I’m back at school this week and getting to know my new students. In our grade nine introduction to computers class they’re putting together tech-resumes so I can see what their background in tech is. One of the nines has a prezi covered in pictures of Ferraris. I asked him what that was all about and he said, “I love cars!” I was surprised by my response, “they’re appliances dude!”
I’ve been a car-guy for a long time (since I got one when I was seventeen because my parents ponied up the difference between a car and the motorcycle I was going to get). On the list of things I thought I’d never say, calling cars appliances is near the top, yet out it came. Appliances are used to make domestic chores easier, things like commuting, or going shopping. They keep you dry when it’s wet, keep you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cold, and they get you where you need to go. They’re so easy to operate that most people who use them have no idea how they work and don’t care. The vast majority of people on the road last focused on how to drive when they were getting their license, once they have it they simply operate their vehicles on habit for decades. Cars are a necessary appliance for modern life, and that’s how people use them. Fetishizing cars is where I found an odd resonance. As engineering and design efforts, I can still appreciate the mechanical and design elements some cars display (one of the reasons I still look forward to watching Top Gear who focus on those things), but when I see someone driving down the street in a pimped out Pontiac Sunfire I have to wonder what is wrong with them. It’s like putting a wing on an oven. What kind of license do you need to drive a car? In Ontario it’s a G-general license, good for cars and light trucks. Two-thirds of Canadians have a driver’s license. Older drivers who probably shouldn’t be on the road keep general licenses active, we hand out automotive licenses to children before we allow them to vote. Driving a car offers access to an appliance that the majority of people feel they need. When I have to take a car to work it’s for appliance like reasons (I need to pick up equipment or move stuff around), it’s never an enjoyable experience in and of itself. I want the car to work, to be efficient, and to last a long time… like any other appliance. I drive very well. I’ve spent time and money improving my ability to handle a four wheeled vehicle in advanced driving schools and on the track and I’ve driven on both sides of the road on opposite sides of the world, but the thought of hauling tons of seats and dashboard around a track seems absurd to me now. I’ll make an exception for racing vehicles stripped to the essentials, but my interest there is mainly in the engineering rather than the driving. The complex, raw interaction between rider and machine on two wheels is much more interesting to me now. I have been drifting away from driving as a ecologically irresponsible means of recreation for a while, though the years I’ve spent getting familiar with internal combustion engines has made me a fan of their engineering. The brutal minimalism and efficiency of a motorcycle allows me to keep that connection alive knowing that I’m burning as little gas as possible to carry the least amount of weight in the most entertaining fashion. I’ll leave the appliances to the masses. They can get into their refrigerator white or silver vehicles and putter about in a distracted, isolated way, using way more of a diminishing natural resource and producing more waste to support a wasteful, simplistic, accessible means of transport that the majority of people can manage (poorly). I think I’m at peace with what came out of my mouth in class, though it surprised me at the time.
1. an instrument, apparatus, or device for a particular purpose or use.
2. a piece of equipment, usually operated electrically, especially for use in the home or for performance of domestic chores, as a refrigerator, washing machine, or toaster.
A wide range of imaging from the summer of 2020 into the autumn stretches out beneath you. On-bike photos usually taken with a Ricoh ThetaV firing automatically and attached to the bike with a tripod. Close-up/macros usually done with a Canon T6i DSLR with a macro lens. Drone shots taken with a DJI Phantom4Pro drone. Other shots taken with a OnePlus5 smartphone when I had no other choice (the best camera is the one you have with you). Most are touched up in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom depending on where I am and how much time I’ve go for post processing. Some of them are very post processing heavy verging on digital illustration rather than photography.
The stop motion video was hundreds of photos taken with the 360 camera on bike and then composited into a stop-motion film in Premier Pro. It’s a tricky process you can learn more about here if curious. The SMART Adventures videos are using a waterproof/shockproof action camera from Ricoh.
