Slow travel in Scotland

Slow travel is not so much a particular mode of transportation as it is a mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze as many sights or cities as possible into each trip, the slow traveler takes the time to explore each destination thoroughly and to experience the local culture.

The Art of Slow Travel

I didn’t know this was a term, but slow travel is a thing and we are doing this now. We are spending our second day in the little town of Drymen, Scotland, 30 miles north of Glasgow. Tomorrow we start on the West Highland Way, a trail that was developed 30 years ago as the hiking craze took off in the British Isles.

I am traveling with my daughter Colleen who is just starting a journey that will take her all over Europe. We actually bumped into each other yesterday in the town square. No need for cell phones here.

I like the term slow travel for what we are doing. We have settled into our second B&B in Drymen and we will start hiking around 22 kilometers a day on the way to Fort William and Ben Nevis eight days away.

This is not a tour that will take in all of the Highlands of Scotland, this is a moderate 135-kilometer trek through the highlands ending with a climb up the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. A wonderful way to see beautiful countryside.

After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro last year, I am most interested in travel that allows me to walk from place to place. Any form of motorized travel blurs the experience and takes me away from learning more about my surroundings.

What I have learned so far. Drymen was settled first (at least that is what we know) because it is located close to the Endrick River and a shallow fording of the river. There are supposed to be ancient fortifications guarding this ford, but I couldn’t see them.

 

Endrick Water

The town hosts the oldest licensed pub in Scotland the Clachan Inn. Established in 1734, it was once owned by a sister of Rob Roy. The pub is wonderful and offers at least 30 different types of scotches.

Right outside the pub is a road that stretches straight to Stirling and was built during the 1745 Highland Rebellion to link up key defensive positions for the British.

Not bad for 24 hours. Tomorrow will be more of a challenge, but as we travel into the Highlands, we will learn even more and meet more people who are out to discover a bit of Scotland. Lots to experience, but we will continue to do it slowly.

The beginning of our trail starting tomorrow.

Travels with My Daughter

It’s a really different world when you no longer work in a traditional setting. I don’t call it retirement because I am still working, just at other things.

There is work coming and there has been lots of work, but when you leave the mainstream working world you need to become a bit of an opportunist. Two weeks ago, I dropped our youngest daughter off at the airport in Montreal to start her grand tour.

It occurred to me on the way home that I am between contracts and probably for the first time I can remember, I really don’t have anything I really need to do.

This is an odd sensation, not one I am totally comfortable with, but you really need to lean into things when you are facing a major turn in your life.

So, I will join my daughter for nine days of hiking through the Scottish Highlands. I haven’t been to Scotland for 35 years, so it is way past time that I visited. We will hike through the Highlands and attempt Ben Nevis at the end of our hike. After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, this is the only type of travel that I want to do.

To do it with our youngest daughter is a really wonderful opportunity. I am so glad I decided to take a leap and go for it.

So the writing will continue, but I will be back focusing on adventure and trekking. I am very fortunate to be able to take this opportunity. Let’s see what leaning in really looks like.

 

Fostering a ‘why not’ Mindset: Dr. Jacqueline Landrum Sanderlin

Dr. Jacqueline Landrum Sanderlin
WE Day Conference speaker, New York Wednesday, September 20

You often speak about adopting a “why not” mindset. Can you explain what that means?

The “why not” mindset is a mindset of possibilities for almost anything, for community partnerships, for the ability to do more than what we are expected to do. As a principal, I was tired of just getting things that we needed. I wanted to have things that our scholars – I refer to our students as scholars – wanted, and also that they deserved. In other words, why should not we deserve the best? That type of thinking changed our attitude of what we deserved. My perspective is for us not to just think big, but to think even bigger.

My partner Heather read this quote to me yesterday and it has stuck. I am always trying to figure out what really good leadership is all about and why it is such a rare commodity. Rare at least in my definition.

I think it has something to do with courageously adopting a ‘why not’ mindset. I have seen these type of leaders in the past, people like Carol Hunter a now-retired principal in the Ottawa Public Board and Lorne Howcroft, my first principal in the Dufferin-Peel Board. Both of these individuals were striking in the sense that they had a real vision of what was possible and neither felt confined by the narrow strictures of the district bureaucracy.

