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.

 

 

History in the Making – Creating Digital History Techbooks

So, I have to say I have had lots of fun this fall.

Out of nowhere, I was offered a chance to teach a history teaching methods course at the University of Ottawa. For ten weeks I got to talk about one of the things I really love – the study of history. It has been many many years since I actually taught history and fortunately, the methodology for the teaching of history has changed dramatically since I taught the subject.

The last assignment we worked on was called History in the Making. I had this idea that it would be really cool for students to develop a digital textbook along the lines of what Discovery Education has created for math, science and social studies.

I have done lots of work on Discovery Education’s Science Techbook and I know it is an amazing learning tool. While there is a social studies techbook, it doesn’t have the features of the science version and there is no Canadian version.

The digital techbooks are incredibly versatile learning tools, but I don’t really know any good examples outside of the Discovery Education material. So, why not create our own?

We just did a gallery walk of the completed Canadian History techbooks and I have to say they were amazing. We ran out of time in the ten weeks to present the techbooks individually, so one of the students had the brilliant idea of doing them all in one day in the form of a gallery walk.

the basic idea

I really believe that this is the future of educational publishing (in my humble opinion!). As more and better technology becomes standard in the classroom, we will begin to see the value in having excellent, properly curated digital resources to support students and teachers.

The key word here is curated resources. It is simply not good enough to expect educators to Google topics for the classroom without making sure the chosen sources are reliable and accurate. Teachers don’t have the time to do this themselves, but relying on a standard textbook is (again), in my opinion too limiting. Even in a field like history, perspectives and viewpoints change on a regular basis. What was significant a few years ago may not be relevant today.

Screenshot of one of the digital techbook assignments – Canada and the Cold War

I think that new teachers will be faced with a different reality from teachers in the past. As we move away from reliance on textbooks, teachers will have to become their own publishers. They will need to put together their own collections of documentary evidence, essential questions and credible sources to engage and inform their students. With so much material out there this will become a formidable challenge.

The selection of topics chosen by the class is a response to this challenge. There is an amazing and incredibly relevant techbook on the Oka Crisis. There is another one – Women and the War Effort that ties Historical Thinking Concepts – a relatively new idea – to curriculum focusing on the contribution of women to the war. There is so much more!

All of the techbooks have links to curriculum and many have additional resources for teachers. This is important. If we are going to create excellent curated resources for teachers, we need to make sure they are linked to relevant curriculum. If we don’t, no one will see them as credible. We also have to make sure the resources include ideas for interactive activities and opportunities for students to create their own content.

Cover page – Women and the War digital techbook

So, all to say, our last class was an exciting one. Students presented to other students what they had created and then the techbooks were shared with me. I have spent the last few days reading through them and I really think that this is important work that needs to be shared out and developed.

students presenting during our gallery walk

I have created a Google Doc here that contains a summary of all the history techbooks that have been shared with me. The class has editing privileges so that they can go in and add to my summary. The reality is they probably won’t be doing much of this in the next few weeks as they are all back in the classroom until Christmas.

However – they have done some great creative work that needs to be shared. This work deserves an audience and I hope people, especially history teachers will take a look and give us all some helpful advice on where to go with this project.

Thanks to all the students in PED 3183. It was great learning with all of you. Here is me hoping that many will benefit from all of your creations! I leave you with one last activity from the Oka Crisis techbook.

Take a moment to consider the image (above) and consider the following:

  • What do you notice about this image?
  • What questions do you have about this image?

Jot down your answers individually, then pair up with a classmate to share your ideas.

Activity: Engaging with Primary Sources Padlet

Click anywhere on the image (Padlet link) below to type your thoughts and ideas regarding the iconic image above. Your response will appear pending approval.

Made with Padlet

A Day at the Museum

Last Friday we tried something a little different. I am teaching a class in History teaching methodology at the University of Ottawa and Heather Swail continues to teach her grade 7 students at Vincent Massey Public School. On Friday, we brought them together at the Museum of History in Gatineau.

This was a great day. It allowed us to do something unique, bring a group of second-year education students together with grade 7 students on a full-day field trip.

VM and PED 3183

Any chance we have to bring teacher candidates into contact with students in school is a really good thing. While every Friday I have my students for three hours to teach and discuss how to do history, the real learning continues to be in front of students wherever we can come into contact with them.

