Profiles of great people I've met over the years who are making a difference with the world's children and youth.

Dr. Gordon Porter: Architect For Inclusionary Education

“Inclusive education means, simply put, that all students, including those with disabilities and other special needs, are educated in regular classrooms with their age peers in their community schools”

 For my next SuperPals profile, I’m turning the spotlight on a man from my home province whose educational leadership has had a deep impact here and in jurisdictions across Canada and internationally.  His name is Gordon Porter, and for some thirty years he’s been at the vanguard of those dedicated to the establishment of an inclusive education system.  New Brunswick was among the first education systems to abandon programs that segregated children based on ability (or in many cases, perceived ability), and it is widely acknowledged that Gordon has been a visionary for successful, fully evolved schools that consciously embrace inclusionary practices as fundamental to their existence.  If every child is not experiencing success, he believes, then the school as a whole cannot claim to be successful.

 But Gordon Porter’s influence extends far beyond that.  To label him a visionary is simply inadequate.  As educational leaders, our lives are very much about generating and communicating ideas, about seeing how things might be better, and about sharing these with colleagues.  Our world is full of people with big ideas, but few have the stuff to fuel change, and to witness the actualization of their vision.  Gordon Porter is one of the few.  For three decades his voice and his actions have been courageously sustained in the face of political, societal and operational resistance.  He believes inclusive schools are both possible and good, and his professional life has very much been dedicated to helping others navigate the challenging terrain.  It is this combination of vision, voice, action and resolve that deserves our respect. 

 “We need a new wave of principled school reform that will contribute to accommodating the diversity of our student population, to inclusion as a guiding principle, and to school improvement on a broad basis for all our students.”

 Gordon has been a classroom teacher, school principal, district leader, university professor and author of numerous writings on inclusive education.  He has received many awards for his groundbreaking work, including our nation’s highest civilian honor, The Order of Canada, as well as an honorary Doctor of Education degree from the National Pedagogical Univerisity of Peru.  He is currently the Director of Inclusive Education Canada, an initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living, and is editor of their website.  He is former chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, and is currently Special Advisor on Inclusive Education to our province’s Minister of Education & Early Childhood Development

 Few issues in New Brunswick’s educational experience can evoke such intense emotional and spirited debate as does the discourse around inclusion.  Simply put, the day to day challenges inherent in inclusion are among the toughest that teachers and school leaders face. Issues around funding and professional training are constant sources of frustration.  Further, parents (who sometimes feel marginalized and overwhelmed by the pressures of raising a child with special needs), often have expectations that the school system is unable (or sometimes unwilling), to meet.  Inclusion is a political issue.  It is a legal issue, which, at the school and district levels, has the potential to exhaust and demoralize, and to cast fear among professionals who often feel helpless when threatened with legal and human rights challenges.  Inclusion is tough stuff.

Looking back over those thirty years, however, it is easy to see how we’ve grown as a jurisdiction.  The challenges remain, but we’ve gotten much better at generating solutions.  Our experience with each child informs our attempts to serve others, and as we recognize that inclusion is more of a human art and a commitment than it is a purely scientific practice, we are slowly finding our own way through the significant challenges that are an unfortunate reality in our evolution as an inclusive society.  Despite the many hurdles we continue to face, New Brunswick is an undisputed international leader in inclusive education.  Gordon Porter’s sustained, grounded and understanding leadership has brought us to this place of prominence, and it continues to inspire confidence in the field.  He is architect, builder and laborer, and I am pleased that he accepted this invitation to be featured on SuperPals.

Herewith, my interview with Dr. Gordon Porter.

 

Many people have strong beliefs about how a system could be improved, but few are driven to act with the sustained commitment you’ve shown in the field of inclusive education. What was it that inspired you to such determined action?

Two things inspired my commitment to inclusive education – a sense of what is right and my commitment to effective schools for every child. The rights’ focus came from growing up in a small village where success in school was clearly a factor in having a chance to have a secure future. I could see my classmates depart as we moved up through the grades.

