Wow. What a couple days! I spent Monday and Tuesday in Coquitlam, Surrey and Agassiz learning from some very smart people about all sorts of things. I was in BC for some coaching related work, and was able to extend the trip to spend some time at my parents and get down to the Lower Mainland for these meetings. While it meant a few more days away from my wife and daughter, I am really glad I made the trip, and that these kind and brilliant people had the time to spend with me.
I started at the Inquiry Hub with David Truss, and he and his students toured us (Gallit Zvi was also there) around the school and talked to us about their Inquiry coursework, their alternate delivery of curriculum and their very unique school. I was amazed by his students and their familiarity with the language of their school. One Gr. 9 student talked about her “Self Pace” program, another about their “Inquiries” and the students scoffed at how much work they would have had to do to complete an I.D.S. (Independent Directed Study). The school only opened in September, and they have clearly done a great job of educating their kids on the work that they will do and how they will be experiencing their education. After the tour, David, Gallit and I went for some Pho (never had it, not sure I’ll be running out to have it again! haha sorry David) and had a chance to really talk. David told us about the grant that one of his Gr. 9 students applied for and received for a considerable amount of money, which was to be dedicated to her group’s inquiry project in which they were building a school garden. These three girls have been planning and working on this for some time, and they already have plans to bring primary aged students in to experience the garden and grow some plants themselves. It was an amazing story to hear, and I hope for David it was a nice chance to share just a few of his many successes from his school. The topic opened up to what Gallit and I were doing in our buildings and we had some great conversations about infusing innovation experiences into our students’ learning and how to get the most meaningful learning out of those opportunities.
Next it was off to Fraser Heights School to meet with Parm Brar and Jess Pelat, two very bright young ladies teaching an Inquiry 8 curriculum, one where all four core subjects are blended into one program full of project learning and powerful questions and challenges. In typical teacher fashion, the two were very modest about their accomplishments and really didn’t feel they were doing something special, which after 90 minutes of discussing I had heard they clearly were. We discussed what they found challenging and what they found rewarding about this first-time experience developing and teaching this class. We talked about how best to create cross-curricular learning activities and the impact it has on student engagement and motivation. I found myself very excited to know that many of our staff would be at the same conference as Parm and Jess in little over a month and I am hopeful they will be able to connect and share with these two amazing teachers.
Tuesday morning I had a brief but very impressive experience watching Genius Hour in action with Gallit Zvi and Hugh MacDonald. Three groups from their classes were presenting completed projects and sharing how the project went for them. After that, the kids broke out into groups in various learning spaces and went to work on their projects, and I was able to sit with many groups and ask the students about their experience with Genius Hour. It was great to see how proud the students were of Genius Hour and their teachers, and how much pride they took in the work they were doing. I asked one student why they chose to work on a video project and he said that he “had been inspired by the work of his classmate”… no lie, he actually said that. Another student said the best part of Genius Hour is that it “Let’s us all be creative in our own ways”. Before this visit I loved Genius Hour, but now I am not prepared to wait any longer to get it started at Greystone.
On my way back to Kamloops to catch my flight I was able to stop and meet face to face (finally) with Chris Wejr, someone I have been connected with on Twitter from almost the first day I signed up. Chris is a smart guy, and the one thing you notice when you hear him speak is his desire to make his school better for his staff and for his students. We talked about some shared struggles we have had with technology in our buildings, he toured me around and showed me the amazing view he has from his school field (see pic below) and then over lunch we talked about our shared passion for getting teachers connected via Social Media. It was a quick lunch, as I had to make my flight, but the one thing I knew as I dropped him off at his school was that we will definitely connect more now, both online and hopefully in person.
So as I sat in the airport in Calgary waiting for my connecting flight to take me home to my wife and daughter who I missed a great deal on my 5 day trip to BC, and while I was excited to see them, I was also relishing the invigorating energy my trip has provided. I am really looking forward to meeting with our staff and sharing all the great learning I did and to work with them to find ways to put some of that learning into action in our building.
Now I was able to make this trip happen due to circumstances falling into place, but I am sure there are some of you reading this who have never even gone to visit another school in your own division. When we spend time in other buildings and conversing with other professionals, we are opened up to their perspectives, their knowledge and their passions. It doesn’t take long to find schools that are exploring similar ideas to your own, and coming together to discuss these ideas is mutually beneficial for all involved. This is true of visiting another province, state or country but I also believe this to be true of visiting another school in your own division. I know that spending time just 15 minutes down the road in Travis McNaughton‘s Muir Lake School opened my eyes up to a number of things we could do at Greystone.
When it comes to connecting I will always be a big advocate for using Social Media (every link on this page is to a twitter page!), and I would never have been able to connect with David, Gallit, Hugh, Jess, and Chris if it wasn’t for twitter. But I believe there is a great deal of power in making an effort to go to other buildings and go to meet with people so that the conversation can be deep and meaningful and not limited by the number of characters. Take a trip, either somewhere outside of your division, state, province or country, or even just a trip down the road to a school near you. Go and listen to what people do in other buildings and share with them what you do. I bet you’ll feel just as energized as I do.