A day at the park…literally

At the end of November I met Marc Tison (in case your school is like ours and myspace is blocked, here’s somewhere else to go), a pretty well known skateboarder from Montreal, and we got to talking about one of my students whose dream is to be a sponsored skateboarder. In fact, at the beginning of the year we drafted some long term goals to achieve this dream.

(I think about this student a lot because I fear sometimes that he’s going to leave school as soon as he legally can (next year). He’s 15, struggles greatly with reading, writing, and sustained listening, and all he wants to do is skateboard. At the beginning of the year he skipped class more often than he was there, but after a meeting with our VP to drive the point home, his mother and I quickly got on top of that – me by emailing her as soon as possible after I noticed him missing, and she by following through with consequences for skipping school at home. His family is incredibly supportive of him and the work that we do together. He’s a very lucky boy.)

Back to the story….Somehow through our conversation we came up with a plan where Marc would spend some time with him just skating, having fun, maybe teach him some tricks, and then that experience could potentially form the basis of a project at school. I liked the idea because not only would my student have a good time, but he would meet a well-known, sponsored skateboarder who also has a day job – dispelling his belief that he won’t need one if he gets sponsored. I spoke with my student’s mother, who loved the idea, and we set the plan in motion.

contemplating the first moveI showed up at my student’s house this morning and he was SHOCKED, to say the least! You should have seen the look on his face to see his teacher at his door on a Sunday morning! I told him that I had a friend who wanted to meet him and that he’d need his skateboard. His parents gave him permission to leave with me and off we went.

I think he remained a bit in shock, and was definitely shy, for much of the afternoon. At one point he came out of the skateboarding area to take a break and I told him that we only had about 30 minutes left before Marc had to leave. He looked at me with big eyes, threw his helmet back on his head, and rolled back down to join Marc.
we've all got our mountain to climb

He definitely took advantage of the rest of their time together. From where I was sitting it looked like they were working pretty hard at trying to do some kind of spinning trick (fakie nose something or other…it’s beyond me!). When he finally landed it he turned to look at Marc and did a ‘Yeah!‘, you know, hands balled in fists and elbows thrown back past the waist, and that made it worth it for me. I sure wish I had caught that on film.

'xplainin long

Marc gave my student a copy of Pipe Fiends: A Visual Overdose of Canada’s Most Infamous Skate Spot, a book he compiled and wrote with his friend Barry Walsh about ‘the pipe’ near the Olympic Stadium in Montreal (which I will be borrowing from him soon…) along with a whack of other fun stuff – stickers, posters, a t-shirt (‘cool, I hope it fits, I want to wear it tomorrow‘).

As soon as he got into my car at the end of it all there was NO DOUBT that he had enjoyed the afternoon at the skatepark with Marc. Non stop talking about what they spoke about (‘he said I had inspired him to try a trick he hadn’t done in 10 years and he even landed it!‘) and that he can’t wait until it’s nice out so he could go try out the pipe (poor guy, he’s going to have to wait a good 3 or 4 months before it’s nice out again in Montreal…).

So…where will we go from here?
I’m going to introduce him to podcasting so that publishing to his blog and his wiki pages becomes less of a struggle for him and today’s experience will be incorporated into those spaces. And since he is one of the older students in the class I will train him to teach the others how to do the same.

I’m also thinking that, as a stepping stone for proficiency with the microphone and talking to an audience, I may ask him to create some voice threads about the photos from today.

We could also possibly look at the idea of community and examine why Marc, an established skater, would want to spend time with him, someone just starting out.

I’d like to also plan some kind of post-day communication between my student and Marc – a thank you note at least, but hopefully something more in depth…but I will stop there and let my student continue with the planning (though I may offer some, er, suggestions). After all, it was his day :)

Major, MAJOR respect goes out to Marc for coming through on this little project that meant a lot for one kid and his teacher.

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Wishes, Hopes, and Dreams

If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn – Charlie Parker
Ok, it’s way about time I take a good hard look at my wishes, hopes, and dreams. How can I move towards a better future unless I define what I wish, hope, and dream for it?

I know that I can be a good leader. I’ve been floating for the past month or so though. I’ve been letting things slide in my classroom, I’ve been hiding from my work, I haven’t been digging deep into the planning of what my students need or what I need.

On Monday I will be back to teaching after this holiday break, and on Tuesday I will be back in the classroom myself as I begin my PhD studies.

My wishes, hopes, and dreams?

Courage – to keep pushing the envelope with my kids and myself. To not let ourselves get too comfortable because I know that true learning needs discomfort. And to stand up tall in the discomfort and plug away even harder.

Strength – to keep my vision clear and to not let it be chipped away by criticism (“that’ll never work”)

Structure – to keep my focus I will need to build and maintain a solid structure to help balance my PhD work, my work with the kids, my personal life

Fun and Laughter – without that, all else is useless :)

buddha watching over Fern

I’ve also been thinking of a recent conversation I was in over at EdTech Journeys about coaching. I love the coaching I receive from my online community, but I also feel the need for some personal interaction – a phone call, a meeting over coffee…on some days over something a bit stronger.

One of the wonderful things about blogging is communicating with others all over the world. I realize, though, that I have not encountered anyone else from Montreal here! It’d be lovely to meet with some of my blogging friends in person, to add another dimension to the reading/writing relationship that I cherish, to add depth to the conversations, to add some soul.

I’ll leave this post now, thinking about how to turn that last dream into something real…and welcoming any other suggestions…feeling reflective at the beginning of this new year

Metamorphosis, no better metaphor for this.

mp3 No Compromises originally downloaded from: FREE THE P! Palestine Takes NYC’s East Village by Storm, article by Remi Kanazi, The Electronic Intifada, 17 October 2005 is from www.freethep.com compilation which is a fundraiser for the film Slingshot Hiphop ! Many thanks to Invincible for allowing its use here.


