Sailing towards student agency on the seas of social change!

The revolution will not be televised, it will be in your classrooms. That is where it will happen. 100%. – Brene Brown, “Daring Classrooms“.

I really love this quote from Brene Brown’s talk during SXSW Edu 2017.  She was referring to the fact that the shift toward anti-bias/anti-racist practices in organizations will occur first in schools.  And that our students will lead the way in terms of creating a more just, humane, inclusive, and equitable society.

Gil Scott-Heron got it right too when he sang, “The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat. The revolution will be no re-run, brothers. The revolution will be live.” Yep. Actually, my first thought for the title of this post was something about putting students in the driver’s seat and getting them to take the wheel and control their learning. More on blog titles later.

Here’s the whole song since it’s awesome.

A few musings on blogging, creativity, and digital tools: I have spent an inordinate amount of time these past few weeks thinking of catchy and related titles for my COETAIL Course 4 posts. They all include verbs related to motion (diving, paving, sailing) and some sort of metaphor that gets at the fact that education is undergoing a huge transformation right now. Things are changing, moving forward, and shifting in seismic ways. This is why I’ve been drawn to symbols related to journeys and explorations.

On a side note, I’m also into alliteration and wordplay. My EAL students are working on a unit of study called “Craft Like a Poet”. Trying to think up titles that sound good out loud has been a bit of an obsession of mine, especially since we’ve been focusing so much on craft moves in class.

It’s fun to be creative and think about how to express ideas succinctly and clearly using headlines. See the “Headlines” thinking routine from Harvard’s Project Zero for more on that. Finding featured images to go with the titles has been really fun too, an exercise in locating the right image to support the text.

All this blogging, writing, and revising has got me thinking about creativity and how important it is for the brain. When we stop being creative, our minds atrophy. I asked in my blog post a few weeks ago which of the 4Cs of 21st-century learning (creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, or communication) did the reader think was the most important. For me, it’s always been creativity. Without creativity, we wouldn’t have music, art, literature, modernist cuisine, technological advancements, or anything else that makes us human.

This kid knows that experimentation is the key to creativity. Photo by Kevin Jarrett on Unsplash.

What’s most exciting right now are the ways in which digital tools and resources are supporting creative thinking and creative endeavors in the classroom. It’s not just the maker spaces that are hotbeds of innovation in schools, it’s all over.

See the table below for a diagram showing the interplay between digital tools and resources, deep learning, and learning partnerships. When all three of these components are aligned, students can really get creative and take their learning in new directions.

Supporting deep learning with digital tools. Source:

An example of student creativity and deep learning in action: I mentioned earlier that the revolution in teaching and learning is rooted in the principles of social justice. Students today are much more aware of inequalities in the world than they were in my day (30 or so years ago, ACK!). With social media and the advent of cell phone cameras, there is much less room to be ignorant than there was before.

Literally just this week I was blown away by a student-led example of deep learning,  creativity in action, and a commitment to social justice.

The Free Shankar the Elephant Campaign:

Students in the Youth for Animals (YFA) Club at my school have started a campaign to free Shankar the Elephant from the Delhi zoo. The club is student-run and the work that has been done has been almost entirely spearheaded by the students, two of which I have had the privilege of teaching over the past few years.

According to information on the Youth for Animals website that the students created,  “In 1998, a 26 month-old male African elephant was presented as a diplomatic gift by Zimbabwe to India. He was named ‘Shankar’ after India’s 9th President Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma. Shankar, now over 24 years old, has lived his entire life in the Delhi zoo (National Zoological Park, NZP). Since 2005 when his sole companion Bombai passed away, Shankar has lived in solitary confinement.” (Source).

After seeing the horrible conditions that Shankar has lived in at the zoo for the past seventeen years, the students were compelled to take up his plight as their cause.

They have taken the following steps to draw attention to Shankar’s case (and this is not an exhaustive list):

  1. Conducted video interviews with animal rights experts and posted them online.
  2. Sent a letter to the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Modi, (and other key decision-makers with regards to this issue).
  3. Circulated a petition on that has received almost 50,000 signatures as of today.
  4. Created an active Twitter feed (that currently has 3000+ followers) to post updates with the hashtag #freeshankardelhizoo.
  5. Started a newsletter to provide the community with updates on Shankar.
  6. Collaborated with students in Israel, England, and around India to raise awareness and,
  7. Commissioned pieces of activist art to foster empathy for Shankar.

