Not just your average Hour?

What happens when a whole school participates in the Hour of Code?
Imagine if every teacher and administrator could answer that question?

Well, I know we can. Judging by the global numbers from this year’s event more educators are discovering the answers for themselves.

We are on the map for the Hour of Code.

We are on the map for the Hour of Code.

This past week students from JK to Grade 8 @BeckettFarmPS , in Markham, Ontario Canada (my home school in the YRDSB) took part in the worldwide Hour of Code, and the results were anything but average.

“I couldn’t believe how easy it was for students to open the apps, and begin writing their own code.” Grade 3/4 teacher

“You could have heard a pin drop. Our class is definitely going to do this again!” Grade 1/2 teacher

My grade 6 Language class was no exception. From the get go, our classroom became abuzz with ideas and excitement across the board. I’m still chuckling as I recall how a student, only 20 minutes into our hour, comes to me and announces he’s stuck. To which I replied, “Now what do you think you need to do?” Followed by mutual shoulder shrugs. 5 minutes later it became the Happy Dance for that student as he announced his success.

Hour of Code SistersThroughout our Hours of Code, over 300 students were in complete control of the choices, content and outcomes in their coding. Imagine the powerful opportunities of coding to inspire problem solving, growth mindset, learning from failure and perseverance in students? After our ‘hour’, our students became Beckett Farm PS’s Code buddies with other classes. Our Hour of Code  also allowed for student leadership in school as students became sources of encouragement and support with one another. That’s what I call an #EduWin/

If you’re still on the fence about getting involved? Consider the following responses to the FAQs we  encountered while preparing for our Hour of Code at Beckett Farm PS.

1. Q: How can I teach this when I’ve never coded before? A: You don’t. Students will be teaching themselves.
2. Q: Do I have to prepare in advance? A: No. The Apps are loaded and ready for immediate use.
3. Q: What if students struggle? A: There are a number of App choices for all levels if a particular program proves too difficult.  A2: Appropriate struggle is good for students while learning to code because it teaches them to use problem solving strategies in order to succeed.

Code Buddies

 What I like about the Hour of Code is that students and teachers are co-learners and intellectual equals. Coding provides a fresh starting line that is rarely available in education.  Where else could a kindergarten student be a learning colleague alongside his/her teacher? If you consider the possibility of being able to journey alongside of students instead of leading/guiding them as a monumental opportunity in education, you’ll understand that an Hour of Code is greater than 60 minutes of quality engagement with the future.

Coding is empowering, inclusive and ageless. It is no longer hidden behind firewalls to remain the domain of older students and the tech savvy.

I am already looking forward to next year.

If you participated in this year’s Hour of Code, please share your experiences with me at any time via the comments section of this post or via Twitter @willgourley


Trois Deux Un

This post is the result of an assignment in my Reading Specialist course. I am pretty sure I was able to follow some of the instructions. Or at least my interpretations thereof.

Trois Deux Un

Ferraris and Go Carts



Teachers need to try out tasks before their students in order to consider how to assess them. from Getting Started

We need to be equipping students with numeracy, literacy and life skills in order to prepare them for the future.  Allan Luke

The human being is a learning machine if you put him in the right conditions to be exposed to what you want them to know. Therefore we ought to set those standards.” Asa Hillard  from Moral Imperative


I feel there is a need to consciously infuse social and emotional learning into our literacy block. Students must be equipped with higher order/critical thinking opportunities to apply to all texts. In this students need to know they are valued for their ideas and attempts in connecting what they’ve heard, read and experienced. Teachers can build this into planning naturally by investing in building relationships with students first and by then relating/constructing a life literate learner. Think of Allan Luke’s off the cuff, but apt statement: “If you don’t have critical literacy, you’re a sucker!” Maybe we can tone it down for the primary grades. 😉

When Asa Hillard imparted that “the human being is a learning machine…” he reminds me of an all too obvious truth that students will learn despite us or not. This thought led me to create the Ferrari and Go Cart graphic above. Building on Hillard’s words I take this to mean that we cannot limit our learners by textbooks and last years lessons. We owe it to them to create learning opportunities tailored to their strengths and areas of need. No one eats leftovers after 3 days so why would teachers expect to serve lessons from prior years that have not been recooked with fresh ingredients?


