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Briefs

AEMS Brief #1: What is This and Why Should We Care?

Survey methods and research into the importance and components of social emotional education have unlocked new avenues for investigating, discussing, and planning for a more holistic approach to education. This so-called “third space” in education – alongside the more traditional spaces of education for employment and education for citizenship – has long been neglected and is of particular interest to us now two decades into the 21st century. Global trends in school accountability and governance alongside the increasing integration of artificial intelligence into daily life threaten to further marginalize the cognitive, social, and emotional skills and values that are essential to human development. As this relatively new field within human development takes shape, it is imperative that the research community adopts a global lens that includes a diversity of voices and experiences that reflect our modern world.

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In 2018, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) launched the “Mapping the Terrain” study to investigate the state of social emotional learning across what can loosely be described as the Muslim world. The 2018-19 study surveyed 21,626 administrators, teachers, parents, and university and K-12 students across 14 Muslim-majority countries on a host of SEL measures organized around a holistic and dynamic approach. In 2019-20 the conceptual framework of the study was refined, and another survey was administered, this time with 18,601 respondents in 15 countries. These surveys represent the largest, most comprehensive assessment of a group of non-academic educational measures ever conducted in these regions of the world. As an institute, we are committed to making these survey results freely available to researchers with the goal of enhancing a multi-national movement towards advancing education in Muslim and non-Muslim societies. We hope to engage an active community of leaders and to use this forum to share our learnings. We believe that engagement with the results of this survey can help improve the educational experiences and outcomes of students across the globe.

Incorporating these voices, mostly from the so-called Global South into our scientific discourse around education reform and human development is important on its own. We aim to take things a step further and make the results of this study actionable for policy makers, educators, and communities. With this goal in mind, we will use this space to highlight the work of our partners in the various countries that participated in the survey. What would it look like for an educational system to prioritize the social emotional education of its students? To what extent can concepts like empathy, hope, and community mindedness be thought of as outcomes of interest in a child’s education? How do these concepts travel across different contexts? These are just some of the essential questions that the “Mapping the Terrain” survey engages with. We are sure of one thing, based on our data: that youth and other stake holders rate these concepts and others very highly. When these are given consideration in making educational decisions, they may change the existing discourse on education, especially the focus on academic attainment and the content taught in many of these places. A growing body of empirical research suggests that socio-emotional education improves grades and overall avoidance of unsafe behaviors by equipping students with skills that help them navigate their school experiences in a holistic manner (Durlak, et al., 2011; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). It is important that we engage with these topics from an asset-based perspective, particularly given the prevailing deficit-based approach to Muslim youth in educational research.

As this work continues, we hope that you will engage with us in thinking through the implications of this research. You can do that by responding to this email with any thoughts, by following us on Instagram (@iiit_insta) and Twitter (@iiitfriends), and by forwarding this message to anyone in your life who might find it interesting.

Thank you and all the best,

Alex Koenig,
Non-Resident Fellow in Human Development and Education Policy
The Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS) Team
The International Institute of Islamic Thought.
https://www.iiit.org

Introducing the Mapping the Terrain Report

AEMS Brief #2: Empirical Research in Muslim Societies: Methods and Scope

Zarina Duishegulova: IIIT Research Coordinator, Kyrgyzstan, explains how youth and educators responded to the AEMS survey

The Mapping the Terrain study took place in two phases, in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and surveyed 40,227 people in 16 countries on a host of social emotional skills and values. In many of our partner countries Mapping the Terrain was the largest, most comprehensive, and in some cases first scientific inquiry into Social Emotional Education (SEE) ever conducted. As a research team coordinating this project in so many different contexts, we gave special attention to designing a sensitive research framework that could be adapted a bit in each country. Researchers who are considering their own work in these systems may benefit from some of our lessons learned:

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  • Don’t assume that Muslim societies are the same; take the time to learn more about each unique socio political and educational context.
  • Build rapport with the research partners and make sure that they know the true aims of the empirical study and what will happen to the information gathered.
  • Access is key and sometimes may determine the ability to survey the whole populations. If you are not able to utilize random sampling, try to use a criterion within the selection boundaries you have.
  • Most partner countries do not have a protocol for human subject protection and consent. We used the US based online training and mandated all data coordinators to complete. We prepared a field manual with explanations on design, data collection and sampling, and most importantly information on not forcing any participant to take the survey.