None of this would have been possible without the use of digital tools, collaboration apps, and social media sites.

Art in support of Shankar the Elephant created by Meera Jakhar. Source.

The students remind me of Greta Thunberg, except that their activism is centered around fighting against animal cruelty instead of the negative effects of climate change.

Look at this video that the YFA group created to explain why they love animals.

By now you are probably thinking, like I was when I found out about this last week, “Holy moly, these students are amazing.” And you are right. I know because I taught a few of them and they were exceptional. But they were also just regular students that you often see sitting quietly in classrooms. In fact, one of them is sitting in the English Language Arts class that I co-teach right now.

This leaves me with the following questions:

  1. What is it that propelled these students into action?
  2. When was the turning point that moved them from just talking and writing about an issue to contacting the Prime Minister of India?
  3. How can I bring this sort of empassioned deep learning, creativity, and focus into my classroom?

Student-led learning doesn’t have to be limited to the work that students do in an after-school club. Way back in Course 1, we read an article called “Living with New Media” that talked about how students often mess around with New Media and tinker with new technologies on their own. But deep and engaged learning can also occur in the classroom. When it does, that’s when the game changes.

Writing is thinking. And all of this writing has me thinking about how I can bring more “signature learning experiences” into my classroom and get my students thinking more creatively and critically.

I have some good ideas percolating in my brain for my course 5 final project. I’ll let you know more about that next week. In the meantime, sign this petition and help free Shankar!

“A drawing by Aaradhya Sunder, age 8 from The German School, New Delhi. We hope Shankar sees the happy times depicted here”. Source.

4 thoughts on “Sailing towards student agency on the seas of social change!

  1. Megan I loved this post and your amazement at the The Free Shankar the Elephant Campaign is shared by me. The different steps the students have taken show the ability students have if we allow them the power to do so. I am wrapping up a unit on Mangroves and their importance. I found myself being a bit disillusioned with the unit as we went through it as we talked about the threats and benefits of mangrove forests, their role in the ecosystem, but beyond that did not connect it much to outside events. If I run the same unit next year, I will be bookmarking this post to help inspire me at the time with the different activities the students could do to look at protecting a mangrove forest.

    In the more immediate future, I mentioned in my blog for this week that I will be running a unit on the Right to Be Loud and this has helped shift my thinking to include as part of the unit that the students get vocal and put their voices/ideas out there for others to hear. This will be a great way to share what is possible

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Megan,

    Thank you for the wonderful post. I am so sad to hear about Shankar! I have added my name to your students’ petition. His story is very similar to Mali, a poor elephant to have lived all alone in a concrete enclosure in the Manila Zoo. Elephants are such social creatures, it absolutely breaks my heart to hear of them being kept alone. There is a campaign to try and help Mali as well.

    I think when we read stories about students who are trying to make a difference in the world we feel that they are unique and or especially talented, when in fact given the opportunity most students can and want to strive to make a positive impact in the world. We as educators just need to give them the space and opportunity to do so.

    When I was reading the part of your post about the importance of creativity, it hit me again how wonderful technology is for helping children and adults find new creative outlets. When I was a child, most of what we thought of as ‘creative’ involved arts and physical materials. Today we have so many more options and mediums for kids to flex their creative muscles. Sure some students still prefer to be creative with their hands; painting, sculpting, or building, but others are just as creative with building virtual worlds, making videos to share online, or advocating for change through social media.

    Your post has been very inspiring and has given me a lot to think about. Thank you!

  3. Hello Megan,

    Your post inspires. Since living in South Africa and having visited open parks where animals roam freely, every time I see the word ZOO, I feel sick with pain in my heart and stomach. If it’s ok with you, I would love to share your post with my advisory students since they have a great sense of justice and want to make a difference in the world but are unsure where to get started. Of course, we will all sign the petition.

    I agree with Coleton that our students need opportunities in order to think of a problem, come together and take action. Our students are so lucky to use technology and apply their creative side to problem-solve. There is so much that can be accomplished and done since they are wired to be connected online all day long.

    Thanks for the post!

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