Moving Forward While Romanticizing the Past?

Photo from http://bit.ly/oaU0qL

We often look to our past through a lens of  ‘that is how things should be done today’.  This past week I have read a few articles and posts about how we need to return to the old, better ways of doing things and how ‘kids these days’ are lazy and have such a sense of entitlement.

New math equals trouble, education expert says – Canada – CBC News (via David Wees – see David’s response here)

Inside the entitlement generation – The Globe and Mail

There are very few things that get me more frustrated than when I hear stereotyping of our future generations and the criticism of the new way of teaching.  Cale Birk (@birklearns) wrote a brilliant post in response to the Globe and Mail article title “Uphill Both Ways in A Snowstorm” that is a must-read.  In it, Birk states:

In my opinion our students of today are as intelligent and motivated as students at this age have ever been.  I would also say that students are much more well-rounded than I ever was–they are more socially responsible, more globally aware, and more tolerant than any generation before them.  When graduates cross our stage at commencements, I absolutely marvel at how involved they are in their academics, the arts, athletics, the school, and community issues.  I wish I went through high school with the same verve and alacrity that our students do and have done.

The belittling of our students and the newer forms of pedagogy does not help with the intergenerational relationships nor does it help with our sense of community.  Are some people trying to get our kids to fit in a box that no longer exists?   I wonder how many of us look back at “the way things were” and remember all the great things but possibly forget some things…well… not worth remembering?  How many of use try to move forward by romanticizing the past?  Do we criticize the new way of doing things because it is foreign to us and we fear the unknown?

Last spring, our district held a forum around 21st Century Learning that included educators (elementary, secondary, post-sec), community members, parents, and students.  At one point we were discussing the way things used to be.  A parent and a teacher spoke of how things were when they were growing up 20-30 years earlier.  A student then spoke – he said,

When I was a kid, we played all day long…  pick up football, baseball, biking, swimming.   We didn’t wait for adults to organize stuff for us. We would play until the street lights came on.  We weren’t so wrapped up in video games like kids are today.  We got off our butts and did stuff.  We weren’t always on the computer talking to each other, we were out there meeting with each other.  It’s a lot different now.

Then, with a whispered question from my assistant superintendent at the time, Scott Benwell (@sbenwell1), it hit me.  This student was barely 18 and he was saying the same things that other generations were saying.  So I asked the question, how often do we unintentionally forget about some of the less productive things we did and portray our childhood as something that is a bit different than it actually was?

I began to reflect upon the number of video games I played as a child – Commodore 64, Tandy, Coleco, Atari, Nintendo – I played it all and my parents were ALWAYS on me to get outside and play.  Do I ever talk about the glory days of playing Blades of Steel or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out? Nope!  According to my stories, my childhood only existed of building forts in the bushes, mountain-biking in the trails, and playing street hockey with the hose-running so we could get a drink and then complaining about having to go in when it was dark.  I have been part of MANY conversations where I have romanticized my past as something that was close to perfection and failed to mention the ‘less constructive’ activities in which I was involved.

Last weekend, I went for a jog around my community (and believe me, I do not run very far) and here is what I saw:

  • kids reading in the park outside the public library
  • a mountain bike track with kids waiting to get on
  • a lacrosse box full of kids playing ball hockey
  • a mom and 3 daughters jogging with their dog
  • 3 elementary aged children on the climbing apparatus outside the school
  • a skate park FULL of kids being active

Have things changed? Indeed they have.  Do we have different challenges? Definitely…. but slamming our current practices as well as our future generations by labeling them as lazy and less educated because they have learned to do things differently does nothing more than drive a huge wedge in our relationships.

Can we actually move forward as a society by romanticizing the past?  We definitely need to learn from our past but the key is to make sure that we are realistic about what actually occurred during these times.  Personally, I don’t think my generation and those before me have done a bang-up job of creating a clean, peaceful, and equitable environment for our children so maybe we need to be careful on how we remember our earlier years.  Should we actually be moving toward a traditional “back to the basics” model of education that may or may not have created successful students of previous times or should we continue working toward creating an environment for our students to be successful now and in THEIR coming years?  Eric Hoffer wrote:

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

In order to move forward, we need to support the future generation in a way that we create an environment of learners rather than those that have learned.  Education never ends for us; there is no point when we suddenly become educated and stop needing to learn. We need to be careful when we judge new ways of doing things as being inferior to ways in which were done when we were at that age.  So, as Cale Birk wrote:

…the so-called ‘entitlement generation’ is THE generation that is going to lead us over the next several decades in technology, innovation, research, and global issues.

Are we going to support them by romanticizing our past, stereotyping, and telling them they need to be like we were 20-30-40 years ago or are we going help them move forward by learning from our past and working with our students to create an environment for them to flourish NOW?

Thank you to Scott Benwell, Cale Birk, and David Wees for inspiring this post.



What Are We Modeling?

After tweeting out David Wees’ (@davidwees) brilliant post on how We Will Never End Bullying In Our Schools, Jennifer Marten @jenmarten, tweeted this video, “Children Learn What They Live” to add to the discussion.

