Monday, 31 March 2014

Smiles on their faces

Many of us figure out early the deep wisdom in the old saying “Actions speak louder than words.” I have just run through the mostly unposed photos full of smiling faces that I took during the recent Northlands Farm and Ranch Show. These smiles adorned the faces of kids holding horse shoes, adults answering questions, everyone passing a piece of fiber from a recently sheared alpaca. 9 classes of Grade 4, 5 and 6 students came to spend a day in the Expo Centre during that agriculturally focused business show as Explorers. We call the program How to be an Explorer of the Farm and Ranch Show and it uses the ideas found in Keri Smith’s How to be an Explorer of the World. Agriculture is a concept whose exploration leads to hundreds of current Alberta Education curriculum connections.

Each class spent part the day interviewing and observing in the learning rich environment.  Scheduled time included a chance to interview a Northlands volunteer who cares about agriculture; either because they grew up on a farm and that experience made them who they are today or because they still have something to do with horses or cows. Jessie spoke about urban agriculture. Alice spoke about some of the things that she did not have growing up; electricity and an inside bathroom. Ed spoke from the heart about the cowboy code. Sonia brought a pail with a nipple at the bottom used to feed orphaned calves. John read a cowboy poem he wrote. Murray explained how to begin to make a relationship with a horse.  Allan offered up the complexities of getting a metal shoe attached to a horse’s hoof. And they all answered question after question.

Brain research is telling us that one of the most transformational aspects of human contact and learning in young brains comes during something metaphorically termed “serve and return”. It is related to the deep neuron forming process that occurs when we make eye contact and speak to each other acknowledging we have heard what is being said by responding.

Over those two days I was privileged to observe the joy of learning - for all involved. The students, teachers, parent volunteers, interviewees and most of the people who crossed paths with the classes partnered in the joy of learning. I could recognize it everywhere. No one needed to say a word (although lots of words were being shared). I saw it – in their smiles.

   “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”  Rumi
   “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”  Mark Twain
   “Education is not filling a bucket but lighting a fire.” William Butler Yeats
   “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein

This past weekend I read Daniel Coyle’s blog “5 Ways to Nurture Talent” and I have adapted his fifth way (Do: Remember the six-word phrase that matters most - I love to watch you play.) to form my closing thought and cheer to all involved. 

Full of joy-filled gratitude, I say “I LOVE to watch you learn!”

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

In the State of Gratitude

I belong to a School of Thirds – most events are 1/3 anticipation, 1/3 experience and 1/3 reminiscing. This approach to life is a very real experience of the dimension of time in our cosmos as past, present and future all in the NOW. 

Last week was my final week of EJ School for 2013-14. Reflecting on the year fills me with gratitude I must voice. Gertrude Stein said “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” 

Ever since I left the more conventional classroom in 2002 for my role leading site-based education experiences, I have toned down my joy to a private revel and quiet thankfulness that I have no year-end progress reports to prepare.  However, I do miss the accumulated satisfaction of accessing the growth and witnessing the learning that 10 months can produce in a collection of students that make up any given class.

I will visit the classes that came to EJ School this year and deliver the glossy Front Pages the Edmonton Journal loving prepared for each student. I will collect students’ comments on things like their biggest surprises from the week, their favorite activities, anything bad that happened and what advice they would give a student coming to EJ School next year. I will get a rush reading through those student evaluations of the program.

But on the planet of Inquiring Minds Edmonton, like most other places in the education universe, we are thinking about next year. At the Greater Edmonton Teachers Convention booth I had the pleasure of connecting with amazing teachers I have worked with in the past. Some of them introduced me to new teachers.  I will be helping a couple of other sites get ready to try the site-based, week-long, inquiry approach and fine tune elements of their programs.

Bringing students into direct contact with the world of journalism has opened my eyes to many things about the nature of inquiry, accurate information and the burgeoning uses of technology. The risk the Edmonton Journal took in opening its doors during this time of dramatic changes for them to a program like EJ School speaks to its deep commitment to the community of Edmonton. Barb Wilkinson and Karen Unland observed the use Linda Hut was making of just one morning a week for her City Hall classes and knew it was good. They have nurtured me these past 2 years and I am so grateful.

I shared classes and experiences with City Hall School and U School this year. I can’t say enough about those chances to collaborate with Linda Hut and Amissa Jablonski. I attended the U School Convocation for our joint class and the experience of watching students at Convocation Hall will be a culminating highlight of my year. I look forward to Linda's Citizenship Fair that celebrates City Hall School's year end.

Brian Dunsmore and the volunteers at CKUA designed a wonderful afternoon of learning for EJ School classes this year.

SAGE (Rachel Tassone and the Senior’s Association of Greater Edmonton) and Kevan Lyons, the Poet of Churchill Square played such an important role in the connection of students to powerful true story.

The Stanley Milner Library and community librarian, Angie Mills took us around the world and into the past with their newspaper collection.

The Marian Centre opened its doors to share its mission with Edmonton’s less fortunate.

The changing downtown of Edmonton was our landscape.

And my biggest thanks goes to the staff of the Edmonton Journal who were so welcoming and forth-coming with students who watched and interviewed them. The Edmonton Journal is more to our community than a source of accurate information.

The brain research says it takes a village to raise a healthy, resilient child. In the past, present and future it is so and in my EJ School village there is a state of gratitude.