Apr 10, 2012
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I Know So Little

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” — Confucius

I just finished reading “Damned Nations” by Dr. Samantha Nutt. This book is all about the various social justice issues that are taking place and how we have, so far, not dealt with some of the overriding problems that allow war, terrorism, poverty and illiteracy to breed and grow.  Needless to say, what I thought might have been helping “change the world” may in fact be contributing.  Nutt is one of the co-founders of War Child. This book opened my eyes and is now, on my list, of books I will recommend over and over.

Ignorance of faculty

This book reminded me of my incredible ignorance. I try to be world-wise, yet I am foolish to think that reading is enough.

I am plagued with this ever-present question of whether I am “smart” enough to be a teacher.

If I recognize the limitations of my own knowledge, am I equipped to help students discover their own ignorance? Because isn’t this what we ultimately are searching for? A student who understands they don’t know everything becomes a self-guided inquirer, or a self-directed learner. That’s my goal.

To improve teacher practice, do we need a teacher-wide admittance of our knowledge limitations? Will this help re-frame the classroom away from the teacher as “beacon of knowledge”?

I do want to acknowledge that I recognize the difference between information and knowledge. The difference is an important element in our media saturated world.

I know so little, yet my ignorance is an important factor in my teaching. Should it be for all?

Apr 3, 2012

Losing, Whilst Finding, My Voice

I love to talk about education. It’s my passion. It’s what I do. I love to explore the complexities of the art and the machine of the science of learning. Then I love to tear them apart and try as hard as I might, to figure what worked and why it worked with a specific kid or a specific class.

But that’s my problem. I talk too much. I write my blog and express my opinions and too often, I’m met with acrimony from my

colleagues. Not for the ideas, but for my willingness and want of expressing them. Sometimes the acrimony is blatant, “Here he goes again.” or “He’s just being a shit disturber.” But more often, it’s passive aggressive, it’s implied dissent, you know, the eye roll or the “Well…” shoulder shrug.

Now, I may be a little melodramatic about it, but I think there lies a major difficulty in the road ahead in education.

When teachers start to find our pedagogical voice, it is often tuned out by other teachers. Not by administrators or by parents, but by teachers.

I believe the road ahead requires a radical shift that must start with teachers finding their voices.

But as I find my voice, online in the edu-blogosphere or in the Twitterverse, I’m losing my voice in my school. I’m becoming more  gun-shy when and with whom I get into it with. I don’t want to be the voice in the wind, yet, the more one says about change, that’s what happens.

So, how do I find balance?

If we want to see the education system we want, we must reclaim our voices and ensure the power of those voices around us are heard.


This post is cross-posted on voicEd.ca, a collective of voices who have an interest in collaborating on conversations, discussion and even debates about the future of education and schooling in Canada.

Apr 2, 2012

If You Do As Your Told, You’ll Survive.

Survival 425

We’ve got a generation of students who believe this.  We’ve got a generation of teachers who figured it out and found success through it.

It worked for me.

You know, learn the rules of the game. Then play by them.  And the rules were simple, learn what the teacher wants and do it.

Do as your told, you’ll survive.

Now as a teacher, I’m constantly running up against students who believe this credo. The problem all along is that school shouldn’t be about survival. It should be about learning, but somewhere along the way, we lost sight of that.

Another teacher I know calls it “nanny-state education”. Where a student waits to be told exactly what to do and expects to be walked through it.

The real problem is that teachers have been trained in the same system and so we wait.

We wait for a top-down pedagogical inititative and policy that we can make fun of and employ half-heartedly.  And so nothing ever changes, or it changes slowly, excruciatingly slowly.

The real shift in education will only come when teachers stop looking to survive by only doing as their told.



Mar 22, 2012
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Working Together – A Confession

Simon Tweet

It was a simple tweet. One that flew by in the whirl of the day. Just a little nugget that Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why (a book I strongly recommend reading), threw into the depths of Twitter.  He’s thrown nuggets before, often I read them, think, then keep swimming in the big ocean of ideas.

