Well it has been quite some time since I last posted, I have been a little busy. Between May 19, 2020 (my last post) and now a lot has changed. In a nutshell, I took a leave without pay from my job and opened up a Not-for-Profit, virtual, alternative high school called R.I.S.E. (Reach Inspire Soar Empower) Academy and it has been quite the ride. Between September 2020 and today we moved from a very small team of me a student teacher a few part time staff and some volunteers to a team of Board of Directors, a Principal / Facilitator (me), two full time facilitators, one math / science specialist, two Social Work students, Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Manager, three student teachers, 5 + volunteers and soon to be 10 + student interns. Last year were were able to have youth accumulate 95 credits between September and July and this year we are projected to have youth accumulate 200 credits by the end of July.
The goal of R.I.S.E. is to provide students a learning experience that compliments their public school or homeschooling experience. We want to find ways to take the “system” out of learning and recognize, celebrate and utilize their individual passions, strengths and motivators. Below is a breakdown on how the program works.
Last year we partnered with Multifaith Housing Initiative (MHI) and received our very first grant from the Ottawa Community Foundation. MHI exists to build affordable housing that helps fix Ottawa’s housing crisis and gets at-risk people into secure, safe homes. This first grant allowed us us to provide free programming to 18 youth in their neighbourhoods. Next we partnered with Rideau Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre where we received a grant from Ontario Teacher Insurance Plan, here we created a summer pilot Entrepreneurship program where we had 7 youth start businesses and work on a credit. Our partnership with MHI and RRCRC continued into this year where we once again received funding from Ottawa Community Foundation and more recently a grant from the Rideau Hall Foundation. In total we will be able to provide free programming to 100 youth between September 2021 and June 2023.
We are always working on new partnerships, stay tuned for our latest connections!!
Youth Services Bureau Interns
In the fall we connected with Youth Service Bureau where we were able to support at-risk youth by hiring young people to give them meaningful employment and learning experiences. We hired our first group of 4 interns in January and it has been amazing. These youth not only have meaningful employment at R.I.S.E., but those who are high school aged are also working on credits that go towards their O.S.S.D. So far we have a Video Editors, Social Media and Community Outreach workers and Blog writer.
Our blog writer intern has been working hard over the last few months to learn the ins and outs of blog writing and what R.I.S.E. is all about. Please stay tuned for some updates from her, she will be chronicling what has been going on.
With a new school year comes another year of professional learning. I am super lucky to be a part of a group of teachers at my school who are embarking on a second year of unlearning together. Last year my Principal, myself and four other teachers met almost every three weeks to talk about school and the need for change. We had some really great discussion, some disagreements and some aha moments. It was amazing to have a safe place to share ideas and not feel judged. Amazing things happened in classrooms as a result of our time together. If you are interested in seeing / reading about some of the other teachers experiences / unlearning journeys you can check out The Stoppels Show blog or Jess Packer-Quinnel on Twitter and Liz Coolen on Instagram.
This year I am privileged to continue working with the group above, but am also lucky to get to work with a new group of teachers who are interested in learning more about community based learning. There has been a huge push in our board to make learning more experiential so this year our professional learning teams are called the XLPLT (experiential professional learning team).
We had our first meeting a week ago to talk about what the XLPLT was all about. My Principal went over what we did last year and what we hope to do this year. He asked me and the others from last year’s team to talk a little bit about what we are doing in my classes. We also spoke about the journey that the teachers in our PLT took to get to where they are today. It really made me reflect on my past PD experiences and what is necessary to let go of in order to completely change up your practice.
I have done a lot of PD over the past 17 years. I worked on a PLT that focused on critical thinking, I worked on a PLT that looked at engagement of at risk students, I participated in lesson studies and I attended numerous workshops on how to make my lessons better. All of these have been very important in my growth as a teacher. I learned a lot by working with my colleagues and found great ways to change up lessons and to embed critical thinking and engagement into my practice. However, what they didn’t really look at was the structure of the traditional education system and how it is outdated, systemically racist, focused on preparing students for a work world that doesn’t exist anymore and not preparing our students for their future.
In this years XLPLT we are obviously interested in finding ways to have our students become critical thinkers and engaged, but more importantly we are more excited about how to change up our classrooms so that they reflect the modern world. So, what are the things that a teacher needs to do in order to make this happen? Below is what I have come up with.
Understand why this change needs to happen – more specifically understanding your WHY for doing it.
Let go of control.
See students as partners. Give them a say in what and how they learn.