With these contextual lessons in mind, the objectives of the empirical research were identified as follows:

  1. Share new knowledge that is evidence-based through surveying attitudes and

perceptions using quantitative research methods.

  1. Bring the voices of researchers, educators, and youths in Muslim societies to the academic arenas in the United States and other Western and non-Western countries.
  2. Explore sensitive measures of human development in Muslim communities.
  3. Build partners and local researchers’ capacities (for example, providing training on sampling methods and ethical use of human subjects).
  4. Utilize evidence-based knowledge accumulated as a resource for the reform of educational agendas in Muslim societies, thus contributing to the design and implementation of learning standards, policies, pedagogy, and curriculum.
  5. Highlight the critical role/s the values and skills play in promoting and increasing learning and academic achievement.

Broadly, we add a voice to the discourse of human development and holistic education beyond what is narrowly described by academic achievement data. Behind this test-driven paradigm are the same neoliberal forces flooding the education market in so many countries with one-size-fits-all policies and pro-market agendas driven by major funders and special interest groups (Carroll & Jarvis, 2015). The selection of the human development model to ground this study is a result of thorough reviews of the achievement literature and an in-depth investigation of models that take a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to reform.  The model we use highlights certain skills worthy of investment to benefit the psychosocial aspects of learning and wellbeing. Governments emphasizing only academic scores and standardized testing are losing the battle on the social, emotional, and values needed to guide youth and improve their lives (Kearns, 2010). Values in this study may be grouped into three sets of competencies identified as critical for transformation: (a) open-mindedness (constructs such as meaning making and problem solving), (b) responsibility (e.g., emotional regulation, self-efficacy), and (c) a sense of a collaborative collective (e.g., sense of belonging, collectivist orientation). Further values and competencies will be explored in greater depth in future briefs.

Sampling and Measurement

We examined the demographic variables of our respondents and built three Structural Equation Models (SEM) to analyze our data. On all three models, measure reliabilities were high, suggesting well performing translations and adaptation of the scales in the target Muslim societies. There were no significant differences on the constructs based on demographic variables such as gender and age. This study sampled mostly youth who are younger than 18

(56%). The next largest age group of students were young adults aged 18–24 (28%). Among the adults, the participating sample is highly educated, with most schoolteachers (72%) holding a bachelor’s or master’s degree and most university instructors (75%) holding master’s or doctoral degrees.

Of special interest within the SEM model is the result on the individualistic versus collectivistic measure which suggest that the participants in all groups and all countries tended toward a collective rather than an individualistic orientation, with the secondary students and teachers having slightly higher scores than the university students and instructors. This confirms the assumption that non-Western societies (at least in our sample) are more collective. Further research is needed to understand this cultural construct and ways it may be expressed or promoted. For more information on the SEM models, reliability measures, and limitations please see the full report.

As this work continues, we hope that you will engage with us in thinking through the implications of this research. You can do that by responding to this email with any thoughts, by following us on Instagram (@iiit_insta) and Twitter (@iiitfriends), and by forwarding this message to anyone in your life who might find it interesting.

Thank you and all the best,

Alex Koenig,

Non-Resident Fellow in Human Development and Education Policy

The Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS) Team

The International Institute of Islamic Thought

The Methods behind the Mapping the Terrain Report

AEMS Brief #3: Ethical Values in Human Development

Tanzania – Dr. Jaha Mulema

Adolescence is a critical stage in human development. It is a time when one’s identity and relation to society begin to take shape. There is, of course, differentiation in this development, but broad patterns have been observed, generalized, and formed into theoretical approaches. Developmental social science has been incorporated into the pedagogical practice and policy of educational systems across the globe to varying degrees. Furthering the integration of developmental research into educational practice is a goal of the AEMS research team. There has also been significant research demonstrating the critical role that cultural and political contexts play in shaping human development. Mapping the Terrain aims to explore and illuminate these contexts and to bring lessons from them to academic and policy arenas.

