Just 6 Months!

SiTE Schools Dundas | Class of 2019/20

It was only 6 months ago that Tony Evans and I began casually chatting about the idea of extending his incredible Montessori school program (Dundas Valley Montessori SchoolStrata Montessori) into the upper adolescent years. My simple pitch to him: what if we didn’t need a building?

Look at us now! Two months into our inaugural school year with 10 of the most curious, engaged, ethically-minded, creative, socially responsible, discerning adolescents I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Our place-based education approach to high school has allowed us to integrate with the vibrant community of Dundas, Ontario in a purposeful and positive way; learning spaces have included Dundas Farmers’ MarketDundas Museum and ArchivesCarnegie GalleryGrupetto, Dundas Little TheatreMcMaster University, The Printed Word, Dundas Library, and many more partnerships to evolve. Expert facilitators have included politicians, professors, authors, curators, nutritionists, scientists, entrepreneurs, social-workers, artists, and still more to come.

The Montessori adolescent pedagogy is the most progressive, value-based, developmentally aligned education system I have yet encountered. It allows for maximum flexibility and innovation, authentic student voice and choice, vertical integration, project-based learning, collaborative discussion, real-world experience, outdoor education, gradeless assessment, interdisciplinary mindsets, context-based integrated knowledge, co-construction of outcomes, and a dignified respect for the social/emotional needs of teens. I call it a living curriculum because my main role is to curate a prepared environment, observe the self-directed learning process, and adapt expectations to follow student interests. In other words, I get to help guide their life.

This has been a truly transformative experience for myself, my family, and my teaching career! I have never had so much fun innovating lessons and experimenting with new ideas. I feel so grateful and fortunate to be part of such a supportive community.

How Might We Start a School?

For those of you unfamiliar with the brainstorming and iterative process known as Design Thinking, one of its most beneficial takeaways comes in the formation of what is called a HOW MIGHT WE question. This simple but profoundly empathetic injunction really gets the creative juices flowing; it can help to organize an action plan, kickstart an entrepreneurial endeavour, or overhaul a stale vision, allowing everyone involved—from the financial team to the end product user—to imagine new possibilities in solving tough challenges and addressing needs. What started as an esoteric creative process amongst designers and engineers, eventually made its way to Stanford University education research and into the popular imagination. Shows like Netflix’s ABSTRACT, showcase the influential power design has as an integrative discipline, continuously pushing the boundaries between art and science, psychology and business, math and philosophy.

What we’ve found is that kids are especially good at following the critical and creative stages of a Design Thinking process (it mirrors their natural curiosity and hands-on experimenting instinct); perhaps why the Design Thinking mindset has particularly benefitted inquiry-based approaches, PBL, Makerspace, and STEM or STEAM prototyping programs in school systems around the world.

For educators, Design Thinking is an especially powerful tool for professional development (Cohort21 spends the bulk of its workshop facilitation on an action plan based around this process) because our world has changed so rapidly in the past few decades, the importance of innovation in education has risen to become a top priority in both public and private systems. Simply put, schools can’t afford to disengage the next generation of students into what should be their human right: a profound sense of discovery through the power of learning. We know this personalized discovery process is no longer served by traditional factory models, over-stuffed classrooms, and out-dated academic achievement-only environments. It is up to every single teacher, administrator, and education system to recognize the various disconnects in their models and redesign unique and sustainable ways to improve. Innovate or die, as the saying goes.

A HOW MIGHT WE question has at its root, all the ingredients needed to establish an environment of inventiveness and openness. The question HOW is a practical extension of WHY and forces the dreamer into more utilitarian ways of problem solving, through constraint. The MIGHT ensures this is an iterative process, of countless prototyping and drafts, of formative experimentation that, yes, may indeed lead to failure (or new ways of looking at the same old!). There is resilience in MIGHT, adaptability in MIGHT, but also a positive desire and hope for change. Finally, there is the necessary WE. Collaboration and diverse perspectives are key to any successful venture. Empathizing with your end user ensures an ability to radically alter, if need be, the purpose and outcome of the change itself. If an idea is sometimes referred to as a “baby”, than it truly takes a village to innovate one.