What’s it like teaching in a pandemic? Frustrating and exhausting. My best guess is that we’re running at about 60% of what we usually cover curriculum wise. There are a number reasons for this, but the underlying one is that we’re letting a virus dictate our pedagogy. SARS- CoV-2 is dictating a lot of things about being human at the moment, so it isn’t surprising that it’s also dictating how we educate our children, but COVID19’s ways are alien and harsh. SARS-CoV2 might be even more mean spirited than the politicians we have running Ontario at the moment. It’s at least as equally short sighted, self-serving and cruel. It’s no wonder that the two get along so well together, COVID is the hammer this government has been trying to hit us with for the past two years. They’ll still be gleefully holding our heads under water for weeks after the rest of the province has shut down.
For those of us trying to ride this out in the system, COVID19 throws everything into a permanent state of panic. The system, which has been struggling under political attacks for over two years now, has been forced into reopening without any central plan or consistent support. The result is a calcified, wounded thing lacking in flexibility and responsiveness. In the rush to force school re-openings a number of strange inconsistencies have shown themselves. If students aren’t in the building it’s perfectly OK to stuff up to forty of them on a poorly ventilated school bus for up to an hour at a time while transporting them to and from their socially distanced classrooms. There is minimal oversight on masking policies at that time as the only adult in the vehicle is busy operating the vehicle. Students then disburse from their crowded buses into carefully sized cohorts of under 20 so they aren’t in big groups… like the one they just sat in to get to the school.
You might think the walk-in students in the afternoon cohort are managing better, but driving home I regularly see large groups of 20+ students not wearing masks while play fighting and jumping on each other after a long afternoon of mask compliance and rigorous rules. When COVID dictates your school’s daily activities it’s with an iron grip powered by fear and blame. I don’t remotely blame those kids for jumping on each other after a frustrating afternoon of being kept apart and muzzled, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think all the rules are reducing transmission routes, the water’s just running around the rock that is the school. Meanwhile, in school we’re making classroom maps of who is sitting where so we can trace contagion in the place it’s least likely to happen. We don’t trace it anywhere else because it doesn’t affect system liability. Compliance with liability issues appears to be what drives system decisions, not efficacy against this virus.
There is a reason we don’t didn’t do quadmesters when viruses weren’t dictating our school schedule. Human attention is a limited resource (these days it’s being strip-mined too). In education speak this is often referred to as engagement. Some media has conflated this into a reduction in attention spans, but my experience in the classroom doesn’t support that. I’ve watched CyberTitans and Skills Ontario competitors peak perform for hours at a time, so sustained attention is something today’s students are more than capable of, but it only seems to work in genuine learning opportunities. Overly fabricated lessons with fictional connections to the real world are where engagement fails. Students can quickly see through that kind of fabricated value. You might get away with inauthentic learning in a 76 minute class, but in a 150 minute class you’re going to run into problems.
The quadmester fire-hose curriculum is problematic on a number of levels. Fast moving students who are fluent in the system can adapt and even benefit from that kind of focused attention on a subject, but for the other seventy percent of the class, massive burst f2f and then remote/elearning classes are damaging their ability to learn, but we’re not dictating pedagogy any more, a virus is, and the virus actually benefits from disaffected, frustrated people. It’s odd that we keep handing these kinds of people to the disease. SARS-CoV2 isn’t intelligent in the traditional sense, but it is a reflexive opportunist that will and does benefit from our ham-handed responses.
In addition to student focus, quadmesters produce a number of other issues that are especially difficult to manage during a world wide medical emergency. I’ve just spent three weeks trying to order IT parts in for my second grade 9 class. The first one took out enough of what parts we had in the lab (many of which were in rough shape because we’d been in the middle of using them before March break) that I couldn’t do the IT unit with the second class. In a normal year I’d have weeks to sort that out, in the drink-from-the-firehouse quadmester curriculum where we’re covering 4+ days of material each day and almost a month a week, there is no time to wait on parts. They take longer to source and deliver anyway because there’s a pandemic happening. I’m now trying to line up a month’s worth of coding curriculum to deliver next week instead – online and f2f at the same time all day every day.
Another one of those inconsistent system responses is the withdrawal of support services within the school. Special education support rooms are closed, guidance is closed and libraries are closed, presumably so students aren’t mixing in school. When you’re facing 16 bused in students every morning who are bringing over 500 secondary connections with them into your classroom, the idea that sending students who need support to specialists who can help them, or sending one of the many students I’ve had in emotional distress over the past few weeks down to guidance seems like a reasonable expectation, but evidently it’s absurdly dangerous.
