Monday, August 20, 2012

An Honour

I am very honoured to have been selected for the Globe and Mail's national and on-going panel on education. Each week we will be discussing a different question about education and what thrills me are the many voices, backgrounds and perspectives that will weigh in.  I look forward to lively discussion.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

For the Record Laurel Broten

I intend to be in my classroom at the start of the school. I always intended to be in the classroom at the start of the school year. I haven't taken a strike vote. I haven't participated in any discussions with anyone about being on strike at the start of the school year.

So your attempt to sully my reputation by suggesting to the public that I and my colleagues were intending to begin the school year by not beginning the school year is wrong.

I teach my students honesty and to act with integrity.

It would be nice if the Minister of Education might act as a role model for them and do the same.

Powerful Reflections From Unplugd12

There are many fabulous posts beginning to surface from attendees of unplugd. Below are a few that resonate with me. As I come across others, I will add to this post.

Lorna Constantin talks about a how to of parent engagement so that we can avoid parents picketing outside a school (yes, it happened)

Karen and Erin are educators and can be found on twitter. Maybe one day you will get the chance to meet them f2f :)
Unplugd12: Trying to Process

The Reflecting Pool

I love that Aerin was at unplugd because she is a parent, and while I have learned many things from her, she is not a classroom teacher. Broadening the discussion to include many voices is key to moving our education system forward.
 Full Circle

I will never picture the shores of Lake Superior again, without thinking of Donna.
Everybody Needs a Rock

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rocks, Jacques Cartier and A Confession: A Weekend of Unplugd!

"Everybody Needs a Rock"                                                                                               
Thanks Kelly for Reminding me of this!

What to say about Unplugd? I've been trying to process my thoughts about this past weekend. They are jumbled and vast and there are so many layers to what I experienced that words have not flowed readily. I've been reading posts of others who attended. Rocks and the significance of the rocks we brought figure large. So rocks it is ... as good a place to start as any.

I have to confess that when I first read that I was to bring a rock my reaction was ... "LAME ... what kind of contrived activity will I be forced to participate in?"  I had much the same reaction when we used to do ice breaker activities at workshops and I had to run around the room trying to find someone who had also eaten pizza for dinner or spoke French or had a dog to sign my sheet.  (I'm sure they don't make doctors at their professional development meetings do those things.)

Then I thought that maybe we'd get to throw our rocks - heave them into the lake all at once to see who could throw the farthest. That might be fun. 

Needless to say  I didn't spend a great deal of time picking my rock.  I left it to the last day - the morning of - in fact. I drove up the Niagara Escarpment and stopped near Harper's Garden Centre. (NO! I did not purchase my rock ... although I have to admit, I was tempted) looked around and found a perfectly adequate pock-marked, irregular, fossil-laden stone that is typical of the escarpment, said that will do and stuffed it in my pocket. 

When we gathered in the circle and began telling the stories of our rocks and connecting our rocks and more importantly ourselves to each others' stories, I became deeply moved. I sat there thinking of where my rock had come from - its incredible geologic history  and the beauty of its home that I get to see everyday outside my classroom window which faces onto the escarpment. My rock began to gather meaning.

                                  photo by @cogdog Alan Levine

Many rock stories linger with me still, Donna's tale of scouring the shores of Lake Superior, Alan's rock from Arizona and the journey it represents, Rob's 5 rocks (definitely not a rule follower), and many more that meant so many things to so many people.  As we continued to build connections to each others stories, I was humbled. I was somewhat embarrassed about how callously I had obtained my rock. And then I thought about how often I close the door on things before they have even begun to open. Was my rock more representative of me than I had realized?

    by Alan Levine

Later that weekend four of us went canoeing to the end of the lake and entered a spectacular winding river that marks the entrance into Algonquin Park. Algonquin Park rivers are like no others. Tim, our guide told us that Jacques Cartier had made it as far as the entrance to the river and then turned back because he thought there'd be nothing there.  Ouch. How often do I turn my back on something before I've arrived? 