Which brings me to my current challenge. I’ve co-founded a school named SiTE (Situated in Transformative Environments): a Montessori high school in Dundas, Ontario. Thankfully, my co-founder, Tony Evans, 18 years ago established an unbelievable community of progressive parents and self-directed children through his two other high-fidelity Montessori schools, Dundas Valley Montessori School, and Strata Montessori Adolescent School. Why Dundas? Here is one reason:

As with any new venture that is already up and running (10 courageous students started learning with me on September 3), we don’t have the luxury of prolonged research and development phase—we are iterating on the fly! At a recent international adolescent Montessori workshop (AMI/NAMTA) I attended in North Carolina, I was reminded just how bold an endeavour SiTE Schools is when out of a group of 100 Montessori educators, only one other school had extended their program to encompass Grade 10, 11, and 12 (Academy of Thought & Industry). In fact, when I researched Canadian Montessori high schools in the Our Kids website,  I found only a half-dozen schools even attempting to tackle the senior secondary years in an authentic Montessori-style, and all of them are operating from an actual building! Have I got your attention yet?

Here is a highlight reel of the many many HOW MIGHT WE questions I’m wrestling with as I venture upon the greatest challenge of my professional career:

  • How might we create an adolescent Montessori micro-school without a traditional bricks & mortar building?
  • How might we use our unique small-town environment as flexible learning spaces that enhance subject mastery?
  • How might we partner with local business, galleries, Universities, to co-create real-world projects?
  • How might we reimagine the idea of teenagers and community for the 21st century?
  • How might we create a flexible timetable that starts at 10:00 and revolves around opportunities for outdoor and experiential learning?
  • How might we create a “quest-like” block course calendar where students immerse themselves in single subject areas for a concentrated period of time?
  • How might the daily timetable be self-directed?
  • How might we create a school of experience instead of a school of compliance?
  • How might we bring dignity to adolescence?
  • How might we enhance student initiative through purposeful work and meaningful context?
  • How might we track students or take attendance when the entire community is your campus?
  • How might we establish a tuition that is equitable and competitive?
  • How might we teach all three senior levels (Gr 10, 11, 12) at the same time?
  • How might we have one teacher to curate all subject material and use a team of experts to facilitate skill-building?
  • How might we turn every single assignment into either a group or independent inquiry project?
  • How might we create a “living curriculum” based on the personal interests of each student and the changing needs of the community?
  • How might we co-construct curriculum with students and still achieve ministry expectations?
  • How might we use socratic seminar (discussion and debate) for every lesson?
  • How might we use ONE single-point rubric to assess ALL assignments within a course?
  • How might we use an ongoing standards-based gradeless assessment?
  • How might we becomes guides instead of teachers, curators instead of facilitators, advisors instead of mentors?
  • How might we market the school with full parent/student participation?

If any of these questions relate to areas of interest you are currently considering developing in your school, let’s talk. Please consider your sphere of influence (Garth will talk about this at our 2nd F2F). I am grateful to be tackling the teaching opportunity of a lifetime and am ready and willing to be the guinea pig for all manner of educational innovation and disruption.

But I can’t do it alone. Nor do I need to.

Cohort21, developed 8 years ago as a CISOntario  incubator for 21st century PD, is a vibrant community of innovative educators who have greatly helped me these past four years develop into the disruptor I feel I was destined to be. @gnichols has mentored me through some profound life changes, guiding me towards embracing the positive inventiveness he demonstrates daily at Havergal College. @jmedved is a beacon of innovation, always rethinking the HOW from his York School perch. @ckirsh has pushed me to question ethical choices and even challenged my MIGHT to join her podcast. @gvogt is my doppelgänger, a fellow poet of pedagogy in a sea of disruptive potential. No other person could have helped steward the Discovery Day initiative at Rosseau Lake College, making it even more engaging and sustainable. @lmcbeth is the queen of Design Thinking and through her work with the Future Design School has greatly shaped how I view education and entrepreneurship. @lbettencourt and @adamcaplan will trial anything tech in the most transparent of ways, sharing as they fail forward. @nblair is my spirit guide when it comes to questioning the status quo—no one does it better or with more grace.

There are more. Too many to mention here. Past facilitators, current coaches, former colleagues, and alumni galore. Cohort21 has a treasure trove of action plans at your disposal to pillage and plunder as you formulate your own powerful HOW MIGHT WE. Make sure to steal like an artist.