It seemed to me that they all left with some sense of lost opportunity. My cohort of 42 students in Grade 6 had been reduced to 11 survivors at the end of Grade 12. I felt privileged to have had success. However when I became a teacher, I slowly developed a sense that school success should not be a privilege for the few but a benefit every child should have in our democratic society.

The rights’ agenda became clearer when I became a board member of the local segregated school run by parents as a charity. The Charter reinforced that perspective. The reason I have stayed focused on inclusive practices is that they are consistent with having an effective school. I would argue that inclusive practices are essential if a school is to achieve high levels of success.

Inclusive practices include:

  •  Collaboration and instruction that meets needs at different levels
  • Identifiable support structure for teachers so they can meet diverse student needs
  • Effective problem solving
  • Maintaining partnerships with parents

A school that is not inclusive either has a capacity deficit or a big gap in shared principles.

With the challenge of making rights real and achieving high quality for every student, I have found the “inclusive education agenda” a worthy effort.    

 

New Brunswick has been called a model of inclusive education. To what extent do you believe that term is justified?

To say New Brunswick is a model of inclusive education is justified, but of course model is a relative term. New Brunswick has been working towards inclusion on a systemic basis since 1986 and we have accomplished a great deal. Kids can go to their local school and most are included most of the time. Degree of inclusion varies of course, and the supports are sometimes not what they need to be, but overall we are doing well. We can do better and I am confident we will.

There are select parts of Canada – schools and a few districts – that do well, but New Brunswick is still a leader. Internationally, New Brunswick is even more of a leader.

The wealthier nations have highly developed special education systems that are not inclusive and they have many special interest groups who resist change. Developing countries provide very minimal levels of education to students with special needs, and little progress has been made under the “Education for All” campaign.

So yes –New Brunswick is a leader, but we still have a gap between what we can do and what we are actually doing

 

How has our society’s thinking changed since the early days of inclusion in New Brunswick schools?

New Brunswick teachers support inclusion as a practice. To some extent I think it is taken for granted. Twenty five years ago, there was passion on the matter from all sides. The advocates – parents and educators supporting inclusion – were passionate, and the concerns of those unsure about the approach were equally strong.

My perception is that there is a consensus now that inclusion is a good idea, but we need to make sure we get the support for teachers and students in place to make it successful. Discussing support systems is a much more constructive conversation than justifying the concept of inclusion.  


Philosophically, it is easy to embrace the ideals of inclusion. The operational challenges, however, often result in a weakening of that commitment. How can we encourage fidelity to the principles of inclusive education, while acknowledging that it’s a complex and difficult reality to create?

I believe that the integrity of the vision of a “quality school for all” is the key to fidelity to the principles of inclusive education. There will be exceptions to our ability to support inclusion for every child. However such exceptions need to be few and “true exceptions.” We need to make sure that exceptions to inclusion are not caused by lack of skill or capacity, or worse – a lack of commitment to value every child.

 

What practices concern you most, that you feel undermine a school’s commitment to inclusion?

Commitment to inclusion is undermined if schools do not effectively support classroom teachers. There will be challenges and problems – that’s fully predictable.

The questions for a school are:

  • Does the school provide systemic and effective support to teachers?
  • Can teachers count on professional assistance in figuring out what to do?
  • Will teachers get help in getting new strategies up and running?

I find too many schools are unable to meet teacher needs. If Resource & Methods (R&M) teachers are able to help them, there is a good chance things will work satisfactorily. If the R&M teacher spends all day, every day, working with kids one-on-one or in small groups in the resource room, I wonder about who will provide teachers with the professional support they need.

Another practice I worry about is the over reliance on paraprofessionals to handle all the work with a child with special needs. We need paraprofessionals and they play a valuable role in our schools, but the teacher must stay at the centre of the child’s education.

Finally, when inclusion works best, it is obvious that the school principal is clear about the connection between developing inclusive strategies and the effort to make the school a better learning environment for all students.

 

What causes you to be hopeful about inclusion in New Brunswick schools?

I am hopeful about inclusion in New Brunswick schools because I meet so many parents, teachers and students who demonstrate they have the principles of inclusion internalized. There is now a whole generation of young New Brunswickers who have grown up with inclusive schools. Some of these students become teachers.

