Things I Liked In February

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. I was overseas in most of January and February, so I’m a little behind. But here’s what I liked in February. What have you liked this month?

Let’s start with a dog pun. Capture.PNG(sorry).

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Guys I love history. So much. All of it. But Reformation history – Tudor England – you are speaking my language. I don’t read the Gospel Coalition much, but this article was interesting and engaging without stereotyping and repeating common historical inaccuracies about Jane Grey, the girl who was Queen for nine days.

Why You’ve Already Failed Your New Year’s Resolutions

I feel like I recommend something from Nina Kardia every month, but I can’t help it, her writing is just too good. Please read this blog, especially if you have ever been disappointed in your ability to meet your goals (so that means everyone should go read it). It contains this gem of advice in achieving, well, anything:

Think about where you’d like to be year from now.  (Hitting the gym for an hour a day.)  Then think about what you can realistically achieve this week.  (Walk around outside for 10 minutes before breakfast a couple of times.) Then do that.  Re-assess next week.  Repeat.

The Lady In The Tower (By Alison Weir)

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More history. I’m not even sorry. This book, by Alison Weir, is exactly the kind of history book I love best – a detailed analysis of primary sources and a dismantling of our preconceived ideas about events in history that have often moved from collective memory and fact to collective myth and storytelling. It focuses on the three months leading up to Anne Boleyn’s arrest, trial and execution – the first execution of a Queen of England ever.

(Even Eleanor of Aquitaine, who helped her sons stage a rebellion against their father and King, her husband Henry II, was only placed under house arrest. Isabella of France, who did commit adultery, disposed her husband, Edward the II and ruled England with her lover, Roger Mortimer in the name of her son, Edward the III, suffered the punishment of being committed to a nunnery after she and Mortimer were ousted from power).

Also, this book makes a number of logical points I haven’t seen clearly stated elsewhere – for example, Anne Boleyn couldn’t be both guilty of adultery AND never have been the King’s lawful wife. You can’t have it both ways Henry VIII!

Coffee Coffee Coffee Coffee Coffee

I missed my family, my friends, my pets and my church while I was away. I also desperately missed having access to a good flat white. I am so spoiled for choice, but seriously, Australia, I love you and your coffee.

Human Life Is Getting Better 

The world can suck. But it used to suck more. People, especially small babies, don’t die as often from things like a lack of access to food and medical care. There’s still work to do. But there’s hope. Watch this video. It contains this great quote:

“And I really believe that as a species, our success is best judged not by how the richest or the best connected amongst us live, but how the poor and the oppressed and the vulnerable live.”

 

Hedger Humour

This instagram account posts the delightfully hilarious comics of Adrienne Hedger. Check it out. This is probably my favourite of her (recent) comics (definitely not because I do this all the time):

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The West Wing Reunion: Walk and Talk

I just like it when people from the West Wing do basically anything. I can’t help it.

My Trip To Austria Taught Me…

I’m back from Austria, and slowly settling back into normal life (whatever normal life is). I learnt a lot while I was away, about travel, about education, about history, and about myself. I learnt a lot of skills, not just while I was away, but in the process of applying and preparing for my trip. Here’s four things that my trip to Austria taught me how to do.

My trip to Austria taught me to make decisions

Decision making is hard for me, especially when under pressure. If you’ve ever asked me what movie I want to watch or what food I want to eat you probably know this. So, all the decisions involved in a trip like this seemed intimidating. If I thought picking travel insurance and choosing between flight options was bad enough, wait until I landed in Vienna with a budget and a whole week to myself.

I will admit I got off to a shaky start. Choosing which museums to spend money on, where to eat lunch, whether to invest in another pair of boots (always invest in another pair of boots) was overwhelming. There were phone calls home, where I just needed to verbalize and bounce my options and thoughts off someone else.

