Educational Institutions: Preparing Young People to serve Humanity

by: Stefanos Gialamas, Ph.D., President, ACS Athens

Published in: International Herald Tribune, Sunday, March 18, 2012

Introduction:

Societal changes, due to the complexity of its functioning and globalization, in many diverse and multiple dimensions demand a different type of citizens. These people need to live, work, develop and seek happiness locally under a global influence. Many of the previously well established principles and values are at least questioned, examined and many times challenged; The development and nurturing of the new local or global individual who must acquire different competences, master new skills, operate with a more complex set of rules, feel the pressure to protect the environment and be compassionate about a fellow citizen who might reside on a different continent. How do we prepare young people for such a demanding life, what kind of an educational experience should they receive and what are the appropriate universal principles and values guiding their actions personally and professionally?

The questions are accumulated experientially to include: what curriculum, what learning objectives, what characteristics faculty must have, who defines these principles and values, how we assess learning, what the desirable qualities of educated people are and many others.

In 2009, Ms. Pelonis and Dr. Gialamas defined educational experience as “the complete learning experience obtained from students’ academic, physical, spiritual and civic responsibilities.” Definitely, to answer all or some or many of these questions we need to engage the minds of students, staff, faculty, administration, parents and all friends of an academic institution with the underline commitment to serve the family, the community, the nation and the world.

Innovation and authentic leadership approach are the enabling objectives to provide students with a unique, meaningful, high quality, holistic education experience. Those students will then exercise wisdom to decision making as they become the keepers of the future of the planet.

The educational institutions of the future have the following pillars:

  1. Innovative Leadership
  2. Meaningful Curriculum and Delivery Modalities
  3. Faculty as Leaders
  4. Ethos
  • Innovative Leadership is the continuous act of effectively engaging all members of the institution, as well as utilizing their differences, their authentic energies, creative ideas and diverse qualities primary for the benefit of the students and also for every other constituency of the institution.

This type of leadership has three dimensions:

  1. Interpersonal: Inspiring all members of the institution (constituencies) to strive for excellence and reaching for their maximum potentials, guiding and motivating exceptional performance, being the example of inspiration and instilling confidence in advance for success.
  2. Setting Standards: Establishing the standards to good conduct, serving as a model for meeting these standards, being laureates for the truth and the beautiful and modeling integrity and ethos (as defined by the ancient Greeks). Ethos, in Greek, means “character” – the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community. Another definition of ethos is the disposition, the character or the fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, to the people, to a culture or a movement or the character or disposition of a community, a group, a person, etc. According to Aristotle, the chief components of a compelling ethos are: good will, practical wisdom and virtue. Virtue is moral excellence, righteousness and goodness.
  3. Serving Humanity: Including the entire spectrum from social awareness, interest, engagement and commitment.

The author defines social commitment to a cause, a human condition. The betterment of a situation or the improvement of a person’s life becomes a way of life for students as they develop a positive mind set toward improving any aspect of society.

 

Innovative leadership implies a willingness to accept and live with a certain amount of rise because it involves taking risks with new ideas that have not been tried and could fail. Similarly, it means a willingness to work with half developed ideas most of the time and being flexible and resilient adjusting rules and parameters as ideas develop.

 

  • Meaningful curriculum and delivery modalities: The curriculum must be directly related to what makes it relevant, exciting, current and congruent with the needs of the global community. Such a curriculum is comprised of four inseparable and integrated components:

 

SKILLS: acquiring new skills and mastering existing skills;

CRITICAL THINKING: developing decision making competencies for problem solving;

RELEVANCE: relating competencies on learner’s environment;

INSPIRATION: expressing the understanding of complex concepts in a unique and refreshing way.

 

In addition, the curriculum must not reflect any local cultural bias and must be reviewed often.

 

Today with all available teaching and learning tools, delivery options are endless. It is a heaven for any faculty that is really committed in providing the best educational experience to the students. The “face to face” teaching and learning can be enhanced with online opportunities (simulations, virtual environments, videos, etc).

Moreover, one can teach complex topics without being in the most expensive environment. For example, one can teach DNA replications, analysis and effects from inserting certain enzymes without being in an expensive laboratory but having access to virtual labs and simulation tools.

 

Student assessment must be congruent with the curriculum and the learning objectives.

  • Faculty as Leaders: The type of faculty who promotes and fosters innovation is faculty that is not afraid to think of new ideas and try different teaching methods. There are individuals with a high degree of social interest and the courage to develop new ideas. This faculty is:

I:       Inspired to develop new ideas of teaching and learning;
C:    Committed to determine why and how these ideas will benefit student learning;
F:     Focused to identify needed it resources for implementing these idea;
D:   Determined to establish authentic and diverse tools assessing student learning.

  • Ethos: it is the distinct responsibility of all academic institutions to immerse their students, faculty, staff, and administration into a community of learners with appropriate behavior within and outside of the institution facilities. In other words, to establish, embrace and foster a holistic approach on ethics with clearly defined standards and a mechanism of implementing these standards. This way, there is a balance between the right of an individual community member and the right of the community as a whole. As a result, students in particular will be developing their personalities in a conducive to academic success, personal growth and developing environment.

Therefore, a student “Honor Code” becomes a way of life. It is a creation of students for students, governed by students and is for all students to respect and abide by.

The “Honor Code” is based on the simple idea that, when given the chance, people will do the right thing. Traditionally, the “Honor Code” is implemented in many universities across the US and the author strongly believes that it is time to be implemented at a JK-12 environment. For example, the American Community Schools of Athens (ACS Athens) uses this process (a student-driven process) to establish and implement a student “Honor Code”.

One might ask why students should spearhead such an initiative. Students must be able to internalize that the educational institution is a microcosmic model of ethical behavior. They should influence each other to do the right thing and ultimately to influence others in the local community towards the same direction. This implies that each person takes responsibility for their behavior and acts according to an internal value system rather than an external reward/punishment system.

In simple terms, the “Honor Code” is a code of conduct fostering ethics and maturity in the classroom and on campus including high standards for classroom and campus conduct. In particular, it promotes and ensures maturity outside and inside classroom.

In classroom, it establishes and maintains clear academic standards for students and for classroom conduct and etiquette; it models high standards in teaching and learning and interaction between teachers and students.

Outside classroom, it establishes and maintains clear standards for campus or other official sponsored events outside campus; it conducts and respects fellow students, faculty, staff, the environment and the property.

The student body that implements and guards the “Honor Code” is the Judicial Review Board which is entirely comprised of students along with faculty advisors.

 

 

Conclusion:

The great institutions of the future will not be more of the same as defined today. They will be the ones that will be effective in the mist of all drastic changes in society and the need for new type of knowledge and most important wisdom.

 

At the end, an education institution exists for only one purpose: to provide its students with the best educational experience possible. To do that, it must maintain a balance between the right of an individual community member and the right of the community as a whole.

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