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Day 38: Aaron Akune, Vice Principal (Delta Secondary School)

October 31, 2012

Connecting (Not Protecting) Ideas

The other day, I bumped into a teacher in the hallway and we engaged in a chance conversation. She had just returned from meeting with colleagues from across the school district and it was clear she was bouncing off the wall with enthusiasm as she described some of the possibilities that she now saw for her own classes. More than anything, what stood out to me was the passion and excitement in her voice. She expressed how great it was to exchange ideas with her colleagues, and how excited she was to once again be a learner, exploring new ways of doing things with the support of others.

Her experience is a perfect example of how inspiring it can be share our thoughts with others and how we feed off of other people’s energy. It’s within networks of trusting relationships where we can share our hunches, ask questions, admit mistakes, seek reassurance and describe our experiences. It’s in these environments where we can connect our own hunches to what we learn from others and begin conjuring up innovative ideas. Over time, as we engage in conversations, receive support and reassurance from others, and continue to mull over ideas, we gradually reach the point when we have the confidence to transform our innovative ideas into innovative practice.

So why would anyone want to restrict themselves to learning in isolation?

Who wouldn’t want to connect his/her ideas with those of others

Why would anyone intentionally protect their ideas from others as though they were holding on to some secret intellectual property?

Who wouldn’t wish to participate in a professional learning community (PLC)?

Why is it then, that so many educators are learning in isolation?

  • Yes, time can be a factor. Teaching all day with little to no common time to meet definitely presents an obstacle. Although it is a start, even the embedded collaborative planning time that many schools have incorporated into their schedules is insufficient to spur on lasting innovation. Sharing and collective reflection amongst colleagues, whether formal or informal must be a part of the daily learning culture in order for innovative thinking to prosper.
  • Yes, proximity can also be a factor. It’s challenging for teachers from different schools and different districts to meet face-to-face. The few times a year that this type of gathering takes place is again insufficient to generate any momentum in teacher learning. And even within many larger schools, teachers tend to converse and share informally with colleagues who teach in the same part of the building. While there’s nothing wrong with this, groupthink can quickly occur. This is why it’s important to introduce external ideas and perspectives that challenge the thinking of the group.

How do we overcome these obstacles?

 Enter social media.

 2 years ago I started creating my own Personal Learning Network (PLN). At the time, I never would have predicted how significant an impact my PLN would have on my learning. I’ve assembled a collection of some of the most foreword-thinking educators from around the world, individuals with whom I would never have been able to interact or learn with if I hadn’t built my PLN. I’ve connected with learning opportunities, accessed professional development resources and built camaraderie with other educators. In many cases, conversations I’ve started with my PLN have continued via Skype, telephone and face-to-face.

In the same way that the teacher I referenced earlier was excited by the conversations she had with her colleagues, I find myself inspired daily by the conversations I have with my PLN. Sure, a digital connection has its limitations. It doesn’t replace my face-to-face conversations but it offers me an ongoing stream of perspectives, hunches, ideas and questions that I can connect my own thoughts to.

Conversations through social media may seem somewhat chaotic because of the multiple conversations that are simultaneously going on in public. But, as Stephen Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From indicates, it’s in these environments where hunches can collide, and where ideas can mingle and swap.

So, for those of you who still require some convincing, I encourage you to check out the short clip Twitter for Educators, create your own PLN and take advantage of the anytime and anywhere opportunity to connect and collide your hunches and ideas with those of others!

Aaron Akune is the Vice Principal at Delta Secondary School and has a passion for connected learning and using social media for professional growth. This post was originally shared on Aaron’s own blog, Educating in the 21st Century.

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Day 37: Lisa LeBlanc, Chair of Delta Parents Advisory Council

October 30, 2012

I’m not a teacher, a developmental psychologist, a social worker, or a police officer. I am, however, a parent. And I like to think I’m a pretty good one…most of the time. My kids ride their bikes to school every day – usually with a smile, and normally with a healthy lunch (that they’ve made themselves…I’m also not a personal chef), a signed agenda, completed homework and sometimes a list of questions that their dad and I can’t answer because it’s been way too long…

My children are sometimes polite (they’re not robots), they sometimes show empathy (nobody’s perfect) and they often enjoy exploring the deepest recesses of their varied interests; they can slice cheese safely, fry an egg, and build a campfire; they can swing a hammer, use some power tools, and build most IKEA furniture independently. On the weekend they do some sports, hang with their friends and recharge their batteries. I know they’re not exceptional, but I believe they’re the most remarkable people in the world.

