Browsing articles in "Reflections"
Oct 30, 2011

Press Publish.

I stepped outside of my comfort zone today. I wrote a piece of fiction and shared with a friend. We had made a challenge together to enter the CBC Writes Short Story competiton. I haven’t written fiction in a while, for that matter, my life has been absorbed in mostly non-fiction. But I did it.

I sat down and I wrote.

But that’s not the hardest part. The hardest part was her waiting, online, to read it. Having to send it through the wires was the hardest part. Why is that?

I write on this blog and my three others often. I expose my thinking, my writing skills to many readers, anonymous and known readers, without trepidation. Nothing near like I had when sending my fiction.

But, I think back to my first blog entry. The first time I pressed publish and thought, What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is it good enough?

And I think of all the learning along the way. Not just the educational conversations I’ve had about the content of the writing, but the writing itself.

I stepped outside of my comfort zone when I first pressed published. And there’s the rub. You have to press publish. I had to press send on the e-mail with my short story attached. That’s the lesson to my students.

Outside the comfort zone is a scary place to be, but that’s where learning lies. Sometimes, you’ve got to close your eyes and press the button. Ship it.

I think that’s why we’ve got to make sure we are creating authentic audiences for our students. So, they learn to press publish. They learn to make mistakes in the open. They learn they’ve got to step outside of the comfort zone to achieve greatness.  If we sanitize their learning spaces to much, all we’ll be left with is replicated pablum.

So, what are you waiting for? Press publish.



Oct 24, 2011
Comments Off on What I Learned at ECOO 2011 + A Few Extras

What I Learned at ECOO 2011 + A Few Extras

The thing about conferences is that it is rarely the presentations that promote the most learning.

Yeah, they are good in stimulating something in the brain, but it generally happens in the times between sessions around the lunch table, coffee breaks and, in the case of ECOO, around the iPad where learning becomes something more than a PowerPoint presentation.

I was lucky enough to have attended the ECOO 11 Conference in Toronto last week. On top of that, I was privileged to deliver two presentations so I could hopefully stimulate some conversations for people.

But the real luck is in the time. I had so much great collaborative time with my co-presenters and others, that I was able to really push my learning.

So, then what did I learn:

  • I learned that there is a need and desire for taking technology conferences and including less about the tools and more about the underlying philosophy that moves education.  I heard multiple times over the days, how we talk so much about the how, we don’t spend enough time on the WHY.  This has me thinking that an un-conference held in Kitchener/Waterloo might be what we need, a sort of companion to ECOO.
  • I learned that the narrative form of video games is far more complex than I originally would have thought. I need to spend time “gaming for a purpose”, which I have not done.
  • I learned that nodding during a presentation is incredible helpful. It made me so much more at ease when I saw someone nodding to the gibberish that was running from my mouth.
  • I learned that technological hardware is fairly stagnant and that the real power is how the software/social media can address so many of the educational revolution ideas.  The changes in software matter more and more.
  • I learned that facilitating a discussion as your presentation, looks messy and may make you question your being there, but it is essential to moving the ball.
  • I learned that authenticity might be my new favourite word when describing where education should be going.

Here are a few of my  tweets from the conference:


Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 9:30am with Anne Doelman, Christy Wood, Dave Lambert and Emily Schmuck

FFP Presentation ECOO

Delivered: Friday, October 21st @ 1:45pm with Daniel Ballantyne

Authentic Assessment Presentation – ECOO 2011

Oct 16, 2011
Comments Off on Can I Expect Him to Learn Today?

Can I Expect Him to Learn Today?

*** Today is Blog Action Day.

Since 2007, Blog Action Day has focused bloggers around the world to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included water, climate change and poverty.

This year, Blog Action Day will be held on October 16, which coincides with World Food Day, so naturally our 2011 theme is food.

This is my contribution. ****


He walked in and asked if I had anything to eat. I didn’t. I had stuffed my face with pizza, fresh homemade salsa, a Diet Pepsi and some cookies just minutes before. I ate every last crumb.

I said, “No, Didn’t you just have lunch? Are you seriously still hungry?”

“I didn’t have any money to buy my lunch.”

“Why didn’t you pack one from home?”

“There is nothing to eat at home.”

The gravity of this conversation starts settling. “Well, did you have breakfast?”


“So, you’ve not had anything to eat all day.”


And so I wonder, how important are my plans for him today? How important is the assignment, the activity or the group work?

Can I expect him to learn today?

Should I expect him to have focus today?