Ok. Here goes. Standing in front of a bunch of admin types, teachers and a few disaffected types who attend PD like it’s a court ordered punishment. It starts with a challenge to change what has been done for so long from fear and form to what fosters and gives flight. The great eduMath prof Trevor Brown taught me to be excited about what I do. He told us to consider quitting if we were afraid to fall on our faces in front of a class or to take chances. It is this boldness to be excited that I want to infuse in the hearts and minds of educators. We have to get over our perfection and egotism to get to the core of why we are teachers. If I am leading others to prepare students to be literacy triple threats (literacy, numeracy, life literate) maybe I need to ensure that they are equipped to do so as I mentioned in my first point of this post.

Hitting save…now.

“The extra step beyond reflection and into scholarship.” by Brian Rieper

This is a guest blog by an exceptional educator. Brian Rieper is a grade 5 teacher at Owen PS in Toronto, Ontario. His clarity and wisdom around educational leadership inspired me to ask him to share this piece. You can follow Brian’s class on Twitter @OwenGr5

This sentence echoes in my head as I write this: a call to arms, almost, or a challenge. How can I enrich my professional life by taking on a more active leadership role? How much courage and openness can I assert in my teacher leadership? What is the most effective and positive way in which to go about this?

If I wish to become a leader in my grade team, school community, or greater community, I must begin by critically considering my reading program. I must shrewdly examine my practice – through co-teaching, feedback, administrative reviews, student response and feedback, self-reflection – to ensure that not only am I meeting the expectations of that yellow and white book with the trillium on the cover, but that my programing, instruction, and assessment are worth sharing. I must hold myself to the highest standards of professional responsibility in this examination. If I am asking my students to “read between the lines” to determine an author’s bias, I must ensure that this abstract process has been explicitly modeled and practiced through the gradual release of responsibility; I must know that the texts I am providing for my readers are engaging, multi-levelled, accessible yet challenging, and relevant to their lived experience; I must insist on texts that offer multiple perspectives on issues of equity, diversity, and social justice; and I must assess with purpose and transparency so that my readers know exactly how to be successful and how to build on their learning. It seems nearly impossible, but what excuse to I have not to make every possible effort to try?

When considering teacher leadership in any setting, one thing that sparked with me from the linked articles was the idea of starting on a small scale but with big possible outcomes. Perhaps our Junior team identify a need to improve visualization skills (1.3 – Comprehension Strategies), so we launch a full-term focus on using dramatization, media images, and guided visualizations to build students’ efficacy. Instead of focussing on the entire curriculum document all at once, I might choose this one small area with the knowledge that improving visualization skills with have a huge impact on students’ overall success in reading. I could draw upon my past experience in drama and theatre to run workshops/PD for other teachers and open my classroom for a lesson study. I would hope to work with a balance of humility and confidence, open-mindedness and focus to ensure that I could convince others of my plan.

I identify with Jennifer, the high school teacher who poured herself into assessment, only to have her students (and likely their parents/caregivers) go straight to the grade. I think about our Junior reading program, with it’s greater demands on students to engage in higher order thinking and to begin to read texts as much for what is not written as what is written. How might we revitalize our assessment to increase engagement? Perhaps I might propose an online student feedback exchange for reading responses: students from other grades or even other classes in the same grade within our Family of Schools would have electronic access to each other’s work (through Google Docs or a password protected website). Student would have to offer other students descriptive feedback, but then the student whose work it was would get to rate the helpfulness of the feedback on a scale of 1-5. This way, students would begin to see feedback as a crucial tool for self-improvement and growth. They would also have the drive to produce exemplary work and comment thoughtfully because they know it’s not just for adults – it’s other kids who will be forming opinions about their work. Additionally, students will be reading and responding to personal electronic communication (1.1 – Variety of Texts). I think that in leading my team in this initiative, we might uncover a fantastic opportunity for assessment as learning in our reading program.

I am beginning to feel quite driven to push myself to take these first few steps outside of my comfort zone, outside of reflection and into scholarship.

Advice to my Student Teacher(s) pt. 2

Seizing a moment, I wish to direct this post to my present and future student teacher(s). Perhaps some new hires on the NTIP track too.

Please ask yourself again why you want to be a teacher? Is it for the money? Of course not. Is it for the 80 hour work week? No, but it’s a bonus. How about that you “believe the children are our future”? Sorry Whitney Houston song lyrics are not welcome, and by the way the 80s want their song back. I know it’s none of the above. Admit it, you want to make a difference in the lives of others and change the world right? I knew it.