I thought about how often we do this as educators. How when a new idea arrives or a new method is introduced or someone comes to us and says, "Research says that if you begin doing .... you will get better results." And we slam the door closed with a, "I've been in the classroom for 20 years, thank you very much. I already know how to teach." I think I've been guilty of that a time or two.

At the end of the weekend when Rodd suggested that we might want to leave our rocks somewhere at Northern Edge, I knew immediately where I was going to place mine. As soon as our last Circle ended I made straight for Points North - a beautiful, gathering spot built of wood and granite and windows. I placed my rock just outside one of its doors. I placed it as a reminder for me to keep the doors open.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Subtext, Power and Abandonment

I've been thinking a great deal about messages and sub-text recently and hierarchy and power structures and how decisions get made and how levels interact and why levels interact the way they do.

And I've a few things to say to my fellow citizens which I think are really necessary particularly as we've entered difficult times in some parts of Canada. Lines are being drawn in the sand. Public sector vs. private sector workers are being pitted against one another. Unionized workers are being challenged by minimum wage and contract workers. Boomers with pensions and benefits are being confronted by unemployed youth. Eastern Canada is being put into conflict with Western Canada. Resentments are being fostered. Entitlements are being questioned. Internationally respected programs are being eliminated.

And I get the money issue.  It is always useful to examine finances and decide where to get the most bang for our buck.

However, I think there's something else going on. I think there is a subtext to this message of "the cupboard is bare" that isn't really being talked about.  I think these uncertain times are being used by governments and corporations as the perfect opportunity to ditch responsibilities, abandon hard fought for rights and weaken legislation. There's a continuous message coming at us: we're in debt, there's no more money, we have to cut back, we must give up on the environment if we wish to have jobs.

Here's the thing though - there is money. Lots of it. Trillions. Some of  it's sitting locked up. Untouched. Inaccessible. Belonging to only a few. Unshared. Removed.

There was money for the CEO of Caterpillar to give himself a multimillion dollar raise while the workers in the London plant were abandoned and jobs shifted to a US state that has in its turned abandoned legislation that protects people in the work place.

There's enough so that Dalton McGuinty in the last election could cancel a project that is now costing Ontario taxpayers more than $180 million so that he could save the butt of one MPP in one riding.

And now he says we must cut wages, benefits and programs. This may be true. We may need to make cuts.

What worries me though is that I see many people caving, not questioning, not challenging the message that they are hearing. I see them just accepting. And I want to say to them. Please. Don't give up so easily. Don't abandon what your parents and grandparents moved to this country for and in some cases, put their lives on the line for so that you could have a better life. Please fight for what will make the lives of all citizens of Canada better, not just those already at the top.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How Do We Create THIS for our Learners?

I had the privilege of attending Unplugd12 with 40 exceptional people  in a place of exceptional beauty to talk about what really matters in education, to share our stories and to write a book - in one weekend. I'm certain that tweets and blogposts about this transformative event will litter the socialmediasphere for many weeks to come.

My first post about unplugd, though, tells a sidebar story but one that needs to be told because for me, it tells everything about what matters and what I want for my students, and frankly, for myself!  It's Kim's and Jeff's story - our canoeing, biking, hiking guides at Northern Edge where the event took place.

Kim and Jeff used to live in the GTA. She was a pharmaceutical sales rep. He was a national sales manager for a well-known company. Just over 5 years ago, Jeff realized he was no longer enjoying his job. It had changed from a people job where he was dealing with customers face to face, to a desk/computer job where sales orders were handled on line. Jeff came home one day and announced that he would be leaving his job. Shortly after, Kim was downsized and they found themselves with an opportunity to change everything. They decided to leave the urban world behind and follow their passion. Their house was sold, they bought land near Algonquin, they built a small cabin that had no road access and they began earning all of their outdoor accreditations: whitewater canoeing, kayaking, dogsledding, high level first aid - whatever they thought would be useful.  They joined an organization involved in the restoration of historic hiking trails and slowly became known in the area. This eventually led them to being hired at the Northern Edge as head guides.

