June 25, 2019

Getting Better Together

Digital Action Plan. New courses. New partners. New projects. New people.

It has been a busy year and if there is one word to describe the past 180 days, it has to be collaboration.

Four smiling people sitting cross legged on a field with text: What is collaboration?

Collaboration in education usually invokes images of smiles and people getting along while working on projects. When we say collaboration, maybe this is the picture we have in our head. And when we don’t want to collaborate with people, maybe it is because we think that it will be really difficult to attain that image with the particular people involved – if not impossible.

I think collaboration needs to be so much more than getting together (smiling and getting along) to achieve a pre-set something – whether it be a learning resource, an evaluation situation, a video, a set of ideas, a workshop, or an article.

Years ago, I read an article that I keep coming back to, Conflict amid Community: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration by Betty Achinstein. Her research demonstrated that, too often, what was missing from collaboration and community was conflict. (Not the yelling at each other and fighting kind of conflict, the opposing viewpoints kind of conflict.)

Now, we might think that to be a good thing. But, really, it is not. Conflicting opinions exist in community. When we ignore that, when we think there is only one way to do things, then we get into dangerous territory of privilege and oppression. When we focus on only one way of doing things, then we lose out on a diversity of ways of doing and being that, when put together,  become something new, something great. 

And that is what Betty Achinstein found. That when teachers collaborated on various projects, they very often met with conflict. The knee-jerk reaction to conflict is to make it go away – to smooth things over, to concede to something that we may not agree with, or to choose to exclude diverse viewpoints from the conversation. But, when conflict was allowed to happen, when teachers listened to each others different points of view and worked together anyways, they were able to achieve great things. Together. And the community got stronger. And individually, people felt better because they were heard and together they were contributing to the betterment of their community.

This year, I worked on many projects with many different people. Our Adult Education RECIT team in the English community doubled in size, beyond that, the RECIT network more than tripled in size. There was a demand for more resources to support the English network and so I have been starting to work with more people across it – from the youth sector into the adult sectors – and we each have our ways of doing and being that become part of our collaboration process.

And so of course – conflict occurs. When it is talked about and worked through and accepted as a part of the process, I believe that what we are working towards is better. Universal Design in education is steeped in empathy – the designing of learning environments and products with the greatest possible potential users in mind. How can we do that without listening to, considering, and integrating opposing viewpoints? 

Each year around this time, as I start to think about the year to come, I ask myself – how are we getting better? When my ideas were challenged this year during collaboration, the end results were always better because they included multiple points of view. It wasn’t always easy for me and sometimes it took longer than I wanted, but it was always better. So my wish for next year, is that we continue to challenge each other so that we can continue to get better. Together.

June 13, 2017

Multi-level and Multi-subject Math & Science? Yup.

I am writing this blog post during a visit to Colleen Glover’s classroom with a team of teachers and consultants from the ETSB, NFSB, PROCEDE, and the RECIT. (this post was originally written on June 9, 2017)

Colleen is a Math and Science teacher at the Nova Career Centre of the New Frontiers School Board. Her classrooms are always multi-level and sometimes multi-subject as well.

With our new programs and the shift towards the use of learning situations for the development of competencies, teachers are questioning just how they are going to manage this when they teach multi-level and multi-subject groups using an individualized approach.

Well, Colleen manages her groups in a way that is not only possible but positively supports the philosophy of our new programs.

So, we organized a visit to her classroom so that teachers from the ETSB could see how she manages her individualized classes.

What a rich experience! I was inspired by watching the class unfold and seeing how Colleen organizes student learning within the context of different courses – including labs! Her individualized classroom is truly a community of learners. Students support each other in their learning. A group of students in one science course were creating solutions for a small group in another science course for their lab activity.

I particularly liked the celebration wall, where Colleen showcases copies of the acceptance letters her students receive from CEGEPs and universities!

The result of this day will be a video to share with the rest of the province because teachers have been asking for these kinds of resources so they can take a peek into the classrooms of their peers as we transition into teaching with our new programs.

While you are waiting for the video – I invite you to listen to the latest podcast, which is a conversation that took place after the visit, about the unique student/teacher relationship in Adult Education.

We are not alone and when we realize this, anything is possible!

Thank you, Colleen, for inviting us into your classroom!