessments, curriculum standards based on national frameworks (not necessarily those of the host country) and local assessments based on what students are learning based on classroom and local context (IBO 2009).

International and national standardized assessments are useful for international schools to help students prepare for different schools in different locations and ensure acceptance into international universities. International assessments can also aid in monitoring teacher effectiveness. International students are often transient and move from place to place. In order for students to find success in other schools, international standards based assessments can help students understand how their knowledge is measured on a global scale. Students need assurance that their learning will translate from one place to another, otherwise they may not be successful in other locations. For learners to be successful in their transitions, international standards need to be assessed. Moreover, students will often go to universities in countries other than those where they attend high school. Universities have to accept people based on academic readiness and success. For universities to meaningful compare students they have to have access to similar data points. (Verger, Parcerisa & Fontdevila 2019, Fischman et al, ). For international schools it is also important to evaluate and monitor teachers.  Many international schools offer yearly contracts. If a teacher has classes that consistently fail to meet desired outcomes, they may be asked to do further professional development.  For international schools, and their stakeholders, international standardized assessments can be a beneficial tool. For IB schools in particular, positive results can effectively advertise the benefits of a PYP education (Kushner et al 2016). By excelling at international standardized exams and providing a values based education the IBO can show that their method of teaching and learning is effective and enable students to succeed in a knowledge-based economy. 

The IBO requires PYP schools to assess the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action that arise through the units of inquiry (IBO 2009). Many schools choose to create their own curriculum based on national standards from a variety of countries. When creating this curriculum, school administrators may refer to the knowledge and content being assessed on the international standardized assessments. By using what schools’ perceive to be the most important knowledge they can create a curriculum framework that suits the learner’s perceived needs.

Paying attention to the local aspects of learning is integral in the PYP. One of the essential elements of the PYP is taking action (IBO 2009). Action is intended to make a difference in the local (or near local) community.  Throughout the IB program action is a required part of learning. This is the IB program’s use of values to create responsible global citizens. This action, although part of the curriculum and should be assessed is difficult to measure quantitatively. While the focus of action is on local improvement and on creating global citizens, most of the assessment is feedback oriented (IBO 2009).  This is similar to place based education (Sobel ) where feedback comes not only from the teachers, but also from the community. Success in this regard impacts people and is not just a number. 

The IB claims that the PYP is creating global citizens, they empower teachers to look through various national and international standards in order to create a responsible global citizen who takes action (IBO 2009). To this end they use international standardized tests and local or classroom assessments.  One might wonder, who is creating this curriculum and who decides the standards the international assessments focus on.  IB programs focus on creating a global learner, but what is a global learner? The learner profile is an important part of the PYP but not many people who are questioning who created these values and why they are deemed important. Winchip, Milder and Stevenson (2019) remark that the privatization of education suggests the globalization of standards. Sahlberg (2016) refers to this idea as a Global Education Reform Movement or GERM. With a focus on standardization of content, a focus on core subjects and high stakes testing we lose the opportunity for individualization and local focus. Privatization of schools and their standards may be a result of corporations and businesses. Tampio (2019) urges us to look at United Nations focus on merging business and education to get a better understanding of the importance of business playing a role in education. If the United Nations focuses on mixing these two ideas, surely the majority of international schools and international standardized tests have the same mentality.  Edwards (2010) suggest that the decline in official assistance by the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations have hindered some access to education. By removing developmental assistance from schools that need funding businesses can step in to fill the monetary gap. When businesses become a part of schooling, then it is reasonable to assume they have a say in some of the directions of the school. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) even runs high stakes standardized assessments (Kuehn 2014). Whether intentionally or otherwise it seems as though in preparing students for entering into the workforce in the knowledge economy we are allowing businesses and corporation to set some education policy and standards.

The IBO understands that there are a range of external situations that school leaders are obligated to respond to, and at times those situations or pressures can be conflicting (IBO 2009). If the IBO understands such pressures, what does this organization do to address this situation and create good students. In Making the PYP Happen (2009) the IBO instructs schools to build curriculum that addresses the essential elements (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) in relation to the learner profile. The schools are asked to use this value oriented framework to gather and analyze information in order to provide feedback to parents and students that clearly states what the student knows and provides a path for improvement. The IBO embraces values based education in order to create a responsible global citizen that has the ability to create a personal set of values who recognize that other people with different values can also be right. On official reports home the learner profile, attitudes, skills, concepts, knowledge and any action should be reported to parents and other stakeholders. While students do take international standardized assessments our reports home and the majority of our interactions with parents revolves around the learner profile and orientation towards learning. By acknowledging the importance of some aspects of international standardized testing and focusing on the importance of a values based education the PYP attempts to create globally responsible citizens who can also integrate into the knowledge economy workforce.