Folks, this is your village, this is your WE.

Like Spinning Plates

As an English teacher I’m always looking for the apt metaphor, that one-of-a-kind allegory which will once and for all, 100% no-questions-asked-put-your-hands-down-please definitively define what it is we do, day-in and day-out, as 21st century educators. I believe this one comes close.

The reasons why I like the visual synecdoche of the plate spinner may surprise you. In my heart, I know this is the healthiest model to explain why teachers need to give themselves a break, before they break themselves. And more often than you might think.

In talking with a colleague recently, the age-old adage of teachers not having enough TIME reared its perennial head. If it’s not TIME than it’s surely RESOURCES; (un-PC trigger warning alert!) the two twin towers of educational stress and anxiety.

But if we simply re-framed what we do as already impossible, perhaps then (only then) glimpses of the possible and profound would peek through. If politics is the art of the possible, then teaching is the impossible art!

If we divide teaching and learning into four ready-made components, they might be:

  • Curriculum Design
  • Instruction
  • Assessment & Evaluation
  • Reporting

If you think of these as the 4 plates we are constantly spinning, then you would be forgiven for thinking teachers have it easy, perhaps even under control. But, we know, like all good magic tricks, control is an illusion. The reality is there are spinning plates underneath these 4 plates, and more spinning plates under those– turtles on top of turtles, all the way to spinning infinity (R.I.P. Stephen Hawking).

The secret thus becomes this: in order to survive the greatest show on earth that is our noble profession, we can only spin ONE PLATE AT A TIME!!!

Yep. That’s it. Sarcastically sublime. Not as memorable as “with great power comes great responsibility” (R.I.P. Stan Lee), but nonetheless, reflective respite.

In other words, if you are concentrating on updating or improving strategies with your Instructional practice this year, you can let your other plates wobble for a little while. If- as I am doing this year- you find yourself with an opportunity and willing department, to radically change how you approach Assessment & Evaluation, than your Reporting might just not produce those wonderful bon mots you have so carefully curated and copy-and-pasted in previous times.

We set our own priorities, then we define personal best practice by them. If we don’t measure up to this exponential diagnostic quagmire, we imagine our plates have smashed and we have failed. We also unfairly project this best practice onto our colleagues and schools and when we do this we are guaranteed to find discrepancy- you see, we are all spinning different plates! This discrepancy may lead to stress and anxiety if used as performance comparison, especially as school mandates and department initiatives pile up, distracting you from your default-setting favourite plate; you know, the one you have the most control over so you spend all of your time spinning because if anyone noticed that your other plates were not spinning (or, gulp, missing) they might not see you as that grand wizard teacher anymore.

What we need to remind ourselves of, when everything is spinning, we can only control that which tasks our immediate concern or is in our sphere of influence. From there we can decide which plate to spin next, which one deserves the most attention, AND, most importantly when it comes to innovation and cultivating a growth mindset, which one we haven’t spun in a while.

Who are the expert spinners I look up to? @gnichols, @jmedved, @lmcbeth, @adamcaplan, @nblair@gvogt, @ckirsh, @lbettencourt, @ddoucet, @timrollwagen, @amacrae, @lmustard, @amaingot, @lfarooq, @dmonson, @shelleythomas, @vboomgaardt, @tfaucher, @lmitchell, @mmoore, @ljensen, @mneale, @egelleny

Wow, that’s a lot of sturdy plates!

UPDATE

Here is a handy graphic to help you prioritize. Turns out it was invented by former U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower!

 

 

 

One-Stop-Shop for Innovation Research

Rosseau Lake College’s inquiry-based and experiential learning initiative, DISCOVERY DAYS, like all truly great things, rests on the shoulders of giants. I was inspired by the following schools and articles and perhaps you might be too.