Realize that learning can happen differently than what we know school to be – and value that learning just as much.
Let go of hierarchy and grades – see the brilliance in everyone.
Embrace failures, reflect and learn from them.
Connect learning to community.
Focus on teaching / using 21st century technology.
Have students become creators rather than consumers.
This is not an easy task, but by looking at the work that they are doing at Beaver County Day School in Massachusetts, it is possible. Check it out here Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation However, closer to home it is evident that it is possible too. After about 8 months of working together on our Unlearning PLT I interviewed the team on what unlearning meant to them. Here are their answers.
So, what will it take for you to make the change, what is your WHY?
We are now a month into school and I am feeling like I need to write. It has been a busy three months since I last posted. Two months of summer and a month of start up. This summer I took a stab at trying to be an entrepreneur. I offered an online course to teachers who were interested in learning to unlearn. We had a very small cohort, but overall I think it went well. I really enjoyed working with the teachers and I really hope they got something out of it. I hope to continue with these courses – there will be a few tweaks to this summer’s course but I am hoping to relaunch later in the fall. Stay tuned if you are interested.
Now that we are back at school we are full on into a passion project based classroom. I am currently teaching grade 11 Intro to Anthro, Psych and Soc, grade 12 Human Growth and Development and grade 12 World Issues. We spent the first two – three weeks learning about the course material, getting ourselves organized with all the tools / housekeeping items we will need (twitter, research skills, google classroom, excursion forms etc) and we listened to guests talk about their passions, about different not for profit organizations and about what it means to be a social entrepreneur. Now the students are in the process of creating their passion projects for the semester, it is chaos and I love it.
Throughout every semester I keep a running document of things to change for the next year. Before this years start up I went back to those documents, looked at what went well last year and what needed to change and made some tweaks to this years structure. After teaching the dual credit course I realized that having specific days for specific tasks brought back some of the structure into the classroom that I seemed to be missing. Therefore this year this is what our day to day looks like.
Mondays – Get Organized
Twitter Time – prompt to help them stay on top of tweeting
Fill out weekly planners
Create a weekly update via a vlog, blog or podcast
Class announcements and sharing
Tuesdays – Content Day
These days are reserved for lessons and guest related to the curriculum
Research Days – work on research for their issue that relates to the curriculum
Tweet about what you learned
Wednesdays – Community Outreach
Twitter Time – prompt to help them stay on top of tweeting
For my grade 11s we are working with a group of students in the General Learning Program who are going to visit us every other Wednesday for the semester.
For my grade 12s students can go out into the community and do a placement that is related to our course.
Grade 12s class podcast – run by students.
Thursdays & Fridays – Passion Project Days
Twitter Time – prompt to help them stay on top of tweeting
These two days are to be scheduled by the students. Many of them are out working in the community, having meetings and phone calls.
Since I have about 95% of the same students in my grade 12 classes that I had last year, it has been an adjustment for them. They were used to a little more freedom, but are learning to follow the day to day. My grade 11s don’t know any different and seem to have settled just fine into it. Overall I am super excited for the semester – there are some really cool projects that the students are working on already. Follow us @MrsRChambers and #jmsshpa11 & #jmsshpa12 if you want to see what they are all up to.
Over the past 5 years, as an educator, I have been on an unlearning journey. I have gradually transitioned from a traditional classroom to a more modernized classroom that reflects our ever changing world. In the last year I have had the opportunity to share this experience at a few conferences via workshops, through my blog and twitter. I have been fortunate to be contacted by people who are interested in what I am doing. The most consistent comment / question that I get is, I love what you are doing, but where do I even start?
Everyday I challenge my students to seek out problems and find solutions. Therefore, I am going to walk the walk and will be taking the leap into the edupreneur world.
I am excited and nervous to announce that I will to be offering an online course / workshop for teachers who are interested in modernizing their classroom but just don’t know where to start. The course will run for 8 weeks and will include the following:
Why we need to unlearn.
The importance of a Professional Learning Network in our unlearning journey.
The gradual steps taken to let go of a traditional model to a more modernized approach to the classroom. (5 Steps to leaving the traditional model)
Each of the Step modules will include:
A video overview of what change was made to my traditional classroom.
Student Voice / examples
Links to the people / educators / resources that influenced the change.
Changes in assessment from traditional to reflective / gradeless.
Discussions: networking / brainstorming with other participants and myself.
30 min one on one consultation with me / module.
You can check out a promo video here if you would like a little more information.