As my time in Austria went on though, I got better at making decisions for myself – even without having someone to run it past first. I decided which meals I wanted to spend money on and which I was happy to have instant mashed potato in a cup for (what a great food invention by the way). I could decide that yes, this museum experience or going to the top of this tower was worth the money to me, and no, I didn’t want to do this particular experience, even if it was something other people might enjoy.

My trip to Austria taught me to save and budget

It wasn’t until I was preparing for this trip that I truly learnt how to properly save and budget. To save, I needed more money coming into my bank account than was going out of it – significantly more. To know if that was happening, I not only had to keep track of what I was earning, but also what I was spending, and what I was spending it on.

I also learnt to value things – not just their monetary value, but their value to me. Was continuing to spend money once a week on a coffee at my writing group a worthwhile investment? To me it was, even if to others it might have looked like a waste when I was trying to save.

But I also learnt how little I needed to spend to survive – and how much I had been spending that I didn’t need to. I learnt to say no to things I didn’t actually want to do, because I needed to save the money for other things, like food in Austria. I learnt self control, to avoid impulse spending and to make decisions wisely about where I wanted my money to go.

While I was overseas, I learnt to keep track of each euro, and to stick to my weekly budget. I learnt that if I went over budget now, it would mean missing out on something else later. Practice in managing a tight budget has been a really useful exercise for me. I am really glad I have learnt how to do this now, as I’m hoping I can apply the same skills here at home to save and budget more wisely than I did pre-Austria.

My trip to Austria taught me to do the things I want to do

This part might seem in contrast with what I just said about self control and spending wisely, but another key thing I learnt was to do the things I wanted to do – even if they cost money. Even if they were unconventional to what others might have wanted to do. I learnt to make the most of my opportunity (who knows when I’ll get to be back in a European country on my own with money and time?) and to see things and do things and have fun.

My favourite museum was also the most expensive one I visited, and I almost didn’t go because of the cost. Was it a lot of euros? Yes. Was it worth it? Most definitely. I hate to think I would have missed on the Art History Museum because of the price. It was a magical experience and worth far more to me than the sum of money I paid to go in. That day I had a cheap lunch to balance it out – and I didn’t regret for a moment, not even as I ate my bread roll and cheese on a park bench in the cold winds of Vienna.

I had good experiences in Austria, and most of them cost money from my limited budget – but that’s okay. I didn’t want to let that hold me back, which is why I had spent so long saving and budgeting beforehand. I can honestly say I don’t regret any of the things I spent money on in Austria, because I focused on experiences I wanted to do and things I wanted to see. Is everyone going to be as excited as I was about going to an underground chapel from the 12th Century? No, but that was no reason to not pay the entry fee and go enjoy that medieval masterpiece.

My trip to Austria taught me to balance priorities

I wasn’t just being a tourist the whole time in Austria – I did have classes to go to and reflections to write and assignments to complete and an exam to study for. Balancing these commitments with the fact that I was in a foreign country for a limited time and wanted to see things was difficult at times. Do I go out and eat (more) goulash with bread dumplings, or do I stay in and write another few hundred words of my essay?

Often it meant being prepared and deliberate. We had a weekend trip to Vienna, which I knew was going to be jam packed and would leave me very tired. I didn’t want to a) be trying to get uni work done in Vienna or b) trying to get uni work done the night we got back. So I was prepared, and did work in advance. Then I got to enjoy Vienna without stressing about the work to do.

(Did I do this right all the time? No. But I learnt eventually).

 

This trip has taught me a lot, from basic adulting skills to the ways I need to grow as a person. There are other ways to learn all these things, it’s true, and for many of them I am behind the curve, but this trip is what did it for me. For that I am grateful.

 

Snapshot: Steinhof

As part of my Inclusive Education Course over here in Austria, I’ve visited a lot of organisations and sites as part of our ‘excursions.’ They all relate in some way to how people outside ‘mainstream’ society have been treated and educated. I’ll be writing some snapshots of these places to summarize what I have seen and learnt. 

Warning: this post talks about things like Nazis, tortured children and deliberate extermination. If you aren’t up for reading about these things, skip this post.

