Rocky Ground

Photo Credit- Ted Percival CC Liscensed

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”   ~Lao Tzu~

We hosted an un-conference last week with a collection of some of our district’s strongest teachers to explore and engage in conversational learning. Sixty or so members of the York Region District’s Literacy@School team gathered for an edcamp-type day and tweeted out using the  #litschool hashtag.

We were happy that our good friend and colleague @shareski was able to join us for the day and were delighted that Dean gave a short talk (an un-keynote if you will) along with our District e-Learning Administrator, @toddedwright. After the day of learning we joined Dean for dinner and a chat with some of our system leaders;  a few school principals and some of our district office folks.

For the most part, during the day and over dinner, the conversation flowed nicely, as one would expect with such an engaged and articulate group of educators. Like many of us, Dean is reaching out to examine the challenges and successes that schools and school systems across Canada are experiencing and considering some themes and patterns for continued exploration. Colin Harris (@digitalnative) made sure the un-conference ran smoothly while I was happy to take on the facilitator’s role for the evening dinner chat.

I spent the day and evening listening, I tossed out a guiding question every once in a while, made sure we heard from everyone and took detailed notes. In both contexts, the educators shared their stories:  their delights, their challenges, their struggles and their joys. I’ve looked over the notes, mulled them over a bit and have three themes, or think-abouts, to share.

Document-  “We’ve been travelling”, to quote my newest, favourite Bruce Springsteen song, “over rocky ground”.  One theme that emerged is the need for us to document these travels and journeys. Learning is an incremental and dynamic process and I think it is important for each of us to have a personal record of the struggles and triumphs that occur daily in our classrooms and schools. We know the ‘experts’ in the media and court of public opinion are happy to document our work with the tools they have: test scores, rankings, sound bites and opinion pieces. Our public schools are an important part of our democratic communities; it is important for us to document the journey of our student’s learning and of ours; it is the best evidence we have of the true value of our work.

Share-  a delicate challenge for 21st century schools is how we can safely and appropriately share what we have documented. Our schools, in spite of obstacles and external forces, are still responsible for unprecedented levels of  literacy amongst our young. But are they reflective of the reality of a connected world where it is expected that information is shared through interactive and dynamic processes? It is important that educators, schools and systems adapt to engage families and communities beyond newsletters and parent nights; to incorporate social media tools into their practice and invite parents to engage in on-going dialogues with their children’s schools through these tools.

Connect-  If  “isolation is the enemy of improvement” (Smocker, Jamentz, Elmore), then connection is a critical component for any sustained improvement. There was a time when teachers worked in isolation, as did schools and systems. That time is no longer. When knowledge was scarce and confined to one textbook, or one curriculum, we had neither the need or means to connect. The world we now live demands that educators connect because our students (and the much of the world beyond our schools) already have. Our paradigm no longer applies. We need to reach out and use the variety of tools for connection we have available to create dense, overlapping networks. Within and beyond our classrooms, our schools and our networks; face to face and online-we need to connect.

I suppose it never is supposed to be ‘easy’ and we will continue to struggle with this. I’m encouraged that there are educators willing to challenge and question the status quo and remain committed to continue this journey, rocks and all. As the day unfolded, educators from across the world clicked on the #litschool hashtag and joined our conversation, helping to document the days learning, share the evidence of our work and collaborate to connect and extend the network we were hoping to grow in the first place.