Living in the age of incivility Part 3 – The Iron Cage that is the school system

The modern school system has, for all intents and purposes, come more and more to resemble and function much like what German sociologist Max Weber called the “Iron Cage” – a bureaucratic structure that traps individuals in a world driven by technological efficiency, rational calculation and control.

Paul W Bennett Globe and Mail, October 2, 2020

I worried most about this third article in my series Living in the age of incivility. I worried about this because I was going to take things personal, talk about a situation that occurred while I was a principal in the Ottawa Catholic School system five years ago.

In a tweet I never put out I wrote this:

In 2015, I was unjustly suspended by a school board I had worked for for 27 years. A disgruntled employee brought a whole host of false accusations against me. I have never written about this. In a time of such incivility, is it now time to expose the injustice of what happened?

Yes, it is time, but how do I make this a useful article? It would be very easy to become the victim in my own story or for the reader to think – maybe these accusations were not false, maybe he got what was coming for him.

If you keep the story as personal, if you hold on to the anger, the message gets lost, the story is blurred, people turn away.

Even a few years ago, I couldn’t write this story. I was too caught up in anger and shame. I have avoided any occasions that involve the OCSB for years now, including, to my shame, the retirement of a good friend, and my own board retirement party. But enough with that now.

What has given me the context for this third article is an opinion piece by Paul W. Bennett in today’s Globe and Mail. He is writing a summary of some of his ideas in his new book – The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools. I don’t have the book yet, but I will be reading this soon.

In his article, he starts out by writing how the pandemic has really exposed the inadequacies of our public school system, a system that has maintained the same structure for well over 100 years.

Beyond this crisis however, the pandemic has exposed a more fundamental problem. It has lost its connection with students, families and the wider community.

Our public schools, initially established as the vanguard of universal, accessible, free education, have lost their way and become largely unresponsive to the public they still claim to serve. Those voicing concerns about early reading, mathematics scores or school closings find the system resistant to change and regularly hit brick walls and glass ceilings, particularly when trying to access the points of decision-making.

What they are very good at is shutting down innovation and smothering dissent.

Now, I enter the personal, but I do it briefly, because I am not the story here.

In 2015, I was the principal of a small urban school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. We had a great school with wonderful children, mostly new to Canada. Our school had served immigrant communities for decades and this meant going beyond the prescriptive norms to give them the opportunity to thrive in a brand new world.

At the time, we had one employee who worked closely with me who used their position to create tension and strife amongst the staff. I was unaware of this situation until the staff member began to poll staff about their attendance in a board-wide PD day. This is something you just don’t do in a school – the principal can do this, but I would never take a step like this – I trusted the people I worked with.

I did call the employee out on this behaviour, but I did not know at the time it was just one in a series of ‘aggressions’ the staff member had taken out on the rest of the staff.

While generally we could have moved on from this incident we didn’t. The employee went directly to the head of HR for the board, brought in their union representative and left the school when I asked why they were escalating the issue.

This was a time of high tension in the school board. The employee’s union was on work to rule and incidents like this were happening in other schools as well.

Still, nothing really to worry about here. In the ensuing weeks, without my knowledge, the employee with their union rep held a series of meetings with the superintendent of HR and others and in those meetings a long history of my supposed infractions were laid out out. It must have taken hours and hours to come up with this list.

It was fanciful, but it was damming. When the list was complete and the meetings were over, I was called in to hear the whole story. I brought our association rep, a fellow principal. As principals in Ontario, we don’t have a union which means we are exposed and unprotected. Most principals have no idea how precarious their position is.

A meeting that I thought would be a 15-minute conclusion to a strange affair turned into a two-hour grilling that only ended when I had had enough. I told them this was ridiculous and I left.

There is a nine-page summary of the meeting written by my representative. Even now I can’t read it and my hands actually shake as I pull it up again on the computer. I also produced a 22-page document in my defence. I really don’t know if anyone actually looked at it.

As a principal, you get accused of all sorts of stuff. This is part of the job, but you do expect your supervisors to support you and believe in you.

Mine did not. A few weeks after this meeting I was suspended pending an investigation.

I don’t know if an investigation ever took place. Three weeks later on the last day of school before Christmas, I was reinstated with a hastily written disciplinary letter added to my file.

There was no explanation about what their findings were or if they had actually conducted an investigation. To this day I don’t know the results, but apart from the letter, there were no consequences. The employee was relocated and later it turned out that this person had done similar things at another school, but in the earlier case the principal was told to keep quiet. There has never been an explanation or an apology.

This is my story of the Iron Cage. A school board totally out of touch with their staff more than likely doing its utmost to stay clear of a strong union in a time of labour strife. A school board that placed little value on a loyal employee.

There is no question in my mind that the system of centralized power and incompetent managers needs to be reworked. The pandemic has exposed all of this, but I experienced this gross misuse of authority and power over five years ago.

