Sunday, April 17, 2011

Becoming Focused: My ADE Reflection

Inspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially  to do something creative.
When first invited to the Apple Distinguished Educator’s Institute in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam a number of emotions raced through my mind  - excitement, anticipation, joy, curiosity, anxiety, and then, yes I admit it, fear. What would be expected at such as institute? Would I have to present something? What on Earth could I possibly contribute that would be new or interesting? Why me?

When you envision an educational institute about teaching and technology, you might imagine a room full of teachers being taught by a knowledgeable expert on how to best use a particular tool in the classroom. Well, I quickly realized that this is not what the ADE Institute would entail. Instead we were put into the role of 21st century students and formed an authentic learning community ~ coming together to collaborate and create. We were encouraged to leave our comfort zones and explore in unfamiliar ways; learning about each other, the tools we were using, our environment and ourselves throughout the experience. It’s not that easy to collaborate with people you do not know; to cooperate and let go of how you would plan to approach a task. The achievement or product that was created at the end of the day does not come close to capturing all that was learned. In fact, I believe it was the least important thing. When I transpose these feelings to what occurs in my classroom, I have a much greater appreciation of what my students encounter on a regular basis. I also have some pedagogical questions about my practice. How can I help students to capture what they have learned about themselves, about the nature of collaboration and cooperation? Am I doing enough to shift the emphasis away from the product and put it squarely on the process? How can I support student innovation and creation? Do I give them the freedom to learn? Do I give them the time to reflect on this process?

I now know that I need to become more focused as an educator. What do I believe? What is important? How will I share this with others? While I have gone through exercises that are similar, I’ve never been afforded so much time to really consider these questions in a guided and supported fashion. The idea of creating the ‘brand of me’ was intimidating at first; I’m a teacher not a PR person. Yet working through this process and developing a focus was an incredibly valuable experience. Sometimes as a teacher you feel a pressure to try so many things, it is easy to lose sight of what is important to you. I have reconnected with my values and passion and these will continue to drive the choices I make and the explorations I undertake.

I really had no idea I would (or could!) grow so much professionally in such a short period of time. What a privilege it was to be surrounded by innovative and articulate ADEs; all of them ‘out of the box’ thinkers who were passionate about learning and teaching. Every single person I met had a story to share and I came away richer from each encounter. And now to reflect upon the experience, it is difficult to know where to start. This institute was about learning, about making connections, about exploring what we do and who we are, but it was more than the sum of these parts; it was a call to action.

As an ADE I want to consider my next steps as an author, an advisor, an ambassador, and as an advocate. I feel more capable now to tackle my professional blog (yes - this one) and am making a commitment to its development. I am grateful that I will have a focus for this space and hope that through this continued reflection and connection with others I will become a more innovative educator. I feel more confident in my ability to share what I believe to be important or worthwhile and more at ease in celebrating my mistakes as learning. Thus liberated, I am committed to exploring how to facilitate a change from the traditional constructs of schools to places that foster creative thought, ethical reasoning and celebrate learning.

Lastly, I must thank the many people who made this incredible ADE Institute experience possible. Adrian and Melissa – your attention to detail and thoughtful approach to planning for our time in HCMC was amazing. From the venue, to the activities and even the restaurant choices made this a time to remember. To all of the members of the advisory board – your guidance and assurance were invaluable ~ letting me know that, I, too belonged here. To our keynote speakers, Rebecca Stokely, who created a team out of a group of strangers through her warmth and humour; Joseph Linaschke, whose stories and art have motivated me to try and make pictures for myself and with my students; and Chai Yee Wei, who made me see that anything is possible when you are focused and doing what you love. Lastly, to every member of the ADE class of 2011, thank you for your openness; sharing in your creativity and passion has been an inspiration.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Obituary Writing: the ultimate reflection

One's philosophy is not the best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And, the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

"Joss Paper" by Sjschen, Wiki Commons, CC-SA 3.0
This post doesn't really have anything to do with teaching, it is more about the nature of reflection itself. We are celebrating the Ching Ming Festival today in Hong Kong which is also known as Grave Sweeping Day (or Burn Down Lamma Day depending on your source). It's a time when Chinese families show respect for their ancestors by tidying up their graves, clearing away weeds and making offerings food  and wine. It is also common to burn offerings such as joss paper, also known as ghost money, so  ancestors may enjoy it in the afterlife.

What does this have to do with reflective practice? Well, nothing really, except that it prompted a conversation about rituals and death among some friends and colleagues. This was my chance to try once again to promote the idea of holding an Obituary Party. Okay - I know you have just paused and said to yourself, "A what?!?" I have seen this reaction before, in fact, it has happened every time I try to introduce the idea. The premise is really not that crazy. Imagine a group of friends sitting together enjoying each others' company and discussing what they hoped to achieve in their lives. It would be a supportive audience - a mutual sharing of ideas and strategies to help one another achieve their goals. An obituary party takes this concept and stresses the urgency of making choices that will ensure we achieve these goals; of committing to a life well lived. When you face the fact that you have a limited number of days on the planet, you are more keen to make each one count.

I know - I never get many takers and often find I have inadvertently upset and offended people. I am not a morbid person.  I do not worry about death nor am I overly anxious or obsessed about how I live every minute. Who wants to dwell on dying? I think an obituary party would help people to dwell on living, unfortunately most people I meet disagree. I think my vision of this party is different from theirs. I know this when the response is something like, "That is so creepy. I don't want to think about it." or "I don't care what kind of music they play at my funeral, I'll be dead!" That is when I realize that most people hear obituary party and start thinking 'funeral planning' and that is not what I am talking about (although - there is nothing wrong with planning your own funeral, but that is a topic for another day!).

Even when I am successful in explaining what an obituary party would entail, and what it would not, it amazes me how superstitious people can be about death ~ even now in the 21st century. Some people I have spoken to about the idea don't want to participate because they are worried this is 'tempting fate'; that by writing their own obituary they might hasten their own demise.

I see it as the ultimate reflection; the biggest picture thinking you can do as an individual; the epitome of backwards by design (how's that for a connection to teaching?). Really, at the end of the day, how do you want to be remembered? Are there certain accomplishments you would like to be associated with? Qualities that you want your name and memory associated with? I believe if you can get past the superstitious aversion to writing your own obituary, it is a chance to truly plan to live your life to the fullest.

What would you like your descendants to say about you as they sweep your gravestone?
Happy Ching Ming!