Leaving Kansas…

Leaving Kansas…

 

 

In December, an exhibit opened at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, focused on the work on designer Christian Dior, and particularly his role in resurrecting couture fashion after the Second World War. I’m not a huge follower of fashion, as anyone who knows me would assert, but I am fascinated by the links between popular culture and history, and this fits perfectly in there. My family is lucky enough to have an out-of-town membership for the ROM (worth getting if you visit Toronto a couple times a year), and I was able to register for a member experience involving the ROM exhibit.

 

Dawna Pym, who is part of the education staff at the ROM, and who has a personal deep and abiding passion for fashion, gave us a hands-on provocation with textiles from her own collection, helping us situate Dior historically. White-gloved, we lifted lace, examined the construction of corsets, and envied zippers on girdles.

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Yes, really – that’s a zipper on a girdle. How great would that be?

 

Dawna then took us for a guided tour of the beautifully curated Dior exhibit. The ROM has the 3rd biggest museum textile collection in the the world, behind only the Met and the Victoria and Albert, some 55,000 items. We got to see scrapbooks, fabric samples, finished products, and learn about the way in which the resurrection of couture also helped save the disappearing arts of hand beading, embroidery and more. Anyone who doesn’t think sewing machines have a spot in the makerspace needs to come and see some of the astounding work on display in this exhibit. More on this adventure in another post.

After 2 engrossing hours, I headed down to the cafeteria in the bowels of the ROM to reflect, and really try and absorb some of the amazing stuff I’d learned, and then the world tilted.

Because on her way out of the cafeteria, on her way to her session with Dawna, was a friend I spent a magic summer with 33 years ago – and who I’ve really only seen a few times in the interim. But that summer, and that experience, was one of those that binds you to those you share it with. It connects you and despite communicating via Facebook, when you see each other 33 years later, you call each other’s names, and laugh, and hug each other, and do a 5 minute update, and get teenaged girls (who can never imagine that they will be this old someday) to take your picture , and then, if you’re me, you sit down, and get a little teary, because that bond is still there, and it’s magic.

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Old friends – we’ve aged surprising well, I think!

 

So, I thought, why, after all this time, is that connection still there?

In July of 1984, when I was 17 years old, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of about 30 Ontario kids to go on an immersion experience to Germany. There was a cost involved, and I know I paid some, and my parents somehow came up with the rest (which would not have been easy). We would be boarded with families, most of whom had a teenaged child, and would go to German classes in the morning, and then have the afternoons free for social and cultural activities. We soon realized this was code for eating much bratwurst and poppyseed cake, drinking much beer, lying in the sun at the town’s outdoor pool complex and dancing at the local disco, with the occasional castle and cathedral tour thrown in for good measure.

I had done a fair amount of travelling as a kid. The requisite long road trip out west, lots of camping adventures with my family, a year spent living in Florida the year I was in Grade 9, while my dad worked on his Master’s in Media Literacy (yup – on his #selffundedleave – I come by it honestly). But prior to this trip, in the summer of Grade 12, I had not really been away from my family for very long – maybe a week at a time at a summer camp. And suddenly, here I was, on another freaking continent, with money of my own to budget (my dad set me up a ledger), and really, no accountability to anybody except the charming grandparent-age couple who were housing me.

I think that was the key.  That “out here on my own” thing we were all experiencing together, with no opportunity for helicopter parenting – no cell phones, no e-mail, no Skype or FaceTime. I sent a couple of postcards, but my parents were very far away – literally and metaphorically. If somebody got a dear John letter from his girlfriend in Canada, and was trying to self-medicate himself to solve it, nobody but us was going to dig him out of that hole. If somebody truly fell in love, and didn’t know how they were going to say goodbye, we cried it out together. If someone was mixing pain meds, paprika chips and apple schnapps a little too liberally, it was up to us to solve that problem. If I wanted to have my hair cut down to an inch all over my head, there was nobody who was going to say “no, that’s a bad idea”, and lots of people to encourage me. We became each other’s family, and we took that responsibility seriously. We grew up a lot, that summer, and we helped each other do it.

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Dear heavens, but we’re young. Summer of 84, Kulmbach, Germany. That’s me, in the mushroom cut (before I cut it all off!). We were fierce, and brave and gorgeous!

And that’s why I had a little “verklempt” moment. Because seeing, and touching, and talking to my old friend reminded me of the fierce, brave, gorgeous women we were becoming in the summer of ‘84, and of all the things we didn’t know yet were going to hurt us and give us joy.