You are becoming a teacher to be the embodiment of Care, Respect, Integrity and Trust in our community. So how can we value some standards over the others? Simply put, we can’t. They’re interdependent actions that support our practice. When asked to choose two I do not take this lightly, but here goes. Care and Respect are my top two Ethical Standards and here’s why.

If we approach our profession with Care, we embody and model Respect, Integrity and Trust in the process. Our students, their parents, our colleagues and the community must know that we care first. My dad shared a great saying with me as a kid, “people won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” (What Did My Pops Say?) I’ve held on to this especially when times seem troublesome. When we care for others we are exhibiting leadership far beyond our education. It’s hard to find a teacher’s college offering a course in Care or being nice to people. In fact many have missed a vital opportunity to equip their candidates to their detriment in the real world. When you have an opportunity to lead others, remember CARE(considerate amazingly respectful education).

When I think of Respect it must be with the understanding that any instruction, interaction and information must be shared with the learner’s best interest in mind. We must know who  students/fellow teachers are, what they can do and where they want to go in their learning journeys. Everyone is on a continuum of sorts. When leading others you will need to be mindful of everyone’s place on that line. Some will leave you in the dust while others will have you waiting. At either extreme all will need to know you are there for them with support and or encouragement.

So when considering just 2 of the 5 Professional Standards I naturally lean towards Commitment to Students and Student Learning and Leadership in Learning Communities because they are idealogical mirrors to my Ethical Standards link above. We must buy in 100% to this calling. There is much to do and even more at stake.

Think of it this way. That troublesome student/colleague who disagrees with change, 21st Century Pedagogy and everything you stand for may be hurting or afraid. You can’t wither away, nor get up in their face about it, but you can exhibit commitment and caring to their success and growth. Even when it would be easier to turn all 4 cheeks and walk away. When you stand at the door at the end of day remember your job is to inspire and guide whether it is in the classroom or the staffroom. Establishing a culture of caring and committed professionalism will pay huge dividends for staff and students alike. The benefits are immeasurable and you will always learn something along the way.

Talk about win win!

Keep up the great work.

p.s Imagine the old you, 5 years ago, and present you now 4 months into your faculty of education program. How have you changed? What surprises you the most about this calling? Are you where you want to be? Have you experienced the Care and Respect in our halls? What would you change? Why do teachers ask so many ‘why’ questions?


Advice letter to my Student Teacher(s) pt 1

Hi! Hope you are all doing well.
So excited to hear how things are going for you. I am so proud to work with you all. 
(Wrote this as part of my reading part 2 AQ. Thought it would was worth a share.)An open letter to my present/past B.Ed TCs and NTIPpers,
Hey it’s me. You may not know this right now, but you have incredible powers just waiting to be shared in the classroom. As you enter our learning space, you will notice a number of things that may be different from when you or I went to school. Remember when we would read a book and answer the what, when, where and who questions? Remember how we used to fill in the blanks on a worksheet and when we were done we could sit quietly with our heads on the desk, or read silently if we were really quiet? I do and I’m writing this to let you know it’s time to forget it.
Literacy instruction is different than those good old days. Thankfully, it is no longer a spectator sport where students can coast along while watching their classmates, who were either so bored that they engaged in answering every question or were the first ones to raise their hands. Nuh-Uh! When you walk into our classroom, the acronyms GRR and H.O.T should be in your foremost thoughts.
That’s right Gradual Release of Responsibility and Higher Order Thinking. These two are foundational to student success in the classroom and in a world that is waiting for their brand of awesome.
After establishing safe and engaging learning environments founded on equity and respect, you will be developing in all areas of pedagogy. You will, no doubt, be incorporating the works of the Edu-Illuminati; Vygotsky, Piaget, Bennett, Hume, Bruner, Gardner, Marzano, Sir Ken Robinson, Paolo Freire and Van de Walle into your practice.
Consider this frame around the work you will be doing in Literacy in and out of  the classroom this year. Our role is to become increasinglyunnecessary to my students. That’s the GRR part of this. In all aspects of instruction we are to provide
  • “a balance of direct instruction, guided instruction, independent learning, and practice” (Early Reading Strategies, p. 31, 2003)
We are always working at releasing the learning in the control of the learner. This takes longer at times than planned, and requires you to provide them with the tools and next steps to achieve independence from your “guidance”. Now let’s get to the H.O.T part.
I alluded earlier to the 4 perfunctory questions of the W5H set. Can you recall which 2 were left out? That’s it. How and Why. Now if we are going to approximate a percentage value for them and the others, I would hazard a guess at around 80 % (40 each) with the rest (what, where, when, who) completing the balnce of 20%. When you equate H.O.T to G.R.R it is natural to see that the progression is from the literal to the inferential to the evaluative.
In fact, if I’m doing it according to plan it will resemble the description below;
“They invite discussion, rather than dominate it, and open up a dialogue of inquiry that may involve comparison, analogy, hypothesis, conjecture, prediction, analysis, reflection, and critique.” (Expert Panel Report,  p.35, 2004)
Although, you have 100 minutes time flies by. Use it wisely. Within your instruction all of the assessment must be present and learning must be visible. How does this get done in your mind? Always be mindful that your observations, instruction and interaction will comprise much of the scope of your evaluation of students along the way. Remember assessment is ongoing from the beginning of a lesson where it directs, drives and documents achievement. Keep in mind that it may be different for some students. One kid might rock a presentation and the other a poster. Be open minded to their talents and seek ways to let them share.
The expression “the shoe does not tell the foot how to grow” we have to find the best ways to let our students show off their skittles too. Below are the areas that you are going to impact with your planning and instruction;
(It better be mind-bogglingly engaging! No pressure.)
Now go out there and be awesome yourself. With considerate planning and understanding of your students, you will be able to use the curriculum, creative/engaging instructional strategies, effective formative feedback , differentiated instruction to make it happen.

