Capable of making a differencePear Tree Education
Pear Tree Education
30th Sep, 2011

Capable of making a difference

Ray Longaeur, EAP director at Vancouver Career College, discusses his views on Paul Romani and his attempts to change education.

Letters of reference typically focus on someone’s past achievements, but in the case of Paul Romani, the future might be an even more relevant place to direct attention. In the field of education, where teaching philosophies can easily become fossilized, Paul’s forward-thinking approaches and inspired methods have marked him as an innovative voice on the education horizon.

Over the past five years I have worked closely with Paul and have gotten to know him well. My first interview with him was a revelation for me, as I was struck by Paul’s astute insights into the shortcomings of current education systems both here and abroad in equipping students with the necessary skills to succeed in a quickly changing world, one marked by blindingly quick technological advances and the social media explosion. With a strong background in both language instruction and information technology, Paul has gained a qualified perspective on the evolving needs of the modern student.

Working with students from all over the world offers unique challenges to the language instructor. Every day brings a new set of potential problems and obstacles to learning, as the instructor endeavours to help students overcome not only their insecurities in adapting to a new culture, but also their misguided notions, or even prejudices, regarding other cultures. By impressing upon his students the need to recognise the common challenges they were facing together, Paul was effective in helping these students understand that they were part of the same team, thus enabling them to apply their own strengths to contribute to the functioning of the team.

In many of our long pedagogical discussions, two areas which Paul often expounded on as being distinctly underdeveloped skill sets in the repertoire of our students – almost completely regardless of in which country they were educated – were interpersonal skills and critical thinking skills. The irony was never lost on Paul of the moniker “social media generation” being given to a generation which appeared to be lacking in basic interpersonal social skills. Further to that, while these individuals were fortunate enough to be the first raised in this information-ready age, they lacked the necessary critical thinking skills to assimilate, share, process and apply this information in meaningful or innovative ways.

Paul sought to address these areas of deficit directly in our Integrated Skills class, one of the many courses Paul was involved with in our college and perhaps the setting for his greatest achievements. Paul basically overhauled the curriculum with a view to inculcating in his students an appreciation of the dynamics and ultimate benefits of true teamwork. By assigning different roles to the students, each with distinct responsibilities, the participants were able to recognize how the varying functions within the group contributed to the success of the whole.

These newly empowered students, regardless of the seemingly disparate cultural characteristics and attributes that they brought to the table, were consequently enlightened of the fact that their team, and in fact their classroom were actually a microcosm of the increasingly globalized society emerging around them, and that they weren’t just learning a new language, but also a set of interpersonal social skills, critical thinking skills, and team building strategies which would benefit them and assist them in thriving beyond the classroom.

Paul’s success in the classroom is largely due to his dedication to making sure the students understand why they are doing what they are doing. Understanding the purpose behind their education not only motivated the students to put more effort into it, but also inspired them to take more responsibility for their education by taking a pro-active role in determining its content and direction.

Paul has proven himself to be many things – an innovator, a teacher, a guide, but perhaps above all he is a facilitator. By providing a setting and a means for students to learn, to engage, to discover, to develop and to come into their own, he helps them realize the potential they were never aware they possessed.

There is no shortage of people who like to complain about what is lacking in our education systems today, but have no positive solutions to put forth. Paul is one educator who has the perspective, the resourcefulness, and the practical “bent” to do something about it. He is, and will continue to be a difference-maker, and his students are the most fortunate beneficiaries.

 

Ray Longauer
Director, EAP Program
Vancouver Career College, Vancouver  B.C.

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