Lens of a Learner

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IMMOOC- Week 3 Blog Prompt….What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change?

 Despite thinking about this prompt all week, I have been struggling to find the right reflective piece to blog about. However, on the eve of taking part in a highly anticipated day of learning with AJ Juliani tomorrow, it dawned on me.

One thing that has changed so much for me over the last few years is how I engage as a professional learner. Becoming a NETWORKED, connected educator over the last number of years has been a game changer for me.

Then..

In years past when attending professional learning sessions put on by colleagues or at conferences, I would take copious notes, capturing the content of the session, as well as the thoughts and connections I was making. In the end, I am not sure how effective or impactful those strategies were for me as learner. I don’t recall going back to all of those notes very often, as when I did I often found they hadn’t in the end really captured what I was looking for.

Now…

Now, when I attend PD, I regularly use Twitter. I often capture some of my biggest takeaways in the form of a Tweet and using this platform I often engage with the presenter as well as other participants. This process is dynamic, engaging and furthers both collaboration and learning. If there is something a presenter says that really resonates with me, I capture it graphically as well, using something like Quote Creator etc. What often makes the PD and my entry points even richer yet,  is the fact that I have often already made a connection to the presenter and his or her work either via Twitter or his or her blog etc. This too helps to enrich and extend the valuable learning I do as a participant.

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I can’t tell you how many times I have used the Twitter Advanced Search to seek out something I have Tweeted from a conference or presentation. I also use Storify to capture and archive a number of Tweets related to a presenter, conference or specific focus. For example after spending 4 days taking part in an amazing PD opportunity at the Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver last December, I captured many of my Tweets and those of others using Storify. Or I regularly created a Storify to celebrate all of the Tweeting and reflection that would happen in my school division, when George Couros came to work with our school division staff for a week at a time like seen here. The process of creating a Storify as well as having it as a resource to come back to over and over again is very powerful.

I also often blog after taking part in valuable professional learning. Blogging helps me unpack my new learning in a deeper way. Reflecting on where I am at and where I am going is what pushes my thinking forward. Doing this in a public way makes me even more cognizant and accountable for my reflective practice.

Similarly, I now do all of these exact same things when reading a professional book. Being a NETWORKED educator has immensely changed that process for the better as well. Having the ability to engage with an author while reading his or her work, using the means of Tweeting to converse with them, and reviewing their extended work online, extends my own learning once again. Blogging about this author’s work while reflecting and documenting my thinking helps me carve my own learning path or next steps moving forward.

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As a professional learner, shifting from my more PASSIVE STANCE of the past, to a position of being a much more connected, engaged member of a professional LEARNING NETWORK has been hugely impactful for me.  Keeping in mind innovative shifts in education and the larger context,  I will continue to embrace continued change, and growth as a learner, moving forward! 

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It Takes a Village

 

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This week I have been thinking about all of the learning our children do, from babies to toddlers, to pre-schoolers and school age.  My own children were lucky enough to spend their early days when not with me, at the home of the most amazing caregiver I could imagine. As we say goodbye to Debbie this week, and honour the passing of a wonderful woman, I am reminded of just how much of a gift she was in our lives. She had such a positive impact on my two and taught them many, many important things including; kindness, compassion, collaboration, responsibility, and patience. She valued adventure, fun, curiosity, balance, inclusion, and routine; so in turn did the kids. For seven years, we were blessed to be included in Debbie’s daycare family, we are so grateful she was a part of our village.

Blog repost from: “Are We There Yet?” on June 28, 2011

 

The End of an Era

My not so little boy heads off to grade one in September, which means our final days at Debbie‘s, our childcare provider for nearly seven years, are counting down.  The final drop-off is something I have thought about with a lump in my throat a number of times over the past couple of years.  The thought of pulling out of the driveway for the final time, something I have done over two thousand times, is hard to imagine.   I am filled with mixed emotions, as is Nate, as our time there draws to an end.  Our family has been blessed beyond words to have had our children go to Debbie & Ray’s since Sarah was eleven months old.