In his article, Paul Bennett calls for a humanizing of the education system. We need to turn away from big schools that dehumanize relationships between educators, children and parents. We also need a system that has some real oversight so that power can no longer be abused by those who want to sanction others who do not follow the script.

One board official once told me I deserved what I got because my views on education were unconventional. With attitudes like this how can we not want to rework our system? How can someone think it is OK to say things like that?

My situation remains unresolved because I never received an explanation and certainly not an apology. I am retired now – writing this while working at a school would certainly lead to grave consequences.

Now I want a better system. Not for me, but for all those who work in schools, for all children and families and their communities. These old institutions need to go and we need to start considering alternatives. As paul Bennett writes:

A new set of priorities is coming to the fore: put students first, democratize school governance, deprogram education ministries and school districts, and listen more to parents and teachers. Design and build smaller schools at the centre of urban neighbourhoods and rural communities. It’s not a matter of turning back the clock, but rather one of regaining control over our schools, rebuilding social capital, and revitalizing local communities.

This is what we really need to do. Humanize education, give power back to parents and communities, get rid of the bureaucracies that do everything in their power to protect what they have.

Education should be about people, it is not about power and institutions. When abuse of power happens so easily with no consequence for the abusers it is time to rework the system.

Living in the age of incivility – Justice, not Charity why WE doesn’t work for our schools

Everything we do these days needs to be seen through the lens of justice. In this second article on living in the age of incivility, I want to focus on the tools we use in our schools to deal with injustice.

One of the main tools for many years has been the WE Foundation. Fortunately, the days of WE dominance seem to be coming to an end. Unfortunately, this is not happening because people, educators finally saw through the mist of corporate charity but because they got caught in a national scandal.

I was always quietly appalled by the spell WE held over our schools. WE was always about making us feel good, making us look like we were doing something to roll back poverty in the Global South. To my mind, that was never the case. WE never questioned the imbalance that exists in the world and they certainly never exposed the incredible role we have played as settlers and exploiters here in Canada and in the Global South.

They were the good story. That is why boards like my own (Ottawa Catholic) were happy to sign up with WE and why they encouraged participation in their extravaganzas for students and even booked them for one of our annual staff conference days (Christian Community Day).

We never questioned their lack of analysis or their unwillingness to talk about the root causes of poverty and injustice in our world. As Catholics with a rooting in social justice, we should have known better, but how many Catholics have ever examined the social justice roots of our faith? In the vast majority of cases, it was more important to make sure our students felt good about themselves. Rarely did educators and administrators take the next step to challenge the roots of injustice, racism, poverty, and inequality that are endemic in our society.

Look at the quote by Pope Francis below – this is what we should be talking about in our schools – it is not about feeling good about yourself, it is all about becoming uncomfortable with your wealth and privilege and recognizing how we have been the designers of an unequal, unjust world.

… the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.” To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country. We need to grow in a solidarity which “would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny,” since “every person is called to self-fulfillment.

– Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 190

We can go beyond this to look at WE as the Canadian exemplar of white saviouism. David Jefferess, a UBC scholar writes about this in his article, WE Charity and the white saviour complex.

White saviourism is not simply a personality trait that critics can attribute to the Kielburgers or voluntourists alone. In his explanation of the “white savior industrial complex,” Teju Cole does not distinguish between genuine humanitarians and self-seeking ones, but focuses on the construction and material causes of global poverty. Cole explains that the white saviour looks at places like Africa and sees only desperation, consequently failing to understand why the misery exists in the first place.

This is an important article and it would be a good one to read to get a sense of how we have been taken in by WE. We have been lazy and we have not wanted to think things through. We don’t really want to examine the roots of poverty, racism, inequality, and injustice. We certainly do want to become uncomfortable.

Corporations have adopted We to acquire a ‘brand halo‘, a way to attach any the company on to the coattails of WE at rallies that focus mainly on intermediate aged school kids. The WE rallies have been a great way to encourage brand loyalty, sell more soap. As Vice writes:

A page of WE’s website, advertising Marc Kielburger as a paid speaker, touts his insights into “purposeful and profitable business strategies.” The page, which has since been updated to remove that language, boasts that Marc can help teach strategies to “inspire brand fanatics to stay loyal to you, your company, and your cause (and) add a halo effect to your product.”

Vice: Justin Trudeau’s Billion-Dollar Scandal Is a Story of Power, Branding, and Charity July 2020

WE has nothing really to do with changing our mindsets. It is a cynical organization that believes the only way to talk about the Global South to students is by putting on a rock show. Bring out the celebrities and we will change the world. After the show, you can go home, feel good and forget about the global imbalance that grows every day. No need to question the status quo, you just got a t-shirt.

Next, incivility in the school system – don’t ever rock the boat.