The course will be $299 CND / $249 USD.
The first session will run from June 23, 2019 – Aug 17, 2019.
The countdown is on and we are T-7 school days left until the much needed Christmas Holidays. We are working really hard to stay motivated – students and teachers alike. We have had a lot of time to be working on our projects in all of my classes which gives me the opportunity to chat with all the different groups and see where they are at and what they need from me. This can be exhausting but very uplifting at the same time. Today in my grade 11 class I did what I normally do and made my way around the classroom checking in on all the projects to see where they are at and if they needed any help. After a bit I decided to just sit back and observe the class. To most onlookers they would have seen a bunch of teens lounging and laughing either on their phones or engaging in light hearted conversation. But what I heard and saw was this: two girls researching on their phones looking for schools around Canada to connect with to start a pen pal program, two other students yelling across the room trying to get people to sign up for a potluck that they are organizing for the class and the GLPs (students with disabilities) that we work with once a week, another two talking about how they can get their gender stereotype podcast out and redefining roles within their group, students discussing their former projects, some students just having a discussion about what…I am not quite sure, another one watching YouTube clips, one studying for a bio test, another one working on putting together tweets to make people aware of OI and finally another group brainstorming / chatting / procrastinating about their next project. What I also didn’t see but trusted was happening was three other groups that were out of the classroom, one group was vlogging about their progress, another one was in another portable recording a song and the last group was working in the school painting a poster for their big event that is happening this Friday.
Below is what our classroom looks like, it is not just within the four walls of portable 10, it is everywhere and anywhere!
Our PBL classroom is not traditional so it should not look traditional.
Part of my internal struggle in our PBL classroom is that I have been conditioned along with everyone else in society to believe that school looks like: students following instructions, everyone working on the same projects with the same deadlines and of course being productive for the entire 60 – 75 minutes a day that they are in each of their classes. I have to continually remind myself that if I micro manage them and am continuously telling them what to do they will never learn the skills of self regulation and time management. I continue to listen to podcasts, watch videos, read articles and have conversations with people out in the real world about how this generation lacks in every “soft” skill that exists. I am happy to be the wiser person in the room to remind them every now and then to get going, but ultimately they need to learn to be motivated, to stay on task and to get stuff done. They need to have the opportunity to fail and learn from those failures so that they can learn coping mechanisms for when things don’t go their way. They need to be able to set goals, create steps to achieve those goals and have control over how they implement them on their own. They need time to chat and brainstorm for their next projects so that they can learn patience and truly figure out what they want to work on.
I would have to say that I struggle everyday with the idea that I am allowing my students too much freedom and that they aren’t doing school “properly”. However, when you as the “teacher” can unlearn what we have all been conditioned to believe school is, it is liberating for both you and your students.
So we are two months in and we have been hard at work trying to change the world…project by project. We have had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures. I have had days where I am so excited to share what is happening in our classroom with anyone who will listen and then there are days that I drive home ready to burst into tears because I feel so out of control. At the end of every project my students are asked to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what they learned from the process. When I feel like crying I do what I ask my students to do and reflect. I take what I have learned from what we have been doing and try to find ways to make it better. I love what my students are doing, I believe in what we are doing, but I often struggle to find a way to feel in control. Managing a project based classroom is probably my biggest challenge right now. I am by no means an expert at all, in this post I will outline how I am trying to keep it all together.
Taking my cue from Don Wettrick’s blueprint in Pure Genius we embarked on our project based learning by looking for issues around the school that the students could find solutions for. The kids were super excited and had some really great ideas. As mentioned above we had some amazing things happen, some ok things happen and some failures.
Project Development Cycle
When working on our projects my students go through five steps from start to finish.
Brainstorm projects and write up a proposal.
Work on project until completion date.
Reflect on the project.
Negotiate mark with teacher.
They are required to complete a proposal that includes:
The issue that they will be exploring / coming up with a solution.
Step by Step instructions that includes a completion date and mini goals to get there.
At least 3 curriculum expectations that they will be covering as they complete the project.
How many points their project is worth.
The proposal has been a lifesaver and pain in the ass all at the same time. Once the proposals are complete they are what keep the students on track and give them guidance. It makes them accountable and really helps them to stay motivated (for the most part). However, getting the proposals completed is tough. Since the students have never mapped out their own learning before they require a lot of guidance and help. It is really hard for me to give each person / group the attention that they need. There is one of me and 30 of them!! So I have recruited some former students, friends of mine who work from home, our former VP who is now retired and a set of Grandparents to come in and help me with this process. This has been a huge help, especially in the brainstorming stage.
