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Archive for August, 2012

“Mischievous Apple” by fernando.

In my conversations with education groups last year, I would often quip, “It is a great time to be a teacher, just maybe not the best year to be a teacher.”  Public education in British Columbia — in fact, across Canada, North America and around the world — has become increasingly challenged.  I am concerned about what I am beginning to hear from friends and colleagues who entered into the profession full of hope, passion, with the dream of bettering their community, but who are becoming disillusioned about teaching.

A new report presented by the Canadian Education Association and the Canadian Teachers FederationTeaching the Way We Aspire to Teach:  Now and in the Future, is a key document with a Canadian perspective on the aspirations of our teachers.  With much attention paid to reports on the pivotal role teachers play, like John Hattie’s Teachers Make a Difference, it is crucial that conversations around education change (reform, transformation, or whatever word might best describe what we are currently undergoing), is not only about engaging students, but is also about engaging the passion of teachers.

The Canadian view is important, because it is easy to be influenced by some of the deeply concerning directions in some parts of the United States, and assume they are also happening here.

The 25-page report is well worth the read whether you are a student, teacher, policy maker or engaged citizen.

Three Highlights in the Research:

1) A signficant proportion of teachers have experienced teaching the way they aspire to teach, at least occasionally

2) Although teachers are able to teach the way they aspire to teach on occasion, this does not always happen on a consistent and system-wide basis

3) There was significant agreement among teachers around the personal attributes of teachers that are the most important.  They are:

  • passion for teaching and a commitment to students
  • caring for children
  • knowing their students, and
  • flexibility to use one’s professional judgment and expertise to make sound pedagogical decisions in the interest of students

An important area of interest was the elements of an ideal teaching environment (click on graph below to enlarge):

While there is nothing on the list that would be stunning to any of us in the education system,  in many cases, a huge financial investment in the system is not required.  It was also reassuring to read that the “alienated teacher does not appear to be a common feature of education in Canada.”  That said, there is no doubt we have work to do.

A quote from Sam M. Intrator (in the report) led me to reading his 2002 book Stories of the Courage to Teach:  Honoring the Teacher’s Heart.  As someone who comes from a family of teachers (my mother continues to teach in the BC public education system, having started in 1968), so much of what he said resonated with me:

 . . . . if schools are to be places that promote academic, social, and personal development for students, everything hinges on the presence of intelligent, passionate, caring teachers working day after day in our nation’s classrooms. Teachers have a colossal influence on what happens in our schools, because day after day, they are the ultimate decision makers and tone setters. They shape the world of the classroom by the activities they plan, the focus they attend to, and the relationships they nurture.

If we want to attract and retain intelligent, passionate, caring teachers, we had better figure out what will sustain their vitality and faith in teaching. Education depends on what teachers do in their classrooms, and what teachers do in their classrooms is shaped by who they are, what they believe, and how vital and alive they are when they step before their students.

I am saddened when I see comments from teachers that if they had it to do over, would select a different profession, or would never encourage others to follow them into teaching.  And, at times, our profession is our worst enemy — we do a better job of dividing ourselves than others might — we label each other by the level we teach, our employee affiliation, the community we work in, or a variety of other markers which fragment the far more powerful unifying features we share like improving the quality of public education to increase the life chances and opportunities for the young men and women we are so fortunate to work with each day.

Hopefully this report will help stimulate some important discussions.

Full Disclosure – While I did not participate in the creation of the CTF/CEA Report I serve as a member of the Advisory Council for the CEA.

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Hah! I am doing my best to stay away from blogging, Twitter and the rest of the being “on” 24-7 culture for a few weeks, but I have had a wonderful reminder of what makes what we do as teachers so special, so I am writing a mid-summer post to share with you, what Lisa shared with me.

Lisa is one of the 24 students I had the great pleasure to work with during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. I have blogged on several instances about what a defining experience that was for my teaching career.   It was an experience I shared at TEDxUBC here (the script of my presentation) and here (a reflection that includes the video of the presentation) and also referenced in my post How My Teaching Has Changed, on how the experience has pushed me to expand real world opportunities for students.

With the Summer Olympics starting, I received this email from Lisa this week:

I just finished watching the Opening Ceremonies… what a beautiful sight! No technical difficulties with the cauldron, amazing British music, ethnic outfits during the “March of Nations”, a testament to an English children’s hospital and youth ambassadors running the final stretch of the torch relay. London really nailed it!

In the days leading up to the games, I was frequently thinking of you guys and my whole Students Live experience. I’ve thought about A New Direction and how they’re probably busy attending events, conducting interviews and composing articles. Yesterday, while watching a CTV program on London 2012, they named these Olympic Games “the first Twitter Olympics”. I found that interesting because I distinctly remember the Students Live meeting when we set up our Twitter accounts. I was so unfamiliar with the idea that I remember vividly how confused I was when you showed us a parody video of Twitter. And of course since the 2010 Winter Games, Twitter has grown at an unbelievable pace, but I always enjoy reminding my friends that I was the first to have Twitter! Earlier today, I tweeted this, “The worst part about hosting the Olympic Games in your city is that they will never again even compare. #London2012″ and I think it’s safe to say that much of that is thanks to the incredible opportunities I was given through Students Live.
 
I can’t even begin to describe how useful my Students Live experience was when it came to applying for scholarships, filling out supplementary post-secondary applications and much more. Throughout my grade 12 year, there wasn’t an application I submitted that didn’t mention Students Live as one of my proudest accomplishments. On top of that, I often consider Students Live as the most life changing time in my life. That was the first time I had ever branched away from my safe little community and done something that challenged me and pushed my comfort zone a little. After the 2010 Winter Games; however, I have been involved in so many other programs similar to Students Live that continue to challenge me. It is thanks to Students Live that I broke out of my little bubble and branched out to new things. Just before I graduated in June, I had to present a “Presentation of Self” to a panel of teachers, fellow students and community members, and when they asked me what my most life changing experience has been, I’m sure you can predict my answer.

So this is just a little note of gratitude for you all, and to show my appreciation for everything you have done for me. In September, I will be beginning a new chapter of my life as I head out to Halifax to attend Dalhousie University. Even as I leave Vancouver behind, I will always hold those few months in the winter of 2010 close to my heart. I know how much effort you put into making the experience unique for us, and I can tell you that it really was ‘once in a lifetime’.

The relationships I have created through Students Live and Sharing the Dream are also priceless. On Monday night, I went to Emily’s 19th birthday and watched her enjoy her first legal drink! We reminisced about the hockey game we attended together and watching the gold medal game in the Sony store at Pacific Center. I still frequently read Michelle’s blog from her experiences of first year at Bates College and I often chat with Dharra over Facebook.

I logged onto my Blogger account today and I was surprised to see that one of my posts has 622 views, and people are still viewing my blog today. Who would have thought that Singapore would have generated 318 views on my blog, and 55 from Ukraine…

So one last time, I would like to thank you all for everything you did for me and the rest of the Students Live and Sharing the Dream teams.

Enjoy the rest of your summer and GO CANADA GO!

It is the little things that are not so little, like the small gestures and heartfelt “Thank Yous”, that can bring so much joy in our profession.  Thanks Lisa.  It is also so true adults often learn as much or more from the kids we work with as they learn from us. In reading Lisa’s note I am once again reminded that technology done right can (and should) humanize and personalize.

Through Facebook, and likely face-to-face again in the future, I look forward to following Lisa’s next steps.  And, as she says , Go Canada Go!

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