By Sam Dawkins, Curriculum Leader Language Acquisition at Prem Tinsulanonda International School
At first it all felt very separate: Here is Sourced Design with all its accountability, community and vitality, and in the other corner is a curriculum ending in an anxiety-inducing external exam. How could there be an overlap? But, wonderfully, I have seen how the central tenets of Sourced Design regularly emerge in the planning and delivery of my courses, as well as in the everyday interactions with members of the school community.
Here are three key ways in which Sourced Design has changed my teaching practice.
In Planning and Delivery – an invitation to embrace student agency
Whenever I am planning new units I am constantly asking myself, how can I place student agency at the centre of what I do? As a teacher we are often conditioned to control and deliver the mandated curriculum through articulated planning and mapped learning. While the ethos of the IB MYP course is to offer opportunities for student agency, I wasn’t really sure how to go about this.
Through this course, I became inspired to let go and ask the students themselves as to the direction they wanted to take in the next unit. My grade 9 students were asked what lens they wanted to bring to the study of poetry and this led to a unit focusing on the evaluation of the spoken word from poetry, slam poetry, rap and rock to pop. They could choose the direction they wanted to take. My role was to provide resources and an end goal which would showcase their newly acquired analytical skills.
The Source Design course is a direct relation to the IB Philosophy, and so facilitated a deeper understanding for me into concept based learning, which I had still been resisting.
In accessing the wisdom of my community – an invitation to share intergenerational wisdom
One of the most profound aspects of Sourced Design was reflecting on the school community and the wisdom of elders within it. The Grade 11 students were following a unit called Experiences: Life Stories so I was given a great opportunity to allow these teens the chance to benefit from intergenerational learning. To this end I organised a ‘Walking Library’ event where students moved around the room interviewing guests about their views on what made a good life. I invited teachers and friends from the local community to share their own beliefs and life stories. It was far more profound than I ever could have imagined. I really hadn’t anticipated how hungry teens are to hear from and discuss with their elders as to the journey through stages of life. It is clear that the Source Design model, which recognizes and celebrates individuals’ emotional development, is exactly what teens are yearning for. How else will they develop the emotional skills and self accountability needed to fully function as an emotional adult? Our young people need mentorship. Our elders’ unique insights and wisdom needs to be acknowledged. Source Design offers a framework for meaningful mentorship.
In the interactions with my students – an invitation to vulnerability
When I completed my teacher training back in 1999, a key component was effective classroom management based on the ownership of space by the teacher. This hierarchical structure was believed to be the only model for education. You had to be in control and demand respect. You were expected to recognise and punish students’ ‘stroppy teenage behaviour’. What the design lab taught me is to take the time to be reflective. To be brave enough to lean into difficult realisations. Most teachers in public schools run a classroom by dominating that space through the effective use of power plays. I know I did. I rarely do now that I am in international schools, but I have those weapons in my arsenal and can bring them out as default when needed. The Sourced Design Lab made me sit in the uncomfortable realisation that this is what I did, but it also gave me an alternative. What if I could embrace vulnerability? What if, when a teenager said something which would normally have led to a perceived slight and a need to punish, I had the bravery to be vulnerable instead? In one class a Grade 9 girl was quite rude and mean to me. The whole class stopped and held their collective breath to see my response. Instead of a need to dominate, I just replied, “Oh that really hurt my feelings when you said that. I would never allow anyone in this class to say that to you, because it would be mean and I would hate to see you hurt.” This teenager was so surprised, as was the whole class! What happened next illustrates why this course is so powerful.
“Oh I am so sorry. I didn’t realise it was mean.”
The whole class smiled and since that day that student has gone on to reach her full potential, culminating in me emailing her parents to share that she achieved a top grade and that her work was used as an exemplar for others. This would never have happened without my personal growth journey on this course.
I hope these three reasons alone persuade you to take the Sourced Design Lab. Don’t be naive as an experienced teacher and believe this has nothing to fundamentally offer you. I wish it was mandatory to be honest. We have a duty to be reflective and lean into our own vulnerability. After all, we are doing the most important job in the world, aren’t we?