It reminds me of a quote from Larry Cuban, “how we teach often becomes what we teach” (I have written a previous post, How We Teach IS What We Teach, based on this quote ). We teach the official curriculum; but it is often the unofficial curriculum which we model from which our children truly learn.

By doing what WE are doing, what are we teaching our children today?

Thank you Jen and David.


A Discussion With Education Minister George Abbott

A few weeks ago, a teacher whomI have come to know very well and whom I highly respect, David Wees, sent me a message on Twitter that he had an exciting opportunity to share.  The following day, we caught up on the phone and he asked me if I would like to help moderate a discussion on Twitter with the Education Minister George Abbott!  What a fantastic opportunity for people to engage Mr. Abbott in dialogue around education in British Columbia.  I want to thank David for this opportunity and encourage all you to follow along on June 13th at 4:00pm PST on Twitter (hashtag #bced).

Rather than write my own blog on this, I have stolen (with his permission 😉 ) David’s blog post.  If you have any questions, please email me.

From David Wees:

When George Abbott first became education minister, I sent out an email to him inviting him to join us on Twitter, and find out how educators are using it to communicate with each other across vast geographic distances. Unfortunately, the email got lost during his leadership attempt in BC, and I forgot about it. However, a few weeks ago, his aide, Chris Sandve contacted me through my website and indicated they were interested in getting back to my email. George Abbott sent me back an email recently, suggesting that he would like to participate in a discussion through Twitter on the topics of “technology and personalized education and how we can work together to build a great education system in British Columbia.”

We’ve planned the discussion for June 13th, at 4pm. Chris Wejr and myself will be the moderators for the event, so direct any technical questions our way.

Anyone who wants to follow along in the conversation can read the threads on the #BCed hashtag on Twitter by following this link. If you have a Twitter account, and are interested in participating in the conversation, just make sure to read the #BCed hashtag at the right time, and include the hashtag #BCed in your tweets. If you want to try out Twitter for this conversation, but are unsure of how to get started, you can see my series of videos on using Twitter for some help.

We are considering this an open dialogue so that anyone with an interest in education in British Columbia is welcome to participate. This includes, but is not limited to, teachers, administrators, school support staff, parents, school trustees, media personnel, and students. We welcome both participants from the private and public sectors of education, since George Abbott is the minister of all education in BC. We are even happy to have participants from outside of British Columbia participate.

Please be aware that the chat will be very fast, and George Abbott will not be able to respond to every reply sent his way. However, it will still be an opportunity to express our opinion, and potentially shape the vision of education in British Columbia.


Reflections of an EdCamper


After a day in which I was truly inspired by the students at our school (post upcoming on our Identity Day), I had the privilege of attending an inspirational day of professional development in which there was no keynote, no registration fee, and no agenda. EdCamp Vancouver was brought to us by David Wees and his organizing team and I think it has truly changed the way I view professional development in education.

Although I see the benefit of an expert keynote speaker, and I think these need to continue, the EdCamp format is nothing short of brilliant. There are so many passionate, reflective, resourceful educators (and by educators I mean more than teachers) in our region that the need for that high-priced keynote is lessened. Also, the learning at EdCamp is completely personalized. Let me briefly explain the day:

I arrived with 2 colleagues, my vice principal and a parent member of our school planning council, and walked into a room not having met any of these people but because of Twitter, felt like I knew them so well.  A few presentation ideas were up on a board.  If you wanted to attend these, you placed your name on a sticky and placed it on the presentation; if you wanted to facilitate a discussion or present on another topic, you posted a new sheet with that topic on the board.  Each participant (there were over 100 of us) chose 4 topics and once the topics had enough participants, they were placed on the schedule.  There were 4 rooms that held 4 sessions so we had a total of 16 sessions.  The organizers moved the sessions around to best suit the participants.  Topics included Moving Away From Grades, Questioning Awards, Project Based Learning, Assessment For Learning, Parent Engagement, Ted Talks for Kids, Making e-Books, Social Media 101, and many others.

I had the opportunity to “present” on Awards in Schools and Assessment For Learning.  When I say “present” it was more like I did a mini presentation (15 minutes) and then we spent 45 minutes discussing the “how” of AFL.  I was not there as an expert but more as one to throw out ideas, challenge others, and be challenged.  After the presentation, I became a participant of the dialogue so my learning was enhanced.  (You can access my Prezi on AFL here).

A big difference between the Edcamp “unconference model” is the amount of time built into the day for connecting with others outside of the presentations (David Wees has a good visual on his post).  The day is all about dialogue rather than listening to lectures.

Some of the key ideas that I came away with:

  • many educators want to see changes with the way we educate/school kids
  • the shifts are happening in the way we engage and motivate kids in a way that moves from extrinsic to intrinsic and information delivering to exploration
  • there are many powerful ideas but the implementation of these ideas is often the challenge (ie. how do we do this within our current education structures)
  • we cannot and should not do this alone – we must work with all stake holders
  • professional development needs to be ongoing and is best accomplished through dialogue around powerful questions
  • We are not “just teachers” or “just parents”.  BC is loaded with passionate educators!

Two days later, I am still inspired by the day’s conversations; I now look forward to seeing where this model takes professional development in schools and districts.  My final question is this:  if this was such a powerful learning opportunity for educators, how can we do something like this with kids?