Living in the age of incivility – the impact on racialized youth in Ottawa

Dempsey’s community programs have been closed to local youth at the whim of an uncaring city

In this series, I am writing about incivility, injustice, and in this case racism in our local community. This article has a lot to do with racism – a word we don’t like using in Canada. But when you enact a policy that negatively impacts young racialized people that is racism and it needs to be called out.

It is hard to write about stories where poor, racialized communities are forgotten in a time where their needs are not seen as important or even relevant.

The story. In the east end of the city, a community rink was converted into a homeless men’s shelter at the height of the pandemic. As parents and community members began to organize protest against the usurping of their place for hockey and pickleball, the City of Ottawa Housing Department looked for a new location.

They fixed on Dempsey Community Centre.

Dempsey Community Centre in the heart of social housing in the near-by Alta Vista neighbourhood was chosen as a replacement. You can read about this here in the only article written about all this in Ottawa. The article makes no comment, no editorial, no judgment on the move. The article misses the important fact that local families were not consulted even though they had signed their kids up for recreational programs with Christie Lake Kids, a city-wide foundation that runs recreational programming in low-income neighbourhoods.

In better days, Dempsey was a place for Russel Heights youth to play and take part in important community partnerships. Here is an example from two years ago where the Ottawa Police played basketball with Russel Heights youth at Dempsey.

I hope you watch this video and read this article from the Ottawa Citizen – ‘Ball is life:’ How Ottawa police are building relationships through basketball.

The beauty of Dempsey is that kids could walk over from their homes and participate in a wide variety of programming through Christie Lake Kids – all that programming is now gone.

Understandably, Christie Lake Kids has been silent about the loss of one of their key centers for community programming. What can they possibly do? For them at this point to advocate for their youth would risk losing more programming from the City of Ottawa.

This is one of the essential problems with programs based on charity. It is always a handout. We do this because we are in power and we can – but don’t ever challenge us. Don’t ever question our decisions.

The City Councillor Jean Cloutier has defended the move saying all the right people were consulted, no one objected. His level of advocacy for marginalized youth in his own community is a disgrace. When contacted he assured us that he had followed all the requisite steps. His conscience is clear.

These are racialized youth, these are underrepresented families. These are people with no power. This is a racist act made by people who have nothing to fear – no one speaks up for these people. They know they don’t have to worry about decisions that affect people in this neighbourhood.

A few weeks ago there was a huge furor on the local  Ottawa CBC when a backyard youth Shakespeare group was shut down by local by-law officers for making too much noise. We heard about this story every second day. A quick Google search turned up 18 separate articles about this! Through the advocacy of people with power, the troupe was moved to one of the premier theatres in Ottawa to complete their performances.

Good for them but there were some big differences between the troupe and Russell Heights. They came from a well-off mainly white neighbourhood. They got the support of local (CBC) media because it was a ‘good’ story. They had an effective voice. They had real power.

The kids and families have none of these advantages. CBC showed very little interest in the story – who cares about poor neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The press coverage was minimal – again who cares?

Situations like this make me angry. The injustice and overt racism in this story are incredible. This is tragic.

Yes, this is an example of the growing incivility of our times. Should the men’s shelter exist – of course. Did it need to displace fully enrolled children’s programs at Dempsey – of course not.

This is a case of inattention by City staff and a City Councillor who really didn’t care. Why should they? They knew no one in Russel Heights would protest. These people are used to stuff like this, why would they object?

No one sees them.

If people don’t start caring in the times of COVID when will they start caring? Why can’t we be understanding and compassionate for all communities, not just the rich, white ones? Why does no one seem to care?

 

 

How to live in the age of incivility

Like many, I watched the first American debate last night. It was deeply disturbing and it is still resonating today. This is the quote that comes to me this morning.

But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.
— Bruce Cockburn

For me, it is not an option not to write right now, but I don’t want to focus on the trainwreck that is Donald Trump. I want to write about incivility – much of what is concerning me has gone on for a long time – Trump is just a symptom of a larger problem.

I want to write about this.

I take a risk by doing this. I do not live on some remote island. I work for a local university and I have lots of social contacts. It pains me that I need to be so careful in what I write so as not to ruffle the feathers of people in power. People in power do not think or worry about abusing that power or affecting people who do not share their power or influence.

In the first two cases, I will anchor my post to an article – one on the Dempsey Community Centre here in Ottawa, the second, a great article by David Jefferess a university professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

In the third instance, there is no article. My story is hidden mainly because when a person is the victim of incivility and a power imbalance they do not want to talk about these things. The overwhelming emotion that comes from being at the sharp end of a power imbalance is shame. To talk about these situations, even in my case four years after the incident is very hard to do. However, in an age of incivility, you really do need to kick at the darkness.

