“Significant” K-12 Educational Institutions: Engaging Learners in Serving Humanity

MAR-APR 2017|BY STEFANOS GIALAMAS, PH.D., PRESIDENT, AMERICAN COMMUNITY SCHOOLS OF ATHENS
Today, more than ever, significant K-12 academic institutions play a leading role in preparing young people to cope with and be productive members of an increasingly complex global society.

The opportunities and the learning outcomes for students attending schools are directly related to the educational experience they receive (Gialamas S. & Pelonis P. 2008). So what should education address today that is different from the past?

Education should be about molding human character. On one hand, a person should be capable of responding to the fast and multiple changes in today’s society and, on the other hand, developing a commitment to serve humanity. Such an education, which is based on the ancient Greek model, is defined by the author as “Morfosis” (Μόρφωση), which is holistic, meaningful, and harmonious, guided by ethos.

  • Holistic means understanding and successfully combining the academic, emotional, physical, intellectual and ethical components to ensure a healthy, balanced individual.
  • Meaningful refers to being in line with one’s principles and values and with one’s personal and professional goals.
  • Harmonious refers to the idea that all human dimensions must be in harmony. In other words, emotions, intelligence, and intellect must be integrated in harmony.
  • Ethos refers to the essence and the focus of integrity. It is about following your conscience and doing what you know is right. Originally C.S. Lewis wrote “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”

“Significant” Educational Institutions must fulfill two conditions:

  1. Sustain excellence in the process of fulfilling their mission, vision, commitments and goals
  2. Continuous commitment to serving humanity by engaging all constituencies in transforming the community for the benefit of all people, especially for the less fortunate or privileged.

A significant educational institution inspires and requires from all constituencies to commit to serving humanity by developing social interest, promoting social engagement and expecting social commitment. This is defined as follows:

  • Social Interest: According to Adler (Crandall, 1980), social interest is an aptitude, which deems one responsive to social situations. Social interest may include interest beyond people, (animals, environment, the entire universe). Social interest is an extension of one’s self into the community.
  • Social Engagement: The ability to put interest into practice. Becoming aware of a social condition is the first step; developing an interest towards improving the social condition is the second; finding ways to engage in bettering the condition is a step further towards taking responsibility for part of the solution.
  • Social Commitment: The betterment of a situation or the improvement of a person’s life becomes a way of life for students as they develop a positive mindset towards improving as many aspects of society as possible.

An example of such commitment can be seen in the ACS Athens student-led program “Youth to Youth.” This program educates all students on the migrant crisis and expands to community involvement in an initiative which prepares unaccompanied refugee children to be reintegrated in the educational environment and to society in general. The “Y2Y” program began in the spring of 2016 with 15 unaccompanied refugee children who were welcomed into the ACS Athens community in a special immersion program. Today, four of these children are totally integrated in the ACS Athens community. The immersion program continues this academic year with a new group of unaccompanied refugee children.

Significant educational institutions in the future should build their culture based on the following pillars:

  • Meaningful Curriculum and Delivery Modalities
  • Educators and Students as Leaders with Ethos

The curriculum must be directly related to what makes it relevant, exciting, current, and consistent. Such a curriculum is comprised of four inseparable and integrated components (Gialamas et al., 2000):

  • Skills: acquiring new skills and mastering existing skills that are relevant to the needs of a very demanding global society in the 21st century
  • Critical Thinking: developing decision-
    making competencies for solving problems and addressing challenges
  • Relevance: relating competencies to the learner’s environment
  • Innovation: expressing the understanding of complex concepts in a unique and refreshing way

In addition, the curriculum must not reflect any local cultural bias and must be reviewed often to ensure academic quality, clarity, effectiveness, and intercultural perspectives and sensitivities.

Therefore, a new type of educator is necessary to support a culture fostering a democratic educational model which encourages and empowers students to assume leadership roles. These educators must be I.D.E.A.L.:

  • I: Inspired to develop new ideas of teaching and learning
  • D: Determined to establish authentic and diverse tools assessing student learning
  • E: Entrusted to develop leadership with ethos in students
  • A: Adhered to the commitment of determining why and how these ideas will benefit students
  • L: Leading the search of identifying appropriate resources for implementing these ideas.

A commitment toward developing leaders with ethos is the distinct responsibility of all significant academic institutions. Therefore, they must establish, embrace and foster a holistic approach on ethics with clearly defined standards and a mechanism of implementing these standards. This way, there is balance between the entitlement of an individual community member and the entitlement of the community as a whole.

Finally, the Institutional Leader must be committed to distributing authority and accountability but also to empowering individual members of the institution. He must be committed to providing employment security, operational freedom, and eliminating the apprehension members of the institution have of taking risks in decision-making and in undertaking innovative approaches while addressing new challenges. Celebrating success with all members of the institution is vital to the spirit of the organization. When a decision on a major issue invites the contribution of several vertical and horizontal leaders, it has the highest probability of being the correct one for the institution, but also of being meaningful, innovative and owned by all members of the institution. It’s the only way for significant educational institutions to be catalysts of transforming the educational experience of their learners and engaging them in serving humanity.

References

  • Avgerinou, M and Gialamas, S (2016) Revolutionizing k12 Blended learning through the i²Flex Classroom model, IGI, Crandall, J. E. (1980).
  • Adler’s concept of social interest: Theory, measurement, and implications for adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(3), 481-495.
  • Gialamas S. (2015, Winter). From success to significance. Ethos 10(1), 6-12.
  • Gialamas, S., Cherif, A., Keller, S., & Hansen, A. (2000). Using guided inquiry to teach mathematical concepts. The Illinois Teacher Journal, 51(l), 30-40.
  • Gialamas, S., & Pelonis, P. (2008, September). Building bridges across the spectrum of K-12 through colleges education: A holistic, meaningful and harmonious approach. In Kathimerini (English ed.), pp. 13-14.
  • Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
  • Lewis, C.S. (n.d.). Quotes. Available at http://www.qotd.org/search/single.html?qid=47646

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