Relationships in Education

Lately I have been looking at our curriculum and thinking about the curriculum redesign. This curriculum has barely changed since I was the age of my students. It was outdated at that time and very little has done to bring it to the point that it reflects the relevant skills required of our students today. It is focused on facts that are easily found by a quick google search or can be taught through a youtube video. The rate that our students consume content and media leaves the focus on skills and understanding to the side. A timely tweet from George Couros, our district principal, left me thinking about how inquiry and relationships in the classroom has changed the tone of our learning.

So much of the growth and learning in our classroom has come from the fact we trust each other and have built a community of learning, growth and support. We have laid the foundation for us to develop skills and developed a culture of fearless feedback. The relationships we have forged and work to maintain are the ones that move our learning forward. In order to learn, the students must be happy and healthy first. This comes in many ways but for a lot of students, they are with me for the most important hours of their day. It is my job to facilitate their growth as citizens in our society.

My job is not to teach content but create experiences and facilitate opportunities for them. I am there to serve their social-emotional needs as much as I am there to fulfill their educational needs. What’s best for kids needs to be the focus of my decisions as I grow as practitioner. My job is not a job so much as a dedication to making the world a better place for kids.

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From Class Blog: What does it mean to be a citizen?

Last week, I made a comment to the students that they were all citizens in our classroom. I forget what the reference was about but the students accepted this and continued on. As I was writing something down, someone called out “What does it mean to be a citizen?” The dictionary definition of “a legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized.” wasn’t entirely all that helpful to us. As their teacher, I wasn’t even sure how to explain that definition. so I wrote the question on the board and asked the students to think about it over the weekend.

I had the fortune of being at a fundraising event with a number of politicians, so I decided to ask them what their ideas were so I could bring back thoughts and quotes from them. We also reached out to Cst. Lucas to see what his ideas were on the subject of citizenship. I posted the question on social media, and here are some of the answers we received:

Be a participant, be involved, educate yourself on the rules, the game is bigger than you and know what you are doing. The ultimate is not win or lose but to be a part of it. In voting, vote no matter who you vote for.
– Richard Feehan, candidate for Alberta NDP, Social Worker

Belonging, community, people who are born here and the people who choose to come here. As we braid together the two stories that is how we build our new country and our Canada of tomorrow. Responsibility to be a citizen and be an active citizen. Voting and knowing what you are voting for. Keeping up on current affairs, let your elected representatives know how you think. Relationship and have to tell because they don’t read minds.
-Laurie Blakeman, Liberal MLA

Have a responsibility to each other and you can get done more together rather than alone.
– Ben Henderson, Edmonton City Council

Contributing to the community you live in, interested in the voting process and voting when you have the chance
– Michael Phair, former Edmonton councilman

To me a citizen is a member of society. Citizenship is being recognized as that member. To me we should all strive to be “Contributing members of society”. You can still make an impact on a larger scale even though you have never left Spruce Grove. You need to think about what you want the world to look like. I always think of the golden rule. “Treat other the way you want to be treated”

If I was to use the example of cleaning up the environment. Your impact at home, in school and in your community will effect the rest of the world. It may be on a small scale but it will impact the other citizens around you. We cannot control what others do, but we can control the example we portray to others through our actions.

We are all citizens and role models for each other whether we choose to be or not. The only question is “Are we a good role model or a Bad role model?”

– Cst. Lucas, Community Liaison Officer, EPS

Actively involved, taking responsibility and providing input into anything that would affect their daily life. Maybe not all the definition, but an important piece I think.

– Danna Hawkes, Broxton Park Teacher

With all of these answers, we then pulled out some key ideas. (Shown in purple in the picture below) We broke into groups, discussed and added our own ideas of what citizenship meant to us as Grade 5 students (shown in blue in the picture below).

Mr. Petchel(our music teacher) also joined us to talk to us about the importance of voting. We talked about how not voting means that you don’t have the right to complain and that not voting means that you could allow 1/3 of the population to pick someone to represent you that 2/3 of the class disagreed with.

