Guest Blog by Sarah Forrester-Wilson “A new way of learning”
Sarah is a graduate of the Master in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) program, BTH-University, Karlskrona, Sweden.
Last summer I facilitated a workshop with a large group of seventeen-year-old students in a small town just outside of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Like a lot of teenagers of this age, this group were exploring large questions concerning their future. Many of them were undergoing highly stressful entrance exams in order to get a place at university, and a few had that half arrogant, half anxious demeanour of not knowing where their paths would take them next. In entering the class room, the group immediately took their seats, expecting a normal lecture style lesson, delivered to them by some outside ‘expert’. So when we asked them to push all of their seats to the sides of the room to make one large circle, they all looked at us as if we had told a bad joke. Once seated in their new positions, however, the transformation was incredible. The group were laughing, smiling and sat with an excited ‘child like’ anticipation for what was to come.
For the next forty-five minutes, we facilitated three simple questions: ‘What is one thing that you love?’, ‘What is one thing that you value’ and ‘If you could do one thing in your life, what would it be?’. Three simple questions, but with powerful results. The majority of the students shared their dreams of helping people, doing something that mattered, making a difference or protecting the environment. Many of them shared their love of nature, sports, traveling and languages. Many of them shared that they valued freedom, love, health and the outdoors. At the end of the workshop, we asked if they had any questions or feedback on the session. Two girls put their hands up and emotionally described their gratitude for a simple space to explore their dreams. One boy, exclaimed that he had been in a class for five years with his friend and never knew that they shared the same vision for the future.
So what was it that made this possible? Very little really. An alternative room layout, A few simple, but generative questions and a space to be heard. This workshop highlighted to me the importance of a different type of learning and my commitment to facilitating it. But what do I mean by a different type of learning? I mean one that respects the individual and the group, one that supports diversity and encourages leadership and an exploration of questions and topics that matter. I believe in a schooling that creates a sense of belonging, joy and community between students and staff. Where learning is a life long journey, not just isolated to certain demographics. I believe in an education that fosters a relationship between students and the natural environment and that invites meaningful conversations.
I write this from the privileged position of someone who has experienced this type of learning journey and who recognises the true value of doing things a little differently. Knowmads is an excellent example of an institution that is successfully embracing these differences and with rewarding results. The slogan of ‘Welcome Home’ reflects the community vision of the organisation and its global invitation, not to mention its commitment to creating a safe and alternative learning environment. When I first met Guus, I was so excited and relieved that there were other organisations out there with aims to create more holistic learning experiences for its students. Where trust and value building lie at the core of their syllabus. I was motivated by the method in which all Knowmads’ students co-design their learning journey. But mostly, I was inspired by the commitment that Knowmads has in supporting the development of future leaders and change makers. At this time, of environmental and societal unrest, it is this type of learning journey that I see, is of upmost importance. Not only for us as individuals, but for all of us as a resilient global community.