Eve of Tuesday 2015

This is the 9th annual Labour Day post.

New seasons are upon us on this Eve of Tuesday. Fall in the North, spring in the South, are almost here, and a new season of school starts up in many places around the world. More locally, hockey season cannot be far from many people’s minds – getting on the ice more is in my list of resolutions. Also forefront in the consciousness of Canada is election season.

While the other seasons turn with more regularity, the opportunity to influence the direction of our nation comes around more slowly. No matter how frustrated we may be with our own democracy’s level of efficiency and priorities at times, or how removed we may feel from the actual decision making processes – the importance of participating as an informed voter cannot be overstated. I am hoping particular election season allows me to continue building on three areas that I’ve been working on within myself lately, as an informed citizen, and a reflective professional: breadth of perspective, questioning, and Reconciliation.

Often we fill our social media feeds, our news feeds, and our daily conversations with writers, speakers, videos, friends, and colleagues that share similar perspectives to the ones we already hold. Seeking out opinions and information that one does not agree with can be challenging. Yet, attempting to understand other perspectives and the role they have in our communities and country is important to our future. This season I’ll continue trying to broaden the media, opinions, and beliefs I encounter.

Linked with breadth of perspective is the importance of asking questions. While it may be easier to direct difficult questions to people one disagrees with, it is just as important to make challenging inquiries of those that are like-minded. In turn, this can broaden perspectives, strengthen ideas, and help make communities stronger. Growth cannot occur without difficult questions.

Finally, as a new school year starts, and with an election only weeks away, Reconciliation is also at the front of my mind. While it does not appear as often as the economy, jobs, or foreign affairs in election coverage, I feel Reconciliation is a crucial topic, and have been trying to be more aware of it in my professional work. Hopefully I can continue to build on this in the months to come. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission held its closing events in Ottawa this year, May 31-June 3. Many years of hearings and testimony around Canada’s residential school system resulted in 94 recommendations. For more information on the Commission’s work you may want to visit the TRC website, or read, listen and watch media reports on the Closing Event (I recommend this one, both article and sound files, from As It Happens).

Tomorrow, Tuesday, is almost upon us, but October 19 will be forty days away – plenty of time to broaden perspectives, ask questions, and consider Reconciliation. Wherever you find yourself on Tuesday, or in the weeks and months ahead I hope you are able to try new things, and build on areas you also feel are important. All the best in the seasons ahead – be sure to vote!

Thank you – merci.
Take care,
À bientôt,
IR

Previous Labour Day Posts: (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014)

Eve of Tuesday 2014

This is the 8th annual post for this time of year, and the most direct.

To begin, I am incredibly thankful for a wonderful summer. It was filled with a momentous birthday, an engagement, nuptials, new babies, and plenty of adventure. There is a great deal of caring in our world and I was fortunate to be connected to a lot of it this summer.

The Tuesday after Labour Day is often a time of new beginnings, and fresh starts. This will not be the case for many people in British Columbia tomorrow. There are important issues being discussed, debated, and questioned with regards to the education system in our province. Thus, my message in this year’s annual post is simple, and direct: ask questions, and critique responses.

Please ask those in power to detail their vision of public education. Ask them to also explain their intentions and decisions. Do not accept responses that are lacking in meaning and substance.

Please ask yourself what type of education system is important for an inspiring, responsible, respectful and caring community. Share your thoughts with others, and let’s find our common ground to move forward, together. Let this be our new beginning.

Thank you – merci.
Take care,
à bientôt,
IR

Previous Labour Day Posts: (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

EBB Project Reflection – 2012

The following piece was originally written for the Education Beyond Borders Website in the autumn of 2012. With some minor edits I have finally posted it here.

During the past summer I travelled to Kenya for the second time. For approximately a month I was fortunate enough to work with Kenyan and Canadian colleagues on three Education Beyond Borders (EBB) projects. Each project provided me with opportunities to share, to learn, and to grow with other professionals. One of the most powerful experiences was returning to Gilgil, where I had spent three weeks the previous summer.

Over the course of the past year I kept in contact with some of my colleagues from the Gilgil and Naivasha districts. As spring drew near we collaborated professionally on the planning of this summer’s Navaisha-Gilgil Student-Centred Methodology workshops. There was nervousness and excitement in this process. It was to be the first year that Kenyan teachers would take on the roles of project leaders, and primary planners for nearly all facets of the preparation and delivery of the workshops. In fact, there would be no direct Canadian presence for the teacher workshops in late August. Noble Kelly was the only other Canadian teacher going to Naivasha-Gilgil this year, and we were set to be focused on observation and feedback.

This was to be an important step for the Naviasha and Gilgil districts, as well as EBB. The EBB model aims to support districts and teachers in such a way that they are able to take ownership of sustainable professional development over the course of four or five years. As the longest running project in Kenya, Naivasha-Gilgil had provided lessons for other projects in East Africa. Now that it was in its fifth year, it was time to discover just what the next steps to local sustainability would look like in a project that was approaching the end of the model’s cycle.

