13 Jun 2023

My Experience with Intergenerational Collaboration and Leadership and How It Will Help Us Create a Better World

Dewina Leuschner at Salzburg Global Seminar 2023. Photo by Christian Streili.

Dewina Leuschner is a member of Teach For All’s first Student Leaders Advisory Council (SLAC). Her experiences with the SLAC resulted in a general interest for educational equity and youth leadership. Since January 2023 she is also a member of the youpaN, a national youth panel for Education for Sustainable Development. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a major in international business administration & entrepreneurship and a minor in political science at Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany. 

This article is a part of the New Education Story Global Insight Series, aiming to showcase what education transformation looks like in different contexts.

My View on the Purpose of Education and the Role of the Teacher

When was the last time you learnt something from someone who is younger than you? Not with one or two years difference but someone with a big age gap. Did you tell it to this person and thank them for that?

When people ask me how my journey with Intergenerational Collaboration and Leadership (ICL) began, I think of one exact moment, which I call my first ICL sparkle moment. It happened at a Teach For All conference in London in 2018 with one special teacher. We stood in a circle with around 145 people and 5 youths when she raised her hand to share her thoughts on what she was grateful for after this week. She started by thanking Teach For All for the opportunity of being there and said something that still takes my breath away and fills my eyes with tears. She thanked me for being her student. Later she also added in private that in that week she had learned so much from me. It was the first time that a teacher, a person I admire, said that s*he learned something from me. I was overwhelmed while at the same time my mind raised the question of “what went wrong here?”.

She is the one teacher I learned the most from in 10 years of school. At this moment I started to realize why this was the case. The reason is that she never looked down to her students and saw them as someone who absorbs knowledge from her like a sponge. She saw them as equal partners working together on projects that may be a school lesson, the participation in the European competition or attending an international conference. Before meeting her, I thought the purpose of education was teaching certain skills to get a degree. However, this encounter changed my opinion.

Today, I see the purpose of education as supporting people to understand who they are, who they want to be and to find individual ways to fill this gap. Moreover, education should also support people to understand what the world is now, what they want it to be and to find common ways to fill this gap. Education is not a tool to improve society. It’s a tool to improve self-fulfillment and potential seeking which will also help people create a better world for themselves and all of us.

In a system where this purpose would be served, teachers play a very crucial role and ICL sparkle moments would become the new normal. A teacher is a buddy on the journey of growth. They can share knowledge, ask questions and sometimes guide the way. More importantly, they believe in their students, let them try and even fail sometimes, support them to find their own solutions while also being taught and guided by their students. Learning is teamwork between teacher and student where roles switch and both leave the lesson richer than they entered. A cooperation between youth and adults that works like that might sound utopian at best and naïve at worst. However, after that one ICL sparkle moment, many more were to follow on a school and organizational level which proves that change is possible and already happening.

My Journey with Intergenerational Collaboration and Leadership

The first time I got to experience ICL on an organizational level was in 2018 when I got selected for Teach For All’s first Student Leaders Advisory Council (SLAC). Together with my later ICL sparkle moment Teach First Deutschland teacher and five other international student – teacher pairs we worked for two years together with other students, teachers and staff members within and beyond Teach For All on different levels. Our main task was to bring in the student perspective in different internal projects, on social media and in our own work. I remember myself in a video conference with Wendy Kopp, CEO and co-founder of Teach For All and giving feedback on a summary of FY19, not having any clue what these letters and numbers stand for. But I saw my time and opinion valued up to a point that someone who just received the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award at the ASU+GSV summit cared.

Until today I spoke at four international conferences by Teach For All, gave feedback on the Teaching As Collective Leadership framework and was part of several selection committees including those finalizing new members of SLAC cohorts and even recipients of scholarship and funding programs. During all this time I can surely say that I learnt immensely about myself, the world, the education system and systemic change. I also heard many students, teachers, staff members and CEOs say that they learnt from my student perspective, my still so strong belief in a better future and my unique experiences in our world. In the end I know that all those connected to SLAC look back on ICL sparkle moments.Today, Teach For All already has the third cohort of SLAC and some things changed, improved and got adapted. I am now watching from the side-line while never turning my back to intergenerational work.

Since the beginning of this year I have been a member of the youpaN, a German youth panel on education for sustainable development. With 30 young people we raise the voice that so often remains unheard in the discussion on climate change and transforming education. In regular turns we talk to national politicians, take part in meetings and panels with representatives from school, university and community and create our own projects like a children’s book on the SDGs or the yearly youth commitment conference (youcoN). We are oftentimes the youngest people at the table. Still we get invited again and again and one thing is for sure: Our voices get heard and valued. Voices that were silenced for way too long and that very slowly start to step out of the shadows of their parent generation. We are not at the end yet when it comes to ICL and we all learn along the way. But I see ICL sparkle moments popping out of the ground like beautiful flowers that somehow made their way through the asphalt. And I see the sparkling eyes of people from all generations while watching the tiny plants grow.

At this point, a lot has to happen to make the ground softer for the flowers to grow and the spaces we have more inclusive for all people. That means removing physical barriers but also lowering barriers concerning language, system and circumstances. Organizational and political spaces are mostly built up for adults and are often highly academic. It needs change in the way we speak, design meetings and value the time and contribution of young people to enable more participation on all levels. Teach For All and youpaN prove that this change is possible. It takes courage to walk the first mile, be ready to fail, adapt, improve and fail better. At the end I’m sure that together we are able to design a system that gets the most of the experienced minds as well as the creative and revolutionary ones. It is a puzzle that only together can make up a beautiful picture of our world. And it is high time that we all step up and start bringing the pieces together.

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