August 15-19, 2011 was a transformative week for me as an educator as I had the honour of attending Facing History ‘s “Holocaust and Human Behaviour” Seminar in Toronto.
I admit to being that cliché in the profession known as a “life long learner”. For me to be a better educator, I constantly seek opportunities that will not only expand my repertoire of teaching strategies, but will also enable me-- and in turn-- my students to be catalysts of change. I wasn’t quite sure what this professional development entailed, but my mind and my heart were open to learning. And in that week in August, my eyes were opened in a way that bettered me as an educator, but more importantly as a person.
My practice is one in which Equity, Social Justice and Human Rights are strongly embedded, and I felt that I came to the seminar having some knowledge of genocide and the Holocaust. As an elementary school teacher, I expose my class to world issues that incorporated these horrifying subjects. Can I say that I taught them justly remains up in the air, as I regularly felt before taking the seminar, that I was doing one-off lessons, and not diving into the bigger issues.
The Holocaust and Human Behaviour Seminar gave me the knowledge that I needed to not only teach about histories, but also about context, historical significance, and looking at the bigger picture. Now, though I don’t use every single thing that I learned about during the seminar, I link many of the themes that we explored to what I am currently teaching including the themes of isolation, discrimination, by-standing & upstanding, power and the abuse of it.
The discussions were not easy! The discussions were emotional, and I quite often left each day of the seminar with a heavy heart, and a feeling of despair. But what motivated me to continue was learning about those who didn’t stand by idly; those who fought against the powers that destroyed, manipulated, murdered and pillaged cultures. The takeaway that I got from the seminar was that I can be that change in the world, and through my teaching, my students will not just be receptive learners but global citizens who see, who think and most importantly, who act. I’m hoping to use this blog as a means to share with colleagues useful teaching strategies, and to explore practical ways to explore how Facing History themes can be embedded into practice.