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The Mapping the Terrain report addresses Social Emotional Learning and values in Muslim societies, but the 16 countries surveyed are incredibly culturally, ethnically, and geographically diverse. In order to systematically investigate the varied contexts of adolescent development in these countries, we constructed a values model grounded in theories of social change and tipping point literature. These values were organized based on a review of previous literature and their grouping was hypothesized by the research team. A review of the three umbrella groupings and their implications for human development are summarized below. The sub-measures are based off of standardized measurement scales that can be reviewed more fully in the report.

Open-Mindedness

Our first construct of interest is open-mindedness. This construct is made up of the sub-values and skills of empathy, meaning making, problem-solving, life satisfaction, and hope. Open-mindedness is often seen as a virtue or a value, but it can also be thought of as a skill that can be cultivated by educators. The ability to think things through, to adapt and maneuver in solving problems with critical thinking skills, and to examine all sides and perspectives all contribute to our construct of open-mindedness. Open-mindedness is a very socially constructed skill and is greatly influenced by early exposure to difference. High measures of adolescent open-mindedness can predict long-term adaptability throughout the life course. Given the rapidly changing geopolitical, environmental, and technological realities of modern life, cultivating open-mindedness in young people is a key developmental task for educators.

Responsibility

Responsibility is closely tied to agency, and the idea that individuals are not merely passive creatures controlled by their environment but rather that they have some ability to influence and control their actions. Included under our umbrella category of responsibility are skills and values like self- regulation, emotional regulation, self-efficacy, and gratitude. Responsibility (and in particular the sub-values of self-regulation and self-efficacy) is closely tied to academic achievement and has therefore long been a focus of schooling. Elevating emotional regulation and gratitude to be of comparable concern for educators is part of a larger movement towards holistic education. Emotional regulation is often emphasized in early childhood education, but then neglected from direct instruction as young people grow older. Nevertheless, many of the behavioral and discipline challenges that schools and students face can be traced back to adolescent emotional regulation, and so developing our understanding of emotional regulation and its connection to cultural and political contexts will remain critical for designing developmentally appropriate policies and classrooms.

Collaborative Collective

Our third umbrella category, collaborative collective, was designed specifically for this study. It offers an approach to transformation that stems from the collective nature of Muslim-majority societies but adds collaboration as a necessary condition for the collective to work. It is not the Western notion of cosmopolitanism that, according to some, highlights global interdependence while upholding fundamental personal independence, but rather the collaborative collective construct centers a sense of community and shared values that encourages the interdependence of humanity for the betterment of life for all. Within this category, we identified constructs such as sense of belonging and forgiveness which rely on a deep value system grounded in Islamic teaching, traditions, and the notion of the collective. Effective classrooms, and effective societies, are places where individuals feel an obligation to support others and feel that they can rely on others for support.

And so, What?

If we can raise a generation of young people that are open-minded, that feel a strong sense of personal responsibility, and that believe it is important to be part of a collaborative collective, then we can lay the groundwork for social transformation. Incorporating these values into our educational systems will not come at the expense of traditional academic achievement, but rather these values should contribute to the development of well-rounded, highly capable individuals who can excel both within and beyond strictly academic contexts.

This study provides first-hand evidence of the current state of these values in countries that are often discussed in Western academic settings from a deficit-based perspective. Mapping the Terrain is primary research on Muslim youth by Muslim researchers who are optimistic about the future of these youth and their societies. The focus on holistic educational goals is a global movement, and every part of the globe deserves to be represented in this discourse. Future briefs will discuss in greater detail the policy implications of this work and suggestions for potential uses of our free and open data set by different types of researchers.

As this work continues, we hope that you will engage with us in thinking through the implications of this research. You can do that by responding to this email with any thoughts, by following us on Instagram (@iiit_insta) and Twitter (@iiitfriends), and by forwarding this message to anyone in your life who might find it interesting.

