How can Canadians Get Involved in Supporting our Brothers and Sisters in the Global South?

Usually, I write about education issues, but development assistance is something that I have cared deeply about for many years going back to trips I used to organize for students to the Dominican Republic.

Recent events in the United States and their unethical attacks on immigrants has propelled me to dive back into the complex issue of how best to lend assistance to people in the Global South.

We are a very wealthy nation with clear connections to poor countries around the world. The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) is a unique organization that works actively to improve the lives of people in many poor countries. They are unique because they have always made a good effort to involve Canadians in their work. It is an organization that is faith-based, but more importantly, it reserves a role for Canadians to get involved in raising money and setting policy on how best to assist with development assistance. It has also always had a strong educational mission which is essential if we want to be involved in social change in the world.

Over the years, the organization has lost its way due to the influence of right-wing elements in the Catholic Church and its inability to sustain an organizational approach that allows for meaningful participation from ordinary Canadians.

Development and Peace needs to be refashioned to reach the grassroots in Canada. It needs to develop a structure that opens itself up for renewal and it needs to broaden its appeal beyond the narrow confines of the traditional Catholic Church.

What it needs is a manifesto for change.

So what are some of the pillars of a manifesto? I would suggest the following as a start.

Stewardship – the preservation of a forward-thinking, faith-based development community.

Participation – an inclusive organization that respects and encourages the diverse voice of Canadians. For all people in Canada that care about the plight of people in the Global South.

Respect for excellence in development policy that puts the empowerment of people in the Global South as its primary motivation. When organizational ineptitude gets in the way of good work a reboot is called for.

Human Dignity – everything that is done must place the dignity of all people first – people in the Global South for sure, but also fair-minded people in Canada who want to help others and who are willing to participate in a dialogue that includes more voices, opinions and mindsets.

What else is needed? How can a large institution be renewed? How can an organization that has been too exclusive become one that welcomes new voices?

I hope a dialogue can be started. There is too much to do in this troubled world to remain behind old barriers and prejudices.

Let’s move on and try to do something new and effective. Let’s work on development and involve as many Canadians as possible. Let’s think way outside the traditional box.

 

Response to George Couros’ Post: We can’t ask teachers to be innovative in their practice while administrators do the same thing they have always done.

We can’t ask teachers to be innovative in their practice while administrators do the same thing they have always done.  I have noticed that the schools where teachers are doing incredible things have leadership that innovates inside the box. They do not just encourage different thinking and action, but they model it through their own process in supporting teachers within the constraints of the system.

I wrote this in response to a great post by George Couros today. Goerge does challenge and he asks questions that are difficult to answer. His post prompted me to respond on his blog. I have written an extended response below.

Hi George

Yes, your ideas make a great deal of sense. It seems to me that there is a creativity barrier in education. We want our teachers to be creative, we want them to empower students and we want an engaging learning environment.

However, when we pass over the Rubicon into administration, we mostly value compliance. You are now an ‘officer of the board’ whatever that means and what is most valued is your ability to do what the senior admin wants to be done, sometimes at the risk of suppressing the creativity of staff members.

Creativity can be a liability. In administrators, it is seldom valued and to remain creative is a risk that sometimes will lead to disapproval or even sanction.

This is a big problem in our education system, one that I don’t know how we will break out of.  How can a system that devalues innovation survive?

Every day I see creative work being done and shared by educators. But not from administrators. Their voice is more muted and their contributions often fall into the category of ‘cheerleading’. This is a shame because administrators can be innovative too.

Maybe they are at their best when as George Couros writes, they are supporting the innovative efforts of others. Is that the best that we can do?

There seems to be a great shift that that takes place when we become school administrators. We enter a world where compliance is the main value. To question and to innovate is not acceptable and is seen as risky.

Thanks to George Couros for writing this piece. It takes courage to question the status quo and I appreciate his efforts to do this. I really think we need more educators with the ability to call into question some of the failings of our public education system.

How can we ever have an honest public debate about the quality of public education if many of the main actors feel that they play no role in commenting and questioning how we are educating our children in 2018?

If not us, who are we leaving this to?

