This article is published as a part of MUN Spotlight, a special series dedicated to schools and MUNs from around the globe. The aim of this series is to introduce the conferences and MUNers to our MUNPlanet audience and beyond.
Today we're taking you to the Bloomfield Hills High School in Bloomfield Hills from Michigan, USA, for a special interview with Matthew MacLeod, a Social Studies Teacher at Bloomfield Hills High.
MUNPlanet: Matt, would you be so kind to introduce yourself and your school to our community?
Matt: My name is Matt MacLeod and I am a Social Studies Teacher at Bloomfield Hills High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, USA. I am the coach of our Model UN Team and also serve as the Director of SEMMUNA, the Southeastern Michigan Model United Nations Association, which is an organization of high schools in our state that promote Model UN education for students.
MUNPlanet: We know that you did model UN when you were younger and that they greatly influenced your work today. Can you tell us more about these initial Model UN experiences?
Matt: When I was in high school, I was fortunate to take a Model UN class where we learned about the program and then attended a conference. It was a life-changing experience for me as I learned interpersonal, research, communication and problem-solving skills in a way that I never could have imagined. When I began teaching in Bloomfield Hills, I presented the idea of starting a Model UN Club so that students could have the same opportunities as me.
MUNPlanet: All of the Model UN coaches we interviewed before were teaching “regular” courses besides running their Model UN clubs. You, however, are a high school teacher teaching Model UN specifically which we find amazing. Can you tell us more about your regular Model UN class?
Matt: I am extremely fortunate that my district values innovation and encourages teachers to propose new classes. Also, my district is an International Baccalaureate District, and puts a lot of emphasis on teaching International Mindedness. For those reasons, I proposed offering an International Studies: Model UN class where students would learn about issues around the world through the lense of Model UN. I work with my classes each semester to select topics that they would like to learn about and I design Model UN scenarios around the topic. We also look for ideas from upcomingconferences and do them in class as well. We have a large Model UN club and many of the students take the class (Although usually only half of the class is in the club at the start of the year - Many end up joining along the way). I look to have the students take over more and more control of the class as the year progresses and by the middle of the term, the students themselves are designing the scenarios and chairing and running the class. It is a fantastic learning experience for our kids.
MUNPlanet: In the past few years you managed to establish an MUN network of a sort among schools from your state. Can you tell us more about this network and how do schools cooperate among themselves when it comes to Model UN?
Matt: I recently took over the Southeastern Michigan Model UN Association (semmuna.org) after Steven Chisnell from Royal Oak High School (who founded the organization and led it for two decades) decided to step down. Our organization started as a small alliance of a few high schools and has grown exponentially in the last few years. We now count close to 50 school and well over a thousand students as members. Our goal is to help support Model UN Education.We share resources on our website and most importantly, host conferences around our state for members to attend. One of the big obstacles to starting a Model UN club is deciding what conferences to go to and raising the money to attend. By us hosting multiple smaller, low-cost conferences we help provide newer teams opportunities to participate in engaging experiences. The added benefit to the more experienced teams is the opportunity to host conferences and chair their own committees.It is a win-win arrangement.
MUNPlanet: We discussed the benefits of Model UN for young minds with numerous speakers. Even though there is a general consensus on which skills are developed while attending MUNs, there is no consensus which are the top three. In your opinion what, are three most crucial skills MUNs help develop?
Inter-personal collaboration - working with other people with competing/conflicting/cooperative agendas towards a goal.
Communication - both oral and written
Follow Through - the ability to get things done both when everything goes your way, and when everything falls apart.
MUNPlanet: What would you say are the biggest traits of someone who teaches students MUNs?
Matt: Empathy is key. Having been a delegate myself many years ago and now coaching delegates, it is vital that we never forget what it is like the first time the gavel bangs and you are in that room with 50 other kids. We have to be supportive and encourage our students. Help them prepare for what they can prepare for (research, directive and working paper ideas, studying blocs, etc) and help them to learn to properly react to the things outside of their control.
MUNPlanet: We have been witnessing over the past several years the rise of Model UN globally. What can you tell us about the state of MUNs in the States and how has this evolved (or devolved) in the past 10 years?
Matt: Model UN had been growing exponentially in the American Midwest over the last ten years. As the world has been becoming increasingly interconnected schools are seeing the importance of an international education. Model UN is the perfect way to help your students grow their International Mindedness. We are seeing more and more schools offer the program and as a result more universities are running collegiate teams and hosting Model UN Conferences for high school students.
MUNPlanet: Your school is about to organize big conference this coming fall. How are the preparations going and what are your expectations?
Matt: The kickoff event we host each year is our SEMMUNA Fall Conference held the first weekend in November at a member’s school. We have had great conferences the past two years at North Farmington and Royal Oak High School. Each was attended by more than 30 schools and 800-900 students. This year’s conference will be at Northville High School and is shaping up to be our best yet. We have students from 15 different high school’s chairing committees (they have come up with their own topics, put together their own background guides and will be running their own simulations), as well as commitments from several universities (Michigan State University, The University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Oakland University, and The University of Windsor in Canada) as well as two great local Model UN organizations (GLICA - The Great Lakes Invitational Conference Association and MeDMUN - The Metro Detroit Model UN Association) coming to staff committees as well.We are expecting close to 40 schools, 1000+ students participating in 35 different committees.
MUNPlanet: In your opinion, how important is international aspect of a Model UN conference?
Matt: It is everything. You have to be able to see beyond yourself and your own world. Model UN forces you to see topics that may seem clear on the surface, and realize just how many complex sides there are to it. If you can’t see the world beyond yourself, Model UN is a great way to help you learn.
MUNPlanet: Working with young people is never a straight road and it can introduce all kinds of tricky situations. What was the biggest challenge you encountered while running the Club and how did you overcome it?
Matt: The biggest challenge I run into is helping students to understand that their is no such thing as a “typical” Model UN student in the traditional sense. My club had well over 120 active students from a student body of around 1600. We have athletes and non-athletes, students in the band and students with no musical ability, theatre students and shy students. We have everyone.There is no typical Model UN student. I always start off our first meeting of the year by assuring kids, no matter what their personality is, there is a place for them in Model UN.I don’t ever want a kid to think that Model UN is not for him or her.
MUNPlanet: How can new technologies and communities such as MUNPlanet affect the future of MUNs?
Matt: Smart phones and Google Docs have revolutionized the way we research and communicate. Thinking back to how I prepared back in the late 1990’s to how my kids prepare now, it is a whole new world. MUNPlanet is an outstanding resource that helps unite Model UN coaches so we can network with each other and help our students learn. It is also a great place for students to network. The simple truth is that more and more students are coming up having participated in Model UN, and MUNPlanet is a great way to stay in touch.
MUNPlanet: What is your ultimate advice for all MUN teachers out there?
Matt: One of the best things about Model UN is that you can tailor it to your students. If your students prefer a small club that goes to a conference or two a year, that is great!If you want to spend every weekend traveling to conferences, that is great too! You get to work with your kids and decide what is right for you. I have spoken with lots of Advisers who are starting out, and the thing I always come back to is that Model UN should be personalized to your students. I have been asked why I don’t take my team to more conferences. The answer is simple, we go to the number that makes the most sense for my students. Most of the conferences we go to our non-competitive and don’t give awards. That is because I don’t want my students losing sight of the purpose of Model UN by chasing awards. Yet at the same time, we can easily go to 2-3 award-based conferences and still give my students the right to go compete and push themselves. No matter what, make the team your own. Model UN allows that.