Kim and Jeff are passionate about what they do. You could not convince them to ever move back to urban Ontario. They've carved out a rich and fulfilling life for themselves. This was not easy . It took work and there were many difficult days. But ...  they did it!

This is what I want for my students. I want them to feel confident enough and supported enough to follow their passions, take risks and fulfill their dreams.  Thanks Kim and Jeff for showing us the way.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Back-Off Parents! Let Your Kid Figure Things Out!

This fall my eldest is heading off to university. I remember my own entrance into university. Other than my mom driving me down to help me find a place to stay, the majority of the organizing and decision making was done by me, as was the case with all of my friends.

Imagine my surprise then when I opened a 52 page guide for parents with advice on how to help a student transition into university.  While some of the information was helpful, I couldn't help but wonder if I really needed to know that tailgating is allowing someone without a key to follow you into a residence which often leads to mischief or where the Cow Path is or who the Dippers are.  Part of me was thinking I shouldn't be reading this. This is my daughter's new world, not mine and these should be her discoveries.

As I continued through the guide I came to a section that began with this:

Very Important Note About Contacting Resources:

The information provided in this section is not provided so that parents and family members can contact campus service providers on behalf of  a student. Instead, you are strongly encouraged to use this information to empower your family member to advocate on her/his own behalf. They may need coaching on how to do this in a productive manner and debriefing afterwards can be helpful too. 

A critical life skill for a student is knowing how to advocate for oneself while remaining respectful (often approaching with questions rather than telling how it is) and having the confidence to act on one's own behalf. You may want to use this information to direct the student in your family towards the resources they need.

What has this world of parenting come to that universities feel the need to tell parents to back off and let students problem solve on their own? What kind of people have we raised that a university feels compelled to tell parents that their children should be polite when trying to resolve issues? How did this happen?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ISTE: Non-Invasive Treatment for Dyslexia?

I had the opportunity to visit many vendors' booths while at ISTE and technologies that enable collaboration and personalized learning dominated the conference. 

There were a few companies that I found intriguing and one that is very worth mentioning.  I have not had a chance to explore this company in depth and this should not in any way be considered an endorsement, but I want to mention the company because of the promise that their technology holds for students with visual reading disorders associated with dysexia and colourblindness. I brought the information package home to share with my colleagues and am posting the company website here for others to explore.  The  company has developed patented ophthalmic lens technology to correct colour blindness or dyslexia. I am very interested in learning more! 

Post ISTE: Crash, Burn, Reflect

I have to confess that after my return from ISTE and the unrelenting pace of last year, I crashed. Shut down my connected. Enjoyed the quiet. Not felt the urge to tweet, post, share nor follow. Instead I've spent time with family, (my father continues to deteriorate and family time is absolutely the priority), found accommodations for my daughter who is heading off to university this fall, enjoyed our pool, painted miles and miles of trim, watched the Tour de France and now the Olympics, hiked, and taken a well earned rest.

My mind hasn't been entirely quiet thought. I have been thinking about this connected world, what it means to be connected and what exactly the value is of being connected.  How does being connected enrich our lives and how does this constant connection remove us from life? How is life different when one is connected and when one deliberately chooses not to be? I suppose I've been viewing being connected with a critical eye to determine what comes next for my teaching practice and how to make the most effective use of these tools for my students.

What does astound me are the unexpected events that arise from being connected.  One of the laments of my husband's family about their nomadic childhood has been the loss of contact with friends and family that occurred when letters and phone calls were the only options.  This summer as a result of my blog, Tales from an Unusual Childhood, and a post about the Telstar Satellite,  long lost family has been found and I am looking forward to meeting more members of that very unusual family!


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