COVID19 seldom transmits through airborne droplets. You’d have to be within two meters of someone when they sneezed or coughed while not wearing a mask while you’re also not wearing a mask (though COVID can infect through eyes too) to even have a chance of transmission that way. Yet we fixate on masks and ignore the most common means of transmission. The single thing that’s made SARS-CoV2 so difficult to manage is its ability to survive on surfaces. Smaller groupings and frequent spot cleaning is what will strangle this thing, not myopic mask fixations. Following the actual pathology of the disease, there is no reason why we can’t apply effective cleaning regimes and distancing to guidance, spec-ed support and library access, but we don’t because we’d rather panic and shut them down while giving the virus the frustrated people it needs to thrive. Less is more when it comes to ignoring special needs in a pandemic.
While quadmesters are problematic in a lot of ways, the dual cohort is also an imperfect solution to a problem we’re only half addressing. The initial idea was to make every classroom teacher do twice as much prep work designing both face to face and online instruction and then being both online and face to face with alternating halves of the class all day. In practice the splits didn’t happen evenly because we’re a country school and way more students get bused in than walk, so our morning/bus cohorts are often 2-3 times bigger than our afternoon cohorts (16 vs 6 last week for me). Our union then worked out how to provide us with prep time by having covering teachers come in for 30-45 minutes in each two and a half hour marathon face to face session, but in practice I’ve yet to have a covering teacher qualified to teach what I teach and none of them have the faintest idea what we’re doing. From a safety perspective, if the covering teacher isn’t tech qualified I’m supposed to pull students off hands-on work (which is the main focus in technology classes) and do seat work (which isn’t)… with someone who has no background in the subject? We were told to just work through our preps. It’s bandaids all the way down in 2020.
Having to produce days of remote lessons for the half of the class not face to face is another place where a bandaid was thrown on. The teachers covering the online work? Yep, they’re not qualified to teach my subject and have no background in it either. Furthermore they were told that they are to do no marking and make no material for the class, so they’re… what? Taking attendance? On any typical day I’m trying to teach a face to face class while also trying to respond to online emails from students at home at the same time. Not only is this an incredible burden to bear for classroom teachers, but it also casts the no-contact rules with people still doing support work in a stark light. If feels like we’re expected to go over the top every day into no-man’s land while other staff are experiencing minimal workloads.
Overflow classes for students who need special one on one support? That would have been a good use of teachers not in the classroom. We could have pivoted around student need instead of ignoring it. Emotional support spaces for students struggling with the last six months? That would have been a good use of teachers, but thanks to an arbitrary and rather inconsistent response, support is dead while people on the front lines are being snowed under.
The reflexive tightening of the system while under this extraordinary pressure while also two years into a provincial leadership vacuum has resulted in an inflexible response that is providing the appearance of safe, face to face schooling without actually delivering it. I struggled early on with system leaders telling us to just provide day care and not worry about curriculum, but I didn’t take years of schooling to provide day care, though, of course, I’m very cognizant of my students’ mental well being. Others have suggested that it doesn’t matter if we cover curriculum as long as we just make sure the kids are OK, but that’s very difficult to do when the very systems in schools that ensure child well-being are inaccessible. Do you want to be having surgery done on you by COVID-grads who never actually completed a credible education system? Do you want them fixing your brakes? Building your bridges? We ignore expertise at great cost to our society. We have to get back to maximizing human potential because that’s what society needs us to do – our students need us to do that too. Summer should have been all about planning and organization, but it is clearly evident that the government and the ministry its mismanaging didn’t plan anything. We’re watching boards scramble with no clear funding or central planning by provincial governance to try and make this work, and it really isn’t.
Where to next? Well, Ontario’s second wave is breaking on us quickly. Where is it coming on strong? In school aged kids and the people most likely to be in contact with them. Some have suggested that younger children aren’t at risk because they’re not showing a lot of high positives, but considering COVID19’s strange habits, such as the fact that the vast majority of under twenties who get it show no symptoms at all, and considering that Ontario’s half-assed back to school plan has had parents missing work to take their kids with colds, asthma and allergies to day-long line ups to get COVID tested, I’m not surprised. We’re good at skewing our own data.
