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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Being a Young Turk (despite not being that young)

In the early 20th century, when Turkey was moving towards secular constitutional republic, a group of progressive thinkers emerged: The Young Turks. They were modernists, reformists and opposed to the status quo. In modern times, it is often used to describe those of us who are unsatisfied being a follower, those who want to lead by example and seek success on our own terms.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his Young Turks

On Friday, I was at a Pro-D with the two PoCo Secondary Schools, Riverside and Terry Fox. I felt like cattle, in a room with 140 other teachers and administration. There was no sense of individual learning. It was the sage on stage...sit down and listen...

The goal was to talk about progressive 21st century assessment (grading). Things like: no more zeros, no penalization for late work and not grading homework (not revolutionary stuff I know).
Pro-D at Fox

 That was one of the problems, while I got two or three new ideas out of the session, I didn't get enough new material to challenge me. I could have been on twitter in #edchat for 5 minutes and gotten 100X more.

But what really irked me, more than anything else, was how the material was presented. 5 1/2 hours of being talked at (about differentiated learning of all things) is not good for anyone. Daniel Pink said it best...a good talk has 3 components "Levity, Brevity and Repetition. This presentation simply had a lot of words put together and spread over a morning and afternoon. How can someone talk about 21st century learning then do something like that? It's the same old, "do as I say, not as I do" approach and I am sick of it. I put my hand up 3 times to challenge him on ideas and he never acknowledged me...are you kidding me? Do you know who I am? I'm Jeremy Brown and I'm kind of a big deal!

I am done. I refuse to put up with anymore lousy, half-baked presentations. I want my Pro-D to be meaningful, not just two parts of it. I want my Pro-D to be personal, tailored to my needs as a teacher. Am I needing in terms of formative assessment? I don't think so... I do need to learn about good assessment techniques though (which is where I should have spent 5 hours).

We should demand more of our Pro-D. But on the flip side, we should demand more of ourselves and each other. Thats's one of the things I did agree with the presenter about... We as teachers need to take responsibility for our our own learning and that of the children we teach. We need to be more progressive, challenge the status quo and stop sitting on our laurels. Some of us forget that school is not about employing teachers...its about kids learning.

Ataturk (the great father of the Turkish Republic) said "Teachers are the one and only people who save nations". But we have the responsibility to push nations, the populace and ourselves...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why am I such a better learner now?

So whats the secret to turn someone on to learning? For me, it started late...

I am a goal driven, hyperactive, excitable and sometimes grumpy individual. I love to learn now, I'll spend an entire night on Wikipedia, opening tabs going from one article to another. Where did this enthusiasm for learning come from? I never loved school (although I loved some of my teachers - a huge shout out to Mr. Carrillo and Mrs. Barnes), I picked up way more by walking through the forest with my Oma (grandma) than I did in the classroom. 

I struggled in school, there is no news in that. I failed almost all my classes in grade 9 and while at the time I blamed everyone else but myself, it was my fault. I was a lazy, uninspired and disengaged (did I mention lazy) kid. What changed? Well...the glib answer is not much. There had to be a point somewhere along the way when I started to love to learn.

I can imagine my junior high teachers would be horrified to find out that I am now a colleague. Maybe thats the point the point of this post... sometimes we give up too early on kids. We write them off as dumb or lazy when they are just late bloomers.

I work with amazing colleagues but some of them have never failed a course in their lives or even gotten a B. Many were top of their class and valedictorians of their graduating classes. They can inspire and lead their classes like generals but often struggle to understand why a student has such a difficulty picking up a simple topic or misbehaves. I think I get it more than others because I was that kid. I was the one who never handed his homework, sat at the back of the room, goofed off, etc...

From that experience I made a list of ways to help kids like me be more successful and learn to love to learn:

  1. Make multiple connections: The more people I connected to, the better I did. Older students, tutors, peers, teachers, parents, etc...
  2. Talk to me about stuff I love and connect it to what you teach
  3. Use technology to engage me: Make my learning non-linear...allow me to explore links and connections
  4. Be passionate - You'll carry me away with a story and make me cry to Charlotte's Web if you do a good Wilbur!
  5. Just acknowledge my existence - If you do one thing, Say hi to kids like me in the hallways. That one piece made all the difference in the word.
So how do I learn now?
  1.  Like I said, I use Wikipedia for non linear links (books are too binding)
  2. I use Twitter (@jbsd43) to connect to people all over the globe: Students, teachers, researchers and parents 
  3. I am driven by other exciting educators who passionately make their case for learning
  4. I say say hi to kids and try to make their day as good as they made mine.(not really about learning but creating the relationship so learning is easier.)
I know these things have been said a thousand times before and its nothing new but until its contextualized, i'll never learn it :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

School Teacher Vs. Classroom Teacher

This year more than most, I have noticed the clear difference between a school teacher and a classroom teacher. George Couros' amazing blog post What makes a master teacher really got me thinking ...and the more I thought it, the more I saw it. On September 3rd, I saw teachers coming in on their days off to help with the grade 9 preview day... Michelle Burton, Teri Bates, Sue Kilpatrick, Laura Epp, Ron "the Man" Haselhan and so many others. These are school teachers... they don't teach subject or curriculum, they teach students. Beyond that, they teach every student in the school and that to me is a powerful thing.

We are so blessed at Riverside to have so many teachers willing to give up their time for each other and the kids. Every time Bryan Gee walks down the hallways, he says hi to ever kid he knows and a lot he doesn't! :) He makes 1000s of connections each time he goes to the office.
Bryan Gee, Oregon 2009

Every time Gary Horton (@ghorton) photocopies, he takes the extra minute to refill the paper in both photocopiers. That seems like such a stupid, little thing, but I appreciate it so much and this spirit of giving and volunteering is passed down the kids.
Riverside's Giving Tree

When I think about why I want to be a school teacher, I remember John Wooden's talk at TED. He talked about it the best when he said "Why do I teach? ...Where else could I be with such splendid company"