Lead or…?

Lead or Get out of the WayThis post is a response to the following 3 videos – as part of a Reading Leadership Task.
Qualities of Leadership , Imagine Leadership and Leaders Care

Before trundling on I pose the following questions;
Why is reading important to you? To your class? To the betterment of humanity?

I saw a bumper-sticker in Hawaii that read,Learning to Read Poster“Surfing is not a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that.” Struck by its message, that got me thinking about education. So much so that I made this graphic, adapted from the original, as a tribute. So with that I want to consider my  our roles as “Reading Leaders”

Reading Leadership in the classroom

Teachers must embrace their role as lead reader/learner in the classroom.

Teachers need to provide students time and access to reading during each instructional day. Establishing all of this works seamlessly with Fountas and Pinnell’s First 20 Days. This includes, but is not limited to silent reading, shared reading, guided reading and interactive read-alouds. By using all or any to develop and maintain a life long love of reading, teachers can reach, respond and react to their students. Much of this can be summed up as being present in the moment and aware of all learners in your presence. Teachers serve their learners best when faithfully exercising this leadership skill daily.

Perhaps this TED Talk from Mac Barnett would aid the next conversation because the way I see it…we need to be excited about reading with our colleagues too.

Reading Leadership in relation to fellow staff members.

Probably one of the toughest audiences to reach are fellow educators. Of course, there are many that are pro-active learners paving the way, many who are happy to be on the bus heading somewhere, while there are still some whose reluctance make a stick-in-the-mud look like a cooked strand of spaghetti. Leadership at this level must be built on accepting that learning/learners are changing. Some times we need to be prepared for late adapters, who are struggling to overcome anxiety brought on by change.

Leadership Big Pic Final

Leadership succeeds when it inspires others to willingly take action and change.
Leadership seeks to encourage not embarrass.
Leadership is able to edify not tear down.

Reading Leadership in relation to parents.

At home time to read and interact with language must become irreducible minimums. A palpable passion for reading must be persistently prevalent when working with parents.

Our roles as leaders here are as resource provider, encourager, sounding board, advocate and literacy expert.

Parents are our greatest allies in growing literate learners. Their words and actions hold the keys to success from the earliest days of childhood development. Every chance I get to share the importance of language and reading in the home I do. If we convey the facts about word poverty,  as well as the correlation between daily reading time and achievement percentile it becomes even more imperative we lead and partner with parents. Just witness the results after any of our Primary Literacy Nights.

Reading Leadership in the Board.

Many times teachers are left dealing with the flavour of the month strategies that are foisted upon them by consultants or ministry directives. Leadership encourages others by actions not decrees. A leader at this level must allow time to adapt. A true leader will plot the course with the utmost consideration of the strengths of their team. While remaining fearless even when navigating uncharted “eduwaters”.

