In a short period of time Stephen Hurley has attracted some very insightful people to this web site. This collective of passionate thinkers is going to multiply and the forum will gather momentum. Whether the ideas presented will move mountains remains to be seen but lots of good people are saying the kinds of things that will grab the attention of the mountains. Kudos to you Stephen, for bringing us together, and for giving us a much-needed opportunity for sharing our passion.
I am reading some really thoughtful and provocative theories on why change is needed and what could or should happen, but in a “systemic” sort of way. I see visions dawning and I like what I’m seeing. Being a simplistic sort of guy I need some help in understanding your visions. The picture would be much clearer to me if you were to provide some “exemplars” of specific and practical strategies you would implement in your classroom. How would your role change? What would you do to sell your ideas and get others to “buy in”?
It is in the classroom where we, the teachers, are the agents of change. If changing the method of delivery of curriculum, or indeed, the changing of the curriculum itself, is to happen, it is the teachers who will make it happen; not the politicians, or the administrators or the media, but the professional practitioners themselves. I want to hear from teachers. What changes would you make to your classroom that would enhance the opportunity for a child to learn? Give me the specifics. Given the ever-increasing appeal of the VoiceEd platform your ideas will be seen and heard, and isn’t that a significant start to your “mission”?
It is all well and good for me to pontificate on how you should share “your” vision so allow me to share with you a time of change from my teaching experience. At the risk of sounding like the old timer sitting on the porch telling tales of the good old days I would like to tell you a story. It is a two-part story because it speaks to two distinct and unique eras of educational history. I am not a historian, just a guy who happened to live both of these stages. I shall refer to my story as pre and post Hall/Dennis. I won’t talk in terms of years because that would be dating me and besides, this is not about “eras”. It’s about “auras”.
Before the “Living and Learning” years (The Hall/Dennis report) and the educational revolution of the early 70’s, I was a classroom teacher in a traditional “Quinsy Box” school; you know, row by row of classrooms containing row by row of wooden desks affixed to runners.
I would love to take credit for what I am about to tell you it but it was, in fact, a collective of like-minded colleagues who got together regularly, often at a local “establishment”? (Just think. We did then what we are doing now except our current venue is something called the “internet”). We talked at length about how we could break down the structures of our very rigid curriculum (known as the “grey the course of studies”), and our equally rigid teaching space.
It was quite evident to us that classrooms of the 40’s and 50’s were designed, not by educators but more likely by the brother-in-law of the school board chairman who happened to be a carpenter. Seriously, as a teacher would you, even in 1960, design something that looks like this?
We had long ago decided that a totally teacher directed approach to program delivery was ineffective, as was the traditional practice of “rote” learning. Basically, we wanted to give the children the opportunity to learn “from” and “with” one another. The implication here was that a variety of learning styles and rates of learning existed in every classroom. In order to do some “sorting” we needed an assessment tool (other than our own intuition and knowledge of our kids) and the only thing available to us was the Canadian Tests of Basic Skills. It didn’t take long for me to discover that within my Grade 5 class of 40 students (Forty was not an uncommon number in those days) I had a range of abilities (math and language) extending from Grade 2 to Grade 9. Now we were challenged with how to group or stream our kids according to this data. Needless to say there was much diversity in the collective thinking about how to do this. So we decided we would go back to our own classrooms and experiment with different modes of grouping our students for the cooperative learning parts of our school day. Then we would come together again to discuss what worked and what didn’t.
Some of the teachers at my school willingly bought into our “craziness”. Some were “lured” in after a “wait and see” period. Others preferred to carry on in their more traditional and “expected” roles.
Allow me to digress here. Many of those more “traditional” teachers were some of the finest, most caring and loving individuals I have ever known. I have fond memories of my own elementary school teachers who significantly touched my life. So to suggest that I am going to start “bashing” teachers who didn’t agree with my vision is so far from true. Our group was simply trying something different and we held no resentment for those who continued to teach as they were taught.
Our principal was cautiously supportive. It is interesting to note here that our principal was a member of a religious order, which had been placed in charge of the “separate” school system in Toronto. She was not a qualified teacher. I believe her specialty was nursing. While she was a kind and supportive person she had no idea what we were about. She simply wanted nothing bad to happen.
Our parents trusted us. They were confident that their children were in the hands of professionals who knew what they were doing. (I admit here that parent attitudes were quite different then than now and I concede to having a “leg up” in this regard).
As for the physical layout of the classroom each of us, in our own creative way, restructured our rooms to reflect what we were hoping to accomplish. Simply put we wanted our kids to be able to look at one another while they cooperatively worked on problem solving activities. My classroom was a “portable” so I had my own key and I spent several Saturdays and Sundays at school redesigning the space. With the help of my brothers we unbolted the desks from the runners and were able to put together 5 or 6 simple group configurations. (By the way, there was no such thing as a security system so I was able to enter and exit freely without raising suspicion. Once there actually was a break-in but nobody in the area paid any attention because they thought it was me, working in my room. I felt my neck a bit over that one. I had to pay for the record player that was stolen and I had to clean up the mess).
And now for the really good news. My kids totally loved the new look and the new opportunities they were given. They arrived every day filled with energy and enthusiasm (sometimes too much). They even suffered through the boring parts like spelling tests and math quizzes knowing that they were soon going to be empowered with some responsibility for their own learning. I would group them for such things as science and geography where they would be given problems to solve. This included some incentives for staying on task and developing an effective solution to the problem. They really got into the discussion topics in religion. Each group had a recorder, a reporter, a chairman (O.K. so we weren’t politically correct back then), and a timekeeper. The “buzz” was infectious and we had a lot of fun.
This new look and feel would be considered old hat by today’s standards but it was change and it was change that significantly enhanced the school experience for the children in my class and those of my colleagues. This was one of the more joyful times in my life as a teacher. My point in relating this experience to you is, to show that something that needed changing, was changed, and it was the power of the teacher that made it happen. This was not mandated by politicians or administrators. It was a group of passionate teachers who made this happen. This was the kind of change that was happening all over the province. Many, many forward-looking teachers were soon sharing our visions and amazing things began to happen.
In 1966 my professional life was to change dramatically. That will be part two of my story. Thank you for listening.