August 26, 2010

A Meshing of Realities

I have been on facebook for quite some time now. Actually, I think I was one of the first people I know to join. It didn't seem like much of a social networking site in the beginning simply because there were not many people I knew using it. I didn't even use my real last name. Since then I have learned to use my grown up name - to be myself and manage my online identity. I learned that this is a valuable lesson, and strive to help my students come to the same realization.

My first meaningful encounters on facebook actually came as a teacher. I created a teacher account and had my students sign up. We used it as an online classroom. This too, was before many people had joined. At the time we didn't really realize how quickly the site would grow and change. It did however, offer me (and my students) a wonderful opportunity. From the very start, we saw the academic potential of facebook (because this is solely what we were using it for).

It is no wonder then that when I took a job at a different school that I quickly created another teacher facebook account and started using it in much the same way. Interestingly though, the students took some time to come around to the idea. You see, they had been using the site on their own, with little or no "adult" influence. A few other teachers followed my lead and created teacher accounts as well. They started doing some wonderful things that I had never even thought of. Without even thinking about it we began meaningful conversations with students about being responsible online and managing their online identities. Today we discussed just how much of a positive change we have seen in just under a year.

So now I have three facebook accounts. My personal one, my old school teacher one, and my new school teacher one. Every day I sign on to each one and network with three different groups of people. I have debated meshing all accounts into one, but have my reasons for not doing so.

This last June my father came along on an outdoor ed canoe trip. He acted as our guide. In just under a week he formed some pretty positive relationships with my students. After I got home I logged on to facebook and found that he and 3 of my students had become friends. Tonight he posted a happy birthday wish to one of my grade 11 students. He said "have fun, and behave". They messaged back and forth a bit. I'm not sure what this all means. I do know that my 3 different facebook "realities" have often overlapped. But not to this magnitude. Here is my father, one of my role models, being a role model for some of my students. All because of social networking sites (he lives 5 hours away). It's a little strange, and a little exciting - because I know that in some indirect way I am helping provide positive role models for my students, as well as helping them to realize that an online community is still a community. It is full of real people. Your actions still have consequences. And your connections can be real and potential filled. Now to decide - start meshing some of my personal facebook connections (ie: my father) with my teacher ones?

May 26, 2010

My Friend Colin

I just finished watching My Sister's Keeper. Talk about tough. For those of you who haven't seen it, be prepared to cry. The storyline centers around a girl with cancer (leukemia to be specific). She is a daughter, and a sister.

Cancer. I don't know if there is a more powerful word in the human language. It is a word that strikes fear and emotion deep into the heart of everyone that hears it. And why? Perhaps it is because everyone of us, every single one, has been affected by it. And it's not so much that somebody close to us died from it as it is we know somebody who has had it. We have all seen it (some closer to it than others). For me, it's not the physical ugliness of the disease or the threat of death that grips me, but the struggle it possesses. If you have ever been close to cancer, you know that it is a long, hard, emotionally draining battle. A battle that nestles deep within your heart and mind. It is, for lack of a better description - like being dragged through hell...or watching somebody being dragged through hell and being powerless to help.

About 3/4 of the way through the movie something struck me: why do we not have schools that are dedicated to finding a cure? Stick with me here. Elementary schools, high schools. Why don't these schools exist? And not just cancer, issues plaguing humanity. Why don't we have schools whose mission statements are to find solutions to these issues?

We have schools that prep students for business careers, sports careers, etc.. These schools are specific. I have had friends that attended "hockey school". Why not "cancer school"? Is there not a demand for this sort of thing? Is becoming a successful businessperson or hockey player more important than finding a cure for cancer?

And then another idea struck me, and another, and another. Now the rest of this will not make sense because I have not worked through it yet. We know that there is a push for educational reform. We also know that this push is being met with much hostility. After all, schools are one of the hardest institutions to change. Driving this push is the center and most important issue. It is an issue that often gets overlooked and buried: connectedness.

Our students today are connecting with others in ways that we not too long ago only dreamed of. Partly because we are ignorant and partly because we are stubborn, we tend to "ignore" this issue. We need to dive deep into the world of connectedness. We need to embrace and encourage it, and not just write it off as "technology". We need to do this because it is important, not just for our students, but for humanity. It is within this connected world that "cancer schools" will appear. I think you understand this...if not, try harder.