New Brunswick has a strong base on which to build and there is a resolve to address the challenges we face and do better. After all, our provincial Motto is Spem Reduxit or “hope restored”.

 

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by people who put their all into what they do, that is, people who combine hard work, perseverance and grace.

I am particularly inspired by the parents of children with disabilities I have met who display those qualities.  I am amazed at their capacity to meet significant challenges and keep going. I continue to be inspired by the patience they have for those of us who might have more empathy for their challenges and the courage they show every day.

 

A Worn Out Sneaker: Small Gifts Mean Everything

The sneaker in the photograph above was one of the most meaningful gifts ever given to me.  My friend, Peg Herbert, brought it back to Canada from Lesotho, and presented it to me as a reminder of how our school district’s seemingly small contributions brought tangible comfort to children who suffer.  A Basotho boy had been wearing this sneaker in his daily march over the mountains to get to school. His feet had long since outgrown his shoes, but these were all he had.  Help Lesotho, through financial aid from Canadians like us, had been able to provide this boy with a new pair of sneakers, something my own children had come to take for granted.  Every gift helps, Peg kept telling me, but I didn’t grasp the truth of this statement until I saw this little misshapen sneaker, laces missing, tongue fallen off, and a hole in the toe so big I could put my fist through it.

I often think of that when confronted with the magnitude of the AIDS crisis in Africa, and our lack of capacity to solve the entire problem. How can we feel good about our contributions, when so many are left hungry, cold and suffering?  So many children are wearing beaten up shoes, like this one, or no shoes at all.

This week I read a tweet from The Elders, which quoted Bishop Desmond Tutu as saying: “God doesn’t count the way we count – helping  just one child brings joy to God’s heart!”  This statement resonated with me, and I think, for the very first time, I understand how it is that beautiful people like Peg Herbert are able to sustain their energy in performing true acts of goodness while they encounter such human suffering, day after day after day.

On May 28 our school district will be holding a “Chari-Tea” in support of Help Lesotho.  Please support our efforts to help Peg with her important work.

I think of the child who once wore my cherished little sneaker.  He must be growing still, and  I wonder what he’s wearing on his feet as he struggles through life, as he journeys through the horrible AIDS catastrophe in Lesotho.

Thank you, Peg, for your gift.

SuperPal 2: Peg Herbert

Peg Herbert with a Basotho boy: new shoes and old ones

“I am inspired daily by the determination and faith of the orphans and grandmothers of Lesotho.  These are my heroes.  The fact that they can keep going when their hearts are broken is incredible.”

As educators, we want our graduates to be highly literate, to be skilled in math and science, to speak more than one language, and to adapt to the ever changing technologies that have, in many ways, defined them as the Net Generation.  Yet surely this cannot be an end in itself.  Now, more than ever before, with our world in such a vulnerable and volatile state, we should be inspiring our young people to put their knowledge and skills to good use.  We should be nurturing strong characters, characters informed by a commitment to goodness, otherness and a belief that personal actions can change the world, if only bit by precious bit.

This is the lesson I continue to learn from my friend, Peg Herbert, a woman of peaceful yet unwavering strength, who has dedicated her life to alleviating human misery in the small African Kingdom of Lesotho.  “By believing in people, including ourselves and our capacity for good, we can indeed change the world,” she says, then adding eight important words, words that makes the impossible seem tangible: “… one child or one grandmother at a time.”  And that’s how she oversees the organization she founded in 2004, Help Lesotho, an Ottawa based charity that is saving lives in a country that is dealing with one of the world’s highest incidences of HIV/AIDS.  Every day, Peg and her team witness heart wrenching sadness, and yet they find the strength to persevere.