Another challenge I have found with the proposals is that since the students all started their projects at the same time most students were finishing up their first projects all at once. This meant that I was having to negotiate / conference with students when they finished but then they required help to get started on their next project proposal. This was very overwhelming for me and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it!! But we all powered through and got them all going on a second project. I am finding now that we are at the mid way mark, most students have such different deadlines it makes it so much easier. I have the ability to negotiate with only a few groups a week as well as helping those who need it on their next proposal or those who need help on the projects that they are working on.
Once the proposals were completed and approved, the students got going on their projects. It was a lot of running from group to group to group but other than being tired at the end the day it was manageable. I was able to move around and support students with their projects. However, where it became unmanageable was trying to figure out who was finishing up, who needed to work on their reflection, who needed to negotiate and who was starting the process all over again. I had my students sharing their proposals with me in google classroom and was attempting to keep track of all of them there. I found this very difficult so I decided to use the board below to keep myself and the students updated on who was at each stage. For a couple of weeks I fixed this board up every morning and then would go over it at the beginning of each class. I found it very helpful for me for a bit and just recently found it hard to stay on top of. I have now abandoned this method and am trying out a new tracking method.
I have moved from electronically looking at the proposals to having the students fill out a project list (they add their projects to it as they go), I ask that they hand write or print out a copy of their proposal and I have created a file folder for each student to keep track of all of their projects. Now when they get a proposal approved a copy of it goes into that folder and I put what the project is, how much the project is worth, and when it will be completed into a spreadsheet. I have new whiteboards with every student on it with their project and dates and I will update my whiteboards probably once every two weeks or so.
My next step is to create a google form that I think I will fill out once the proposal is approved. I am hoping that this will provide me with a spreadsheet where I can sort the students and keep track of each of their projects etc, we will see how that goes.
We are very much in a trial by error / learn by failure situation in my classroom. If you have a PBL classroom and have any suggestions I am SO open to any help you might give.
The countdown is on here in Ottawa and we will head back to school in T-minus 1 week. I am super excited to get back into the classroom as I am feeling relaxed and recharged after some time away from school and have enjoyed some amazing family time and travel throughout the summer. I have also been reflecting on the past school year, reading books such as A More Beautiful Question, Social Leadia, Code Breaker,The Wonderwall and Pure Genius, listening to podcasts, chatting with like minded people, connecting with community people and organizations that we will be working with in the fall and have been wrapping my head around what next years classes will look like.
Although I am excited and feel rejuvenated I am still anticipating a few roadblocks / obstacles in my unlearning journey. Some obstacles I have already dealt with, while I am sure there will be new ones that pop up as we go. Below are three of the most frequently asked questions I get about transitioning into a passion based / inquiry classroom. If you are not sure about the unlearning that is happening in our classroom you can check out some of my earlier posts that outline our journey.
YES!! I would argue that most administrators have jumped on this bandwagon and are looking for teachers to take risks and try out new things. They too are unlearning and figuring out how to support these types of classrooms. I have found that communication is key in getting support of your administrators. Explain to them the what, why and how of your vision and I can guarantee that they will be on board.
Roadblock: Board policies – Some of the biggest issues that I have faced when trying to change things up are understanding all the board policies, rules and regulations and staying on top of paperwork. The unlearning process can be tough and these rules can be a huge deterrent for teachers, as most are rule followers. Experiential learning can be tough when there are all kinds of hoops to jump through. Also as a teacher it is often tough to stay on top of all of the paperwork during the school year.
Suggestion: Obviously there are rules that cannot be broken, but having an open dialogue about some of the archaic rules and regulations can help in finding ways to work within them. When it comes to paperwork, work with whoever is in charge of field trips and get them to help you with it at the beginning of the school year. I am super lucky to have an administrator who helps me with it all 🙂 I am hoping to get as much paperwork completed before school starts so that it can be sent home right away, get it collected and let the hands on learning begin.
How do you get Students to buy in?
At the beginning of the course I spend an entire week with my new students in grade 10 (I have taught most of my grade 11s and 12s before so I will have an altered version of this) having them go through an “unlearning” process. Instead of going through a course syllabus we discuss things like skills and characteristics employers are looking for in their new employees, the changing world that they live in that requires a more entrepreneurship and philanthropic mentality, we discuss creativity and innovation and look at how school has conditioned them not to think or be creative and finally we discuss the fact that society has failed them in convincing them that failure is a bad thing. We watch TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson (Creativity & Innovation), Angela Duckworth (GRIT) , Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset) and I tell them that FAILURE is expected in my classes. We talk about assessment and how it has prevented learning for the sake of learning but “learning” for a grade. We discuss that the process is what we will be focusing on rather than the product. We talk about the need for them to network and learn how to use Social Media in a meaningful way.
