This blog has been in the works for a while now and I am happy that I’ve managed to complete it!
At the end of May, I attended the annual ETFO Innovate Conference. This is a conference for ETFO AQ (Additional Qualifications) instructors where we have the opportunity to connect and enhance our online instructional practices in a variety of ways. I love this conference because I get to connect with my colleagues, listen to fantastic speakers, and get new ideas for supporting candidates in my course, plus the food is amazing! This year, we had some truly amazing and inspirational speakers and I had the opportunity to present to fellow instructors on how to use the research database EBSCO (an upcoming post).
We also had Right to Play take us through a variety of games to start our day and build teamwork and spirit. One of them was to get into groups of five, we attached five strings for each of us on an elastic. We could talk to each other and work as a team to move the cups in order to stack them in a pyramid (picture below)! They are an amazing organization and their mission is to “Protect, educate and empower children to rise above adversity using the power of play”. Learn more about them at https://www.righttoplay.ca/en-ca/
Thank you to the entire Innovate Planning Team for all their hard work in planning such an amazing conference!!
*AQs are Additional Qualification courses for teachers who want to acquire a deeper understanding of various disciplines and subject areas (e.g., Teaching English Language Learners, Mathematics, Inclusive Education, Grades 7 & 8 Language, etc). For the most part, these courses are online and we use the Brightspace platform by D2L (Desire to Learn). These courses were written by teachers for teachers, and therefore, are the best AQs around because they include practical applications, which teachers can take back to their schools and classrooms.*
Our first speaker was John Baker, the founder, president, and CEO of D2L. He founded D2L in 1999, when he was twenty two years old. John believes that progress can be achieved through education and the use of technology can help to maximize this learning. In an age where technology is rapidly changing and advancing everyday, it is imperative that we use these tools and resources to support students in their learning journey that is personalized. In other words, how are we making online learning more human? In an environment, where there is a lack of face to face interactions, how do we ensure we are reaching all of our learners?
It all starts with building relationships. Just as we do in a traditional face to face classroom, we must get to know our learners; what are their stories? What are their experiences? How have their experiences shaped their identity and visa versa? What knowledge are they bringing? This is where the role of the instructor/facilitator is essential. How is the instructor building relationships with each of their participants? How is the instructor building relationships between learners? To build relationships with participants, an instructor can:
- Have learners fill out a questionnaire to get to know them (as mentioned above, what is their story? Why are they here? What do they want to learn? What experiences have shaped their worldviews? What do they like to do in their downtime, etc?)
- Send out regular emails to check in
- Meet with candidates using a virtual platform (D2L has one!)
- Weekly icebreaker/community building questions (e.g., “If you could guest star on one T.V. show, which one would it be and why?” or “If you could hang out with one cartoon character, who would you want to hang out with and why?”
- Provide resources based on their questions and goals
- Post reflection questions and ask probing questions based on their posts and wonderings
In terms of building relationships between learners:
- Are you connecting/grouping them based on grade level? Division? Subject area? Where they teach?, etc.
- Are you connecting/grouping them based on their interests/goals?
- Are you pointing out similar experiences?
- Are you connecting them based on how they can support each other (e.g., if one learner has experience in an area where another would like more information, are you connecting them?)
- Are you connecting them based on personal experiences (e.g., children, extra-curricular interests, challenges they have faced in their career, etc)
As instructors, we want to ensure we are providing a meaningful and personalized learning experience for all; using the strategies above can help guide us to do just that. In other words, based on where a learner is, how are we pushing their thinking and supporting their growth?
Technology can never replace humans in education because technology can’t teach human skills like empathy, compassion, open-mindedness, and global competency. However, technology can help break down barriers and open doors for new experiences, new ways of thinking, and different perspectives.
I have some other ideas in terms of online and blended learning, but that’s for another blog post; too much for this particular post 🙂
Our second speaker was Candy Palmater. She is a Canadian comedian, broadcaster, and activist, with her own show, The Candy Show. During her talk, Candy was funny, inspirational, and herself, in the sense that she was real and authentic. She didn’t have a filter, which I appreciated. She told it like it is and I believe we need more of this in our world. Her main message was “You are enough.” She spoke about self-love, perseverance, and embracing one’s true self. It’s about living a life without fear. I believe we need to live a life without fear; without the fear of failing and without the fear of trying, otherwise how will we learn and grow and how will realize our capabilities? At the same time, let’s embrace those fears so we can live life to the fullest! We need to remember that life is a process not an event; it’s about the journey and not the destination. I believe part of living your best life, is not to worry about what others think; if we did, we’d never accomplish anything! If you want to do something, go for it! Surround yourself with people who believe in you, will support you, and will catch you when you fall.