Thank you and all the best,

Alex Koenig,

Non-Resident Fellow in Human Development and Education Policy

The Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS) Team

The International Institute of Islamic Thought.

https://iiit.org/en/home/

Three umbrella categories for social transformation

AEMS Brief #4: Cultivating Open-Mindedness in Education

 Open-Mindedness

Open-Mindedness is one of the three areas we identified as necessary for social transformation and that we utilized in the Mapping the Terrain study of Muslim societies. The rationale for focusing on Open-Mindedness, alongside Responsibility and Collaborative Collective, is because they were identified in previous literature as catalysts for change (for more on this, see our third brief). This week, we are exploring the ways in which educators can cultivate open-mindedness in their students as well as some of the expected benefits to society that will come from a a more open-minded generation of young people developing through adolescence and into adulthood. We see open mindedness to be a critical skill and mindset for all groups, communities, and walks of life.

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Our construct of Open-Mindedness includes values and skills intentionally selected but not limited to empathy, meaning making, problem-solving, life satisfaction, and hope. This brief will go into greater detail on each of the skills that we have organized under the umbrella category of Open-Mindedness, providing resources for educators who want to integrate these skills into their curriculum and making the case for their significance in human development. The Mapping the Terrain research aims to provide baseline measures of these critical social emotional skills and values in 16 Muslim-societies, and over the long-term we hope to be part of a movement that elevates these skills and values across educational systems to be of comparable significance to educators as more traditionally academic skills like grammar and arithmetic.

Teaching Empathy

In this study empathy is defined as the ability to understand others’ emotion, the willingness to care, feel, and take the perspective of others and to be responsive to their needs. Empathy can be developed internally within the four-walls of a classroom by encouraging sharing across lines of difference. Sometimes all it takes is to teach students to communicate—to listen, express emotions, and put themselves in other people’s shoes. Consider an exercise where students are placed across from an empty chair and are asked to talk to an imaginary person who they had a conflict with.

Activities like these are possible across space and time, but technological developments in video conferencing and long-distance communication have created new opportunities for empathy to be advanced. A 2017 study by Doney and Wegerif evaluated a program aimed at creating dialogue between classrooms in 20 different countries, such as Italy, India, and Palestine, distributed around the world. They found that videoconferencing and blogging between students significantly increased empathy, and specifically interreligious and intercultural understanding. This increased empathy also bolstered students’ resilience against extremist narratives, radicalization, and recruitment into violent extremism. There are certainly technological constraints that need to be considered, but educators across the globe that are interested in developing their students’ empathy should explore opportunities for the spontaneous sharing of personal lifestyle details with students from different countries through blogging and videoconferencing. Many young people are already developing these skills independently with their online activity, but there should be more opportunities to promote deeper relationships across lines of difference in a structured and deliberate way.

Teaching Meaning-Making

Meaning making has been defined as a “sense of coherence or understanding of existence, a sense of purpose in one’s life, the pursuit and attainment of worthwhile goals, and an accompanying sense of fulfillment” (Ho et al., 2010, p. 2). Purpose and meaning are important developmental resources for adolescents, helping youth and their healthy transition to adulthood (Burrow et al., 2010). Lack of meaning and purpose results in negative consequences, such as identity crisis (Erikson, 1968). Helping students make sense of their lives can be part of a larger project of engaging young people in their own identity development. Tools like the Social Identity Wheel can be used to explore students’ various social identities, and the open-endedness of these exercises means that they can be applied in different contexts without losing their relevance. The Social Identity Wheel worksheet is an activity that encourages students to identify social identities and reflect on the various ways those identities become visible or more keenly felt at different times, and how those identities impact the ways others perceive or treat them. The worksheet prompts students to fill in various social identities (such as race, gender, sex, ability/disability, sexual orientation, etc.) and further categorize those identities based on which matter most in their self-perception and which matter most in others’ perception of them. The meaning one makes of their identity is highly dependent on context, and the exercise asks students to reflect on how these meanings are socially constructed and how their own identities relate to those of their peers. Once students have assessed their intersecting identitites, they can return to them in making meaning across the rest of the school year and throughout their lives.