One final story. When I was in high school a good friend of mine received some horrible news. He had cancer. It was very tough for him and everyone involved. The doctors gave him a 20% chance to live. Luckily, he made it. I remember talking to him on the phone and having to wait while he threw up. He often was too weak to talk so he would sit there and listen to us. If we were at a friend's house, we would put him on speaker phone for the entire night - just so he felt like he was there. Today, we might use something like Skype.

I once asked him if he was afraid. His response - I'm lonely. He wasn't afraid of the disease, or dying. He was afraid of facing it alone. He later told me that he found strength only after he met others in his situation. But up until that time, and even when he would come home, he felt alone. I would hope that today it would be easier for him to find support in our connected world.

His older brother told me about their visits with Colin in the hospital. They would stay there all night. Even though visiting hours had long passed. And then he said something that still touches me to this day: "the doctors could see that the term 'visiting hours' did not apply to us'. In that statement he was able to sum up every emotion contained within that one battle. So, I leave you with this: as educators let us show the world that "visiting hours" do not apply.

May 1, 2010

The Upward Trend?

Not too long ago I found myself involved in a conversation with another educator about extra-curricular activities. This educator was under the assumption that as we become more experienced educators we devout less time to students. I do not know if this is true, so I took a look at my extra-curricular hours.

Internship: 200hrs
Year One: 432 hrs
Year Two: 500 hrs
Year Three: 567 hrs
Year Four (current year): Projected: 700+hrs (note: this is time spent directly with students...and awake. Time spent sleeping: 200hrs

Now I am not a math person, but according to my calculations this means by the end of this year I will have spent close to 1000hrs away from home because of extra-curricular activities. I could figure out what percentage of a day, month, year, etc... this all represents, but I don't want to. It might scare me a bit. All I know is that it has been time very well spent. I have developed relationships outside of the classroom that I would otherwise not have been able to. Honestly, my planning suffers a bit because I simply do not have enough hours in a day. But I think that the pros far outweigh the cons.

So, it would seem that I am on an upward trend - that I devout more hours each year, not less. However, this trend must soon change. Eventually, there will be a point in which my hours decrease (because there is not enough hours in a day, and because I will soon be a new father). Understandably, our priorities change as we get older and as a result, we devout less hours to students. The question: will somebody else pick up these hours, or will student's simply lose them? Does there need to be a healthy mix of "experienced" and "new" teachers? Or is this all a lie and "experienced" teachers contribute just as many hours?

There's only one way to find out - leave a comment below that indicates how many years you have been teaching and approximately how many hours you donate to extra-curricular now.

March 4, 2010

Google in the bar

A few weeks ago I went to the local watering hole with some teammates after one of our hockey games. We got into an argument over who was the NHL's all time winningest coach. I remembered that Extra gum aired a commercial last year that featured Pat Quinn chewing gum on the bench. A fact popped up on screen that had the words "winningest coach" and then "must be the gum". After a few minutes of discussion about this very topic, I googled it. It turns out Pat Quinn was not the winningest coach, but he is the most winningest coach that is still active. Our argument was settled and the conversation quickly turned to how readily available information is and how different this is from not that long ago.

I have used my smartphone many a time in situations just as this. And while it is true that the smartphone is sometimes a damper on man's favorite pastime - arguing about sports (funny how the truth sometimes kills the argument) is even more fun to be able to access the truth with the touch of a button or two. Go to any bar...or even any public place - you will most likely find people doing just this: accessing information and connecting with people via a tiny piece of technology.

Now go to a classroom. Will you find the same thing? And if not, why not? Perhaps our schools need to look more like bars (kidding, well... sort of). Perhaps we need to actually realize that teachers no longer need to, or should be, the center of the classroom universe...instead of just saying that we need to realize it. We no longer teach...we guide, we assist, and we inspire. Instead of banning handheld devices and blocking IP addresses from accessing our wireless networks maybe we should embrace the technology and capitalize on its educational value. I believe we are starting to understand this (yay us!), but I also believe that this understanding is long overdue (boo us!).