But this one weighed me down. Heavy.

Then it came up in conversations, with my students.

Then with my colleagues.

Then with my wife.

I knew there was something there. Simon Sinek had thrown this nugget at my head and it hit me.

I’m a poor collaborator. As I preach the theories of the education revolution. I try to imbibe them. I work on building the theories into my practical ethic.

This is one place I stumble.

Sure, I talk about it. I prosthelytize, I speak the good word. But when it comes to truly collaborating. I fall short.

One of the goals I set for myself this year, was to share more of what I’m doing in the classroom. And yet, I haven’t. I also have blogged less.

I can’t count how many times in a day, I tell students to work together, work in groups, ask a partner for help, etc. and then dig into my hole and wrestle in my own head.


There are a few exceptions, a few times where I explore the big ideas with other teachers, but rarely do I get into the details.  I rarely start with the problem and then with a group devise an action plan. When it comes to collaboration, I’m pretty isolating.  I’m pretty “in my own head”.


Today, it changes. Today I start trying to work together, not just in the same office.


Mar 19, 2012

Disconnection and Isolation

March Break is over. Packed up and checked off. For some it meant a week in sunny places or for others a chance to spend days with their family.

For me, it was 10 days of disconnection and isolation.  I spent the break holed up at a cottage, with no internet, no television, a sketchy phone connection, alone.

It was the first time in a while where I was completely on my own.

It allowed me time and space to ruminate and reflect on the year that has been, but more importantly, it allowed me to develop/hone/enhance my thinking of what is to come.

It allowed me to organized myself, put myself in the proper boxes and ensure I’m ready.

It allowed me time to read, read read and write, write, write.

And so, I feel refreshed, re-centered, and ready to dive in to the murky world of connection and immersion.


But, when do our students disconnect and go into isolation? Is this only something we can appreciate as we grow older? Is the need for constant connection and immersion specifically teenaged?

My disconnection surely has me missing some Facebook status updates, lots of Twitter content, but generally, it is loads of information that is not essential to my self-concept. This is not the case for teenagers. Should we help them develop the ability to disconnect and to be comfortable in isolation?

We are incredibly social creatures, yet many of our deepest, most profound thinking is done solo. So, how do we foster this ability in our students?

I was disconnected and isolated for the past week and it has served me. When do our students get served this luxury?

Mar 2, 2012

Am I Sure?

A student asked me, “Are you sure?”

I said, “Of course not, where is the fun in that?”

As we undergo this shift from information providers to supporters of learning, teachers have to first make the decision to be okay with not being sure.

“Where is this going?” “I hope it is going towards this final product, but I’m not sure.” This underlines the need to move our teaching (whatever that means) and our assessment towards process and away from product.


This is partly what scares me about standardized testing and those who use the “data” that it provides.

Firstly, it is a product. At the end of the day, it is the end of learning, because no feedback that comes from a standardized test will perpetuate more learning. When a student finds out on a sheet of paper mailed to them, they passed. The learning opportunity has passed them by. So, we have to acknowledge, it has nothing to do with learning.

Secondly, it is a synthetic product. It doesn’t come out of authentic practice. It is, by its nature, phony.

Thirdly, the only process that will ensure “success” is to modify learning to underline the needs of the product. Teach to the test. Too many schools are making strides on the OSSLT because of focused work with students on how to “jump through hoops”.

Finally, and most critically, the data imbues a sense of absolute. We, the public, the politicians, the administrators and teachers have allowed us to believe that there is a way to be sure. We’ve allowed the business interests of testing to convince us enough (I realize many people recognize the uselessness of them, though we are still giving into them) that they have “the” answer.


A key component to critical thinking that I emphasize over and over with my students is the ability for a critical thinker to accept ambiguity. Accept the fact that there may not be an answer.