Like Sarah did when she left two years ago, Nate is creating a farewell book  for Debbie, filled with his thoughts and memories and illustrations on each page.  He and I have enjoyed reminiscing about the many years he has spent there and he is bursting and so proud to share his creation with everyone on Thursday.

Debbie is caring, kind, amazing with kids and has a great sense of humour.  The kids respect her so much and they know that what Debbie says… goes.  Her husband Ray is adored by all.  Everyone loves him for his funny, silly ways and the jokes and nicknames he shares with each child.  The rapport Ray has with kids is incredible.

 This amazing couple has opened their home to a great number of children over the years and they run a daycare like no other.  As a family childcare centre it is the home to 12 children each day…a perfect number.  Debbie and Ray have transformed their home to service “their kids”.  There are playrooms on each level and toys in abundance.  Tiny chairs fill their living room and booster seats in the kitchen.  They have fire doors and fire escapes installed throughout; along with closed circuit TV’s  to monitor the basement and the area where the littlest one’s nap. 

Debbie cuts no corners and spares no expense.  The kids eat healthy meals filled with fun and adventurous foods.  They do crafts, play games and go on long walks along the creek, even in the rain.  They visit the bakery for cookies, and Seven Eleven for Slurpees.  They play in the sprinkler in the summer and sled in the winter. They collect treasures, create works of art and celebrate every occasion.  Birthdays are highly anticipated at Debbie’s, as are special holidays; marked with gifts, fancy meals, games, and tons more fun.

But more important than all of that is the atmosphere or feeling at Debbie’s.  The kids are like family.  I always marvel watching their closeness and their unique bonds when they are together at birthday parties or playdates.  The sense of community they develop being a part of something as special as Debbie’s daycare is amazing to watch and so beneficial to them all.  We are so lucky that our kids have grown up there with some of their closest friends, by chance children of many of our dearest friends.  The bonds and memories shared will last all of us a lifetime. 

Working alongside Debbie is her partner, Joyce.  Joyce is sweet and kind and good.  Her gentle ways and loving nature make her the perfect childcare provider.  She is compassionate, perceptive and often offers sound insight or advice.  She always has a funny anecdote or heart-warming story to share involving the kids.   She honours children’s individuality and celebrates their successes.  Joyce is also an extremely well-rounded and interesting person.  I will so miss the great conversations she and I have always shared about education, books, health, and children.   

Debbie employs a third staff member to work with the kids on a daily basis.  In turn, each of them; Kristin, Nikki and Melissa has added a youthful energy and fun-loving attitude that the kids so appreciate and enjoy.  They have all gotten to know our kids so well and have continued to be a part of our lives through evening babysitting, house-sitting and even cat sitting.  They are amazing young women!

Debbie’s is legendary in our area.  She has a waiting list miles long and is sought out by many.  Over the years I have had a number of people ask me, “How did you ever get in?”  Luck?  Chance?  Timing?  I am not sure why my family was fortunate enough to have landed spots at Debbie’s daycare but I am eternally thankful that we did. 

Working mom guilt is something I have at times struggled with as many moms’ do.  It is hard to be away from our little ones particularly when they are sad or sick or not themselves.  I am blessed to have rest assured each and every time I drove to work that my children could not have been in better hands. I never once doubted the quality of care my children received.  They were always treated with respect and offered unlimited patience, guidance, instruction, affection, and kindness.  I can only begin to imagine the depth of what my children have learned and taken away from Debbie’s and what a positive impact their experiences there have had on the wonderful little people they are today.

A couple of weeks back as I shopped around for my final end of the year Debbie thank you gift- I was stumped.  Debbie is a practical person but the typical garden ornament or gift card just didn’t feel right.  In the end, I bought her a Willow Tree …the Angel of Caring. 

Debbie has truly been an angel in our lives. 

Debbie, thank you for opening your home and your heart and being our angel of caring for so many years! 

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Teach Like a Pirate

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Teach like a Pirate by Dave Burgess has crossed my path numerous times over the past number of years, but I am not sure why I never picked it up. I tend to shy away from things that feel a bit gimmicky, so perhaps it was some preconceived notion I had.  However, this past summer a colleague of mine highly recommended it, so I decided to download it for the ride home across the Canadian prairies.  I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. I was sold. I loved The Pirate’s enthusiasm, passion and message about increasing student engagement, boosting creativity and  transforming the lives of educators.