With a focus on multiple forms of assessment from a variety of international, national and local perspectives does the IBO help in creating a “good” global citizen? If we take the IBO’s hope that all students will be “internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world” (IBO 2009, p. 4).

International standardized assessments are often accused of pursuing a neoliberal agenda that supports businesses and economies (Kuhen 2014, Rushek 2017, Sahlber 2016, Tampio 2019).  Tampio (2019) sees neoliberal scripts appearing in all aspects of learning. For instance, by focusing on education for women and girls we assert the neoliberal ideas of autonomy, choice and agency to improve an individual life. We look at how to help people be more active in a knowledge based economy and promote these values through school. By using international assessments built by organizations like OECD, we are encouraging students to follow neoliberal values, and present these ideas as rational ways of living. Agency, autonomy and choice are also core values of the PYP. We want to empower our learners as individuals. In this regard the PYP is developing internationally minded people (if the goal is we all have autonomy, choice and empowerment). However, Rushek (2017) acknowledges that not all schools are the same, neither are the students, systems or communities they serve. Regardless of these differences international standardized tests still focus on the needs of the ever-changing knowledge economy with a hope of keeping students competitive. This reinforces the neoliberal agenda looking for accountability and measurement of learning. For this reason it seems that although the IBO understands the external pressures of international standardized tests it does not create them or require them to be an IB school.

While the IBO assess action, attitudes, and the learner profile in an attempt to create a “good” person more research is needed to understand more about what this means. For instance, how can a teacher accurately provide feedback on action or the amount of curiosity someone shows? This is a qualitative activity and is difficult to validate. Another aspect that needs to be researched is who created these values and why. Throughout MPYPH it seems evident that these values are important, but there is no evidence that these are truly global or desirable skills or attitudes.

Seeing things in a new light

If you get a chance, Jeju is a pretty beautiful place.

I’ve been thinking a lot about teacher identity, assessment, and just ways of being lately. While reading (and trying to write) I had the chance to slip off to Jeju-do for a week. As an expat, and someone who happily identifies as an “other” in most countries, I’ve been challenged in my classes about assessment.

I’m not quite sure how I am going to link all of this together in my paper, but right now I’m wondering how teacher identity, place based education, international schools and international assessments are all linked together.

Tran and Nhai (2015) discuss this idea that international school identities are (re)constructed through encounters with students from different cultures. When we take the time to reflect on our teaching and our practice it is often shaped by people from a different cultural context, which shapes us as teachers.

So, I guess I’m wondering, if I believe in the value of place based education, that all education is environmental education, and that we need to love a place to save a (or many) place(s) then how does that tension interact with teaching at an international school teaching “international” values.

Can we be truly global or local anymore? If our encounters are (re)constructing our identities how do we know who or where we are?

Tran, L. T., Nhai, T.N. . (2015). Re-imagining teachers’ identity and professionalism under the condition of international education. Teachers and Teaching, 21(8), 958-973.

Place and marginalisation

Our rooftop garden

Slowly trying to get back into the literature review. So going to take some time to (re)look at some of the articles that have really been provoking me.

Gruenwald, usually, but specifically in this chapter is really concerned with how we as teachers can create a more just world.  we need to make sure we are using terms properly, use schooling research instead of education research, our words our powerful and shape our perspective.  We need to base our learning in places in order to truly understand the diversity of where we are so we can address the differences and relationships between people and places. We need to think deeply about our relationship to places and why and how they are formed that way.

“Without teachers who are sensitive to and knowledgeable about difference among individuals and groups, “other people’s children” can be marginalized, neglected, undervalued, poorly served and even greatly damaged by their experience in school. ” (Gruenwald 2010, p. 139). When we don’t understand the difference or meaning behind places and people we can further damage people and places.

So I guess the question is how do we hyper aware of this? What questions do we need to ask of ourselves, and what are the first steps we need to take?

Gruenewald, D. A. (2010). Place Based Education: Grounding Culturally Responsive Teaching in Geographical Diversity In D. A. Gruenwald, Smith, G.A. (Ed.), Place Based Education in The Global Age: Local Diversity. New York, New York: Routledge.