Reluctantly, I will be voting yes, but yes nonetheless.

Tomorrow our union votes.  This may be the most important union vote I have taken in my 10 year career, and is most definitely the most difficult.  Voting to stand up for fully funded public education and lose many weeks of pay was easy. This is hard.  Through marathon bargaining session the BCTF and BCPSEA (i.e. BC Liberals) came to tentative agreement.  But does it give teachers and students what they deserve? Not even close. Does it really address the issues that we went out for? Hardly. Most of what it does is prevent further cuts to the system. Yet with a government that seems intent on dismantling public education, not losing might just be winning.

Being realistic, I think this is the best we were going to do.  All the stars eventually aligned and we had the best mediator in the business, tremendous public support, moral and financial support from unions across the country and internationally, pressure from international students and a Premier that needed to save face after causing this mess–before she leaves on a trade mission to India.

There are many reasons to vote no (http://goo.gl/GDAq6h, http://goo.gl/ccsh7n, http://goo.gl/a5BkYr), but then what? What’s the plan to move forward? Will the stars stay aligned? I doubt it.  Voting no will alienate the parents who have stood by teachers throughout this. They are the basis for public support.  Vince Ready is gone.  Finances can only hold out so long.  Union leadership will come into question.

There are also many reasons to vote yes, (http://goo.gl/qSwlVZ, http://goo.gl/TL6Pzt) and I think we need to look long term here.  We have brought the issues of class size and composition to the forefront.  More people than ever before are beginning to understand the complexity of teaching and the environments we do it in, and they are supportive of making public education better.  By voting yes we can leverage that support for continued positive change.  We can activate apathetic voters for bigger change. We can keep education a key public policy.  In the short term, we can get kids back into classes to learn.  We can do what we are passionate about, and collect a modest paycheque while doing so.

Reluctantly, I will be voting yes, but yes nonetheless.  I encourage my colleagues to do so as well.

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Education in the News

Two major education topics have been in the news a lot recently: Surrey School District is expanding on its pilot to eliminate letter grades, and in light of the recent PISA results showing decreasing performance in math scores for Canadian students, there are calls to “go back to basics” with math instruction.  Now instead of initiating lively, critical discussions, these topics seem to have sparked passionate, but reactionary comments and I am disheartened by it because many of these comments lack reason.

The two main arguments against eliminating grades focus on motivational aspects of grades and their communicative value.   Suggesting that grades are motivating, simply isn’t true, beyond that beyond those very few, highly successful students who are similarly highly motivated anyway.  In the same way, motivating underachieving and struggling students with a C- or a Fail, doesn’t work either.  I understand that parents want to know how how their students are “doing,” in school, but without the letter grades, the conversation can move toward the specifics of what students are demonstrating in terms of competencies, concepts and content knowledge–arguably a much richer conversation than with letter grades.

All too often, public reaction to education issues is founded in the mindset that if it was good enough enough for me, then it’s good enough for today’s students.  This kind of thinking is driving is driving the call for back-to-basics math instruction.  What this fails to recognize is that change in inevitable.  Society changes, educational theory changes and educational practise changes in response to both.  While the pendulum may have swung too far in some cases, focussing solely on memorization and algorithms endangers students’ ability to learn and practise real-world logic and problem solving skills.  It would seem that, as in most things, a balanced approach is best.

Reading about educational topics in the popular media is always disheartening because the voices of reason are often drowned out by those who are quick to respond and slow to think; however, I think it’s important to engage in these spaces nonetheless in order that those are not the only voices heard.

Sunshine Blog Meme Homework

Well, it was a beautiful sunny day today and having recently completed grad school, I don’t have homework, or at least I didn’t until deciding to kick-start my blogging (or lack thereof) with this blog meme.  I wasn’t specifically tagged in the game, but I haven’t exactly been a prolific blogger either.  Either way, I took the questions from Dean Shareski’s blog.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 Random Facts About Myself

  1. I love big-band swing music.
  2. I’ve played the drums since I was in grade 6. I don’t have a kit anymore, but I still cary around a pair of drumsticks in my school bag and my wife thinks that my air drumming is hilarious.
  3. I’ve danced competitively in the latin, swing and ballroom styles.
  4. My favourite snack foods are fruit and veggies.
  5. I’m very particular about the way my clothes are folded.
  6. I’m a stickler for grammar.
  7. I still have a re-occurring nightmare about failing math class.
  8. I didn’t fail, my first undergrad was a B.Sc with minors in math and chemistry.
  9. I have a sleep disorder.
  10. I used to umpire Sr. Mens’ Fastpitch Softball until it began to interfere with family time.
  11. On our first date–only our second meeting–I knew I’d marry my wife. 