This type of leader is an inspiration. They have real courage and do not define themselves by the current mandarin mantra.

The important line in the quote is ‘why should not we deserve the best’. Getting the best for your students will mean working outside the confines that your school board wants to put around you. How many leaders are comfortable with doing that?

Most school leaders believe in alignment – the idea that the main ideas that govern the school are seamless with what the school board and by extension what the ministry believes in.

No really strong leader was ever praised for doing alignment really well. To do the best for your staff and students, especially in hard to serve areas you need to be an unconventional thinker and look outside your district for partners that share your vision. School board administrators want you to support their vision – I don’t think you can do both. To really serve your community you have to find a new way.

Most school leaders will not accept these ideas and I have had discussions with administrators who certainly not hold these views and who actually judge my thinking on non-alignment to be disloyal.

My question is, who are we supposed to be loyal to? Why were we hired to lead if not to think on our own and advocate always for our students? If we have the courage to do this we must accept the enmity of those who believe our actions must always align with those of our district.

The school leaders I have the most respect for all had difficult relationships with their district supervisors. To me, that is a sign they were on the right path. I am sure it has been the same for Dr  Sanderlin.

We don’t need to be proponents for the district mantra. We need to say ‘why not’ and act for our communities. If we don’t, who will?

When Taking Risks – Do You Stand at the Top or the Bottom of the Stairs?

These days, I have lots of time for reflection. This really helps with my writing and new ideas are coming all the time. Today, I found myself with my bike at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the top of Parliament Hill. The pathway is blocked due to construction so it was either up or back the way I came.

I never like going back so up I went, 286 stairs. The view looking up was a bit daunting, the view from the top was beautiful.

I thought maybe this would work as a metaphor for how to deal with the risks one takes throughout life. Here, I am talking more about professional risks. Sometimes these risks leave you looking up wondering what went wrong and other times you can survey success from the top of the hill.

What are some of the factors that determine success and failure?

Sometimes I think it has everything to do with the people you find yourself working with. One project that I had been working on for the past few months collapsed entirely yesterday. I wrote about the venture here. The project had real potential, but I lacked partners who shared a similar view of the potential of this program. I do blame myself for this. I should have seen the signs – lacklustre response to the proposal, e-mails seldom returned, long bureaucratic notes on why certain things couldn’t happen – the list goes on. It’s a pretty standard list.

Why didn’t I just cut and run, I have seen all these signs before – I have been in education systems for over 31 years!

So, this is the bottom of the stairs looking up. These things happen, if you are not willing to take some risks you will never have the chance to get to the top of the stairs. You need to be at the bottom sometimes so you can savour the top!

There is so much to celebrate when you do get to the top of the hill. I think as you gain experience you get a little bit better at finding projects that bring out the best in everyone involved.

I put voicEd Radio in this category.

It is so wonderful to work with people who encourage and empower you! My wife and I both work on a show for voicED and we have received nothing but enthusiastic encouragement from Stephen Hurley, the creator of this great project.

Here a risk paid off. We had never done a radio show before, now we have a bunch of broadcasts – including a half-hour live show – that we did as part of an amazing full-day live broadcast featuring most of voicEd Radio’s regulars.

My point is, you have to keep taking risks, even when your plans fall completely flat. Over time, the failures are no longer very important and you learn to move away and take whatever lessons you can. Then you find some real pearls like voicEd Radio where you meet great, positive educators and you take your learning to a whole new level.

So keep climbing, don’t look back, move away from the negative nellies and get to the top of the hill!

Journey to El Salvador for Teacher Candidates

Next week, we will be presenting this trip as a volunteer opportunity for University of Ottawa Teacher Candidates. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for new teachers – what a wonderful way to start your career with three weeks learning about the power of education in El Salvador.

So, here is the full trip we are proposing for students:

 

Center for Exchange and Solidarity – CIS and the Center for Global Engagement, University of Ottawa Education Cultural Exchange program in El Salvador April 9 – 26, 2018.

