Sunday, 16 October 2016

Backpack for a classroom - #yegdtkids

George Couros has been encouraging me to get back to my blog today (via Twitter - he and I have never met) and I am shocked to discover, not for the first time, that much time has past since I wrote something for this purpose.

Back in late April, just after the deadline for Inquiring Minds Edmonton applications had past, my friend and colleague, Linda Hut of City Hall School fame reached out to ask about a collaboration for 2016-17. She knew how to hook me because she was talking about rookies/veterans in her collection of applying teachers and she wanted to be sure that if she took rookies some of those vets would have a week somewhere. She knows I love master teachers and am always wanting to challenge them.
So we offered 6 of them (2 sets of pairs sharing a class and 2 singles) a week in downtown Edmonton (#yegdt) under my guidance with no fixed address or even much of a plan. They all accepted, without hesitation I might add, which filled me with nervous anticipation.

Could we make it work?
Jon Hall

Linda started sending me contacts from her deep metaphoric mental (cellphone connected) Rolodex for city-shapers and change-makers in #yegdt and I started beating the pavement – walking downtown as many different ways as I could and having lots of coffee with great folks from her list.  I did a Jane’s Walk with the mayor of 104 St., Jon Hall, in early May then visited inside his wonderful old warehouse turned lofts building during Open Doors Edmonton in July. One of my early connections was Chris Gusen of Make Something Edmonton who asked me to consider connecting with my teachers on 100 in 1 day (June 4) as an exploration project. I created an invitation and asked Diane Gurnham of ICE School fame to include her piloting teachers prepping for ICE School 2.0 which she was developing for her new classroom in Rogers Place. I also invited my EJ School teachers. This crew of 20 educators had an amazing morning, walking, talking, sharing ideas, looking at Edmonton past, present and future, loads of public art and imagining all kinds of curriculum connections.

I knew I could count on CKUA and the Edmonton Journal to share their spaces. I found out the Downtown Edmonton Community League (DECL) did not have room in their small offices but a door was opened across 103 Street at All Saints Cathedral Hall by Chris Pilon, their community engagement guy and DECL member. The roof stressed folks of EPSB Archives and Museum at McKay Ave were excited to cooperate. On a walk north from the Neon Sign Museum and Rogers Place, I discovered I could be at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in 10 minutes and the resources of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum and the City of Edmonton Archives became a key part of each week.

Medicine Wheel
I learned we could daily acknowledge that the land we were exploring was Treaty 6 territory and traditional meeting ground for many Indigenous people: from Beaver Hills House Park thru the Medicine Wheel Garden to Iron Foot Place, from Alex Decoteau to Sharon Pasula, downtown resident and Indigenous Cultural and Educational Helper. We experienced Alberta’s birth as a province through history made real during Mr. Puffer Goes to Parliament. We talked hockey (I love to talk hockey history) and connected the first sitting of the Alberta Legislature to the old Thistle Rink among other hockey highlights. Maybe you heard they officially opened a new state-of-the-art NHL arena in downtown Edmonton.

Linda shared City Hall, Edmonton City Council and let us join her for a great view from the 16th floor of the EPCOR building. I discovered the folks at Edmonton Emergency Relief Services Society were happy to speak about their story helping those touched by poverty, homelessness and disaster. We interviewed parents of kids at the DECL Urban Playgroup and we met with Michael Phair at the park named after him.

Chris Gusen at
Make Something Edmonton
We saw things that allowed us to touch on hard topics like war and homelessness. Then Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) and Make Something Edmonton gave us hope when they asked students to create a model of something missing in downtown Edmonton.

This great group of teachers and their adventuring students walked and walked and walked. We lived out of our backpacks with journals and pencils at the ready, interviewing, observing, sketching and wondering. We ate lunch in a different location every day of the week. And no one complained. We gained a real appreciation of what such an unrooted lifestyle might be like. We were greeted one afternoon on our return to City Hall to catch the bus by a scruffy man who broke into a smile as we past and sang “Jesus loves the little children”. More than one student included that in their end of the day reflection.

There is one week left. And then this grand experiment will be over. I have learned so much and I am very grateful for the help and encouragement of everyone who believed and helped make it possible. Chiefly but not exclusively I feel Tolkien got it right – “All who wander are not lost.”