It’s Week #2 of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, and the end of Week #3 of school here in Ontario, Canada. In my school board, we are now in the middle of “reorg”, a process whereby we meet the class size limits as set by the Ministry of Education and negotiated with our teachers’ unions. In my school we have had to restructure, and on Thursday I informed three of our teachers that they’ll be moving to a new school in a week’s time.
This is not a new process, and I am reflecting back on my first experience of the process, 30 years ago. I believe that “reorg” is likely the experience that set me on the path of my own personal “Innovator’s Mindset”, developing the characteristics of Empathy, Problem Finding, Risk-Taking, Networking, Observance, Creating, Resilience, and Reflection in my own teaching practice. I’m hoping that my three “excess” teachers will find their experiences to be equally positive.
In October 1986 I was 4-months pregnant with my first child, and I was excited to have my first team-teaching class on my timetable: a grade 9 instrumental music class where I would instruct the brass, and my colleague would have the woodwinds and percussion. We had an amazing first month. Then, the administration looked at our numbers and decided that our grade 9 English classes were over capacity, and that our music class of 39 could be taught by one teacher alone.
Despite my colleague having qualifications in English (which I did not), seniority prevailed, and I was assigned to teach Grade 9 Advanced English, to a new class of 34 students made up of 3 or 4 students from each of the other classes.
Resilient – In 1986, both I and my students had our first test of our resilience, as each of them adjusted to my teaching style, and as I worked to build community within our class. In the 2016 era of “lawnmower parents”, I hope my current teachers will welcome their opportunity for a genuine test of resilience as we reorganize, and will be optimistic and supportive when this year’s 200+ grade 9 students receive their new timetables on Monday.
Reflective – I wasn’t very reflective in 1986 – I could barely keep up with each day’s demands as I taught my new English class, my guitar class, and my introduction to computers (programming) course. In 2016, my teachers make good use of social media, are supportive in collaborative practice at school, and most likely utilize reflection with their students on a daily basis.
Empathetic – As a 26-year-old, about-t0-be-mother, novice teacher, this was definitely an area of growth. It’s difficult to look beyond oneself when one is barely keeping up. My current young teachers have had the benefit of our work over the past decade in school climate, character education, and differentiation, and we hire with empathy as one of our “look-fors”. Today’s students and teachers are much better prepared for this week’s “reorg”, and have access via the Internet to many more resources, than did we 1986.
Observant – While I might have been trying to be observant in 1986, I didn’t have the view beyond my classroom that is now afforded educators via the Internet and social media. My documentation tools were paper and pen in my computer/math/English classes, and a cassette tape recorder in my music classes. Today’s teachers in 2016 can easily document, annotate, and feed back their observations, with a wide range of digital tools. These observations can easily be communicated, and will assist our students when their timetable change requires a change of teacher and class.
Problem Finding – The question to start with, both in 1986 and now, is: “How can this experience help my students and me grow?” And the answers will be different for each teacher and each student, but I believe they will all be positive.
Networked – There is no question that this is easier now than thirty years ago. When my English department head handed me the stack of reading for Grade 9 English, and told me that we assessed in four categories: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, I knew that I’d be back in the department office throughout the semester. I had a support team of experienced teachers, who were all willing to share their best practices with me. Now, in 2016, my teachers have access not only to their school’s team, but virtually any English teacher in the world as potential colleagues. My three “excess” teachers know that they will always be able to connect with and be supported by their current colleagues, as they move on to their next school.
Risk-Taker & Creator – “Reorg” in 1986 taught me that I could take risks, and that the result would be infinitely better! My grade 9 students finished “Summer of my German Soldier”, and made strong connections to “Diary of Anne Frank”, and then linked both when we attended a performance of the play at Young People’s Theatre in Toronto. When we moved on to the Mythology Unit (the one unit I hated when I was in grade 9), we considered the role of mythology in culture and religion, and each student developed their own world in which myths explained all of the huge mysteries of life. Their 3-D cardboard models, and written descriptions, finally taught me the mythology I had missed! And when I chose to focus on popular ballads from the top 40 in our poetry unit, I learned more about my students (and about their parents’ concerns about song lyrics) than would have been possible with the traditional poetry textbook.
Our three teachers will be missed by their students and by their colleagues. My wish is that they embrace these Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset, take this as an opportunity to take risks, and return to our school in the future to share what they have learned.