Lifelong Learning or Learning for a Long Life?

Oh, the teacher college years.  I remember our instructors discussing the importance of always keeping an open mind to learning as we move forward in teaching.  They pushed us to take strategies and ideas with a grain of salt, and to modify or innovate to come up with new ones.  I have been teaching for nearly seven years and only now is it truly sinking it.  Not saying that I haven’t been valuing learning, but with the ever changing schools, teaching load, countries, and provinces that are involved in maintaining a full-time job in this competitive, jobless world of teaching, I lost the will to seek learning outside of my own immediate surroundings.

Last year I moved from the public board to an independent school, Lakefield College, just north of where I grew up.  I am continually impressed by how my views of professional learning have changed.  I strongly believe that it has to do with the people that surround me, and the resources that are now at my disposal.  I’ve always been a bit of a ‘yes man’ but at Lakefield, I can take it to a whole new level with so many opportunities and collaborative like-minded colleagues.

In the past year and a half, my development as a teacher has been astounding.  I find myself reflecting more, asking bigger questions, and seeking out new tools and technology to use in the classroom.

What do the students have to say about Lifelong Learning?

Here are a couple quotes from a survey that I decided to share with the students.  (Answers were anonymous)

Question:  How are you going to make sure that you are always learning as you take the journey through life? (aside from ‘going to school’)

“Once I read a book, named “Studying is a respect for my life”. The author tells his idea of life-long learning. He says that we need to keep learning in our life time, not because of anyone else’s expectation, but because of one’s self-regulation and self-training. I believe that is why we need to be a life-long learner”

“Looking forward in my life this seems like a hard question to answer and in one sense it is but I think the easiest and most effective way to always keep learning is to always be curious and ask questions about everything and everyone.”

“I am going to, instead of denying that I did anything wrong after making a mistake, accept that I made a mistake and find a way to avoid making that mistake again. I will also ask people who know more than me about certain things questions, and ask for help.”

“Read books, engage in new experiences from which I can learn something I don’t know yet, volunteering and always ask myself: what can I do better?”

“To not over think everything. Just to seize the day; carpe diem. Also to learn to forgive and forget even if you messed up something you learned from it.”

I loved reading through these.  They are informative about the students that we teach.  Lifelong learning is a skill that we are born with.  Curiousity forces learning, and who is more curious than a toddler?  It shows us/me that the idea of constant growth is something that we can lose as we grow older.  Hearing the responses from my survey describes a cohort that understands the importance and is embracing the idea of being a lifelong learner.

What do you do to keep learning?  I know that up until recently, I haven’t always been where I need to be as a teacher, but on a personal side, I have always strived to learn more about the world around me through traveling, changing schools, and meeting new people.

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Co-Teaching: Accountability and Collaboration

Last year, rumours of a new and innovative fellowship program began circulating around the school, regarding a Pilot program called LEAP (Lakefield Educator’s Apprenticeship Program).  Immediately, I was drawn to the idea of mentoring and co-teaching with a newly graduated teacher.  I have always been an advocate of collaboration between staff and within our classrooms.  Needless to say, often two heads are better then one.  When the call finally came for volunteer staff mentors for the program, I jumped on it.  I now have been co-teaching, co-planning, and co-marking in all 4 of my classes.

Myths Surrounding Co-Teaching:

  • It makes your job easier.  Fact is that the amount of time that is freed up in marking is negligible to the amount of co-planning that must take place.  To be successful in this role, you essentially have to form a relationship of open communication and acceptance to ideas from two, sometimes very different, minds.
  • There is only one way that is right.  Absolutely not.  There are several models of co-teaching that are successful. Personally, I feel that a 50:50 split is the best approach.  It gives ownership to both individuals and allows for feedback to go in both directions.  In a mentorship program the ‘mentor’ can be the learner in some cases, as they continue to develop their own repertoire of teaching skills.
  • It is an avenue for the leadership team to gain insight on our teaching. If properly implemented, a teacher should never feel that a administrative role is using it to assess or evaluate your teaching.  However, the conversation could certainly present itself if the relationship between the two co-teachers begins to crumble.

Benefits to Co-Teaching

  • Student Achievement: With two people in the room, students have access to two heads and therefore two sets of ideas, personalities, and educations.  I know some of my students will approach my Fellow more readily then myself, as a preference.  There is no problem with this. In general, this creates a community where more students will be willing to ask for clarification or help.
  • Staff Collaboration:  Increases comfort in sharing, accepting, and planning within staff. Co-teaching can be done on several levels but at all times, staff work together to form a cohesive and successful program.  It certainly boosts confidence and improves consistency.
  • Evolution of Teaching Philosophy: Maintaining currency with new strategies and approaches.  At Lakefield, the Fellows have brought with them new ideas and strategies straight from cutting edge universities.  By approaching mentorship in a co-teaching style, it has encouraged a shift into a more 21st century style of learning.   
  • Reflection & Feedback: Two heads are better then one. I find myself constantly asking, ‘How do you think that went?’ to my fellow whom I co-teach with.  We have a conversation and alter the lesson based on feedback that we give each other.  It almost always results in a better lesson and therefore learning.
  • Accountability:  For those of us who find we are rushing to plan for units & lessons or just continue using the same expired lessons from year to year, then co-teaching also pushes you to rethink lessons, plan ahead, and in the end takes the stress out of your day to day life. As a teacher, accountability can sometimes slip through the cracks.  I have worked with several in the past who simply reuse their lessons from one year to the next.  Sure some of these lessons may be great but in honest truth, lessons must be altered to stay current with new teaching practices, new curriculum, and new technology.  Co-Teaching has certainly pushed me to be more accountable for what I deem a ‘good lesson’ and my students are benefiting from a much more engaged class.  (For those looking for a great conference about engagement and cooperative learning, check out GLACIE in Toronto.)

A TEDx on Mentorship and Co-Teaching: 


Obviously, this is something that only schools with perhaps a few more resources can fully implement.  However, I challenge you to sit as a team, discuss your lessons, and find time to co-plan for your classes.  Give up a ‘Prep’ period to take a step into someone else’s class.  It may just open your mind to being part of a team, to better yourself professionally and your students academically.  I know that both my Fellow and I have grown as teachers and I see it everyday in the students that I teach.

A question that I want you to think about after reading this: Are you willing to expose your teaching methods to open feedback and collaboration?


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The New World of Education – Cohort 21

This past year, I learned of Cohort 21 from a teacher at my school.  The ideas that he was bringing to the classroom were unique and creative.  It was inspiring to see the work that was being done through collaboration between multiple people across the province at the Cohort 21 conferences and on Google Hangout.  Near the end of the year, I attended the GLACIE conference in Toronto and learned again that cooperative and collaborative learning fosters deep engagement within my colleagues and students.  Last year was my ‘Ah ha’ moment in professional development and teaching.  It was the first time I saw just how important and meaningful collaboration really is and I have since reflected and changed the ways I learn and teach.

I am lucky to work with a fairly supportive and collaborative staff as well.  I collaborate daily with my co-teacher and others who are teaching the same course.  It has enriched my lessons, motivated me, and my students are benefiting resulting in better achievement and learning. I am looking forward to this year at Cohort 21 as it is a truly unique professional development opportunity for teachers who are seeking to build a learning network amongst staff and other CIS Ontario member schools. The Cohort 21 community is built on a foundation of collaboration and innovation and we will investigate and refine 21st century teaching and learning best practices through the rich experience of “learning by doing”.


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