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

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.

Once Upon a School

I have been meaning to watch this talk for a while, but as with many things it kept being put on the back burner. When L. encouraged me to follow through, I was glad that I did.

While I have enjoyed Eggers’ writing in the past, this was the first time I have seen him speak. He meanders in the beginning a bit, and admittedly I was worried about what type of impression he was making, but about half way through, and on to the end, he finally starts putting forward something you can grab on to. The main concept I took away was community building. We ask our schools to do so much, but how does the rest of the community stand with schools, or connect with schools, to help them achieve all we ask? This concept is certainly not the cure-all, but it is something novel, exciting, and perhaps the start of something greater. The idea also does not have to stay limited to English and writing. In every community there are people who have skills and expertise in so many different areas that could help teachers to inspire, support, or engage students. One of the key points he makes in this talk is that volunteers need not give up a lot of time, just that the time is quality.

Schools should spill out into the world, and the world should spill into schools. Besides, who doesn’t need supplies to ward off scurvy?

I particularly agreed, and identified, with his thought that a solid community comes from solid simple relationships, and that solid communities can lead to great things. I’m fond of saying big things come from little things. Be sure to let me know which parts you agreed with, disagreed with, connected with, or questioned.

If you haven’t read anything by Eggers yet, I certainly encourage you to do so. What would you offer to help students in if you had the chance?