Roadblock: By the end of the week I would have to say that I have a quarter of the students who are super pumped, half of the class that are a little confused but intrigued by this new method and then there is the last quarter who have been very successful in school and are very weary and still ask me, so how do I get a 90 % + in this course?
Suggestion: Keep reiterating the importance of process to all students especially the ones who just want to know what they have to do to get the 90%. Eventually they will understand that if they take a step back and try and figure out what they are interested in and passionate about the 90s will come.
How do you get Parents to buy in?
At the beginning of the semester I send an email to all of my students parents introducing myself, explaining what we will be doing over the semester and following it up with my teaching philosophy. My introductory email is intended to have parents “unlearn” how school works and understand that in order to support their child in their learning they will need to “relearn” the way things work. I continue to email parents about once a month about what is happening in the class so that they can continue to support their children. The students are all on Twitter so they should be able to follow what is happening and I share everything that we are doing via Twitter as well.
Roadblock: Even though most parents are supportive of what we are doing, they are still very concerned about the mark. I get where they are coming from, because unfortunately as of right now that is what will get their children into University or College.
Suggestion: Again, I really believe that the more you dialogue with parents, the more they will jump on board. If students are working on passion based projects, it is inevitable that everyone’s “marks” will be great!!
I am NOT an expert, just a teacher trying to model risk taking, trying things out, failing and learning from each failure. I am happy to share the good the bad and the ugly and love chatting with others about what they are doing.
Last semester I taught a course called Human Growth and Development Throughout the Lifespan where we learn about the Physical, Cognitive and Social-Emotional development of human beings from birth to death. Part of our unlearning in this course was to engage with community as much as possible. So we went into classrooms at the elementary school across the street from us, invited parents and babies to join us for a mini play group in our library, had a BYOG (Bring your own Grandparent) day where the students got to learn about the lives of some of our Grandparents, went to a retirement home as well as worked with an ELD (English Literacy Development) class from WHS. All of these experiences have been so rich and I love watching the students learn as they DO, I am convinced that they are getting so much more out of this experience then they ever could from listening to me talk about it. One of our most favourite groups to work with over the past few years have been with the General Learning Program from Woodroffe HS. This program has AMAZING teachers that do AMAZING things with their students. This is how five students and myself ended up unlearning in Barbados!!
In the GLP classes at WHS students learn by doing. Many people would say, well this is how this population learns and the teachers in this program do a great job at providing these experiences for their students. It has been amazing working with them and seeing them learning as they DO. In their program students interact with community for almost 90% of their time (if not more) in the program. They volunteer in the community, they take swimming lessons, do bus training, go winter camping, travel internationally, take cooking lesson, connect with the local community colleges, they do coop in various places depending on their capabilities and for many they end up with paid employment as a result. Everything that they do has purpose.
Currently these students are working on the Duke of Edinburgh Award and are going for their gold medal. You can check out the award info here. Jamie Hughson who is one of the teachers in the GLP program is a huge advocate for these students and really challenges them and the people around them to understand that they can do anything. In order to achieve the gold medal the students must travel internationally. As a result Jamie arranged for 20 special needs students and 11 mainstream students to travel to Barbados.
I have been so fortunate to call Jamie a colleague and friend since I started teaching. . As a result we have had the opportunity to work together on some pretty amazing things. Jamie has been unlearning with his students for way over a decade and it his program that has inspired a lot of what we do in my classes even though I teach in the mainstream and work with students whose post secondary destinations are very different than his. This year, what started out as a connection between my Human Development class and the GLP classes learning together turned into an international trip to Barbados….not too bad!!