Teaching Social Problem-Solving

Social problem-solving helps individuals manage their emotions through successful adaptation of coping strategies. It also helps with maintaining positive interpersonal relationships through conflict management and resolution. Teaching social problem-solving skills to students builds their reportoire of problem-solving skills, enhances acceptance by peers, increases empathy for peers, and promotes greater expectancy for positive results related to problem-solving skills and behaviors (Shure, 2001). Survey respondents on the Mapping the Terrain research study consistently reported that many of the scenarios they were presented with in the survey were the first time they had considered these social problems in a formal context. Modeling problem solving and providing students with opportunities to consider challenging social problems in a safe classroom environment can help develop better problem-solvers, better learners, and ultimately better thinkers. One way to develop students’ problem-solving is changing the types of questions you are asking them in order to increase rigor. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DoK) levels can be applied at all developmental stages from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary and prompting students to think in this way from an early age will pay dividends in the complexity of their thinking as adults.

Teaching Life Satisfaction

Life satisfaction is defined as the cognitive and global self-evaluation of one’s own quality of life that has been studied across cultures and found to be similar and consistent across contexts (Diener et al., 1985). Giving students regular opportunities to express gratitude and reflect on the quality of their life will not only facilitate greater individual life satisfaction among young people but the sharing of these reflections with peers will also bolster students’ empathy. In many cases, people’s sense of their own faith and spiritual being can support their view of life in a hopeful manner. Utlizing faith to teach universal values such as gratitude, empathy, hope, and humility can contribute to life satisfaction and increase physical and mental health (H.G. Koenig , 2012). These existential conversations should be part of the classroom experiences of children of all ages, and holistic education, focusing on the individual as a multidiementional and a connected being, must make room for engaging with what it means to live a satisfied life.

Teaching Hope

Hope is a multifaceted concept defined in diverse and complex ways. For example, Feldman and Snyder (2005) describe hope as an expectation for things to change for the better. Hope is also referred to as the mental willpower for being persistent and progressing toward achieving goals. It is the duty of educators to nurture hope in their students. Mapping the Terrain is interested in understanding social transformation, and without hope that is active, oriented, and creative, positive change is impossible. Teaching students how to set goals, how to develop strategies to reach those goals, how to celebrate goal attainment, and how to bounce back from disappointment can cultivate hope.  Building students’ empathy, helping them make meaning in their lives, giving them opportunities to problem solve, and guiding them as they find satisfaction in their lives will all contribute to a more hopeful outlook. When students can feel hope for a better future and adopt a growth mindset they can unlock the full potential that exists in every child.

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High levels of adolescent open-mindedness can predict long-term adaptability throughout the life course. In addition to the skills and traits highlighted above, we believe that many other things can contribute to open-mindedness, and our goal is engaging the scholarly community in investigating these approaches and examining their applicability in different contexts. Given the rapidly changing geopolitical, environmental, and technological realities of modern life, cultivating open-mindedness in young people is a key developmental task for educators but the question remains on how exactly to do this. The practical ideas provided above could be adapted to your specific community and context.

As this work continues, we hope that you will engage with us in thinking through the implications of this research. You can do that by responding to this email with any thoughts, by following us on Instagram (@iiit_insta) and Twitter (@iiitfriends), and by forwarding this message to anyone in your life who might find it interesting.

Thank you and all the best,

 

Alex Koenig,

Non-Resident Fellow in Human Development and Education Policy

The Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS) Team

The International Institute of Islamic Thought.

https://iiit.org/en/home/

Malaysia – Prof. Rosnani Hashim

AEMS Brief #5: Cultivating Responsibility in Education

Responsibility is the second of three areas we identified as necessary for social transformation and that we utilized in the Mapping the Terrain study of Muslim societies. The rationale for focusing on Open-Mindedness, alongside Responsibility and Collaborative Collective, is because they were identified in previous literature as catalysts for change (for more on this, see our third brief). This week, we are exploring the ways in which educators can cultivate personal and social responsibility in their students as well as some of the expected benefits to society that will come from a more responsibility focused curriculum and instruction supporting young people their development into adulthood. We see social responsibility as the guiding principle of social collaboration and cohesion.

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The construct of Responsibility includes values and skills intentionally selected but not limited to self-regulation, emotional regulation, self-efficacy, and gratitude. This brief will go into greater detail on each of the skills that we have organized under the umbrella category of Responsibility, providing resources for educators with ways to integrate these skills into their curriculum and making the case for their significance in human development. The Mapping the Terrain research aims to provide baseline measures of these critical social and emotional skills and values in 16 Muslim-societies, and over the long-term we hope to be part of a movement that elevates these skills and values across educational systems to be of comparable significance to educators as more traditionally academic skills like grammar and arithmetic.

