Creating Changemakers – An Interview with Vipin Thekk.

PUBLISHED: Dec 17, 2018

In This Episode.

Vipin Thekk of joins Dave and Steve to discuss the work he does in helping reshape schools and communities so that they prepare students for an unknown future. The discussion includes ways that critical thinking, empathy, and discourse will be vital to our students, as well as how to create change where needed.

Episode Archive

Creating Changemakers – An Interview with Vipin Thekk.

December 17, 2018

Podcast Transcript

Voiceover: Welcome to the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast, we bring you research driven solutions to critical thinking education. Why? Because as Bertrand Russell said, most people would sooner die than think. In fact, they do so. And now your hosts, Steve Pearlman and Dave Carillo,

Steve Pearlman: Hi, everyone. Steve here. Before we go on on the podcast, we have an announcement, which is that a number of listeners have reached out to us seeking the prospect of being able to work more directly with respect to developing critical thinking in their education. As a result, Dave and I are exploring the idea of developing a summer institute where listeners from across the country can come and work with us directly and interactively on developing critical thinking materials and assignments and pedagogies and best practices for your particular classroom, as well as work with other educators who are similarly interested in critical thinking education educators working in other fields and your field, perhaps at slightly different grade levels. But where we can offer you some instruction on our particular approaches to critical thinking and where we can work with you and interact with you in developing some of those strategies for your particular class, if this general idea is intriguing to you at all, then just go to our website, the critical thinking initiative dawg. And at the top you’ll see a link for 2019 Summer Institute and just give us your name and your email address. And as this idea, take shape. We’ll be happy to reach out to you with more details. There is no commitment at this time because there’s at this time nothing to commit to, but we hope you’re interested, and we’d certainly love to be able to work with some of our listeners on a more hands on basis and interactive manner to bring forward those kinds of critical thinking outcomes that are so critical for students of all ages today. I’m excited to introduce our guest today who is Vipin Thekk, who is the founder of the Change Maker Communities and also a change leader at the Ashoka Organization.

Steve Pearlman: I encountered Vivian when I heard him speak at my son’s school, and he was speaking to parents about the ways that we can conceptualize raising our kids to be changemakers in the world. And I immediately understood that there was overlap between his vision of raising a change maker and a lot of what we discuss on the critical thing he initiative podcast with respect to creating active agents of critical thinking and problem solving in the world. Since Vipin and the changemaker communities do a lot of work with schools and educators in order to bring people together to talk about how we can form educational structures and come together as a community in order to foster our children to be changemakers throughout their lives. It seemed like a natural fit to bring him onto the podcast, and he was gracious and excited to join us. Reading from his bio, he has a master’s in social work. He’s an integral life coach and quote. He is an experienced facilitator, having led transformation based work for groups and institutions in Asia, Europe and the United States. His recent speaking engagements include guiding the twenty first century child artists, change makers and the app generation organized by the Montessori Schools of Connecticut, Parliament of World Religions, National and State Teachers of the Year gathering organized by C.S. Esso and many others. You can learn more about him and the work he does at Change Maker Communities dot org. And now here’s our conversation with Vipin. Hi, Vipin, thanks for joining us today on the Critical Thinking Initiative podcast. We really appreciate it.

Vipin Thekk: Thank you, Steve. I’m looking forward to this.

Steve Pearlman: So listen, one of the things we’re always talking about and our listeners know this is we’re always talking about the essential nature of forming what we call a critical thinking ecosystem on campuses K through FD, where all of the pedagogies are aligning with respect to how critical thinking is taught because we identify a number of fractures in education, from pedagogy to assessment, to assignment to student method that all don’t really actually work together with respect to forming a critical thinker. And we are always talking about how sort of if we had a young organism emerging onto a campus and it needed a viable ecosystem for it to grow into a bigger brain than that ecosystem is in many ways, starving that organism. When I heard you speak, you also talked about an ecosystem with respect to being necessary for change makers. And I’m wondering if you can talk about what is it, changemaker, first of all? And then for our listeners, they’d like some background. And then what is that ecosystem that’s needed for that?