DESIGN TIME RESEARCH (Inquiry-Based Learning)

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

Professionally Speaking Self-Directed Learning In other words, explains principal Patricia Coburn, OCT, students set their own learning goals, follow a personalized program and work and learn in an environment that enables them to actively pursue self-directed learning.
Flow Blog Self-Directed Learning & Exam Scores Students’ success on the IB DP exams became the measure against which SDL time was evaluated. In that very first year of SDL time students’ DP exam averages exceeded the results of all previous years.
Getting Smart Integrated Curriculum Repko (2009) and others have asserted that interdisciplinary instruction fosters advances in cognitive ability and gains in the ability to recognize bias, think critically, tolerate ambiguity, acknowledge and appreciate ethical concerns.
Carleton College Interdisciplinary Learning Engaging students and helping them to develop knowledge, insights, problem solving skills, self-confidence, self-efficacy, and a passion for learning are common goals that educators bring to the classroom, and interdisciplinary instruction and exploration promotes realization of these objectives.
Corwin Connect PBL & Direct Instruction My argument here is that if we utilize effective direct instruction in the PBL/PrBL classroom specifically in situations where students are building knowledge and skill then we may substantially mitigate the limiting effect of the method as it relates to learning.

List of Schools Adopting Similar DESIGN TIME Initiatives:

Canadian Coalition of Self-Directed Learning

Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in Toronto has been pioneering student-directed learning for the past 20 years.

SEED Alternative School

SEED, in Toronto, is North America’s oldest public alternative school specializing in self-directed learning.

High Tech High (U.S.)*

The exemplar of Project-Based Learning in action, this innovative school in San Diego was featured in Tony Wagner’s book and subsequent documentary film, Most Likely to Succeed.

Lindsay Unified Public Schools (U.S)*

The district personalizes learning by giving students a performance-based model that lets students progress after they demonstrate mastery. School days are split between self-directed learning and teacher-led instruction. District teachers are called “learning facilitators,” and even during teacher-led instruction, students can choose from various assignments and learning experiences.

Taylor County School District (U.S.)*

District leaders realized that “one size fits all” doesn’t work when it comes to student learning. Now, teachers and students work together to create individualized learning plans based on students’ needs, interests and goals. The approach includes project-based learning, self-based learning, online learning, and peer-led instruction.

JFK Eagle Academy (U.S.)*

The school developed a program focused on Socratic seminars and leadership development, because teachers and school leaders believe students benefit from inquiry, critical thinking and problem-solving. Students work at their own pace toward college and career readiness.

LINC High School (U.S.)*

School administrators believe every student can be a leader, and student agency, leadership and character education is an important part of the school’s philosophy. Classes aren’t organized into traditional subjects, but instead are grouped into 30-day “learning modules” that integrate various subjects and let students explore local, national and international issues through research and critical thinking.

The Putney School (U.S.)

“Our semi-annual Project Weeks challenge students to dive deep into something they have learned in their academic coursework, make it personal, and mobilize it creatively. While we focus on research and process, the results are incredible… Project Weeks are all about mobilizing knowledge: connecting disciplines, digging through deeper ideas, and applying what one has learned.”

*https://www.eschoolnews.com/2017/02/16/personalized-learning-action/2/?all

FLEX TIME RESEARCH (Skills-Based Learning)

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

20Time.org Passion Projects 20Time projects allow students to track their learning growth, which supercharges intrinsic motivation. Way more effective than grades and other carrots and sticks.
Genius Hour Journal Genius Hour The search-engine giant, Google, allows its engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any pet project that they want.  The idea is very simple.  Allow people to work on something that interests them, and productivity will go up.
20 Time in Education Blog 20% Time Daniel Pink asks what drives us. Sir Ken Robinson asks us to inspire creativity in our students. The latest in education is asking us to teach our students to create their own questions, do their own research, and form their own conclusions with their learning. Why? The world is a collaborative, communicative place and it is the world of online tools that has made it this way. Our students’ workplaces will be places with teams at tables, not individuals in cubicles. They will be asked to be innovative and create the next tool, not to push bureaucratic paper. We must teach them how to think on their own without being told what to do. We need to teach them to be autonomous learners. Only one who can guide his own learning can effectively contribute to a team.
ASCD The Genius of Design Despite its exciting beginning, that first Genius Hour project more than 10 years ago actually failed on many levels. I provided too much structure in areas where students needed more freedom and agency. I didn’t provide enough scaffolding in areas where they lacked necessary skills. I failed to anticipate some of the social and emotional challenges of giving students the freedom to learn what they wanted to learn.