Being me, I am left with some questions.  What was that defining experience for you – when you knew that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that you were okay with that? Who were the people you shared it with? Are they still part of your world? Please share in the comments, or your own writing – I’d really love to know.

Second batch of questions: Do those opportunities still exist for our students and our children in this ultra-connected world? Do we encourage our students and kids to take them, and then get out of the way? How might the technology that enriches our lives be getting in the way of this kind of adventure? How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?

 

Let the sparks fly….

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It’s “check-in” time

 

This weekend’s bitter cold where I live had me thinking about the importance of check-ins. Everywhere I looked, there were reminders to check in: check in with your vulnerable family members and neighbours; make sure there isn’t a pipe break  threatening your business (Bluestreak records flooded); don’t leave your pets outside too long. 

My neighbour, upon leaving for holiday, asked my boys to do a walk through of her house each day, making sure that the heat was on and nothing disastrous had happened. We asked friends of Mr 16 to do the same when we went away.

That made me think about how lucky I was to be able to do that. I have neighbours, and relationships with them. I have family members to check in with (shout-out to my Oma, who was 97 on January 6).

Many in our communities don’t have those privileges. I did my first volunteer shift at our local emergency overnight shelter just before Christmas (that will be another blog post, when I can manage to put it into words). I knew that many in that community  would be moving from whatever warm spot they could find to another during the day, and couch-surfing or at a shelter overnight. I know that I can’t check in on everybody, but I have adopted the practice of carrying extra new warm socks in my bag when I’m downtown, and offering them to those who are asking for money on the street. I have also carried grocery store or Tim’s gift cards in the past. If you have a relationship with people in your local underhoused community, please check in, in whatever way works best for you. Make a donation of money, food or time, or just stop to make sure that someone on the street knows where the local shelter is. This article  has some suggestions in the school context. I occasionally encounter former students in my volunteer work at our local meal program, and I have found that they hugely appreciate me recognizing them and taking the time to check in, without judgement (and yes, I often cry later). 

So, all this thinking about check-ins made me think about those who are returning to school today (or having a snow day, if you live where I do). Brian Aspinall’s brain was running along the same lines yesterday.

And I was happy when another tweeter responded, suggesting that we remember this applies to staff, too.

I need us all to take a minute and think about how this weekend felt. Were you thrilled to have a weekend to cocoon? Knit, read, binge-watch your favourite show (or mixed doubles curling ), bake, prep food for the week? Did you bundle up and get out in the cold, like my husband and kids did, with a cross-country ski? Did you connect with a friend for a hot (or cold) beverage?

Or were you one of those tossing and turning last night, because you didn’t want to go back this morning? One who spent the weekend getting the marking and planning done that you had ignored over the last 2 weeks? One who woke up this morning, and were hit with that feeling of dread about going to work? Or were you in that completely different category, like the woman in my church community yesterday morning, who had a completely unforeseen tragedy strike her family over the break? Did you spend much of your break putting out fires for other people? Were you coping with toxic family time? Are you heading back without feeling you’ve had a break at all? I have, at different times, been in most of these categories, heading back in January, and I’m sure many of you have, too. So, of course, have our students.

Most of us are really good at checking in with our students. We have class meetings, or we start or finish our day with a quick check-in. We meet our kids at the door because we know it makes a difference. We’ve learned that along the way.

 

I don’t think we’re anywhere near as good at creating opportunities for a genuine check-in with our colleagues. We’ll ask the generic “how was your holiday?” or even “Did you have a good break?” as we pass in the hall, but we’re often not truly listening for the answer, and we’re rarely vulnerable enough to give an honest one. It’s not how we’ve been raised, and it’s not easy, but is, without question, worth the effort. If we know that check-ins help our students feel visible, understood and valued, imagine how extending that same care to ourselves would make us feel.

So, there’s my challenge to each of you. Today (especially if it’s a snow day, and you have a chance for a quiet moment), or some time this week,  try – even with one colleague – to do a genuine check-in. Ask how things are. If you know there’ve been some challenges (and really, when aren’t there?) maybe that’s the question to ask. Maybe this is the week to organize a potluck for Friday lunch, just to give people the chance to sit down together. If you have a colleague, as I do, who’s off on long-term disability, or who is off being a caregiver for someone they love, remember them, too. They would probably greatly appreciate someone in their professional life  remembering that they exist. We need to be seen and heard, just as our students do. Check in. It’s important. 

 

Let the sparks fly.