After reading Race Against Time, Stephen Lewis’s gripping book about the AIDS catastrophe in Africa, I felt compelled, urgently, to engage our educational community in becoming informed, caring, and taking action as responsible global citizens.  Working with a number of like-minded colleagues from our schools, we sought a Canadian charity with which to partner, and within days we were introduced to Peg Herbert and Help Lesotho. In the four years since that time, many of our students, parents and dedicated staff members (including teachers, librarians, teacher assistants, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, management personnel  and community outreach leaders), have understood, and they have responded with kind hearts and generous spirits.   Our approach has been primarily one of education, in that we want our students to understand global issues such as the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, and Help Lesotho has been an important partner in that mission.  What we have found, of course, is that when good people are aware of human suffering, they want to help, and there is no shortage of good people in School District 15!  Our community continues to support Help Lesotho through various fund raising activities, and it is largely because of Peg’s personal warmth, and the faith she inspires in us that her organization’s goals align with our own, that our partnership endures.

Peg spends several months every year in Lesotho, where she provides leadership in Help Lesotho’s goal areas of education, gender equity and youth leadership.  Her work, and that of her organization, has been recognized by Lesotho’s King Letsie III, who participated in the fifth anniversary celebrations of Help Lesotho, and who is the organization’s Honorary Patron.  Peg, who has a Ph.D. in Education, specializing in educational and developmental psychology, taught at the University of Ottawa for several years, and it was there that she met a graduate student, Sister Alice, who invited her to visit her country.  Peg did.

It changed her life.

Herewith, my interview with a Canadian hero who is saving lives and making the world a better place.  I’m so proud to introduce the founder and executive director of Help Lesotho, my SuperPal, Dr. Peg Herbert.

Help Lesotho is a fairly young organization, having recently celebrated its 6th anniversary.  Yet your presence in Lesotho, and the support you’ve been able to provide, are strong, sustained and tremendously important to the relief effort there.  What are your reflections on how HL has evolved, and the things you’ve accomplished.

Frankly, I am incredulous at how much has been accomplished. The amount of work involved is self-evident but the remarkable thing is how average Canadians have joined us in making a difference to this small mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, southern Africa. I am grateful every day for each one who has.

Lesotho has the world’s third highest incidence of HIV/AIDS. We chose to live and work in the rural areas, up in the mountains where there are few, if any, resources to help. We have accomplished so much, now  helping more than 9,000 children in our 15 partner schools and roughly 8,000 last year in our leadership programs because we have a fabulous Basotho staff there who are completely dedicated to their populations – whether orphans, vulnerable children, youth, grandmothers, or schools. They work tirelessly and effectively to develop and deliver sustainable programs which will build these communities in locally defined ways. If it were not for the faithfulness of our donors, including the children, teachers, principals and grandmothers of District 15, none of this would be possible. Most of our donors provide modest amounts regularly which has allowed us to increase the reach and scope of the work. I think Canadians well understand the benefits of education, HIV/AIDS and gender equity foci. Through education and psychosocial support individuals can take effective leadership in their communities.

HL focuses very much on education, leadership for girls and young women, and support for grandmothers.  Why are these particular initiatives so important to you?

This is a complex question, John. AIDS is fundamentally a female issue. Women and girls are more susceptible to the virus and to social issues surrounding the disease – including stigmatization, sexual violence and gender inequity. We have great programs for young men, that we are expanding this year but our first priority is to protect the girls and women. Grandmothers are raising the future of Lesotho (64% of the orphans are looked after by grandmothers) as the parent cohort has either died or gone elsewhere in search of work. By supporting 200 grandmothers at a time, we support hundreds of orphans. Gender equity is the foundation of real and sustainable social change.

I often wonder if the world would be quicker to intervene if the African AIDS crisis were occurring on American or European soil.   What are your thoughts on the international response to the situation in Africa?

I think the issues in Africa are so complex, pervasive and persistent that donors become overwhelmed. It is my experience that a small country like Lesotho, with a population of two million, is possible to conceptualize and to imagine that change is possible. Africa consists of 54 countries – each with its own challenges. Lesotho is a constitutional democracy and one of the most homogeneous populations on the continent. There are not the ethnic and religious conflicts that plague other countries and this makes social change not only possible but desirable as a model of how one small country can move forward. It is indeed difficult to imagine what life is like there but that is our job – to provide effective communication to allow donors to see and to believe that change is actual and sustainable there.

