For the past 15 years or so, we have been researchers on the GoodWork Project. We have been working to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners. Since 2005 we have been working with teachers and communities to encourage and promote good work in school settings, using a set of materials we’ve dubbed the GoodWork Toolkit. The Toolkit is currently being used in schools across the United States and in at least eight countries around the world.
Over the past few years, GoodWork has developed a collaboration with The Global Education and Leadership Foundation (tGELF). Located in India, tGELF works with a network of over 40 schools (reaching 1000 teachers and 20,000 students) to train young people to become ethical leaders and inspire them to bring about positive change. Working with educators from diverse schools throughout India, tGELF has implemented the GoodWork Toolkit in diverse classrooms, intertwining their leadership curriculum to highlight the importance of ethical, excellent, and engaged leadership. The organization is currently growing, looking to expand its work in developing future ethical leaders in other countries, including Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates.
To train teachers in the GoodWork concept and help them implement the framework in their own classrooms and schools, we developed a year-long GoodWork certification program for 41 teachers (one representative from each of 41 schools). This past November, over the course of two days, we led the first of four sessions in New Delhi, India. (The remaining sessions will be facilitated via video conference; Professor Howard Gardner will be at the second session in New Delhi during an upcoming three-week trip to India). The overall plan for the course is to introduce and train teachers in the concept of GoodWork and offer support as they implement their own initiatives in their own schools.
We have taught similar courses for several years, both at HGSE and at conferences and schools around the States. Our experience in India was a standout among what has already been a series of positive events. We were deeply impressed with the enthusiasm, determination, and focus of the participants. In the United States, we frequently feel that teachers need to be won over to our ideas (happily we usually manage to do so); in India, we immediately realized the teachers involved in our course wanted to impress us with their thoughtful and thorough commitment to our ideas. When individuals presented their ideas to the group it was clear they were presenting the best work they could, work that had been crafted and refined, not half-baked concepts. The participants came hungry, ready to roll up their sleeves and get down to work.
Our visit was a learning experience on many levels. Though we had done some research about Delhi, its surroundings, and what life is like for educators, students and their families, our travels were nonetheless eye-opening. After a daylong tour of many historic sites in Old and New Delhi, and an expedition to the Taj Mahal, we were struck by stark contrasts: How could so much beauty, care, and detail exist in the midst of so much poverty? How does a country support and facilitate exponential intellectual growth and at the same time, lack the infrastructure to provide clean water and healthy air quality? And in terms of education, how do students and educators whose daily lives are so very challenging come to school ready to work and learn?
We also learned a great deal from the participants in our course. Of course this is always the case: we regularly learn from educators who share stories about ethical challenges, struggle with personal and professional measures of success, and reflect on what keeps their work meaningful. Yet in such a different cultural venue, our opportunity to learn was multiplied. Over the course of two full days, we listened as teachers described the issues their students face, the conflicts they feel with colleagues and supervisors, and the place of education in their country. There is much that they have in common with teachers in the United States, such as not enough hours in the day, pressured students, and well-intentioned but sometimes difficult parents. But there are also subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Stark, prevalent poverty would fall under the “not-so-subtle” heading, and reaching and working with this population is clearly a priority for an organization focused on crafting ethical leaders. Subtle differences include everything from the very animated nature of group discussion (individuals talking over one another; several arguments presented at once) to where the line is drawn between professional and personal lives. In the US, we frequently hear from teachers who become too involved in their students’ lives, who take too much work home with them, and who suffer from emotional burn out as a result. Reactions to an ethical dilemma we posed about an individual overly committed to her work, suggests that the norm may be quite different in India.
During this session on engagement, we read a narrative about a nurse who becomes much too involved in her work (overly engaged, not at all disinterested). We often use this example when we work with teachers, because, like some medical professionals who become too emotionally involved with their patients, teachers tell us that they become too connected to their students. Most teachers felt that the nurse crossed a line and was much too involved with both her patients AND her work. One table quoted the Maha Mrityunjay Mantra (something they all learned in childhood): NOT to become too connected to this life or this earth. The English translation of relevant section: "You are sweet gladness, the fragrance of life, who nourishes us, restores our health, and causes us to thrive. As, in due time, the stem of the cucumber weakens, and the gourd is freed from the vine, so free us from attachment and death, and do not withhold immortality." Some teachers questioned whether, much like excellence, there is a sense of responsibility in “engagement,” that in order to carry out GoodWork, you need to be selfless and taking time to consider others.
We are grateful for the opportunity to learn from such thoughtful participants, and for our fruitful collaboration with our colleagues at tGELF. Since our return we have already heard from participants who are crafting innovative projects for their schools. They are enthusiastically preparing for the next session, which will coincide with Howard Gardner’s visit in February. During this session, several teachers will present their individual projects, and we look forward to learning more about what GoodWork looks like and how it is adapted in Indian settings. We look forward to learning more in the coming months as years as our work together progresses.