So, am I sure of anything?


But, that doesn’t stop me from trying to move forward.

Feb 28, 2012

But I Don’t Have the Time

In this profession it is so easy to run out of time.

In class, after school, at night. In a semester, a unit, whatever.

We are constantly battling with students telling them, “You need to know this for later.” “Get on task, you only have 20 minutes left.” “You need to find the time.”

It is the one non-negotiable. And there never seems to be enough of it.

That’s my excuse, when things get busy, something has to fall by the wayside.

As an English teacher, I think it is paramount that students read and that they are given time to read. For pleasure. It is too easy to let them read on their own, attach a project on to it, and call it school work. But time where students can engage in a book will not be found, save for a few students, unless we give it.

As a civics teacher, I think it is paramount that students be given time to know what’s going on. Sometimes it is an informal discussion of the news of the day and sometimes it is directed reading of an article. But that takes time. If I engage in these informalities and don’t attach specific learning goals, is it “wasted” time?

As a social justice advocate, I think it is paramount for students to witness the harsh realities of the world through media, conversation or connection. Again, it takes time. I often don’t want to attach these “learning” events to a specific project, because I want them to be authentic. Not something a student connects with for the unit, but instead a gateway for connection for a lifetime. But it takes time.

All these things that chip away at that precious resource. Time.


What’s the answer? If it is not in the curriculum, it should be extracurricular?

If it doesn’t have a learning goal attached to it, it isn’t relevant for that 75 minutes?

How do we fit the authentic learning in with the job of schooling? My initial reaction is to forgo the schooling, but that can’t be the right answer. Can it?

How do we create a more efficient delivery model to enable us to have more time?

How do we rethink the use of time in schools? No bells? Flexible classes? Longer days? Year-round schooling?


We all have the same 24 hours but I don’t have the time for everything I want to do, why doesn’t that work out?


Feb 16, 2012

Reputation is the Currency of Social Media – How to Accumulate It and Spend It Wisely in School

While delivering a presentation to a group of teachers about online collaboration, someone said, “For students, reputation is the currency of social media, not marks.”

This observation redefines a student’s relationship with school work whenever social media is added to the equation. Which then begs the questions:

If we are creating inauthentic reasons for these students to use social media, are we using or abusing the currency of social media?


How do we help students accumulate this type of currency, save it, spend it wisely? Can we make them effective currency-managers in their future?


When asked to get a blog started, a student asked me, “Can I just use my blog or should I start another one?” (She didn’t say another with indignation) which confused me, I had just assumed students would not want to mix their ‘personal’ blog with the one that they’d be using for school. I replied, “You choose, either way works.” (My reply sounds so disinterested and disengaged, but it was more interested and trying to give her control.) She ended up deciding to use her previously started blog. And she posted an entry to her readers (however many that was) stating something like, “Sorry folks, for the next few months some of my posts will be school work. My teacher is having us write blogs. Sorry if they are dorky and nothing related to my real life.” She used different language but this was essentially her thoughts on blogging, in class.

At first I was a little put off thinking, “Me, dorky?” But that passed. Most of the blogging that students are asked to do is self-directed, but that didn’t matter.

Instead, I saw that she wanted to separate the authentic blog she was creating with that of school. She wanted to separate her reputation currency with the school work she’s “have” to post.  And there lies the conflict.

On one hand, blogging (or Twitter or Facebook or other social media) is an opportunity for students to engage with an authentic audience, however, it costs them something when the direction of the blog is directed, in any way.  So, by using social media we are caught in the crux of having them create something school-specific (inauthentic) with having them spend some of their social currency for our purposes (authentic).


A student of mine tweeted a 140-character review of a book she just finished. I asked each student to keep us posted with the books they had read and finished.  I didn’t say there were marks involved, but she tweeted knowing that we were attempting to build personal learning networks/community (with classmates, etc).  The first time she tweeted, she wrote the name of the author in the tweet.  I mentioned that she should tweet with the author’s Twitter handle.  Sure enough, when my student re-tweeted the review (positive) with the author’s Twitter handle, she got a response.