During my course in Graz, we had a weekend trip to Vienna. On the Saturday afternoon, we went to Steinhof.

When Steinhof opened in 1907, it was a fairly progressive mental health hospital, at least for it’s time. It had a park where patients could walk and a church where they could worship. They were housed and treated in the rows of pavilions that make up the bulk of the hospital.

However, when Austria was annexed just prior to the Second World War, the function of the hospital started to change. Soon, not just the mentally unwell but many types of ‘socially undesirable’ people sent to Steinhof. Communists, the same-sex attracted, women who gave birth outside of marriage, children with autism or other behavioural disorders – anyone who didn’t fit a narrow criteria of ‘normal.’

The Nazi Government did not want to waste food or medicine on these people, so treatment was stopped, which killed many patients, and food was scarce, which killed even more. Then the experiments started. Over half of the hospitals’ patients were children, and a number of the doctors, led by Heinrich Gross, began carrying out experiments on the children’s brains. These experiments often led to agonizing deaths for the patients.

Of course, patients there didn’t just die from starvation, a lack of treatment or experimental torture. Some were very deliberately killed. If their file was reviewed by the head office of T4, the Nazi extermination program, and it was decided they weren’t worthy of life, they would be injected with a cocktail of drugs that would slowly kill them over the next few days.

Obviously, visiting this site was an intense and slightly horrible experience. I think the worst part was knowing that those running this hospital of death were never brought to account for it. Heinrich Gross, the main instigator, didn’t face trial until the early 2000s, and it was never concluded as he died in 2005. After WWII he had a successful career as a psychologist and university lecturer in Vienna.
Visiting was one of the most emotionally intense and awful experiences I have been through, but it feels even worse knowing most of those running these experiments and death hospitals got away with it and never faced a trial. The sense of injustice overwhelmed me.
When we labelled people as ‘other,’ when we begin to think of people as different and not like us, we run into trouble. It’s easy to dehumanize other humans if we’ve already convinced ourselves we don’t have that much in common with them anyway. It’s easy to forget that we are only who we are through God’s grace and luck. If we were the other, the marginalized, the forgotten and despised, how might we view things differently?
I am still figuring out what this experience has taught me, but most of all I think it has served as a warning – that to be human does not always mean we act humanely. That mercy and compassion do not come naturally and can be waylaid easily. That justice does not always happen this side of heaven, and we cannot assume things will work out for the best if we do nothing. That horrors happen, often behind closed doors and with the approval of the state.
How do we react to the things humanity is capable of, both in the past and the present? How do we deal with the darkness in us, collectively and individually? I’m not sure. We look to Jesus, who is light and grace and mercy, the perfect example of humanity. We try to live like him, treating others with compassion and grace, whether or not we think they deserve it or not – for if Jesus loved us at our worst, how can we deem anyone unlovable?
These things help. But they don’t solve the reality of living with the knowledge of what humans do to each other. I don’t know how to reconcile that. I don’t think we are meant to be able to reconcile these horrible misdeeds though. It should hurt. It should make us uncomfortable and angry. It should make us feel awful. Maybe these are the only right reactions to injustice and suffering. Maybe we need to grieve, despair, and then get up, fix our eyes on Jesus, and try to do better.

Snapshot: Chance B

As part of my Inclusive Education Course over here in Austria, I’ve visited a lot of organisations and sites as part of our ‘excursions.’ They all relate in some way to how people outside ‘mainstream’ society have been treated and educated. I’ll be writing some snapshots of these places to summarize what I have seen and learnt. 

Chance B describe themselves as an Innovative Social Service. They are a private, not for profit and politically uncommitted organisation working in the Eastern Styrian region with disadvantaged people – ‘in the region, for the region.’ They offer a range of services, but are particularly focused on training people to work independently in the job market and supporting the families of people with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

The organisation is committed to helping all people, but particularly those facing discrimination, find their way from school to work. As well as helping those with SEN and disabilities, they work with all disadvantaged people (for example, homeless people, drug addicts, those with unsafe home lives, those with mental health issues).