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remaining curious

Image: Ghetto Curious George by the Frankfurt School made available on flickr by a creative commons license.

(crossposted at leadertalk)

About a week and a half ago, the night before beginning at a new school, I wrote a post called Allowing Curriculum Planning to Remain Curious. I
wrote about how I needed to remain curious about my students and their
contexts in order to create meaningful curriculum for them.

I am struck with how important it is to remain curious. One of the
reasons I reminded myself to remain curious, to not fall back on old
assumptions about learning, is because I am in a new school. With a new
school comes a whole new culture and different sets of needs and
expectations. Christian Long helped me towards this reminder when he wrote, in his note to self on the eve of his own first day at a new school, “You have plenty of time to share new ideas,
but listening, watching, and respecting is the first rule of business.
Listening and watching is your best trait going forward in this first

My mind keeps returning to that notion of remaining curious. How easy
it is to be curious now that I am in a new school, but I am already
noticing that I have created opinions about my students and the school
that I take for granted after only one week! So, how much easier it is
to create assumptions and rely on them rather than question and try to

I’m coming to the realization that remaining curious about what I do
as a teacher, a program planner, a member of a school community is
precious. By keeping myself open to possibilities, by trying to
understand the hows and whys of things, I keep education alive for me
and it remains my passion.

So my task going forward is remembering to remain curious.

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Ethics in the classroom and common ground

I have been involved in a very stimulating conversation on Durff’s blog around the issue of ethics in the classroom.

Both Durff and I agree that ethical behaviour must be stressed in the classroom and modeled by teachers. I think you can tell from our comments that we are both quite passionate about this.

Where our views start to differ is how this is done. You can read about our differing viewpoints in the comments to the original post – what I find interesting is the conversation that has developed.

Ethics is messy – it really does have to do with our own world-views and it can be messy and difficult to talk about the things that really matter to us, the things that hit us in our gut, that touch our values around what it means to be human. The rub in all of this is that we do not all have the same values nor the same world view.

Two of my beliefs related to this topic:

  • I strongly believe that we can not assume there to be one ethical plumbline to live by. Furthermore I think that this assumption implies another, that if one does not adhere to this plumbline then one is acting unethically. I think this is problematic in any society that is diverse.
  • I believe that ethical decisions should be contextual and arrived at from within a situation rather than determined from external sources like codes of conduct/ethics. (I have written more on this subject, if you are at all interested I invite you to read this paper, though I warn you it is a bit lengthy :) Conversations for ethical decision-making in secondary schools (Rosen, 2005) )

I do think it important – indeed necessary – to create a common ground in order to be able to have conversations around ethics, in order to be able to teach about ethics.

In trying to understand Durff’s insistence on an ethical plumbline, I wonder if perhaps this common ground is something along the lines of what she means.

Such a common ground for me would have to:

  • acknowledge that there is more than one world-view in the room
  • acknowledge that my world-view is not better or worse than yours, just different
  • be prepared to learn about different beliefs and world-views
  • be prepared to take a considered position when I am involved in decision-making
  • understand that a considered position includes more than one or two considerations

What would be important for you to have in this common ground?

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The Future of Teaching: Let’s continue the conversation

Since yesterday, I have been involved in a conversation on Will Richardson‘s post The Future of Teaching.

The first part of this post was originally posted as a comment to The Future of Teaching.

I am getting the idea that we, at least those of us involved in this conversation, are ready to act on new ideas. People have asked for priorities, have asked about where we go from here.

I think that something like this can help us get there. I know that Gervase Bushe has been using Appreciative Inquiry with the Vancouver Public School System. This was published in the Summer 2007 edition of the SFU Business Newsletter, the Executive Edge:

In the last Executive Edge newsletter we told you about a $150,000 three-year research project to study a change management trend called appreciative inquiry. It’s a new process that works to change the way people think – to get them thinking collectively about how they want their organization to operate.

Gervase Bushe, SFU Business associate professor of management and organizational change, who is consulting and studying the process and its outcomes at the Vancouver School Board, reported on the results of the first year of study. “Preliminary indications are that the change process has been so successful that the BC Schools Superintendents’ Association is offering appreciative inquiry training and is also planning an appreciative inquiry summit for Kelowna in August,” says Bushe. What’s more, he says, numerous BC School Districts are planning to use appreciative inquiry in their schools next year.

It’s a powerful change process, based in the very foundations that have been brought up in with Will’s post.

Here is a recent article that Gervase wrote, which I think does a great job at outlining just what Appreciative Inquiry is:

G.R. Bushe (2007). Appreciative Inquiry is not about the Positive.

He talks about the generative nature of AI:

Generativity occurs when people collectively discover or create new things that they can use to positively alter their collective future. AI is generative in a number of ways. It is the quest for new ideas, images, theories and models that liberate our collective aspirations, alter the social construction of reality and, in the process, make available decisions and actions that weren’t available or didn’t occur to us before. When successful, AI generates spontaneous, unsupervised, individual, group and organizational action toward a better future.

If we were to design an appreciative change process for our school systems I think we could find our way to get there…together.

It would begin with a conversation that has already begun not only in Will’s post that I referenced above but in various places across the blogosphere – on LeaderTalk, on Scott Mcleod‘s blog, Kevin Sandridge‘s, Barbara Barreda‘s,  Miguel Ghulin‘s, Justin Medved‘s, Dennis Harter‘s, Stephen Ransom‘s,  and many others.

Is anyone interested in continuing that conversation? I’d love to be part of the process with you.

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