I had a great day of learning today and it was well outside of my comfort area…in one sense. I attended a Math teachers inservice that was hosted at my school and it was great. I say out of my comfort zone because I am an English teacher and most if not all the math that they were talking about meant very little to me. That being said, I was not there to hear about the math, but to hear from Michael Belcastro. You can check out all his videos on his YOU TUBE channel and that is pretty impressive in itself. I think he has created over 2000 videos that deal with all sorts of Ontario Math curriculum.
Mike is a teacher I have wanted to meet for awhile. I guess we have met a couple of times at different things but I have never really had a chance to talk with him or to hear him go over his approach to teaching. It was a great session for me because I got to see someone who had actually taken the chance to try it a different way. He actually has the courage and the work ethic to really go in a different direction. This was a great experience for me because he embodies a lot of what I see needing in schools.
He is actively engaged in a pretty advanced version of a Flipped Classroom which utilizes self made You Tube videos and D2L. Essentially in Mike’s class, a student is assigned the lesson for homework which consists of a number of videos outlining a concept and then an assessment quiz that the students take on D2L and have to achieve a mastery of 70% to move on. All of this is done BEFORE they even walk into class. The class time then is spent working on larger and much more interesting projects that allows Mike to work in smaller numbers with the kids.
I love this idea but the best part of the day was to see all the teachers, and especially my teachers trying to wrap their collective heads around the idea and then getting excited about the possibilities that could be on the doorstep for them. They got into it but I know that this will not bring about changes right away. It will take some time but I think that the more that we hear from these amazing people, the more we can see ourselves do it.
I had a good talk with Mike later in the day and the one thing that I wanted to impress upon him, (and any teacher that I encounter who is trying something different), is to keep going. I have used this analogy before, but I love the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan to prove a point:
I like this scene because it proves a point: “The first guy over the wall, is going to get bloody!” I see people like Mike as those guys who had to take fire as they hit Omaha Beach. The mission depended on these men, knowing that they were going to get the worst of it, standing up and doing what needed to be done. I have no doubt that Mike has had his fair share of doubters and he even mentioned that colleagues, parents and students have resisted his ideas. He could have easily folded to the pressure and just given in. God knows that I have seen this in my career and have even felt the temptation myself. When you spend your time hitting your head against the wall of resistance, eventually you get one hell of a headache! The best part of today was that Mike still has great passion for his profession and believes in his vision. He knows that the audience has people rolling their eyes while hugging their textbooks, but it has not deterred him. That was great to see.
Like I said before, it was also great to see my teachers getting into the possibility that there may be another way to approach their work. It is a struggle I know, especially to maintain momentum but that is where I come in. I have to find ways to support those teachers that want to try new things. I may even go so far as to say that I even need to push at times. Don’t get me wrong, I will not spend any energy trying to get someone to do something that they don’t want to do, but I do see the need to give a supportive nudge to someone that is waiting anxiously at the edge of the pool, just testing the temperature with their big toe. Okay, here is another movie image that I love to use when talking about educational change and reform.
In this scene, Bruce Wayne understands that the security of the rope is holding him back from his goal because he is not embracing his fear of death. The same can be said of teachers. too often I see teachers who know that things need to change, but hold back in some way. They cling to the security of “what everyone else is doing” and never really change their teaching style. The problem with this is that sooner or later, they revert back totally and it is hard to see any remnants of a difference. Mike and I talked about the need to just go for it and to really “go all in” when you feel something is worthwhile.
This is where I have to offer the most support to my teachers that are looking to change things up. I have to support them financially because if the only thing keeping them from a new look, is money, then that is just not good enough. I need to support them with PD and when it comes to scheduling. I have to be willing to look at the daunting task of scheduling and do away with the strive for a good percentage (number of kids with a perfect schedule), and see that work behind the scenes is often the most important.
I also have to be supportive and protective of the influence that these teachers have. To borrow from the Private Ryan motif, it can be all too easy to get picked off by the sniper fire of traditionalism and the machine gun like repetition of “this is how we have always done it”. I have to insulate from those influences but also look for ways to expose them to the good ones. This was a great exposure today for my teachers and I now need to expose them to more of people like Mike Belcastro. The good news is that while Mike is still in the minority, there are more like him coming!