Their services are focused on being mobile – going to where they are needed. Chance B has 370 employees, who assist 2700 clients per year. They are mainly financed by money from the federal government. Chance B runs on a case management system. Support is individualized, consultative and respects the autonomy of each person – only as much support as is needed is provided.

 

The early intervention unit focuses on supporting and assisting families with children with SEN. Chance B sends experts to the family in their homes and normal school settings to help adjust things as needed. The children don’t need to travel to a special school or location. They also focus on support for the parents, supply leisure time (e.g. movie tickets) and childcare as needed, and supporting siblings as well. Chance B believes that keeping the family system strong is essential in supporting children with SEN.

In Austria after the age of 15 students are tracking either towards university, through an academic high school, or the labour market, through a central high school. To assist with the decision-making process, Chance B runs youth coaching – for students in school to age 24. This is free and available to all students. It is focused around giving students the knowledge they need to make informed choices about their future, particularly in relation to study and work. The youth coaches first work with the students in the school system and then with job services and job providers. The goal is to balance the interests and abilities of students with what is achievable and realistic for them.

Along with the youth coaching program, Chance B has designed a modified pathway for students with SEN. This duel program allows students to work and serve apprenticeships at the same time they are still attending school. They are a full employee in the company’s eyes and get paid the same wages as other apprentices, but still attend school a minimum of one day a week. Through these programs, Chance B arranges 350 jobs a year.

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The Inclusive Education crew at Chance B

The restaurant we had lunch at is run by Chance B as a training site for those wanting to get jobs in the hospitality industry. Our servers were professional and friendly, and would be more than capable of working in the mainstream job market – but if they hadn’t had this opportunity to be trained and to learn in a safe, sheltered environment, this may not have been true.

In Brisbane, my church at Southbank has a relationship with the Micah Projects, a group who work with homeless and disadvantaged people in inner Brisbane. Just up the road from where we meet is the Hope St Cafe, which has a similar approach in helping to train people for entry into the mainstream job market. They set up a safe training environment where people can gain skills, qualifications and experience to enabled them to gain employment independently.

The main thing I really liked about Chance B was their approach to making services mobile, rather than having a central location that clients must travel to. This gives clients more autonomy and helps the assistance become a more streamlined part of their regular lives, rather than a break in routine. Particularly for families with young children, having assistance in the home and in regular school settings can make the process feel more ‘normal.’ It reduces issues of finding bigger sites as the organisation grows, and gives access to services to wider range of people geographically.

Inclusive Education – the goal of having all children educated in mainstream classrooms, with a curriculum and teaching pedagogy that is flexible to fit all children, whatever their needs – can only succeed when teachers and schools have the assistance of organisations like Chance B. Without early intervention before school and a guided pathway out of school, much of the work done in school can go to waste.

We need to keep reaching out – organisations to schools and schools to organisations – to improve the experience of all students – but especially those at risk of being forgotten or left behind – or worst of all – deemed ‘too difficult.’

I’m learning a lot about a wider view of education, outside of the Australian context of my own school experience. I’m excited to keep writing about the things I am seeing and experiencing here.

If you’re interested in reading more about what I have been doing and learning about in Graz, Austria, you can read my first blog for AimOverseas here

Learning About Learning

I’m here in Austria, doing a university subject on Inclusive Education from an International Perspective. This basically means looking at education systems around the world, and how accessible education is, especially to the most vulnerable children amongst us. I have learnt a lot so far, and it’s barely the end of the first week.

Some stats:

About 100 million children do not even receive elementary school education.

2/3 of these children are girls.

One in four children cannot read or write.

2% of the estimated 12 million children with special needs go to school.

In Asia and Africa, only 1% of children with special needs go to school, and only if they can pay the very high school fees.

In Austria alone there are around 9000 unaccompanied minors, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

So obviously there’s still some work to be done.

