Time for Time!

I’m reading my most recent post (from nearly a year ago! ugh), and my determination to honour time. This is an outcome of loss and tragedy: a pronounced need to slow down, to treasure each moment and remain connected to what matters most. There is a tension – a well documented, ancient tension – within a world and life bent on motion, continually turning our eyes to what lays ahead, missing what lays before. 

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I’m thinking of the Bukowski poem ‘Nirvana’ and the crunching noise of big, bus tires on a fresh, clean, otherwise quiet blanket of snow. The will of the world is at odds with peace. I recommend this reading by Tom Waits.

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And so it is hard. If you’re anything like me, you are too often left with a pit in your gut characterised by longing and regret. In education, we know this well, with all of the expectations, routines and traditions that effectively distance us from what may actually matter the most. But more (much more!) on that in a later and not too distant post. I am circling back to the idea of time because I am again struck by it, as I stumble upon another truth: time is scary as hell.

Very recently, I made a decision to take time for myself, for healing. It is a decision to prioritise my health and my family. (If you’re interested, you can read my letter to our school community here). Yes, it is a decision to properly confront PTSD, but it is also a decision to regather, reevaluate, and make some firm commitments – to myself, family and profession. Blended with the desperation for a calmer brain, is the need for a calmer life. I am imagining an approach that allows the most important priorities to remain within reach, and all else washed away with greater ease.

In a faculty-wide PD exercise in January – just on the verge of another shutdown and new layers of disconcerting complications – we each took stock of our personal pedagogies through a lens of mental health. It was reassuring and exciting that virtually all of us prioritised joy, love of learning, community and relationships above all else. I believe this global pandemic helps us to clearly see what each of us and our students require most. As an aside (for now),  ‘meeting curriculum expectations’ sat near the bottom of ALL lists (again, more on that in a later post). We know where our hearts are at. The scary step is a full and honest evaluation of ACTUAL approach: to what extent does practice actually reflect philosophy? To what extent and way are we compromising our own values (either necessarily or unnecessarily)? 

Perhaps all of this puts into perspective the frightening prospect of time. For me, the paradox is that the relentless motion of life has provided comfort (even though it can be endlessly stressful and overwhelming?). In a state of trauma, it has ensured motion; there is no choice but to keep moving, put one foot in front of the other, get out of bed each day and not pull the sheets up over my head. The motion of the world has been a distraction, and I believe a necessary one. I have been thankful for it. Time, I am beginning to feel, is only valuable if we understand why it’s important. It has taken 15 months for me to see, with any amount of clarity, how it is that I may in fact use time as an essential ingredient of reflection, articulation, learning and healing. Being. Time may in fact be a friend as opposed to an enemy.

If I am to extend my personal experience into the realm of education and beyond, I might begin to argue that in any circumstance (not just trauma or tragedy), time is scary. It is deeply connected to truth, honesty and humility. In education, we refer often to the idea of self-actualization, perhaps to capture each of these qualities. I believe the correlation to time – carving, allowing and honouring – is striking. Do we really require a global pandemic (or personal tragedy) to more genuinely connect to the importance of slowing down? We know magic occurs in the gaps, those often unplanned spaces in between. Are we intentional about providing those spaces? Are we confident living – taking time! – within those spaces? Do we possess the expertise to inspire, guide and support students within those spaces? Or, is our discomfort so great that we find ourselves continually pulling all of our students back onto the bus (listen for the sound of crunching snow)?

And so, here it is. For me, it’s time for time. Searching for healing. Indulging and being present on the good days. Finding courage on the bad ones. Living in the spaces inbetween. Growing acceptance of what life offers. Capturing my learning so that I may carry it with me. Blogging. Blogging a lot. No, really! Until then…

 

Plans of Action (and life!) Disrupted: Reflecting upon ‘Time’ (and learning!)

How’s this for an Action Plan? Survival. Hanging on. Getting through. Soul-shaking tragedy, loss, trauma. To be clear. I most certainly owe a separate blog post to a personal journey of healing, filled with endless gratitude towards a community of colleagues, friends and family (Cohort21!) that spreads well beyond that of the great school at which I work, live and be. And really, truly (deeply, fully, endlessly) thank you! Indeed, at some point, I will step back and identify my journey as one running parallel to that of Rosseau Lake College while capturing my astonishment for the overwhelming power of youth. I mean, how often do we step back to truly and simply consider our privilege to share space daily with young minds and spirits? A wild, forever morphing, messy, mixed-up collage of ideas, anxieties, ambitions, fears, epiphanes, heartbreak, excitement, anger, laughter, sorrow. Energy. Even that absence of energy. Life! Maybe it’s an entire novel I owe, with chapters titled “Gratitude” and “Humility” and “Vulnerability” and “Breathe” and “Kindness” and “Courage” and “Owls” and, even, “F-ck It!” Perhaps I’d devote a chapter to my beautiful Dad and call it “Piece of Cake.” This novel would most certainly require a chapter attempting to capture the wisdom of my amazing friend Robert titled “Why Wait.” 

In recent days, however, I’ve been overcome with an exhaustion for solely surviving, hanging on and getting through. It doesn’t feel like much of an Action Plan. If, for so long, I’ve felt challenged to simply show up, I am now parched. I am officially thirsty for more. I’m sure it’s a common thread for all of us after experiences that connect us immediately, unmistakingly and deeply to the larger questions of life (its realities as well as its mysteries) to fall deeply into self reflection. How am I living? Am I? Furthermore, the experience of loss seems to ask more of us as we seek to honour a life by honouring all of life. Soon after the accident, Robert’s sister captured an important piece of his essence, knowing he would turn tragedy into something “awesome.” For me, many layers of this noble challenge are emerging on the many fronts and roles of my life… including one of my life’s passions. Education! And this is the piece I will share here.

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“You have exactly 90 minutes to complete this exam, starting…. now!”

I find myself in continuous contemplation of the perhaps unhealthy correlation between speed and leaning. The two concepts it seems are, for better or for worse (richer or poorer till death do them part?), connected. Should they be? The urgency we create in a class (a moment, a task) too often reflects our fixation with outcomes and achievement: “there is a medal to be won at the end of this race.” Do it right. Do it well. And, for goodness sake, do it “on time.” Look no further than the hardware awarded annually at a school’s closing day ceremony. Think of the less obvious “hardware” we award daily. An ‘A’ is of course a medal because we treat it as currency. And, because we’re urgent in our learning, we actively tarnish that medal as time expires. When we ask a question in class, we too often require an answer now. The one who finds it first is recognized and therefore rewarded. 