I found each of the six sections of the PIRATE system (Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, Enthusiasm) relevant and through provoking. Dave Burgess has a way of disrupting our thinking as readers and pushing the envelope.  It may be difficult to find too many teachers that can match his energy, style and somewhat outlandish ways but we can all apply the principles behind the thinking in our own way.

Throughout the book, Dave Burgess has a refreshing way of telling it like it is.  This starts early on page 3 when he addresses the issue of passion and acknowledges that it is NOT possible or realistic to be passionate about EVERYTHING we teach. He talks about how passion is broken into three distinct categories: Content Passion, Professional Passion, and Personal Passion.  The key to impassioned, successful teaching involves tapping into all three of these types of passions and in doing so we become “relentless in our pursuit of excellence as an educator”.  Teaching is not a profession in which we can leave our passion, and the essence of who we are, at the door.  Demonstrating passion as an educator is a game changer.

When Dave Burgess talks about immersion the stand out for me is the pool metaphor.  When it comes to teaching… are you a lifeguard or a swimmer?  A lifeguard type of teacher sits above the action and supervises the pool deck.  A swimmer immerses him or herself in the water, gets wet and is an integral part of the action. For me, this powerful analogy drives home the importance of being present and involved as an educator and truly immersing ourselves in what we are facilitating, modeling, and teaching. It means at times being vulnerable. It means being a risk taker ourselves and it means learning alongside our students.  As we move away from traditional practices of stand and deliver and students as mere passive learners, to a more personalized approach with students taking a more active role in their own learning, we must let go of the idea that we as teachers have all the answers. It is essential that we immerse ourselves in the journey and be learners ourselves.

In discussing the necessity of developing rapport with students, the pirate does an excellent job of outlining just how to start to build this foundation.  He highlights the importance of developing relationships and community, first and always.  As he outlines his “First Three Days”, he suggests the need to slow things down, focus on really getting to know students, offer regular opportunities for teamwork or collaboration and set the stage for an exciting, inclusive, engaging, dynamic learning environment.  If we truly want to reach our students, we must first develop rapport, next build trust and ultimately strengthen relationships.  It is through the thoughtful planning of meaningful, engaging, and rich lessons and learning opportunities that “the pirate” hooks his audience, gets huge buy in, ensures his learning intentions are met and ultimately develops rapport with this students.

One of my favourite parts of the book comes up in the ask and analyze section.  I am a firm believer that as educators, one of our most important skills and charges is to be creative.  We constantly have to come up with new and improved ways to teach a concept, adapt a lesson, structure a project, deal with a problem, support a learner, and three thousand other things along the way. Thinking and doing in creative and innovative ways is inherent and necessary within the job, perhaps like in no other profession, each and every day.  The 6 Words spoken to him by a teacher at a workshop…”It’s easy for you. You’re creative” resonated with me.

First of all, teaching isn’t easy. Being an effective, engaging, empowering educator is no simple feat.  It takes hard work, a lot of time, great effort, constant learning, along with continuous personal and professional reflection and growth.  It’s not “easy” for the pirate and it’s not “easy” for any of you reading this.

Secondly, as the pirate so eloquently says, “We all have unbelievable creative potential”. That creativity can be demonstrated and shared in a variety of ways, but each and every one of us has our own individual creative capacity.   We MUST believe that of ourselves and we MUST  believe that of our students.  Often people get caught up in seeing creativity through a very narrow lens. Creativity goes beyond art, music and dance.  Creativity is not reserved for those with dramatic tendencies or a knack for design.  We all have valuable, innovative ideas worth developing and sharing. Dave Burgess outlines a plethora of ways it is possible to be creative in our classroom in the second section of the book.  The key is asking ourselves the right questions, being open to trying something new, and believing in our potential as educators and creators.

