[October 31 2023: I've tried to edit this post so it's written a little more clearly.]
I saw two articles yesterday that described ways that some local BC school districts doing good things in response to political and religious conflicts. The first incident took place on Vancouver Island at a religious summer camp where I used to work; the second took place in Surrey, where I currently work. I have a couple personal connections to both cases.
On Vancouver Island,some school districts have severed ties with Camp Qwanoes due to the religious organization's stance on homosexuality. In my opinion, this severance is justified on the school districts' parts; school districts should not associate with organizations with such inequitous policies.
I attended Camp Qwanoes as a camper in the 1990s and worked as staff there for the summers of 1996-2001. It was during my time working there, perhaps the summer of 2007, that the camp instituted the code of ethics form that all staff had to sign. The code of ethics, by some other name, was a ream of statements you had to agree with to work at the camp. I remember being uncomfortable signing the form, simply because its litany of rules seemed to be over-reaching. The form set rules about the music staff could listen to, their beliefs about homosexuality, their involvement in a church outside of camp, and numerous other rules that seemed a little over-the-top. However, despite reservations I found it easy to sign the form for the first few years where I worked there. The camp was fun to work at and I was pretty straight-edge, so it was easy to sign the form even if it seemed excessive. Even if I didn't like having my behaviour curtailed in this way, it wasn't going to change my life very much to follow their rules for a few months.
Still, by the time 2002 rolled around, when I stopped working there, I felt good never having to sign that code of ethics form again. By that point, my faith had grown pretty liberal: I may have been uncomfortable with homosexuality, but I knew that it wasn't any of my business to condemn it; I may not have been comfortable with abortion, but I knew that the arguments for its legalization far outweighed the other side's arguments; I was deeply troubled by trying to justify complex and arbitrary theological stances on the atonement, salvation by grace, Biblical inerrancy, and the Trinity. By that point in my life, I couldn't sign the form with a clear conscience. So I stopped working at the camp and felt better for it.
Today, in 2023, I think the camp's code of ethics essentially makes teenagers (most of their employees are teenagers) agree to hatred, and I'm appalled by that. So I'm glad that some public districts are severing ties with the camp. School districts shouldn't give funds to organizations, like Qwanoes, that promote hatred, no matter what the camp director says is within their "rights."
Closer to home, the Surrey School District cancelled a rental of district space to a "non-binding" Khalistan voting event. The district's decision is something I'm also in support of. I currently work for the Surrey School District and I don't want my public occupation to be associated with political-religious issues like Khalistan. Some religious and cultural activities are fine for a public school district to acknowledge and celebrate, but I think Khalistan is a step over a line.
Specifically, the district's focus is on a poster: "the cancellation was due to a promotional poster that showed an AK-47 assault rifle being stabbed by a pen below an image of the school in Newton." As obvious as the imagery is (and I've seen the poster a few times around town), it's unnecessarily violent for direct association with a public school district.
The district has said, "As a school district, our primary mission is to provide quality education and support to our students and ensure a safe environment for our school communities. Our agreements, policies and guidelines, including those for rentals, support our district in creating a safe environment for our community. Anyone renting our facilities must adhere to this."
I think this is an important stand for the district to take. The posters and the event are clearly political and religious in nature and the district should have nothing to do with events that might cause a religious or political ruckus. There's no need for that level of tension in public school districts. There are plenty of private locations for an event like this one; the event (in addition to its inexplicable repeat a few months afterwards) was later held at a Sikh temple, a decidedly more appropriate venue.
So I'm a little proud right now to be working as a public educator in British Columbia. The system isn't perfect, not at all, but at least some districts can take a stand for neutrality and equality. Good stuff.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 15 2023: Monocle Radio's The Foreign Desk, one of my favorite news shows to listen to, recently posted a great short "explainer" that mentions the [original] referendum I mentioned in this post. I think it's crazy to think that sites I drive past almost every day are the centre of international news.
I've been on a bit of a Steely Dan kick as of late. I bought A Decade of Steely Dan on CD a few years ago and it's slowly been growing on me. I didn't really care for them when I was younger, but I kind-of knew that, as a snooty musician type, I was supposed to like them. And as I age, I'm understand that supposition a little better.
The Midnight Special has been posting some great videos to their YouTube channel as of late. Steely Dan's performance of "My Old School" is spectacular there.
I'd just like to say that I despise the ways online algorithms try to "give me what I want" by showing me news based on my most recent searches. It feels infantilizing to have a computer suggest that I read or view things that I may have searched for one time, or for a brief period. Just because I searched for something doesn't mean I want unsolicited news about it.
In addition, and perhaps related, I'm so tired of professional sports league contract talk. I've felt exhausted by the endless talk of contract talk over the last few years; the Pride stuff, mentioned a few posts ago, pushed my patience over the top. It's deeply unenjoyable to hear more about contracts than about people playing the game. I feel like I'm being pushed to ignore the major professional leagues altogether, because most of the talk will just be about contracts. It's off-putting.
