When I was coordinating an international youth exchange program in Ecuador for Canada World Youth in the Ecuadorian Andes in the early 1990s, my boss Martin Dickler from Montreal came to visit me. We did a world wind tour of communities visiting Canadian young people who were embedded into small villages doing small-scale development projects with Indigenous peoples and villagers. We did one thing in every house and small development office in each site: we broke bread together. Rural campesinos would scrap together a modest meal of quinoa potato soup with a gristly meat chunk, boiled potatoes with a fried egg, and/or spaghetti with a bit of tomato and onion and a bun to top off this carbohydrate feast. In just one day, visiting projects north of Otovalo, we ate six meals. It was epic! At the end of the day, the old jeep put in charge to haul us back up the Andean mountain to the highlands after our last visit to La Concepcion in the Chota Valley could barely make it up the hill.
What is it about breaking bread together? This intimate act of sharing food prepared by another binds us together as humans. It is the most important thing we do everyday to survive. I am reminded of this every time I attend one of the Digital Dinner Series in SD36. The kernel of this idea originated with Sharon Cohen our recently retired Assistant Superintendent who thought it would be great to deepen the ideas of innovation in our district in 2011 with an intimate dinner series of 40-60 educators and a speaker to spark ideas and discussion. This idea was brought to the Information Media Literacy (IML) team of Helping Teachers by our Director of Instruction and innovation flame thrower Elisa Carlson and off we went to find 5 speakers: Chris Kennedy, Joe Morelock, David Warlick, David Vanderguten and Audrey Van Alstyne.
When this intimate dinner series quickly morphed into a room of 23 tables with 220 educators, I nicknamed it the “Dinner Series that Ate New York”. We are now into our second year of the Digital Learner Dinner Series and the room has grown to 290+ with a wait list of 150 educators clamouring to get in. Why? Well, to quote David Weinberger, “the smartest person in the room is the room” and this is a room filled with smarty-pants. I am so in awe of this room, I reverently address it as “The Room”. Everybody wants to be at this Learning Shindig! This year, I have had the fortune to break bread with Dean Shareski, Shelley Wright (virtually as I was recovering from surgery), Bill Ferretier and recently Chris Lehmann. Orwell Kowalyshyn Helping Teacher on the IML team just released the iTunesU Engaging the Digital Learner: Going Deeper channel that includes our podcast of Chris Lehmann’s presentation. Subscribe and you can listen for free! Before addressing this room, the Twitterati, our invited speakers, talk about “The Room” before hand and honour others who have come before them. No pressure but we expect to be inspired!
This year some of the best learning for me comes from presentations from #sd36learn educators who present on what they are learning right now with their students. They highlight in a 20-minute presentation before our invited speakers how their teaching practice has evolved and how this impacts student achievement. This last February, I listened to Marc Gagnon talk about how he uses digital portfolios for formative and summative assessment. He went from hauling hundreds of binders home on the weekend for marking marathons, ignoring the pleas of his family for human contact, to digital portfolios. The transformative use of technology for teaching and learning is where I want us all to be at but we did not emerge from our mothers’ wombs running! The #geniushour part of the Dinner Series is that we sit at tables in our school teams, listen, get inspired and then return to our schools and do stuff. Wow that was specific, do stuff! Our team here at Clayton Heights has deepened ideas like more collaboration between departments and subjects resulting in the planned September 2013 instatement of a Humanities program for our grade 8s and future professional development workshops on Assessment for Learning, Inquiry Learning and the transformative use of technology to just name a few.
Our tables have transformed into learning communities of teachers, administration, leadership team, Information Media Services (IMS), and district staff. In the end we are all educators since our end goal is to improve student achievement by any means. What happens at the dinner really is magical and I don’t use that term lightly. Front line teachers get the chance to partake in district dream discussions that before social media and district initiatives from the last 2 years, we never even had a ticket to the room. In January, I talked to Mike McKay our Superintendent about our evolving “messy” Learning Commons at Clayton Heights Secondary and he said to me, “I love messes. Invite me to come and visit please”. During the recent press conference at Clayton Heights to announce 4 new schools for our district, Mike left a conversation and bounded across our office to ask me for a tour of our Learning Commons. While he talked to my iLibrary students Chloe and Harleen about their learning, press and invited guests awaited on one side of the Learning Commons for the arrival of the BC Minister of Education and the Mayor of Surrey. On the other side, Marc England, Socials teacher extraordinaire and Student Leadership guru was showing his grade 8 Socials class a YouTube clip about Hannah Taylor and her Ladybug Foundation on his iPad and the Learning Commons Apple TV. This class was talking about how to make a difference in their local and global communities. I thought my Teacher Librarian brain was going to explode with happiness. In this one morning, our Learning Commons had proven yet again to be a flexible, synergetic space for teaching and learning that is shared with the world.
At the end of the evening at this school year’s first Dinner Series in September, Elisa Carlson threw down the challenge gauntlet at the end of the evening when she rallied us to join her radical social movement to improve and sustain public education in BC. Me join a radical social movement? Heck yah! Do we get a t-shirt? If she can so honestly rally the troupes in a public way from the sidelines as a part of our #sd36learn Leadership Team and our Director of Instruction, I better be playing my A game on the field with my colleagues and students.
So get out there and break bread with someone in your school or district. Invite the colleague that drives you crazy and find some common educational ground over a coffee and a muffin. It might challenge and change your practice. One conversation, I had with one of my students Patrick Macht radically changed me as an educator. More about that in another post!
Enjoy your bread! ¡Buen provecho!