Going with the Flow

I used to be a secondary school teacher and would go into most lessons with a comprehensive lesson plan, as well as an extra activity, in case we got through everything early. I also used to go into most lessons knowing that there was a chance that my carefully prepared plan could be blown out of the water by things out of my control. Things like immunisations, excursions, inter-school sports and instrumental lessons meant that there were some days when, despite my careful prep, I just had to “go with the flow.”

This year we’ve been doing an increasing amount of “going with the flow” during our P2 school presentations. We always arrive with a carefully thought-out plan for the class to whom we’re presenting. The fact is, however, that we don’t know the students yet so the plan may look great in theory but might need to be restructured, added to or subtracted from on the day.

A couple of weeks ago, we did back to back presentations at Scotch College. We ran out of time during the first lesson so the students barely got to ask us any questions. We believe that the time spent doing a Q and A is extremely beneficial to the students and we usually do it at the end because, by then, we’ve all gotten to know and trust each other. We made a quick decision between the two classes to do the Q and A in the middle of our presentation rather than at the end. It worked. The students asked a lot of questions because they had time to do so. A week later we did back to back presentations to the remaining two Year 9 classes at Scotch College and went to the Q and A early during the first class. We didn’t get to our next activity with them and, at the end of the class, the students had many more questions to ask so that class was able to join up with the next class to continue asking questions. The plan was to spend the first part of the lesson answering questions and then move on to our other activities. The students were so engaged, curious and receptive that we ended up doing a double lesson Q and A to two Year 9 classes.

It was not what we arrived thinking we would do but we believe - particularly in the wake of the Christchurch and Pittsburgh murders - that demystifying “The Other” is the most important thing we can do. Those lovely students now know much more than they did before about Judaism and Islam. We also have a Catholic educator who was with us on that day. In the wake of the George Pell case, it’s important also to separate Catholics from what some of their priests have done. We’ve been able to address that, too.

In between our two Scotch dates, we did a P2 presentation to the Year 11 & 12 Peace Studies class at Thebarton Senior College. Again, careful planning went into it as TSC is a school of high cultural diversity so we needed to approach it differently than we would at a low cultural diversity school. Furthermore the students are older. Our first activity went well and - as planned - it opened the students’ eyes to the fact that very few people have not been treated unkindly for one reason or another. We sat down on the floor to “unpack” that activity and the conversation, questions and comments just organically flowed. We did another activity, after which we sat down again. From then until the end of the double lesson, the students were so open, honest and curious that we discussed many more topics than I’d have thought possible. We did so from both a secular and religious point of view. Among the topics we touched on were good and evil, mental health, homelessness and sexuality. It was a fantastic morning and I was very glad we’d gone “off script.”

Most of the time, our presentations go as planned. It’s important, however, to “read” the room and make any necessary changes so that the students can fully benefit from a P2 presentation.