With the anticipation and curiosity of how this transition would unfold, Noble and I travelled towards Gilgil in early August. As we approached Utumishi Academy, where we would be working with trainers and facilitators, I recalled 2011. That year I witnessed the reunion of Kenyan and Canadian teachers who had worked together previously. I wondered if I would experience the same sense of palatable joy, and feeling of homecoming that I had witnessed in others previously.

The wonders soon became answers, and as old friends poured in to the room it felt as if we had spent merely a few weeks apart, rather than a year. The warmth of reconnecting with my Kenyan friends and colleagues, who inspire me with their dedication to students, learning, and teaching, is difficult to fully convey. The intense experience of EBB projects forges friendships that last over thousands of kilometres and years. This intensity also fuels an ambition for collaborative and student focused education. The next two weeks were filled with passionate discussion, debate, and preparation. Long hours and little electricity were but small obstacles as the core team of experienced trainers planned how to welcome new facilitators, and create new workshops. Admittedly there was some uneasiness as the reality of a new future, with less concrete ties to EBB, took shape. However, by collaborating and sharing successes of the past year, it became apparent that this new future would be no less meaningful, inspiring or effective than the previous four years. In fact, the strength and commitment of the teacher leaders in Naivasha-Gilgil was on full display, and it was clear to me that future professional development in the area can be focused specifically to meet local needs.

The teachers in Naviasha and Gilgil truly embody the EBB philosophy. No one person owns the process, there is no one way to always do things. New participants, facilitators, and trainers are welcome to share new ideas, and to develop new resources. Feedback is consistently pursued, and positively given, with support and care. There are many hands to lift heavy work. This process may not always be comfortable, or easy, but it is always fulfilling, full of learning, and focused on improving the future learning of students.

This year, close to one hundred new teacher participants in Naivsha-Gilgil attended professional development workshops at the end of August. Noble and I had returned to Canada by that point, but we were able to connect briefly to this gathering over Skype. A sense of accomplishment, collaboration, fulfilment, and unbridled joy among our friends and colleagues came across loud and clear. Professional development and collaboration is entering a new era in Naivasha-Gilgil. I am honoured and humbled to have worked with amazing colleagues and fantastic friends. I look forward to sharing and learning in new ways as an exciting new time for EBB and teachers in Naivasha-Gilgil begins.

Posts made from Kenya during the summer of 2012:
Adventures in Collaboration
Observation of Engagement

Lights Out: The Power Surge Tour

Nearly a month in Kenya is coming to an end.

I have a number of pieces of writing in the works about occurrences, thoughts, and reflections since my last post, but it is going to take a bit longer to see if any of them come to complete fruition. In the meantime, it seems only appropriate to mark the last few hours of this adventure with a quick look back, and some thanks.

It became known as Lights Out: The NK & IR Power Surge Tour. Stops and visits included:

  • Kakamega – July 20-28
  • Kisumu – July 29
  • Nairobi – July 29-30
  • Nanyuki – July 31-Aug 3
  • Gilgil Aug 3-6
  • Nakuru Aug 6-10
  • Gilgil Aug 10-13

Nearly all of the stops included disruptions in electrical power – of various severity and duration. With a grin and a shrug we began to consider that  our mere presence was altering the flow of electricity wherever we ventured. However, it did nothing to dampen the experiences. In fact, it became the norm, and whenever the electricity went out, smiles came on. That’s because there was no shortage of power. We were surrounded by the power of amazing educators, fantastic friends, and a wealth of caring. We were welcomed wholeheartedly and with compassion in to meetings, in to workshops, in to schools, in to classrooms, and in to homes throughout our journey. In all of these adventures we were consistently among colleagues who care more than anything about their students. That’s real power.

Once again I leave Kenya having grown as a professional, and having strengthened bonds of friendship. I am so very grateful to my new friends, and my old friends in each of the locations we visited. At the risk of forgetting someone, I will not attempt an exhaustive list. Simply: thank you – asante! While I have learned at every stop along our tour, I will briefly mention that those I have worked closely with in Gilgil these past two years have given me so much. They are simply outstanding friends and colleagues. Asante sana.

I intentionally speak in the present tense. These are my friends, these are my colleagues, even as I depart Kenya.

Finally – a large debt of gratitude to NK as my tour partner. A great teammate, an inspiring educator.

Hopefully more photos to come on flickr, and more writing to come on this blog. In the meantime…

Asante sana – tutaonana siku nyingine!
IR

Observation of Engagement

“Chora, chora, chora!!” came the enthusiastic instructions as I sat among my Standard One classmates at Emasare Primary School. I was engaged as an observer, participant, teacher’s assistant, and learner – all in one go. The Class One teacher had agreed to be observed and receive feedback following the Education Beyond Borders (EBB) workshops he had participated in during the previous three days. During our pre-conference he asked if I would be comfortable in being involved in the lesson a bit. As it was an informal observation, and it had been a year since I was in a primary class of any kind, I smiled at the chance. Then, just before we entered he reminded me that most of the instruction would be in Kiswahili, and I smiled even more, as my Kiswahili is in serious need of a development.