Heather and I thought this would be a good experience. Bring the two classes together on a field trip to see how they would interact and see what they would notice. Next week, when I see my students for the last time, we will debrief the experience to see what they experienced.

I think they saw lots. It is really interesting to watch an intermediate teacher take a class to the museum. Most if not all of these students had not been to the museum before. Even though the museum is only 20 minutes away by bus, these students do not get the opportunity to do things like this. Some of the students are so new to the country that the experience of taking an escalator is a novel and challenging task.

One of the most interesting moments occurred when we all gathered around the iconic sculpture by Bill Reid, The Spirit of Haida Gwaii. I had been asked to talk about the significance of the sculpture, but instead, I turned this over to the teacher candidates to stand in front of the grade 7s to talk about the piece.

This was a really interesting moment. Five students came forward, a little hesitant at first, to talk about the meaning and significance of the work. The grade 7s learned something and the teacher candidates got another all-important opportunity to interact with intermediate students on their learning journey.

Grade 7 student working on an interactive exhibit at the museum

I think it is really important for teacher candidates to see and absorb as many different teaching situations in their two years as possible. They don’t always have to be doing something. Simply taking in the atmosphere of a student field trip and watching the teacher responsible is certainly enough.

Because Heather’s students had never been to the museum and probably, more importantly, are bombarded with media messages all day long, Heather actually gave them a fair amount of time simply to look around and draw what they were seeing.

A VM student drawing sections of a First Nations exhibit

Teacher candidates all got a copy of the assignment and were encouraged to ask VM students what they were recording. Almost all the grade 7 students wrote or drew something from the History Hall. Here is a copy of Heather’s assignment:




R7A MUSEUM OF HISTORYCURIOUSITY HUNTNOVEMBER 22, 2019
NAME:___________________





CANADIAN HISTORY HALL
Describe three exhibits you found interesting or were surprised by in the History Hall and why:
Page 2 GRAND HALL AND FIRST PEOPLES OF THE PACIFIC                NORTHWESTSketch or describe one of the totem poles you see.



Explain, with detail, one of the artifacts you learned about in the exhibit.














Page 3 MORNING STAR by Alex JanvierLook up at the work of art painted in the dome, 27 metres above your head..yellow (a vibrant society and European contact) blue (European contact and conflict) red (awareness of the harms)white (reconciliation). Describe what you see:


A great day of learning. Teaching is a very complex art. So much can be learned by listening and sharing and experiencing. It is not all theories and approaches to practice. We learn the most by being aware and present to what is happening at the moment. Thanks everyone for a great day!

The Urban Communities Cohort – What is the Urban School?

the necessary changes in urban and suburban schools will have to appropriate adequate space for a re-examination of leadership that is collaborative,
transformative, socially just, and moves beyond the hierarchical construction of the individual leader role.

Beverly-Jean Daniel, Reimagining the Urban: A Canadian Perspective

What is the urban school? What does it look like in Canada? How is it studied and what should educators learn about before working in an urban school? This year, I am working with the Urban Communities Cohort at the University of Ottawa and I am asking myself these and many other questions.

As part of our learning, teacher candidates need to develop a digital hub or, in other words, some platform where they can reflect on what they are learning. I figure that if I am working this year with these students the least I can do is add this blog to the collection of reflective pieces that will accumulate as the year progresses.

St. Anthony School, where I learned most of what I know about urban schools

I have said this before but it certainly bears repeating. Reflection is an essential component of learning. We all need somewhere to record our thoughts and insights especially when we are on a steep learning curve. The students here at the University of Ottawa are on about as steep a curve as possible, so it is really encouraging to see them put out some of their ideas and wonderings on a blog or wiki or some other platform.

I think it would be really cool if some of these students decided they wanted to start a podcast about what they are experiencing as new teachers. VoicEd Radio would be a great platform for recording these experiences it has been done before, it makes for great radio!

Sarah Lalonde started her podcast while she was a student at the University of Ottawa

One of the foundational readings students have been asked to take a look at is an article by Beverly-Jean Daniel, Reimagining the Urban: A Canadian Perspective. There is a good deal to digest in this article and I am just starting this process.  What an urban school is? Is there really one definition of an urban school?

I am not an academic, but I had the privilege of working in one urban school and have had many experiences of working with poverty in schools. One idea that is really interesting has to do with the whole idea of an urban school. Is there really a precise divide between urban and suburban schools here in Ontario?