Teaching Self-Regulation

In this study self-regulation is defined as “generated thoughts, feelings, and actions that are planned and cyclically adapted to the attainment of personal goals” (Zimmerman, 2000, p. 14). Self-regulation has long been a focus of academic instruction and it has been shown to be a strong predictor of academic achievement in math, science, reading, and writing. The tie between self-regulation and academic achievement is so well established that it is arguably the driving force in many educational reform efforts targeting inequity – think of  “No Excuses” schools that aim to close racial and socio-economic achievement gaps. The logic behind pedagogical constructs like SLANT (“Sit up, Listen, Ask and Answer Questions, Nod, Track the Speaker”) follows that if young people can self-regulate their bodies in this way then their minds will take in and retain knowledge regardless of the content. This is of course, an approach that is at best narrowly focused on academic achievement and at worst a type of oppressive body control that can feel better suited for a military academy than an elementary school. Nevertheless, the popularity of these strategies and their demonstrated success at achieving their desired outcomes is proof that self-regulation is something that can be taught; the question is how broadly we choose to conceive of self-regulation.

Mapping the Terrain is explicitly driven by a belief in holistic education and its power to transform society for the better. We are not simply interested in cultivating the self-control necessary for a young person to stay in their seat for the duration of a class period or to consistently complete their homework, but also to build their capacity to self-monitor and evaluate their own behavior and modify or continue using appropriate strategies to achieve their goals. For educators, this requires a delicate balance of scaffolded support that gradually presents young people with the autonomy to self-regulate in various settings and situations. In order to do this well, educators need to be well-versed in developmental psychology to know what is developmentally appropriate for the young people they are working with. They also need to think creatively about opportunities to teach self-regulation. Take, for example, this list of 10 games that require no equipment and that promote self-regulation.  Expecting children to SLANT – and having consequences associated with failure to do so – may indeed build up a young person’s self-regulation but it does so in a punitive way largely devoid of joy. Many of the same skills can be built by playing “Simon Says” instead.

Teaching Emotional Regulation

            Self-regulation is very closely tied to emotional regulation. A holistic approach to human psychology suggests that a person’s emotional state and their behavior are intimately linked. That being said, the skills involved in ones’ emotional regulation are distinct and teaching them should be a priority for educators interested in their pupils’ long-term well-being. Emotional regulation has been referred to as “a process through which individuals modulate their emotions consciously and non-consciously to respond appropriately to environmental demands” (Goubet & Chrysikou, 2019, p. 1). The last part, about responding appropriately to environmental demands is worth lingering on. First, it centers the reality that emotional expectations vary significantly depending on one’s identity and the way that identity interacts with the external environment. The range of emotional expression considered acceptable for young girls and young boys in different contexts, for example, can be highly variable and may necessitate different coping strategies for two people who may be experiencing similar emotional triggers. This is important to keep in mind, especially when you consider the role educators play in constructing the learning environment. If we can build classrooms that provide safe opportunities for young people to emotionally regulate, and to explore different strategies for doing so, then we can build their toolbox of emotional responses and help them mature into adults with a healthy relationship to those emotions. Mood meters have been integrated into the curriculum of major school districts in the United States for example, and their complexity can be scaled up as young people build their vocabulary for recognizing and naming specific emotional states. Mindfulness exercises, such as purposeful deep breathing at the start of an activity help young people focus and prepare to learn and also give them a tool for regulating their emotions in non-academic settings. Like the other skills discussed in this and other briefs, promoting the emotional regulation of young people should be an explicit goal for educators and one that is shared with students in the same way you might share academic goals. The best part is that most of these activities take up very little time can be integrated into almost any existing classroom routine.

