Learning beyond the classroom


It starts with an observation.


When you walk to school, work, the gym, out for dinner, to the store, what do you see happening around you? Everyday as I commute to school, I see things that inspire, confuse, enlighten and upset me to my very core. So what? How do you get involved? Better yet, how do you get your students involved?


First, we must ask ourselves: what does it mean to be part of a community? How do you take part in a culturally different community that operates in a different language? You will be amazed at how insightful students are, when taught how to observe and question. We take walks in our community and we learn how to ask questions. We read the news about what is happening locally and start to make connections to our own experiences, beliefs and understandings.


Then comes building relationships. We must build meaningful and sustainable relationships with our neighbours, local organizations, companies and workers. In order to teach students how to identify and workshop present conditions, we must first provide opportunities for students to meet and work with local experts, community residents and local issues. When students have the chance to build meaningful relationships, it increases the intrinsic motivation and resilience to take on, deconstruct and solve authentic problems.


Educators must also live their passions for their students. Whenever possible I find opportunities that challenge my comfort levels and previous understandings. I find friends who can help translate and educate me about cultural norms and expectations. I look for themes and patterns in the issues that I encounter. I cannot alone tackle global poverty, but I can understand how poverty plays a role in my community and in my classroom and examine the contributing factors. I keep those lessons with me when I travel to developing countries, disaster zones, development projects and then back to my own community. Change and growth happens only when something is perceived to be an issue…an irregularity, a discomfort. We call the edge of our comfort zone the learning edge. It is about looking within and identifying where our attitudes and beliefs come from. So we must  teach our students to live on this edge. To make observations and not just accept situations as they are.


At The Harbour School, the Middle School students have been learning how to be dissatisfied with indifference. Keen observers now, my students regularly bring up issues they want to change or be involved in. We hosted a gala to raise awareness for animal rights, took lessons in Braille and Sign language to understand how to best solve the challenges of the visually and hearing impaired in Hong Kong and we’ve advocated for reform in refugee treatment in Hong Kong. This year Middle School took on the housing crisis in Hong Kong by first examining the global issue of poverty, and then exploring what forms it is present in our day to day life.

We must set expectations for our students to make observations, to participate in the communities that they live in. We need to instill confidence in our students and the message that their voice is loud and valued. We must challenge our own beliefs and biases and teach tolerance, understanding and inclusion not just within the safety of our school, but out in the world that they will one day lead.


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