There are characteristics of have and have-not schools, but I don’t think they separate out along urban and suburban schools. It might be easier to look at what you might find in have-not schools:

  • a clear lack of resources outside what is granted by the school district or province
  • a higher percentage of children without resources at home to support learning
  • a higher percentage of parents who work several jobs to make ends meet, who have less energy and time for school
  • a higher percentage of health concerns, for example, dental health issues with many students
  • a more transient school population

There is, in my opinion, a real danger when I start to write down characteristics like this. Someone could easily read this and point out that this is stereotyping. One could also point out that my list is incomplete, that it focuses on the elementary panel (it does) and that it is missing so many things. Most of these criticisms would be correct, but I don’t think I am painted with a brush that is too broad. Yes, my list has more to do with elementary, but I am sure you could come up with a secondary list without too much trouble.

What would be much more useful and this is something I brought up in class this morning when I talked about the Daniel article is a careful look at the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The ONS is an incredible resource that really tells the story of the places we live in here in Ottawa. From their opening page, the ONS states that it is presenting this data to help people understand our current living spaces and plan for better futures:

Evidence is mounting that the neighbourhoods and communities in which we live affect not only our health but also the gap in health between rich and poor. The purpose of the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS) is twofold: to better understand the physical and social pathways by which neighbourhoods in Ottawa affect our health and well-being, and to provide citizens in Ottawa with facts that support evidence-based decision-making.

Ottawa Neighbourhood Study

As I rambled this morning, I did say something that might be helpful – I really think that all educators need to carefully read the ONS before they start teaching in a community that is new to them. We all need to realize that we do not teach in a bubble. We teach in a living community and if we teach in a hard to serve or low-income community, we need to know what services are there to help our families, then we need to see how we can best fit in and make a substantial difference for the students we work with.

There is a great deal here to examine and to think about. When we work in a low-income school, do we need to develop a different mindset? Do we need to think even more out of the box than other teachers need to do? Do we need to question our models of leadership and collaboration with the wider community? Does our role as the teacher change?

I started this reflection piece with one of the conclusions from the Daniel article. Yes, I think we do need to re-examine how we do leadership and we also need to re-examine how we teach in low-income neighbourhoods. No, there is not a definitive split between urban and suburban schools here in Ottawa. Yes, there is true poverty and inequality in this city.

So, how do we best prepare our new teachers to enter this world and make a true difference? Can we as educators level this playing field?

Teaching History – We Need to Become FOLES – Thanks to HipHughes!

Tomorrow, I start teaching history again.

Certainly my first love in a long career in education, my time teaching history usually gets obscured by the things I did later in my career. That in some ways, is the great thing about a career as a teacher, there can be so much variety, change and certainly challenge.

It seems impossible to realize that when I started teaching history our best resources were Jackdaws and history scrapbooks – now relics of the distant teaching past.

a cover from the old Jackdaws series – anyone remember these?

Prentice-Hall 1978 – one of the Canadiana Scrapbooks I used in my grade 10 history class – the only primary resources available at the time!

After I taught history both at the intermediate and senior level I moved on to all sorts of other positions like alternative education, guidance, resource then administration. I did get to move back into the classroom for seven months when I went back to teach grade 6 language arts.

That was pretty amazing. Everything had changed while I had been off doing other things in schools. Assessment had changed dramatically, the resources available to a teacher had grown astronomically – when I taught history the internet didn’t even exist!

There is nothing better than the classroom. There is a real thrill in learning and growing with your students. Tomorrow I return full circle to the classroom to start work with year two Faculty of Education students at the University of Ottawa.

I am teaching ten weeks of intermediate history to 30 year-two students. I am ready and I have done lots of preparation to produce my first three-hour session. To me, there is one thing that is really important now. I want as much as possible to give them something that will be truly useful, that will give them a few tools they can use to engage their students and make the learning count.

This can be daunting in history. The old story goes that history is boring and irrelevant and of little use to anyone. Good history teachers really do need to sell their subjects and they need to make it engaging, they have to make history count. For most of their students, after the grade 10 Canadian History class, they will never take another course about their country’s story.

Not too much pressure right?

One of the great Historical Thinking Project posters from https://historicalthinking.ca/ – an amazing treasure trove of resources for Canadian History teachers

Immersing oneself now in the world of teaching Canadian History is a pretty wonderful process. I am certainly not an expert in the teaching of history and I will be very clear to my students that this is the case. What I can do pretty quickly is absorb lots of resources and start figuring out what tools are going to be useful to someone starting out.