I attribute their independence, confidence and skills to teachers that honor and celebrate their individual skills and talents, and to a healthy mix of school/life balance.

When I send my children to school, I believe that their teachers are offering them experiences, and the supports they need, to explore, learn and grow in ways that are appropriate for their developmental stage. Maybe that matches their grade level, maybe it’s somewhere ‘above’ or somewhere ‘below’. I’ve always believed it’s up to the kids to make the most of the experiences they’re offered at school, and it’s up to us parents to help them be heard when something’s getting in the way of that.

My kids are in grades 3, 5 and 7, and I feel very fortunate that they have had the school experiences that they’ve had so far. I know they’re lucky to have the fantastic teachers, EAs, administrators and school community they’ve got, and I know they’re lucky to have a loving, healthy, supportive home. In spite of this, though, there are questions that wake me up at night:

What about the children in our system who don’t have a stable home, with parents who are paying attention? Who supports them in advocating for themselves? And who supports them in exploring the deepest recesses of their interests when school lets out?

And, what’s going to happen when my children leave the gentle, flexible, and varied experience of elementary school? Will they have the same opportunity to learn at a pace that works for them? Will they have the same opportunity to explore the depths of those rainbow questions that transcend language arts, science, math and social studies? And will they have enough time with their teachers to dig deep on the questions that have them (and me and their dad) stumped or energized?

Lisa Leblanc, Parent and Chair of Delta DPAC. Lisa is mom to Kate, Aida and Zane, and is enjoying her third year as DPAC Chair.

Day 36, Ramneet & Miika, Students (North Delta Secondary School)

October 29, 2012

It started out like this.

It was the second week of September and Mr. Hundal, our Social Studies 8 teacher, told us there was something fundamentally missing from our textbook. We were all quite surprised at the remark. He asked us, “ladies and gentleman, does anyone know what is missing from our textbook?”

There were many guesses. Some people guessed that the information wasn’t true; someone thought that not all the information was there, or there was only one perspective. We were getting close. (We were currently studying the early middle ages.) Some people thought that the attackers or the victim’s perspective was missing from our textbook. We were close but not quite there.

One Thursday morning, when no one could answer his question, Mr. Hundal decided to tell us. “Out of this entire textbook, more than 1000 years of history, there are only about 7 pages that are dedicated to women’s contribution.” No one expected it, yet, it seemed like an obvious answer. We spent at least half an hour on the subject having a very serious discussion.

After this, Mr. Hundal told us that he was going to assign something that should never have to be assigned. We needed to complete a research project about women’s contribution in history. Now, you might be thinking, “It’s good that these kids are being educated about women’s contribution to history. What’s the problem?” He also answered this. “We shouldn’t need to go out of our way to find out what women have done and how they’ve effected our modern day society.”

And so our class began to research. One student researched Benazir Bhutto, a women who fought for years trying to get more legal rights for women. She had to fight for something that men easily had. Another student studied Rosa Parks, an African-American woman who stood up for African-American civil rights. Oprah Winfrey made a positive impact on men and women alike. Kim Campbell was the first female Prime Minister of Canada. But is there a day that is dedicated to any of these women? Or some sort of acknowledgment of their impact on history?

But why is studying about women’s contribution so important?  We have learned how women have had to fight to earn the same legal rights as men, including the right to vote. In class we discussed how women take care of children that will grow up and change the world.  Women change people’s perspective on racism, and they take ideas and turn them into something bigger, a reality, Every day, women change the world.

Through this project our class learned that women shouldn’t be told they can’t do anything just because they are women. Women’s contributions are just as important as what men have done in history and that we should never underestimate the effect women have  had on society.

If we all stand up, we can make a difference!

Ramneet & Mikka are engaged students in Mr. Hundal’s Social Studies class at North Delta Secondary School.

Day 35: Five Idea Friday!

October 26, 2012

Another Friday, another Five Ideas!

1. The Scale of the Universe. A neat visualizer of size and scale – from the extremely small to the mind-blowingly large.

2. Clea.nr. Since this Five Idea Friday has three videos, Clea.nr seems to be an appropriate tool. This useful plugin for web browsers (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, etc) strips off the ads, comments and related videos on Youtube. Great for classrooms. Trying installing this before you move on!