Response to: Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I read a great post today by Aviva Dunsiger on compliance and self-regulation entitled Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

I really suggest you read it. Aviva is writing about something we don’t talk enough about – the pressure for adults to conform. Again, this is something we do in education, we are expected to do everything in our power to respect the student’s need to self-regulate and possibly opt out of difficult situations, but on the other hand, we expect nearly blind compliance from the adults in the system. She ends her post with this question:
Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.
At the end of Aviva’s post I added this response:
Great question. I think as adults we need to get much more comfortable with noncompliance. Especially when we work for large organizations like school boards noncompliance is healthy and necessary. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to comply especially as a school administrator in a Catholic school system. The pressure to comply was always tremendous. To not comply was seen as disloyal.
To question ideas was not encouraged and loyalty to the party line was a value that was rewarded. Cheerleading of board initiatives was seen as the best way to use Twitter and other forms of social media.
I wish this was not the case. Noncompliance should be encouraged. Noncompliance is a way to promote independent thought which is what I always thought we were supposed to be teaching our children to do.
Aviva is making an excellent point here. To opt out, to question, to take a different path is just as important for the social-emotional health of adults as it is for children. It is dangerous however because it will put you at odds with the vast majority of people who are comfortable with or unwilling to question the status quo.
When we discourage noncompliance and independent thought, what does an organization lose?
To call for strict compliance means that decision making is left in the hands of the few in the highest positions of authority. To question their ultimate authority will lead to sanction. This means that alternative positions are not encouraged by teachers, consultants and especially school administrators.
Consequently, adults in school boards are reduced to ‘cheerleading’ tweets. While there are many educators that go beyond cheerleading, it is seldom that they seriously question the status quo – something that is established by a small group of people whose authority is never questioned.
I have seen this demand for compliance with other large organizations. The Catholic Church and its agencies and large education corporations are two I have had some experience working in. It seems the larger you get the less room there is for thinking outside the box. It makes me wonder how innovative thought and action ever takes place!
When it comes to opting out there are not a lot of options. You simply cannot dissent if you work for a large school board or other big organization. This means that your social-emotional well-being is secondary to the well-being of the organization.
Adults always have the right to opt out, but that comes down to leaving the organization. In my case, speaking critically about my school board meant that I would be suspended without pay. So, I complied.
This was not a good situation, but I did have the option to opt out and I did. I left the organization and I started to write. From a social-emotional perspective, this is a good thing.
It might have been better if independent thought and initiative had been encouraged while I was a school administrator. You really lose something when you demand blind compliance. Opting out is good for adults, it would be even better if we could do this more while remaining members of the organization.

Who Gets Hired in Ontario’s Education System?

Most of my friends are teachers. My wife teaches grade 7 and 8. I feel that I am a strong advocate for teachers and I did whatever I could for the teachers I worked with while I was an administrator at four elementary schools over a twelve-year period.

I feel I need to put this right out in front when writing about the topic of hiring and seniority.

I know this is a very thorny issue, especially in Ontario where government regulations have restricted who school boards can hire based on seniority. I am taking part in a debate on Voiced Radio this morning on this topic, so I am using my blog today to prepare for this session.

While I write, I am also checking out a Twitter conversation on seniority and hiring. Here is one comment that gets to the point – a hard thing to do using Twitter!

As an outsider, I can’t help but feel there should be a middle ground. I’m instinctively uncomfortable with the idea that you get hired because it’s your turn. But I also see scope for abuse in a free for all situation

The writer is not an educator, he is a concerned parent and he makes a great point. While the old way of hiring was open to abuse, do we really make things better by putting in place an arbitrary system that blindly imposes limitations on school board when it comes to hiring talented people?

School boards are terrified of teacher unions so there is no way to get around regulations that are negotiated between boards and the government. They know to do so risks legal action. So boards and more specifically principals follow the mandated hiring practices without criticism.

If I was still a principal I wouldn’t be writing this. Criticizing provincially mandated hiring practices, no matter how ill-considered is a really good way to get you sanctioned by your employers.