Questions for me:

  1. How do you feel about pants? I prefer shorts.  I wore them up until Thanksgiving, then it got too cold.
  2. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre? The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  3. Where are your car keys? One is hanging by the door, the other is deprogrammed and on my dresser.  It still opens the door, but won’t start the engine.  It’ll cost me $270 to get it reprogrammed.
  4. What time is it? 10:35 PM PST
  5. What’s the last tweet you favorited? 
    Dan Scratch ‏@DanScratch0316 Dec@jeremyinscho Definitely. It was great dropping in on #bcedchat. I’m hoping to start up the #abedchat for Albertans in the new year!”
  6. Outside of your immediate family, which relative do you like to spend time with? My mother-in-law. 
  7. Have you ever been to Saskatchewan? No, I’ve only been east of Edmonton once, and flew to Winnipeg on that occasion. 
  8. How long did it take you to walk to school as a kid? 5 minutes.  The elementary and high schools that I went to are a 10 minute walk apart.  Our houses were right between the two; we moved to the house over the back fence when I was in grade one or two.
  9. Besides you, which blogger should I be paying attention to? Victoria Olson.  She’s up-and-coming and will be very influential.  Just wait and see.
  10. Name one golf course. Pryde Vista On the one or two occasions a year that I golf, this executive 9-hole course is enough to challenge my lack of skill.
  11. What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode or line? “No soup for you!” I’m not a Seinfeld fan, but this line never gets old, or runs out of practical applications.

Now it’s your Turn:

  1. Victoria Olson
  2. DJ Thompson
  3. Ben Wilkoff
  4. Erin Luong
  5. Sheri Edwards
  6. Karen Young
  7. Charla Agnoletti
  8. Denise Krebs
  9. Susan Spellman Cann
  10. Jas Kooner
  11. You. (this includes all the people I didn’t name because I figured they thought  they were too cool to do this as well as those I never even thought, which could be you. Either way, I’ll read what you write)

QUESTIONS FOR ME:

  1. What was your favourite class in university?
  2. If you could only read one blogger next year, who would it be?
  3. If you could have your choice of career changes tomorrow, what would you choose?
  4. What is your favourite way to relax?
  5. How do you burn off energy when needed?
  6. Who is your favourite author and book/series?
  7. Introvert or extrovert?
  8. Mac, PC, or other?
  9. Which is your favourite social media?
  10. Who is the most influential member of your PLN?
  11. Do you have any quirky habits?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this. Go on, you have homework to do.

iPads in the Classroom

From mid-September, to early-December 2013, I will be taking the lead on a project to explore and demonstrate ways in which iPads can be used in the classroom.  For this project Coal Tyee Elementary has been granted a set of 15 second generation iPads, and the peripherals to support them.  The devices will be used rather intensively in my grade 6/7 class, Mrs. Susan Merritt’s grade 6/7 class and Judith Tye’s grade 4/5 class with additional time being provided for the remainder of the classes to explore–perhaps with the assistance of our three project team classes.

I have taken one of the iPads home this weekend to explore what apps came pre-installed with them, and what else has been purchased and is available to download onto the devices.  I used the Videolicious app on the device to create this short video of what I found and what I did about it.

 

Teaching the Tough Topics

In every age there are those topics that are the “tough” ones.  We know there are valuable lessons there, but the content isn’t directly in the curriculum.  Sometimes we skirt around them because they’re often controversial.  They deal with the important life lessons, and the content contained within them is not only controversial (at least to be talking openly about it) but sometimes graphic. Topics vary from sexual health, to aboriginal education, cybersafety, bullying and LGBT rights.  Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but each of these brings up so many questions:  Should we teach about (or through) these topics?  Should we leave it to parents to broach the subject?  Should we inform parents ahead of time if we choose to “go there”?  Should there be some sort of protocol for dealing with these types of topics and appropriately preparing students, and debriefing afterward?  There are no shortages of examples out there, good and bad, that give us opportunity to reflect on, “what would I do in that case?”

Just last month, a teacher in St. Vital, Manitoba showed the Love Is All You Need Video to his grade 7 class and got in hot water when one of his students suffered a medical emergency and passed out as a result of viewing the video.  In it, a “hetero” girl is bullied by the dominant LGBT culture in a role reversal that results in her committing suicide.

Of course, if we don’t teach about these topics, and give students the tools they need to navigate an increasingly difficult adolescence, then the results can be as just as devastating, as was hammered home by Amanda Todd’s suicide, shortly after posting this video on YouTube.

In my classroom, I take these topics very personally and teach through them.  We regularly hold talking circles in which we do our best to respect the ancient tradition, and use it as a tool to build community and have open, frank discussions about the hard topics and what’s happening in student’s lives: both the good and bad.  One of the norms that we rely on, is what’s said in the circle, stays in the circle (with the caveat that I am bound by law to report some things).