I can also use Twitter pretty well. With the help of Rachel Collishaw, I have found lots of great Canadian history teachers!

I am not going to try to do this here, this will be a 30-hour journey lasting three months. I haven’t met my co-learners yet and they will have a significant role to play in this process of discovery.

One big thing though, good history teaching, like any other subject now is all about helping people to think and learn for themselves. It certainly isn’t the recitation of facts –  it is more an exercise in discerning what is significant, what evidence is important, what events have consequence and where the ethical dimension lies.

This is mapped out clearly as the Historical Thinking Concepts and these concepts will frame all our discoveries and discussions over the next few months.

This framework is relatively new as is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. How do we make reconciliation part of our history? I know this will be a long journey and the great challenge for these students will be to find meaningful ways to make it central to all the teaching they do. Like the internet, this is something that didn’t exist when I started. How will this impact what we do over the next few months?

Finally, something I do know about – what will work for kids. Even though this is a class on the teaching of history, it really needs to become a class on teaching kids. We never really teach subjects in schools, although it probably feels like that when you are in the second year of a teacher education program.

Probably the best resources I have right now, the ones I am most comfortable with are those that talk about teaching kids. I plan to show two videos from HipHughes on the first day (who knows how much you get through on the first day??) – these ones make lots of sense!

This is the second one I plan to show. I think these days, we are not so much teachers (never a professor!) as we are FOLEs – Facilitators of Learning Experiences. This is what we all need to be. Whether we are holding a group meeting with our grade 7 homeroom students to talk about rumours, or we are in a grade 12 class looking at systemic racism in Canadian History – we are all FOLEs! Tomorrow, I want to be the best FOLE possible.

Thanks HipHughes.

 

Teaching about Canadian History – Where do you start?

Sometimes when you start on a totally new project it is a challenge to know where to start.

Last week, I wrote that I was about to start on a series of new challenges, the really new stuff has to do with teaching at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. I wrote last week that my blogging would probably pick up – it usually does when there is new learning going on.

For me, I need to write so I can reflect on what I am learning. I am going to try to be disciplined about this. I am in the perfect situation where I can publically reflect on a very open process – the training of new teachers for a very demanding profession.

I have done lots of training in the past and I have written about it here. I think working on professional development with the teachers in the schools where I was a principal was one of the most rewarding parts of my job. We really tried to develop a model where the teacher as professional was in charge of their own learning.

This was at times a challenge as most school boards hold to the idea that the learning objectives come from the top and while there is some room for individual variation, the scope for individualization is limited.

How will the learning work in this new situation?

For the first time, I am working in a truly academic atmosphere. There are two courses in the history program– I am going to be teaching the intermediate section. How I do this has been left up to me. While this is a bit frightening, it also represents a wonderful challenge. What will I teach these new professionals in the time I have with them? How will I structure the learning? How can I make sure these teacher-candidates have a legitimate voice in the learning process?

How can I be of use to them as they prepare for such a challenging journey?

First, I think I need to catch up a bit. When I first taught history, the internet didn’t exist. All our teaching tools were in the form of books and the curriculum guides were pretty thin if they existed at all. You really had to rely on your own ingenuity and hope that you had a teaching partner who was willing to share their materials.

More recently I went back into the classroom to teach grade 6 language arts, but my time in the classroom was short – I was pulled out by the March Break to become an elementary principal. The learning was intense during this period and it was certainly the best PD I have ever had.

Now I really don’t think this means I can’t teach an intermediate history course. My academic credentials are fine and I will bring 31 years of experience in the education system to my class. I just need to figure out what I can contribute in a meaningful way to help these new teachers with the awesome responsibility that awaits. I know a few things about that responsibility. This is my grounding, this is where I can make a contribution.

The teaching of history in Canada has gone through some dramatic changes in the past few years. A great deal has been written about what is the essence of teaching our story and there are some major streams of thought that will become the basis for what we will be doing in a few weeks.

First, the teaching of history now must focus on historical thinking and the major components of what it means to think like a historian. In Canada, the book that lays all this out is The Big Six. Such an incredible piece of work – it lays out the big six teaching concepts then follows up with a great collection of activities teachers can use in their classes to help students come to grips with each of these concepts.

