Ira Vihreälehto works as a specialist in the Finnish Cultural Heritage Education.
Transformative learning seeks, through the teacher’s conscious change, to open the teacher’s eyes to their own set of values and perhaps ingrained ways that can be changed after becoming aware of them. Ira Vihreälehto participated in a learning journey organized as part of the Bridge 47 project and talks about her experience.
A year ago, I applied and was selected to participate in the Transformative Learning Journey organized by Bridge 47. Like a quite typical teacher, throughout my career I have amassed a variety of training: I am a history, social studies and psychology teacher. I have also completed special education teacher studies, head teacher studies, and solution-focused neuropsychiatric ADHD teacher studies. Everything I have learned has been interesting and has served me at some point of my career. Thus, I was delighted to hear I was selected since I had a feeling that my skills in global citizenship education needed new inspiration and even a small, controlled explosion. That is truly what I got.
The other selected were civil society activists, teachers and NGO workers from, for example Brazil, Kenya, Serbia, Japan, Palestine and Nepal. I was sure I would learn a lot from them and a little smugly I thought I could share the recipes for success of the Finnish school world. Maybe I could make new friends too? The training started in the fall of 2019 near Berlin, where we spent two weeks during the fall semester.
During these weeks, as the name of the training implies, I experienced a change as transformative learning tore me from my safe comfort zone into a process I was not prepared for. The learning journey was so intense that I noticed myself and many other participants even resisting a bit. I felt a need to repeat not here in Finland, not me, does not apply to us, nor to me. Of course, I was able to interpret from a pedagogical perspective what was happening: change and learning are well under way when it starts to feel awkward and uncomfortable.
The world needs to change in order that we can survive. We have undeniably unresolved problems in the fields of economy, politics, environment, equality and human rights. We also have the means and information about what should be done, but we are not ready to make a difference. The idea of transformative learning is first to change yourself in order to act as a force for change in your environment, work community and to your students. If you do not consciously understand how you are connected to the global system and as part of it also supporting oppressive structures such as inequality or the terrible legacies of colonialism, you are certainly part of the problem.
During the weeks in Berlin we told each other stories. We thought about change and the state of the world and its future if humans continue like this. We did exercises where we had to be creative, be absorbed, step back, breathe, dance, draw, listen, and touch. There was no traditional flow of PowerPoint presentations, instead we got to know ourselves and each other. We moved around a lot outside and looked for answers to questions asked from us, aware that there might not necessarily be right answers to them. We dredged up the recesses of our minds and tried to understand the discoveries made by others. Gradually, my eyes were opened to different worldviews and timelines of history. A little painfully and reluctantly, at least for my part, I found myself changing and both my work and free time began to show up in a different light. Change cannot be affected; you must allow it to happen. Change does not feel nice. At the end, you see yourself on a conscious level.
This spring, our entire global community has been learning how to cope with change. Change usually requires at least two things: a crisis and unpredictability. In a crisis you are not yet sure where you are going and you cannot control what is happening, as control is beyond your reach. After the change your outlook is different: everything looks altered and is based on a different logic. The past does not look the same as before and you look at it like for the first time. The horizon of the future is still dim too, but you know there is no going back to former times.
Once you are changed, you can teach change. At the same time, you understand that everything in the world, in the wild, near you, and in you is changing. Economically, culturally, politically, historically, and ecologically, humanity is comprised of communal encounters. Schools and teachers play an important role in strengthening communality and in building identities. Teachers can be active actors who rewrite history by creating space for silent voices and by challenging racist and stereotyped approaches. However, by their action they can also prop up prejudices and norms. Even if they said the right words, they may at the same time unconsciously reinforce a different message through tone of voice, gestures, and body language.
One commonly used exercise is a metaphor of a bus. You are a bus driver and some troublemakers have come to your bus – passengers asking a bit awkward questions. You are living in the spring of 2020, the time of the global pandemic. Who came to your bus during the pandemic and what did they try to tell you? Where did you try to take them? Why?
Ira Vihreälehto works as a specialist in the Association of Cultural Heritage Education in Finland. Inspired by her Transformative Learning Journey experience, the Association organizes transformative learning courses for teachers during the academic year 2020-21.
The Transformative Learning Journey was implemented as part of the Bridge 47 project