It is OK to do this. I hope it will do some good somewhere.

Next week, I will start with the loss of the Dempsey Community Centre here in Ottawa.

 

Covid Journal # 7 – Returning to school is risky

These graphs put out by science teacher and biostatistician, Ryan Imgrund are something I am going to watch closely over the next month.

‘On August 2, in Ottawa there is a 4.8% chance you’ll encounter an individual who can transmit COVID-19 in a group of 27.’

This is actually a statement put out on Ryan Imgrund’s Twitter feed. You can fill in the blanks for your region if you would like. How’s it going for you?

What this means should startle everyone. There is a significant risk of COVID-19 spreading in classrooms this fall. There is no hard cap for kindergarten classes or grades 4-8. Kindergarten classes can still be as high as 29 students, classes in grades 1-3 are capped at 23 (90% of classes must have 20 or fewer students).

From Ontario Families for Public Education

The only meaningful caps that exist right now are in grades 9 – 12 where students will attend in groups of 15.

Not to sound overly critical, but I am not sure how this is going to work.

Today, Sunday, August 2 – Australia declares a state of disaster in Victoria and imposes curfew in Melbourne  

Great Britain and Spain are beginning lockdowns again in various regions.

In the New York Times – After a brief reprieve, coronavirus charges back in US

Again the New York Times – A school reopened. It had to quarantine students within hours.

I am going to stop at four, but I could add many more stories. My point here is to state the obvious, this virus is not under control. Reopening is fraught with danger and in many cases leads to more outbreaks.

The great thing about daily statistics is that we can track the daily spread of the virus against significant changes in behaviour.

While we all should be concerned as Minister Lecce is for the emotional well-being of students, is sending them back into a very risky environment the best way to do this?

Should we not be trying to reimagine what school could look like if we were not so tied to an industrial era school model? We could be asking – what was so good about how we did things in the past? What could we do better? Why are we so tied to tradition at the risk of our student’s and teacher’s health?

Schools support the economy, there is no question about that. When kids are in school people can go back to work. If we truly were concerned about the well-being of staff and students we would be looking closely at the statistics and we would be using this time to reimagine school.

Are the people in charge of our school systems motivated to do this? People in senior positions traditionally want to protect the status quo. It is in their self-interest to do this. There is nothing amazing in this – all large corporations act in the same manner.

But what should we be doing?

  • Should any grouping of students be above 15?

  • Could we be using facilities like community and health centers to spread out our teachers and students?

  • Could we develop more robust video conferencing tools to make the online experience more meaningful (is there life after Zoom??)

  • Is five days a week, 6 hours a day really meaningful? Can we develop a community-based model for education that makes parents active partners?

 

We do ask these questions in countless blog posts and podcasts, but are these questions ever taken seriously? If not now, when? How tied are we really to an old model that really doesn’t work well for many kids?

I really want to see what happens in the next 30 days. Will there be meaningful debate about what education in Ontario will look like this year? Do we realize that we are in this for the long haul? There is no returning to school until there is a vaccine.

I will be working with teacher candidates in first and second year so I will certainly have lots of opportunities to see how we protect our students and staff. I will continue to look at the stats – we are very fortunate to have this daily reminder about what we are heading into.

Will we invest in real change or will we just hope for the best?

Covid Journal # 6 We all live each other’s backyard now

I woke up this morning to a startling note. I was being chastised and I guess I deserved it. I had made a snarky comment on a public Facebook post that celebrated someone’s generous idea of social distancing.

I have seen other posts like this. From this person and others. Here I just let things slip. I really should have kept my mouth closed, even though the behaviours of others has an impact on all of us.

The Ottawa Citizen came out with a great article today. The article makes it really plain how the virus is being spread: ‘It’s not just people in their 20s’: Multi-age gatherings driving spike in Ottawa COVID-19 cases.

So people are interpreting our new social rules in a way that is making more people sick. No, it is not people in their 20’s although this is a useful stereotype, it is people like my former friend above who feels that they can socially distance using their own rules. I hope they read this article. Today, over 30% of new cases in Ontario were reported in Ottawa. But let the summer roll on.

I apologized to this person. Then I told her that we can’t do multiple bubbles as some people seem to be doing. Most of our children and their partners work in health care, some in very high-risk communities. We have elderly mothers in residences that both have had outbreaks.

Our social bubble consists of three people and it has to stay that way.

This is the thing. If you are going to flaunt our new social conventions, if you are going to do whatever you want because you can somehow justify this please keep it to yourself. When you post on Instagram or Facebook, you are making your actions public. If someone makes a comment maybe you should think about that. Maybe you can take some direction from what people are saying.

We now all live in the same backyard. You no longer get to do what you want. Your actions can certainly have an impact on others. We are all trying to stay safe while we wait for a vaccine or treatment. Once you tell people what you are doing you are opening yourself up to public comment or in some cases censure.