I don’t think this is the post where I break down these concepts – they are really important and they define how we think about history. They turn history away from the dry recitation of facts into something different, something special, something that can actually change the way you think about things.

But this is only one of the currents that run through this course. The other big one is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission along with the findings and calls to action of the Commission.

Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the
ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts
on Aboriginal peoples’ education, cultures and languages, health,
child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportu-
nities and prosperity.
TRC – What We Have Learned

In Ontario, the history curriculum has been rewritten to draw in the story of the residential schools and the larger story of the indigenous peoples of Canada. You really can’t teach Canadian history without making the TRC a major part of what you teach. It is not just a unit in a larger course, it is a narrative that holds a central place in our story. It was not this way before the TRC and this means in our recent past we were not telling the whole story. Now we are obliged to do this and this must be a central theme in anything I do with the teacher candidates.

There is one final stream and it doesn’t really have all that much to do with history teaching. It has a great deal to do with good teaching in any subject. First, before anything, the teacher needs to know who they are teaching. It has never been good enough to be the expert in the classroom. Now more than ever before we need to see and attempt to understand the student.

This video from HipHughes really sums this all up. It is one of two of his videos that I am planning on showing on the first day.

This is certainly only scratching the surface, but my writing here is informing the process I am going through to come up with a meaningful syllabus. I am hoping these reflections will be useful to me and maybe even my students. You have to start with first principles when you take on a big new project and I am I am making a start here.

New Beginnings, New Adventures

When we are young, life presents so many milestones

Sometimes a few weeks can utterly change the direction your life is taking. When this is happening, I think it is important to stop, reflect and write.

I have had a pretty significant writer’s block this summer. Although I was able to get two posts off about our incredible adventure during the Tour de Mont Blanc, I was missing some inspiration.

As you get older sometimes you have to create your own milestones. For us, that was the Tour du Mont Blanc this past summer

That has changed pretty significantly in the past week. I am learning and experiencing again and I am compelled to keep some record of what is happening in our lives.

First and most importantly our first-born Liam was just married. For four wonderfully hectic days, we celebrated the life and love of Liam and Claire with all their friends and family. Nothing can prepare you for such an occasion and I already know that words are failing me when I write about how such a life celebration can really swoop you up and carry you to a new enchanted place.

Then life presents new, wonderful moments – Liam and friends with Mairi before the wedding

As you get older, it is understandable to think that life’s milestones and adventures can become less frequent. You have had your first job, your first child, your first almost everything. But, there are new beginnings. Something as simple and at the same time grand as the marriage of a child can shake you to your foundations in a way that is beautiful.

What is the collection of life’s adventures and challenges that leads to the meeting of two young people who fall in love and make the commitment to share their lives together? Being an intimate witness to this new adventure is enough to take your breath away.

Now, it would have been easy to return to a settled quiet life – everyone returns to work or study and I get to go back to the quiet, retired life alongside a new physical training regime for our next climb. But that is not happening.

On one incredible day last week, I was offered two teaching opportunities at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. The same day, I was invited to take part in a 3-day training on how to design, write and assess three-dimensional units for science education in the United States.

None of this was expected, I was planning my escape from the cold and winds of another Eastern Ontario fall by trekking in Italy for six weeks. No more!

A rapid transformation of circumstances can really play with the mind! I now have to give up quiet retirement and look to a schedule this fall that looks almost full-time. I never really thought I would be in a situation like this again and while I do mourn the loss of a great trekking opportunity in Italy, the hills of Tuscany are not going anywhere and right now I am beginning to feel my batteries recharge for a really new and unexpected adventure.

I love teaching and I really love working with new teachers. This is what I will be doing.  Yes, I need to learn how to write a syllabus and plan on ways to teach Intermediate History to prospective teachers, but I am very happy to leave the quiet and set out again. Who knew?

This is what life is all about. When I am graced with a new opportunity I need to embrace it. Life is an on-going adventure. Either I am the active witness in the case of Liam’s beautiful wedding, or I am being thrown back into a dynamic teaching and learning situation.

Life can still be full of adventure

This blog is about to get much busier. When life takes a radical change learning happens that really should be accompanied by reflection. Things now are so new I really don’t know enough to reflect, but I think that will change pretty quickly.

I really enjoy writing when new things come up. I actually learn as I write. If you read this I hope there is something in here that helps you. Maybe my new students will find something useful here!

September dawns with wonderful memories and new adventures around every corner. Life is really good!

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?