 

Proposed Objectives:

  •    Learn about the history of the El Salvador, and the root causes of war, migration and violence.
  •    Exchange ideas about the educational system and teaching methodology in El Salvador and Canada with Salvadoran teachers and students of education.
  •    Share specific knowledge through workshops, making a video or other skills part participants may have (ex. art, marketing, computers, English,  gender, human rights, environment, culture of peace, communication, soccer, softball, etc.)
  •    Salvadoran share specific testimonies of overcoming violence, women’s empowerment, how education and formation has impacted their lives and community.
  •    Promote a culture of solidarity, of mutual support and global connections for social and economic justice.

Ideas for possible Activities.

The final program will be based on the number of students participating, the areas of particular interest, community needs and resources available:

  •    General orientation, culture, security, health, history of the CIS.
  •    Testimony – History of the War and El Salvador.
  •    Hike ecological forest which was a guerrilla encampment during the war in Cinquera Cabañas.  Learn about History and the Environment.
  •    Visit site of Guadalupe and Tenango massacre in the Department of Cuscatlán-Cabañas and learn how survivors have overcome
  •    Visit public school and exchange with students and teachers.
  •    Meet with CIS promoters in charge of formation of CIS scholarship program and their use of popular education in the communities.
  •    Exchange with CIS scholarship students studying education
  •    Visit historical sites in San Salvador:  The home of Msgr Oscar Romero’s home and the chapel where he gave his life
  •    Visit the Jesuit University and site where 6 Priests and 2 women workers were massacred in 1989.  
  •    Stay in rural community:   visit homes, visit the school, do some exchanges with community and /or school teachers; meet with women’s businesses, make tortillas.
  •    Stay in Urban Community:   Meet with teachers about special challenges of gangs in schools; understand the displacement of communities during the war and earthquakes and shanty town settlements; exchange with CIS art therapy course, and human rights committee.
  •    Workshops:  Participants will be asked to develop a workshop  or a series of workshops on one theme to share in the community depending on their skill set and interest – Some examples, that the community request  include education methodology,  different arts, marketing, computers, English,  gender, human rights, environment, culture of peace, communication, environment.
  •    Indigo – history, culture, cultivation and processing of dye and dying clothes by women’s groups.
  •    Exchange with CIS English and Spanish Teachers and popular education and language instruction.
  •    Spanish classes are available online or at CIS in El Salvador. www.cis-elsalvador.org.   It can also be worked into the program if there is an interest, but will limit time to carry out other activities listed above.

Budget:

Travel / air travel:   $1,135 CDN (Pardo Travel Ottawa)

CIS fee (food, lodging, program coordination, translator and guide, in-country transportation, honorarium, park or museum entrance fees):  $1,800 U.S. / per person.

Timeline:

  •    Participants confirmed by November.
  •    Payment in full for air travel $1,135 CDN – November
  •    Application fee $200 U.S. (non-refundable) November.
  •    Balance – $1,600 U.S. payment due:   March 1st.
  •    Program:  April 9 – 26, 2018

 

Center for Exchange and Solidarity – CIS and the Center for Global Engagement, University of Ottawa Education Cultural Exchange program in El Salvador April 9 – 26, 2018.

APPLICATION FORM:

PLEASE E-MAIL TO CIS:  delegaciones@cis-elsalvador.org so we can better organize your visit.

Name (full legal as in passport: ______________________________________________________

Name you like to be called by: ______________________________________________________

Gender: _________________________________________________________

Address___________________________________________________

Province___________________________________________________

Postal Code/Country__________________________________________

Telephone________________________________________________________________________

E-mail___________________________________________________

 

Date of Birth / age: _________________________________________________________

Passport Country and Number: _______________________________________________________

Profession/undergrad and graduate area of studies: _____________________________________

 

Spanish Level (circle one)   ZERO — BEGINNER—INTERMEDIATE—- ADVANCED— FLUENT

 

Have you been to El Salvador before? _____________________________

 

(If yes) When? What type of program _______________________________________________

Special Dietary needs:  (vegan, vegetarian, diabetic, allergies, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance; eat everything) _____________________________

 

Special health conditions we should be aware of? _______________________________________

 

Why do you want to participate in this program?

 

What are your priorities for the activities you would like to see included during the exchange program?