Here’s a happy thought for you: what if students are freely spreading COVID19 on overcrowded buses and before and after school by being non-compliant with safety protocols (young people are the most likely cynical spreaders, along with conservatives, so our area is doubly blessed). They then take it home where older siblings and parents produce the biggest spike in cases. Give it a bit of time and it’ll spread to older groups where it is much more likely to be fatal. After a week in school, a weekend visit to grandparents might be about the nastiest thing you can do. It took less than two weeks for me to personally know a teacher who was sent home to wait on a COVID19 test. Don’t think it can’t happen to you, it’s inevitable.
How to fix it? It’s self correcting. Thousands of parents are starting to see the holes in this government’s lack of planning and are pulling their children back home for fully remote learning. As in everything else in this pandemic, people are leveraging their socioeconomic advantage and privilege to look after themselves. Rather than creating fictions around a normalized return to school (for the kids’ mental health!), we need to focus face to face schooling on the students and families that specifically need it. Instead of using the school system as an underground transmission system for the virus, we should be using it to focus on providing equity and support for people in distress. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks (when I’m not teaching face to face and online simultaneously in an accelerated curriculum all day every day) talking down students and their parents – both of whom I’ve seen burst into tears while venting.
We realized an important distinction early on in the emergency cancellation of classes in the spring: this isn’t elearning, it’s emergency remote learning, and expecting students to be open and able to learn while under that kind of stress isn’t reasonable. I knew we were going to struggle to get through curriculum in the circumstances, I just didn’t expect the system to redesign itself to make it harder as well. We’ve tried to reopen schools while our pedagogy is being driven by a virus rather than how people best learn. The result is a problematic system of delivery that is causing more problems than the virus itself. We’ve lurched from video communications getting you fired to video communications being essential in a matter of one weekend, and we’re still working out the social conventions around that. But that stumbling forward into readily available technology also suggests a pathway out of this mess. I honestly believe that our reluctance to understand and explore the possibilities of digital communications has put us on our back foot over and over again in this medical emergency. If we embraced the opportunities to be found in digital pedagogy we could not only provide a pathway around COVID limitations but also reveal enrichment opportunities that we could continue to leverage well after this pandemic has passed.
Face to face schooling has always been a series of compromises, but the pandemic has made those compromises increasingly stark while also ignoring a number of health gaps that might end up hurting people. It’s difficult starting another day of trying to be in two places at once knowing that students in crisis have no where to go. I’m not going to leave them dangling, but there is only so much of me to go around. All in all we’re just another brick in the wall. I always keep that song in the back of my mind when I teach so I see my students as people. SARS-CoV2 doesn’t see them as people, it sees them as a resource to be used up. I wish the people running our education system didn’t see our classrooms in the same way a virus does. I wish we could find a way forward that leverages the technology we have so we could focus our limited face to face resources more effectively and sustainably.
For me it’s another week back in the trenches being told to drag kids in distress through a sped up schedule designed by a virus. I’m not sure how long we can all keep this up, pandemic or no pandemic.
Does education have to be about bricks in the wall? It seems to be what we’re reduced to during this pandemic piled on top of two years of government abuse. This has to end eventually, surely.
The garage is looking pretty spacious this weekend. The Concours sold yesterday so the Tiger is alone in the bike-cave for the first time. I ended up selling it on if I could sell it for what I bought it for, which I did. I owned it for five years, rescued it from retirement, doubled the mileage on it, had some great adventures riding around Georgian Bay and down to the last MotoGP event at Indianapolis in 2015.
I was ready to go in 2016 when the Concours wouldn’t start. With the Canadian motorcycling season agonizingly short I lost my patience, but then a Tiger appeared as if by magic and suddenly the Concours wasn’t a necessity. It’s hard to believe I’ve had the Tiger for three years already; it isn’t going anywhere.
With the money from the Concours set aside, I’m already considering my next project. I’m aiming for a bike that is significantly different from the Tiger, which is a great all purpose machine, but it’s heavy; a lighter specialist is the goal. The guy I sold the Concours to already has one and half a dozen other bikes. Having that many bikes would be a handful, I’ve always been about a functional garage. Jeff, the motorcycle Jedi, has three very different bikes, that’s the direction I’d like to go in.