Teaching Self-efficacy

Self- and emotional regulation on their own are enough for someone to adapt to and survive in most environments, but in order to thrive young people need to believe in their own ability to achieve goals and influence their environment. Self-efficacy affects how people think, feel, and behave. It influences one’s decision to initiate an action, the types of goals one sets and activities one undertakes, and the level of effort, persistence, and time that one is willing to spend in completing certain tasks (Bandura, 2006, 2017). Many studies support Bandura’s claim that a person’s beliefs in his or her ability to be successful in a task plays a more significant role in success than the capability itself. Self-efficacy is malleable and is influenced by four main sources: past performance accomplishment or mastery, vicarious experience, social persuasion, and physiological/ psychological states (Bandura, 1986).

If we can give young people frequent opportunities to succeed while situated in classrooms that affirm their identities, which are staffed by educators that routinely and genuinely communicate their belief in them, then we can take care of the first three sources of self-efficacy for students. Bandura’s final source, physiological/ psychological states, is highly individualized and prone to influences outside of a classroom teacher’s control. However, effective instruction and engagement with the previously mentioned self- and emotional regulatory strategies can equip young people with some of the tools they need to build lasting self-efficacy.

Modeling Gratitude

Gratitude is a positive emotion and an important human virtue that is especially called for in all major religions and cultures. The literature suggests that “adolescents’ gratitude is positively related to many of the same emotions found in the adult research, such as hope, forgiveness, pride, contentment, optimism, inspiration, and global positive affect” (Wood et al., 2010, p.895). Expressing gratitude can be incorporated into the daily routine of a classroom. Consider setting up an anonymous gratitude jar for students to thank their peers, then read out submissions at the end of the day or week. If you and/or your students are already journaling regularly, take the time to reflect and give thanks. Teachers can model gratitude for young people, thanking students for their contributions to the discussion or community. Regularly expressing gratitude will help young people develop their own capacity to be grateful, and also improve the general well-being of teachers as well.  Teachers of ethics, civic education and religious studies can instill and infuse gratitude in their curriculum. Gratitude doesn’t mean giving up ambitions but having a level of life satisfaction and hope.

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Personal responsibility is already an expectation of most educational systems, but much more can be done to cultivate long lasting social responsibility in young people. Making a deliberate effort to teach responsibility in a scaffolded developmentally responsive way is key if we want to unlock the full potential of every child. Building young people’s skills for self-regulation, extending that regulation to the realm of emotions, fostering self-confidence and self-efficacy, and then promoting a sense of gratitude for all that we have, no matter how big or small, are steps to raise a socially responsible generation. The practical ideas provided above could be adapted to your specific community and context, and the Mapping the Terrain report offers preliminary measures of these skills from across the globe and suggests their importance and value for the participating communities in the study.

As this work continues, we hope that you will engage with us in thinking through the implications of this research. You can do that by responding to this email with any thoughts, by following us on Instagram (@iiit_insta) and Twitter (@iiitfriends), and by forwarding this message to anyone in your life who might find it interesting.

Thank you and all the best,

 

Alex Koenig,

Non-Resident Fellow in Human Development and Education Policy

The Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS) Team

The International Institute of Islamic Thought.

AEMS Brief #6: Building and Investing in a Collaborative Collective

The third umbrella category explored by the Mapping the Terrain study is the Collaborative Collective. This is a unique construct selected specifically for this study, aiming to capture the collective nature of Muslim-majority societies while accounting for the collaborative aspects required for a collective to work. Just like the two previously discussed umbrella constructs, Open-Mindedness and Responsibility (for more on them, see our previous briefs), the Collaborative Collective is not only necessary for social transformation but also a key feature of an effective classroom community. This week we will explore the ways in which educators in both collectivist and individualistic societal contexts can promote collaborative collective learning environments that highlight the interdependence of humanity.

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The construct of the Collaborative Collective includes values and skills intentionally selected but not necessarily limited to a collectivist orientation, sense of belonging, and forgiveness. This brief will go into greater detail on each of the skills included especially providing resources for educators on ways to integrate these into their curriculum and making the case for their significance in human development. The Mapping the Terrain research aims to provide baseline measures of these critical social and emotional skills and values in 15 Muslim-societies, and over the long-term we hope to be part of a movement that elevates these skills and values across educational systems to the levels of importance of academic skills and achievement.

