Monday, March 19, 2012

The World Peace Game

Head’s column

Do you know John Hunter? John is a teacher, musician, filmmaker and game designer who has worked with gifted children in public schools since the 1970s. I had the privilege of meeting John Hunter and hearing him speak at the recent National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference in Seattle. He is the creator of “The World Peace Game,” a simulation he uses with his fourth grade gifted children that is the subject of the documentary film, World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements. He describes the game, as well as his philosophy of teaching and learning in a TED Talk that was voted the most influential TED Talk of 2011.  

It’s ok. You can stop reading here and take a look at the TED Talk. You will see why John’s presentation, which was an extended version of his TED Talk, turned my day upside down. AMAZING!

As can see, John’s story is one of courage, creativity, and humility. He is clearly a master teacher, a humanitarian, and a gentle, compassionate man who is making a difference in the lives of his students. As I reflected on John’s story, I couldn’t help but think of Seabury, and of how many of the qualities that make him a great teacher are qualities that are also at the core of Seabury’s faculty and program.

Relationships. John recognizes that the key to great teaching is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Learning involves taking risks, and when students know their teacher cares about them, supports them, trusts them and believes in them, they are much more likely to take on challenges with confidence. We experience that every day at Seabury. Our children develop close, trusting relationships not only with their own teachers, but with all of our staff. Our small classes and close community allow teachers and staff members to really know their students – their hobbies, their pets, their fears, the things that make them laugh. In this age of curriculum standards and data-driven decision making, we often get asked how we assess our students and make decisions about their programs. We recognize that formal assessments are essential tools for teachers. But we also know the value of knowing our children so well that we know when they are worried about a sick family member and need a little extra support, or what makes them laugh, or when they need a break, or when they can be pushed to go just a little farther. The relationships that our teachers build with our students give students the courage to take risks, to speak up, to trust themselves, and to know they are cared for and respected by adults in their lives - something that the SEARCH Institute has shown to be critical to the healthy social-emotional development of children. Put more simply, Seabury students are blessed with teachers that build trusting, caring relationship with them and because of those relationships, our students can soar both academically and social-emotionally.

Real Challenges / Real Experiences. The World Peace Game simulates world leaders working to solve real world problems like global warming, resource depletion, famine, war, water rights and more.  John’s students become immersed in the issues facing real world leaders and, because it is “real,” are completely engaged in their learning. At Seabury, tying learning to real experiences that our children care about is at the core of our program. As part of their study of World War II in preparation for their trip to France, our middle school students recently had the opportunity to interview residents of Franke Tobey Jones Retirement Community who were involved in the war, either in the field or on the home front. One of our students interviewed an army colonel who was part of the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. Just the other day as students were talking about the itinerary for the France trip, he asked one of his teachers whether there will be time during their day at Omaha Beach for him to go to the water’s edge and run up the beach to see what it might have been like for his new friend, the colonel. That is learning that goes much deeper than checking off a list of skills or meeting a particular standard. That kind of deep and meaningful learning is at the core of what happens in every single classroom at Seabury.

There are not many John Hunters in the world. I am blessed to have met this humble, gentle, compassionate, incredible man. He continues to inspire me and our whole staff who recently watched his TED Talk together. But it was heartwarming to see that at Seabury, our students have opportunities every day to experience the kind of passionate teachers and engaging learning experiences that John’s teachers gave to him and that he provides for his students every day.

Fourth-graders changing the world? I believe it - I work at Seabury!

- Sandi Wollum

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