At any one time, teachers have the opportunity to lead, follow or get out of the way. But when we consider what’s at stake as more important than life or death, it is easy to understand why most teachers are the one’s trying to lead, encouraging followers while helping those who need it out of harm’s way in education.

Readin’ (a reflection and appreciation)

Teacher:  Whatcha doin’?  

Student: Readin’. Whatcha doin’?    

Teacher: Readin’

Imagine the possibilities if time was allotted for such witty and edifying banter albeit ever so brief?

I ask this in hopes that it will be in my class this September. That there will be time each day to interact with one another, read, reflect and maybe even collectively ruminate over a text amidst the transcendent bliss of calm; only ever slight interruptions of pages turning, chairs shifting and an occasional giggle over something read.

This past month I have been immersed in a world of discovery and learning on improving my own skills as a Literacy teacher. I was not sure how the whole on-line course thing would go for me because of the many information distractions and avenues of interest. Having an idea of interest in mind was helpful, and I plunged into the deep end on issues of equity and access to technology in education. My challenge was how to improve, broaden and continue incorporating it equitably into my current practice.

The choice of this subject area did not leave me short for resources either. In fact, there were almost too many credible, easy to access scholarly papers and informative web sites to keep the tank fuelled.  You can find  some of my faves below:

I guess the hardest part to achieve in a course like this is a sense of peace. It is an all consuming fire fanning over such a brief period of time. My hope is that the tasks and reflection around areas of my practice such as effective integration of technology into my classroom, higher order thinking/instructional strategies, assessment and communication will serve to push me forward.

I thought I had it going on already or at least that I was heading in the right direction. Now I feel like the trip just got a lot longer. One thing for is for sure, the road is winding and there are many places to get lost along the way.

This is part of a bigger journey in my career; I hope to take my principal qualification courses in the new year. Naturally, I am filled with thoughts ranging from excitement to trepidation at what’s next. Having been blessed to work with many incredible administrators and superintendents in my career there is one common trait that each one shares. It is their power of encouragement and abilities to allow me to inquire, learn and make mistakes along the way. In this way, I feel the same about this past month.

After this course and the tasks, I feel encouraged, more connected to the content, and affirmed by many of the decisions already made in the areas of Differentiated Instruction, Inquiry/Strengths based learning, feedback and, now more than ever, assessment in all phases of the process.  As a teacher there will always be work to do. I promise the learning and communication will be CONSTANT and consistent. For all of this and for what is to come, I am a truly thankful student and teacher.

photo by Igor Alexander

Resources to check out.

 Technology in Education  

International Reading Association

Ontario Ministry of Education

Technology in the Service of Learners

A Story about Reading…and Aliens

Am in the midst of a professional development course and am feeling a bit antsy. Maybe I’m over my head with this one? Anyways, to relieve some tension I wrote this story as an assignment post and thought it worth a share. Enjoy!

Aliens have landed and they are having a Dickens of a time understanding the Wilde methods we earthlings have developed to convey and extract non-verbal information along the Hemmingway of our existence. Thankfully, before the aliens get their Dostoevsky’s in a Borges you have an answer. We teach reading.

“Explain this reading of which you speak.”

Cultures, countries, computer programmers, and cuneiformers alike have developed a series of connectable symbols and sounds and have ascribed them meaning based on acceptable societal understandings and usable representations.

“Hmm? Go on.”



Well, it’s all well and good as long as you stay in your own country. Even then, there is no guarantee that you can read, or make meaning out of what someone else has written somewhere new to you if their symbols and meanings don’t match yours.

“What is the value then? Why teach it when it is not guaranteed to work for you everywhere?”

Well. there are over 200 countries in the world. There are probably at least 6 thousand different languages or dialects and they are parsed out among 7 billion people. Sadly, some children will never be taught to read even though they deserve to learn how. Did you know that there are countries who refuse equal access to learning based on gender?

“We outlawed discrimination in our galaxy 300 light years ago. Why do you stay on this planet?”

To finish the job was my reply. Anyways, back to our original subject.

We learn that there is an extractable and relatable meaning to the way the letters are arranged and that there can even exist multiple messages to be extracted from between the lines. We call it inferencing. It really gets interesting when people are able to discover multiple messages from the same texts. Some times this leads to great conversations or arguments…take your pick. Our older students love this and take great pleasure in pointing out the weaknesses in the ideas of others. We call it university.

“I see nothing between the lines.”