So here I write this latest blog post from Christ Church Parish in Barbados. For the past few days we have been learning about the geography and history of this beautiful island, watching history be made with an election that ended in all 30 seats in their parliament won by one party (Barbados Labour Party) and the inauguration of their first ever female Prime Minister (Mia Mottley), eating in the local fish markets and observing the culture, shopping the local markets and exploring the capital of Bridgetown, interacting with new students from different schools and different programs, met children from a local orphanage and brought them presents from Canada and have learned a lot about the GLP program, its teachers, its students and how it works. As we sit and have great discussions about all of these things I have been thinking, why can’t our mainstream students program mirror that of Jamie’s and his GLP’s? Why can’t what we do at school have more purpose and connection to community? Why can’t our students – all students, no matter where their destination is after school be more involved in the community and do more hands on learning? I am not saying that some class time is not necessary at all, but sitting in desks, 4 periods a day for 75 minutes per class is not right. I have seen this change happen in schools like Iowa BIG and the Met Schools and wonder why this is not happening more? Why do we need to segregate subjects into 75 minute periods when we could be learning cross curricularly in a way that makes sense to each individual student?
Check out Iowa Big here to see that it can happen!!
Now, I understand that learning in Barbados is not necessarily reality, however I think it is super important to point out how much learning has happened for my students while being here. It is not the fact that we are in Barbados, but it is about the experience and I believe this can happen anywhere. I wonder if we approached learning in a way where we didn’t say…I have to teach this specific thing in this specific order, rather approach teaching by asking what do you want to learn, and then look to see what skills I (me being the teacher) will need to support you with while you learn it and then look at connecting curriculum / subjects afterwards to see what has been covered. I asked my students what they think they have learned since being here and then quickly categorized their experiences into areas of study in school. Here is what we came up with…
Working with students with special needs (Human Growth & Development, Leadership)
Harrison’s Caves – SO cool, if you are ever in Barbados you have to go! (Science, Geography, History)
Visit to an Orphanage, meeting and playing with little kids (Human Dev, Social Justice & Equity)
Bus Tour of the Island (Geography, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Economics, Politics)
Election – first Female Prime Minister was voted in and sworn in – she won ALL 30 seats available in their parliament. We have had a ton of discussions with Barbadians about this and what it means for their country. (Politics, Economics, Gender Studies)
Oistins Fish Market (Anthropology, World Cultures, Food & Nutrition, Science)
Converting US dollars to Bajan dollars (Maths)
Creating friendships, meeting new people from other countries (Hum Dev, Sociology, Geography, Politics)
This learning experience will be memorable and they have touched on so many different areas of curriculum all in one go. Now couldn’t we do this in regular school? If you look at models like Iowa Big it is evident that this type of learning is not just for students with special needs, but can benefit everyone no matter where they are going in life. As the school year winds down, I am already thinking of all the new unlearning that we will be doing next year.
I have had the pleasure of teaching Sean for the past two years. Sean is very bright and probably one of the most interesting students I have ever taught. If you have been following this blog you will know that I have been trying to change my classroom so that it allows for everyone to find their passion and then connect it to the course curriculum. For most students finding that passion is a struggle, because they have never been asked, but once they go through the unlearning process it gets easier and easier. Sean is one of the lucky ones, he has found a passion already and is doing amazing things with it. Sean is an entrepreneur and at a very early age he began learning about dirt bikes and other recreational vehicles, he figured out how they run and how to fix them. He then started buying old bikes, fixing them and then flipping them for a profit. How many of us could say that we were making a profit when we were 7 years old?? Here is the problem…..Sean hates school, has never felt all that smart and his skills outside of the classroom have never really been recognized. This drives me crazy, here you have a kid who has learned to learn on his own, taken it upon himself to start up a little business and feels unworthy to his counterparts at school for 6 hours of the day. Are you kidding me???
So….over the past 2 years Sean and I have been working together to figure out how he can feel good about himself while in the confines of the school. He was able to promote eating locally (he has a lot of friends who are farmers), advocate and make people aware of the stigma around going to college (University and College are viewed very differently in Canada – University being the one held in high regard) and more recently he is working on writing a blog about his views on education and how it needs to change. He wrote and published his first post a few days ago and I had goosebumps. The post has only been out for a couple of days and I am not sure that he realizes the impact he is having on all those other students who feel the same way as him. I have already had students come to me and say that his post was amazing and that they really connected with it….this is, in my opinion why we need to unlearn how we do school.
I asked Sean and his Mother if I could feature his post on my blog and they said yes!! Please read his post below and follow his blog The Fault in Our Education for the rest of the semester – he says he’s got lots more where that came from.
He and students like him are why I am on this unlearning crusade. There are more out there then we realize.
