Learning from the students

Note: this is a cross-post from my school blog, intended for parents & students.

JpegWhen you attend an educational conference, you expect to learn new things from your colleagues. They give talks, they present workshops, you network with them. They tell you about projects they’re working on, they show you tools that they use, they share information about their own schools.

What you usually do not expect is to learn from students. At the recent Learning 2.014 conference we just held on campus, however, we did!

At Learning 2.014, hundreds of teachers from around the world (Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia, America) came to ICS for a conference about learning and educating using modern methods and tools. (“Learning 2.0” means new ways of learning – version 2.0! This generally means with technology, but not necessarily.) Presenters included invited experts, ICS faculty, and conference participants. All of them are currently (or very recently) teaching in schools – generally international schools.

To help with logistics and provide extra tech support, we enlisted the help of a number of students in the Middle and High Schools. Keith Liebetreu and Ken Gunther were the main teachers in charge, and they set up some training sessions for both Tech Support and Student Ambassadors in advance of the conference. They showed the students how to help with wifi connectivity, projecting computer screens, etc. Ambassadors were told about protocols and how to help people. Some students were shown pictures of past conference and discussed ways to get interesting and appealing photographs.

“Special shout-out to all the student ambassadors, they were great!!”  – a conference participant

IMG_20140920_113355Throughout the conference, our Student Ambassadors, Photographers and Tech Support were enthusiastic and eager. They not only agreed to take on any jobs they were asked to do, they also offered to do additional jobs. At one point, I was working with another conference organizer (Nick, from Poland) on a task. Two Middle School girls, Faru and Jadesola, had finished with the jobs they had been given and asked us if they could do anything to help us. I thanked them, but said we were doing fine and didn’t need any help. The girls asked if we would like any coffee. Both Nick and I laughed and said yes, and the girls went and got us macchiatos!

It was delightful seeing students eager to help, eager to take on jobs. While students at ICS often show independence and initiative, it’s particularly impressive and rewarding when they do this with visitors on campus!

“Highlights: the ICS students were incredibly helpful, kind, patient, knowledgeable, friendly and welcoming” – a conference participant

More than just being helpful, often our students were actually able to teach us adults some things. Here are two experiences I had that made me think and learn from our students:


During the conference, several “unconference” sessions were held in which any participant could put forward a topic of interest to them and, if there were enough people who shared that interest, a place was set aside for discussion, sharing, planning. I proposed that we hold a show of solidarity with Neil Bantleman and Ferdi Tjiong, two teachers from Jakarta International School who have been falsely imprisoned without charge for more than two months in Indonesia. Many people agreed and as I was setting up the space for a group photo, two students came up and asked what it was all about. I started to tell them, and Kate said, “Oh, yes. Free Neil and Ferdi.” I was surprised she knew about them. Aysha then said, “Can we join in?”

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own circle that we forget about and ignore others outside of it. I was so focused on international school teachers that I didn’t even consider students. Kate and Aysha (and the many other students who joined us for the photograph) taught me that I should never assume that people outside my immediate circle are either unaware or unconcerned. (Thank you for the lesson, all of you!)


I met Bamlak and asked him how things were going. (You can see his reaction above!) He told me he was learning a lot from Jeff Utecht, one of our presenters (“Learning 2 Leaders”) from the US. Jeff later told me about his interaction with Bamlak during his session.

Jeff was teaching teachers about building their (and their schools’) PLN (Professional Learning Network) through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. By building connections, we expand our knowledge and the sources of our knowledge – we also expand our ability to gather information, answer our questions and solve our problems. During part of the session, Bamlak asked Jeff if he would give him (Bamlak) a shout-out to Jeff’s over 17,000 followers on Twitter. Jeff, being kind to this young student, agreed to do so. Bamlak then offered to give Jeff a shout-out on Instagram. Jeff figured this was nice but wasn’t terribly impressed by the offer …until Bamlak showed him that he had over 26,000 followers on Instagram! (Jeff doesn’t have quite that many.)

It’s worth considering that everyone around us has strengths and excels in various ways. We may not think so, but each person we meet has areas in which they can surpass our own achievements …no matter how young (or old!).

(Thanks, Bamlak, for following me on Instagram!)


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