“You now have sixty minutes to complete this exam, and you should be well into section two.”

Speed and intelligence. Learning and urgency. I believe we now know these pairings do not correlate. There is, in fact, no relationship between speed and intelligence except for the widespread bias we maintain towards it. Yet, somehow, we insist upon this correlation. In some ways, of course, it’s yet another take on a tired, recurring theme: the challenge of fully abstracting our pedagogy from the traditions embedded within not only education, but also ourselves. We are bi-products, and our conditioning runs as deep as the philosophical underpinnings. In this case, the ways in which we treat time. Most frightening for me is how my approaches and reactions to learning too often (still!) run counter to my personal value system or philosophies; it is my subconscious self too often guiding the ship as a direct reference to my own experience, which is as normal as Jeopardy at 7:30 and hockey on Saturday night. I am designing curriculum and programming while sometimes trudging uphill through muck, while also deprogramming my operating system. That’s a lot of work!

“You have entered the final thirty minutes of this exam. By now, you should be well into section three.”

The disruption of a pandemic, of course, has brought the issue of time to the forefront. As we find ourselves continuously re-evaluating the very concept of learning at large, we have also (I believe) begun to identify the urgent use of time as the enemy. Just as we do when prioritizing health and balance in our personal lives, in education we are now thinking deeply about how much time we have, how it is divided, and yes, how it is used. As we contemplate our classroom cultures, I believe our value systems have rapidly shifted. Concerns for health, safety, culture, collaboration and connection, and pure old fashioned FUN and JOY (!!!) now sit at the forefront of design. Each of these concepts require the gift of time and run counter to urgency. Where on your list, or value system, do you now make a direct reference to urgency (content, curriculum)? Fifth? Eighth? 

Please put your pencils down. Time has expired.”

That’s right kids! You may not continue with that thought process. You have lost the opportunity to demonstrate your learning. Please stop thinking and expressing and formulating  and solving and…

My good friend and fellow dreamer  @ddoucet and I have been collaborating in recent years reclaiming the word ‘crazy’, as we continue to build our perspective of education at large, understanding its need for more, different, other. Vast and profound disruption. Being courageous or “crazy” enough to upend a value system. And not just in belief but in practice. “Unleash Your Inner Crazy!” Perhaps it’s incumbent upon all of us to harness THIS time. THIS time in which upending a value system doesn’t feel so crazy. Actually, more than anything, it simply feels right. 

The magic is in the moment. And you will only find it if you choose to enter the moment. That is also where you will find the learning and growth. Experience. In that moment you may discover empathy and connection and understanding. The opportunity to affect. To teach! From a student’s perspective, it is where learning becomes embedded, and remembered in such a way that it may never truly be forgotten. 

ps. I took six days to write this blog post because, well, that’s how long it took to write this blog post. 

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And finally, if you’re interested, a quick personal reflection capturing my own interaction with time over these six months since losing our dear Robert… My most peaceful, healing, hopeful moments have occured in my willful slowing of time. Breathing and dropping my shoulders, the sensation of it all washing away, however briefly, entering the moment purely. Pure connection and fun, indulging in the beautifully wild and elaborate imaginary worlds of my own two kids (I recommend to anyone the experience of truly living in the mind of a 5 or 8 year old!). Looking up. Before November, I’d never seen an owl. Now I’ve seen many. Explain that! Last week, desperate to slow a spiraling mind, I took a solo paddle around Skeleton Lake and came face to face with a huge snowy. Have you ever had the experience of a staredown with an owl – its wise, other-worldly, mythical face offering a clear view into your soul? Haunting. Stirring. Exhilarating. Extending the discussion with a class, with a student, a colleague. Allowing myself to be steered off course. A friend currently working with Middle School students in Cape Breton recently relayed a story of the many extra hours he’s taken with a particular boy who struggles endlessly in the regular flow. Building sets together for a school play. It took trust and the power of a jigsaw to reveal, for the first time, joy. A pure smile. Imagine the impact made on a life, through the simple choice to honour time.

At Rosseau Lake College, Community Endures (and Strengthens!)

Over the past two years I have thought and written a lot about community; I have placed the concept at the core of my personal practice and Cohort21 Action Plan. In this time of intense challenge and deep reflection, the very idea of community is, perhaps, more important than ever, and so I find myself trying to capture its shifting and growing meaning.

At Rosseau Lake College we gather in a circle each morning, just above our rugged Muskoka shoreline, to sing, offer gratitude to our land, its history, each other and all of us together. We prepare our mindset for the challenge and adventure of the day ahead. Our circle is both an affirmation and symbol of what makes us special: a community – a family even – of support that strengthens every endeavour and each other. Indeed, as we depart the circle for the many trails that lead us to our learning in the woods, on the lake and in classrooms, our inhibitions, if only slightly and temporarily, have been transformed to determination. One of the many terrifying questions we faced at the beginning of our self isolation was how do we continue to strengthen and support learning and each other while scattered across the globe? Without our circle, what will we become?

In the early stages of our collective response to the COVID-19 crisis, it was easy to feel scrambled, as if our new reality demanded a new approach, a new way of being. Like so many however, in all corners of a society, it took some time to understand that this massive disruption to routine, expectations and familiarity was really offering a much clearer view of who we already were. While the platforms are different, and our “pathways” to learning less familiar and tree-lined, we have gained strength in changing very little – or, at least, as little as possible. 

On March 25th, after our March break, we returned to school on our new ‘Global Campus,’ welcoming our students back, of course, with our morning gathering. Indeed, among the staff and teaching faculty, there was a shared anxiety about how and if this might work. For instance, as a boarding school we had lost our ability to literally pull students from their beds. Without our direct insistence, would the students still attend? What we perhaps were unwilling to admit was that our Global Campus was/is in many ways a test. We have always described ourselves as a tight-knit community. We were about to discover the truth. 

At Rosseau Lake College, we place lived experience and innovation at the forefront of learning. Teachers evolve their pedagogy through the allure and challenge of our setting, integrating learning with our incredible natural landscape while putting our students face to face with complex challenges. Each semester, our students take on the enormous task of developing large-scale ‘Discovery Projects’ that acknowledge personal interests or passions and connect learning across curriculum. Our students spend several nights of the year sleeping in a tent or under the stars and then preparing breakfast over a fire. Once a year, every member of our community comes together to complete a 17km run (called the Hekkla). At both our winter and spring Arts Festivals, every student participates in some form of performance. Several of us are proud members of our ‘Polar Bear Club’  – at least one dip in Lake Rosseau a month, EVERY month of the school year. We hike, read, paddle, think, portage, write, swim, solve, perform and study. Indeed, we like to think we are preparing students for all situations. We like to think we are preparing them for real life.