I started bringing granola bars to class. Always having them in a desk drawer, something to tide my students over until later, even just for a bit. It’s yet another thing to think about as they walk in the door, as they rebuff my attempts to help them acquire the skills they’ll need. It’s yet another thing to think about as they struggle to focus; when he’s irritable.

And I know he’s not alone. He’s the one I know about it.

It may not be everyday, it may have been an aberration. But it’s not.

How can I expect him to learn today, if he can’t expect to eat today?

Oct 15, 2011
Comments Off on When Arbitrary Decisions Affect Learning

When Arbitrary Decisions Affect Learning

Lately, I have been struck by the arbitrary.

75 minute classes.

10% essays.

180 day school years.

Age-based class division.

Mandatory subjects.

Exams. Essays. Grades.

Arbitrary, arbitrary, arbitrary.

We recognize that these things are often/sometimes barriers to student learning, yet we set them up year after year.

I am not an educational historian and in fact, I’m sure someone could rationalize these decisions and these procedures. But I’m left feeling some unease. The unease is our unwillingness as a system to recognize the nature of these choices and change them. Our reluctance to acknowledge the mountains of research that may in fact, direct these decisions in the opposite direction.  But because we’ve done them, we do them.

Although, I am a shameless idealist, I’m not naive to the fact that there are other things influencing these decisions. The economy, politics, and society’s reluctance to change have all affected student learning. I appreciate that with a system this large, there is much more nuance in these decisions. But they remain ill-explained and ill-advised for an encouragement of rich learning opportunities.

But what about in a classroom? What about in my classroom?

I’m left asking myself how many decisions do I make, that are arbitrary, that influence the nature, direction, and efficacy of the learning?

I need to become more conscious of the decisions I make and ensure that they are not made flippantly, but rather they are reasoned and purposeful. After that statement, I feel like I must defend myself, saying, most of my decisions are made with purpose and are reasoned with evidence, however, I know there are a host of little “seemingly” insignificant arbitrary decisions that I make or I allow to be made that affect learning.

So where does this all leave me? I feel that many of these decisions are so out of my control, that I shouldn’t bother worrying about them. Much like the baggage that a student walks through the door with, acknowledge it and work with it, but I do. I worry about these things very similarly. I wish I could make them go away and students would have an opportunity and environment that enriches their learning at every turn.

Oct 14, 2011
Comments Off on Gratitude and Generosity

Gratitude and Generosity

Shameless Idealist

The two tenets of education should be:

  1. Have gratitude.
  2. Be generous.

These should permeate every action public education is involved in.

This is what a teacher should always exemplify. You have skills, knowledge, the ability to learn, now give it away.

Show students how it works.

Be thankful, share what you’ve got.


Oct 5, 2011
Comments Off on Leaving A Legacy … Steve Jobs

Leaving A Legacy … Steve Jobs

It’s not about the products.

Or the technology.

It’s not about ubiquity.

It’s about the relentless pursuit of something new, something bold, something special.

Leadership is not about getting people to follow you.

Leadership is about walking the path, inviting people to join you, but walking whether they come or not.

Steve Jobs did this like few others.

That’s his legacy.

Walking the path of innovation, alone if needed, with the mob most often. Either way, one foot in front of another in pursuit of something better.

Who walks this path in education?

Who is bold enough, to take the products, and the technology, and the ubiquity, and walk in pursuit of better learning for our students with or without the mob?


Oct 3, 2011
Comments Off on The Myth of Consistency

The Myth of Consistency

I have my good days. I have my bad days. I have my days where students leave thinking they can conquer the world. I have days where my students leave feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. Despite my best attempts, I’m definitely not consistent.

I’ve taught certain courses year after year. Every year different. Every year the students in the class picked up on different elements. They fell in love with different elements. Despite the class having the same course code, the class wasn’t the same. It definitely wasn’t consistent.

Sure, they all learned the curriculum.  They got to a point where their skills had improved. They achieved what they needed to to get the credit. But some worked harder than others. Some worked more creatively than others. Some learned more than others. Some started behind others, some started with the skills already in tact. They definitely weren’t consistent.

And there it is.

Consistency doesn’t happen from day to day, year to year or student to student. Consistency in education is a myth. Consistency is about connecting to the curriculum. Consistency is about recognizing that teacher to teacher things are different.

We need to start explaining this to parents and to students.

Things are different in this class. Not just the methodology of instruction, but assessment, and that’s because the students are different in this class. If we can learn to embrace student-directed learning, we’ll understand that learning isn’t consistent. It is messy. It is inefficient. Learning doesn’t happen the same way, ever, so why are we creating the myth that it should?