Vipin Thekk: Great. So, you know, the easiest way to explain or talk about the background of this work is to ask a simple question. Sixty percent of some of the best jobs of tomorrow doesn’t exist today. So what are we educating our students and children on? Right? If you look around the world, we can see that we are living in a moment in human history which has no historical precedent. And by that, what we mean is the rate of pace of change in society is accelerating. And let’s be very clear. Change has always been a. Part of human life on this planet, but what is different, what is unique about this moment in human history is a rate of pace of change. I mean, you look at it, you can see that in technology, you can see that in all of the dimensions of the human life in this moment, especially in the United States. So the question which is we need to prioritize in conversations around educational reform is to ask How are we supporting our children and young people to thrive in a world where change has become the only constant? So for Ashoka, our background and our theory of change is the belief that for children and young people and adults to thrive in a world where change has become the only constant, they need to master the skills to engage with change, which for us are for cognitive empathy and new leadership, teamwork and change making. And so it’s about empathy for us as the foundation of this new world. We need to support our children and young people to master the essential skill of empathy.

Vipin Thekk: But it’s not just having empathy. It’s about a new kind of leadership. It’s not. The world has moved on from a place of one person who has all the power telling everyone else, like a CEO or superintendent, telling everyone else how to be doing. But a new form of leadership is emerging in the world where you can see that in Occupy Wall Street, you can see that in the Arab uprising, which has happened, there is no way it is that one Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi is anymore right? There is no one one leader, but it is an authentic community of people coming together to create change. So that’s new leadership, empathy, new leadership, teamwork, collaborative teamwork, which is how do you work together with people who are completely different ways, racially, culturally, socially to work together towards common goals? So this teamwork and change making is the skill. Also, because we are saying it’s not just enough to have empathy, teamwork or new leadership, but change making is the action part of it. It’s taking all these things and putting it into action for the good of all to make the world a better place. And we believe that it starts with education because the more children and young people grow up into the mindset, grow up knowing that they have the power within themselves to create change in the world. They grow up being powerful human beings who knows how to thrive in a world of constant change.

Steve Pearlman: So what’s your conception, therefore, of this ecosystem for change?

Vipin Thekk: So over the last few years, we have been working on this model of Change Makers School District, wherein we partner with large school districts to talk about how can they create a culture of empathy and agency within the school district. And as we’ve been working with school districts, what we started realizing is that teachers alone can’t change. Education patterns alone can’t change education. Politicians alone can’t change education. So inspired by the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, we are now saying it takes an ecosystem to raise a change maker. And by that, what we mean is that we go into a community or a city, and we bring together unconventional partnerships to solve conventional problems. So we bring together school districts, faith institutions, museums, companies, universities, non-profits and the fire department and bringing influencers within these institutions to come together and ask a very simple question What is it that we need to do to support the next generation of change makers, for our community, for our city? And what we have realized, which is happening, which is so incredibly powerful, is that we are breaking down the silos between all these institutions, right? So school districts are trying to change education in one side. Companies are doing this in their own corner. Universities are trying to do it. The government departments are trying to do, but they’re all doing it in silos. And what we are learning is that the single most influential lever you can pull to create transformational change in society is to break down these silos.

Vipin Thekk: If you want to support a generation of children to be change makers, you need to support teachers to be changemakers, but to create systemic change. We need to engage the teacher preparation colleges and work with them to reimagine how teacher preparation is done in the 21st century. A lot of educational reform conversation in this country do not engage parents, so we have an entire line of work called parenting changemakers, so that if schools and school districts are doing change making in the classroom, the parents are also equipped to support that process at home. So that’s the ecosystem perspective is to really step back and think about who are the most influential stakeholders in a young person’s life, and then how can we engage them through the. This process, which we have developed called the changemaker journey on work on three different kinds of change. First is the mindset shift. We believe that the best people who can support children to be change makers are change makers themselves. So we give adults the transformational experience of seeing themselves as change makers. The second is the institutional transformation, which is to say How can I as a faith leader, as a school district superintendent, how can I support my institution to thrive in a world of rapid change? And third is the ecosystem transformation because I’m I’m doing this with some of the other influential institutions in my neighborhood. So then there is a potential to create transformational change and not settle for incremental change.

Dave Carillo: Just the other day, I was reading some of the material on your website, and I noticed that within this ecosystem, there’s a cycle of intellectual activities that starts with at the top co-create and moves to implement and moves, then to reflect and then to share and then back to co-create. Does that represent sort of the individual elements of of the kind of community building or the kind of work that you do with these institutions in order to bring them out of their silos and together to start to develop that?