If you have read my blog, you know that I have a big problem with large public institutions, school boards in particular. Unions are big organizations as well and while they do great things for their members, they are susceptible to the same foibles as school boards.

Unions sometime promote policies that are great for their membership without seeing how these policies do not serve students. In Ontario, they are now using seniority as a blunt instrument to protect their membership. It is blunt and blind. There is no guarantee that you are getting an excellent teacher when you rely on seniority to hire.

Excellence, however, is what we should be demanding from our education system. Our kids deserve it.

The obvious retort that I will be hearing soon will undoubtedly be – well what would you replace it with.

To this, I don’t have a good answer, but that is no reason to make seniority the main factor in deciding who gets to teach our children. Sure there were abuses in the past. People got hired who shouldn’t have. This was because the people who were doing the hiring were abusing the system. It was dishonest and wrong.

But, this is not a good enough reason for developing a policy that is also wrong and protects a particularly privileged group of people.

We need excellent educators and excellent administrators who do not abuse the system. Maybe we get the system we deserve, but I have to argue we could do so much better than this.

 

Growth Mindset Can Work – But Who Needs to Grow?

I was looking for some inspiration today for a post after listening to my wife debrief after another exasperating day working with a particularly rude and difficult child. It is very frustrating to hear about her bad days because she is a gifted teacher and does wonders with intermediate students. My natural inclination in these situations is to look for ways to mute destructive students like this so that their impact on their school surroundings is minimized.

I can no longer affect the outcome of these challenging situations, I am not longer a principal. So, I write.

I am reflecting on the unfairness of this situation. Why does one child have the ability to disrupt, frustrate and block efforts that are being made to help them get an education?

This is probably one of the most frustrating situations in education. Children who for a wide variety of reasons do their best to oppose those who are committed to helping.

Sometimes Twitter can help with a prompt to help reflect on these exasperating situations. Today I found something by Dr Stuart Shanker

As teachers, this is an imperative reframe:  “I wasn’t trained for this.” To:  “Where can I learn more?” I love hearing about real experiences with the “growth mindset” model – will you share yours?

The growth mindset here has to do with educators, not students. Many children are in no way prepared to change their mindset. Who knows what has caused the blockage that leads to disruptive and destructive behaviour? The change in mindset needs to come from the educator.

The challenges in the poster at the top of the post are instructive. What happens when we open our minds to vastly different ways of doing things to support a student who is really struggling?

Can we be flexible enough as a system to adapt to the needs of a struggling child?

I think in many cases if we are able to start this work early enough we can make a difference. We must be ready to throw out everything in order to do this. Rework the system to fit the child. Design a system that uses the talents and intelligence of committed educators to affect change.

I have seen this work. In my last school, we had a wonderful boy in grade 3 who really challenged the entire school. He started off with us one block a day and even that was a struggle for all of us.

We had to rework things to make things work for this child. He was held accountable, but he also became the focus of a group of very compassionate, talented educators. Gradually, over time, his day lengthened. There were still the outbursts, the anger and the foul words, but we persisted. We adapted. I would like to think that we grew. He flourished.

Unfortunately, we lost touch with the boy when he was moved to another city. I like to think that we had all turned a corner and that given more time he would survive and thrive.

I think at the worst moments, we have to think back to our stories of growth. Even in the most unlikely circumstances, good things can happen.

I am not fooled into believing that positive change happens all the time. It may only happen once in awhile and it may not be longterm. What is important is the belief that we can adapt our mindset to bring about success in some cases and this makes all the difference.

In the case of the student my wife is struggling with there is a long road ahead that will not be completed by the conclusion of this school year. Maybe in another place and time something will spark a difference.

In Ottawa, many of our high-needs schools work with an organization called Christie Lake Kids. Their mission is to transform children through recreation. They call it Transformative Recreation or T-REC.

Through participation in the T-Rec model, the children and youth we serve develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, self-efficacy, social skills, adult monitoring, and positive relationships.

T_REC Model Christie Lake Kids

I mention Christie Lake Kids here because I think that the mindset change we need to employ will involve others outside the education system.

Maybe the counter statement to ‘We don’t have enough resources’ should really be ‘But what resources, especially in the community are we not using to their full potential?’