The World Economic Forum recently released its ranking of nations according to their success in gender equity. Lesotho ranked 8th, the only African country to make the top ten, and well ahead of the US and Canada, which were 19th and 20th respectively.  I found this surprising, given the deplorable socioeconomic conditions that exist there, and am wondering if there’s new cause to be hopeful.  What does this particular ranking represent, and what dangers do you see in misinterpretation of the data?

Again, this is a great question and has a complex answer. Historically, the men of Lesotho were excellent miners and found employment in the diamond and copper mines of South Africa. These absent husbands and fathers returned quarterly or annually over many decades leaving women to run the farms and families. When more than 100,000 of these men lost their jobs in one fell-swoop in a change in South African post-apartheid realignment, their return to Lesotho brought HIV/AIDS with a vengeance. Many of these men died; most remaining lost their spirit. Again, the women stepped in.

In addition, Lesotho, highly reliant upon global aid, is motivated to reach donor standards and expectations. An embryonic democracy, Lesotho is striving to be a good one. For example, in the first second tier election in 2006, Lesotho imposed a 30% female quota on the results allowing many village women to seek and secure office for local government positions. The ranking of the World Economic Forum depends upon certain criteria and Lesotho has met them, with many girls in school and many females in decision making positions. The government and country deserve every credit for this progress and these admirable goals. This gives all those who are trying to help there hope that this small country can indeed achieve significant change over time and with the right kind of assistance.

And now it comes to the “on the other hand” part. These changes have not filtered down to the general public or the rural communities where we work. Women have almost no opportunity to negotiate sex or condom use. Grandmothers are a forgotten group. In our first group of grandmothers, 95% did not know what HIV/AIDS was although most of their children had died of AIDS. The rise of sexual abuse toward young girls is at an alarming rate. The number of girls who have no one to protect them permits sexual abuse to go unaddressed in most cases. A huge cohort of young, unemployed and angry men has left young women at great risk. Gender equity is more than quotas. It is a pervasive and difficult issue to address culturally – anywhere in the world. This is a long climb and an urgent matter.

Issues of decision making on property, life plans, finances, conflict resolution and land are not in the hands of women and until they are, no equity can be achieved. Women are still left with dependence upon male relatives after their husband leaves or dies. They may have everything taken away from them. Orphaned children may have any older male relative take any or all possessions from them. There is still a long way to go.

It is understandable that these issues are confusing and complex. The vulnerable populations we work with are those who do not yet see the advantages of the progress being made at the corporate level. Changing behaviour is always a long-term challenge and it is the individuals who suffer. Progress is possible – with enough support and education – this is our task and our work.

Stephen Lewis has said that “Children who are orphaned by AIDS go through a particularly excruciating experience.  They do not become orphans when their parents die.  They become orphaned when their parents are dying.”  I find that to be a gripping statement, and I’m wondering how it resonates with your own experiences.

Stephen Lewis understands Africa and the pain the people suffer. There is a whole vocabulary used in development to describe the state of the children. This is why the term ‘orphans and vulnerable children’ is used. The term ‘single orphan’ refers to a child who has one parent even though this one guardian may be ill, dying or absent elsewhere looking for work. The term ‘double orphan’ refers to a child who has no parent at all. What we see increasing is the sexual abuse against these orphans as there are few to protect them anymore. We also see the exponential increase in the hunger of the children. They are starving, desperate to go to school, lonely and depressed. The psychosocial support and leadership activities we provide are targeted to these issues. HIV/AIDS and gender equity education are embedded in everything we do. Frankly, it is heart-wrenching and drives us to work ever harder to help them.

“Because I know that our programs are well structured and locally relevant, I can focus on the difference we can and are making rather than become subsumed in the pain and misery of the people we serve – who have lost almost everyone they love. The work we do is not easy. Nothing is easy there. One must stay focused to keep going.”

You spend a good deal of time in Lesotho. What sustains your spirit amid such pain and despair?

This is a good question. The situation is painful on a personal level and I am exposed to the private stories of so many fine young people and grandmothers. I know what sustains me is my decades of experience working with disadvantaged children and youth, my faith, the encouragement of our donors and my resolute belief in the work we are doing. Because I can guarantee that not one penny goes array in our work, I have the confidence to approach people. Because I see lives transformed every day, I have the conviction that our work truly addresses the underlying issues that will make a huge difference over time. Because I know that our programs are well structured and locally relevant, I can focus on the difference we can and are making rather than become subsumed in the pain and misery of the people we serve – who have lost almost everyone they love. The work we do is not easy. Nothing is easy there. One must stay focused to keep going.