Vipin Thekk: Yeah, that’s a great question, and thank you for bringing that up. So a lot of what I’m going to say now or about our work can be found at our website Change Maker Communities dot org. So the innovation or the newness of perspective and action we are bringing to the table is this we are not the first people who have said, Let’s all work together, right? We’re not. We’re all going to these networking events and gatherings where we exchange visiting cards, we hug each other, we eat pizza, we go back and then we open Microsoft Outlook and everything goes back to normal. So the question we asked was How do you make human transformation sustainable? So what we have learned is to create transformational change in any institution for things needs to change. At the same time, you need to change the mindset. We need to change the curriculum or the skillset. We need to change the systems and we need to change the culture. Now, a lot of times change in initiatives fail or do not succeed is because people are only focusing on one dimension of this. But what we have learned is you need to have an integral approach to this to say you need to work on changing mindset, systems, culture and curriculum. But who are the people who can come up with these solutions? Right? And that’s the innovation in our work is to actually go and ask that question to the people within that community.

Vipin Thekk: So we go to teachers and ask them, What are your ideas to change education? We go and ask students, What innovation do you want to see in your own classrooms and in your own school? So the beauty of this work is it’s not Ashoka as an external organization coming into a community telling them how to change. But what we are saying is we have expertise in change making. We’re really good at it. And you have expertise as a school district in education, as a faith leader in in faith, as a police chief in the law enforcement. So how can we come together and partner to bring together the wisdom and knowledge we have accrued to think about creating something more powerful in the world? So how we do that is what we call a change maker journey. It’s a 10 month process, and in those 10 months, we meet with stakeholders from different institutions in the community, five different times. And in those five times, we take them through an experiential transformational process where we co-create with the participants what are their ideas to integrate change, making into the mindset, systems, culture and curriculum of that region of their own institution? And because there are so many institutions working on it at the same time, by the end of 10 months, we are able to move the entire community than just working with one school district or one faith institution or one teacher preparation college.

Voiceover: Steve and Dave will be right back. In the meantime, they want you to know about the critical thinking initiative, faculty and student handbooks. They provide the only unified critical thinking system that is a pedagogy for you, a thinking method for your students, a means of assessment that foregrounds critical thinking and a system that works for any discipline with the Critical Thinking Initiative handbooks. Your students will engage the subject matter of your course more meaningfully. You’ll receive more thoughtful writing and discussion, and you’ll help to cultivate the kind of thoughtful citizens essential for any strong democracy to get the joint set right now. At 20 percent off with free shipping, just use the Discount Code podcast at the Critical Thinking Initiative Dawg. That’s Discount Code podcast for 20 percent off and free shipping. Now back to Stephen Day.

Steve Pearlman: And that’s so exciting, and I think for our listeners, what might be great right now. I think what they might be thirsting for here is can you give an example of a school district that you’ve worked with and maybe what some of the nature of change was over the course of that district and that ecosystem as you went in and did? Let me give

Vipin Thekk: You this one of a specific school district and one of an ecosystem. So Anne Arundel School District in Maryland for forty seventh largest in the country, 80000 students, one hundred and twenty schools, six thousand teachers. They came and partnered with us and saying, How can we integrate change making or or empathy and agency into STEM education? So we co-created with them a process they started weaving in change, making into STEM curriculum in second grade, third grade, fifth grade, eighth grade and ninth grade. As part of the STEM Change Making program, the students have to solve a problem in their community. They care about using the concepts of STEM, so a group of students came up with the idea of creating a robotic arm which, when attached to boats, which goes out in Chesapeake Bay, it picks up garbage. Students started getting excited about coming to school because for the first time, they are putting their academics into action, and we all know the best way to learn something is to do with it, right? So by learning the concepts of robotics solving a problem, they care about student enthusiasm. Student attendance rate starts going up, behavioral issues started going down. But what really surprised me personally is that when we started working with administrators and teachers, when the results start, we did an impact evaluation on the teachers and administrators who are part of this process.

Vipin Thekk: And what surprised us was the data when said one hundred percent of the teachers who have gone through the change, a journey said This is increasing my sense of joy in education. One hundred percentage of them have said this is change making is helping me rediscover a sense of purpose in education. Now those are two incredibly valuable data points, and I’ll tell you why hardly any teacher wanted to become a teacher so that they can get excellent scores on standardized testing for their students. Teachers became teachers because they wanted to support the next generation of leaders, for the country and for the world. But unfortunately, the current system of education has been designed in such a way that that sense of purpose is getting forgotten. So when you bring change making back into the conversation, it’s helping teachers rediscover the sense of purpose. And you know, in a country where teacher attrition and teacher burnout is reaching crisis levels, we are bringing the joy back into teaching because think about it, when we were school, when we were in college, who were the teachers who made a powerful impact on us, not just the teachers who taught us to the test, the teachers who really still we think about fondly and with respect are what I would like to call the crazy teachers.