3. Math Visualizations Vi Hart calls herself a Mathemusican. On her blog you’ll see a ton of fantastic examples of math visualizations and engaging math topics to play with. Here’s one example:

4. The Future of Education?  This one might be a controversial conversation starter. We share this here not as something the Delta School District wholeheartedly supports, but rather as a glimpse into how some leading edge thinking are discussing education.

“Leading entrepreneurs and thought leaders provide a look at the future of education in a short documentary from Ericsson. It discusses how technology is changing the way students learn as well as what it means to learn and teach in a connected era.”

5. Where Do Ideas Come From? “People often credit their ideas to individual “Eureka!” moments. But Steven Johnson shows how history tells a different story. His fascinating tour takes us from the “liquid networks” of London’s coffee houses to Charles Darwin’s long, slow hunch to today’s high-velocity web.”

Day 34: Mark Douangchanh, Vice-Principal (Port Guichon Elementary)

October 25, 2012

Walk to School Week and Run for Diabetes

Millions of kids around the world deal with diabetes, needles and insulin pumps. For many of these kids they had no choice in the matter and diabetes didn’t happen because they did something bad or made a wrong choice in life.

We asked ourselves at Port Guichon if there was anything we can do to help. We saw one of our own students deal with the hardships of diabetes everyday and we wanted to do something.

The idea was simple. Let’s commit to walking to school for a whole week and collect pledges on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

For some of our kids, walking to school everyday can be more difficult than one might think. I wanted to encourage our kids to participate and I needed a way to get them enthused about “Walk to School Week”. I then realized that If I was asking the kids to get to school by foot then I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t do the same.

The only problem was that mu house was in Cloverdale and Port Guichon was 32.21 km away in Ladner.

We decided to have a “Run for Diabetes” Day on Oct 24 in the middle of “Walk to School Week” and I would run the 32 km from my house to the school. As a former type 2 diabetic, I knew how lucky I was to be able to get rid of diabetes through healthy food choices and exercise. I knew that unfortunately, kids with type 1 diabetes would not be as lucky unless there was a cure. Finding a cure may seem like an enormous task, but I knew we needed to start somewhere.

I took my first steps at 6:15 am that morning and made my way down 64th avenue towards Delta. I was shooting to arrive at school by 10:00 am and paid extra attention to my pacing because our Principal, Mr. Thompson was gathering the kids in the gym in orders to greet me. I did not want them to have to wait any longer than needed.

The rain held off until about 19 km in and I felt strong till about the 28 km mark. I would say that I didn’t feel fatigued until the last 4 kilometers. Fortunately by then Const. Doolan and Const. Atkinson met up with me and acted as my official police escorts and provided some much needed motivation. Several parents also drove out on the route to give me car honks words of encouragement.

As I entered the gym, I was greeted by a reception that would make any Rock Star jealous. It warmed my heart to see and hear the reaction of all our kids in the gym. I saw a sea of posters with words of encouragement for me and I was literally overwhelmed. We proudly presented a cheque of nearly $2000.00 to the JDRF and more donations are still coming in as I write this.

There’s a soft spot in my heart for the old saying: “a journey of thousand miles begins with one step”. I am proud of the students and staff at Port Guichon for their hard work. Hopefully they feel just as strongly as I do and feel that we have taken some powerful steps together in the effort of finding a cure for diabetes.

Mark Douangchanh is a vice-principal at Port Guichon Elementary in Ladner, BC. He can be found on twitter at @MarkDouangchanh

Day 33: Jim Hope, Vice Principal (Ladner Elementary)

October 24, 2012

A teacher colleague recently commented that she felt pressure to teach differently in order to meet the goals set out in Our Bold Vision. I thought for a second, and then mentioned that she runs a program every year that captures the very essence of the vision.

The teacher is Meriel Abrahamson, or Mrs. Abe as she is known to most, and the program is the Evans Lake outdoor education program. Mrs. Abe is extremely passionate about outdoor education and environmental stewardship and this passion is passed on the grade 7 students at Ladner Elementary.

I was fortunate to spend 2 of the five days with the group at the Evans Lake camp. What I saw was a teacher providing engaging, enriching learning activities as kids moved through the forest studying plant life, looking at animal trails, and learning how they can preserve the environment. I also saw kids learning a lot about themselves. I saw relationships formed and strengthened, not only between students, but also with staff and students as well.