Promoting a Collbaorative Collective

Deciding to bring the collectivist-individualist societal orientation into the classroom is an important initial task for educators when designing their classrooms. For example, the hyper-competitiveness driven by the global testing paradigm can promote a very individualistic approach to learning that sees academic achievement as a zero-sum game. Viewing K-12 education as primarily a proving ground for young people to demonstrate their superiority (or inferiority) relative to their peers is an easy trap to fall into, and there is a whole vocabulary of programs organized around this idea: tracking, magnet schools, selective-enrollment, etc. This is understandably most acute in individualistic societies like the United States, but educational systems in more collectivist societies such as China can suffer the consequences of individualism as well. Proponents of such an approach to teaching and learning will say that competition is a necessary driver of achievement and that competitive classrooms and schools prepare young people for the realities of a competitive adult world. Elements of this argument may be true, but research over the last several years into how children learn along with a renewed emphasis on equity suggest that collaborative classrooms are not only more enjoyable but also more productive.

No matter the baseline orientation of the student body, teachers can promote collaboration in their classrooms. Some strategies for doing this include games that require working together as a community, specific roles for group work that necessitate every team member’s contribution, and various brainstorming, discussion, and peer-feedback activities before and after individual work. For students that are used to very individualistic academic tasks, there may be some initial challenges in implementing these sorts of collaborative exercises. But if a collectivist classroom is implemented with fidelity, then students will see the benefits of working with and learning from one another.

Cultivating a Sense of Belonging

            In an academic setting, sense of belonging is defined as students’ perception of being supported, accepted, respected, and included in the institution (Goodenow, 1993).  Shifting students’ orientation towards their peers from one of competition to one of collaboration can itself go a long way towards giving students a sense of belonging in their classrooms. However, as with most things, explicitly and deliberately focusing on building a community of learners will extend this sense of belonging to the classroom and school. Educators have known the importance of a strong community for a long time, and there are plenty of community-building resources available for different age groups and teaching styles. These can range from simple daily practices such as greeting each student by name at the door, to more comprehensive collaboration with students in the design and upkeep of their learning environment. Exciting new work into Youth-led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) trains young people to conduct systematic research to improve their lives, their communities, and the institutions intended to serve them. This sort of work has been shown to not only improve the sense of belonging and experience of young people in their present contexts, but also leads to long-term engagement from them in their future communities. The increase in the feeling of belonging to the school and community will also improve and elevate the sense of a collaborative collective.

Modeling Forgiveness

In this study, forgiveness is defined as the ability and willingness to let go of hard feelings and the need to seek revenge on someone who has wronged the subject or committed a perceived injustice against the subject or others. Forgiveness is an essential part of a collaborative collective, because people are social animals and they rely on interacting with others. In order to be a positive member of a collective, you must be willing and able to forgive. Forgiveness is a deeply personal action, and the ways in which it is conceptualized are often deeply tied to one’s particular social, cultural, and religious contexts. Teachers can model forgiveness by purposefully modulating their own behavior and emotions and offering radical forgiveness to their students who misbehave or transgress – that is, forgiving fully and freely with no expectation for anything in return. When students see their teachers forgive their peers they not only come to like and respect their teachers more, but they also learn an important lesson of the power of forgiveness, not only for the person on the receiving end but also for the forgiver themselves. A forgiving school culture creates a more positive workplace and learning environment for every member of the school community.

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Encouraging young people to see themselves as part of a collaborative collective is an important step in promoting positive and pro-social life-long behaviors. Educators concerned with the holistic well-being of their students over the short- and long-term would do well to implement some of the strategies discussed in this brief. A classroom where everyone is actively contributing to the collective good, feels a sense of belonging, and believes in the power of forgiveness is a classroom where young people can learn and thrive. When they bring these learnings and mindsets into the adult world, they are prepared to co-create collaborative collectives across all levels of society.

As this work continues, we hope that you will engage with us in thinking through the implications of this research. You can do that by responding to this email with any thoughts, by following us on Instagram (@iiit_insta) and Twitter (@iiitfriends), and by forwarding this message to anyone in your life who might find it interesting.

Thank you and all the best,

Alex Koenig,

Non-Resident Fellow in Human Development and Education Policy

The Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS) Team

The International Institute of Islamic Thought.

https://iiit.org/en/home/