While surfing youtube today, I came across a rescue beaver trying to build a dam in a home. At first, I found the video amusing: the beaver's determination, its efforts to arrange Spongebob's legs just so, and the cute stare into the camera. However, as I watched, I became sad because the beaver's innate skills were being put to use in the wrong environment. Despite working all day, the beaver would produce something that had no purpose.
I recall several years ago, my vice-principal introduced Project-Based Learning (PBL) to our staff. The more I listened, the more I rebelled in my mind. This wasn’t how I was taught to learn, it wasn’t how I was taught to teach, and it wasn’t how I had taught for my first ten years as an educator. Everything he was saying went against my understanding of what education should look like. Once I hit a boiling point, I stood up in front of my colleagues and challenged our Vice-Principal to show us his projects. Looking back, I am embarrassed by my behavior. At the same time, I am grateful that my administration did not scold me for my outburst. Instead, they walked with me using high challenge and high support. They led me into teaching with projects, and I experienced some of my most amazing years of teaching. My principal from that time often reminds me that my outburst was a part of my change story and that it was something I had to navigate in order to break that which was innate to me in a school environment.
My story reminds me of a few things I have learned along the way in regard to implementing Deeper Learning in our schools. First, change is hard: When we endeavor to implement new ways of doing things, people will resist (there might even be a few outbursts!). It can be easy to blame people when they don’t change, but it is important to remember that we are asking people to break away from what is innate to them. A common metaphor for culture change is rebuilding an airplane while it is in the air. We ask educators to change their pedagogy while they are in the midst of teaching and planning. Don’t ever forget how difficult it can be to change who we are and to have our identity as educators challenged.
Second, walk with your staff through the change process. If my admin had scolded me that day, I would have likely dug my heels in even more. Instead, they demonstrated they believed in me, continued to educate me, provided me with resources, allowed me to take risks, and affirmed my ideas. In my work with restorative practices, this is known simply as working “with” people through high challenges and high support. Mark VanderVennen describes working out of the restorative or with domain as working out of secure attachment:
“It is both a safe haven (high emotional support) and a launching pad for exploration (high expectations and high degrees of challenge), the domain most amenable to learning”
As we work with our educators, we model for them how to work with their students through high support and high challenges, establishing a foundation on which to build deeper learning.
Finally, I am reminded that I need to continually ask if my skills are the best ones for the environment or if I might be trying to use skills that won’t meet my goals: I always need to be open to change. This is valuable to remember as I prepare for the Deeper Learning conference in Surrey in two months. I look forward to meeting you, growing with you, and changing with you. Please ask me how Deeper Learning changed me: how I built a community patio with a math class, taught trigonometry using music and sundials, or engaged Grade 9 students with local city planners to reimagine their city. But more importantly, let me tell you the story of my school leaders who graciously took me where I wouldn’t have gone on my own, changing my skills, and my story and ultimately changing the deeper learning experiences of my students.