On this almost three-year-long journey that has made up the development of Online Model United Nations (O-MUN), I have returned time and again to two overriding questions: What does it take to nurture this kind of innovation among students and educators, and what role do we want schools to play in making this happen?
Educators need both the recognition from their school leadership and the time and support to do innovative work. Much as we know that students need time and space to be innovative in our classrooms, this also holds true for teachers. School leaders themselves run on a deficit of time so I am sympathetic. But how many great projects and truly innovative ideas are simmering in the backs of teacher’s minds, dabbled on over weekends or in the 20-minute downtimes before heading to bed? Educators need the luxury of time, supported by their schools and funded by their districts.
I think about this a lot. What would Online Model United Nations have looked like had I been given one class period to develop this from within my school? Would my core global leadership team have been less diverse, pulled more from my school and less from the rest of the world? Perhaps. But what could have been gained by classroom students had they been given this opportunity? Would my website nightmares have been worked through more quickly had I been able to go to tech support down the hall? Could I have connected with regional thought leaders to expand O-MUN into our school’s professional conference network had I been given the necessary support? How would the school have benefited from that exposure? Without recognition from within my own school, these are moot points, wasted opportunities, and, for me personally, drivers that led me to search elsewhere.
How can teachers tap into funding or partnerships when ‘initiatives’ are only supported if they are narrowly defined as ‘Common Core’ or ‘STEM?’ What if you are a teacher in search of funding, recognition, or exposure but are not tied to a district – or the form you are trying to complete won’t advance because you are not tied to a physical school? How can you find working partnerships with teachers who cannot find the time and space to do something that’s not benchmarked to the standards or covered in standardized tests? How can you work across disciplines when the boundaries between them have become so entrenched that they feel insurmountable? This is where enlightened leadership comes into play, because tearing down these walls is something that cannot be done by teachers alone, particularly teachers consumed with building something new. If the work crew for O-MUN had included a few more key adults in positions of support, perhaps my program would have developed more quickly, or with stronger foundations, or with added benefit to my own school. Regardless, once the program was built, would there be an administrator on the other side willing to take the time to give it a look, give it an endorsement, and give it time and a place within the school culture?
I think these questions are indicative of this unique time and place in education. The experiences and spaces that we want our own students to build cannot be done without teachers and administrators having gone through the process too. You can’t buy off-the-shelf, organic, collaborative, student-driven programs. If this is what we say we want for education, how will we get there? Who will support it? What has to change within the culture of a school to bring ideas to fruition and, once ‘ripe for the picking,’ incorporate them in meaningful ways so that programs can develop and mature within a school’s culture?
One thing O-MUN has taught me is that students are more than capable of developing and driving major educational initiatives. These initiatives will take place because they can, because technology makes it possible, and because they often are more meaningful than what happens in a traditional classroom. Can they become part of a school’s repertoire or will the real-world, student-driven initiatives be left outside of it, further widening the gulf between schools and real-world engagement? For every multi-million dollar education company pitching a high-tech way of doing the same thing we’ve done for years, how many countless organic initiatives in need of nurturing and support are simply wasted and, by extension, become lost opportunities for students? As frustrating as this seems, I am excited for all of us as we begin to see the truly great things that connected, collaborative learning can bring us. Spend a bit of time in the O-MUN universe and you really will believe that anything is possible!
Please visit the Online Model United Nations website for further information. If you are involved in Model United Nations, please consider joining the Model UN Leadership Initiative to discuss ideas, research, and innovations within the field. O-MUN also is developing a number of national-level programs. If you are a teacher and think that you would like to oversee one of these country-wide programs, contact Lisa for more information.
Previously in this series
Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.