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If you’re a teacher in the Lower Mainland (and most likely in the rest of British Columbia as well), it doesn’t matter where you look, the call for educational reform is there – in your face.  Teachers and principals are talking about it.  The Twitterverse and blogosphere are filled with the call for teachers to reform, to implement more technology, to fall into the loving arms of inquiry.  There are workshops, professional development days, district conferences, edcamps, and all manner of un, dis, anti, and re learning opportunities.  Yet despite all of the push for teachers to think about teaching and learning from a new paradigm and the evidence that demonstrates that it’s needed, there are still educators resistant to change.  Why?

No matter how many ultra-inspiring workshops a teacher attends or passionate presenters they listen to, these alone are not in themselves enough to inspire long lasting change.  How many of us have been inspired by an amazing presentation only to find ourselves teaching in our same old ways a week or two later?  If your hand isn’t way up in the air, either you have only been to one really amazing presentation or your nose is getting longer!  The truth of the matter is that lasting change must come from within.

Although this answer probably doesn’t surprise you, I haven’t been to a single presentation that has really unpacked this idea.  This doesn’t mean that workshops or presentations can’t inspire change, only that if they are going to lead to transformation, a work of change must have already started within the teacher.  The most difficult part of change is coming to the place where you can admit to yourself that change is needed.  That perhaps you aren’t happy with what you’re doing or how you’re doing things.  I think that the realization that you’re unhappy is often very slow in developing, resting in the subconscious until one day you’re going for a walk, or eating breakfast, or driving home and suddenly you’re face to face with the fact that you’re unhappy.  It is at that point that deep, transformational change is possible.  A question that can tease out whether you’re ready to start thinking about change is simply complex:

“Are you happy and/or passionate about how and what you do as a teacher?”

I haven’t met a single new teacher who is lackluster or unmotivated about getting into teaching.  Most enter into the profession because they are passionate about their subject area, teaching, and students.  In contrast, I have met numerous teachers who have taught 10+ years who seem jaded, unmotivated, and unhappy.  What happens in the those years?  What is it that can steal the joy of teaching and replace it with resignation or apathy?  There are lots of reasons that could contribute to this unhappiness: overcrowded classrooms, lack of funding, lack of support, lack of resources, government interference, or student disengagement.  To be fair, these are real issues that present significant obstacles in the classroom.  However, I’m convinced that to let these issues steal the joy and happiness that comes from teaching is unfair to both the teacher and the student.  The late Steve Jobs said in a commencement address to Stanford University grads in 2005 that, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”  Is there anything that you need to change in order to bring back your passion for teaching?

Another equally important question that might serve as a litmus test that change is needed is below:

Are your students learning in a meaningful and relevant way?

If you are happy but the learning in your classroom isn’t meaningful or relevant for your students, this is another indication that things need to change.  If the answer to either of these questions is ‘no,’ the next critical (and very difficult) question is:  What do I need to change to restore my passion or effectiveness as a teacher?

This is the topic for another post!

On October 2, I left for Ottawa to receive the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence from Stephen Harper.

It was an amazing, three day experience.  I joined sixteen other teachers, fifteen early childhood educators, and was lucky enough to have my wife and four-week-old son accompany me.  On our first full day in Ottawa, the teachers were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Canada Science and Technology Museum which definitely was a neat experience.  Afterwards, we cleared security at Parliament and took an in-depth tour of the library.  Following that, we were taken to a small room and prepped to receive our award from Stephen Harper.  My meeting with the Prime Minister was short but memorable!

When it was my time to receive my award, I walked into a small, ornate room where Stephen Harper was standing.  He reached out his hand to shake mine and asked what grade level and subjects I taught.  Then he turned around to pick up the award on a small table he was standing beside and we posed holding the award – *click *click went the camera and away I went with the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence!

The whole experience lasted no more than thirty seconds.  Although my time with the Prime Minister was incredibly brief, it highlights a six year journey to revitalize my teaching.  Today I’m teaching from a completely different paradigm than I was six years ago or even two years ago.  My identity as a teacher has been transformed.  Receiving this award is an honour I’ll carry with me for the rest of my teaching career and life – a phenomenal summit experience after an arduous climb.

It was a big day!