Sep 30, 2011
Comments Off on Looking for Efficiency

Looking for Efficiency

Enter, sit down, do the work assigned, here’s your number, NEXT.

A successful industry is all about finding the perfect balance of efficiency. Removing everything you don’t need to make the product. Politics is like that too. Education is in search of more and more efficient ways to process learning.  The system is trying to make describing that learning efficient.

Learning isn’t efficient. Reporting about learning isn’t efficient.

Learning, at it’s best, is gracefully inefficient.

In fact, I believe we should relish in the inefficiency of learning. Recognize that efficient learning is not lifelong learning. Inefficiency is what gives us opportunity to build a relationship with a student to better understand his/her learning. Inefficiency encourages making mistakes. Inefficiency encourages risk taking, creativity, innovation. Inefficiency allows us to wonder, meander, sink into the pocket of what we are learning. Inefficiency breeds feedback that is rich and authentic.

It is inefficient to have every parent contact me and talk about their child. It is inefficient to sit down and talk with each student. But I guarantee in return, each student will have a better learning experience, they will get more out of the feedback. I guarantee that every parent will have a better understanding of where their child is and where and how they are going to get where they are headed. I guarantee it is better than a number twice a semester. Even if I break that number down into “consistent” percentages.

At the end of the day, maybe it is time to embrace inefficiency. We should stop running our schools like fast food joints trying to get people in and out as quickly as possible with as little interaction with them as possible. Maybe school doesn’t have to be an ATM, maybe we should encourage parents and students to walk in and talk to a teller. Talk to a teacher.


Sep 27, 2011

Who Challenges You?

He challenges me.

He pushes me to think, to stretch, to be great.

He never lets me rest on my laurels.

He calls me on my bullshit.

He makes me a better teacher.

And the thing is, he’s not a teacher. He’s not one of my students. He is that guy who is always reaching for something better, throwing punches, all for the purpose of strengthening me.

When we ride together, he races up the hills, goading me to beat him (which I often do).

The thing that is most important is that he expects that right back. He wants me to throw punches back, make him stronger.

We are so often aligned, and yet, opposing as often.

I think every teacher needs someone like him. Someone who is not in the edu-bubble who is outside and poking us within to keep pushing against the sides.  Too often the echo chamber is overwhelming, and just hearing the edu-babble can make you deaf. We need the voice from the other side.

I was originally going to write about our need to form a crew of supporters, but in fact, we don’t need supporters because often they just wave the flag. We need something more than support. We need those people that recognize the challenge we face and push us further. We need those people who see how far we’ve come and call us when we sit up for a break.

The thing is sometimes we have too much hand-holding, kumbaya singing in this profession. Sometimes we need the straight goods.  We need someone to put a book in our hands and say, “You need to read this, this will make you better.”

I’m lucky. I have one.  In fact, I’ve got a few. And I hope, I’m that to them. I may not know anything specific about their business, but I challenge them, I push, cajole.

Make a difference today.

Who challenges you? From the outside? Constantly? Who is helping to make you better?

Sep 19, 2011
Comments Off on Mr. Kemp, Why would you do that?

Mr. Kemp, Why would you do that?

It was innocent enough, a student I was talking to asked, “Why would you do that?”

Photo on 2011 09 19 at 17 49

We were talking about setting goals, short-term goals and long-term goals. We were talking about setting our bar high. About pushing our expectations of ourselves. We were also talking about being honest about our intentions.

And that’s when it struck me, why am I doing this? Why am I training for an Ironman? The real reason, the reason deep down inside.

I had to say, “I don’t know.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve made the commitment.  Blown the money and now feel obligated.

Maybe it’s ego, I want to do something that others can’t or haven’t.

Maybe I want to prove something to myself or to others, about my abilities. To show them.

Maybe I want a challenge that will push me to my physical and mental limits.

Maybe I want to make my Mom and Dad proud.

Or maybe, I want to live a life that takes advantage of opportunities. I’m physically well, fit and in a position to attempt it. I’m in a place, where on a daily basis, I tell kids to try something that seems too difficult to achieve. I tell kids to dream big, to set the bar high and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I want to look them in the eye and tell them, they can do anything.

I don’t really know why I’m doing it. I don’t know why it became a goal I had. But I guess, that’s the beauty of goals sometimes; you set them and if you are willing to sacrifice and put the time in, they become part of you, part of who you want to be.

“Live Passionately Today” is tattooed on my left wrist.  Maybe this whole thing is my attempt to personify that.

And I guess, most likely, it is all these reasons.


This was cross-posted at my other blog, In Constant Pursuit, about my pursuit of Ironman.

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