We entered the class, I was warmly welcomed, and within a few minutes the lesson on domestic animals was rolling. While I took observation notes, curious six year olds were sneaking glances my way as they also tried to pay attention to their enthusiastic teacher whom they clearly enjoyed. The instructions and expectations were incredibly clear to all of us, including the larger student in the second row that had a less than rudimentary grasp of the language of instruction, me. It spoke volumes about the teacher’s passion and engagement strategies. While trying to keep his young class focused he also challenged himself to try a new collaborative learning strategy he had only learned two days earlier. It was here that I learned that chora is Kiswahili for draw, as we were all given a spot on a collaborative graphic organizer to draw domestic animals – including me. The lesson continued with sharing, more drawing, animal sounds, animal movements, and finally sculpting.

Between our energetic greeting at the opening of the lesson, and my heartfelt departure, not a single word was exchanged between any of my Class One companions and I. However, the smiles, the looks, and the unmistakable shared feeling that we were in something fun and exciting together was more than enough to communicate to me that they enjoyed learning, and enjoyed their teacher. He had committed to taking risks with methodologies that were new to him. Even more impressive was nearly all his colleagues at Emasare had done the same thing – and they all opened their classrooms to me. Each one had a story that I look forward to sharing with you another time.

A year ago I spoke about schools being places of people. As I observed four classes at Elsamere on Thursday I saw passionate teachers taking first time risks so that their students could maximize opportunities. I saw hands-on investigations in Class Four/Five, collaborative learning around fishing resources in Class Seven, and students asking in depth questions in Class 8. None of it had anything to do with where they were – but everything to do with the people they were with.

Adventures in Collaboration

For more than a week I have been largely disconnected from the online world. Rather, I have been off having an adventure in collaboration. The word collaboration may conjure images of electronic connection and social networking, but that has simply not been the case since I arrived in Kenya. While I will be honest and admit I was happy to get back online today, I can also truthfully say that I was not feeling as if I was missing anything because of a lack of modem these past ten days or so. Instead my days have been full and engaging because of interactions with people. These personal interactions have been largely collaborative. The focus has been on student-centred methodology workshops in Kakamega, Kenya. Designing, organizing, and implementing the workshops has been a collaborative effort by a number of organizations and individuals. While I am specifically a member of the Education Beyond Borders (EBB) team that is presently in Kenya, the workshops were also organized by the African Canadian Continuing Education Society (ACCES), supported by the Kakamega District, and attended by a diverse number of teachers and stakeholders. The true measure of how collaborative the efforts were came from the sense of equality throughout. Facilitators and organizers worked alongside participants as co-learners. The power of this sharing and collaborating – rather than directing and leading – created an environment that bred confidence, and success.

Too often, when organizations or institutions attempt to collaborate there becomes a sense of protectionism, and questions arise concerning ownership. It has been a positive start to new collaboration in Kakamega as those involved have worked to avoid these pitfalls. It is certainly my hope that it continues.

It is also my hope that I begin to post more regularly. I trust you will excuse that infrequency with which this space has been updated lately, and allow this short and overly simple post to lead things off for reporting on this next adventure. If all goes well, the next post should be about yesterday’s visit to Emasera Primary.

Places of People

Last week, my first week of working with Education Beyond Borders in Kenya, I had the fortune to visit four schools. Like the British Columbia schools I am familiar with, they are vibrant and engaging places. In both areas of the world this has little to do with location, resources, or buildings, but has everything to do with students and teachers. My first visit was an impromptu arrival at Eburru Primary while on our way to Cypress Prmary. Even though my colleagues and I were unexpected, we were warmly welcomed. On to Cypress Primary we were treated to a school assembly, songs, and another warm welcome. We had the great fortune to visit each class in this school and were put on the spot to conduct mini-lessons. It only took a grand total of two seconds to feel comfortable at the front of the first classroom, and the next hour and a half flew by with activity. laughter, and sharing. (On another occasion I may share the experience of explaining ice hockey to one of the classes.)

The next day it was off to Muriricua Primary in Kaiptangwany. The welcome that we received from students was simply overwhelming. I was whisked away to be shown all the highlights of the school. However, my personal highlight of the visit was witnessing the reuniting of Canadian and Kenyan teachers that had not seen each other for a year. The expression, emotions, and enthusiasm on display spoke volumes of the bond that caring teachers can share.

The final visit on Thursday was to Gitare Secondary outside of Gilgil. It was the last day of session before the August holiday and we were present for the closing ceremony. As students and staff spoke in front of the entire school assembled on the grass, their messages focused on character, perseverance, work ethic, and respect. Each teacher that spoke emphasized how much he or she wished for the future success of the students. The evidence of their caring was in more than their words: their passion, and their stories spoke to the true depth.

With last week’s visits, I have now had the fortune to visit schools on four continents. It is promising, and reassuring to have witnessed schools  all over the world that are all about people, and values. It is inspiring to meet teachers that want to show visitors their students more than anything else. People caring about connecting people – schools are filled with them.

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in other news…
-This week has been very very busy, but filled with so much learning and making connections. Hope all is well with you.
Currently Reading, Listening & Watching page has finally been updated a bit.