Interview with Warsha Gunesekara, Loshani Nikeshala, Manelka Jayasundara, and Keshi Wewegama. All students from AOD who have attended my Human Centred Design based on Empathy class between 2017 - 2022.
Key findings: The Module:
Within the module, the students had the chance to openly talk about their trauma and look at from the outside in.
Difficult topics were made easier to talk about with peers.
They were also introduced to the concept of ‘empathy’ where they consciously paid attention to the meaning of the word.
When asked if they became a better human being or a better designer, the common answer was ‘a better designer’, and in certain aspects, a better human being.
They also gained better decision making skills and self-confidence.
They have taken the training they received in my class beyond the classroom. Especially the concepts of ‘Kill your darlings’, which is killing ideas you love if it doesn’t serve the purpose of the project, ‘Don’t ask stupid questions’, which is to think thrice before asking a question and to see if you can find the answer yourself, and never describing anything as ‘cool’, ‘pretty’, or ‘nice’, and give valid reasoning to their design choices.
High school experience:
Toxic use of language: In high school, the teachers resorted to low language that affected them mentally.
Problems: When students had a problem, it was undermined. The common mentality was ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ with no real space for discussion.
After O/Ls, none of the students out of the four wanted to do A/Ls.
They will acknowledge the knowledge given if they like the one who is giving out that knowledge.
Experience in my class:
The tone I used mattered. I was not seen as judgmental, but instead of saying ‘I’m right, you are wrong’, I have used ‘I understand why you did what you did, but let’s try another method. I have validated their feelings, and then have guided them to the next step. I have treated them as equals rather than consider them as inferior as their high school teachers have done.
A big turning point was when I used my own experiences as examples to teach. This has made an impression on their minds that I am a person with a full life, and they felt that I would be open to understanding them as I have gone through similar experiences. This gave them the opening to open up to me about their experiences. Sharing my experience first was the key difference.
Complimenting work - While this was not seeing as a major topic, the interviews led me to understand that it mattered a great deal. I am not overly free with compliments, and my highest compliment is ‘This is okay’. However, it was seen as an accomplishment and a motivator to do better.
Connecting to their generation: Use of memes to teach, knowledge about apps such as TikTok and Snapchat and using it in example, and talking about things such as gaming and favourite movies made them understand the content better as it was relating to their day to day activities.
Sudden deviation from the syllabus made the class more interesting. These are moments where I would tell them what I did the say before or what I would be doing after class.
Fear does not work on them. A teacher trying to scare them into learning would not make them be more receptive to information.
After I left AOD, they filled the gap by opening up to their parents, and all four students have a better relationship with at least one parent as they learnt to communicate.
Sri Lankan culture taught them to respect their elders, but they chose who they handover that respect too. Even after they stop being my students, I can see that the respect they had for me is still very much there.
The question arise whether instead of older generation giving them an almost a manual on how to live, whether Gen Z communication could be more powerful.
My class had offered them discipline, and they were keen to follow my rules as they were not considered ‘unfair’. To this day, they follow those rules whether they are required or not.
One key observation; no adult has ever asked them how they truly are, and when I asked, they were more likely to talk to me. Warsha: ‘School gave us socially accepted standards. Your class gave us morally accepted standards.’
At the end of the interview, the students turned the questions to me and asked what it was about my upbringing that made me who I am. They asked me if I could meet my younger self, whether I would mentor her. My answer was that if even if I could, I wouldn’t, as I love who I am right now.
They analysed this to say that perhaps I let them be themselves at this age because they also want to love themselves the way I love myself right now.
When I asked if they like themselves more now, they said ‘much more’. They said that I ‘flipped the table’ on them, and they gained so much confidence to be themselves. End result, all four students don’t hate themselves and don’t want to die anymore. They’re no longer part of The Not So Great Depression. That being my student made them wanted to embrace who they are and live.
Reflections: While how they described my approach to teaching worked for them, it got me questioning whether I could replicate that within other teachers. My behaviour was replicated each year and students had a similar response to me because it was who I am as a person. However, would it be difficult to replicate a personality as a ‘personality is formed by the ongoing interaction of temperament, character, and environment’, and would need innate decision making skills to react to different students in different ways.
Perhaps the change I want to see is for Gen Z to love their uniqueness and embrace who they are for the better, and in return create an empathetic future identity where they understand themselves and the community better to create for them.
Healthofchildren.com. 2022. Personality Development - stages, Definition, Description, Common problems. [online] Available at: <http://www.healthofchildren.com/P/Personality-Development.html.> [Accessed 16 April 2022].
Gunesekara, W., Nikeshala, L., Jayasundara, M. and Wewegama, K., 2022. Design Education vs School Education.