Rola Tibshirani teaches Grade 7 French Immersion at All Saints High School in Ottawa. She covers all subjects in her classroom, using an interdisciplinary approach that focuses on getting students to be more aware of their own agency in exploring the world. Tibshirani emphasizes the importance of teaching empathy alongside critical thinking and having students feel comfortable taking risks in their learning process.
On technology use in her classroom
Technology gives students choices about how to share their learning and connect online to experts and researchers, to really bring the classroom into the real world. We use technology to create, but we don’t let it consume our lives. How can you use technology like social media for a purpose that is helpful and spreads passion? We did a lot on social media and the federal election, looking at gender equality, climate change — everything that was on the news was part of our curriculum, part of geography. We looked at how Canada voiced its perspectives and how things changed across the country. We talked about how much of the negativity was influenced by trolls online and why they are trying to impact society in that way.
On asking the right questions
Students learn the language of research — they learn how to look things up. This is all based on the practise of teaching students how to self-manage; it’s about building a community that values thinking and learning together. All those thinking strategies are about questioning things. Right now, we’re starting at the beginning of the year by looking at what is fake news. How do you know it’s reliable? How do we identify biases? How do you research the sources? Where do you collect the data from? Whose perspective is it presented from?
I have to be empathetic about every individual student to see how they learn best. Similarly, they have to have empathy for each other and that is the process that takes a long time — to put their thinking errors and biases behind them. Learning is prototyping; it’s not just to be graded, it’s a process.
On viewing the world through a geographic lens
Geography is everywhere and it’s important for students to really see that conceptual interconnection between everything they learn. Learning shouldn’t be in isolation. Making students aware of geographic tools, such as mapping, researching, and data collection, that is the key to making students understand the interdisciplinary aspect of conceptual learning. There’s nothing that can’t be conceptually presented on a map. Maps tell stories. It’s a visual for learning and understanding how the world works. So many educators miss that point. How do you make decisions without collecting data? How can you make decisions without looking at all those perspectives?
On cultivating empathy and understanding
Why care about what you’re doing? Why care about the learning? How is that impacting or making a difference in your community? The one project that stuck in my mind was when we looked at what we could do for students with special needs. It started with one of my students, who shared with the class about her autistic brother, and we talked about the autistic students in our school. We decided to see what we could do for them, so we talked to the educational assistants and my students designed tools to guide their fellow students in their learning and everyday routines. That empathy becomes part of their everyday life and promotes positivity around the school. The students are not afraid to approach and care for others, and they become confident leaders. They’re comfortable taking risks and making mistakes. They are comfortable with trusting and valuing each other. Having my students interact that way, take agency, and build relationships creates a community of learners and risk-takers.