We certainly can do a better job at thinking outside the box. We also need to take a moment and really applaud the teachers like my wife who go in every day to face the unending challenges of dealing with the students who challenge.

May we learn to support them better.

Believe in Something Bigger Than Yourself

I just listened to Joe Biden on CNN this morning. Really powerful interview. He is an intriguing person. A career politician and possibly a presidential candidate in 2020. Of course, he can get into the political fray just like any other politician, but there is something different about him and his recent political memoir, Promise Me Dad.

Grief changes you and he has had more than his fair share in life. In 1972, soon after being elected to the Senate, his wife and 13-month old daughter were killed in a car accident. In 2015, his oldest son, Beau, died of a brain tumour.

His interviews have a cut wretching honesty that we seldom hear. As a public figure, he is known as someone who reaches out to people who have gone through tragedy.  This is something he knows a great deal about.

There are some important lessons here. First, he talks a lot about his son. Beau was someone who was always positive. We hear how important this is all the time, but how many of us really live this? Beau’s relationship with his father was obviously something very special.  The title of the book comes from a conversation he had with his son where he urged his father to run for the presidency all at a time when he was dying from cancer.

Joe Biden with his sons Hunter left, and Beau, in the early 1970s.
Credit via Joe Biden

It seems to me that people who have gone through the strainer of personal grief or tragedy somehow can see life differently. There needs to be more to live for, especially when you are living with the reminder of your own story.

Today, Joe Biden responded to one of the interview questions with this line:

If you don’t believe in something bigger than yourself you will never be happy

Pretty powerful.
This helps to reflect on some of the interchanges I have had with people this past week.
It has been a big week. We have now started fundraising for our Climb for Kids! project and this is always a challenge. Asking people for money really opens you up in ways that can be uncomfortable. One person, for whom in the past we have done lots of volunteer work for asked not to receive any of my emails about the campaign because ‘it doesn’t involve me in any way’. Another person chose this week to call me out for a note I had sent him around the time of my father’s death. It wasn’t a note I am proud of, but I wasn’t really at my best.
I mention these interactions because the negative can have such a profound impact. Most times it would be much better to remain positive or just keep certain comments to one’s self. We all do better if we can get out of our own petty worlds and just believe in something bigger than ourselves.
So as the week went on I looked back on the comments of supporters from last year’s fundraising climb to Mt. Kilimanjaro. These notes are positive and so affirming and they celebrate the attempt to be something bigger. Sometimes when confronted with the negative it is so much better to seek out the positive.
I was really struck by Joe Biden’s interview today. I was taken by the way this man takes solace and strength from his family as I do. I was encouraged by his and his son’s determination to look to the positive.
A son’s affirmation of the father is a powerful message. I have that and those who can’t see beyond themselves will just have to take the back seat.

Climb for Kids: Photo of the Day Ausangate Mountain

Ausangate Mountain by Peruvian Mountains https://www.flickr.com/photos/55373852@N03/

 

Ausangate mountain itself is considered a holy mountain (or mountain spirit) by local Peruvians and is the deity of Cusco. Since pre-Inca times the mountain has been a place of worship and offerings and this tradition continues today.

Ausangate Trek – Complete Guide to the Highest Trek in Peru

I think our trek will be dominated by Ausangate Mountain. We hike around the mountain and at 6372 m, we trek to its base but we do not climb it. It is one of the highest mountains in Peru and is certainly a challenging technical climb.

It is interesting to watch the videos that have been made about the trek around Ausangate. This is high altitude and you can hear this in the videos. Breathing is laboured and trekkers take it slow.

The passes on the trek are beautiful and daunting as you can see in the video below. The highest, the Palomani Pass is at 5200 m.

One big difference from the video above is that we will be staying in tambos or lodges which will be great after challenging days trekking. The video is good however as it gives a more gritty look at what the trekking will probably be like.

There is no question that training will be essential for this trip. Referring back again  the Complete Guide:

The trek is classified as grade C which means the trek is fairly long and many sections are at high altitude. You’ll need a good level of fitness and stamina as you’ll be trekking over many steep sections in which the altitude changes significantly over a short space of time.