Our second day proved to be just as eventful.  In the morning, we attended a reception hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons and numerous MP’s were also present from the different ridings represented by the recipients.  It was really enjoyable talking with Mark Warawa, the MP from my riding.  After lunch we bussed over to Rideau Hall for a tour and photo op with the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston.  As soon as he entered the room, I liked him.  He walked in with the confidence of a man completely comfortable in his skin.  He came across as intelligent, funny, and very personable – qualities that were made clear as he addressed us and then opened up the floor for questions.  As soon as the discussion finished, we were whisked back onto the bus and driven to 24 Sussex where Mrs. Harper hosted a reception for us!  What a treat!  What made it doubly special was that she held Caleb (my son) for quite a while as she exchanged pleasantries with us!  This was definitely a memorable moment of the trip and one that I will always treasure.

The day of our departure came too quickly.  By this time, I knew many of the recipients much better and was getting to know their stories and the phenomenal work they were doing.  It was truly inspiring to be in the company of so many teachers who are changing the landscape of education across this great nation.  On the final day, all the recipients were broken into subject/topic groups and each recipient was given five minutes to speak on a panel.  It was amazing.  It was something I wish every educator in Canada could’ve been to – I was blown away and challenged hearing what others were doing in their classrooms.  Truly inspiring!

And then I was on a plane heading back to Vancouver.

To call this a whirlwind experience would be an understatement.  To say it was surreal would be trite.  I don’t know how many times I exclaimed to my wife at the end of a long day that I was still having a tough time actually believing all this was happening.  I was still buzzing when I stepped back into my classroom on a cool, rainy October morning the following week.

Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in quite a while – I went to McDonald’s and had a double cheeseburger.  Although many people might cringe at the idea of sinking their teeth into a greasy McDonald’s burger of dubious content, I have to say that it hit the spot.  As I was happily devouring my double cheeseburger of dubious content, I started to take stock of my surroundings.  Much had changed since my last visit!  The old linoleum floor had been replaced with attractive stone tiles.  The plain walls were covered with an appealing combination of paint and wood paneling.  I sat on a modern bar stool across from a private, four person booth.  TV’s were strategically placed in different parts of the room, and when I entered the main doors I was greeted by a sign stating that free internet was available.  The menu signs had all been updated – including many new menu items such as different coffees and healthier options.  Even the exterior was sporting a new, modern facelift.  I was impressed!

Unfortunately, my positive feelings were quickly dashed on the greasy floor of reality.  The nice stone floor was literally shining with grease and was in desperate need of a mop.  The tables were also coated in greasy spots that refused to be wiped away without a heavy-duty industrial cleaner.  There were numerous tables with trays of garbage that hadn’t been cleaned up.  The washroom – although modernized – could have kept a pathologist (and plumber) in business until the global markets stabilize.  And my double cheeseburger of dubious content was still the same double cheeseburger I remember – with the same McBowel Movement that I somehow forgot.  In essence, it was still the same old McDonald’s only with a new, ‘hip’ look.

Almost as soon as I finished my deliciously dubious double cheeseburger, I was struck by another thought – what if all my attempts to change the way I teach are also just nice facades hiding the same old greasy reality underneath?  Am I really making progress as a teacher or simply giving my teaching a tech friendly, pseudo-authentic, hip facelift?  Are the changes I’ve been working so hard to implement really dressing up an antiquated paradigm – or do they t truly reflect the demands and needs of a rapidly changing world?  Are the changes I’m making and the impact they have on my students ‘dubious’ like my double cheeseburger?

Although most of the changes happening in the educational realm are beneficial to students and their learning, I sometimes wonder if the reform that’s happening is simply covering up an antiquated system underneath.

Personally, I want to get out of the McDonald’s, fast food model of education altogether and move to something where my students can sit down and really engage with their food.  The issue with the McDonald’s style of education is that there is no engagement.  Students come in, quickly gobble down their food from a select menu that isn’t all that good or useful for them, and then leave.  Maybe feeling a little sick.  There is little personal connection and the food is cheap.

Instead, I want my students to come in, sit down with the expectation that they will be staying for awhile.  I want them to engage and eat deeply of their learning.  I want my student’s learning to cost them something.  True learning is never cheap, and where deep learning is occurring it will cost students their lives.  It will mean something.  But in order for this to happen the very ethos of my classroom needs to change, and perhaps this is where all transformational reform is aimed.

For the last five years I have been making McDonald’s-like changes to my classroom and it’s been good.  However, as I was sitting and eating my double cheeseburger of dubious content I realized that I need to continue getting out of the fast food industry style of education.  It’s a change I think my students will eat up!


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