The pandemic is tough. I am finding that social media has more of an edge to it now. People take offence easily, people strike back quickly. We don’t have the normal face-to-face relationships to tamper down this negative energy. We are all in our homes writing and commenting furiously.

I have had my share of dustups in the past few months, some pretty upsetting. We all have to be so careful in what we say and write, but the blow-ups will continue to happen, sometimes when you least expect it.

In some cases, I am sorry for the disagreements. In some cases, I am happy to be free of some people. We will continue to tear up relationships online as the pandemic continues. In most cases, this is just part of the shedding that probably should have happened anyways.

We all probably need to cull the annoying people who still don’t seem to understand that we are in a pandemic. But for the ones we keep, people need to realize we are living in a closer world. We really have to think about how we present ourselves and what we say.

This is a brittle world and it will be difficult to put back the pieces.

Kilimanjaro Day-by-Day in the times of COVID

I will be putting out a day-by-day post for the next eight days outlining what we would have been doing if this had been a normal year. Today we start the journey from the Ottawa train station.

This post will grow each day as we go through the days of our Kilimanjaro trek.

Departure date: 25 July – arrival Kilimanjaro: 26 July

Air France

bus Ottawa-Montreal + flight Montreal-Paris-Nairobi-Kilimanjaro

Departs with the whole group at 3:00 pm, we arrive at the airport in Montreal at 5:00pm. Around 10:00 pm, we board the plane for Paris and arrive around 10:30 am on Sunday, July 26. Soon after, we leave for Nairobi, Kenya, then on to Kilimanjaro International Airport

leaving from the Ottawa train station in 2017

Kilimanjaro International Airport

Day 2 is really a transit day. We are in the air for 15 hours, with stops in Paris and Nairobi. We will arrive very late at the airport in Arusha.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport

Day Two – in transit
CDG PARIS DE GAULLE, FRANCE 10:45 am.
Arrive NBO NAIROBI KENYATTA, KENYA 20:55 pm –
Arrive JRO KILIMANJARO, TANZANIA 23:50pm (7-hour difference) – 15 hours flying time

finally arriving at the airport in Arusha – 15 hours in flight

We advise group members to wear their trekking boots on the flight over – if luggage is lost it is difficult to replace your boots. That is a long time in your boots!

 

We have added in a rest day so we can start to recover from any jet lag and hopefully spend some time getting to see Arusha. It will be good to arrive.
Always with the mountain at our back.
Day Three – July 27th, a rest day in Arusha.
This is a good day to take it easy and get your gear together. You will have to weigh your gear to make sure you are not over what you are allowed to bring with you. Extra luggage will be left at the lodge.

There should be a scale at the hotel so you can weigh your bag. Extra stuff can be left at the hotel. It took me a while to get my weight right!

 

The rest of the day will be yours to relax, maybe go into Arusha and we will have our team meeting.

A tour of Arusha

 

Team Meeting – There will be a trip briefing this afternoon/evening. Please bring with you your passport and insurance details, and your air ticket details. The briefing will cover all aspects of your trip and will include the distribution of any hired equipment you have booked.

Our group briefing with our head guide, Living Maleo

Tomorrow we start for the beginning of the Lemosho Route!

First day on the trail
To Londorossi; begin ascent to Lemosho Forest (2650m).
In the morning we transfer to Londorossi (2250 m), passing between the slopes of Kilimanjaro and the horseshoe-shaped volcanic crater of Mt. Meru
(a distance of about 120 km).
After completing the necessary registration formalities, we drive on for a short distance through farmland and plantations to reach the Lemosho road head. The last 5 km of the road to the park gate is of poor quality, particularly after rain, and the drive there should be considered part of the adventure.
We often have our lunch in the glades before starting to walk. It is an easy day of walking up a small path through beautiful and lush forest, this area has a variety of game including buffalo. We camp at Lemosho Forest camp (2650 m). Approx 3-4 hours walking.

a video of the first day showing the weighing of bags at the trailhead and the beautiful vegetation at the beginning of the trek

our campsite after our first day of trekking in 2017

 

July 29 – Day Two
Explore Shira Plateau; camp at Shira One (3550m).
The trail starts out in the lush rich montane forest before ascending into the moorland zone of giant heather. The trail climbs steadily with views across
the plains opening out as we reach the rim of the Shira Plateau. There is a tangible sense of wilderness especially if the afternoon mists come in. We camp in the centre of the plateau at Shira One (3550 m). Approx 6-7 hours walking.

Shira One Camp, the summit is in the background

If you take a look at the altitude at Shira One, you will see it is over 3000m. Once you get over that boundary, you really begin to feel the altitude. Every effort becomes a challenge and you really need to take things slowly and be mindful of what you are doing. This is the world you live in for the next week.