Thanks to Merit Travel for many of the beautiful images over the past few days. The trip is coming closer every day and it is great to see more of what we will be experiencing as a group this August.

If you are reading this and want to come on the trip, just write a comment on this post and I will get in touch with you.

Who Monitors Education in Ontario?

Trustees have a fundamental duty to rebuild the essential democratic linkages between citizens and board employees, who are in essence public servants. How to do that, is a fundamental question to all those that aspire to elected office.

Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees

Education is political and to forget this can lead to fundamental problems on how the system is run and managed in Ontario and other jurisdictions across the country.

In an excellent post this week, Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees, Dr Dragos Popa from the University of Ottawa has laid out four challenges for people running as public trustee in the 2018 Municipal elections. It would be a very good idea for all candidates to read this post and come up with clear answers to his challenges.

The public takes education for granted in this province. Unless you have a child in the system and even if you do have a child in the system, very few people have any sense of how public education is managed.

Even at the provincial level, there seems to be very little political will to seriously look at governance issues in public education. It seems that politicians and the public, in general, have surrendered up public scrutiny of the system to school board officials mainly because education is best left up to the experts.

This is a mistake and can lead to serious consequences. Dr Popa correctly points out that schools are nowhere nearly as ‘user-friendly’ as they should be. There is not the sense of public accountability that is more in evidence at the different levels of government. School officials are able to act with impunity because they know their actions are seldom challenged in the forum of public opinion.

To be fair, our education politicians are at a disadvantage. Years ago under Mike Harris, public education trustees salaries were discontinued, replaced with an honorarium as low as $5000.00 a year (The Fewer Schools Boards Act and the Toronto District School Board: Educational Restructuring 1997- 2003). School authority trustees are paid an honorarium at the same rate as was paid on December 1,1996 (Good Governance Guide, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association).

The problem with this is that politicians paid an honorarium cannot be expected to put in the time necessary to act as independent arbiters of school board staff policies and decisions. When it comes to governance issues in Ontario they simply do not play an effective role.

This may sound overly harsh, but it is not a criticism of the people who basically act as volunteers in the management of education in Ontario. I have worked as an unpaid board member before and I know that over time, a board member will become a ‘captive’ of management staff, the people responsible for supplying board members with the information they need to do their jobs.

This is a problem. Trustees are at best part-time employees of their school boards while the people they are charged with monitoring are full-time officials charged with maintaining a system that largely benefits these officials.

There is little public accountability in this system and there seems to be little interest in changing this dynamic. In fact, in a Globe and Mail article by Caroline Alphonso written in 2014 and updated in 2017, attempts by public school trustees in several school boards to raise their honorariums were reversed by the provincial government (Ontario orders school board trustees to cancel pay raises).

This leads me back to the original post by Dr Popa. He is correct in offering up important questions for new trustees to consider before the election, but do we have a system that actually encourages the necessary independence to actually challenge a system that is no longer accountable?

Is this a system that is truly public and accountable? Can we do better than this?

 

31 Days of Posting – This Time all about Discovery Education

This time of year is great for looking back and planning for the future. Today, I have again pledged to post for 31 days, this time I will be writing about Discovery Education. Last year I started my retirement by pledging to write for 30 days. I don’t think I made it, but I did get out lots of posts last year. maybe I will make it this year.

I have decided to focus on Discovery Education. Why?  First, I received a #Deanie from Dean Shareski, a wonderful educator and a great supporter of teachers. I was pretty happy to get some recognition from Dean, I have a great deal of respect for his writing and his opinions.

Recognition is always great. It is a terrific motivator. When I read Dean’s tweet, I realized I really needed to step up my game on my Discovery Education blog – a site I had started to promote the great resources available for students and teachers.

The second thing that has me posting today is some of the work I am doing for Discovery Education. Discovery is currently revamping some of their Science Techbook material to get ready for state-wide adoption of the Techbook next March.

This is something that ministry people in Ontario should consider. Discovery will actually go back into their own material and modify it to fit the curriculum expectations of a state (or province) that adopts their material. They can do this quickly because they have a whole host of writers and editors that work with them on a regular basis.