In a perfect world I’d have the Tiger, a sports bike and a light dual sport. A generalist, a tarmac specialist and an off-road specialist. Time to peruse the Ontario used bike market.
The worrying bit is this guy managed to blow a Honda engine, which are famous for being bulletproof. If it has been abused (the dent in the tank suggests it’s been dropped, though it’s a dualsport that goes off road, so I shouldn’t read too much into that) then the engine could have more major damage and require big end cranks and such, which could make this a money hole.
The fact that it runs is promising and it does sound like a top end issue – but I’m guessing it’s a head replacement or major remachining situation. It’s an air cooled single cylinder, so after the complexity of the water cooled, four cylinder Concours, this’d be lawn mower simple. I’m tempted.
I’ve always had a soft spot for VFR Interceptors, and this lovely example is up for sale at a pretty reasonable price considering how much work has gone into it. Hugo, the editor of BIKE Magazine recently got one of these and went on and on about how bullet proof they were, so even an older machine like this would be readily usable. With this RC-36-2, last gen version you get a VFR at the pinnacle of its Honda evolution. It’s technically considered a sport-touring bike, so you don’t get caned in Ontario’s ridiculous insurance system, and it weighs less than 200 kilos, which would make it the lightest road bike (ignoring the KLX250, which wasn’t really a road bike) I’ve ever owned.
If I could get it for $3500, I’d be able to ride it for years. Rather than depend singularly on the now 16 year old Tiger, I could split duties between a generalist and a road specialist. This too is tempting.
It’d be nice to have both, the XR as a project and the VFR as an immediate gratification machine; they would make for a very diverse garage. I think I could have both on the road for just over six grand CAD.
I’m going to try and not sound like a grumpy old man in talking about this.
I had a chat with a friend the other week who is teaching in a private school in the GTA. He had an interesting observation around how students do (and mostly don’t) accept responsibility for their actions. He argued that the libelous nature of the adult world has placed everyone in the position of not being able to own up to honest errors. Rather than being able to apologize and move on, we must instead deny any wrong doing, even when it becomes absurd.
A clear example of this happened in class the other week. Three students were filming, and in the process of setting up the green screen studio they found Nerf guns and began fooling around with them. This resulted in the camera they set up on the tripod getting knocked over and broken; a $400 new camera. The response? “It’s not our fault, we didn’t mean to break it.” These two ideas are tied together in a student’s mind. You can’t be held responsible for your actions if your actions weren’t intentionally about breaking the camera. I tried to explain that it wasn’t ill-intent that led to the camera, it was incompetence, and they are responsible for their incompetence, especially when they willfully engaged in it.
This caused a great deal of confusion. Students don’t feel responsible for their actions unless they are willfully vindictive, and even then, they won’t admit to wrong doing because they never see adults doing it for fear of liability. Because of this poisoned moral environment, students also don’t understand what an accident is and how they can still be complicit in it without ill intent. Fooling around with Nerf guns is not why you were in the studio; your choice to do this led to grievous damage, for which you are responsible.
Slogging through the muddy moral world of our schools can get tiresome quickly. Incompetence cannot be considered a factor in student performance any more. I have a number of students with weeks of absences and we are only just at the half way mark of the semester. Many students will finish this semester in our school with over a month of absences, and they will still be expected to earn a credit. In many cases these absences involve family holidays during classes. Parental competence must also never be called into question either. When those students are in class, they tend to do nothing anyway, but once again, the pressure is on the teacher to ‘find a way’ to ignore incompetence, even if it is simply willful neglect, and pass students. Our idea of success has become one of pass-rates rather than teaching humans how to be responsible people.
What Manners Do For You
In the past week I’ve had a series of senior students walking into the media arts lab and asking to use equipment during class – while the students in the class needed to use it. Whenever possible I try to accommodate these requests; media arts fluency leads to greater technological fluency.
I became less willing to accommodate these requests when the students involved ignored directions, started using student computers without permission and interrupted class to demand more equipment or space. Offering open access to expensive equipment and resources is a nice thing to do, demanding it without so much as a please or thank you won’t get you very far.
