|Numerous couches and lamps in Scott Findley's classroom|
Last week I was lucky enough to get a rare experience for a high school teacher. I got to board a plane and fly to another district (Coquitlam) and experience an entire day of exposure to creative and interesting ideas that other teachers were trying. In one jam packed session, Judith, Jeff and I got a tour of the “Talons” program for gifted students and the “Jumpstart” program (a program that completely integrates English, Social Studies and Art) at Gleneagle Secondary, and we also had a chance to speak with English teacher Scott Findley who has created a unique use of space and furniture in his classroom.
In the afternoon we had a small conference session with 2 more teachers. Graham Scott spoke about his approaches in his art classroom, and Alysa Patching explained her experiences with a cross grades (6-8) class that was completely immersed in project based learning. The entire day was amazing. Despite getting up at 4:30 am, the three of us couldn't help but spend the entire evening debriefing from our day and discussing ideas for our own district.
Here are some of the lessons I took away from the experience:
- There are passionate educators everywhere, and being around someone who is inspired by the work they are doing (regardless of the subject area/district/age of students etc) is truly empowering
- The teachers who are designing and running creative and cutting edge programs don't have everything figured out already. They have taken a good idea and run with it and are solving problems along the way.
- Students in these classrooms are being successful. While we only got a snapshot, the students we observed were motivated and engaged. Stories from their teachers confirmed they were having success.
- Collaboration is the way to go. Many of the projects and programs we observed had a number of teachers working together and inspiring each other to push their boundaries, as well as supporting each other with resource development, planning etc.
- Great ideas can come from unexpected sources. Just because you teach grade 12 doesn't mean you can't use a great idea from a grade 1 teacher. An idea from a math teacher can change the look of a humanities classroom.
- There wasn't a single thing we saw that we wanted to replicate in its entirety. Looking at other programs and watching other teachers wasn't about copying things exactly or replicating things completely. Instead we saw many facets of things that we could apply in our own contexts. We also started thinking in new ways after being exposed to other methods of doing things.
Possibly the most important lesson I learned was: We need to have more sharing sessions like this one.
While I know that the finances aren't available to fly teachers around the province and let them spend entire days observing other schools, we could certainly make the effort to share more ideas within individual districts, and between districts that are close to one another.
A sincere thank-you to all the SD 43 teachers who spoke with us and allowed us into their classrooms. As well, thanks again to Elspeth for organizing the day!