Tag Archives: teaching

Leader, Take a Hike

Recently, I heard a leader in education say,“If you think you are leading, and nobody is following, you are only out taking a walk”.

I really liked this at the time, but the more I think about it, the more value I see in taking a walk.  While we usually want to move forward with our co-workers in education, there are times when you need to go alone, both literally and figuratively.

Walking (running, hiking, skiing, cycling) alone is where I do most of my reflecting and thinking, away from phones, tweets and email.  It is a time that has become more and more important as the principal position becomes busier and more complex in the current Ontario education climate.

But figuratively, taking a walk on my own lets me explore and try first before sharing and leading in my school.  I need my PLN to help me learn what I need to know so that we can accomplish our school goals (explained very well here).

Taking courses, enrolling in MOOCs, speaking at conferences, learning with others, all of these “walks alone” enhance my understanding and build my capacity to meet the needs of the people I teach and learn with every day.

At times, the walks become more of a hike, or even a marathon.  While we work to thrive on the edge of chaos, competing initiatives and expectations pull us in more than one direction.  As a principal, my access to information can be restricted as rules, narrowed mandates,  and chain of command supersede the need for principals to be resourceful, resilient and creative (Hargreaves 2005).  I frequently find myself at the edge of a cliff or the base of a brick wall, choosing to take a risk or climb even higher for a teacher or student whose need to move forward is more important than protocol or politics.2009 17 Hike over T Harbour

Walking alone allows for exploration, personal fulfilment, FAILing without an audience, and rest.  Walking alone makes me better prepared to return to my school, ready to share what is new and lead to new destinations, confident they are worth travelling to.

2009 07 Lupins

Hargreaves, A. (2005). Extending educational change. (pp. 1-14). The Netherlands: Springer.

For Learning or Credit?

While working this week, I had CBC Radio One on in the background and I was thrilled to hear George Siemens being interviewed on Ontario Today (recording here) about MOOCs.

As a participant in the #Change11 MOOC  (see the schedule here), I was very interested to hear what George had to say.  It is difficult to get your message out in a radio talk show, but the questions from the public suggest a lot of confusion around the purpose of education.

Are schools where you go to get accreditation (credits) or where you go to learn, or both?

It takes me back to some writing I did while pondering this statement from one of my “at-risk” students: “I didn’t take this course to learn something, I took it to get a credit” and here: “Credit for Learning“.

While MOOCs are wonderful for learning (accessible, opt in, opt out, collaborate, go off on tangents, free access), they fall apart when it comes to getting a credit for them (who assesses, is there cheating, how does anyone get paid?), unless we think about some new structures to accommodate both (learn all you want through the MOOC, then pay for the assessment and accreditation when you are ready?)

Do we need a similar strategy in secondary schools where we are constantly battling the misfit between what we know works best for learning (for example, feedback without grades and collaboration) and what the universities demand for entrance (high marks, awards, competition)?  How do we encourage students to explore areas (such as the arts) when their focus is to get extremely high marks (as you can in math and science) to get into particular post-secondary programs?

As we rethink what schools need to look like, we need to work at clarifying the purpose of public education.

In the meantime, I am hoping (fingers crossed) that there will be a #Change12 MOOC because for me, it’s all about learning.

Bring Yourself to Your Classroom

Back when I was involved with the Ministry of Natural Resources Critical Incident Stress Peer Support Team, I was fortunate to spend time with Dr. Martin Rappeport.  At the time, he gave me some career changing advice about teaching.  He told me to stop trying to be so many different things in the classroom, and just be myself.  He said I had many things to share with my students, and I should do just that.  “Bring yourself to your students.  Be genuine.  Bring all the gifts that you have and value your life experiences as worth sharing with your students”.

Colleen chats with  author Jeff Kinney through Skype with local elementary students*.

One of the key things about being a great teacher is to go out and have those life experiences – to learn constantly and to reflect on your learning, and to be willing to talk about and share that learning with others.

As teachers, we can also learn much from other disciplines.  While pounding out my long run this morning, I listened to Simon Gowan on the TriSwimCoach podcast.  He talked about how important frame of mind is when considering athletic performance.

One of the lessons we can learn from training is understanding how the way we are thinking affects our physiology and our performance.  For example, if we are out for a long run and we are thinking about how hard it is and how tough it is, then it is difficult to put one foot after the other.

But instead, we could be thinking about things like how fortunate we are to be healthy enough to run. If we are out running in a beautiful place we might think, “Wow, I wouldn’t see this if I wasn’t out running today”.  Having that enhanced mental state improves our performance and makes it so much easier to do the training work.

Run in beautiful places!

So when schools are places of hope; when schools are places where kids are in a mental state of excitement and enjoyment of learning, shouldn’t this make learning so much easier?

We can take what we learn from other places in our lives – our many other pursuits – and apply it so that we can be the best teacher we can be, and give kids the best learning environment we can possibly give to them.

*Photo courtesy of Invision for Skype/AP.  Read more about Skyping in the classrom here: http://northernartteacher.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/beautiful-learning-with-technology/