As you will recall, the King of Lesotho, a fine man, travelled at his own expense last year to come to Ottawa for five days to meet and thank Help Lesotho donors. He is the patron of our organization and I cannot think of a greater testimonial to our work.

When you and I first met, and you shared stories with me about the Basotho and the horrible conditions in which so many of them live every day, I was shaken with an awareness of my own North American privilege.  When you return to Canada, how do you make sense of the excesses of our world, when you know, first hand, the realities of life in Lesotho?

Again, this is a pertinent question. I do find it difficult – actually more difficult than I am prepared to talk about. I believe personally that the benefits we have here are so that we can be strong enough and well resourced enough to help others – not just feel entitled to more. On the other hand, I do not want to judge individuals. I am comfortable judging our society as having lost its priorities and enmeshed in self-absorption  – this kind of self-reflection is essential. On the other hand, I am exposed to so many wonderful people here who do sacrifice and who care. Our donors give what they can and every dollar is appreciated. I have to manage myself in this regard. I rarely go into shops, do not buy much and surround myself with fine people who have a larger world view than their own pleasure and security. I cannot make sense of the world and its injustice but I can help one small country.

Good people want to make a difference, but they often don’t know how.  What can students, teachers and school leaders being doing at this critical time?

Actually, it is easy to help. One needs firstly to understand that the best help is to believe in collective action – small donations together provide funds for change. Every day I see examples of children, teachers, parents and school leaders who believe that change is possible – one child, one school, one donation at a time. This is the secret. When it does not matter who gets the credit, it is possible to create miracles.

Educators and children can raise awareness and funds to support orphan relief and education for those who need it the most. Our site www.helplesotho.ca has lots of suggestions and examples. I hope your readers will join us. District 15 is a perfect example of a group of schools, teachers and children who have faithfully raised funds to educate their Basotho friends. The children of Lesotho want to go to school more than anything and general funds allow us to meet the needs as they arise – albeit food, clothing, books, schools fees or medical attention.

Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”  Considering the scope of the AIDS crisis in Africa, does that statement hold true?

John, I stake my education, career, beliefs and every hour of my days on the premise that building strength and leadership in one individual is the most sustainable thing possible. These are benefits no one can take away from you and which apply in all circumstances. All movements and all social change starts with one person. We must not get seduced by the pervasive cynicism as the appropriate response to the pain of the world. By believing in people, including ourselves and our capacity for good, we can indeed change the world! One child or grandmother at a time!

Who inspires you?

I am inspired daily by the determination and faith of the orphans and grandmothers of Lesotho. These are my heroes. The fact that they can keep going when their hearts are broken is incredible. The depth of their misery is beyond our understanding and yet they can smile, appreciate each small and good thing and put one foot ahead of the other is a testimony to the human spirit. We have a great deal to learn from them. I know the people of whom I speak and I love them dearly for their courage.

Thanks to all who left comments or sent emails about my first SuperPals profile on the incomparable Jennifer Corriero.  Her work with TakingITGlobal continues to amaze me, and her energy and passion for youth empowerment is an inspiration.  I encourage all readers to visit the TIG website, and for teachers and school leaders to participate in the many meaningful projects that are available there.

Up next, my extraordinary friend, Peg Herbert, the founder and executive director of Help Lesotho.  There are a few people in this world who have such a beautiful, caring spirit that one can almost touch the goodness around them.  One of these is Peg, whose Canadian NGO is literally saving lives in the tiny African kingdom of Lesotho.  I am so proud to share her story, as I know that you, too, will be touched by her kind heart, her persistant commitment and her ability to deliver help in one of the most impoverished countries on the globe, a nation racked by the AIDS crisis.

My profile on Peg Herbet will be posted in the days ahead!  For now, please enjoy this video that highlights Help Lesotho’s incredible presence in Africa and in the world.