Candy also talked about filling your “well” with self love, otherwise it will run dry and eventually empty. As educators, we are pulled in many different directions; we spend enormous amounts of energy toward our students; we dedicate our time to ensuring their emotional, social, and academic well being. Then many of us go home to a partner and our children and spend energy towards their needs. We have to find the time to take care of ourselves, otherwise we won’t be able to take care of others. I always compare it to the oxygen mask on airplanes. The flight attendant tells us we need to secure our own oxygen mask before we place it on someone else. In this way, we must take time to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. If we don’t and become ill, how can we take care of others?? There are many things you can do to practice self-love and well being; anywhere from talking to a friend to going for a massage or from writing in a gratitude journal to practicing yoga (this will be yet another blog post). You are the captain of your own ship – which direction will you steer it today?
More on Candy at http://www.thecandyshow.com/
Our third speaker was Orlando Bowen; a former CFL player who played for the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Ti-Cats. Another truly inspirational human being, who I had the pleasure of thanking after his talk. In 2004, Orlando signed an extension with the Ti-Cats and was about to celebrate with his friends, when he was approached by two men in a parking lot who brutally beat him, causing a concussion that would end his career. Those two men? Undercover police officers, who allegedly planted drugs on him and then arrested him for possession of said drugs and assaulting them!!! This case became one of racial profiling and a year later, Orlando was acquitted because one of the officers from that night was himself arrested for trafficking cocaine.
While Orlando was telling his story, I went through a gamut of emotions from anger to sadness and frustration to shock. I couldn’t believe my ears that this could happen to another human being and at the hands of the very people that are supposed to protect us. Orlando talked about the fact that all he could think about was his pregnant wife and one year old son, who he was sure he’d never see again because he truly thought he was going to die that night.
I love what he said next, “Raise the bar but also raise the floor so that others can reach the bar.”
As an educator, coach, and consultant, I made it my goal to include topics related to social justice and equity to inform students about the injustices in our world (currently writing a book about this). If we don’t introduce these topics and allow our students to explore them, we are doing a grave disservice to them. Our kids need to know the realities of today’s preconceived biases and assumptions if we are to support them to become social change agents. We need to have these brave and courageous conversations; it might be uncomfortable but it is essential. We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Orlando now works with the Ontario Police College. He’s a member of the training advisory committee, which is part of the Ontario Human Rights Committee. This might be surprising but Orlando wants to see change; he wants to be part of the change. He believes that holding onto the anger doesn’t help anyone but rather being a voice for the voiceless will create change so that it’s “us together” not “us against them”.
His strength, resiliency, and ability to forgive in the face of injustice is truly admirable!
More on Orlando at http://www.orlandobowen.com/
Our fourth and final speaker was Debbie Donsky. Debbie is with the Peel District School Board as a School Effectiveness Lead. Another speaker who talked about topics I am passionate about. She talked about our need for reflection; how we need to be curious and disrupt the narratives that come from biases and assumptions that we have. We need to check our privilege (I was privileged in some ways growing up and not so privileged in other ways) and it might be difficult to examine our privileges but it’s not as painful for those individuals who are living with the unexamined privilege of others. Our identity or identities shape our worldviews but how are we stepping out of our identity to examine the worldviews of others? We need to ask questions, challenge our thinking, and examine different perspectives. In my opinion, there is no such thing as reality, it’s all about perspective. Those perspectives are based on our lived experiences; what is one person’s reality is not the same as another person’s reality. What are we doing to understand someone else’s reality? What might be insignificant to you, might be huge for someone else. Ask yourself: (a) Where do I come from?, (b) Where am I going?, and (c) why am I here?
She also talked about the term “Ubuntu” – “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” How are we sharing in a way that connects us all? How are we leading and connecting from the heart?
By the time I left the conference, I felt reinvigorated and reinspired because I know this is important work and I am hoping the book I am writing will support educators to infuse important topics related to social justice in their classrooms.
I really believe we can do better; we don’t know what we don’t know but when we do know, we must do better!
Next Week: Digital Breakouts