My #OneWordOnt 2018

Last year my word was fuel. I had been inspired by a late November evening conversation (via Twitter) with Colleen Rose (@colleenkr) and Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) about people whose work kept us going, who provided light in the darkness. I realized I wanted to think consciously in 2017 about who and what fuels me, how I could best fuel my students, and how I could also fuel my relationships with other people. I felt like there were a lot of activities and people that required my time, and I wanted to work on making sure I was fuelling me enough to provide fuel for others. I also knew that I would be heading into a self-funded leave year, beginning in September 2017, and I wanted to make sure that a big part of that time was spent fuelling me for the last 5 years of my teaching career.

And it was in that process, of figuring out how to fuel myself, that I ran smack into this year’s word: expectations – both my own and others – and began to realize that I need to do some exploring of these before I can totally benefit (and pass on the benefits) from the choices I make to fuel me.

I’m a first-born child, as well as first grandchild on my mom’s side. I am a second generation teacher on dad’s side, and 3rd on my mom’s. Couple that with being a first-generation Canadian on my dad’s side, and you know, if you share any of those identifiers, that I have some experience with expectations. If you are also a parent, you know that it can be challenging to not lay some of those (sometimes difficult) expectations on your own kids. Continuing that journey of balance with my spouse is one of the reasons expectations is my word for this year, as my older son is in Grade 11 and thinking about what comes next. I want him to be able to feel free to explore what fuels him without my expectations creating a barrier.

I also want to explore how I deal with other peoples’ expectations of me. Every time I explain that no, I’m not going on a long trip on this year off, and no, I’m not pulling my teenaged children out of school, and no, I’m not going anywhere warm, and no, I’m not doing a Master’s degree, and yes, I’m doing the math PD my board is offering, and yes, I’m occasionally helping out and visiting friend’s classrooms, and yes, I can sometimes be found working on planning in a quiet corner of the board office, I shrink a little. A little bit of me feels like I’m doing my year off wrong, because I’m trying to use it to live my everyday life at a slightly deeper level. I’m trying to use it to put structures and planning in place to help my family and I weather my return to work next September. I need to do some work on why it’s hard for me to advocate for that. Why it’s hard for me to deal with the expectations many people have of what a year off work should look Iike (and trust me that I will never ask another person on leave if they’re travelling).(Check out my #selffundedleave hashtag on Instagram if you’d like to leave your expectations at the door). This is a symptom of a larger issue for me, where I sometimes feel like I’m not living up to some phantom list of other people’s expectations.

Which leads into the expectations I place on myself. I tend to do a fair amount of beating myself up for not being/doing enough. Not a good enough parent, spouse, teacher, planner, exerciser, blogger, presenter, musician, housekeeper (that’s a big one for me, and largely self-inflicted). There’s a lot of shame going on in my head about the expectations I don’t measure up to, despite the many loving people in my world who assure me that I do, and I’d really like to work on letting go of some of that. I know I’m not the only one in the profession who lives with this, and I’d love to hear from others about their struggles and successes.

All of these things of course, tie into how I work in the classroom. How do my expectations of myself affect my expectations of my students. What expectations am I putting on my students, consciously and unconsciously? And how do they feel about that? How do my expectations of my colleagues affect our ability to learn together? One of my husband’s excellent questions on this journey has been about what expectations I’m willing to let go of in the classroom next year, so that I can have a bit more of a life. I have way more questions than answers right now, so that’s probably a good place to stop.

So, onward, bravely, into 2018, hoping to let go of some unhealthy expectations, and find some reasonable ones to help fuel my journey forward.

My #5BestEd decisions

 

This post is Inspired by the many educators who accepted Jonathan So’s (@mrsoclassroom) invitation to share the 5 defining moments in their teaching lives. Jonathan has collated them here, and they’re very much worth the read. If you wanted to see a differentiated approach to a task, look no further!

  1. Influencers: I’m going to break the rules right off the bat, and say that my first defining moments as a teacher came as a learner, and that had to do with the teachers I was lucky enough to learn from. My pedagogy is heavily influenced by my Grade 13 experience in integrated studies at South Secondary in London, Ontario. This was a multi-disciplinary, scaffolded approach to learning first about our neighbourhood, then our city, province, and eventually country through as many lenses as possible. It involved many of those competencies we’re trying to incorporate today, including communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Final projects were completely passion-driven – I still have the suite of poems I created. It remains my gold standard for what an engaged learning experience can look like, and it was 1985, so it was largely engagement without the “bells and whistles”. Shout-out here to Ian Underhill and Pete Telford, who created and taught the course. Also thanks to my mom and my Grade 5 and 7 teacher, Murray Young, who helped me understand that teaching is about building a community and relationships first, and covering curriculum second.