Thanks for reading 🙂
My name is Sean Swayze and I’ve disliked school as long as I remember, School for me has never been something I looked forward to or enjoyed. I grew up in Arnprior, Ontario and attended a public school named AJ Charbonneau. Through public school I was always a pretty average student, I never did exceedingly well but I wasn’t necessarily struggling either. My biggest issue through school is that I’ve never been interested in what I’m learning. Most of the time as I sat in class, my teacher would talk about math or history and I’d be sitting at the back most likely zoned out thinking about Dirt bikes or searching kijiji on my phone as I hid it under my desk. I Guess I never really cared about school, I only did what I had to in order to get through with good enough marks that my parents wouldn’t give me a hard time. I guess I struggled to find the will within myself to put in all the extra effort in order to get an “A” in class. In my mind I just never saw the bigger picture about how memorizing the elements of the periodic table would help me later on in life. The things that really mattered to me were the skills that I learned outside of school. I always had a drive to learn more about dirt bikes and small engines. My parents would make fun of me as it would be almost all I’d talk about, whether it was riding with my friends after school or begging them to lend me money for new parts. No matter what it was I’d make sure no one else got a word in at the dinner table.
My dad had bought me my first dirt bike on my 7th birthday, I can still remember it perfectly. As I started to ride it became my addiction and even if it meant doing laps around my lawn for hours it didn’t matter to me. But then i’d run into problems, My bike would breakdown or something would happen and I wouldn’t be able to ride for days or sometimes weeks. I am, and always have been a very impatient person. I couldn’t handle waiting on dealers to fix my bike and the repairs would get really expensive. I started to want to fix the bike by myself but my dad had no mechanical skills so I decided i’d teach myself. It definitely didn’t happen overnight but now after almost ten years of riding I know the parts of a dirt bike inside and out. It turns out that mechanics was something that came quite easily to me and I really enjoyed it.
Now here I am in grade 11, a student who still doesn’t understand why I’m here day after day. Now I’m not saying school is completely pointless, I’ve definitely learned a few things through my years of school, such as if you don’t show up for class both your teachers and parents will most likely be mad at you. But in all seriousness a student like me who has a different skill set does not have the opportunity to thrive in the education system that we have established today. Just because our skills are not recognized by the way our education system evaluates us it means we are graded poorly and made to feel of a lesser value. In reality we are just as smart but it’s a different type of smart. I have a friend who struggles to read and write, he has always hated school and often wonders why he is there too. By other students he is told he is dumb, yet he can rebuild a motor on his own, he knows how to weld and he has great mechanical abilities, some of the students who are getting extremely good grades struggle to turn a wrench let alone change the oil in their vehicle.
I believe that our education system does fit for some people, they learn the skills that they will need for their future but our students need more options. A student like me who has a different set of skills needs a way to develop those skills and focus on them earlier in their education. I have done so much work that I’ve had no interest in and because of that I’ve felt like I wasted my time, so many of those things I will never use in life, instead I could have been using that time to instead focus and develop the skills that I have strengths in and prepare for my future. This would give me a better opportunity to succeed in what I want to do. Right now in my second semester I have become pretty careless with my education. Summer is just around the corner and I only have a few weeks left until I can go back to grinding out shifts at work and spending every spare minute working on my truck or dirt bike. School has become so seemingly pointless to me that I usually don’t even bring a backpack to school anymore. I took co-op in the morning as a chance for me to get out of a regular classroom and to actually get a taste for what it’s like in the trade. After co-op I come back to school for my final two classes. And to be honest when I’m here it’s not always that terrible but my school day is 7 hours in total. Not to mention the hour drive here, so in total I’m spending 9 hours of my life 5 times a week just to be here. Every week when I look back on what I’ve learned school seems so inefficient to me, 45 hours of my time or more has been spent either here, or getting here and I just feel like there are so many other things that my time could have been better spent on.
Thanks for reading, I now have to leave as I have a dirt bike to buy.
A few years ago I found a list of essential life skills that I wanted my students to use as their curriculum in my classroom. We decided that we would use the course material to work on those essential skills – you can see them below. For the life of me I can not find the site that I borrowed these from. It was definitely somewhere in the UK…sorry!!
Learning to Learn
Self Directed Learning skills
Learning to Think
Independence & creative thinking
Innovative problem solving
Judicious decision making
Learning to Listen & Tell
Learning to Collaborate
Learning to Earn & Give
Learning to Be
Pursuit of goals larger than own interest
Little did I know that our board already had something called EXIT OUTCOMES. I found a lot of overlap with the essential life skills that we had been focusing on. Now we use the combination of the two as our curriculum.