 

Taking First Hand Stories to Edcamp Ottawa

So this Saturday we are going to try something a little different. Inspired by Stephen Hurley, the creative force behind Voiced Radio and Doug Peterson of This Week in Ontario Edubloggers fame, we are going to take our Voiced Radio show First Hand Stories to the Ottawa Edcamp.

My partner and the creative soul of our show Heather Swail came up with this idea and fortunately, the organizers of this year’s Edcamp, Amy Bowker and Laura Wheeler liked the idea and are allowing us space to try this out.

Quick aside – it looks a little like I am doing a bit of name dropping here and I guess I am, but these are all great people and I am linking you to their Twitter feeds – if you are not following these folks you really should be!

So, how will this work? We are not sure. But it is a really good idea to give this a try. Radio broadcasting and podcasting are so easy to do now. We are totally caught up with the potential this medium is creating to build community and share ideas.

What I am finding now is that many of my conversations on Twitter involve members of the Voiced Radio community. Now I have talked to many of these educators or we have listened to their broadcasts. We have a closer connection through Stephen Hurley’s great education radio experiment.

One of the great things about this upcoming Edcamp is that many of the participants are ‘new campers’ or teacher candidates at the University of Ottawa.

Hopefully, we will get a chance to interview a few of these TCs. What a great way for us to get a sense of what teacher candidates are thinking this time of year.

Do we have a topic. Do we have questions? Not really. This being an Edcamp we think it is probably best just to let things evolve, unscripted and unstaged. We do really hope that this little experiment will work. It would be great in the future to do some live remotes for Voiced. This one will not be live – still working on the technology.

So, let’s see what happens. Let’s get more interviews done and more listeners for a great radio project.

See you this Saturday!!

To see the full schedule for Edcamp Ottawa please see this link.

Opening the Doors of Teacher Education – Learning in the Global South

I really enjoy working with the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. They are open to all sorts of new ideas and are always looking for opportunities to deepen the learning experience of their students.

This year, we are going to offer a unique volunteer opportunity for teacher candidates who will be completing their second year at the Faculty of Education.

All students have to complete a three-week volunteer placement before they finish their program. It is up to them to decide what they will do for their placement and students are offered a variety of opportunities to consider at the beginning of their second year.

This year we are offering students a placement in El Salvador where they will be able to learn something about what it is like to work as an educator  in the Global South. We have done these kinds of trips in the past for teachers, but what a wonderful opportunity to take part in a trip like this as part of the formative teacher education experience.

We can learn a great deal by talking to teachers in other countries. While the circumstances of teachers in El Salvador can be drastically different from what teachers experience in Canada, there are remarkable similarities as well. Teachers in both countries have to surmount the challenges of working in low-income areas and we all aspire to offer a holistic education for our students to prepare them for the world they will live in.

Having an opportunity to talk with teachers and students from the Global South can add a rich element to the teacher training we provide our teacher candidates with. Learning what it is like to live and struggle in a poor Southern country can add valuable life experience for teacher candidates preparing for a very challenging career.

We will be working with CIS –  Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (Center for Exchange and Solidarity) in El Salvador.

CIS aims to strengthen people-to-people solidarity and contribute to the construction of a new El Salvador. They have a great deal of experience working with delegations from the United States and Canada. They have put together a program that will be presented to students in September. Here are some of the highlights:

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.
  •    Promote a culture of solidarity, of mutual support and global connections for social and economic justice.

Possible activities:

  •    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.

Church in Cinquera, El Salvador

  •    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
  •    Exchange with CIS scholarship students studying education
  •    Visit historical sites in San Salvador:  The home of  Oscar Romero’s home and the chapel where he gave his life

view of the chapel where Oscar Romero was killed

 

  •    Visit the Jesuit University and site where 6 Priests and 2 women workers were massacred in 1989.
  •    Stay in a rural community:   visit homes, visit a school, do some exchanges with the 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.

Salvadorian Enterprises for Women collective in Suchitoto (an hour from San Salvador) where they raise, dye and make clothes from indigo.

  •    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.

For the sake of brevity, I have only included some of the objectives and activities that could be included as part of the three-week program.

This is a very rich and varied schedule and I know that teacher candidates taking part in this trip will learn lots.

Now it is really up to the students to decide if they will make this their volunteer option for 2018. I hope some of them do, it promises to be a rich learning experience.

with students from the school in San Jose las Flores