 

Is there any type of workshop or project you would like to prepare to share in El Salvador?  Explain brief concept, who would be the ideal audience, ideal number of participants (e.g.  Women, teachers, education students, youth, kids), and what type of resources if any would be required to carry out said workshop.  (It could also include the making of a video, collect testimonies of certain sector and not necessarily a workshop)

Emergency Contact Information:  Name, phone number, e-mail, Messenger or other ways to contact in a timely manner:

Can Ontario fix its maths curriculum – Not Yet: Response to Greg Ashman

Greg Ashman seems to be one of the few people writing in opposition to the ongoing disaster that is math instruction in Ontario. This week, he wrote another great article on what is not working with math in Ontario – Can Ontario fix its math curriculum.

Great article and really interesting comments. I agree that Ontario’s obsession with Michael Fullan is misplaced and he needs to move on. However, from what I have seen, Fullan is still the hero of the Ontario education scene and he can do no wrong. The solution to the problem of low scores in Ontario is just to train teachers harder in the inquiry-based system. You can get a good sense of this in this recent interview with Dr Mary Reid of OISE http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1041393219874/

True enough, no one will listen to the critics as we have been marginalized and to speak out against Fullan and the dominant ideology in Ontario is a huge risk to your career in education. As Greg Ashman writes,

There are a few prominent Canadian voices on Twitter but, as far as I can tell, they hold no positions of authority in Canadian education and will be easily marginalised as eccentric, old-fashioned conservatives.

I have felt this way for awhile and as an administrator here in Ottawa, I knew that to publically speak out about the inquiry obsession would have been very unwise from a career perspective. Now as a retired educator I can speak out, but it is not likely that what I write will have any impact.

The trend will continue to be to emphasise inquiry over explicit teaching and results will continue to go down. Senior administrators and ministry officials will continue to drink to constructivist kool-aid because there is little critical thinking going on and school boards demand conformity from their educators and conformity to some really bad thinking is actually the way to guarantee an advancing career for an administrator.

How many years will this silliness continue? How long will we put the blame on teachers who just don’t get inquiry? How long with Ontario’s math curriculum be directed by people who do not need to face its consequences in the classroom?

Thank-you Greg Ashman for your clear perspective on math in Ontario. We can only hope that someone here is listening!

Poor Math Scores – Should We Really Blame the Teacher?

I am listening to a rebroadcast of a CBC Ottawa interview on the Ontario Math curriculum with Mary Reid from OISE. This is one of a series of interviews and articles seeking to understand why students, especially in elementary school, are doing so poorly in math. You can hear the full interview here.

The interview was really nothing new until around the 5-minute mark when Mary Reid makes the classic argument that I always find misses the mark. At this point, Dr Reid dismisses any problem with EQAO and squarely puts the blame on teachers and their training for low math scores in Ontario.

Teachers, she says are not ready for inquiry-based learning. Teachers have high anxiety and low content knowledge when it comes to the inquiry approach. Professional development takes a ‘one size fits all approach’ whatever that means. So, because of the teacher’s high anxiety levels, we are failing at the inquiry-based approach.

These ‘highly anxious’ math teachers then pass this anxiety on to their students.

Then the argument takes on a bizarre note – research shows, according to Dr Reid that it really is the female teachers who are to blame. Female teachers especially pass on this anxiety to their female students, not the male students. This is what the ‘research’ shows. How do you even test for that?

We have been doing inquiry-based math in Ontario for a long time. Over the years, math results in grade 3 and 6 EQAO tests have steadily gone down. During this same period of time, teachers have been continually blamed for not being strong and skilled enough to effectively teach math.

The human factor always comes out – if you are really skilled and somehow ‘get’ the inquiry approach, your kids will do well. If not, your kids will do poorly. I only thank my lucky stars that I never had to teach math in such a poisoned atmosphere. How do elementary teachers do this when they are continually blamed by OISE professors and senior administrators for failing their students?

Why do we not look at the tests? Why do we not examine the curriculum or the inquiry approach?

As long as we see our teachers as lacking something we will continue to have problems when it comes to the math curriculum. It is now time to stop this fruitless blaming and look critically at EQAO and the curriculum.

We certainly need to look at how we assess learning in our schools. Today in the Globe and Mail, Sir Ken Robinson was interviewed and came much closer to a true assessment of our current system.

We need to recognize that children have a huge range of natural abilities and they all have them differently. Our education systems are designed to focus on a small band of those. If you have a narrow conception of ability, you end up with a very big conception of disability.