These days, our physical campus is eerily quiet. Yes, the spring peepers have begun their singing, but with whom do we share that magic? To walk across the sports field is to feel the void of endless student activity that normally characterizes this place. It is a perplexing time of incongruous realities. If this Rosseau campus feels so empty, how is it that our hearts can feel so full? How is it that our culture and the learning within it can feel so rich? As unreal as these times are, life has never been so real, so challenging. And we, as a school community, are utterly amazed by the response of our students. Our students did indeed arrive for our gathering on the morning of March 25th. They arrived from all parts of our planet with a level of excitement and enthusiasm that somehow permeated through and out of the digital platforms. Even more importantly, they keep arriving, day after day, for assembly, classes, sports practice, arts clubs, supportive studies, Coffee Houses and even polar bear dips. They arrived for our virtual run up the CN Tower, they will arrive this Friday for the Hekkla, and they will arrive again on May 14th for the Spring Arts Festival. 

It is the will of any great school to never stop imagining ways to better ensure student engagement in all parts of student life. While we remain deeply engaged in that pursuit, we also find ourselves looking inward, wondering what it is that has ensured such such a resounding coming together from around the globe. It would be easy to simply feel good about our collective response to this situation, but the reality is that whatever positive outcomes we’ve realized in maintaining our community have much more to do with what we did, and who we were, before COVID-19. This new reality has helped us to better know who we are and given us the opportunity to become an even better version of that. Never have we had to think so deeply and creatively about how we present learning, about why we distance students from their screens and connect them to the natural world. Never have we had to be so intentional and thoughtful about how and why we celebrate community. Never has so much been asked of each of us, students and staff. 

Just like the teaching, learning, overall activity and community, our symbol of the circle has endured while our concept of it has grown. Right now, we feel as though our circle has never been tighter, which is yet another unexpected outcome as it has certainly never been bigger.

A Few Thoughts on Policy: Proceed With Caution

First, a few thoughts balance: In a community, such as say a teaching faculty, it’s important. It’s not a directive, it’s a choice. It’s achieved through active, ongoing engagement. It is personalized. It is not provided, it is sought.  It is maintained through shared experiences and ongoing discussion, listening, respect, open-mindedness, thoughtful contribution. The very idea of balance invites engagement and support. 

And now, a few thoughts on Policy: In a community, such as say a teaching faculty, it’s important. It’s a directive. It does not provide choice. It is final and wide reaching. It leaves little room for debate, discussion. It instills fear; fear of what will happen if broken, fear of what will happen if not maintained.

It has been my action plan these past two years to explore the idea of community: the importance of fostering and understanding how it may empower professionalism and autonomy,  unleashing the potential of all members (teachers and students alike) in a way that inspires each other. Most recently, this exploration has been a reflection upon the ideas of balance and policy, and the extent to which they often sit in opposition. In fact, until recently,  I haven’t really given much thought at all to the the separate entities they occupy. The tension between balance and policy, however, is ever present. Just like in life, a teaching and learning community will turn to policy when conduct and behaviour become disruptive. In such instances, laws provide clarity and make us feel safe. I find this curious. (This is perhaps a little extreme, but I actually find myself returning to The Handmaid’s Tale as Atwood, to an extreme (?) extent, captures the complete willingness of a humanity to surrender moral freedom in the face of uncertainty.)  

At a boarding school, this tension is highly pronounced in the final days preceding a long weekend or an extended break. Students are getting squirrely and so their behaviour, at times, becomes unruly.  Quite suddenly, it seems, the community turns to policy. We clamp down harder on existing policy, or we identify the lack of policy. Sometimes it can feel as if the very reason students are unruly is because we are not insisting upon policy strongly enough. At our school for instance, we do not maintain a published policy on late and missing work. Therefore, it can feel as though the reason a project is not submitted on time is precisely because of our lack of policy. Is this actually true though?

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Perhaps it is my experience as a parent that causes me to pause. I have two kids (4 and 7) who are beautiful angels but they can also be entirely “unruly.” When they loose control, the easiest thing for my wife and I to do is yell and punish; to provide clear consequences. Their behaviour solicits my anger, and so it’s very easy to unleash that anger. It is much MUCH more difficult to help our kids through those moments; to love them, to listen, to learn something of them – their feelings, frustrations, their day, their extremely complicated little lives – and to help them learn something of themselves and their effect on others. Indeed, there are sometimes consequences. Often in fact. Hitting is not ok, and Maki and Gus need to know that. I’m just not sure the rule is more strongly pronounced and maintained because of the consequence attached to it. Is Gus less likely to hit because he knows his dinosaurs might be taken away?

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It strikes me that in the teaching world we can easily feel caught between extremes. We should, I think, always be evaluating our place within multiple dichotomies. There is an ever present danger, however, as the tension of a professional discussion can suggest that we’re to pick an extreme, to declare a clear, collective stance. What do you pick? high expectations over love and support? Critical feedback over encouragement? Controlled outcomes or constructivism? Outcomes or experience? Inside or outside? Instruction or inquiry? Test or project? Focus or fun? Phones! Learning tool or distraction? Hey, anyone want to talk about grades? Be clear, I don’t believe that any of these examples are actually opposing 

Each of these are great topics for incredibly rich professional discussion, and we need to be actively and openly pursuing these discussions. Indeed, it is essential for a school to be facilitating these discussions in thoughtful ways that actively solicit the voices of  the many PROFESSIONALS comprising the community. The danger occurs when the intent of those discussions shifts to consensus. Or, even worse, POLICY! Is it common in all professions to desire governance as strongly as the teaching world seems to? To tell or be told clearly, in black and white, the institutional stance on a particular “issue?” Or is that desire a remnant of our conditioning? Does it have something to do with the sometimes concerning fact that we find ourselves in this odd reality of engaging in, and perhaps even attempting to reimagine and innovate, the very institution that in part created us? It seems a little like becoming the mayor of the small town you never left. Thoughts, ideas, approaches, initiatives are often deeply rooted; in this way, they are often tainted by emotional connections and experiences that manifest as biases. 