This sense of belligerence isn’t unique to this generation of digital natives, though their constant split attention between the world around them and the insinuated cyber-world they also inhabit doesn’t help. Teens have always been known for socially awkward, often rude, behavior; it’s a fun part of their stereotype. The ironic thing is that in my experience this is human nature, not just a teen one. People in general tend toward rudeness, a mannered response is usually a pleasant surprise.
The post modern view of courtesy or manners is one of an anachronistic, inefficient time waster. Just look at our modern success stories (Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates, Eminem) for an idea of how we value individualized competitiveness, intellectual superiority and financial success as mutually exclusive from polite, collaborative interaction; we love despotism and see the rudeness inherent in it as a strength.
What politeness does is make explicit what is happening between people. When you inconvenience someone by putting your own needs first, you can say things like “excuse me” or “sorry to bother you, but…”, and everyone involved knows that you are aware of the interruption you have caused. When you thank someone for their efforts, you’re acknowledging how they put your interests before their own. Courtesies are focused on verbalizing the necessity of supporting each other in a collaborative manner.
We throw all that out when we start to mix the nasty habits developed around liability law with how we interact with each other. For fear of financial penalty, those students couldn’t simply say the truth: “we’re sorry, we should have known better than to screw around under those circumstances.” They don’t enjoy the release of pent up guilt that comes with apologizing honestly for an unintended outcome. They also haven’t verbalized wrong action and have missed out on the meta-cognitive reinforcement that happens when you describe what you’ve done in honest terms. They carry all that negativity forward.
I was watching soccer yesterday and an obvious handball occurred inside the goalie crease. In my perfect world the offender it happened to would go to the ref and opposing player and say, “yes, it hit my arm. It was a sudden, hard shot and I couldn’t have gotten my arm out of the way in time anyway.” The shooter would then be given the penalty shot and he would have kicked it wide on purpose. Instead, the player stood there stony faced, and said nothing as he knew the rules of the game had been broken, but could not afford the liability of admitting truth.
We do this in our games, our businesses are founded on this concept of non-admittance of wrong doing, and our governments don’t know how to operate any other way. It’s no wonder that we should do it in our schools if we’re going to get our students ready for the adult world waiting for them.
The moral order of operations we need to train our students in to prepare for adulthood:
It’s best to say nothing than admit wrong doing or incompetence.
It’s best to lie than to admit wrong doing or incompetence.
It’s best to accept punishment but still admit to no wrong doing, or incompetence.
Ignore courtesies, they are a sign of dependence and weakness.
The other week I posted a discussion on the Concours Owners Group asking how to pass a large group of bikers on the road. That discussion sparked an angry rebuttal condemning me for mocking the happy pirate look that a large portion of the (especially) North American motorcycle community identifies with. Personally, I’d say people can dress however they want and ride whatever they want, but I get the sense that the pirate types don’t feel that way. On COG I was trying to be funny, but with an edge. On the Georgian Bay circumnavigation I ran into some corporately attired Harley riders who wanted to point out how much unlike them I looked. It felt like hazing with the intent of getting me to look like a proper biker. Nothing will get my back up faster than someone telling me I have conform to their standard. The irony wasn’t lost on me that these rebels without a clue whose look is predicated on nonconformity were uncomfortable with a motorcyclist not in proper uniform. One of the reasons I make a point of reading British biking magazines is because they are free of (and willing to make fun of) this dominant North American biking culture. They don’t worship Harley Davidson as the one and only motor company, and they try to look at the breadth of motorbiking rather than forcing a single version of it down everyone’s throats. Had I the boat load of money that they cost I would happily buy an HD V-Rod (not considered a ‘real’ Harley by purists because it’s liquid cooled). It’s a fine machine and I’d get one for that reason, but I don’t think I’d ever buy a motorcycle because of the manufacturer alone, I’m not that politically driven. When I first started riding I was shiny and new about it and told one of my colleagues who rode that I was just starting out. He asked me what I got and when I told him a Ninja he put his nose in the air and said, “hmm, isn’t that like riding tupperware?” Just recently I told him I was thinking about getting a dual sport. He said, “why would you want that? It’d be like riding a toolbox!” In the biker ethos there is only one kind of bike with a single aesthetic. If you don’t conform, expect criticism. In talking to other motorcyclists the non-mainstream/biker crowd sometimes find biker types to be holier-than-thou, not returning a wave or giving you the gears at a stop for not conforming to the dress code. Motorcyclists tend to be iconoclasts, they have to be or they’d be doing what everyone else does riding around in the biggest cage they could afford. Yet the act of riding isn’t enough for some, there are also social expectations that these rebellious non-conformists expect all riders to conform to. At the end of the day I’m a fan of two wheeling. I’d call myself a motorcyclist. I get as excited about looking at historical Harleys as I do at racing tupperware or riding toolboxes. I only wish more bikers would be less critical of anything other than their singular view of the sport. I refuse to conform to their nonconformity.