Apart from the moral obligation I believe we have towards children, and the statistics that show when children are educated, all parts of society improve, the UN Convention on the Rights of A Child, Article 28, clearly states that every child has a right to access education freely.

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But this isn’t happening. Not yet. The children who need our support the most are being left behind. This is where inclusive education comes in.

We visited an inclusive Austrian elementary school. An inclusive school essentially means each class had students of mixed ability and needs, including some students with severe physical and/or intellectual disabilities. These students weren’t educated separately or at a higher cost, but where placed in classrooms along with their peers.

Each class had 22 students, two teachers and a teacher’s aide. The classrooms were clean and tidy, the atmosphere was calm and engaged, and there was a lot of non direct instruction, group work and individual work (direct instruction is when the teacher stands up the front and delivers content to the class as a whole group). I saw teachers were interacting respectfully with each other and the students. I saw students on task, busy with their work, and excited to show us, the Australian visitors, what they have been learning.

I saw learning in action that was flexible, dynamic and accessible to all the students. This is the most amazing thing about inclusive education – when you make education flexible and focused on removing barriers to learning, all students benefit. When you provide multiple pathways to the same content, all students benefit. When you think through how you do things deliberately, because you have to when you have students with special needs, all students benefit.

Of course, this works best if, like this Austrian school, you have the human and material resources to implement inclusive education properly. I am aware a lot of people reading this probably think it’s too much money, or too hard. I don’t argue there are still many issues before this could work in many places. However, Austria has managed it, and their entire education system is provided free of charge to parents and students. They have made an investment in education, and I believe it will pay off.

Visiting this school was also the first time I have seen co-teaching, also called team teaching or collaborative teaching, work well in action. Here are some thoughts on what it might mean to have two teachers sharing a class.

  • Co-teaching means you need to be humble – your mistakes are in front of another teacher. You will be receiving constructive feedback more regularly. This will make you a better teacher than if you’re left alone to do your thing in your own classroom without feedback, but it requires maturity and a willingness to hear about the things you need to improve.
  • Co-teaching means you have to be more prepared and organised. When you are working with someone else so closely, you need to have planned lessons and content ahead of time. If you can’t leave things to the last minute and plan the next lesson in your break in the same way you can as an individual teacher. Again, this will make you a better teacher, but it can also be challenging if you’re not used to working in an organised way.
  • Co-teaching means you need to be aware of how your personality impacts your teaching. How does your personality impact your interactions with your co-teacher and students? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do they line up with your co-teacher’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Co-teaching means breaking routines and the status quo. Is this the best way to do things or is it the way you are most comfortable with? Just because you have taught this way before, it doesn’t mean you can continue teaching this way when there is another teacher to weigh in and give opinions and share how they have done things in the past.
  • Co-teaching means students are more likely to connect with one of the teachers, or find their teaching style more in line with their learning style. It means you can try new things, use different approaches and spend more time on intervention and enrichment as needed.
  • Co-teaching means students get assessed by two people, not just one. This makes the process fairer, as there are two opinions weighing in and making judgments, who are both familiar with the student.

I think co-teaching has a lot of potential for use in Australia, and other places in the world. But to do it, we need to do it right. We need to make sure the way we implement it gets right to heart of the goal: making learning accessible to all students, everywhere, whatever their needs.

We have a long way to go. In Australia, most of the teaching literature and conferences on education are excited about new ways to use technology and what resources are best – and these things have their place – but meanwhile, worldwide, there are children being denied the right to learn. We have to get our priorities straight. We have to find the methods that work to teach all children, and invest in our education systems. It’s a big ask, and may seem impossible. You may wonder how we can afford to do it. Right now I am wondering how we can afford not to.

 

Over the next three weeks I will be blogging over at AIM Overseas (the organisation I am doing my program through) as one of their official bloggers. My first blog for them will go up sometime on the weekend. As always, I’m posting photos on my instagram if you want to keep up with my travels.