Be yourself…better

Very recently I have been fortunate enough to attend two conferences; one that focused on Targeting Technology, the other at the BCSSA Winter Conference.  It’s such an opportunity to participate in events like these as they are opportunities to move my thinking forward. I leave with my head swimming in ideas and it takes some time to filter through these thoughts (probably the reason I never seem to get a good night’s sleep – picture the hamster spinning in the wheel).

While there were many, many worthy ideas put forward, there was a common message  by Chris Kennedy, echoed by Bruce Beairsto; Both spoke of the merits of systems like Finland and schools like High Tech High.  Both acknowledged the success of others and both encouraged us to have our own goal:

This resonated strongly with me because it is at the core of what I believe education is about.  As we collaborate, whether as a Student, a Teacher, a Parent or an Administrator, we are coming from a point in our own continuum of growth in that role.  None of us participates in these conversations consciously trying to be someone else. In the end, we don’t want to be considered as good as someone else, we want to be ourselves…only better.

This is particularly relevant in light of the current BC Education Plan.  As Beairsto points out, this is not a plan yet.  This is a blueprint to create a plan.  The key to the evolution of this plan lies in collaboration.  Making education better in BC lies in our collaboration of what is important to us now and what we believe will be important in a future we cannot predict.

As education evolves across the Province, we aim to improve upon the areas identified as needing growth, while keeping all of the things that we do so well.  Narrowing this focus and applying this thinking to my own experiences, I believe this is something that helps me to grow and expand my thinking.  When collaborating with others, discussing, planning, debating, sharing, I move forward. When participating in these experiences with others, I am being myself, sharing what I have to offer. I want to walk away saying “hey, that conversation really clarified my thinking, I have a better understanding of the issue now.” Walking away myself…only better.

Individual Success

I am a firm believer in individual success.  Each person is on an individual continuum and we each find success relevant to where we are at along that continuum.

Thanks to my daughter’s swim meet, I had the pleasure of witnessing this belief in action this morning.  I watched as my belief was reinforced time and again as competitors found their own successes.  This swim meet could have been a model for the vision that many have of our education system. Each event was divided into heats that were created based on the swimmers’ previous times.  Regardless of age or gender, they competed relative to their own development.  Not one child seemed to notice the age of the other competitors in their heats, they simply wanted to go out and put in their best performance.

A perfect example of finding personal success came from a young boy who might have been 6 years old.  He was swimming in the 25m freestyle.  One length.  The competitors in this heat were all relative beginners.  When the starter said “Go” there were variations of diving and jumping into the water and then the boy in lane 2 turned his back on the lane and lowered himself into the water.  Pushing off the wall he was already a good 5 metres behind the competition.  He started with his version of a front crawl.  By the time he was half-way through his race the others were finishing. Two-thirds of the way through, his crawl had turned into a solid “dog paddle” and he kept going.  Nearing the finish and the shallow end of the pool, he bobbed up and down.  He would drop slightly beneath the water, touch the bottom of the pool, push off and his head would reappear above the surface.  He surged like this for the last 5 metres or so.  Each time that he would drop under the water, I honestly wondered whether he would make it back to the surface or if one of us would need to jump in and rescue him.  As I had these concerns, he kept going, you might have thought that the cheering and encouragement of the crowd was inching him closer to the finish.  When he finally touched the wall, it didn’t matter how far behind the others that he was, nor did it matter that he appeared so exhausted that he really did swim those last few metres for his life.  The smile on his little face told the story.  He had just achieved his Gold medal, his “A”, his “exceeds expectations” on his personal rubric.

For every heat in this swim meet there was a story that matched this one.  Some told stories of personal setbacks, those failures that are necessary to help us improve and learn, while others showed those moments of personal successes.  Regardless, every moment was a moment where those children defined themselves on their personal continuums.  Being there to witness this has made me reflect on where I am at with my growth, I hope that in sharing this with you, that you can do the same.

What do you see in the forest?

There is an idiomatic expression “can’t see the forest for the trees” that is defined by as:

To discern an overall pattern from a mass of detail; to see the big picture, or the broader, more general situation.

I am not sure if it just a coincidence that I have heard this expression several times lately, but it seems oddly appropriate for an observation I have made.

I am extremely interested in creating opportunities for students to make their learning personal.  Personalized Learning has become a main topic of many professional development sessions over the past year.  One of the things I hear consistently is that the idea behind this educational approach is brilliant BUT…after this comes a series of reasons why it is difficult for us to create opportunities for students to personalize their learning.

I have heard how we need to change before we can create a system that allows students these opportunities.  Other things I have heard include: A systemic change from the Ministry level down.  Change the way post-secondary institutions admit students.  Change the way teachers view their roles.  Change the way we organize classes.  Change the way parents see education.

When I hear how many people believe in the importance of creating personalized learning opportunities, I am stumped at how many see the obstacles to achieving what is perceived as a good thing for students.  I have heard educational leaders, whom I respect as fantastic teachers and leaders espouse the same objections to these challenges.  In many settings with many people, I have heard comments and observations that focus on the challenges to implementing these changes.

I agree that much needs to change, but isn’t that our role, to promote positive change, especially in the face of adversity?  We could easily be mired in details, but I see it as my role to push the envelope when it means a positive, better outcome for our students is possible.  I believe that making learning personal to each student is important to help each of them be successful.  Therefore, I believe I need to create an environment where this can happen.

I have heard many say that it is okay for students to be wrong, to fail at certain tasks in order to discover how to be right, how to find the answer.  In this instance, even if I am wrong about how to personalize learning, I think it is my job to try something, anything to give them a chance.

We cannot ignore the details, but it is important to keep our eye on the big picture.  We need to try new and different ways for students to achieve personal success. I have tried to achieve this by creating opportunities for students to get credit for pursuing what they are passionate in.  When you see the forest, what do you see?