Vipin Thekk: You know, the teachers who had that fire in the belly, the teachers were pushing the boundaries of what education was meant to be. So that’s the context of a school district, and there is so many other data points here which you can find on changemaker communities dot org. But the most inspiring or fascinating experiment is happening in north central Massachusetts. It’s two hours outside of Boston, where two school districts, a community college, the Mount Massachusetts Community College, the United Way and the teacher preparation colleges. They are all coming together and going on the changemaker journey at the same time. So that as an ecosystem, as a community, they are saying, how can we create innovative partnerships between the school districts, the teacher preparation colleges, the community colleges so that every child who’s growing up in north central Massachusetts has a synchronized learning experience, right? How do you think about the K 20 pipeline? And you can think about the K-12 pipeline if you don’t have all the stakeholders lined up working on it at the same time. So I think it’s a fascinating experiment around how do you transform education by bringing together the most important stakeholders to engage in that conversation, but not talk about it, but do something about the changing systems, creating innovative cultural practices inside their organizations and in between their organizations?

Dave Carillo: Vivian, it’s fantastic to hear about the kind of success you’ve had with all these school districts, and I love to hear that you’re bringing the joy back into teaching for these teachers. But I’m wondering, too, as you bring these faculties, these these institutions on the changemaker journey, what kind of challenges have you faced or you found yourself up against? And how did your organization maintain their own presence as a as a change maker, as you’re moving forward into new communities, as you’re working with faculty? What kind of not necessarily. Negative pushback, but what are the challenges that you face as as you continue to do this, as you continue to learn about the process, expand the process?

Vipin Thekk: So no thank you. You know, the easiest way to describe the challenge is by saying this. A hundred years ago, a group of people came together and said everyone needs to be literate. So schools and nonprofits and governments started coming together to setting up the infrastructure to make that vision happen. One hundred years later, we are saying the world has changed. We are saying everyone needs to be a change maker. So some of the challenges we are facing is in helping people understand that what has got us here is not going to get us where we need to go next as a collective, as a species for our young people. The second piece of the conversation is helping people understand what we need is not just another curriculum or another website, but we need to change how a new mindset, a new consciousness in which we are looking at it. And by that, what I mean is well-meaning. Nonprofits today are going around the countryside showing videos of anti-bullying. And how that is backfiring is that kids are watching these videos and finding new ways to bully, which is what we say. Bullying can never be replaced with anti-bullying. Bullying can only be replaced with empathy, and that’s an example of the new mindset. And we also at times run into there is a philosophy it seems like visible or invisible, which says anything which cannot be measured is not worth doing. So we are really good at supporting our children with the intelligence of the mind. Standardized testing, common core and all those metrics. But what about the intelligence or the heart? The intelligence of empathy, the love, compassion, courage, resilience, perseverance, grit, all these stuff which we know children needs to master to thrive in this new world? So what we are saying is helping people see we need the intelligence of the mind, but we also need the intelligence of the heart. And when we do these change journey journeys, it is about giving people that experience and access to the intelligence of the mind and the heart, which for us is the left brain and the right brain.

Steve Pearlman: Vipin, one of the things I’d love to touch back with you about here is when you mention the power of the mind and the heart together. Obviously, our primary focus here is on critical thinking, and I’d love you to talk a little bit more about the role that that plays in all of this for our purposes at least, and where I see some overlap between the work you do and the work we’re doing and some compliment is that obviously we’re very focused on the reasoning aspect of this on the problem solving and the ability to give students and faculty means to bring those critical thinking moves forward. But part of what we also know and what we also preach is that through critical thinking, especially in terms often of self-reflection and the critical thinking process that we use for self-reflection, as well as critical thinking about others perspectives, that that all builds that empathy part of it you are talking about as well. So I’m wondering if you might be able to speak a little bit more about where you see critical thinking, playing a role in the work that you do and maybe where there’s an intersect,

Vipin Thekk: The way we look at cognitive empathy is that’s the place where it’s the easiest connection. So we are not just saying it’s empathy, but it’s about cognitive empathy, which is about understanding the feelings and emotions of others and then using that understanding to influence your actions. And that, I feel, is the place is the place where we this works its most closely to the way you guys are defining as critical thinking. The only difference, which I would say is there for us in change making there is an emphasis on action, right? So it’s about critical thinking. And what are you doing about the critical thinking which you you have as a skill set for the good of all to make the world a better place? So it’s always the same way, right? So change making is empathy in action. It’s love and respect in action. It is. It’s faith in action. So I think that’s the only distinction. I think critical thinking is an essential skill to thrive in this new world. And I would also add is to say it’s not just enough to have critical thinking, but it is about helping the students to use those skills for the good of all to make solve a problem they care about, to make the world a better place so that it becomes a part of who they are for the rest of the adults who they grow up into being for the rest of their life, and not just the skill they master. And then they forget about it.