Not only has First Nations’ tradition given me a tool to work on these topics, it is one too.  I work hard to break down stereotypes and racial barriers in my class.  Of course, many of the stereo types have deep roots in the Indian Act (in Canada) and in Indian Residential Schools (on both sides of the boarder) and the atrocities that took place there.  Dealing with these has the potential to bring in a lot of graphic discussion and material–but it’s also the truth; and there can be no reconciliation without it.  I think it needs to be done though, and I don’t ask permission and I don’t send out warnings, but I do respect students, I do respect culture and varying viewpoints, and I do both prepare and debrief students.  Perhaps I should do some things differently.  Perhaps not.

What do you do?

A start to systematic change… less testing

Gov. Brown sets the ball rolling in the right direction, as described here by the Washington Post Answer Sheet. California, and arguably most western jurisdictions could stand for much less standardized and high-stakes testing. I’ll give Gov. Brown a C+ for that, but the solution is not to increase accountability in other ways.

How about decreasing accountability in favour of increasing autonomy for and trust in teachers. Invest in professional development, training and certification of teachers if the trust doesn’t come easy so that confidence in teachers as professionals can be regained.

Perhaps then we can se that the problem with education is not poor teaching, but poor design of the system. By and large, the education system closely resembles the system of 100 years ago. The innovation of that time was the production line and the education system produced workers well suited to it. Today, innovation involves individual production and publication of mass-media to a global market, solutions to economic crises and bringing democracy to autocratic nations. These innovations and the minds to see them trough are not readily going to come from a system designed to train factory workers. Let’s change the system.

Canada gone soft?

Image Source: neoformix.com

A friend of mine recently posted the following quote on Facebook.  Her heart was in the right place, but she didn’t get much support.  I felt that I needed to respond as well, but it quickly became apparent that Facebook wasn’t the best medium.  So here is Lindsey’s post and my response.

RIP Broken Canada.. You went soft on discipline!.. You went soft on immigration! You went soft on crime.. Parents were told.. ‘No you can’t smack the kids’….Teachers were prevented from chastising kids in schools.. The police couldn’t clip a troublemaker round the ear.. Kids had rights blah blah blah.. Well done Canada..You shall reap what you sow.. We have lost a whole generation, and turned them into selfish disrespectful thugs!! Things need to change!

Wow, I bet you weren’t quite expecting that response. I agree in sentiment, but not not in the practicality of your post, so here’s my 2¢ from an educator’s point of view.

At the turn of the last century, the world was increasingly industrialized, and needed a workforce to fit. Our current education system evolved to fill the need. We were then able to produce obedient, hard workers who were able to follow directions for long hours without question. These workers were making a meaningful contribution to society and typically pleased and proud of “putting in a solid day’s work” because they were meaningfully engaged with society.

The world’s economy is no longer about production, but management of the flow of ideas and the North American education system has not adapted. Hence we are educating/producing factory workers who have their creativity and thoughtfulness trained out of them and cannot interact meaningfully with society because they have been taught not to. The result of all this is a generation of listless and bored youth; by this I mean they are unengaged in any meaningful activity, not just lacking interest in something to keep them busy. Down the slippery slope they slide and we have riots in London and flash mob burglary in Philadelphia.

Some may argue that’s just a result of their lack of discipline. Well, Alfie Kohn and others have made it very clear that discipline is something that comes internally when meaningfully engaged, and cannot be beaten into anyone through spanking or prison (think how many prisoner are repeat offenders) or rewards like bonuses and gold stars, so “going soft” can be seen as an acknowledgment to a system that fails to actually address the issues. Carrot-and-stick rewards and punishments work great for the monotonous tasks of industrialized labour, but fail to have any long-term positive effect on tasks that require any higher level of thought.

Well, what about these parents?  Couldn’t they have instilled better morals and behaviours in their kids? I’d say no, not in general.  Of course some are more in-tuned to effective parenting and responding to the needs of their children and will do well to raise responsible, members of society. However, keep in mind that many parents will in-turn parent in the way that was modeled to them by their parents.  So many of the parents of this listless generation only have the parenting tools to raise children in their parents’ world which is long gone.

In all this, some might think that society is doomed.  I couldn’t disagree more.  It’s not doomed, but it is significantly different than what we grew up with and we need to realize that much, accept it and embrace it in order to end the cycle of listlessness and boredom.  If we do, I think that the world is on the brink of something really great.

Embracing change will need to start in the schools and I’m excited to say that it has started.  Teacher-leaders are breaking the mold and doing what they know is right to educate a generation of collaborative creative thinkers and problem solvers.  They are working with other classes around the world, giving up control and ownership of the learning to the students, abstaining from grading, getting rid of awards and punishments and encouraging and supporting their colleagues in doing the same.  Doing so will produce a learners with the skills and attitudes to make the most of what this dynamic society demands of them–both in the workplace and in the home.  After this has spread to become the norm and continued for a generation, we will be empowered to truly change the world!