Still, even with all of these mistakes, something was different. My students were empowered to take their learning in their own direction.

Ontario Ministry of Education 21st Century Competencies Researchers acknowledge that the need to engage in problem-solving and critical and creative thinking has “always been at the core of learning and innovation” (Trilling & Fadel, 2009, p. 50). What’s new in the 21st century is the call for education systems to emphasize and develop these competencies in explicit and intentional ways through deliberate changes in curriculum design and pedagogical practice. The goal of these changes is to prepare students to solve messy, complex problems – including problems we don’t yet know about – associated with living in a competitive, globally connected, and technologically intensive world.
Brookings Skills Movement Across Education Around the world education systems are increasingly inclusive of a broad range of skills in curricula to prepare students for the complex challenges of this century.
World Economic Forum Future Job Skills Five years from now, over one-third of skills (35%) that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed.
World Economic Forum Jobs are Changing What is clear is that interpersonal skills are unlikely to be rendered obsolete by technological innovation or economic disruptions. In a changing workforce, it’s having a strong foundation in these versatile, cross-functional skills that allows people to successfully pivot.
Quartz What Skills do Kids Need to Thrive New research from the Sutton Trust, a British foundation focused on social mobility, finds that 88% of young people, 94% of employers, and 97% of teachers say these so-called life skills are as or more important than academic qualifications.

List of Schools Adopting Similar FLEX TIME Initiatives:

Rothesay Netherwood – New Brunswick (Genius Hour & Disrupted)

The only independent school in New Brunswick, Rothesay has adopted numerous innovations to give their students voice-and-choice over passions and interests. Most recently they have empathized with students by creating assessment blocks in which only specific subject areas are able to administer summative assessment one at a time. This aims to help students and teachers work smarter at not overwhelming and overstuffing the learning. 

The York School – Toronto (Genius Hour)

A pioneer in technology integration, this Toronto independent school has paved the way for diverse Passion Projects across grade levels.

Holy Trinity School – Richmond Hill, Toronto (Flex Time)

This middle and senior school initiative gives students weekly choice over which activities or tutorials will best help them succeed.

Hillfield Strathallan College – Hamilton (Flex Time)

A wide-reaching whole-school initiative in which one hour per day is organized around student academic needs, well-being activities, and PBL guidance. Students choose where they should be and what they should learn.

ACTIVE TIME RESEARCH (Experiential Learning)

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

Getting Smart Social Emotional Learning Research The statement that “Social, emotional, and cognitive competencies can be taught and developed throughout childhood, adolescence, and beyond,” certainly underscores Carol Dweck’s work around growth mindset. In short, we aren’t simply born with or without SEL traits; rather, they can be taught and shaped throughout our experiences.
Global Digital Citizen Foundation 5 Ways Outdoor Education Can Prepare our Students for the Future Outdoor Education can be widely defined, but generally is a form of experiential organised learning that occurs in an outdoor setting and typically involves “journey-based experiences in which students participate in a variety of adventurous, memorable challenges.” This style of learning has various benefits, from cultivating the relevant emotional intelligence needed for effective leadership, to develop the confidence and competence needed to persevere in stressful situations.

List of Schools Adopting Similar ACTIVE TIME Initiatives:

Havergal College (Day 9 Initiative)

The mission for Day 9 is to align the school’s values and mission through curated, co-created experiences with faculty and students. Day 9s are opportunities to deepen and extend learning.

University and College Information

JOURNAL/ BLOG

LINK

SUMMARY QUOTES

Stanford Social Innovation Review Education is Changing There is therefore no doubt about where education is going, but there is a great deal of uncertainty concerning how to get there, and, importantly, how to measure progress along the way.
Harvard Graduate School (College Admissions) Turning the Tide … high school students often perceive colleges as simply valuing their achievements, not their responsibility for others and their communities.
TES Independent School Pupils Feel More Prepared for University One of the suggestions for students is reminding themselves what “independent learning” means to ensure they are prepared for an environment where there is less direct hands-on teaching support.
NAIS Mastery Transcript Consortium In other words, many students do not learn about the world in school; instead, they learn about a teacher’s preferences, a test’s likeliest questions, and their own ability or inability to master a system that doesn’t place their growth first.
Innovative Post-Secondary Institutions Minerva Schools Minerva focuses on developing your abilities to think critically and creatively, to communicate effectively, and to work well with others. These aspects of your education are far more important than simply memorizing facts and concepts because they provide a set of practical and adaptable skills, together with an understanding of how to apply them in the world.
Innovative Post-Secondary Institutions Quest University Canada Each student is required to take between one and four experiential blocks as part of his or her academic program. These blocks are designed to meet each student’s academic and career interests and can include varied experiences,

