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An invitation to Engage: The Pathways Aravali School, India and Gender Sustainability (Part I of 3)

Bhavna’s invitation came in the form of a message on Twitter. The chaotic and happenstance world of social media made a connection that otherwise might never have been. (Score a momentary win for global digital conversations).

The Pathways School Aravali, an International Baccalaureate boarding school in Delhi, India, runs an innovative, project based program for students to explore issues relevant to sustainability and the future of the planet. (Ambitious and necessary!) The students pick their sub area of interest and then an expert mentor supports the students and teachers as the students prepare projects for presentation. The projects must also have a social justice/action component as well.

The Pathways framework around gender and sustainability makes a lot of sense. It creates a practicality in the age of climate crisis and therefore the need to rethink natural resources that should not be ignored. For too long, patriarchal thinking around global resources, the reasons for going to war, as a vehicle for predatory capitalism, has not only caused millennia of human suffering, but has also led to the current threat to global survival for the human race and many of its living ecosystems.

The movement toward greater gender equality means a movement towards new ways of thinking through our global dilemmas, new paradigms that have not ever been fully explored because women have been treated like second class citizens or worse. As for one powerful example, “In the workplace, women’s leadership is associated with increased transparency around climate impact. Higher percentages of women on corporate boards positively correlates with the disclosure of carbon emissions information.”* We will need new forms of leadership not previously represented.

Here is their purpose statement:

Bhavna, a seasoned educator, school leader, and digital ambassador reached out from a 13.5 hour difference to me in Los Angeles (I now know this well) and asked if I would be the expert mentor for a group of students who chose gender equality and neutrality as their sub-topic. I suppose she had seen my endless tweeting on these issues and/or that my book on Gender and Education was coming out in June. Needless to say, I was very excited and nervous about taking on this opportunity.

The Pathways framework around gender and sustainability makes a lot of sense. It creates a practicality in the age of climate crisis and therefore the need to rethink natural resources that should not be ignored.

The excitement came from being able to connect across borders and across cultures to engage in this vital work. I wanted to hear how the students and teachers framed gender as an issue, how it spoke to them in their own milieu, in order to learn and grow from what they had to say. Also, just making the human connection sounded wonderful. Schools and educators learning from each other and growing together is going to make an enormous difference in this area.

The reluctance or anxiety came from not knowing whether I was prepared enough, ready enough to have this conversation in a productive way. There was a very real fear of saying the wrong thing or offending someone because my cultural awareness was not deep enough or sensitive enough. I was also not going to fly to India to do this work. It would be over Zoom. My professional experience has been that this work needs to be done in person. As an educator, I need to be totally engaged with full, living and breathing human beings in front of me to understand what needs to be done and when to pivot given people’s reactions. Zoom is still a poor substitute for this critical work.

What I will share in parts II and III of this blog post are the sessions which I conducted with the students. These sessions were much less about me teaching them as they were about encounters and understandings. I hope I can capture what was so inspiring about the experiences of working with these students and their teachers.

Oh, and did I mention that the students are 9 and 10 years old?


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Jason is flexible and attentive, yet remains committed to his high expectations of my work in tackling tough situations and tasks.  With a sense of humor and compassion for the rigor of a leadership position, he knows how to guide me with just the right amount of productive stress.  I appreciate that.

Daphne Orenshein - Elementary School Principal: Hillel Hebrew Academy

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