To combine both of these points, I wish I'd never followed sports on Google because it inundates me with contract talk, amongst other things. So annoying.
I haven't mentioned it here yet but I'm in a play again: The Mousetrap, directed by Caroll Lefebvre for the Sidekick Players Club in Tsawassen, Delta, BC..
[UPDATE June 14, 2023: I knew it on the day I wrote this, but I very much admit this post is scattershot. I'll try to improve upon these ideas another time.]
For the entirety of my teaching career, I’ve learned that people learn best when we are actively involved in learning. Active lessons, where students can move around and interact with items and ideas in a variety of ways, almost always take pedagogical priority over speaker-slideshow-driven activities. I’ve been regularly trained to remember that students can absorb only so much information, that not all students learn in the same way at the same time, and that the memorize-what-the-teacher-said model just doesn’t work for most people.
This goes for all forms of pedagogy, as far as I can figure out. Whether you run a classroom, a workshop, or a seminar, effective instructors need to put some variety and activity in their instruction. In the sensory processing workshop I’m sitting in right now as I start this entry, the slideshow I’m looking at says, “Research shows that physical activity helps activate the brain, improves thought processing, boosts attention, and can enhance overall learning.” This concept fits everything I’ve learned about teaching over the last decade-and-a-half. Active learning works.
I’ve taken dozens of workshops in the last decade, and I’ve certainly attended them more regularly over the last two years as I’ve worked as an Integration Support Teacher in School District #36 (Surrey). The IST position is new to me and it’s not what I’ve been trained to do; I have a steep learning curve to work effectively in the role. With this role, I am required to take at least two workshops/inservices every month, and I take a few more each month on my own accord. I’m not quite qualified to do special education work, but I want to do a good job in this special ed related position, so I take workshops when available. I’ve had to learn about perception and learning strategies, about visual schedules and sensory overload, about self-regulation and self-management, and plenty of other concepts. In addition, I’ve had to learn to work with numerous experts I’d never had to consider before, such as Occupational Therapists, Speech Language Pathologists, Applied Behaviour Analysis workers, Behaviour Consultants, Behaviour Analysts, and plenty of other experts unique to each student. This IST position has introduced many concepts about learning that I’d never had to consider before, or at least I could ignore them and get by.
Almost every workshop I’ve attended extols the value of active learning for students. However, adult inservice workshops never follow the active learning model. The instructor sits at the front of the room and talks; behind them, there are slides that are chronically packed with information. Even as instructors discuss the issues with active learning, or sensory perception, or the ways we learn, inevitably each workshop follows the classic information-dump-from-an-expert sort of model.
There’s a straightforward, obvious reason for using the speaker-slideshow method: efficiency. A speaker and a slideshow seemingly pack loads of information into an auditory and visual model, so for practical purposes, if the purpose is to “get information out there,” it’s easiest to just get someone to talk to you while they click through Powerpoint slides, even if that person is a complete stranger. In the end, the instructor feels like they accomplished a lot because they said a lot and the slideshow backed up what they said. They feel like the information has been conveyed.
If the medium is the message, the “speaker with slideshow” medium’s ubiquity creates a message that speakers and slideshows are the prime means of information transfer. The message is, this is the medium that the experts use; it must be effective.
But recently, I’ve found myself more agitated during presentations. The message, as it were, is getting in the way. I find it harder and harder to sit through them, to take in information, to keep myself from distracting myself. I’ve attended workshops that I zone out in, where I just want to pack up and leave, because the presentation feels like a big pile of irony. I’m so tired of sitting through sessions that don’t practice what they preach.
Part of this might stem from some undiagnosed ADHD on my part, or perhaps some sort of sensory issue of my own; I’ve had enough people suggest that I may be autistic or that I think in a “unique way” that I would be remiss to imagine that I don’t have something going on in my own head. I’ve always doodled; I’ve always fidgeted; it took a long time for me to figure out how inferences work; it takes me longer to learn new concepts than it appears for my peers. Perhaps I have too much trouble blocking-out all the information of a room and focusing on the matter at hand. Perhaps I’m not made for speaker-slideshows, despite my relative success in school, university, and workshops.
But as far as I can tell, the active strategies we use with autistic students, or with students with ADHD, for example, are strategies that are effective for almost all students. And that includes us adult professionals. Just because we’re adults at a workshop doesn’t mean we learn well though the speaker-slideshow model.
And I feel like we, as educators, aren’t going to take the next steps with students if we don’t take the time to create active learning situations with our own peers. I think this is particularly true in the case of in-person workshops post-pandemic. We grew accustomed to people talking through screens, reading slideshows on Zoom and Teams. I’d say it was a miserable time for taking in information. But now that we’re out of the pandemic, meeting in person again, we need to exercise our abilities to move and interact with one another at workshops.
In essence, we need to re-streamline our instruction. And slideshows should always be considered the most cumbersome, clumsy means to instruct anything. We are adults and we learn in the same ways as those kids do. It’s about time we acted that way.
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