Steve Pearlman: We couldn’t agree more.

Dave Carillo: Yeah, Vivian, I know that you gave us some examples of some of the large scale work that you’re doing. Could you take us into, say, a workshop about reflection or developing cognitive? The on the ground level, how do you work with students and faculty?

Vipin Thekk: Let me take you for a moment to not Central Massachusetts. So in a year or two last year, we worked with two school districts, a community college and the nonprofit in year two. What we are doing is we are increasing the number of people, institutions we are inviting on the changemaker journey. Now. The difference in our process compared to a lot of other processes around professional development out there is we don’t go and give a solution. We are not here to give answers, but we are. We are processes defined design to ask powerful questions and help the administrators and the teachers come up with their own answers using the wisdom and expertise they have. So, for example, we do a lot of self-reflection, mindfulness, consciousness based work. But we then ask the teachers, What are your ideas in the classroom based on whether you are teaching STEM or history or English language? What can you do as innovative ideas to support your children and young people to be changemakers while you are teaching them history while you are teaching them STEM? And what that does is it pushes the teachers to go back into their own creativity, to their own critical thinking skills, to their own wisdom and ask, OK, what are my idea is to make my classroom more fun, more engaging, more exciting for this based learning really thrives. So the beauty of that process is we are not giving teachers the answers. We are offering powerful containers where learning can happen. And second, what is powerful about our work is we build this idea of radical trust.

Vipin Thekk: A lot of problems and challenges we face today is there is a lack of trust in the systems. People don’t trust the institutions. Teachers don’t trust administrators. Administrators don’t trust the unions. The unions don’t trust the parents. Lack of trust is a problem, and what we have seen is there is no shortage of passionate teachers or educators in this country. But what has been challenging is they are all in their own separate silos. And what we do is by bringing together these influential, these passionate teachers. Together, we are taking one of the biggest resistances towards change, which is the sense of loneliness which creeps in so by. So we build trust by building authentic communities so the teachers come up with their own ideas to go back to your question. Ok, here is three things I can do between the first meeting and the second meeting to prototype new ideas. While how I can teach children change making through history lessons for an elementary school teachers in Connecticut, I’ve seen them say they bring up Malala and they introduce some of these inspiring young changemakers in society. The student starts thinking about How would Malala look at this? You know, so if the students are complaining about a problem they are facing, how would a change maker look at it? So by giving the solutions to the teachers, what we are also doing is teachers then go back to the classroom and not give solutions to the students, but invite them to come up with their own solutions.

Vipin Thekk: We are saying, how can we create a culture of empathy and agency inside a school building? And we do that by inviting teachers to step into their own creativity and critical thinking and coming up with prototypes, which they even then go and experiment in the classroom and then invite students to practice their empathy and agency by not giving them solutions, but inviting them into the problem solving mode. And the reason why this is becoming powerful and I want to make this connection to the joy and sense of purpose, is that it really bugs me that very few conversations in this country is about going around. Educational reform is about asking teachers, What are your ideas to change education? And you know what doesn’t happen even less is people going and asking children, What are your ideas to change education? So because the change is being driven by the stakeholders on the ground, then there is a deep sense of ownership about an idea. So it’s not about Ashoka or a third party or a superintendent coming and saying change this or change that. It’s about that idea is coming from an intrinsic sense of motivation and inspiration. And that’s why I believe that we are moving the needle on. Joy and sense of purpose is because whenever there is a sense of ownership, the chances of an idea getting implemented is so much more higher than an external party or a non-profit coming and saying Here is a curriculum and change this.

Steve Pearlman: Vipin, I don’t think we could think of a better way to wrap up the podcast than with what you just said. It was so inspiring and thoughtful, so really want to thank you for coming on?

Vipin Thekk: Thank you for the opportunity. If you visit the changemaker communities that are resources for parents, for teachers and administrators on things which you can do this today about how do you support your children to be powerful changemakers or your peers to be powerful changemakers? So that’s a great resource to start. And our contact information is on it, too.

Steve Pearlman: Thanks so much for coming on today. We can’t tell you how much we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Voiceover: Got questions about critical thinking questions about pedagogies related to critical thinking, questions about writing, reading, grading or anything else in the critical thinking realm? Contact Steve and Dave at Info at the Critical Thinking Initiative. Talk with your questions or your feedback about the podcast. Thanks for listening.


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