The transition for me from the classroom to the OACS has been an exciting one, although many acquaintances have told me that I’ll miss the energy of students every day. I think this is true.
In the start of my new role, I’ve already been imploring teachers and administrators to share with me the exciting work that their students are producing. Let me say it again: I’d love to build up a collection of photos and samples of incredible student work. I’m hoping to receive an email soon that says, “Justin, you have to come see what our students are doing.” Perhaps you can be the one to send it. Finding ways to celebrate and share what our students are doing will encourage all of us to do great work. I hope to use my staff blog as a place to share exciting reflections, photos, and videos of great work from our classrooms in OACS schools.
As much as I will miss working with students, starting my new position by working with teachers this summer was an incredible experience, a highlight of my professional career. Approximately 70 teachers attended either Edifide’s PBL 101 workshops or the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy. I encourage you to check out OACS Community Journalist Laura Konyndyk’s great article about the Academy on our website. I want to say, “You should have seen what our teachers were doing!” Some of you did. A number of administrators came to the Friday presentations at the Academy to support their own teachers in their project designs, offering them constructive feedback and encouragement as they move from design to implementation. The discussions we had about what these projects would look like in the classroom were energized. The teachers who received that administrative support know that their work matters, that their efforts have value not only at the Academy but also in their classroom and the larger culture of their schools. They experienced what we hope all participants (both teachers and students) in a project based learning model experience—sharing work we’re proud of is exciting (and perhaps a bit nerve-wracking).
Of course, you didn’t need to be at the Academy to know that teachers are doing incredible work within the learning vision for our schools and staffs. The week after the Academy I had the amazing opportunity to collaborate with the full staffs of a number of different schools across the province. I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with other schools’ visions for learning.
As excited as I am to share great student work, the OACS is excited to facilitate the sharing of great teacher work. In the short term, we’ve posted some samples of the projects from this summer on the eCurriculum PBL group. The attending teachers are also sharing their reflections with others. One of the common refrains I’m hearing was the value of protocols as a vehicle by which they could continue to refine the quality of their project work. Some of them committed to bringing their protocol experience back to their own schools and that has already been happening.
High Tech High International teacher Will Haase agrees with this commitment. After a multi-school tour to some of our schools here in Ontario last year, he shared this encouragement and suggestion for us:
First of all I want to thank you all again for your kindness, hospitality, and openness to the [High Tech High] students and myself. You have a wonderful community and it was a real pleasure to spend time with you all… . My biggest recommendation is to foster a culture of iterations. Use your already strong connections to develop critique and revision as constant practices for staff and students… . Staff and students need to feel safe enough to open up to critique. This can be very scary at first but is so important for real growth. I think as more and more teachers model the protocols you will see a blossoming of creative risk taking and exciting student projects.
Part of the reason the protocols were successful at the Academy was the shared understanding of PBL as a pedagogy by the participants, the belief that all participants would be honoured for sharing their work, and the “sticking to the script” of the protocols by a critical coach. One of these coaches, Harry Blyleven, is leading a workshop on protocols at the convention in October. I’d encourage any of you interested in deepening your understanding of them to attend his workshop. Protocols recognize an added value in sharing work: it’s often through the sharing that the work becomes great. That’s where the learning happens.
Great work is inspiring. It arises from the focus of engaged learners who are given the opportunity to revise their work. My mantra with my English students was always “The first draft is the worst draft.” I’ll miss interacting with students in the work that they’re engaged in. I’m hoping that you’ll help me continue to be inspired by our students’ work by sharing it with me so that I can encourage others with it too. And, if this summer is any indication, my opportunities for seeing inspiring teacher work is also just beginning. I can’t wait to continue sharing that great work with you too.
Blessings in your own work in this new school year!