In the transformation section Dave Burgess suggests two questions for raising the bar: “If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?” and  “Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?”.  I found the second question fascinating and compelling.  I liked the idea of thinking about my own “stand out lessons”.  In my mind these are the lessons or a sequence of lessons that I would never dream of leaving to a substitute. They are the activities that kept me up at night in anticipation, that had me jumping out of bed in the morning to get to and that had become refined works of art over the years.  As teachers, many of us have units, lessons, and activities we do with our students that we are the most proud of, that we know are highly effective and engage our students in superlative ways.  An important skill for any educator is reflecting regularly on our practice, building on our strengths, recognizing our challenges and planning our next steps.  The pirate’s question about “lessons we could sell tickets for” gives us a lens to start this good work. Watch for more on this topic, and my own reflections, in a follow up blog post.

If there is one thing Dave Burgess is not short on, it is enthusiasm which he readily admits, however in this section he also acknowledges many of things he “is not good at” as an educator. He explains how, like all of us, despite our many years of teaching experience we are still a “work in progress”. He goes on though, to stress the necessity and importance of being enthusiastic. If we do not demonstrate interest and enthusiasm in what we teach, how can we expect engagement from our students? In fact, it doesn’t matter how much material you cover, or how much work students do, nothing is more important than “nurturing and building a love of learning”.  

The second part of the book does an extraordinary job of outlining page after page of practical ideas for crafting engaging lessons.  There is an extensive selection of prompting questions, ideas and “hooks” related to:  presentation styles, props, movement, costumes, artifacts, music, the arts, technology, food, drama, current events and building on students’ interests.  There is also a considerable number of unique and novel suggestions in areas such as:  student choice, classroom design, magic, mystery, reality tv and the list goes on.  Dave Burgess outlines how to send students out on secret missions for extra credit.  He uses “advanced tactics” to come up with mysteries to unravel related to content. He describes the ways he has transformed his classroom to replicate a bus, a factory, the moon, or a courtroom, dependent on his unit of study. He offers suggestions in dressing up like a multitude of characters to build authenticity. He promotes the use of just the right video, image, piece of music or prop to provoke, entice and illicit interest and intrigue.  He makes learning relevant, exciting and fun, which in turn both engages and empowers his learners. There is no shortage of amazing ideas to build on here and I think it may be hard to walk away from reading this section without at least a few things to try in your classroom…. tomorrow…… at any grade level.

Dave Burgess names two intents for the book. The first one is  to be inspirational, and the second is  to offer a variety of ideas for educators to apply to their teaching.  The book goes well beyond that and serves as an excellent reminder of the importance of setting a stage for student learning that engages, inspires and empowers learners on a daily basis, that boosts creativity and nurtures a love of learning. It then backs it up with practical, real, time-tested ways to do exactly that!

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Roadmap to Learning

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If asked to capture some of my firm beliefs as an educator in as few words as possible, two statements immediately come to mind. The first being, we are all learners. We are born learners and do it naturally. Regardless of age, circumstance, or ability, our intelligence is dynamic, and each and everyone one of has the potential to learn.  Of course people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, strengths and challenges– but everyone can learn, change and grow through application and experience, because we are all learners.

Secondly, learning happens everywhere. Learning is not an entity reserved for the school day and building.  Learning happens in parks, on streets, in living rooms, at dinner tables, online and in a multitude of other places outside of the confines of brick and mortar each and every day.  In fact, learning sometimes happens despite our formal education system which at times works against all that we value and intuitively know about learning and learners as outlined above. Learning happens alone, or in groups and in the presence of mentors, friends, family, colleagues, elders and perfect strangers. Learning is ubiquitous, abundant and infinite.

Children learn most deeply when involved in engaging, first-hand, relevant experiences. They learn by thinking. They learn by asking questions and exploring answers. They learn when doing.  They learn when active and involved in experiences they see as meaningful.

I marvelled at an amazing example of this earlier this summer as our family embarked on a road trip across Western Canada. As we drove through four provinces, all the way to the West Coast of Vancouver Island, we were in awe of the stunning and varied Canadian landscapes and I was in awe of my own children’s bountiful learning.