I had the opportunity to bond with the students one chilly morning as we did the 7 am polar bear swim in the lake in October. At night, the singing and acting around the campfire showed off multiple talents and let kids come out of their shells. Students creatively turned metal coffee cans into lanterns shaped like a variety of creatures that would light the path in the dark while providing something to talk about.

I saw the kids take on leadership roles in their cabin groups by monitoring attendance, looking after buddies, and doing chores that included clearing dishes and cleaning bathrooms. Another task students had was to journal their experiences. I saw kids, who occasionally have trouble writing in the classroom, spewing their ideas, thoughts and feelings onto the page as they were inspired by their experiences.

This all happened because of the dedication and collaboration of teachers, parent volunteers, and community volunteers who came together to give the students an opportunity to partake in an engaging educational experience that allowed everyone to showcase their talents, become part of a larger group, and demonstrate leadership skills.

This brief description highlights one of the many comprehensive, valuable educational experiences teachers are, and have been, providing to meet the needs of our students in Delta.

Jim Hope is a vice-principal at Ladner Elementary School.

Day 32: Colin Sharpe, Teacher (Seaquam Secondary School)

October 23, 2012

For the educational experience to be meaningful, it has to be active.

Learning is not a passive, spectator sport. The strategies implemented within the classroom must be critical and legitimate, they must have real educational value. If not, they risk becoming futile exercises with no lasting benefit. Moreover, on a relationship level, a teacher has to demonstrate care and commitment, in order for the student to feel comfortable taking risks with their learning or engaging in dialogue of any substance. Approaching the practice of teaching with commitment and engaging the material in an active and participatory manner allows the learning process to proceed in a manner which is of value and consequence.

As a high school social studies teacher, I fight the constant battle of convincing teenagers that the material we are exploring has substance and value. In reality though, why should they care? In an era of technological over stimulation and the need for instant gratification, the significance of historical content and the merit of classroom activities can and too often does, gets lost in translation.

If teaching becomes centered around meaningless tasks and the empty delivery of content, the value and experience is lost. The priority becomes more about control, than about learning.

Therefore, my educational practice is based around the principle that the teacher – student exchange has to be active, engaging and purposeful. In my classroom, I model this by bringing energy and enthusiasm to my lessons. I make the students part of the process with every lesson. I engage the material in a way that reflects its value and seeks to open the students up to alternative perspectives. My methods and instructional strategies aim to challenge ability and push students outside of their comfort zone. They are relevant and topical, they allow students to make connections between history/geography and contemporary issues, and demonstrate to my students that social studies is more than just dates and names, it is about inquiry, reflection and analysis. It is not just about knowing; it’s about understanding and being able to apply that understanding in different ways. I am far more interested in the “why” in social studies, rather than the “what”. If a student cannot actively participate in the process, than the student has no hope of engaging in a meaningful or valuable learning experience.

Beyond the aspect of curriculum exploration is the teacher-student relationship. There has to be some level of comfort between the two parties in dealing with one another in order for the exchange to be honest and effective. Moreover, there needs to be respect, which is reciprocal between the parties. I want my students to feel and know that they can engage in an academic conversation, question the material or open themselves up without risk of embarrassment. Mistakes within the classroom must be seen as opportunities to learn.

I aim to provide a learning environment where students can engage the material in a safe and productive way. Where possible, I invite the students to take part in decisions that affect their education and assessment. Together, we establish assessment protocol for assignments and projects, thus collectively deciding what determines success. If teachers approach students as learning beings, rather than drones and make the effort to make a connection, students are far more willing to put themselves out there and engage the material.

Teaching is more about making an authentic connection with the student and the curriculum than the simple delivery of content. Too often we can lose sight of this in our classrooms, in our assessment and in our professional practice. Real and effective teaching, learning and assessment, cannot occur without active engagement. Without making the emotional connection to the material, adding substance to the delivery or actively engaging the students, an educator in today’s system cannot expect their students to participate in any meaningful or genuine learning.

Active engagement of the material makes the learning process more than just the acquisition of content. By making learning active, the students become participants, not bystanders in their own learning. While this method requires the teacher to hand over some control, the learning process takes on an entirely new dimension.

Colin Sharpe is the Social Studies Department Leader at Seaquam Secondary. He has been with the district for 9 years. You can find Colin on Twitter at @mrsharpess

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