Reading is more complex than the sound of the word and its meaning. It’s about the information, images and ideas it initiates. We teach the symbols or letters first and then their sounds. Then we teach how to arrange them into words which are then assigned meaning. Some words change over time and others are invented like Google (googol). We’ve even compiled the words into great data bases that can be referenced by readers. We call them Dictionaries. “Seems very useful and logical.”



We have created schools to make sure that reading is taught to as many people possible. However, there is still inequity and discord because some schools have books and resources and others in the same city/town do not. Technology has helped. The School in the Cloud is bringing the world to remote villages and towns so kids can learn from others half a world away.

“Interesting, but how do you help the kids in your school?”

In short; time, encouragement and negotiation. I offer students the time to read. I offer them instruction and support/develop crucial decoding, fluency and interpretation skills. I offer them a choice of materials. Read what interests you is our motto. Some kids can view a text and listen to it being read to them so they can follow along. Others are using a program that takes their spoken words and converts them to a text. It was made by a guy named Ray. We even these paper free devices that hold hundreds of books. We have listening centers and IPads ( a version of a paperless book) where students can record themselves reading and then listen to how they sound. Students even share their suggestions with each other. We call it peer feedback.

“Feedback, eh?’

I recently discovered a cool program called SOUNS. I’m just learning it because it is designed for the youngest learners or for those who are learning an entirely new language, but are a little older.

There are lots of chances for children to learn to read, but it has to start as early as possible. If not, students become at risk of dropping out of school or being marginalized from opportunities in our societies. It is bad enough that some are intentionally left out in, but to miss the chance of giving the gift of reading to a student should not happen in our world. This is why teachers use every resource possible to develop each student into a reader.

“Souns like ewe half it down to ace-eye-ants?



The Karate Kid

Just finished watching a great remake of the Karate Kid with Jaden Smith playing the role that Ralph Macchio so aptly gave us in the 80s. For a change I enjoyed this remake as a homage to the original.

Karate Kid Macchio Morita Karate Kid Smith Chan

Somehow it got me thinking about teaching. It does not take long to see that in each movie, the student is an outsider of sorts who is seeking to find his way against a litany of problems; bullies, adolescence, the angry parents of love interests, absentee fathers and self doubt. Did I miss anything?

Yet, with patience, guidance, practice and encouragement the young apprentice in each version of the movie finds victory when all hope seems lost.

Most would identify the innocuous repetition of Mr. Miyagi’s (Morita) “wax on, wax off,” and Mr. Han’s (Chan) “jacket on, jacket off” as drill and kill instruction. I am not so sure. Perhaps it was differentiated instruction that was tailored to the particular learner? What is clear by the end – the struggle is justified once the student accepts and trusts his teacher. 

So did you see the teacher in there? Of course, that’s what makes us watch these movies over and over! We see our students in these characters. The teacher was the one who saw past the problems to the potential in the protagonist. However raw or under-developed it looked, the teacher saw the possibilities -even when the student had not. Along the way, the student finds, loses and rediscovers deeper understanding and sense of self with the unwavering help of his Sensei. But that’s different than “wax and jacket on and off” right?

Perhaps we are not teaching the transferable skills of the past 200 years of drill and kill education, but we are instructing students to apply(0n) and think (off) rather than recite and regurgitate. In many schools we are teaching students to; inquire around higher order thinking (HOT) skills, dig deeply into big ideas and to be tech-savvy digital citizens? This is done only after there is a relationship established in class where the student is safe to learn, try, explore, fail, receive encouragement and to be able to try again. Unfortunately, in many classrooms, these opportunities do not exist. Instead there exist cultures of fear and win at all costs. And most times it revolves around a broken culture of teach to the test and there is only one way to solve this Math problem…mine.

So how does education help out its diffident resisters in order to change and cultivate whole learning? The answer exists in the classroom that honours the journey of “wax on…and jacket off” as revealed by students. The teacher who fosters a safe space for students equips them to succeed.

In both films there is the antagonistic dojo leader who instructs by intimidating and demeaning his students. I have witnessed this type of teaching in classrooms where students are made to feel inferior for asking questions during a lesson. I have experienced this in university from profs who forgot their purpose was to impart knowledge and NOT hit students over the head with it. On one occasion I told a prof that we could settle it outside after a particularly excessive diatribe. (I still do not remember what came over me that day? I’m really quite peaceful.) His power over masked many insecurities around his androgogy.

