Am I Really a Democratic Educator?
Do you like to play cards?
Have you ever played with Cards for Democracy?
Can you imagine meeting parents and colleagues to play cards and talk about education?
I was asked by Patrice Weisheimer to moderate the first Brunch de l’Éducation at the end of November 2017 organised by the school Grandir Vert Demain that opened its doors in autumn 2017 in Strasbourg. I found the idea to meet around an educational topic, to explore and to discuss important issues very attractive and accepted the invitation.
The meeting took place ion the premises of l’Ère Végane, a vegan shop that also offers its space for meetings of all kinds. Spending a morning with a mixed audience of teachers and parents was an interesting prospect and it turned out to be so. I can only recommend it to people in Strasbourg. There will be regular monthly meetings on important aspects of education. I also invite others elsewhere to follow up on the idea and set up their own education brunch meetings.
Part of my plan to set off the discussions and exchanges was to use the Cards for Democracy developed by Learn to change – Change to learn, drawing on the work done within the Council of Europe Pestalozzi Programme. These are cards describing what democratic teachers do and are an excellent prompt to get people to express their ideas and explore the implications of teacher choices.
Cards for Democracy
Cards for Democracy are meant for teachers to reflect on, examine and improve their attitudes, skills and knowledge to better support democratic processes and improve their own practices and behaviours. The cards identify and describe key actions that people who are facilitating learning can develop to better act in a society in which democracy is a true process that is inclusive of all human beings.
Get your copy of the Cards for Democracy and read on…
One of the ways in which the cards can be used is a form of speed-dating, giving people the opportunity to discuss the content of the card they pick and explore the reasons for doing what the card prompts – or for not doing it – in one’s professional practice. You would normally give people 3 minutes to discuss the issue on a card before they move on to the next “partner” and continue discussing and exploring repeating the whole process three or four times. I recently did that together with a colleague in Crete with 130 teachers who spent the day together in a series of professional development workshops (Pestalozzi Programme National Dissemination and Training event, October 2017, Crete). We had to use the school yard – and the loudspeaker system of the school for the instructions – and teachers enjoyed the activity and the discussions. As one of the learning outcomes we realised that the fact of repeating the action three to four times led to a much deeper understanding and to a better presentation of the content of the card.
At the Brunch de l’Education I wanted to go a step further and see whether the speed-dating with the Cards for Democracy can serve as an introduction to a different learning-by-doing activity. So after three rounds of discussing the selected cards, the participants (organised in an inner and an outer circle) were asked to create themselves new cards themselves but this time for learners/students and for parents. The fact of having worked with the cards for teachers beforehand helped with the subsequent task. The discussions were animated and the result very interesting despite the fact that this activity happened after the break and people were getting tired already. I feel it is important that the Cards for Democracy for teachers are complemented by cards for learners and for parents and one could imagine going even further and produce cards for other target groups. And I can imagine a process of co-creation, piloting and testing of such cards in all types of meetings from brunches to workshops.
There are two lessons I learnt for future activities of this kind: one is that 45 minutes for the creation part is perhaps not enough because it does not allow for the necessary and in-depth presentation and discussion of the developed proposals and for a good debriefing. The second thing I learnt is that although the statements on the cards for teachers are formulated as observable behaviour, of actions that democratic teachers are likely to engage in, this needs to be pointed out more clearly before people start working on cards for learners or parents. If not, there is the risk that people will not focus on actions in their proposals but rather on descriptions of character, descriptions of conditions and wishful thinking. For example, something like “A democratic pupil has the freedom to affirm him or herself”, or “A democratic parent is first of all a democratic citizen”, or “A democratic child is aware of its place in the group”. Although descriptions of this kind also have their interest and value, it is above all the behaviour and the actions of people which make the real difference.