Kgotso!

SuperPal 1: Jennifer Corriero

Co-Founder & Executive Director, TakingITGlobal

 

“This generation is in a position of both great vulnerability and great potential. Since movements of oppression as well as movements of liberation have been fuelled by the energy and dynamism of youth, it is critical to channel that energy positively.”

The first time I encountered the incomparable Jennifer Corriero, I was attending  Microsoft’s 2010 Asia-Pacific Innovative Teachers Conference in Singapore.  I was immediately taken by her energy, enthusiasm and commitment to engaging a new generation of young people in meaningful dialogue around leadership for a better world.  A few months later, she was a keynote presenter at the iEARN International conference in Toronto, where she was also the lead organizer of this organization’s important youth summit.  I was immediately struck by her powerful character, and I knew that I was encountering a woman who is, quite simply, making the world a better place.

Her Twitter name is Jenergy, and it’s no wonder.  Since 1999, when TakingITGlobal (TIG) was an idea shared with Michael Furdyk (the young entrepreneur she would later marry), Jennifer has become a star on the international youth leadership circuit.  TIG, a respected Canadian NGO whose vision is “Youth everywhere actively engaged and connected in shaping a more inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world,” has attracted close to a quarter million young members from over 260 countries, all inspired by the call to meaningful connections through emerging technologies, while they work together to address some of our most pressing global problems.  Jennifer is a tireless visionary, as comfortable with international leaders as she is with groups of high school students, and her advice and wisdom are widely sought at important summits and conferences.

“We need to unlock the potential of the new generation” she says, and her active participation in youth leadership initiatives backs up her beliefs.  “My message for principals and teachers is one about the need to design schools as a place for learning through discovery, dialogue and community, where technology is integrated across subject areas and where the classroom includes students from all over the world.”

Herewith, an interview with my  inaugural SuperPal, Jennifer Corriero.

What inspired you to devote your professional life to your work with young people?

I have committed the past 10 years to developing programs that promote youth leadership through the power of technology, because young people are influential, they are active, they have access to unprecedented information and resources via the internet, and they are the future of our society. My motivation derives from my own experience as a teenager where I learned so much about my own voice and potential to contribute to the world through volunteerism and participation in social action projects and advisory groups.

How can teachers make a difference?

We need to unlock the potential of the Net-Generation (N-Geners). Our current and future generations of students are growing up in a digital age where school is a place that is at risk of becoming irrelevant.

One of the other greatest challenges is ensuring that resources reach young people in all parts of the globe, not just in the big cities. We need to push ourselves to design and create inclusive, participatory mechanisms that can reach those who are most vulnerable and isolated. This can be achieved through creating inviting and interactive spaces both online and in-person where youth can co-create learning experiences and new discoveries to improve communities.

An effective online global classroom brings together students from diverse geographic, cultural and economic backgrounds to share information, resources and experiences, preparing them to become effective, compassionate leaders in adulthood. The global classroom represents the future of learning – and the future is now!

What factors have propelled TIG to achieve such broad and enthusiastic success with the new generation of leaders?

N-Geners view their community in a global context, and are ready to engage with peers around the world as never before. Through social networks like Facebook and MySpace, young people are moving beyond the “posse” or “clique” model, which focuses on conformity, rules, and exclusion, into a “social network” model, which is flexible, porous, and inclusive. TakingITGlobal is based on this social network model as it allows youth to socialize and interact with their peers, but for the purpose of social good. We are often referred to as the “social network for social good,” because we provide youth from around the world with real opportunities to engage in decision-making, analysis, and creating change in their communities.

Success can also be attributed to our multilingual team as they are constantly striving to make TIG more inclusive by increasing the number of languages that TIG is available in. Currently we are at 12 languages and will be adding Bengali and Swahili soon! Over time we have learned that out greatest success is the dynamism and commitment to the team we attract, volunteers, interns, staff, advisors and board members.

What are you most proud of in your work?

I’m really proud of my efforts to ensure that children and youth are an integral part of designing, shaping and creating a more sustainable future. I recently led an initiative called the Youth Task Force with the World Economic Forum, which gathered responses from over 3000 youth aged 8-25 on these questions:

  • What if you could redesign the world?
  • What would it look like, act like?
  • How would it work?
  • What would you focus on and what are your solutions and suggestions on how best to go about fixing the problems?