The Techbook series, includes three separate editions, one each for Science, Math and Social Studies. In each Techbook there is a huge collection of excellent digital material. As in earlier blogs, I need to upload material to my blog as people who are not subscribed to Discovery Education can’t access all of the digital content.

Here is a screenshot of a grade 6-8 Earth Science lesson on fossils.

On the right-hand side, you will notice a text button. Many of the Science Techbook lessons are now available in a variety of reading levels. This material can be directly assigned to students with a simple link. All material is divided up into sections starting with Engage and moving on to Elaborate with STEM plus a Model Lesson this all follows the 5E Inquiry Learning model.

The Model Lesson is quite detailed and would be a great assist to a teacher. As we don’t usually have science or math specialists in elementary school these model lessons would be an invaluable assist as teachers prepare to teach new science and math concepts. I have uploaded the Teacher Preparation section of this lesson to Google Drive so you can get an idea of the material included.

The Model Lesson also has a section that shows the alignment between lesson content and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core.
These are American curriculum standards, however, if this material was adopted by the province of Ontario, the material would be adapted to comply with Ontario Science Curriculum. That is one of the great selling points of Discovery Education material. It can be quickly and accurately adapted to fit new jurisdictions if adopted.

All this may sound like a huge sales pitch, but I am doing this on my own. I believe in the way Discovery education does things because their content is excellent and they really believe in teachers. I support them because they expend so much creative energy bringing educators together.

So, off we go again. Let’s see if I can get closer to 31 posts this time. There is certainly enough to write about!

One Word for 2018: Radio #OnewordOnt

I am always looking for good writing prompts. Without prompts, it is hard to keep inspired enough to come up with new posts and regular writing is something I plan to continue to focus on as I start my second year in retirement from a formal position in education.

Today’s prompt came out of a discussion on Voiced Radio with Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson. These two are an inspiration to me and much of what I write these days comes from discussions initiated by one or both of these active educators. Their show, This Week in Ontario Edublogs is broadcast every week and they have now reached their 40th episode.

While discussing blog posts from the past week, they came up with a post from Julie Balen, #OnewordOnt Introduction.

She writes:

There are many reasons why one would take on this challenge, but for most, it comes down to focus and intentionality. Having one word through which to “see” your practice, to guide your work, and to reflect on your professional learning gives you a chance to be really intentional about your professional growth.

If you continue reading, you can see lots of great bloggers who have added their words to the One Word Challenge. It came out in discussion today that none of the contributors came from men! Julie responded via Twitter during the broadcast making the conversation even more dynamic!

So, I need to take up the challenge. I choose Radio. Maybe not the kind of word that is used as part of a challenge like this, but this is what I came up with and I’m sticking to it.

I choose Radio because it offers wonderful learning and connecting opportunities for the new year, especially through Voiced Radio.

I also choose Radio because I was inspired by my partner and fellow broadcaster and blogger Heather Swail. Heather wrote a great post about radio last week – here is the beginning:

A single voice punctuating the dark. Light, bantering voices filling your head. Storytellers mesmerizing with pauses and intonations. Music lulling you to sleep. Radio has been my companion for so many years, in light and dark

Heather SwailThe Seductive Power of Radio

Radio works for me because it represents the opportunity to connect with others. Last week we did a great broadcast led by Brad Shreffler capping off a week of creative connection making all under the hashtag #voicedgratitude. We talked live on radio for over two hours. It was a great community discussion and very interestingly, very few of the discussion participants knew each other a year ago.

There is still something magic about radio that Twitter can’t replace. Radio allows you to hear the other person. Radio tells stories, radio fuels the imagination.

So Radio is my word. What will the new year bring? What will year two of VoicEd Radio be like? For many of us, this is a new barely tried medium, there is lots of room for growth.

A year ago, even before the first broadcast on VoicEd, Derek Rhodenizer and Stephen Hurley talked about the concept. You can hear the first of many rich conversations here.

Connecting and learning this year involves Radio. Where will we be 12 months from now?