Sir Ken Robinson, Globe & Mail, September 8, 2017

The sooner we take a really creative approach to how we do education in Ontario the sooner we will be able to liberate our teachers and students to learn, live and grow in our schools. We really need to learn to stop blaming our frontline educators and move on to something much better.

 

My Trek Through the First Day of School

As a principal, I really liked the first day of school. I got to see families and kids once again and I was always excited about all the great stuff that was planned for the new school year.

This year has been a little different. For the first time in 31 years, I am not in a school. I retired last December, so being away from school is not new to me. But, the first day of school is special.

So today, I needed to do something to mark this occasion. I was up almost at the same time – my wife is still teaching – and I drove her to school. I then got my trekking gear on and headed to the Gatineau, the beautiful hills just north of Ottawa.

I hike a good deal these days, especially the Wolf Trail in the Gatineau. Almost always I trek with friends or family, today I went by myself.

I wanted to have a day of quiet reflection, a day to note a new turn in my education career. I say a new turn because I am still an educator. I still work hard at connecting with other educators through Twitter, blogging and most recently, VoiceEd Radio.

I see myself now as an educator who is not tied to any school board or any official position. This is allowing me to write with more honesty about what I think about a whole host of education issues and topics. It allows me to take part in great projects like the Dream Mountains Kilimanjaro trek last year and this year a climb in Peru for Christie Lake Kids and hopefully a three-week trip to El Salvador with University of Ottawa students.

I think as educators we need to constantly evolve and grow. When we are fortunate enough to be able to retire, I think it is something to seriously consider. One can continue doing what they are doing, but I think with diminishing returns.

We always remain educators however, we just move to other stages.

Today was a wonderful day of hiking and reflection. I treasure the past and look forward to new vistas as an educator. The challenge remains the same  – to seek out the new opportunities to grow and contribute.

The summit of Wolf Trail – a great place for reflection

 

 

Take It Back – Where Are We With Explicit Teaching?

It’s worth considering why we are in this situation. Why do bad ideas persist and even flourish in the field of education when they would have been superseded in medicine or engineering?

Greg Ashman Take It Back

I just read Greg Ashman’s latest post – Take It Back, he writes some great material that flies in the face of current education orthodoxy, so I find him refreshing and I like how he challenges the education status quo.

Tomorrow, teachers and students across the province of Ontario will be returning to class again entering the world of the 4C’s, 6C’s, Play-Based Learning, Deeper Learning and Inquiry-based Instruction.

These are all wonderful ideas but they all skirt around the true nature of teaching. Ministry officials, politicians and senior administrators all love these ideas, but I am not entirely sure why. It seems to me that if you want to be part of the established flow, you must uncritically accept all these ideas. To stand up in a meeting of principals and say that you question any of these ideas is a great way to put your career aspirations on a back burner.

That is of course until the ideas get called into question in the forum of public opinion. Right now in Ontario, there are several good articles out there that attack the way math has been taught in schools for the past decade. The Inquiry approach is not leading to better math scores no matter how much the math deck chairs are rearranged. Take a look at When will Ontario break the cycle that is failing its math students? by Anna Stokke, a professor of mathematics at the University of Winnipeg.

To be honest, in my years as an administrator, I never saw a huge amount of inquiry-based teaching in the classroom. I always worked with really talented teachers who had seen many of these education fads come and go. I did see many educators on Twitter and at school board meetings talk about the revolutionary impact of inquiry-based learning and I witnessed the 6C dogma of Michael Fullan being proclaimed everywhere in our school board. I don’t really believe that these ideas ever had a huge impact on good teaching, but to say so publically was never a good idea.

Greg Ashman makes the point in his post that educators now need to ‘take back’ education from those who have swung too far away from explicit teaching in all areas of the curriculum.

Instead, we need to fix this. This one is on us. We are the ones who want to be treated as professionals and so it is time to take control of our profession.

Sadly, you won’t see many educators write like Greg Ashman, it is simply too dangerous. To go against the orthodoxy is somehow seen as disloyal, it certainly doesn’t make you a team player.

This is a big problem. How do we question ideas that in reality make little sense and that have little hard research to back them up? How do we act when we see the education emperor really has no clothes?

I would start by questioning more and reading more – don’t get too caught up in someone else’s education orthodoxy.