A long, contemplative ride on the road less travelled to self directed PD.
I attended Edcamp Hamilton this past weekend. On a Saturday morning what did almost one hundred teachers and administrators do on the eve of a strike? They spent their own time and money to travel to Ancaster to direct their own professional development. Discussions ranged from technology integration to how to most effectively assess student learning (along with dozens of other topics). What is magical about the edcamp experience is that teachers direct their own research and reflection. There is no top down directive or education consultant being paid to sell an idea. No one is paid to be there, no one is expected to be there, yet the room was full at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. I’ve long thought that self-direction is the key element in professional development. I’d actually argue that PD isn’t PD unless it is self directed. When you’re sat in a room being indoctrinated by a talking head it isn’t professional or development, it would be better described as mediocre training. Lecturing a group of people implies that they lack knowledge and need to be informed. It implies that they aren’t professionals but unskilled employees who need direction. I’ve got PD coming up this week. PD often involves a paid consultant earnestly exhorting you to differentiate your teaching practice, but they do it in a completely undifferentiated, university style lecture. If student centred differentiation is what you’re selling, selling it in a lecture is either incredibly lazy or ignorant. In any case it suggests a lack of integrity.
I’m trying to work out what professionalism
is in a Prezi mindmap
The professional is, at their core, self directed. You don’t become an expert in something without being able to self assess and improve your own practice. Integrity should drive this self directed improvement by demanding competence. That competence naturally creates a sense of responsibility that a professional is more than happy to be accountable for. Self direction and the integrity that drives it creates a professionally responsible environment that accepts stringent accountability.
In order to develop professional standards, professionals need only be left to their own devices, and perhaps given the time and space by management to focus on excellence. Edcamps encourage this kind of professional development, in fact they can’t happen without it. PLCs also facilitate professional development by leaving the professional to develop their own means of improvement. I’ve been involved in learning fairs, unconferences and other teacher centred/teacher presented learning opportunities that have been invaluable as well as empowering. The difference between a talented amateur and a professional is that the professional is committed to improvement and is thus willing to be accountable to their profession. The professional abides by the practices and standards of their profession and actively works to raise them. In this way a professional has a social responsibility to their profession that a dilettante doesn’t, no matter how talented they might be. The professional isn’t a one trick pony who acts solely on talent, but a talented individual who begins with natural inclination and then works to develop it into a much wider skill-set that acknowledges the full complexity of their discipline. Some secondary teachers fall into thinking that they are a subject expert before they are a teacher. Being a subject expert isn’t what they are being paid (professionally) to do, it’s teaching. Teaching is the professional practice we (especially at the secondary level) sometimes forget. Accountability is where professional development with teachers seems to fall apart. Management fears that if left to their own devices some teachers will not actively work to improve their professional standards. In some cases this may in fact be true. It would be a fairly simple task to itemize the professional development opportunities teachers pursue and account for who is attempting to improve their professional practice and who isn’t, but we don’t do that in teaching.