Cohort21 lifer and former facilitator, google innovator and educator/dude supreme @ddoucet and I were very recently having an incredible discussion about biases just the other day. I think I can sum up his wisdom with this question: have you ever noticed how easy it is to validate a bias within a school community? To pick one side of a discussion and quickly gather evidence that might in some way validate it? I can’t begin to express how dangerous I think this is! To be clear, I do think it’s great to feel strongly, passionately about something. I believe it indicates engagement and concern. It also, however, underlines how essential it is for a school to be always pursuing the very idea of open, professional discussion. The great educators understand how important it is to both acknowledge and challenge personal biases. I believe a great school will facilitate, if not insist upon, this process. 

If we live in a world primarily focused on policy, that seeks consensus truth, then we are also in a world that informs rather than engages us. In a school this may mean that “professional development” is intended to dictate or train, rather than stir and excite (where exactly is the development?). A school ruled by policy – a classroom ruled by policy – sends kids out when their phone turns to distraction. It has the potential to negate the healthy discussion built upon a nurturing relationship. 

Hey, I happily acknowledge the utopianistic tone of this piece, because I do believe the pursuit, if idealistic, is also worthy. Actually, it’s essential. Imagine the implications in a classroom for instance if our first instinct is to explore and understand the tension of a moment rather than solve it; relevant, memorable, lasting experiences may in fact be built upon this idea. I will also happily acknowledge that any community requires grounding. But let’s direct greater attention and urgency towards creating the essential time and space that allows for shared learning and thoughtful discussion, processes and procedures. Let’s “co-construct” shared understandings. And let’s never stop revisiting those understandings. In any school community, we have the capacity to formulate agreements about, say, the purpose of a grade on a report card. It’s important to know why we do the things we do. There is a lot of power in founding the agreement upon discussion, particularly if that discussion is ongoing. 

As educators, we are provided with the most powerful grounding force imaginable: our students! All thoughtful educators have experienced this epiphany (perhaps again and again): when the frustrations of a day, a moment are suddenly washed away by returning to the student experience. In his recent post @gnichols at least alludes to the importance of meeting students where they are and building learning upon that. In her most recent post, @jsheppard captures the vital and even urgent need to hear each other and work as one. Indeed, we are in a time of tension, of actively distancing ourselves from a tradition so that we may better understand both it and our present, and to move meaningfully beyond in a way that addresses the needs of our world, of our students. What a complex yet exciting process, and one that more strongly favours action over compliance, understanding and empathy over directives. Balance over policy. 

It Begins With Culture: Fostering and Leveraging a Healthy Community Eco-System

We are each others’ single biggest resource and so we must search for ways to access and leverage that. I believe it begins with the endless assurance of collective support through endless, collective celebration.

Each morning at RLC we gather in a circle as a school (yes, we’re that small and it’s awesome!) to offer gratitude. We are grateful for the precious land being shared with us. We stop to realize how lucky we are for each other. We slow down and breathe. Beyond the stress of an English essay or a Math test or a Discovery Project, we work to build the larger context, the greater sense of importance, of belonging. We are good at understanding the importance of a healthy community eco-system. How then might we extend that to better realize our place within and impact upon the many larger eco-systems surrounding us? How can we better ensure that realization resonates so that its lasting with not only a sense of belonging but also responsibility and commitment. I wonder if excitement begins here?

Last school year, my first at Rosseau Lake College and my first as Academic Lead, I made it my Action Plan to more deeply foster a sense of mentorship within my new community. In doing so, I explored the very idea of mentorship and what it means to be a mentoring culture. I did this in part by placing it in opposition to a “judging culture.” (you can read that post here)

In the end, the approach was relatively simple and it was surely that simplicity that contributed to its resulting and hopefully lasting power. To begin, I teamed the teachers up in pairs – randomly I said, but truthfully with a little manipulation towards particularly “odd couple” (the odder the better, I say!): Arts with Science, Math with English, etc… In pairs , teachers shared a pre-observation meeting: what are the particular challenges you’ve identified in your practice this year? What are the innovations you’ve implemented in response? In general, what would you like to have observed? LOW PRESSURE. Over the next several weeks, teams found the right opportunities to be in each other’s class to simply observe, take it all in, capture some memorable moments or epiphanies, talk to a student or two. LOW PRESSURE. To culminate, we leveraged our weekly Tuesday morning meetings to present (one pair per week). What did you see? What did you learn (about the teacher, the students, their relationship, yourself)? What from your partner’s practice could you imagine implementing into your own? 5 to 10 minutes, no more, and again… LOW PRESSURE!

I should say that tone and approach proved essential here. It was important that we had a clear (and simple!) framework and that our objective was equally clear: to continue growing our individual personal practice through the pure celebration of the incredible work of each other. Judgement was entirely absent. Not only was there no place for it, there was also no opportunity for it (and besides, our teachers are better – MUCH better – than that :)).

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I reflected upon this as part of last year’s Action Plan, but there are some unfortunate realities that plague the teaching profession at large; teachers feel judged, they close their doors and they hide. And so, this enormous opportunity is lost. We are each others’ single biggest resource and so we must search for ways to access and leverage that. I believe it begins with the endless assurance of collective support through endless, collective celebration. And so here I will take the opportunity to somewhat authoritatively impose my thinking upon the larger discussion of teaching and learning:

If your school is not doing everything it can to intentionally foster the health of your community eco-system(s), then all other initiatives and implementations have far less traction and meaning. You are spinning wheels and wasting precious energy. I should also say that this is by far the single greatest lesson taught to me through my participation with Cohort21.

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As a teaching and learning community, it is exciting to contemplate a year ahead on a foundation of what I believe to be an increasingly healthy ecosystem. Of course, we are also a culture of innovation, and so we have to ask… what’s next? Well, how about this:

STEP 1: Spend a morningof our June PD week paddling out into Lake Rosseau. Raft our canoes up. Smudge. Give gratitude. Travel backwards 1000 years to imagine the sights, sounds and people.

STEP 2: Distribute a copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action as summer reading.

STEP 3: Plan and provide a week of PD and workshopping in August, facilitating imagination, collaboration and Action Planning, ensuring a year of meaningful, tangible connection between all aspects of school life, the outdoors, the local First Nation, our past…

STEP 4: Scatter four separate days of all-staff community building activity (axe throwing anyone?) across the school calendar.

More to come on all of this soon! For instance, I can’t wait to reflect upon the full integration of learning in Grades 9 and 10 through our Outdoor Education Program… that and our mandatory Faculty Choir participation!

Let Your Students Go Surfing!

Cohort21 for instance is without a doubt the gold standard of a supporting culture and the outcomes as measured through the amazing initiative of hundreds of empowered educators speak for themselves.