2.Marrying my husband.:A day does not go by without me thinking about how lucky my students are that I married the person I did. I married someone who cheers me on when I’m taking on a new challenge, but is also willing to call me on my need for approval, and who regularly reminds me to set my parameters of what is “enough” in terms of how much I give of myself to my job. He is my foundation, and works to help me find work/life balance, survive through my ADD and (sometimes)self-sabotaging behaviour, and always, always, work on being a better partner, parent and teacher. I am amazed at his ability to work through things patiently with our teenage kids (when I’m ready to throw things), and I often think that he would have made a far more effective teacher than I sometimes am. I would not be able to be a risk-taker in my classroom and professional life, without knowing I had the abiding love of my spouse to come home to when an activity crashes and burns.

 

3. Becoming a parent. Putting the impact of the arrival of Mr 16 and Mr 14 on my teaching career into words is extremely challenging. It meant that I had less time to give to my classroom, but I also had a richer life experience to bring. I learned what kind of things engaged my own children, and that helped me figure out what might engage my students. When my boys began to attend school, and I started to see the ways their teachers impacted them, I really began to understand how much effect even my smallest action could have on my students, and I became much more aware of the kind of feedback I was giving. I also know (as many of you do) that sometimes I was a less patient parent because I’d been a patient teacher all day, and I love my kids for understanding and surviving that. The boys continue to impact my teaching every day. They share positive and negative learning experiences of their own, they let me bounce ideas off of them, they keep me a little bit in the pop culture loop (I teach Grade 7 and 8). They have made me a better learner, through the things they are interested in, and that has made me a better listener, and a better teacher.

4. AIM: Until the past school year, when I finally took the leap into teaching my own classroom full-time, the only constant in my teaching schedule had been Core French. I would not have been able to do that job for 20+ years without the help of Wendy Maxwell’s Accelerated Integrative Method. When my board opened up a pilot project several years ago, it was a lightning bolt for me – a way to help my Core French kids genuinely dive into expressing themselves in their second language, without relying on machine translations or dictionaries. It also opened me up to using drama, music, and movement more in my FSL classroom than I had before. For the first time, really, in my teaching career, I was hearing hugely positive feedback from parents and students. My students were engaged, my parents were noticing, and it rejuvenated my practice. One of my greatest regrets is that the program didn’t catch on in applied level secondary French – I think it would have made a huge difference. The other big “a-ha” for me through AIM was that I was willing to take on a huge learning curve in order to really make something work. I hadn’t really known that about myself as a teacher until then – and it helped me understand my students more. Many years after that extremely well-done pilot program (un gros bel merci to the late Carole Meyette-Hoag and to Jennifer Sampson), a group of women I met in that PD are still among the teachers I rely on the most for realistic feedback and shoulders to cry on. They were, and continue to be, educational “risk-takers” when it makes a positive difference for their students.

(one of my students’ favourite versions of an AIM song)

5. Powerful Learning Practice: In the 2011-12 school year, I was given an opportunity that changed me as a learner, thinker and teacher. I volunteered to be part of a board team participating in a year-long, action-research-based inquiry, run by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach (@snbeach) and Will Richardson (@willrich45). I had never done anything like this, and I remember almost bursting into tears at the first session, because I had no idea what was going on (there was a speaker, and a backchannel, and…). I was, in Sheryl’s words, immensely “whelmed”. What I came to learn, over the course of that year, with the help of an incredible community of co-learners, is that being “whelmed” is necessary for a learner like me. I need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” in order to not get stuck. My experience with PLP introduced me to new ways of reflecting on my thinking, to new people to share with and learn from (a lot), to the whole framework of iterative teaching/thinking, and to really thinking about why I felt driven to effectively integrate technology into my classroom. I started to blog, I started to share my learning about these ideas with my students, I fell into a deep and lasting love affair with Twitter, and I began to seriously think about shifting from Core French to my own classroom, in order to go deeper into critical thinking, in particular. That switch came last year, and could easily be my 6th point. The connected learning I do with my students, the joy I get from my PLN, my learning opportunities attending and presenting at conferences, my willingness to dig into new learning and think deeply about how best that learning can serve my students? All of that had its genesis in my PLP experience and I can never thank the random forces that picked my name to attend enough.

This photostory was prepared by me for my PLP learning cohort.

