Monday, April 25, 2016

Rethink The Box

Sometimes I wish there was more time in the day to do the things I hope to do.
Sometimes I need to curb my enthusiasm.

Thankfully, logistics postponed a new project I wanted to try. I signed up for Rethink The Box but I was just informed by the organizers that they had reached their 20 team limit and I would be on the waiting list. (Not getting accepted meant that there's one week in May where I'll actually be at my school for a full five days - that's not a bad thing!)

What's Rethink the Box? I should have known more about it earlier, because it's led by a lady I know - Sharon Moskovitz. She and Shaun Grant were recently in Cleveland sharing this initiative at #STEMCon. (I saw her tweets but didn't clue in.) 
I should have also been aware sooner because the talented Teresa Allan and Robert Reyes tried it out during last summer's #lmmss STEM-themed summer school.
I only realized what it was all about when I attended Ray Mercer and Shaun Grant's TDSB STEM-DLL (Science Technology Engineering Math Digital Lead Learner) after school workshop on MakerSpaces and STEM last Wednesday.
Back to the question: What's Rethink the Box? Their website, explains it well. Teams (of five students with a teacher) are given a box with some materials inside and challenged to find a solution to a given problem. An example of an open-ended problem is something like "design some assistive technology that would help a student in your school with a disability". What I appreciated was that Ray and Shaun said that the teams could consist of anyone - teachers didn't have to choose their "most successful" students. The extra-special touch is that "real-life" engineers are present to help students convert their ideas and concepts into a physical reality. I could see students really getting excited about something like this. It won't harm my students, however, to wait a year before they experience it for themselves at a board-wide event.

Have questions about #rethinkthebox? Ask @raycmercer, @TeacherHann, @s_m077 or @CanadaGrant on Twitter.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Teaching with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Most professional learning events don't start with acknowledgements and end with tears. The one my staff had on Friday, April 15, 2016 did. It was "The Blanket Exercise" and it gave the participants a different viewpoint for examining issues relating to the aboriginal people of Canada.

Two of our teachers, Siobhan Alexander and Farah Wadia, were taught how to run this intensive and important workshop. It began, like all ETFO events do, with a nod toward the original inhabitants of the land our school rests. I understand, as this blogger points out, that the gesture does not repair any damage that was done, but the gesture was significant enough of a step that some of our staff members suggested that we should include it as a way to begin our monthly character assemblies. (Please add to the comments if you find a link to a resource that provides the names of tribes that originally inhabited the area your school sits.)

Teachers wept when they read and heard about how children were ripped from their loving homes and warehoused in residential schools where many were abused. This wasn't new knowledge for some, but the way it was shared invoked some strong feelings. What I appreciated (although it makes less of an emotional punch) was that the workshop did not begin with the tragedy, but started with triumph. Dr. Nicole West-Burns at the TDSB Beginning Teachers and Mentors Conference last month, said that we should not begin with tales of oppression when trying to "teach equity". (I'm grateful to Brimwood Boulevard teacher Abhi Arulanantham for capturing this visual from that conference and posting it on Twitter and I can re-share it here.)

The same is true for aboriginal education. As tempting as it is to immediately address the injustices perpetrated, it is important to demonstrate that pre-Columbus (and indeed, even pre-Confederation) North America was a busy, bustling place with many cooperating cultures present.

At the end of the exercise, we had a "talking circle" where participants shared their feelings and reactions. I expressed my disappointment in being part of an institution (education) that is meant to enrich the lives of young people but, in the case of residential schools, meant to destroy instead. The impact is still being felt, with the mass suicide attempts in Attawapiskat and the inclusion of the Metis under federal assistance.

I also set myself a goal: I will read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's reports (which can be found by clicking this link).  I'm posting it here as a way to be accountable. It will not be easy to read. I remember studying the Holocaust in Grade 9 and being quite devastated at what I learned about the potential humanity has for evil. (We had to do a novel study from a list of recommended titles - I knew I couldn't handle Night so I chose Alan and Naomi but I still cried for days after reading it.) I vowed to get involved in Wab Kinew's #CraftReconciliation project - I still have to contact the school I wanted to connect with, and we may not meet the original challenge's deadline, but maybe that's not as important. It took generations to commit the wrongs - it will take generations to make things right. Baby steps for me will also include promoting the various materials our school library has to help with positive teaching. (I'll try and remember to take a photo of our display and some of our books, bought from the great Goodminds Resources.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Make the Most of Mandatory PD

This coming Friday, April 15, 2016, our board will have a Professional Development Day. This particular day was not initially in the schedule. At our school, the morning will be devoted to a whole-staff exploration of "The Blanket Exercise" for greater awareness of FNMI issues. The afternoon is dedicated to grade team and division planning as well as time to complete compliance and mandatory training.