These short videos give you a sense of what it is like on each stage of the Lemosho Route – no commentary, just the trail.

July 30 – Day Three
Walk to the summit of Shira Cathedral to camp at Shira Hut (3840m).
A day to help acclimatization and to explore the grassy moorland and the volcanic rock formations of the plateau. We walk to the summit of Shira Cathedral, a huge buttress of rock surrounded by steep spires and pinnacles.

Shira Cathedral

The views from our camp near Shira Hut (3840m) of Mt. Meru floating on the clouds are simply unforgettable. The afternoon is free to relax. Approx
4-5 hours walking.

This is an acclimatization day – you need days like this to help your body get used to the change in altitude. You will definitely be going at a slow pace now – don’t rush and stay with your guides!!

This is a good short video for you to watch. You will notice that the trekkers are going very slowly along the caldera, but all the time the altitude is increasing. By the end of the day, you will be over 3800m. A short, gentle day like this will help you to acclimatize for the journey ahead.

July 31 – Day Four

Leaving Shira One Camp

Descend to camp at Great Barranco Valley (3900m).

A morning of gentle ascent and panoramic views, walking on lava ridges beneath the glaciers of the Western Breach. After lunch near the Lava Tower junction (4550m), we descend to the bottom of the Great Barranco valley (3900m), sheltered by towering cliffs and with extensive views of the plains far below. Approx 5-7 hours walking.

This is a very long day. I remember this day very well as I went through bouts of altitude sickness throughout the day. Next time, I will be sure to take Diamox, something I didn’t do in 2017!

The guide says 5-7 hours walking, but I think it is longer than that. Remember, you are walking very slowly at this point, so taking your time is really important.

Walking away from Shira Camp – this is a long day at increasingly higher altitude
Pole! Pole!

lava tower in the mist – our lunch stop on Day Four

Day 4 up to the Lava Tower at 4,600m and dropping down to Barranco camp at 3,850m is one of the harder days. It can take between 6 and 8 hours depending on the group. It’s for days like this that we train so hard for this trek!

August 1 – Day Five
Over the Barranco Wall to Karanga (4000m).
A short steep climb up the famed Barranco Wall leads us to an undulating trail on the south-eastern flank of Kibo, with superb vistas of the southern icefields. The terrain changes to volcanic scree, with pockets of lush vegetation in sheltered hollows, and a powerful sense of mountain wilderness.

video footage from the Barranco Wall 2017. This is a tricky section where you have to hug the wall closely to get around a protruding rock

Our next camp is at Karanga (4000m) a short distance away. The valley floor has the last water point on the approach to Barafu and we camp on the higher sides of the valley with views towards the glaciers of the southern icefields. Approx 4-5 hours walking.
We are now sleeping at high altitude with one more camp to go before we make our summit attempt. The landscape now is barren, but beautiful. For me at least, the altitude sickness has calmed down. All I need to do now is breathe and keep moving one step at a time.

Karanga Camp. I don’t actually remember this camp very well. Altitude will do that to you.

 

August 2 – Day Six

This is a good day to rest – you will be getting up around 10:30 pm for your ascent to the summit

Steep ascent to Barafu campsite (4600m), with optional afternoon ascent to the bottom of S.E. Valley (4800m).
The trail follows a path on compacted scree with wide views ahead including the Barafu Ridge where our camp lies. The trail climbs unrelentingly to reach the Barafu campsite (4600m) for lunch, after which there is a short acclimatization walk to the plateau at the bottom of the southeast valley (4800m). The remainder of the day is spent resting in preparation for the final ascent and includes a very early night.
Approx 3-5 hours walking.
In honour of this day and to walk under the same moon, we will be doing a night walk tonight around the time we would be getting up for the summit attempt. This will be part of the Kilimanjaro Challenge put together by Nathalie and Remi Roy.

Heading from Karanga Camp to High Camp at Barafu. This is a slow and steady hike which takes 3/4 hours to get to high camp. Take your time as you ease your way to high camp.

August 3 – Day Seven
(full moon)
An early start to reach Stella Point in time for sunrise; on to Uhuru Peak (5895m), the highest point in Africa; descend to Millennium Camp (3800m).
We will start our ascent by torchlight around midnight so that we can be up on the crater rim by sunrise. The steep climb over loose volcanic scree has some well-graded zig-zags and a slow but steady pace will take us to Stella Point (5735m), in about five or six hours.
We will rest there for a short time to enjoy the sunrise over Mawenzi. Those who are still feeling strong can make the two hour round trip from here along the crater rim to Uhuru Peak (5,895m), passing close to the spectacular glaciers and ice cliffs that still occupy most of the summit area.

This shot was taken with my phone on a cold morning ascent of Kilimanjaro.
I took the picture then forgot about it. High altitude can easily do that to you!

