Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Waiting for the Trustees’ Decision - by Kate Girard

Guest blogger Kate Girard is a teacher-librarian in SD68.  She is a change-maker and a passionate educator who inspire kids - and me. 

“Every person deserves a place furnished with hope.”
                                                                    Maya Angelou

What do you do when you’re waiting to hear if your job is going to be cut?  Panic, talk to others in the same boat, seek the support of colleagues and family, rail against the system, defend yourself, despair?  Yes—all of these.   As a secondary teacher-librarian in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district, I’ve been through a gamut of emotions in the past few weeks.

But about a week ago, I made a choice:  I would not let the decision of the school board define my work.  I think of the words of the Canadian writer Alastair MacLeod who died on Easter Sunday.  MacLeod’s son Daniel recounted at the funeral his father’s advice when times got hard:  “He’d say, ‘Well, I s’pose we’ll all have to keep going.’”

MacLeod was also famous for writing the last sentence of a story when he was about half-way through:  It acted as a kind of lighthouse, he said, to guide him to his destination.  Well, I too know the last sentence of my story as a teacher-librarian.  I know where I’m going.  And I suspect most of my colleagues do as well.

Libraries are in the midst of radical change.  The technological era has transformed not just the nature of library materials but the very way we all interact with knowledge, stories, and each other.  Schools too are on the edge of a revolution in learning.

This past week, I was excited to read a presentation by Stephen Harris, founder of the Sydney Centre for Innovation and Learning in Australia.  Called “Factories No More,” it is a 2013 slideshow that suggests most schools are practicing a 19th-century model of learning.  (You’ll find the slides on his Tumblr blog called Imagine Learning.) In the factory model of education, the teacher stands at the front, dispensing knowledge and controlling the activities of students arranged in rows.  Whether a Smartboard is behind the teacher or iPads are on every student’s desk, the basic relationship of teacher-learner is unchanged.

Harris argues we have to “disrupt” this model.  He quotes Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” (italics mine). How can we teachers unlearn the paradigm of the factory model and relearn a new kind of interaction with our students?  Harris proposes we re-design our learning spaces so we cannot revert to old roles and methods.

His own school is a flagship of modern design for 21st-century learning.  In fact, I used several photos of it when the Barsby Learning Commons Vision Team went through our initial design process.  At that time, we imagined a space that would support us in “disrupting” our pedagogy and at the same time welcome all who entered it.

However, as we know, funds for re-design are short right now.  Our process was stalled as I tried to find ways of paying for a renovation. But last week, my hope was rekindled when I saw some photos near the end of Harris’s presentation. These images showed an empty parking garage transformed into a learning commons, furnished with piles of reinforced cardboard boxes, with spaces defined by paper-covered walls.  This learning commons was created for the 2012 Sandbox Global Summit in Lisbon.

When I saw these pictures, I knew our team at Barsby could follow our vision.  We too can be creative and design a space that will challenge us to learn in new ways.  It might not be fancy, but our library can become a true learning commons—a place created by all of us, for all of us, and for the best of education for our students in the coming decades.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about as I wait to hear if my job will be cut.  I want this vision to come true, whatever happens to my teaching position.  In these hard times, I’ve decided, like Alistair MacLeod, “we’ll all have to keep going.”

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