Here is how we represented this:

We have 23 students in our class with 2 students who were away today. Those 2 students represented the people who were not eligible to vtoe.

We had everyone wearing blue jeans sit down. These represented the people who were “Unable to make it to the polls” – too busy, mobility issues, out of the country, ect. We then asked the students who did not have their shoes on to sit down. These represented the people who “don’t care” or “didn’t want to vote”. This left 13 people. 1 student chose to spoil their ballot because they didn’t like either candidate (represented by the only person wearing a hat). 8 people decided to vote for Mr. Pechtel and his promise of Ukulele music (represented by the people on the right side of the room) and 4 people decided to vote for Ms. Albrecht who promised to try to make sure we have Art every Friday (represented by the people standing on the left side of the room).

12 people voted for a candidate, 1 person expressed their thoughts – that makes 11 people in our class who voted and 9 who did not. For voter turn out, 62% (13/21) of the eligible voters is higher than recent voter turnout in Alberta. We also found out that 8/23 people in our class made the decision for us. That about 1/3 of our class who chose someone to represent us even though he had the majority or the votes that were cast.

Mr. Pechtel then made a decision to take is promise of Ukulele music further and said everyone had to sing a song and play all the information in every class. A lot of students complained. If they were sitting down, they had to stop talking. This left the 4 who voted for Ms A, the 1 who spoiled their ballot and 3 Mr P voters complaining. 8 people who had a right to complain wasn’t very much (a minority in the eyes of the government) and now we were stuck with no Art at all, we had to hypothetically all learn to play ukulele and listen to Mr P sing about regions of Canada. That wasn’t a good thing but we let a minority pick someone to represent the majority who disagreed with these rules. The students suddenly realized that this was not good and why we need to take advantage of our right to vote and perform our civic duty to do so.

We decided that if there is an election called this spring, even if we can’t vote, as citizens, we need to be informed about what is happening and help inform people who can vote such as our parents. As their teacher, I am excited to see an election plays out in a room of grade 5 students but as a voter and citizen, I am excited to see a room full of engaged and active citizens who know more about voting and being citizens than some adults do.

This all lead up to what was going on in the world and the start of our inquiry into global issues and global citizenship but this lesson that started with the frustration of a terrible dictionary definition was one of the best conversations we have had as a class – and we have a lot of powerful conversations in our room.

Mini Reflection from MSS PBL session

I will write a longer reflection but there were a few key things I took away from today that I wanted to write before I forgot them or worried about how to take everything I scribbled down and summarize it or how to format my pictures to match my thoughts.  Most of my key learnings either came from what was presented, my observations, my own thoughts or the debrief that our school team had.

Key Learnings:

  1. If you are always “Busy”, you are no longer busy as that is the norm and you need a new word for it. MSS uses “energetic”. A former manager of mine always said “Busy is the new Normal”.
  2. Stop making “Time” the excuse. We always have time. We should be thinking about making space for things. Moving things around and shifting priorities temporarily in accommodate a project, expert, learning, and so on.
  3. The focus of PBL should actually be the learning and the process.  My principal, Carolyn put it best in saying that the showcase is really the “Birthday Party” of the learning. I personally feel the product is just the final piece of the puzzle. If it works, excellent! If not, we learned more along the way than we would have if it did work because we found out where we went wrong.
  4. There needs to be a reflective piece. I am not a fan of the word “metacognition” but the kids need to think about what it is they are doing and why they are doing it. It isn’t enough to just do something for the sake of it. Yes there is buy in when it is cool and personal but it doesn’t satisfy the point of education which is to make students cognizant of their learning and  develop the skills and processes. Curriculum only goes so far.
  5. Projects should be intentional. Well planned, linked to learning, focused on process skills and competencies. If it is just to satisfy curriculum, we are only hitting the crust of the metaphorical educational pie. The good stuff is the learning, reflection skills and competencies. A project also shouldn’t just be done to do something.
  6. We need to look at the 10 Competencies and the 3 Es when planning. We tend to forget those things when we get focused on curriculum.