The descent to Barafu is surprisingly fast, and after some refreshments, we continue to descend to reach our final campsite (3800m) at Millenium camp. Most of us will be too tired to notice the beauty of the forest surrounding the crowded campsite. This is an extremely long and hard day with between 11 and 15 hours of walking at high altitude.

Our group shot at Stella Point, probably around 9:30 April 2017. Stella Point (5739 m) is on the crater rim but it is still a two-hour return journey to Uhuru Peak (5895 m)

Once we had all gathered at Stella Point, I actually turned off my tracker. To my oxygen-starved brain, I was done. To people back home, it looked like I had fallen off the edge of the world.

Tracking the night of April 7. There is no track back…

Finally, a great video taken at sunrise going up towards the crater. Look at how slowly these climbers are going! At sunrise, they are at Stella Point. The group makes it to Uhuru – a beautiful series of shots. You can actually see the curvature of the Earth! I really want to make it to Uhuru next time!

August 4 – Day Eight
To Mweka Gate; transfer to Arusha.

You have descended 4255m in a day – it is great to be at low altitude again!

This day is a sustained descent on a well-constructed path through lovely tropical forest alive with birdsong and boasting lush undergrowth with considerable botanical interest. Our route winds down to the national park gate at Mweka (1650m); and on through coffee and banana farms to Mweka village. The shower, the beer, and the swimming pool are tantalizingly close! We return by bus to Arusha (a distance of about 100 km). Approx 4-6 hours walking.

The final day coming from Mweka camp 3,100m and exiting the national park at 1,900m. These last two days are tough going up to the summit at 5,895, to 1,900m do not underestimate this challenge.

Getting Ready for the New Classroom

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to get my head around how I
will be teaching in the fall.
Last year, I taught a ten-week course on teaching intermediate history to Faculty of Education students. I loved the challenge of the course and I am really hoping I will get this again. While I wait to find out, I have been learning everything I can about how to teach online.
This is going to be a very different summer for many people as we prepare for an entirely new teaching environment.

remote teaching checklist available from our Teaching and Learning Support Service

The Teaching and Learning Support Service at the University of Ottawa now has a series of webinars archived on their site. You can access many of them here on Youtube. These webinars go through the elements of course design. I think I have seen each webinar twice and I know I will be looking at them again.

The webinars are very good at outlining the elements of our learning management system. Here, we use Brightspace.

The first thing I have learned is pretty important. You have to go with the LMS that you have. You may really love Google Classroom or Hapara, but what is most important in this new environment is to keep things simple. It is almost like making sure that everyone is speaking the same language right from the start.

Next, it will be really important to be very structured in how I present my material. I will also really need to make my organizational thinking visible to my students. At this point, it is important to say that most of these ideas come from Dr. Michelle Hagerman. Michelle kindly took the time to go over the basic ideas last week. Here I am trying to digest her main points for me and anyone else who is trying to figure out how best to do this in the fall.

Your structure is where everything will hang for your course. If your structure makes sense to your students, they will be less stressed and more able to learn from you.

The syllabus will have to be carefully laid out. This includes making sure your headings and subheadings are consistent. When setting up your modules of instruction, it will be really important to have a Module ‘0’ that explains how you have put your course together. This could include your welcome message, course description, assessment and communication policy for example. It should also include some type of screencast that gives your students a tour of how you have set up your course.

Remember, you can’t do this on the first day anymore, so somehow you have to make it human for them. This part I haven’t figured out yet. I may use OBS Studio, Screencastify or ECHO 360 or half a dozen other screencasting tools. I really don’t think it matters what you use as long as it is working for you. The big point here is that you want to make a connection with your students as quickly as you can.

Oh, don’t forget to include a short intro video featuring you!!

Once you have clearly outlined the structure of your modules, with the time each one should take, it will be important to outline how you are going to communicate with your students and how they are going to reach you. This I think is crucial. Are you using your school email? Do you have a special email for this course? Will you respond to texts or Messenger? Will you have virtual office hours? All of this you need to figure out before your course starts. Whatever you use, it will be really important to get back to them pretty quickly. Otherwise, I think you will start losing your students.

The active learning process – TLSS

 

When it comes to the design of your class, the structure should remain consistent. A typical 3-hour lecture needs to be broken up into recognizable components. Here I am quoting directly from Dr. Hagerman:
Design modules that include (a) a written lecture of sorts — with integrated resources, videos, infographics etc. that presents key themes, ideas and evidence; (b) opportunities for students to practice, create or be involved in learning in some way — this can take lots of forms; (c) an opportunity to show or share what they have learned — this can be formative or evaluative.
This helps me a lot. For a three-hour class, I can think of ways to do this. My lecture is only part of the picture. I will need to find ways for students to create and communicate each week.
While I haven’t yet started to map out how all this will look from week to week, I am starting to get my head around how this will be so different from what I have done in the past. One thing, however, will not change, in fact it will become all the more important – I will need to focus on developing relationships with all my students and I will need to create a safe social space for the people I am working with.
I fully expect to spend the rest of my summer thinking and learning about all this. Then, after the first class in the fall, I will probably have to start learning all over again.
This is probably a good first step. Maybe some good ideas will come from any comments I get on this. Whatever happens, I need to take one step at a time. I leave the last words to Professor Hagerman:
Keep expectations reasonable — you’ll probably be able to do less, but that is okay.