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of our journey was seeing how my twelve and ten-year-olds were sponges and interested in knowing more about so much they encountered.  Sarah and Nate learned about mountain formation, tides, erosion, landslides, mirages, rock classification, inlets and rainforests.  When there was service in the mountains or in our hotel at night they Googled questions that came up…. the definition of a city, interesting facts about sand dollars and bull kelp, the sleeping habits of cows, and how the Capilano Suspension Bridge was made. Learning is driven by interest and curiosity.

Yes, technology does make travel easier. Having information about schedules, hours of operation, hotel bookings and endless tidbits at our fingertips can be a blessing, at times. On top of that, GPS is most definitely an innovation that simplifies travel, makes things safer, and reduces frustration. Millie (our name for our GPS voice) did get annoying on occasion but she was a huge help in our travels J.  However, when the opportunity arose on the ferry to the Island I made sure to go old school on my two after I spotted a map of BC for us to trace our travels and mark our stops along the way.  We used the grid to locate places, symbols along with the legend to explore things of interest, and the scale to estimate the distances between our stops.  The kids were so into this map work and I was glad that I made the point of doing this with them. When relevant, learning is natural and spontaneous.

On day 1 of travel Nate invented a game that never did seem to get old. We all had to predict the population of each town or city we went through.  We would then have to research the actual population and the closest predictor without going over would get the point.   This often led to finding out other interesting facts about the place such as, what it is known for, where its name originated and further conversations about each location.  Learning is motivating and fun.

My kids experienced many things for the first time on our trip including; touching a stingray, feeding seals, surfing (and getting up repeatedly J), eating fish tacos, swimming in the Pacific, and walking in a breathtaking rainforest. They saw the tallest tree in BC, heard a lighthouse foghorn, and pushed limits and comfort zones on water slides, zip lines and ropes courses. Learning is about risk taking.  It is about the exhilaration of opening our mind to new possibilities and opportunities.

Sarah and Nate met many interesting people, both Canadians and from around the world. They encountered and were inspired by artists of many kinds, magicians, street performers and numerous others passionate about where they live and about the work they do.  They learned that there really is such a thing as too much take- out or fast food and nothing beats a home cooked meal. They learned what “white knuckle driving” means and the fluctuating price of gas. My daughter also learned never, ever carry a cell phone onto a floating dock. They skipped rocks in the ocean, watched a sunset on a ferry, made a wish on a shooting star, built an Inuksuk along every trail we hiked and felt the true pride of being a Canadian.  There is something so powerful and inspirational about traveling in your own country, particularly one as diverse and incredible as Canada.  Learning is organic and contextual.

My two are collectors.  Whenever, we travel they are keen on gathering mementos or keepsakes. And although they did manage to come home with a Tofino t-shirt and a couple of other trinkets, what mattered to them most were the stones they collected in each of the places we visited, as well as their bags full of sea shells.  These are their treasures. It is these items along with our hundreds of pictures, numerous anecdotes and the abundance of wonderful memories we made along our travels that matter most.   Learning is personal, passionate, extraordinary and meaningful.

 Next week, as our students return to school from their summer adventures whether this involved travel, camping, weekends at the lake, day camps, hanging with friends or hanging at home, many teachers will be asking this age old question through Ice Breaker/Get to Know You Activities, “What did you do this summer?”.

Perhaps, more fittingly the question we should be asking is…” What did you learn this summer?”

Much of the learning my own children experienced this past summer will stay with them for a lifetime.  Alfred Mercier once said, “What we learn with pleasure, we will never forget”.  As educators we need to take what we know about the type of authentic, real learning that motivates our students and build on that.  We need to harness the passion, and enthusiasm our students have for their own areas of interest, and bring it into the school setting.  We must ensure that the individuals in our classrooms are engaged, curious, and motivated, while facilitating learning that is relevant for them and to their futures.

As educators, by creating learning opportunities that are more experiential, student centered and driven by learner interests, questions and passions we will see an increase in engagement and commitment. By constructing learning environments and activities that are more inquiry and project based, design focused and personalized, we will help develop capable, motivated, life-long learners. As educators, it is our job to help our students “create a roadmap” ….

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