Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Honouring my teaching journey

I first saw Robert John Meehan’s inspirational statement “If you ask me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you without hesitation: I was born to be a teacher” in my early days on Twitter less than a year after officially retiring from Edmonton Public School Board. I could not actually retire from teaching.

My earliest memory of stating that I wanted to be a teacher dates to a time when I am about 9 years old. I was likely more interested in bossing around my sister, brother and cousins during the playing of “school” but the formal idea stuck. I was fortunate during my grade 1 to 12 experience to have what proved to be an amazing number of excellent educators from Rose Wollman (Gr. 1), Nancy Eng (Gr. 5), Ruth McQuarrie (Gr. 7), Daiyo Sawada (Elementary Math), Bill Tanasichuk (Science 10) and Lorne Sparks (Social Studies 10 and 30) whose collective impact formed my attitude that this was a profession to aspire to. While my Faculty of Education experiences in university were not all as satisfying, I did spend time in the presence of 2 master lecturers: Dr. Robert Buck (Classics) and Iain Gunn-Graham (Art History) who illuminated the power of story as a teaching tool and learned to love dance from Rachel Kindersley.

My first teaching assignment as an EPSB teacher in 1974 landed me on another planet, the inner city of Edmonton. The product of a basically middle class childhood and with nothing from my university training to prepare me for what I discovered was the childhood reality of most of my students at Cromdale, I threw myself into changing those kids lives. I had the great good fortune to be supported in my educational growth by a superior administrator, Len Fossum, who encouraged me to use my passion for physical education to engage my students. From there I found myself in the beginning days of early childhood education inside EPBS and learned the lessons related to use of theme as an organizing idea for educational activities and experiences.

In 1977, I was invited by the innovative EPSB administrator, Keith Muirhead, to be part of the staff he was pulling together to create the first fine arts focussed alternative elementary program in EPSB at Virginia Park. I came in as an early childhood dancing “expert” and added skills every day to my teaching tool kit. School wide collegial planning and opportunities to learn by observing other fine arts “experts” were integral pieces of my professional development. I became a teacher/librarian and joined the ranks of Best of the Best and worked on the development of a Focus on Research which lead to a Focus on Inquiry.

When my own children began to attend Virginia Park, I moved to Beacon Heights to update that learning resources collection and a initiative to manage it with computer technology. There I enjoyed the company of north-east teachers banded together to promote writing, a collaboration of schools called WOW (World of Writing) and planned and hosted several student writing conferences. I was given the opportunity to train in Balanced Lit and added another collection of tools to my kit.

And then in 2002 along came Edmonton Oilers ICE School, my dream job that I never knew would exist until I was given the opportunity to build it. Based on the ground-breaking work of Gillian Kydd and Open Minds/Campus Calgary, I was seconded to the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation and asked to create a program inside the world of an NHL hockey rink, the Edmonton Oilers and Northlands. During that time, other site coordinators and I joined forces to create Inquiring Minds Edmonton to support each other in our truly out of the box facilitation roles. I retired from full-time work with EPSB (and Edmonton Oilers ICE School) in 2011.

My mother’s battle with cancer and the birth of my first grand-child made the lack of support to me (through any kind of supply teaching) very apparent. But my passion for and commitment to this type of work lead me to an opportunity to build EJ School (Edmonton Journal) and support the development of JUBE School (Northern Jubilee Auditorium), two smaller sites.

These days I use Twitter to promote week-long, site based, inquiry learning and what it means to 21st century learners. I enjoy the planning with teachers, scheduling and connecting of experts to students as much for my personal growth as for the benefit of a program. I believe passionately that learners need the tools of observation, interview and critical thinking to facilitate the essential brain activity of learning and require many diverse hands-on experiences for neuron development, no matter what age or stage of life.

“If you ask me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you without hesitation: I was born to be a teacher”

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