Like Diana Maliszewski (@MzMollyTL) and Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca), I want to think about “what’s next?”. I’m currently on a teacher self-funded leave year, and I think if I were to reflect on my defining moments in the years to come, this may be one of them. The joy of time – to think, to plan, to write (as I’m doing now), to participate in activities that I simply can’t do, as a teacher with a full-time job – is so beautiful it’s a little overwhelming. I’m passionately interested in ways to help myself and my students make our learning visible to each other and the world, and I’m also really interested in figuring out how to make feedback work effectively, both for my students, their parents and my colleagues. Lots to keep learning about as the path unfolds before us.

Thanks for the writing prompt, Jonathan.

If you’re reading this, and haven’t written about your 5 moments yet, please join the conversation.

Let the sparks fly.

Which of these systems is not like the other, Part 1

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about systemic change lately. While it may seem counterintuitive, a few experiences I’ve had recently have started me thinking that the church in which I advocate for change is changing faster than the education system in which I do the same. This will probably be the first post of a few, as I work through what I’m learning and feeling.

We call our worship community The Open Circle. Photo credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk via cc

I have the privilege of being part of a worship community that has managed to create the kind of accepting space that I strive to build in my classroom. Our group includes people who might be marginalized anywhere else. We have adults from community living environments, those living with dementia, the under-housed and under-employed, along with a smattering of retired academics and university students. The liturgy, such as it is, includes reading of scripture and prayer but also a piece of secular writing (poetry, rap, song, essay) (an example: An indiscriminate act of kindness) on the week’s scripture theme. The reflection, or sermon, might be led by a clergy or lay person and always includes the opportunity for discussion and exchange of ideas. One reflection strategy we use which I find particularly meaningful is called lectio divina.
In lectio divina, the Gospel is read, and then each person in the circle (yes, we sit in a circle) who wishes to participate speaks the word or phrase that most stuck out for them in the reading. After everyone has had a chance to speak, the scripture is read again, and anyone who chooses to can share why that particular word or phrase was what spoke to them – or they can decide that the second time through, something else drew their focus.

Lectio divina offers me a variety of lenses on the week’s reading. Photo credit: Flickr user Yuma Abe via cc

What I love about lectio divina is the chance to hear the different perspectives of the astounding collection of people I worship with. A community activist in her 80s may respond quite differently than my 16 year old son, or they might discover that the same thing called to both of them. There are no wrong answers, there is no judgement, everyone’s voice is valid. It is, for me, an experience of overwhelming mutual respect and I am humbled by it. It also always leaves me struggling with why this environment is so hard to build in my classroom.
Why does this unconventional worship space work? Because it is driven by the community it serves. It was created because people were looking for a more interactive worship experience, a Sunday morning experience with a facilitator rather than an instructor, a community of co-learners. A traditional church took a chance on running two services at the same time to allow people the opportunity of choice, and to meet a variety of needs.
I know that one big difference between my worship environment and my classroom environment is that I get to make that choice. There is no “religion act” in Ontario that says I must have my butt in some form of pew for a set number of hours per week. The community I worship with is there because they want to be, and many of my students this year make it abundantly clear that they don’t want to be at school. That breaks my heart, and spurs me to continue my efforts to create a space as safe and engaging as the one that welcomes me on Sunday morning.
Which brings me to some of my first questions. If an institutionalized system like the Anglican Church of Canada can start to read the writing on the wall and know that it must adapt or die, why does it seem so hard for the education system to read the same graffiti? How do we work to build a learning space where it is safe to be yourself, and not worry about being marked as different – where all are valued for what they bring to the community? What’s worked for you, in trying to create that kind of space? Your thoughts and ideas, as always, are welcome.

Let the sparks fly.

Inchworm, inchworm…

Here’s the 4th question for the #ossemooc #innovatorsmindset bloghop series. Thanks, as ever, to Tina Zita for the amazing visuals.

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As I let this question bounce around the inside of my brain this week, I was reminded of a song I used to sing to my kids when they were small:

The words that were sticking in my head were: “inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds. Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.” But when I went back and listened to the whole thing, I realized that the image of the inchworm, based in his numeric framework, cheerfully reciting his math facts that will probably help him “go far”, was also relevant.

We are, in many ways, caught in the inchworm’s dilemma.

As we begin to shift our practice, to take on the innovator’s traits, to ask our students to be co-learners with us, to genuinely question the status quo, we are still expected to come up with something quantifiable to show growth. Something that can go into a data portal, something that results in improvement on a standardized test, something that can have a numeric result assigned to it to go on a report card. Like the inchworm, that’s the existing language we have to work with, and, as classroom teachers, that’s the language that students and parents and administrators (and on, up the chain) understand and expect to see.

