Inspired by a Stranger

I have been an educator for 10 years now. Those who know me would say that I am a critical thinker, who loves to teach and work with kids but has little time for the bureaucratic nature of education. My passion is trying to make positive connections with them, to help them see their potential and work with them to achieve it. I have little time for sentimentality or those in the profession who ‘drink the Kool-aid’ and consistently see their vocation as being above all others in importance.

Recently I met a student, a boy I did not know before and to be honest do not know really well. In the short time I spent with him (in my role as an educator) I learned about a boy who struggles with an extremely complicated life, but also has a gentle  nature and outstanding courage. At first, I had difficulty seeing the complex puzzle that is this kid. As I talked with him I was filled with questions. How can a person be both gentle, positive, courageous, and engaged in harming behavior at the same time? How can a person seemingly be so private and reserved yet openly honest and relaxed when discussing his personal challenges, with a couple of people he does not intimately know? I have been grappling with these question for days.

Rarely am I blind sided by a student. I generally am able to break down barriers with my students and create positive relationships that set the tone for learning and sharing together in my classroom. I am one who loves my work, enjoys my school relationships but tries to keep a professional divide between my work and my home. Much of my home life is spent focusing on my wonderful wife and two great kids.

This week however I am having difficulty accepting the fact that I will not have further contact with this student (as he is not one of mine). His honesty and ability to smile when sharing such difficult information has left me shaken, amazed, humbled, confused, saddened, worried, astonished, and INSPIRED.

I am inspired by the trust he showed in us by telling us the truth.

I am inspired by the courage he has shown to make the difficult personal decisions he has made – to be true to himself. When making different decisions may have been easier.

I am inspired by the way he is not hiding from others – when many others (perhaps even myself) would relent to outside pressures.

I am inspired by him.

I hope that I get the chance to see him again, I also hope to have the courage to tell him all of these things.

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Is a 21st Century Education Possible in a 19th Century System

Our current education system is entering a time of great promise and change. We are presently on the precipice of the next great leap in educational reorganization and learning…or the continuance of what is quickly becoming a tired antiquated system. All social media forms (which currently house some of our best thinkers) are filled with passionate, dedicated people sharing their beliefs, successes, reflections and visions for a better academic tomorrow. We (as I would like to be counted among them) are experiencing small to moderate successes and sharing those stories with all of our education brethren.

As many of us work passionately to use the system to find new resources to take risks implementing modern strategies, technologies, theories and pedagogical ideals which go against the dominant (popular) thinking, I am left wondering if we can truly be successful as educators in developing 21st Century Learners from the civil war which currently exists in public education.

On a daily basis I express to my students the joy of making mistakes and learning from them. We have collaborated with students from other schools using Google Docs to improve our ability to work together from a distance and create individual passion for learning and sharing information.  To engage in this type of learning, to develop a relationship with someone you have only ever seen over Adobe Connect meetings takes courage,  personal drive and a whole host of academic ans social skills. But most of all it takes time…the one precious resource we are seriously lacking.

I am not proposing that we lengthen the school day or year in an effort to create artificial time. Rather, we as professional educators need be given more freedom to spend extra time on those learning opportunities that will provide the most benefit to our students, the type of learning  they will carrying with them outside of the classroom and into their future lives.

One way to assist teachers in making learning more meaningful for students is to change the current rules regarding report cards. While the vast majority of educators agree that report cards themselves are a poor way to educate parents about their child’s academic and social progress (read more about feedback by @tbed63  and listen to  @BAMRadioNetwork ), many boards and ministries of education have yet to accept this. The expectations placed on teachers to report on so many areas of the curriculum (with a letter or numerical grades) each term often results in teacher scrambling to ‘teach’ enough material to fill a prescribed number of academic boxes.

These two ideals run counter to one another, I will attempt to clarify here. Teachers often and up ‘speed teaching’ parts of a bulging curriculum in an effort to satisfy a numerical requirement for educational hierarchies. Authentic learning tasks, using technology to expand the classroom, in an effort to allow students to develop 21st Century Skills, takes time. In fact it may significantly run over the 2 week time period you had allotted for Skypeing with Chris Hadfield, reading and responding to blogs and posts written by NASA and assisting your students to choose an aspect of space or space exploration they are passionate about and complete an inquiry project with the ultimate goal of sharing what they have learned with their peers.

It is asinine to think that students and educators are best served by the outdated 19th Century educational system whereby a certain number of ‘boxes’ needed to be filled by the end of term 1, term 2 and term 3. Educators need to be free to assess the needs of their own class and program/plan accordingly. To be forced to report on a specific number of subject (each with numerous strands) each term is far to rigid for creative teaching and passionate learning.

It is time to command a change! As professionals we should not be forced to cover a prescribed set of material each term which in no way takes the needs and passions of different learners and teachers from individual schools into account. This often leads to rushing through material for the express purpose of filling a box on an outdated tool (report cards).

If we are going to teach material, lets do it for the right reasons. Do it because it has some value to the students. Do it in a time frame that respects the material, the learner and the educator.  Do it for your student who works with you every day. In the end…he/she is the one who matters most.