You watch these films just hoping these evil-doers get their  comeuppance. And thanks to “Disneyfied” endings they do. Of course, everyone realizes there is a better, more perfect way to win/achieve. The student grows from the struggle, the teacher grows from the investment in the student. #eduwin 

I’ll leave it there. I want to enjoy the time between the lie (false belief) and the time that it is discovered. The lie is that education always has a happy ending. You know, where students emerge from certain peril to conquer their greatest challenge(s). I know it will never be this tidy. Education is messy. It has to be. However, one thing that mirrors these movies are the struggles. At all costs, a relationship that is based on respect and caring must be established before any learning could occur and this happens far in advance of slaying any dragons along the way. Now get back to your dojo. Your students are waiting.

For those of you who’d like to see that here is a scene from the 2010 version of Karate Kid that ended up on the cutting room floor.  In the end, the real teacher protected all of the students including those from the “evil dojo”, even though they harmed his own student. He still did not seek to harm his enemy when attacked and he did not reject the misguided students. Instead choosing to model grace and restraint to all learners. 


States that matter – H2O and Education

While refilling my water bottle the other day(for the Nth time), I began reflecting about my thirst-quencher of choice. Thoughts slowly washed over my mind,  like drops from a leaky faucet. Then, a connection between water and education began to pool. I had some prior posits, but my empty cup left me parched. Needless to say, I thirsted for more. Thankfully, a conversation with my son Storm, set me sailing on the seas of Science and Philosophy. Wind at my back, and out of water analogies(for now), I was ready to navigate the topic.

512px-Water_drop_001Mmmm water, refreshing, pure, and all-life-sustaining. And, it even washes things clean (with apologies to Lady Macbeth). It comes in 3 states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. No matter which state it’s in, water means life can exist on this planet(no biggie). It can also be dangerous, destructive and just as easily, the deliverer of deadly diseases. Water also erodes. It floods with impunity and can be made unfit for consumption when stagnant or polluted. 

Education is like water in all its states. It can be refreshing, pure and ultimately able to equip a learner to survive and thrive with knowledge gained. Consider knowledge like the elements Hydrogen(less than 1%) and Oxygen (about 21%) in the air around us. These elements cannot be seen in this state, but like the wind, their affects are everywhere. Consider too, that before these elements become water, there must be a situation/opportunity for them to change. A reaction has to occur or a force must act upon them. Let’s call this PKE (Potential Knowledge for Everyone or  just plain old education). In their gaseous, most ethereal state, Oxygen and Hydrogen represent unlimited potential. Like knowledge, they are all around us waiting to be reacted upon. It is up to educators to cause the reactions that will put these elements to their highest and most beneficial uses. At no time should learning stagnate by standing allowed to stand still or be polluted. To do so would risk the very purity of learning.

As a liquid, water is a powerful force. Its energy provides hydro-electric power; bringing light to the darkness of our world. It irrigates parched lands to provide nourishment in areas where none was possible. Education at its finest is both of these. A good lesson can electrify, and feed a learner’s mind.  This is where education needs to stay in order to be relevant going forward. If it can remain fluid and pure, a wave of change and creativity could alter the universe. Conversely, a flood of standardized tests can cause an instructional time drought where crop after crop of drill and kill/teach-to-the-test teaching tactics are planted. Fortified sea walls of data will not be able to keep back a raging sea of discord for this regardless of altruistic and or other political intents.IceWater

As a solid, ice can sink the unsinkable, put the chill on things, and cause havoc on all. As a Canadian, I am familiar with it, and I don’t like it. Ice is usually best in a drink, or for sports like curling or hockey, and not for gashing holes in ships. In education there are times where responses to changing needs of learners are like a giant iceberg from the past instead of a complement to a good drink.

An iceberg waits undetected, its bulk just below the surface,  many times floating on a collision course with innovation and differentiated instruction. How many educational lives need to be sacrificed to the rigidity and destructive nature of the icebergs of  past education? It’s time to navigate around dangerously frigid intellectual waters with purposeful course plotting that is student centred in order to steer our learners clear without fear. We need to chip away at it’s mass to make it more manageable and useful. To be fair, ice can be refreshingly cool in heated times. Ice can be skated over at great speeds when integrations of new instructional iterations a.k.a. 21st Century pedagogy are allowed and encouraged. 

Shall I pour or send out an S.O.S?