In Greenwood’s awards assembly yesterday, where I saw grade 12 students who I have watched grow up since grade 7 prepare to graduate, our principal spoke about the zone of proximal development. Greenwood’s program is designed to push students just a little outside of their comfort zones so that they may experience the joy that comes with overcoming challenges and gaining new skills and confidence. His speech had a certain resonance with me because much like my grade 12 students, I have been supported in my growth over the past six years; and I will be joining them in making a leap into the unknown at the end of this school year.
I am excited to share with you that I will be stepping away from Greenwood to join the small but mighty team at Future Design School as the Director of Professional Development. FDS is an education startup with a mission to empower students to solve the world’s big problems through design thinking, entrepreneurship and innovation. I am thrilled to be joining their team and to have the opportunity to build a community of teachers who embrace ambiguity and change, challenge the status-quo, and seek new and innovative ways to engage their students in real world problems.
The shift to FDS is an almost perfect marriage of my skills and experience with my primary motivation for becoming an educator in the first place: to answer the question “How might we empower students to solve the world’s big problems?”
It was this question that motivated me to quit my job at the Design Trust for Public Space in New York City and move to Toronto to become a teacher, and this question has been the driving force behind my teaching practice at Greenwood for the past six years. More recently, this question led me to the Google Certified Innovators program, where I set out to help teachers use design thinking to unlock student potential in their classroom through my Innovation Project. And now, Future Design School is my opportunity to build that capacity in teachers across North America. The #GoogleEI experience was a launch pad that set me up to believe in my big idea and go after it with gusto.
On the Shoulders of Giants
A key part of the theory of proximal development is that students are able to reach beyond their current ability with the support of a great teacher. Over the course of my career so far, I have had many incredible teachers and mentors who have pushed me towards my current opportunity. I have been fortunate to call my colleagues at Greenwood my friends, co-conspirators, and confidants and I challenge anyone to find a group of more talented, passionate and fun educators.
Learning from highly motivated, progressive and supportive teachers and administrators, I have been able to take on many different roles and challenges: to develop my own courses based on my interest in cities (thanks, Garth Nichols); to coordinate and grow Toronto’s most extensive high school service learning program (thanks, Kevin Way); to develop PD programs using a design thinking approach (thanks, Edwin Bryson); to embrace challenges like dogsledding, hiking, kayaking and canoeing with students (thanks, Alex Hurley); to learn about the university admissions process as a guidance counsellor (thanks, Liz Branscombe, Michelle Lieberman, Wendy Herod and Heather Thomas); to organize student trips to New York City and India (thanks, Kevin Way, Billy Farbstein and David Moritsugu); and to experiment with educational technology (thanks, Jonathan Tepper). I have been inspired daily by the motivation, work ethic, and talent of every single teacher at Greenwood (thanks to you all). Most of all, I have been supported to take risks, try new things and push my own thinking on what it means to be innovative in education today. This support has extended now to my move to FDS and I’m grateful to our Principal, Al Hardy, for understanding the value of this opportunity for me and for always supporting me in my growth.
I’ve also had the pleasure to learn alongside many bright, curious and kind young people. They have been willing to take risks, try new things and have always been open to my sometimes unorthodox ideas about teaching and learning.
Over the past two years, my network of teachers outside of Greenwood has grown exponentially and continues to be a fountain of inspiration as I move forward on this new path. I couldn’t ask for a better colleague, mentor and friend than Garth Nichols. When Garth asked me to join Cohort 21 as a facilitator two years ago, I had no idea how much of an impact this community would have on my life. With guidance from Garth (@gnichols), Justin (@jmedved), Celeste (@ckirsh), Derek (@ddoucet), Shelley (@shelleythomas) and an all star team of coaches, I have grown in my confidence and ability to develop PD programs. But more importantly, I have discovered the power of being part of true professional learning community. The teachers in Cohort 21 have been a unyielding source of inspiration and support and I look forward to continuing to work with Cohort 21 next year (yes, I’ll be back!).
Similarly, I found my “tribe” this year at the #MTV16 Google Innovators program, which has expanded to much of the EdTech Team and #MapleSyrupEdu in the past few months. The sheer energy, enthusiasm, optimism and care that comes from these groups is hard to describe. Thank you especially to Michelle Armstrong, Kevin Jarrett, Kevin Brookhouser, Sandra Chow, and Kim Pollishuke for pushing my ideas and connecting me to an inspired group of educators. My Innovation Project is about to get really big!
What I Can Do With Help
And so, acknowledging all that you have already given me, I still need your support. You’ll see in the diagram for the zone of proximal development that in order to grow beyond what we can currently do, we need the help of others. My first big challenge at Future Design School is to build a community of teachers who want to learn more about design thinking and apply these methods in their classrooms. We are hosting our first “Innovation Leaders Bootcamp” this summer, and we need participants! This week long PD program for teachers will give you the skills and confidence to turn your classroom into an innovation hub. Details are here – please share them far and wide! Thank you so much for your continued support – I look forward to sharing my new adventure with you.
Congratulations again, Les, on this incredible opportunity!
You have been such an important part of my own learning and development this year; I can’t wait to see what you can do and who and what you can impact in this new role.
If I hadn’t already maxxed out my PD dollars for this decade, I would be all over signing up for this! I’m going to start saving my tutoring pennies to hopefully participate in the next cohort. 🙂
So thrilled for you!! Glad our circles will overlap for this next year and excited to see how it all develops at FDS!
Congratulations! That is very excited. We were just chatting about FDS in our staff meeting the other day. Hopefully our paths will cross!
What an exciting new chapter! Maybe we’ll be one of your first new clients in your capacity at FDS. I got the green light today 🙂
Les, so excited to be on this adventure with you, albeit from a distance … incredibly grateful that the Google Innovators program made this connection possible … and so impressed with not only what you’ve done, but, what you’re about to do.
BTW, I love your HMW question, it is such a powerful frame for this post as well as the larger work you are doing. Added bonus: it’s helping to focus my own thoughts as I plan for the 2016-17 school year.
Good luck with everything, the transition to FDS, and all the cool stuff you DIDN’T put in this post that I know you’re up to this summer, as well. 🙂
You know where to find me! Stay gold!