I heard through the grapevine that there were quite a few online learning modules to go through and that it would take the entire afternoon to finish them. Would the technology at school cooperate with that many individuals on simultaneously? I decided to get a head start on completing a few of the seven required training sessions this past weekend.

I think it may be common knowledge that professional learning that is self-directed and self-initiated is more powerful and "sticky". If this is true, then how do schools and school boards and other organizations "grab" educators to instruct them on policies or provide content that they are required to have? I'll admit, I wasn't looking forward to devoting time to these mandatory webinars. I did two sessions on AODA (the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) and another called "Anaphylaxis in Schools: What Educators Need to Know" offered by I actually learned things. This is what helped me "get through it".

1) Be aware of (and try to alter) your attitude toward the task.

Yes, I complained about doing it. I gritted my teeth and furrowed my brow. Then, I through the negative feelings behind me and paid attention. I realized that if I continued to harbour any resentment at being "forced" to participate, it'd be less likely that I would find any parts of it useful.

2) Take notes
Even though only a few of the mandatory training sessions required me to recall information and take a quiz to "prove" I paid attention (not necessarily the best method to ensure compliance, as answers can be shared - teachers can be just as naughty as students when it comes to beating tests!), I took notes for each session. It made me accountable in a way that just "sit 'n git" doesn't manage.

3) Make connections to your own teaching practice and experiences

As part of the AODA compliance training, there was a sheet of "reflection questions and conversation starters". It asked things like "What are the gaps between your current and desired practice related to principles of accessibility in your school?" Those are good questions to ask. Originally, I was going to focus this week's blog reflection just on answering those questions, and I may yet return to them in a future post. With my anaphylaxis training, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable because of my own experiences on the receiving end of a epinephrine auto-injector (twice). Yet, I realized that there were still ways I could improve the way I handle these emergencies as an individual with life-threatening allergies.

I appreciated the ways that the creators of the learning modules tried their best to make the content less dry and multi-modal (with videos, animation, closed captioning, mini-evaluations, and other strategies). I still have to do sessions on Asbestos, Health and Safety Awareness, Workplace Violence, and WHMIS, but hopefully if I remember my own trio of tips, it won't be a bitter pill to swallow, but some helpful medicine to keep everyone mentally, physically and academically healthy.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Autism POV

Saturday, April 2, 2016 was World Autism Awareness Day. The hashtag #LIUB was used online and many public buildings changed their illumination to "light it up blue" to recognize the event.

The TCDSB had a Autism Awareness evening at their board office on March 31, where many students with autism spoke and performed. (Interesting fact: #samthedancingbarista, aka Sam Forbes, is a TCDSB student and spoke to the crowd about his experiences with getting a job and his viral video.)

However, there was an interesting alternative position that I only saw through Twitter, and only knew about because of some of the people and organizations that I follow, particularly @autselfadvocacy: #RedInstead, where people are encouraged NOT to wear blue but instead wear red. Supporters of this initiative call it Autism Acceptance Month, not Autism Awareness Month.

Why the opposition? The driving force behind the #LIUB campaign is an organization called Autism Speaks.  This infographic outlines the significant problems some have with this charity.

(This tweet below leads you to a larger flyer image, which may be easier to read.)

The source for this infographic is missing - which is unfortunate, because citing the resource would legitimize it further. It's difficult to get "objective" information on this topic, especially when it's a very personal issue for many.

I'm trying to figure out how to have this potentially-sensitive exploratory conversation in a way that doesn't alienate but illuminates. How can I find out if the board I work for, or the board that my own children attend, prefers one charity over another? I have my ideas, based on observations. How can I encourage the consideration of alternate points of view? Are other groups like ASAN too "radical" for an educational institute to support as publicly? Is it possible to accept both the "narrative of 'autism parents'" (credit to @captn_audmerica for the turn of phrase) as well as the #ActuallyAutistic? Is it possible to like programs such as PAST but also express admiration for views such as the one expressed in this website: These are questions I'm still seeking answers for, in respectful ways. Wish me luck.