Thursday, 12 November 2015

a culture of learning

“... and now you're a wacko like me.” I'm not sure if I've ever had a greater compliment regarding my philosophies on education (assessment in this particular case) then hearing these words from Rick Wormeli on my shift in thinking over the past seventeen years in education. I haven’t always been the type of thinker I am today regarding education. Mainly, I think, because once I became a teacher, for a few years,  I stopped learning.

I think my beliefs first significantly began to move when I began my masters degree many years ago. I don't remember the title of the book, but in the first paragraph, there was a statement about how education is modeled after the industrial age and in many cases has never looked back. It went on to compare schools to prisons and hospitals as being highly institutionalized organizations. This message made me pause and reflect not only on educational practices in general, but what was going on in my own classroom. I took the balcony view and imagined the school that has its students sitting in rows, being taught one discipline for 60 minutes, the bell rings, students stand up, move to another room, sit in their assigned seat where another teacher lectures another subject in isolation for 60 minutes, the bell rings, repeat …

Today I work with some pretty amazing educators who help “push my thinking.” Conversations involving inquiry-based learning, relevant projects, Genius Hour, makerspace, flex time, interdisciplinary challenges, dismantling of computer labs, breaking down classroom walls, questioning why we need bells, deeper learning, community classrooms...all in an effort to make learning fluid, relevant, engaging and purposeful. None of this would be possible without having a culture that supports learning. A place where teachers are reading, talking, researching, forming learning communities. One of my most important roles as an administrator is to support that culture of learning and help it permeate throughout the school. Leaders, I feel, need be strategic and creative to motivate and support a school to continually have its professionals engage in learning.  George Couros recently posted the question  How do you make the great learning go “viral” in your school, to move from “pockets” to a “culture of innovation?” which he addresses in his new book (which I’ve ordered, but yet to read) The Innovator’s Mindset.. It's a great question and one I look forward to exploring further.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Finding The Balance

I believe technology is a wonderful thing. I rely heavily on it every day and it is one of my passions. I facilitate my school’s technology advisory  committee and am involved with tech at a district level as well. I provide release time to teachers so that they can plan ways to integrate technology into their lessons in a meaningful way. My teachers know the fastest way to get ahold of me is by first text, second email and then a distant third my office landline. Every teacher has my cellphone number. I Google Hangout with the secretaries when they need to get ahold of me.
In my house of four we have ipads, a mini ipad, android, iphones, a Mac, PC, Chromebook, laptops and tech toys (some of them mine). I tweet, email, instagram, blog, text.

I share this with the intent of laying the foundation to those who choose to read this that I am a tech guy and support it greatly, but….another one of my passions is wellness. I have always been pretty good at taking care of my physical well being, but up until a couple of years ago did not pay a lot of attention  to working out my mental health. Because I, like so many of us, are continually being bombarded with information through technology I have found it important to make a concerted effort to take time to let my brain rest.  For a couple of years now I have been practising “mindfulness” in an attempt to be more in the present, be more productive, less reactive and be more focused on particular tasks when I am working on them. At work our school created a mindfulness group for teachers and another for students. We are introducing mindfulness to all of our students to help reduce anxiety.

Recently the teacher-librarian handed me a copy of The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer and I found the book really resonated with me. The book is small (it can be read in one sitting) and has (at least for the past week) helped me “slow down” and appreciate things more. A good portion of the book talks about technology and its impact on our society. It in no way “bashes” tech, but rather provides some interesting insights on how we can ensure we don’t become too consumed with always being “plugged in.” The book provides plenty of examples from Google and Intel on how tech leaders like this who are often “leading the charge” also recognize the importance of slowing things down. The book states that according to “interruption science” it takes 25 min to recover from something like a cell phone call and yet on average we are being interrupted every 11 minutes so we never fully recover unless we train ourselves to.

I certainly have a ways to go to strike the right balance (whatever that is), but lately I have been feeling calmer, more content, appreciative and more productive. So as I sit in a little coffee shop with my Chromebook and Android looking out the window on a nice fall day, I know that later, when I head out for a walk, I won’t be using that time to make phone calls, answer emails while I clumsily maneuver the sidewalks, think of work projects that I should be working on and instead I will (at least try) to appreciate my surroundings so that when I do return will be rested and more capable to tackle what may be left on my list of things to do.