Monthly Archives: August 2015

Designing Space

It is great to see and be inspired by so many modern workspaces, with their bright colours, comfy seating, and quiet nooks.  But what can the schools/learning environments that simply do not have the funds to refurbish, or to invest in the “gorgeous new designs” take from the “advice” about the ideal learning spaces? They don’t exist! Yes that is “blasphemy” in today’s newest is better culture of sophistication, but as a “seasoned educator” I have seen first hand wonderfully, excited, curious students ignoring their less than ideal surroundings in favour of the focus on the learning that was being allowed for inside a space.  Key word here is “allowed”, and that may take on a number of different situations.

Will the students be able to ask questions? Can they murmur to a peer and chat quietly even when not officially assigned to “group work”; can they get up and reach for additional material, is there fluidity within the class regarding working on assignments? Could a student or students “discover” that via researching a project they wished to change direction or are they locked into their initial “thesis” description.  In short will growth on the individual level be encouraged by the teacher/teachers encouraging the students, or will the space be so restrictive as to deny original thought?

What is truly amazing is when students themselves take “ownership” of an idea, and we as educators may step back for a period and allow this new exploration to continue.  It may mean doing exactly what was labelled but not clearly defined way back in “teacher’s college”- the recognizing of “teaching moments”, the ability to permit tangential thought, and collaborative effort with other educators within a school building/system/and globally.  The fanciest desks and comfiest chairs are still no match for the informed and genuine teacher.  And while it seems that even kindergarten students today may have cellphones, educators instill how to take the technology from a toy to a learning tool which may be used in multiple ways to enhance the student’s ability to access further knowledge.

When designing and creating within four walls, consider the input of the students and what extra space within the building may become another station.  At one point hallways weren’t for punishment, they were a second area for small groups to congregate, then slowly with “fear” entering the school systems, allowing children to freely be in an open space minus monitors became  dangerous.  When schools require metal detectors on a par with airport security, every educator must become attuned to anything and everything that could return the classroom environment to an atmosphere where possibility is still available.  It could be something as simple as plants actually growing, or posters which the students design themselves…

As a child I attended a summer camp which was held in former army barracks! Oh, those cabins from the outside- people would sigh and marvel that campers wanted to return.  But we knew that upon arrival we would be given paint and paint brushes and allowed to redecorate for ourselves /to make magical over three weeks rain or shine; the barest of spaces could come alive with the energy and enthusiasm an arts based camp in the woods encouraged.  And so the teamwork, and collaborative effort was instilled.  That culture of practice, reinforced over many a summer, prevailed when I as grad student found myself ironing the wax off of brown paper bags to help make art materials for schools in low-income districts.  We students of teaching and learning provided the simplest of tools- the children, becoming involved in making and doing before the buzzwords prevailed, furthered the design process.  With technology we must continue to provide the how and possibly where, but make sure it is the students learning to ask the “why?”

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Volunteering and School Credit

I blogged a few weeks ago about how important it is to give back to a community, and with students in High School requiring a minimum of forty volunteer hours to graduate, know that many wait until their final year to grab the credit while others get “hooked on volunteering” from their grade nine year.

Students please be aware that mockery is a form of bullying.  It shouldn’t need to be said but indeed some students are so disturbed by what they see when they go to volunteer, they later adopt a bravado and can be heard joking about the very people who only a few hours earlier they were meant to be helping!  Empathy is aparently not as natural an emotion as we would like to believe.  In fact volunteering itself becomes a skill, and each station or space where one offers to be of service will have its own guidelines or rules for new volunteers to first apply, then with commitment and practiced observation skills, share their own techniques and what might further the organization.

It is important though to think carefully before signing on to volunteer, even if only to gain those needed High School credits.  Are you a behind the scenes or front line person? have you an actual interest in learning more about the particular situation? Can you do the work as it is described?

Agencies in the service industry might also appreciate office help and provide a solid reference for the needed first job. When the sign goes up to volunteer consider the following:

  • have I patience?
  • will I be comfortable in an unusual setting (as in some place of worship, or community hall where one might not regularly attend)?
  • is there a language requirement?
  • is there any minimum amount of hours for the training which could require more than the school demands?
  • am I comfortable in a crowd?
  • is it a hands on position ( hospital help, working with children or adults…)?
  • is it one to one after the training or will I always be part of a team?
  • will I have a chance to learn something new? ( always one is learning-here perhaps a new skill)
  • if athletic could I share these skills and help others?
  • if academic could I share these skills and help others?
  • have I a particular interest in any field where volunteers will be welcomed (could range from gardening, to robotics, or museum work, or learning a trade and shadowing a skilled worker, apprentice style, while helping as required)
  • have I truly considered trying something new and where my skills might be most useful?

Having worked with volunteers who ranged from High School age to seniors I have learned some come with high anticipation to simply “begin” and others shyly wait at a door pondering the fit.  Both are extremely useful once shown the ropes and allowed to choose where and how they feel they may contribute most.

Please do take it seriously and recognize that whichever place you decide to help with your time, energy, and enthusiasm will begin to count on you- and be respectful as if it were a paying position.  Some organizations are only able to do the work they provide due to the help of caring volunteers.  And don’t be frightened to try something “unusual” as you may learn something about yourself in the process.

2015-2016- a year to explore!

After Volunteering at a Food Bank – and why you should too…

Allowing FOCUS:

 

When I have food in the house I can eat

 

When I eat I can breathe as in meditate and think clearly

 

When I can think I can communicate

 

When I can communicate I can get others to care

 

When I can get others to care the sharing begins

 

When we all learn how to share, the caring grows

 

It all begins with nourishment…

 

Written by me today, August 6, 2015

As as educator I see first hand the effects of poverty, ignorance, and marginalization.  Before we open doors in the hopes of opening minds this upcoming 2015-2016 school year, let’s make sure that our students actually do have the basics- they can continue to grow only with these necessities covered.