I read this memoir by Yvon Chouinard – he’s the guy who started Patagonia – over the summer, and it offered such a powerful recalibration of so many of my life’s choices and outlooks as a global citizen, husband and father and (yes) educator, that I’ve been meaning to organize and connect my thinking through some form of reflective piece. It only makes sense that on the eve of another Cohort21 season/adventure, I try to make sense of it all here, in the context of teaching and learning and the potential power of community at large.

It was the title that drew me in: Let My People Go Surfing. Yes please! It’s a beautiful metaphor worthy of extension into the daily flow that is too often characterized by a looming sense of urgency (and how often is that urgency unnecessarily fabricated – by us, the educator, or the environments we interact with?). Surfers don’t get to decide when the surf is up. In fact the very sport runs counter to conventional routine. So what happens when the surf is up before quitting time? Bummer dude. But more importantly, what are the possible outcomes if the surfer feels freedom to seize the moment and hang 10?

I was recently revisiting Maggie Cox’s plea for a “mentoring culture” in Walking the Tightrope and I was struck by this description of culture: “Business people, even in an initial meeting, (are) much more open to sharing ideas with me than teachers I have known and worked with over the years. After all of my years in education, I am still puzzled by the reluctance of educators to share and work together.” Crazy! I’ve been doing a bit of a deep dive lately into what it means to be a culture of  “mentoring” as opposed to “judging”, asking these very questions that Cox is provoking: why are teachers so quick to close their doors? Is there something inherent, perhaps in an industrialized approach, that places judgement (evaluation!) ahead of support and empowerment? Of course, the implications of all of this runs counter to, well, EVERYTHING we advocate for – in our students, in our learning cultures – in a 21st Century teaching and learning context. Cohort21 for instance is without a doubt the gold standard of a supporting culture and the outcomes as measured through the amazing initiative of hundreds of empowered educators speak for themselves. Now, this could easily turn into a long diatribe against standardized tests or grades or any system of ranking that inevitably diminishes spirit; however, an essential concept we keep at the forefront of our Cohort21 action plans is the ‘sphere of influence’: clearly understanding who we’re capable of affecting and to what extent. We can’t literally allow all educators to go surfing whenever they choose (at least, I don’t yield that power), but the essence is within our grasp – perhaps simply by opening, sharing, inquiring, supporting and celebrating.

This is a bit of an aside, but at Rosseau Lake College, we begin each day with a whole-school circle (“the small-school advantage!” as my friend, colleague and predecessor @edaigle used to say ) in which we acknowledge our place and give thanks. This simple gesture/routine, emphasizing the very symbol of a circle, holds many deep implications that collectively grounds our thinking through an entire day or approach. Of course, in a circle no one stands above and we are all connected; we are witnesses to the cyclical nature of community – however large or small – and better understand our impact. It’s pretty powerful to have the beauty of Lake Rosseau, so visible in these moments, as our backdrop, and so we can imagine ourselves as part of a much larger circle or series of circles. From the perspective of teaching and learning, there is an absurdity to then entering traditional classrooms and closing our doors and standing in front of a group that is sitting. Indeed, Chouinard prefers to describe Patagonia “as an ecosystem” with its many users as an “integral part of the system” in which a “problem anywhere affects the whole, and this gives everyone an overriding responsibility to the health of the whole organism”. This is a pretty eloquent way to consider empowerment isn’t it? What if this was how our students always felt in the learning environments we create? I really hate being presumptuous, but shouldn’t we all be at least a little bit terrified of any action or convention that removes us from the role of advocate, placing us in the role of judger?

Chouinard creates even deeper context for this belief when describing his own path as an entrepreneur. He is sure to reinforce an approach that is at the essence of any amount of success or excitement or fulfillment in his life: “the entrepreneurial way is to immediately take a forward step and if that feels good, take another, if not step back. Learn by doing.” Pretty cool right?

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And now I’m taking a moment to advocate for writing or maybe just ‘mindfulness” in general: stopping, stepping back, noticing, reflecting, connecting; understanding the symmetry (the circles!) between all things. Example: throughout this morning, as I’ve been writing this, my three year old son has been busy in his own world. He has flipped through Babar’s Yoga book practicing poses; he has sat down with a notebook and a marker copying letters from that same book; he has stared deep into the wood-stove quietly studying the motion of fire; he has brought wood – one log at a time – in from the outside stack; he has put on wings, transformed into “Fairy Boy” and defended our cabin and his family from evil goblins. Quite a morning filled with adventure, reflection, discovery and learning. All, perhaps, because I stayed out of his way. I let him go surfing! And because the world is cooperating and staying just enough out of my way at a moment of inspiration (I too am surfing!), I’m left with an epiphany. Circles!

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In education, and perhaps especially at Cohort21, we have begun to talk a lot about the entrepreneurial mindset: dispelling the myth of failure, creating excitement for getting messy, embracing challenges that seem just beyond our grasp, taking the moonshot. But really, aren’t we  just working to reconnect our students (and ourselves!) with a past spirit, the child they’ve been distanced from? Most infuriating, we’re trying to undo what’s been done. It’s easy to acknowledge the tension present in converging philosophies. Chouinard, for instance, is also careful to describe the other side of the dichotomy: “if you take the conservative scientific route, you study the problem in your head or on paper until you are sure there is no chance of failure.” The real challenge that I confront all the time is that we’re living in a blurred world. It’s easy to feel undermined by certain conventions that still prevail. The students themselves – “outcomes’ focused by the time they get to us – can be resistant; they believe they’re looking down a straight path – convention it seems works in lines not circles. So what do we do?

Chouinard implies that he got a little lucky; he was terrible at school and a bit of a loner. He did not excel in conventional ways or forums, but his isolation allowed him to cultivate his own pathways: “I learned at an early age that it’s better to invent your own game; then you can always be a winner. I found my games in the ocean, creeks, and hillsides surrounding Los Angeles.” His is a good story, but how many of the isolated are so fortunate? Perhaps we do for our students or communities what cohort21 does for us: we let them go surfing. Sadly, however, they (and we) are not kids anymore. Too infrequently do they just race towards the surf with board in arms. We have to help them see the wave, to understand it’’s potential and excitement. Sometimes we even have to push them out to sea. And maybe, we have to keep doing that until finally they feel free again.

Finally, how about this piece of gold from Bell Hooks’ Heart to Heart as a way to end: “The mind motivated by compassion reaches out to know as the heart reaches out to love. Here, the act of knowing is an act of love, the act of entering and embracing the reality of the other, of allowing the other to enter and embrace our own. In such knowing we know and are known as members of one community . . .” (p. 132).