The teachers who go out of their way to attend (or speak!) at conferences, who expand their professional qualifications, who attend edcamps, or work in their subject councils, or participate in online communities, these teachers have made quantifiable efforts to improve their profession. The teacher who rolls his eyes at another board run PD which he is only attending because he is being paid to be there is simply not professional in the same sense. They are the ones who ‘professional development’ is aimed at. Instead of only looking at years in the classroom it would be nice if we accepted that some teachers take on a more professional approach to teaching. It would be easy enough to quantify that approach. How many subject areas have they become qualified in? Do they demonstrate continuous improvement? How many self directed PD opportunities do they take? Do they take on positions of extra responsibility? What do they do to support their subject area? The profession of teaching in general? Until we accept that not all teachers are created equal, we ignore both integrity and responsibility and are unable to accurately apply accountability to our profession. Is teaching a job that requires management to take attendance and force simplistic PD down people’s throats? Evidently, in which case it isn’t really a professional activity. Is teaching a profession that demands self directed development through stringent accountability? If it was it would be driven by teachers’ professionalism rather than by attendance rolls and tell-me-don’t-show-me lectures. At the core of professional practice is the self directed development of your expertise. I’ve got a PD day (the only one this semester) next Friday. It will be interesting to see how this board run day will compare to the dynamic and responsive urgency of the edcamp I just attended. I imagine I’ll see differences in the first few moments when teachers I never see doing self-directed PD are whining about why they have to be there (because they’re being paid to do it). Then they will take attendance and the differences will only get more obvious. Professionalism Resources: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/professionalism.htm http://www.med.uottawa.ca/students/md/professionalism/eng/about.html
Having a son a lot like myself, I’m watching in dismay as the school system does to him what it tried to do to me. A quiet, shy boy who likes to do his own thing, my son gets very anxious in group situations and tends to shut down, go off into his own head. I suspect that when this happens his teachers think that nothing is happening, that he’s just standing there blank, but I know this isn’t the case, because I do the same thing.
When people are too much with me (which happens in large groups or very loud situations), I daydream to give my mind some place to play. Standing in a large, noisy group of grade ones repetitively voicing lyrics for the Christmas concert would have lost me quickly, as they did my son. Somehow, his music teacher believes this means he is a failure in music. I’m not sure how group choral singing and dancing is the sum total means of assessing musical skill, but I suppose in some people’s minds it is.
Ultimately, it seems that, to an elementary teacher, an unresponsive child is somehow blank. I teach myself, so I recognize the challenges of trying to get an accurate assessment of skills in a classroom full of students, but a lot of this can be mitigated by differentiating instruction and differentiating evaluation. Many opportunities to demonstrate a skill in different contexts is, again, a challenge, but if we’re not there to try and create circumstances in which a student can show their best selves, why are we there?
Last year I was at a PD in which the instructor said that he was astonished to see so many secondary teachers out, because usually they don’t care anything for PD, differentiating instruction, collaborative assessment or technology in education. My department head and I looked at each other and asked the obvious question, “why would you want to antagonize your audience in the first five minutes?”
He went on to (admiringly) describe elementary teachers as paragons of modern educational philosophy, masters of DI, experts in assessment, the very flowers of the education system. He was then frustrated that his room full of secondary teachers appeared unwilling to interact and ask questions during his presentation.
So here I am, looking at the system as a parent for the first time. In my view, the elementary system is designed around standardized testing. The curriculum is so tightly prescribed and detailed that teachers have little latitude in how they can present it and how long they have to assess it. As a result, they are approaching the education of younger students in a very mechanical, statistical manner. This is something that somehow proves to those in charge that elementary teachers are superior – working within a coherent system that produces students who all think similarly and demonstrate the same skills at the same skill level. Administrators must love this; what a great opportunity to produce STATISTICS.
I have no doubt that there are secondary teachers who love this kind of order (most become administrators). A wonderful world of easily organizable human beings who all do the same things, the same way at the same level. It’s the stuff curriculums are made of. But in my experience, especially in the humanities and the arts (and increasingly in science and even math), secondary teachers are actually more interested in trying to arrange conditions for success with their students, rather than comparing them to an artificial and arbitrary set of standards being designed by a MINISTRY somewhere.
One way this happens is by recognizing that teaching and learning are a biological process, and that they happen for students at different times in different ways. This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be expectations of what a human being is capable of, the last thing I’d advocate for is a lowest common denominator approach to human being, but an education system that is overly prescribed is probably serving its own bureaucracy rather than its students.
In the meantime, I’ve been talking to colleagues who have atypical children and their only advice is cry long, cry loud and never let them become complacent. It makes me feel sorry for all those kids whose parents are too intimidated, or uncaring, or too busy to advocate as loudly.
There has to be a better way, for everyone involved.