From the author.

This led to an interesting conversation about the book over Twitter with my student and the author. Authentic. Engagement. Appropriate.

Watching this on Twitter, I saw a student accumulating the currency of legitimacy in reputation. She recognized it. It was “for” school, but it carried weight beyond school.


Ultimately, the next step of this discussion in my head is to process through the second question. If the currency of the future (this seems a little ominous, but it isn’t meant to) is reputation, how do we help students build a healthy, strong reputation, know how to use it to its greatest affect and build the future they envision with it?

How do we help students find/harness/use all the ways we can accumulate this currency?


Feb 14, 2012
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Learning and Forgetting

What if we took a step back? We start with no previous idea of what school looks like. What if started over? We start by looking at the most natural form of learning that happens at birth.

A colleague recommended Frank Smith’s book, “The Book of Learning and Forgetting” to me as she knew I am interested in radical ideas, a revolution of learning, and was always willing to have my ideas challenged. Well, this book does that.

The most important element to the book is how we define learning, as I mentioned in my earlier post, Smith suggests,

“All learning pivots on who we think we are, and who we see ourselves as capable of becoming.” (11)

He argues that the system that is formed on the need (or illusion) of control, missing the point that students are always learning something. The problem is, the system as it is, is making students learn that disciplines like science, math, arts, English are boring, separate and not for them.

He addresses the critics of a more holistic learning approach by stating,

“Teachers sometimes rationalize making learning unnecessarily complicated for children by saying they have to be ‘challenged’.” (27)

This is found in our worksheets, grammar rules, and seemingly inauthentic approach to teaching. We assume that the more control and ‘scaffolding’ we provide the more explicit the learning will be, when instead, we are teaching students that each of these separate pieces fit together, but only when we’re ready to show you.

And he lays out a few gems about teachers, in general.

On why they are resistant to change

“The difficulty in getting many teachers – or their administrators – to change their attitudes and their ways is not that they are ignorant, but that they are insecure. They are afraid their world will fall apart if they give up any of their power or claim their independence.” (96)

On what he would establish as the key role of the teacher

“It would be the responsibilty of teachers to ensure that opportunities to engage in interesting and productive activities are always available.” (98)

On the crazy notion that we can improve bad teachers

“External control, detailed procedures, and constant monitoring don’t make poor teachers better ones.” (100)

On what it takes to be a good teacher

“All the good techers I have known have been good organizers, arranging interesting experiences for their students and themselves, and protecting those experiences from officious interference.” (101)


This is a book that I believe every teacher should read as teacher candidate. Not because I think it is flawless and has all the answers, but because it leads us to asking big questions about the purpose of a public education system, the role of the teacher and the classroom, and it requires us all to start with why.

I read through the book twice, once just reading it, now it lays on my desk highlighted, circled, dog-eared, starred, copied. It reminds me that I am learning, right now, but what I’m learning is up to me and the people with whom I surround myself.

Feb 13, 2012
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Splitting the Task – Two Teachers Merge

It is rare in high school to split a class between two teachers at the same time. But we’re doing it. Tonight marks the first night in this experiment with HC.

We are teaching a night school course of Grade 12 College English. She’s teaching Monday nights, I’ll be teaching Thursdays.

The prospect of splitting a class has made me very aware of various elements of my teaching persona, my teaching process and my teaching organization.  It has forced me to verbalize, solidify my opening day plans and be accountable to someone else. These are all things that have challenged me.

And, most importantly, how does this split affect the learning environment for the students? Will it be overwhelmingly beneficial because there are now two people caring for the success of each student? Or, will it be detrimental that students will have potentially different learning environments each night?

And so, I pose the question to my readers:

What are some factors that need to be specifically considered for two teachers who are co-teaching?

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