 

Reflecting on The Cohort21 Advantage: 21st Century Learning

Warning: this post veers dangerously into that “cohort21 as a cult” sentiment so often captured in blog posts, twitter shout-outs and face2face confessionals. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, well… don’t allow it to! Embrace the magic!

What do you say when someone asks “what is 21st Century Learning?” I don’t know, maybe something like this: leveraging technology to “foster skills that increasingly demand creativity, perseverance and problem solving combined with performing well as part of a team” (Larson 121).  Yeah sure, but why do I loathe answering that question, at least in this conditioned, pass-the-elevator-test sort of way? It doesn’t do justice, it doesn’t feel quite right. And this, I believe, is where Cohort 21 continues to truly challenge my understanding. In his most recent post, @adamcaplan captures so eloquently the amazing inspiration he draws from the many Cohort21 participants. Read his blog. Read recent posts from @pcobban, @jdykerman, @hpalmer, @mmoore. Heck, read any post on any cohort21 blog. Yes, the extent of action is truly incredible. But embedded in that action is the individual journey made so rich by the extent of “risk” (and the vulnerability of the experience) and the sheer openness to the learning that often manifests as determination. Partially because of this shared Cohort21 experience, I understand that 21st Century Learning is much more than an approach. If we’re serious about shifting mindsets around teaching and learning then we must understand that teaching and learning for the 21st Century is also a way of being (wow, that’s really cultish!). Here’s what I mean…

In his text titled A Post Modern Perspective on Curriculum (a golden oldie for sure), William E. Doll suggests “creativity occurs by the interaction of chaos and order, between unfettered imagination and disciplined skill” (87). Indeed, in my professional environment (RNS) and at Cohort21 we work hard to build and maintain vibrant, supportive and safe environments in which participants (or students) may feel empowered to take risks, to respond to challenges that at first appear too difficult (moonshots!), and to achieve outcomes that may feel out of reach. At RNS, the best examples we have of this are our large scale “disruptED” events which now occur several times throughout the year in a wide-range of forms for a multitude of purposes. I’ve written about some of these events before (because they’re amazing!) and they have quickly become a trademark of the Grade 9/10 Program (Discovery) that I coordinate and, to a broader extent, the teaching and learning at our school. I like to think of them as symbols of 21st Century approaches that, to an ever-increasing extent, reflect and affect the teaching and learning in the classrooms.

Here’s an awesome example of what I mean…

Recently, teachers from our Math department endeavoured to create a two day challenge for our students around real–world applications of math concepts. The resulting theme was entrepreneurship, and our 100 students from grades 9 and 10 were placed in small teams to imagine and design a business or product not only able to thrive in today’s economy, but also respond to the needs of today’s world. Amazing, right? I believe part of the enduring magic of these events is the intersection between learning and life. As if to truly emphasize this magic, we invited many business-minded people and entrepreneurs from the local community who willingly donated time to lead workshops and interact in a variety of ways with our students – including the role of “dragons” to culminate the event. To be clear: Students were displaced from routine and social defaults and tasked, in teams, to creatively respond to real-world challenges, drawing from both real-world experts and in-class learning. To observe these two days was to also observe cooperation, struggle, excitement, frustration, epiphanies, doubt, determination and, at least in some measure, the exhilaration of success. The learning is palpable.

But let’s push this a little further, and this is what I mean when I say “a way of being”…

Cohort21 alum and RNS Math Whiz @kwhitters took the initiative and lead on this event, and she noted the basic importance of “stepping back from our daily routines. It helps to stimulate the mind and promotes creativity.” But, as you can surely appreciate, the level of planning required in successfully implementing an event like this is intense and extensive. And so, it seems to me that Kate easily could have been describing the teachers as we gather to imagine and plan these events. There is beautiful symmetry in the fact that the set of skills required by teachers in planning is very similar to those exhibited by the students in learning. Kate was able to bring a group of teachers together by proposing the challenge of creating a two day event for our students. I think this was a moonshot. In building a successful “product”, the teachers collaborated to ideate, create, innovate and refine.  Therefore, if I were to describe RNS as a school that values 21st Century Skills, it would be clear that I’d not just be describing classroom learning but rather an entire culture of teaching and learning. I am now comfortable suggesting that as teachers at RNS, we understand deeply the importance and power of 21st Century Skills because we are applying and building those skills constantly in the ongoing development of our own practice. In this way, we are learning alongside our students so that when they experience frustration and doubt, or success and excitement, we are strongly positioned to understand those experiences and to better harness the learning available.

Of course, all of us at Cohort21 deeply understand this because for all of it Cohort21 has truly provided the template. From the ‘how might we?’ to metacognition and every grimy, wonderful moment in between, we know 21st Century Learning because we are actively 21st Century Learners.  Recently, @gnichols confronted our tendency to measure our learning against others – perhaps as an annoying remnant of an industrialized approach. I think all of us with a passion for better understanding teaching and learning in the 21st century likely share an increasing discomfort with anything in our practice that might perpetuate our students’ determination to rank themselves. I know that at cohort21 we do a lot to recognize and celebrate each other’s journey, and this support is obviously extremely important. More lasting however is the inward focus and the personal, intrinsic joy realized in perseverance, growth, epiphany… Guiding students into this mindset also means understanding and therefore living it.

Doll, W. (1993). A Post-Modern Perspective on Curriculum. New York: Teachers College Press.

Larson, L., Miller, T. (2011).  21st Century Skills: Prepare Students for the Future. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 47 (3), 121-123.

A Few Thoughts on Moonshots

It really is a test. Am I ready/willing to take a moonshot of my own?

Where do my beliefs truly lay? How far am I willing to go?

IT was even theatrical. I was at the absolute height of my enthusiasm, channelling a famous American, pleading for the essential role of “dreaming and imagination” at the heart of our lasting learning and growth.

“Let’s be absolutely clear about what we’re setting out to do!”

I pointed to two loosely drawn circles on the white board, a great distance apart, drawing a line from the big one to the little one.

“We’re going to the moon! You may not settle for anything less!”

Our Design Thinking Lab pushed us to the very corners of our imagination, generating ideas and excitement. This is critical I think. Before our journey even begins, we’re already amazed at our potential. In a large group mingle, they were encouraged to hear and be heard while remaining open to all offers.

“What is the potential when two or three or four ideas are combined into a larger vision?”

“Oh my gosh,” I heard from the escalating exchanges. “I think we’re shooting past the moon. Mr. Vogt, we’re headed to Mars!”