I want my students to be ok with failing and willing to take risks, learn to be able to learn on their own, to be self-motivated and self-regulated, confident, feel valued, motivated and excited for their next chapter. I want them to leave with a set of essential life skills that no matter what content they learned they will have the ability to be successful in anything that they want to pursue. They may not all take the same path in getting there, but I want to know that they will have the ability to get there because of this toolbox of skills that they possess.
Just in Time learning vs Just in Case Learning
I listened to Sergio Marrero: Just In Time Learning or Just In Case? on Don Wettricks StartedUp podcast a month or so ago and was intrigued. Marrero talks about College in the US and how he feels that there is a need for a post secondary option that focuses on Just in Time Learning rather than Just in Case learning. He suggests that a lot of traditional Colleges focus on the concept of teaching students what they might need in the future rather than what they need right now. I would argue that this is the same for our elementary and high schools. It has been the teachers job to prepare students for their next steps, in elementary school they teach a lot of just in case you need this in high school, in high school we teach just in case you might need this in post secondary and beyond. But is it time to get rid of this model? Rather than sitting through classes that bore some students to death, why can’t we work on the skills that the students will need later in life by finding out what students are interested in learning right now and connecting curriculum to that? I am trying this out in my Social Science classes but, the question that I have been pondering is how do we do that in all subject areas, is it even possible? As mentioned I teach in the Social Sciences and any time I have this conversation with people it is always, that is great and I can see how that works in the Social Sciences, but it would never work in Maths or Science. I am on a mission to prove that teaching skills over content can happen in any class. What I want to figure out is what set of skills would someone need in order to pursue something that they did not go to school for. For example if I wanted to be an engineer but did not take maths and sciences in high school or university what set of skills would I need to eventually become an engineer?
I have often wonder where my set of tools came from. I can hypothesize that first and foremost they come from home, some genetic, other activities and experiences that I was exposed to over my lifetime and finally school. I am so fortunate to have been brought up in a household with two amazing parents who were great role models for me. My mother is a retired elementary school teacher who was so passionate about everything that she did at school, she is a true leader. She ran anti bullying programs, worked with inner city kids and modeled perseverance and lifelong learning when she worked on her degree by taking night school all while raising a family and working full time. My father was the GM of a Steel Mill who from day one instilled in his girls that they would be strong, confident and independent. He never treated us like “girls” and taught us to throw a baseball, drive a boat and understand how to fix things if we were stranded, meet deadlines and always be on time. He modeled confidence, compassion and empathy and was there for us when ever we needed him. I also played competitive volleyball for an organization that was coached by Catholic School Teachers. While volleyball was important to them, the way we conducted ourselves in public and with each other was one of their top priorities. Sport taught me perseverance, good health, teamwork and collaboration. My teammates were like my sisters and we learned so much together. We travelled a lot and learned a lot of life skills while on the road. We learned about philanthropy and giving back. I know for a fact that the time spent with this group is a huge part of who I am today. As for school, I would say that I definitely learned how to read and write, numeracy and how to interact with teachers and peers. However, I find it hard to figure out what about who I am today is a result of my schooling. I would argue – not all that much.
In my fourth year of University I worked at the GAP and H & R Block as a receptionist. While I was working at H & R Block I learned a lot about tax preparation. As exciting as that sounds, I decided to take the course that would allow me to prepare taxes. I have a degree in history with a minor in geography. One would think that I would need some sort of math or accounting background to do this but I didn’t and I was still able to successfully complete the course and prepare some taxes – this would be a case for some just in time learning.
Skip ahead a year, after I finished university I decided to take some time off before going to teachers college to enjoy life and work. I ended up getting a job as a receptionist at an accounting firm. I worked here for about a year. While I was there my bosses approached me and asked me what my future plans were. I told them that I wanted to be a teacher and was hoping to go to teachers college. It was pretty tough to get into teachers college at the time so I wasn’t sure I would get in. They sat me down and asked me if I would be interested in getting into accounting. While I was flattered, I knew that working in an office was not for me. But, what I am wondering is this – if I had all the tools needed to learn something that was not related to what I learned in school would I be able to do it? In my experience I think yes. If I really wanted to become an accountant, I could have pursued this because I would have been motivated, confident and would learn what I needed to learn in order to make it happen. I wouldn’t have used much from my just in case learning, but I would have to pull from the skills from my tool box. Now the question is, can all people do this if they are equipped with the right tools before heading out into the “real world”?
I am curious to hear people’s thoughts on this. How much of who I am today and what I am capable of comes from my just in case learning in high school when I was very disengaged???