LIST OF FURTHER RESOURCES

Alexander, C & McKean, M. (2017, October 22). The Problem of Youth Unemployment: Predicting the Changing Future of Work. Globe & Mail. Retrieved from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-commentary/the-problem-of-youth-unemployment-predicting-the-changing-future-of-work/article

Berger, R. (2017, October 25). The Importance of Academic Courage. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/importance-academic-courage?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

Buck Institute for Education (2017). What is Project Based Learning (PBL)? Retrieved from https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl

Engelbert, C. & Hagel, J. (2017, July 31) Radically open: Tom Friedman on jobs, learning, and the future of work. Deloitte Review (21) Retrieved from journal https://dupress.deloitte.com/dup-us-en/deloitte-review/issue-21/tom-friedman-interview-jobs-learning-future-of-work.html?id=dup-us-en:2sm:3tw:4dup_gl:5eng:6dup

Fullan, M. (2014, January). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/3897.Rich_Seam_web.pdf

Furedi, F. (2016, June 26). Schools Need to Encourage Students out of their Comfort Zone so they can Adapt to University. TES. Retrieved from https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/schools-need-encourage-students-out-their-comfort-zone-so-they-can

Hoover, E. (2017, November 1) What Colleges Want in an Applicant (Everything). New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/education/edlife/what-college-admissions-wants.html

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016, Fall). 21st Century Competencies: Foundation Document for Discussion. Retrieved from http://www.edugains.ca/resources21CL/About21stCentury/21CL_21stCenturyCompetencies.pdf

Prevette, S. (2017, May). Creating Future Designers: It Starts in the Classroom. Policy Magazine. Retrieved from http://policymagazine.ca/pdf/26/PolicyMagazineMayJune-2017-Prevette.pdf

Kaechele, M. (2017, February 2). Scaffolding the PBL Shift. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.bie.org/blog/scaffolding_the_pbl_shift

Lacavera, A. (2017, October 26). We Need to Stop Coddling our Kids if we want Canada to Become a Nation of Entrepreneurs. Globe & Mail. Retrieved from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-growth/we-need-to-stop-coddling-our-kids-if-we-want-canada-to-become-a-nation-of-entrepreneurs/article

Lichtman, G. (2014) #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. New Jersey: Jossey-Bass.

Repko, A. (2009). Assessing Interdisciplinary Learning Outcomes. Retrieved from https://oakland.edu/Assets/upload/docs/AIS/Assessing_Interdisiplinary_Learning_Outcomes_(Allen_F._Repko).pdf

Schafer, D. & Yamasaki, K. (2017). Designing Creative Collaboration School Spaces. Building Dialogue. Retrieved from https://crej.com/news/designing-creative-collaboration-school-spaces/

Schneider, J. (2017) What Makes a Great School. Usable Knowledge. [Web log post] Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/17/10/what-makes-great-school

Swartz, K. (2006, October 4) Why a School’s Master Schedule is a Powerful Enabler of Change. Mind Shift. Retrieved from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/10/24/why-a-schools-master-schedule-is-a-powerful-enabler-of-change/

Terada, Y. (2017, September 20). Why Students Forget – and What You Can Do About It. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/why-students-forget-and-what-you-can-do-about-it?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

Tormala, A. (2016, October 24). Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/discomfort-growth-and-innovation-alyssa-tormala

Trilling, B. & Fadel, C. (2009) 21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times. Jossey-Bass: New Jersey

Wagner, T. & Dintersmith, T. (2015, August 18). Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. Scribner. Retrieved from http://www.tonywagner.com/most-likely-to-succeed-preparing-our-kids-for-the-innovation-era/

Walls, J. (2017, November 2). York U Bringing Together New Maker Space in Markham. York University Media Relations. Retrieved from http://news.yorku.ca/2017/11/02/york-u-bringing-together-innovators-and-entrepreneurs-in-new-maker-space-in-markham/?