I then had the amazing opportunity to present the responses to world leaders in Davos. The next step is for world leaders and senior decision makers in corporations who are focused on shaping initiatives to redesign the world, to make the commitment to include youth as part of the design and solution implementation process. One of our advisors at TIG (Don Tapscott), put it well when he said, “Youth have powerful new tools for inquiry, analysis, self-expression, influence and play … They are shrinking the planet in ways their parents could never imagine.”

How do you stay optimistic about the future, when we are constantly reminded of the negative forces impacting our world?

I remain optimistic by focusing on the power we have to create positive change. This generation is in a position of both great vulnerability and great potential. Since movements of oppression as well as movements of liberation have been fuelled by the energy and dynamism of youth, it is critical to channel that energy positively. Youth are often known for having a sense of idealism and hope – I have witnessed first hand how youth can channel their hopes and ideas into creating positive change, often through the use technology. Through this I am able to remain very positive and optimistic about our future.

Who inspires you today?

Young leaders inspire me each and every day. The United Nations Population Fund has revealed that over 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 25. This upcoming generation represents a portion of the world’s population that has the power to transform the world in new ways! I am inspired by the work I have already seen them doing, and am excited to see what comes next!

Natasha Sahijwala is an example of an inspiring young leader. She is a recent Sprout alumni and Pearson Fellowship participant who developed a project called the Green Machine. Her project aims to inspire students pursuing engineering/vocational courses in Mumbai to use their skills and knowledge to create innovative utility products that can provide a low-cost replacement for an everyday activity/inefficient product. Natasha’s project will increase awareness among all stakeholders about environmental sustainability while revolutionizing small-scale manufacturing in Mumbai.

What are your goals for TIG?

At TakingITGlobal our task is twofold: to comprehensively improve the access of youth to critical tools of social change, and to nurture the idealism and hope of youth, empowering them through meaningful learning opportunities to leverage the tools at their disposal for social good. In both cases, information and communications technologies present the potential to fill gaps in formal education systems and civil society, and connect youth with the knowledge, skills and networks they need to create change in their own lives and communities. Our goal is to continue offering these opportunities in the most effective way possible!



http://www.tigweb.org

Welcome To SuperPals!

John McLaughlin

Hello world, and welcome to SuperPals! I am the Superintendent of School District 15 in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, Canada, and the purpose of this project is to introduce you to some of the very fine people I’ve met over the years who are making a real difference in shaping Education for the new millennium.  These people, who come from all corners of the world, work tirelessly to inspire our children and youth to be effective leaders in this 21st Century.  Our paths have crossed at conferences and workshops, through collaborative projects, in courses I’ve taken, and even just by happy happenstance!  In any case, I am proud to share their profiles with you, and to tell you — from my perspective — why they are truly among the most important educational leaders at work today.

But before that, here’s a little about me, and why I feel it is important to write this blog.  I’ve been superintendent of our school district since 2003, and in that time I’ve come to appreciate the tremendous responsibility we have to educate our students for a world that is facing so many significant challenges.  Our graduates must be problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators and strong global citizens, and we have an obligation to nurture those talents and traits while they are in our system.  Here are a few of my own professional interests:

  • New Millennium Learning
  • Information Technology in Education
  • Global Citizenship
  • International Collaborative Projects
  • Inquiry Learning
  • Curriculum & Evaluation

On a personal level, my wife, Cathy, and I have been married for 27  years, and we have four beautiful daughters, Courtney, Meaghan, Mauryah and Kathleen.  We live in Bathurst, on the pictueresque northeast coast of New Brunswick, Canada, where life is pretty sweet!

My first SuperPal will be Jennifer Corriero, co-founder and executive director of Taking IT Global. I’ve met Jen a few times, and I am always impressed by her energy and her commitment to “inspire, inform, involve!”

I’ll be posting this first profile in the next few weeks.  Till then, have a great school year, everybody!

Cheers, folks!

John

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