We Wanted To Be a Thinking School

I went to a great elementary school in Richmond BC, it’s called Westwind Elementary.

The teachers there were really progressive, and I remember everything we did involved community building, cooperative learning and project based learning. This is back in the mid-eighties, when I was in grade 5 and rockin’ a hockey hair mullet and dressing up like Crocket and Tubbs was cool. The staff there were ahead of their time, and I look back at those formative years as a real cornerstone of my desire to always be a learner.

Recently I was lucky to run into one of the teachers from the Westwind staff at Edcamp leadership BC, in Delta. Mr. Ayres was a young teacher back then, and I remember he taught grade 4-5 and I remember him being really tall. When I ran into him this past weekend, he was more mature, and he didn’t seem as tall and he asked me to call him Garnet. He is now a Deputy Superintendent and in pursuit of his own life long learning, was attending Edcamp on a Saturday.

We spoke briefly after the intro session, and although our conversation was short, many things that he shared about the Westwind days deeply inspired me as a educational leader. He said:

The teachers were lead by an inspirational Principal, Mrs. Chiba, who was a different kind of Principal.

The teachers used to sit around in the staff room after school and share their graphic organizers, “look at this one, look what this kid did with this one, how could I use that one?”

The teachers at our school were passionate about learning.

You know how some school are “reading schools,” we wanted to be a “thinking school.”

Thanks Garnet, for being part of a progressive staff, lead by an innovative leader, in pursuit of teaching kids how to think.

ps. Thanks to Mrs. Oldfield , my grade 5 and grade 6 teacher, for teaching me to learn about things I am passionate about, I was lucky to be one of your students, RIP.


Students should make pots for people who need pots

Since the days of my teacher training, I’ve been a fan of John Dewey. John Dewey believed that education should be experiential. That is, educational should be real and authentic. Students should not read from a book about how to make pots, they should ¬†actually sit at a wheel and make pots! At my school, I see my staff trying to create opportunities for our students to make pots daily.

This weekend I came across the following video, and it challenged me to take my learning and thinking about Dewey’s work a little further.

Freire and Holt’s work add a social purpose to learning. If people are learning to make pots by actually making pots that’s great, but, maybe even better is making pots for people that actually need pots. This will most likely improve the quality of your learning because now the pots have a purpose. They are for something. It naturally leads the learners to think critically and to go deeper in their learning. ¬†“What kind of pots do they need? What are the pots for? What are the best materials to use? What are the resources available?”

With our learners we should always strive to create tasks that are based on real problems. Then, together, with our learners, we can explore, think critically about, and create meaningful projects and solutions to problems that actually need to be solved.

Lets go make pots for people who actually need pots.

School of Rock

Last night I watched the movie School of Rock when I was in a hotel room in Calgary at the end of my Christmas visit to my girlfriend’s family in the prairies. I admit I love this movie because it brings together a couple of my favorite things, school and rocking out.

However, last night I watched through what felt like different eyes, as I have been on a journey with those I have been following on twitter and the blogs I have been reading…a couple of different parts and themes of the movie became visible to me for the first time….

On Mr Schneebly’s (Jack Black) first day as a temp (TOC) he notices that teacher he is subbing for has system of rewards and punishments for her students (gold stars and demerits.) Mr S is outraged when he sees this, and says to his students “What kind of school are they running here?” then he proceeds to tear down the poster displaying the demerits and rips it into tiny pieces. “From now on, while I’m in charge, there will be no grades, no good stars and no demerits.”

This made me think of what I have been reading in Daniel Pink’s book Drive about motivation. Right on Mr S, those rewards and punishments won’t motivate us to learn! They won’t engage us in the long run!

Next thing that really became obvious to me was the value of the “Rock Band” project. This was something that was authentic to the class because it had something that they could practice and work towards. Along the way, Mr S taught them about what Rock was all about…sticking it to the man (of course)…and also the subtleties that make all rock shows great, the moves, the attitude, the face melting solos…

One especially beautiful thing (tear) was that in the end, it wasn’t about winning the Battle of the Bands, but rather it was only about putting on a great rock show. They didn’t do it for the gold stars, they did it because rocking out was something that they needed to do, it was their gift to the world, their contribution to society.

I find this movie inspiring even though it has mega cheese served with it’s messages about motivating kids to be inspired to take on challenges and to follow their passions even if the man tries to bring them down. Thanks Dewey Finn and the School of Rock.


Side note: the part where the young girl asks to be a singer after she has been cast as a groupie makes me tear up every time. If you are a fan of music and singers this movie is worth a download just for this part.