Sunday, 16 June 2013

Time to Celebrate

June is one of those months full of celebration. Many teachers plan, facilitate and otherwise engineer celebrations of a wide variety and finish the school year exhausted and worn out. I know for myself when I was in the classroom, as the march through June continued, the juggle of progress reports with year-end activities usually left me a prime candidate for a cold the first week of July.

The job of site coordinator gave me a freedom from progress reports and the opportunity to spectate at a myriad of different year-end activities for the classes that had been part of my program. It was always a pure joy to sit back and watch the smiling faces and bear witness to the year of learning that had proceeded. As I let the diversity and creativity wash over me, I often found a little tear of joy in my eye.

This time of year, one type of celebration comes in the form of awards. The Edmonton Inquiring Minds’ site-based program at the Devonian Botanical Gardens called Green School was a winner at the recent Emerald Awards. Spotting the finger prints marking the outstanding programming by Emma Gilbertson, Deb Griener and Antonella Bell (Deb's accepting photo is third at the link) caused my heart to swell as I watched the video clip. I smiled when I saw the coil bound journals and students sketching, not-so-secret signals to those of us who fan the flames of week-long, inquiry based programming.

Friday, June 14 the awesome display at the Citizenship Fair demonstrated a host of connections facilitated by the City Hall School program. I have heard the Energizer Bunny label bestowed recently on others but my money is on Linda Hut, City Hall School coordinator, as the true holder of that title. One of my favorite aspects of the event was hugging a number of the outstanding teachers who use Inquiring Minds sites to create a year’s worth of learning for their students. The Fair was the proof of the difference between projects and project-based learning, which I just received a Tweet about yesterday from Danny Maas.

One of the Edmonton Inquiring Minds' “master teacher” crew is retiring, Christine Zihrul. That is another June rite of passage – retirement functions.  I was unable to attend Christine’s celebration but if it did not include some fascinating photography I would be surprised. The first week I worked with Christine at ICE School she amassed over 1000 photos of her students’ active learning at Rexall Place (maybe back then it was still Skyreach Centre J).

Earlier this year the long-time program facilitator of the School at the Legislature, Diana Panizzon, retired. And at month end, Lorna Zucchet (she would say to kids that it was pronounced Zoo-cat, in a very cool convergence of appropriate things), program coordinator for more than a decade of Zoo School, will close that chapter of her career. Through the years of pioneering work we did, I felt so nurtured in the collaboration we shared.

In one of those Google search moments I fall victim to and cost me many minutes of divergent viewing I did not plan on, I discovered the perfect close for this blog.

Celebrate What’s Right With the World has a great 20 minute film – if you have time it is worth every second.


I echo Dewitt Jones: “I choose to celebrate. Why? Because it imbues me with gratitude, it allows me to see the best in people and situations, because it fills me with energy.”

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Catch and Release in Inquiry

Here is the spoiler alert – this blog has a fishing story and a several fishing metaphors. Beware.
Soon after some of my first experiences teaching, I became aware of the fact that engaged students were way easier to “manage” (a nice term related to classroom control) than disinterested ones. This is not rocket science. Finding the right hook for lessons became one of my teaching goals.
I have a story to tell about hooks. It goes far back into my childhood. I lived at two different times in the idyllic foothills of southwest Alberta. Whenever I return to that landscape, I breathe differently and all the tension leaves my shoulders. This has been a fascinating personal observation since some of those years were filled with turmoil in my family. It has often caused me to reflect on the deep sources of resiliency found in a natural environment.  
Both of my Dad’s parents liked to fish. For my grandfather, George Shenton, I am confident it came from his childhood roots in the pastoral English countryside near Bollington, although he never told me that. I went with him to the cold, stony rushing little stream near our home at Twin Butte on several occasions. I suspect, I was allowed to go to get me out of the way of the afore mentioned turmoil, but at 9 or 10 I don’t remember caring about the why.


Throwing stones in a stream does not make fishermen happy.

Fishing time is not really talking time. While my grandpa could spin a tale, he never did it when he was fishing. 

If you catch it, you must clean it. Soon after my first fish gutting session, I discovered I could set-up my line with a weight and no hook and stand and cast and reel in and watch the birds and shadows and slowly walk the edge of the stream and claim bad luck for not catching a thing. I assumed (for a few years) that my Grandpa was none the wiser to my ploy. Then one year on a family visit back to Pincher Creek in my mid-teens my deception was revealed during a story telling session, much to my embarrassment.  He had known all along. Only recently, as a grandparent did I really get it – but that is a different tale.

Back to the nature of hooks. Musicians have understood the use of a good hook, something to catch a listener’s attention and bring them back time and again to the lyric or melody. I have never heard a composer apologize for using a good tonal hook. All those related ideas like bait and lures just remind me that shiny, colourful, invitingly textured, intriguingly sounding, delicious smelling and all things food related can be used to draw a student’s attention. It is best for a good hook to be multi-faceted since learners can be a diverse lot, very unlike the schools of the fish species.
The powerful part of a good hook in learning, from hockey to animals to good literature is what happens after landing that learner. Release before death by boredom, I hope. After drawing them in, using the focus and attention to go deeper and plant some seed (sorry to muddy the water by mixing the metaphor but could not resist an agriculture reference) it is throwing them back. How do I facilitate the successful, independent integration of that fact, skill, concept or idea? Often, it is just trusting that the flow of the stream will carry them on to the next bend wiser.
Just recently, I met a former student. She was 6 when I had her in Grade 1. She is a charming 30 something nurse in Vancouver, now. She told me things she remembers clearly from all those years ago. Some of them are only shadows for me. You can never tell what will actually stick. It is so gratifying to know that somethings do.

Catch and release.