June 11, 2012

The net(is)working

Teachers have the unusual blessing of having time to reflect and celebrate the accomplishments of their students, staffs and schools every year, and it never gets old! In most cases, the school calendar from September to June is really the yearly calendar that holds the memories our of accomplishments as we reflect back and the new possibilities as we look forward, for those of us who work in schools. It has been a very memorable year for me indeed, but I haven't done it alone!

In looking back this year I undertook many new adventures and it kept me very busy. First of all I became the only department head at my school, which means I help with a lot of planning and organizing of special events and professional development with my staff, and the burden of "taking care of business" when the principal is away for short periods. Nevertheless, I welcomed this opportunity and knew that this would be allow me to make a real impact at my school.  

I also joined a few network groups of educators. I participated in the Network of Educators for Imaginative Teaching at SFU, where we share ideas we are trying and discuss the overall use of imagination in our teaching. This is a continuation of sorts of my Master's work with some of the same cohort of teachers. At the same time I was asked to join in the Professional Network Series for Quality Teaching with Faye Brownlie. Essentially I became a "demonstration teacher" facilitating and providing professional development with a focus on formative assessment to other educators in my district and beyond. I was also invited to be a part of a network of teachers using "innovative" practices in their classrooms called the Fluid network. What was so exciting about this group is we all came from different experiences, grade levels and teaching styles; yet we shared the same passion to try something new and unusual with our students. I also volunteered to be a presenter at 2 other professional development days in BC, one at the Imaginative Education Conference and the second at my local shared district day where I was part of a joint presentation with a colleague of mine. Finally, I continued my work with a group of teachers at my school through an initiative called "Strong Schools Strong Classrooms". We shared about ideas we are working on and questions we have about our practice. 

In looking over all that I have been busy with this year, I must admit that it hasn't felt overwhelming, in fact I have been so energized through my interactions with other teachers that it has kept me going. The emotion I most feel is gratitude. It is very shocking and humbling that I was able and asked to be a part of so many groups of talented and brilliant people; especially considering that in my first weeks of teaching many years ago I just about gave up and didn't think I had it in me to do it. Somehow I found the courage and continued on (thanks to the encouragement from my wife) and I am so thankful for where I am now. 

All of these different ventures this year have been challenging; but by allowing myself to vulnerable to changes, questions and suggestions by others has been very rewarding. One of my main goals this year was to break out of my little classroom and connect with others and have a bigger impact. I just didn't know what that looked like or how I was going to do it, but I knew I just couldn't stay isolated or I would have slowly died. So one of the things I did was start this blog. I had no idea that it would lead to so many conversations and connections with others. I have seen that networking (face to face and on-line) allows us to join the bigger conversations, and question how and why we are doing certain things in our own classrooms. This year I used an island theme to connect the pieces of the curriculum together in a meaningful way for my students, and in a funny way I have really learned what "no man is an island" means.

So what about next year? Well I may pull back from a few networks, but I will be busier than ever! That's a good thing for me though. I am part of an organizing committee that is planning and will host a conference called "Engaging Imagination: Hearts, Minds & Learning" on the provincial professional development day this fall. 

the poster I created for the conference

I have never done anything like this before, so there should be many challenges and lessons to learn. Secondly, I will be helping to facilitate a learning team in my district focused on the Learning in Depth project http://www.ierg.net/LiD/. I am really interested in seeing how this can take shape in my own classroom and how it will be used in other teachers' classrooms, and what we will come up with and share together! 

Finally, I am taking the lead on a 3 year Whole School Project at my school http://www.ierg.net/wsp/. What is really interesting is how having a focus like we are on "the River" has got everyone so excited. My hope in suggesting this was that we could involve community members in the planning of this project. We already have a local artist who wants to lend her expertise and it joining us in our next planing session. I guess I can't call it "the" project, I definitely know it's not "my" project, I think the best term is "our" project because it will belong to the students and their families, the teachers, and the community. I am beginning to realize that when you have a good idea and everyone is together on it, good things will happen. It is amazing to me how a network happens when you get to see it from the roots. People just really want to be a part of something where their voices can be heard and share their ideas towards a common goal.

So looking back over this past year I am filled with joy from all relationships I have formed, and I look ahead with enthusiasm for what is about to happen as we come together and allow our ideas to grow and take shape. And yes, I mean that even in a year where the educational landscape has seemed bleak at times due to the conflict between the BCTF and BCPSEA (BC Government). I encourage you to get out of your shell and connect with some new people who share a passion for the same kinds of things you do. Every new school year holds promise and potential if we are open to new ideas, and listening and learning from each other...lets just keep those conversations about real, meaningful educational pursuits!