That puts us in a difficult spot, because it’s very difficult to quantify the fact that we’ve begun to look at the marigold’s colour, and where it prefers to grow, and what uses people made of it in the past, and the fact that it’s a native North American plant, and what it might bring to our schoolyard gardens and a whole bunch of other things we’ve found out by letting our students go deep with their learning, and show that learning in myriad different ways. Being able to convey the value of that learning, and the growth involved is going to take a lot of deep conversation and reframing for all of us. It’s not going to be easy, but things that are worth doing rarely are.

One of the biggest things I’m taking away from this book study is that we have to start that conversation – whether it’s having students record their thoughts (digitally or analog) after a learning cycle, and sharing those with parents and colleagues, or being brave enough to ask an administrator to let you try and go without numerical grades for a term and use ongoing descriptive feedback and discussion and metacognition/reflection instead. Otherwise, we stay locked in the inchworm’s limited mindset, trapped by the numbers. (As Alfie Kohn writes here)

This March break, I watched my younger son and his friends use a variety of technologies to communicate with each other, problem solve, and plan excursions.  This amazing group of 12 year olds troubleshot audio problems in a transcontinental Skype call; used a combination of Google Hangouts and texting to set up a detailed cross-city bus excursion involving multiple departure points and destinations; and worked through the bumps that inevitably come when people are taking public transit from all different points. They laughed a lot, helped each other through their frustration, and found and solved real-world problems. Exactly what we want for our students, and one way that we could measure the impact of innovative practice. Are these the skills we’re helping develop?

Inchworm, inchworm….

Other people’s thoughts:

Leigh Cassell

Donna Fry

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Amit Mehrotra

Stacey Wallwin

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Peter Cameron

Don’t forget you can add your thoughts to this discussion. Comment on a blog, join the Voxer group, chime in on Twitter, or post your own blog on the topic here: https://ossemooc.wordpress.com/

Let the sparks fly…

What if…?

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image: Tina Zita

This is the 3rd question in the bloghop series for the #ossemooc on-line book study of George Couros’ book The #innovatorsmindset. Chapter 7, which marks the end of the second section of the book, ends with a series of “What if…?” questions.

image: Lisa Noble (highlights mine)

image: Lisa Noble(highlights mine)

As you can tell from the highlights in the above image, I’ve been thinking more about some of these questions than others. The risk-taking question is one that I’m particularly interested in, and often, frustrated by.

I know risk-taking is a huge piece of the puzzle for any learner. I also know it’s an extremely difficult one for me. I’m a gifted student who always played “school” very well, but who shied away from anything that I couldn’t do right the first time. It took the patient coaching of my spouse (also a gifted learner, but one who has always been much more open to learning experientially than I am) to convince me, in my 20’s, that it was okay to not be really good at something the first time, and to allow myself to “risk” in order to gain a new skill. Now, I sometimes see that stance of fear reflected in both my students and my own kids. I try really hard to model my “risking” behaviours and talk about my learning process, at least partly because I’d like to save them the grief and missed opportunities my fear caused me.

I see the fear of failure coming from two very different places with my students – those who don’t want to risk because they’ve tried before and the existing school system has made them feel like they can’t succeed; and those who don’t want to risk because they’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t succeed, because that’s not a place they’re willing to go, or have experience with. I’m realizing that my colleagues are probably coming from very similar places, and if we are going to move forward at all, we have to both be willing to name that fear, and address it. Creating an environment in which people feel safe to do that takes us back, as Leigh said in last week’s hangout, to “relationships, relationships, relationships”. Without taking that first risk to trust each other in our professional context, the safety net won’t hold. How we build that net with the diversity of learners and experiences in our school communities is still one of my biggest questions.

how do we create a robust "safety net" to support a culture of "risking" in our learning spaces. credit: flickr user Rob via cc

how do we create a robust “safety net” to support a culture of “risking” in our learning spaces? credit: flickr user Rob via cc

My other “what ifs”?Those tend to be aimed more inward than outward, and I offer them for your reflection. What if I just stopped making excuses for why I haven’t tried an activity I think looks interesting, and just did it? What’s the worst case scenario? And of course, what if we were easier on ourselves when things didn’t go as wonderfully as we thought they would, and what if we were better about sharing those experiences with our peers – the plateau and the ravine, as well as the mountaintop? How might that change the discussion?

Let the sparks fly!