Two days later, a group of three proposed their vision of a board-game, with a slight tone of frustration. The excitement of the Design Thinking Lab had dimmed a little. It didn’t quite feel like a “moon-shot” anymore. As Santiago described the intricacies of the figures he planned to mould from clay, he was staring at the large, bare white wall of the hallway just outside the room.

I believe, as teachers, we live for these moments – when we are privileged to witness the exact moment of epiphany, the light in the eyes switching on and Santiago springing to life.

“We can paint our board-game on the wall!”

As a group, we’d talked about this. With a clear moon-shot, the path will not be clear. This is the learning. You know roughly where you’re going, but you don’t yet know how you’re getting there. When you confront obstacles, it’s so important that you don’t concede by diminishing the scope of your vision. Maintain your vision! Overcoming the obstacles is learning.

Two days later, Santiago and team arrived armed with a presentation, smartly organized on “slides”: sketches, the details of both the vision and process. They were making a formal pitch, seeking feedback and approval from a team of three: Art Teacher, Director of Technology and Innovation, Director of Admissions. When they left the “den”, their ideas were even further evolved: apart from the many elements of a wildly creative and intricate game, a 50 square foot “board” on a cinderblock wall, in an “Art-Deco” style to be left not only as an artifact but also a resource for future learners and learning. They also left with approval from the panel and the excitement quickly spread through the class.

“They’re going to paint a wall!”

Once again, Santiago and company were off to the moon. It was an amazing and proud moment for the students. Memorable and lasting no matter the outcome of the wall.

Now, this kind of approach to learning and expressing learning has been a growing part of the overall culture of my class and our larger Discovery Program for some time now (particularly since the great @lmcbeth spent a day work-shopping our faculty on the ways and magic of Design Thinking).  Each experience is deeper immersion into the process itself and a wider cultural shift. Every time, it offers reminders and new insights worth capturing here:

  1. Conference. Conference again. And keep conferencing. The ongoing feedback cycle is critical to student engagement and maintenance of the overall vision. Amazing learning occurs at critical crossroads. Conferencing provides students with opportunities of focus, to work through and beyond those crossroads without compromising or diverting. Essential “soft skills” like Problem Solving, Creative Thinking, Cooperation and Independence are skills that must be taught, modelled and fostered.
  2. Time is of the essence. In The End of Average, Todd Rose makes a compelling case on behalf of time, strongly arguing that there is no correlation between time and intelligence. I love this idea, but embracing it also means letting go of the urgency that can characterize curriculum. If I really want my students to hit the moon, I must provide the appropriate time to do it. And this is MUCH more difficult than it sounds for two reasons: 1. Making a reasonable assessment of available time outside of the classroom is complicated – it involves a profound understanding of the extent of the students’ lives and clear communication among all teachers about workload. 2. Remaining true to the process means an even greater shift from commonly bread biases. In an English Class it means reducing breadth of content while embracing behaviours, expressions and even skills not “traditional” in the English sense. For instance, how much time can I comfortably allow to pass without any significant reading or writing? It really is a test. Am I ready/willing to take a moonshot of my own? Where do my beliefs truly lay? How far am I willing to go? If I truly believe in this approach to learning, I will respect it with time.
  3. It really is about the journey and not the destination. No matter how great the end product, it will not accurately reflect the work and the learning of the larger process. And this idea can really cut deep, particularly when it comes to assessment. I mean, we can co-construct a rubric and I can provide a grade of the end product, but what am I actually grading? Does it provide an accurate snapshot of the larger process? And if not, then what’s the point? And I don’t believe I can, in good judgement, grade the process. After positioning myself so intentionally as advocate and coach, how can I suddenly shift to the position of judge? To an ever-increasing extent, I am seeing that any attempt to act in both of those roles is a compromise to each of them. This process will time and again challenge the confounding “need” to attach a number. Not to fear, it’s a healthy debate, if even with only myself… and more (MUCH MORE!) on this later.

Moonshot Image from BBVA: https://www.bbva.com/en/moonshots-ideas-will-change-world/

Down With Grades! Can We at Least Talk About It?

To an ever-growing extent, the very concept of grades, or the attempt to accurately quantify learning, is a lingering artifact from an increasingly extinct approach to teaching and learning.

If grades are a necessary component of the larger institution of learning, then I believe it is the responsibility of the 21st Century Educator to re-imagine exactly why a grade is important, what it represents and how it is arrived at and “awarded”

What are the implications of removing numeric values from all forms of formative and summative assessments?

I know a lot of teachers have this in common: My experience as a High School student was disastrous. Truly! I have no idea how my parents survived it. And now, as a Dad to two young children, the mere thought of it strikes fear from within (my hands are shaking as I write this). Partly because of my lasting memories (nightmares), I believe my best moments as a teacher have been extreme detractions from my memories. It’s a pretty simple approach isn’t it? Just do what my teacher’s didn’t do (this is probably harsh. I did love some of them… liked some of them… liked at least one of them). I mean, over the years, I think I’ve substantiated relatively effectively this approach with actual pedagogy, but still, my own high school experiences remain perched above my “day-to-day” as a haunting reminder. The correlation between me in high school and the students in my class is very direct, if not inverted: the less their experience resembles mine, the more exhilarating and lasting it is. I really do believe this. However, no matter the level of student engagement or the extent to which students “achieve” beyond their perceived limitations – overcoming insecurities, discomfort or obstacles in reaching solutions, breakthroughs or epiphanies – the entire process of learning is continuously and inevitably undermined by the powerful force of GRADES. This is a battle I’m tired of losing!! Ahhh!  To great frustration, I have watched it again and again and again: a student receives a grade – usually a number – on a particular assessment or at the end of a grading period in the form of a “Report Card”, and the student immediately becomes lost in its power. Suddenly, this number is all that the student cares about, and all of that wonderful learning seems forgotten. It is too often an immovable obstacle in the way of authentic feedback. The number is an obsession.

To an ever-growing extent, the very concept of grades, or the attempt to accurately quantify learning, is a lingering artifact from an increasingly extinct approach to teaching and learning. My teachers assigned grades! Doesn’t that mean I shouldn’t? A grade, in a traditional sense, paints a narrow picture of a student. And this may be appropriate if the approach itself is narrow (yikes!). However, in a 21st Century context, this picture is damaging to the extent that it blocks from the teacher’s view the much larger and telling picture of a particular student. This can effectively reduce and even undermine a much broader scope of learning. Most damaging is the extent to which grades adversely affect a student’s sense of self. A learner’s identity is too largely formed by the implications and stigmas of a grade, as opposed to the meaningful, unique and personal interactions with learning and a given culture of learning.