 

 

COVID Journal # 5 Breaking up is hard to do

Today has been an interesting day. Earlier I had an incredible conversation with a colleague of mine on how to teach online in the fall. I am still digesting this, but what struck me the most was the notion that when we teach online, the first thing we need to do is consider the emotional health of our audience.

We need to find new ways to draw everyone in, make sure in our isolated spaces that everyone is part of the conversation. This will mean, among other things, that I will need to have a one-on-one conversation with every student I work with in the fall. If I don’t do this I will lose them and it will be my fault.

Today’s conversation was an eye-opener to me. I don’t know if many of us have figured this out yet – apart from teachers who have been working through this since the middle of March.

For the rest of us, I don’t think we understand yet that most social media is unidirectional. It is designed for conversations between two people. Three becomes a crowd.

In the old pre-COVID days, conversations could become organic, especially when one or two people monopolized the conversation. In the classroom, you could redirect. In the living room, you could start a side conversation and effectively move things along. People could pick up on cues, they could usually use their social skills to sense the room.

Now, this isn’t happening. A few days ago I saw a tweet from someone who has become part of a podcast I used to really enjoy. They were asking for feedback on how the show was going. In the past, the music had been great, there had been room for many voices and lots of music suggestions.

The same show now has become a conversation between two, or maybe three people. It has lost the ability to be inclusive –  it is misreading the room. This is part of my response for feedback on the show:

The show now seems a little like a conversation for two or sometimes three people. It used to be more inclusive, more of a community – not any longer. Maybe this is what the pandemic has done.

Our current communication systems can’t allow for more than one or two voices. We haven’t figured out yet how to be inclusive and allow relationships to grow online. This will be a challenge for all of us.

This kind of pushback usually doesn’t turn out well, but after mulling this over for a few days, I felt I needed to write something. More than ever before, people need to reach out and build community.

What spurred me onto this was my last meeting with my book club. We have been meeting online since the pandemic and for me, this hasn’t worked out too well. We have been together for more than fifteen years, but I don’t know if we will survive the pandemic.

Tonight I sat through a conversation that was almost exclusively between three people. It was sad to be there. I had actually looked forward to our conversation, but there was no way to become part of what was going on. No one took the social cues, the conversation was not inclusive. I left the meeting abruptly, but I did tell the group that the conversation no longer worked.

As a group, we are not adept at creating a community online. The radio show I commented on has also lost its ability to do this. We seem now to only be able to connect in groups of two or three. More than that seems to be beyond us and our grasp of the current technology.

We can no longer retreat to the classroom or the livingroom to restore community. These options are out of reach for the foreseeable future. We will have to become much more mindful of the importance of inclusiveness in a world dominated by unidirectional communication.

I am breaking up with my book club. It is not their fault, but I need real community, real human relations. The challenge for the fall will be to make sure none of my students end up feeling as I did tonight. Everything I do will have to be about building community and trust with the imperfect tools we have at our disposal.

We all need to be doing this. We are responsible for building and sustaining important positive relationships. Look around you, think again, we need to do much better to sustain each other for the times to come.

Getting started with our Virtual Kilimanjaro Climb!

Hi everyone!
We are very excited to get our Virtual Kilimanjaro Climb started!! It begins this day – Sunday, June 21st
We have a few notes here to get things going.
1. The suggested contribution for the climb is $58.95 – the altitude of Kilimanjaro in meters. If a group of you are doing this, a group rate can be $75.00 – these are suggestions, whatever you can contribute is great.
You can make your contribution to your own Canada Helps Page, if you don’t have one, you can contribute to one of the Climb for Kids trekkers here.
2. Starting Sunday, we will send each of you a set of Google Slides representing the challenge for that day. Here is a sample page. Please go at your own pace, just let us know how you are doing!!
3. We have set up a Strava page where you can challenge people and list your daily totals. You can join our group here
4. We also have a Spotify Playlist for you to listen to. Please feel free to add songs to our list here
5. Each day we can record your total steps – or you can do it yourself here. If you want us to record your steps, please send us an email at the end of the day.
Thanks very much for joining us! Let’s have lots of fun with this!!
If you know someone else who wants to join us, please let us know and we will add them to this great list!!

Communities Move Mountains!!

Paul And Heather