Wiggins, G. & Mctighe, J. (2011). Understanding by Design: Framework. ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/siteASCD/publications/UbD_WhitePaper0312.pdf

Problem-Solving Poet of Teaching & Learning

Let’s get deep and meaningful, shall we:

As I told Justin Medved at the conclusion of this year’s Cohort21 launch, this was the best PD I’d ever been to. No soundbite hyperbole or millennial proselytizing needed. I loved the organized chaotic structure of this CIS initiative, especially how anti-baby-boomer or “un-conferency” the first PD session felt. An action research plan without a destination! An organic development of 21st-century skills and professional networking, slowly building over an entire year. Yes please! For years I’ve been silently reinventing my own personal teaching wheel, and wondering why no-one was noticing. Perhaps, now, there is a space within which to share.

This blog is but a humble plunge into that brave new Edtech world.

I have been teaching high school for over ten years, travelling the world for fifteen, and writing creatively all of my life. I am both a Canadian and Australian citizen, having recently spent eight years living and teaching in Melbourne, Australia.

I have recently begun to view myself, without any post-GenX irony, as a Problem Solving Poet of Teaching and Learning; meaning— I apply the same rules of constraint and creativity used to structure one of my poems (yes Virginia, people still write poetry!), as I do with innovating my ongoing teaching practice. I think in allegories and metaphors. I believe in the visual, aural and written power of language, and truly abhor empty pedagogical rhetoric. I find teaching to be a highly imaginative endeavour, ripe with real-time inspiration and real-time challenges. I love the use of new technology in the classroom, but only if it helps teachers improve engagement and achievement.

The poet in me provides the necessary critical and aesthetic perspective; ensures I maintain a personal, ethical, and spiritual balance with any classroom activity. Here’s how it works: I often structure my poems around a central conceit, basing the number of stanzas or lines or rhymes on a hidden value taken from the subject (eg. a poem about four-leaf-clovers might have a quarter-stressed rhyming scheme or have four words to a line or four-line stanzas). Likewise, whenever I’m stuck on what to do with the designing of a classroom assignment, I use these same creative principles, to try and reveal the inherent structure behind the topic. A recent example revolved around the teaching of that classic text, To Kill A Mockingbird. What to do? Surely, by now, everything had been done to death with this book. My Grade 9 English students had heard of it, of course, but they were also very wary of having to study it. And I didn’t really want to do the usual Plot, Character, Setting analysis with a PowerPoint presentation to round off the ritual compliance.

Considering the famous setting of the novel, in and around a small-town court case, and of course, my own students’ default cynicism towards an older text, I creatively solved my teaching problem by twisting the main themes of intolerance and justice around and put Harper Lee’s perennial soapbox favourite on trial instead. The central question then became: Does this book still deserve to be considered a classic?

to-kill-a-mockingbird1

Engagement flourished as half of the class defended the book and the other half gleefully tore it to pieces. For a few weeks last year my class was full of wannabe lawyers of rhetorical analysis and judges of metaphoric longevity. When the Unit had ended and we sadly discovered that Harper Lee herself had died, well, suffice to say, the power of great literature once again shone through.

Now, by no means did I think I was the only teacher to have ever attempted a thematic linking activity like this before. That wasn’t the point, for me. The point was that I had personally discovered a new way into creating relevant and resonating assignments. By taking the central themes or metaphors or history of the topic and then structuring an assessment based around those ideas. The teacher in me was reinvigorated. The poet in me was satiated.

I am currently the Academic Lead (Curriculum Director) at Rosseau Lake College in Muskoka, about as pristine and natural an environment as any poet could wish for. I’m also the senior English and Drama instructor. As RLC is a small, independent school, I have many hats and many roles, from PD Development and Training, to Academic Budgeting, Marketing, Junior, Middle, and Senior School Curriculum Development, Edtech Provider, Arts Committee Chair, Drama Production Director, Sports Coach, House Parent, Weekend Don, etc.

Teaching is not just a job at RLC, it’s a lifestyle. Maybe even a work of art.