If grades are a necessary component of the larger institution of learning, then I believe it is the responsibility of the 21st Century Educator to re-imagine exactly why a grade is important, what it represents and how it is arrived at and “awarded”. It is also my belief that this process begins with an imagining and discussion of a culture absent of grades. As educators, let’s remove ourselves entirely from a tradition of grades that, no matter how passively, is inevitably present in our own routines, maybe even to the extent of unrecognized biases.  I mean maybe we’re not quite there yet in practice, but let’s at least have some fun in discussion. Let’s forget the larger picture and consider this purely through a lens of actual learning: What are the implications of removing numeric values from all forms of formative and summative assessments? Seriously, at least for the purpose of conversation, let’s free ourselves.

What do YOU think?

The 48 Hour Challenge… Building a Skill and So Much More!

This past week in our Discovery Program (Grades 9 and 10) we “disruptED” the general routine of learning with a symposium on the skill of “presentation”. It was awesome for all the reasons we imagined it would be awesome. It was also awesome for many reasons we may not have fully imagined. All of these reasons collectively affirm the power of large scale, collectively coordinated disruptions; they enhance learning, collaboration, community and professional development. They present a new way of seeing for students and teachers alike. And that can only be a good thing.

This is the second time we’ve done this in what is inevitably becoming a bi-annual tradition, and the catalyst for the idea was relatively simple:  we are continually asking the students to present in so many forms both inside and outside of the classroom, yet we do not properly emphasize (or teach!) the particular skill of presentation. Sure, over the years as a group of teachers, we’ve commented on how poorly the students, except for the odd exception, present. We also understand the essential importance of the skill to a life, all lives, in this social world. And so we began to wonder about the power of breaking from the flow and devoting 48 hours to an intense focus on the power of presentation. We imagined providing opportunities for the students to interact with the skill in multiple forms and to begin building and incorporating specific techniques, approaches and philosophies. Ultimately, we imagined the students exiting the 48 hours with a sense of confidence and growing identities as presenters.  At the very least, it would be a strong statement and the students would leave with an even deeper appreciation for the skill of presentation and the role it could play in their lives – as students and beyond.

And so, the 48 Hour Presentation Retreat was born.  This year’s event built upon the strength of the inaugural event and was an ambitious blend of Guest Speakers, workshops focused on particular skills related to presentation, and “studio time” which allowed students to reflect upon and incorporate their learning as they built and refined a one minute “pitch” on a particular human quality they “stand for”. In total, we had 10 volunteers from the local community – a wide range of professionals and leaders who recognize presentation as an essential component of their lives and success – wander up the “hill” to speak and work with our students. The Closing Gala on Wednesday afternoon featured 11 of these student pitches, and the audience, consisting of all Grade 9 and 10 students and teachers, was astounded by the incredible growth and talent of our students. Indeed, from the perspective of our particular goals, this was a wonderfully successful endeavour; you certainly did not have to look too far to find evidence of enthusiastic engagement.

And while all of this learning was/is wonderful, what truly struck me were the many “unintended” outcomes that were equally wonderful and lasting and are, perhaps, an inevitable consequence of these kinds of initiatives. I should say, as the coordinator of the event, I was uniquely positioned throughout these 48 hours to spread myself across the campus and wander in and out of the many happenings. This gave me a kind of bird’s eye view as well as an opportunity to continually interact with our guests, the students and teachers. Here is some of what I saw:

  1. The Energizing Effect. Perhaps it’s as simple as telling our students that they will not be attending regular classes, all projects and homework are on hold and they’re permitted to “dress down” from their school uniforms for two days, but the students became highly energized throughout the two days. It is healthy to step back, take a break from regular learning and the regular schedule, learn in an entirely new way and hopefully develop a powerful new skill. This will be difficult to measure, but I have no doubt we have successfully reinvigorated our students and this will only positively affect their learning within the regular flow.
  1. Seeing Our Students in a New Way. (And I’m sorry to be critical here, but…) We think we know our students. I hear it all the time – in staff rooms, in staff meetings, at lunch tables. Teachers are forever characterizing students, as if they have a clear picture. But we only know our students to the extent that they react to particular circumstances within a particular setting in a particular culture and the many dynamics shaping that setting and culture. These 48 hours disrupted all of that and suddenly students we thought we knew were not those same people at all. Emerging from these 48 hours were so many wonderful examples of students showing themselves in ways the teachers may never have been able to imagine.  We should never pretend to fully know/understand our students. We should always search for opportunities to see our students in new ways.
  1. The Power of Collaboration. In our school we’ve begun to express a lot of concern over the perceived existence of silos. And, as hard as we try to break down walls, so many factors conspire to send us retreating back into those silos (they’re so hard to escape!). These 48 hours were a complete and total disruption. There were no walls or silos, there was no semblance of our routine. We tore it all down and started from scratch. This was wonderfully freeing and a terrific foundation on which to collaborate. Everything was possible, no one had anything to protect. In total, 25 faculty members contributed to the success of this endeavour. When truly provided with the right opportunity under a conducive set of circumstances, collaboration is an unbelievably powerful concept. It’s really nice to catch a taste of what we, a collection of faculty, are capable of creating.
  1. Professional Development. The total disruption also meant that many teachers were forced to step outside of their comfort-zones. I, for instance, was challenged to produce a one minute pitch (“I Stand for Listening”) to the entire group. Just as it was for the students, this was terrifying and invigorating. It also intensified my appreciation for a complex and difficult skill. I had to consider and shape my identity as a presenter, and this process further connected me to the student experiences, better positioning me to facilitate and teach. After a last-minute cancellation by one of our workshop leaders, another of our faculty challenged herself to step a little outside of her comfort zone and lead a workshop on improvisational skills (Thinking on Your Feet). This teacher confided in me that she emerged from the experience with several tangible tools that she will incorporate into her regular classroom culture. And suddenly I can imagine her leading a ‘PD’ session among our faculty. These kinds of experiences were numerous among us. We truly grew as a faculty.
  1. A Coming Together. Just as we were beginning the Final Gala, I brought the group together for one last “energizer” which involved more than a hundred of us standing in a large circle around the edges of the theatre. As I moved to the circle’s centre and began providing instructions, I was struck by the closeness of the group. All of us had shared in an intense experience. All of had made ourselves vulnerable and relied upon each other for support. We had truly grown and learned together. If nothing else, we had this in common. In a culture intent on shaping a 21st Century Mindset while developing 21st Century Approaches to learning, this strengthening of our community has unbelievable implications (cooperation, teamwork, leadership…).