For the first time in what feels like a while, I took the almost the entire summer as vacation this year, and came back into school fresh with (albeit unfocused) enthusiasm and energy for September. By design or retro-active justification, I like to come into a new school year without too many preconceived ideas about what it is my classes and I will wind up creating over the course of the year. In the TALONS class especially, but even in my other classes with Gleneagle’s general population of students – Philosophy 12, Intro to Guitar 11 – I like to rely on the formative rituals of group development to bring the individual character of a class to the foreground before making too many concrete plans. The Rites of Fall, whether retreats, or seating plans, or syllabi, have a way of bringing out the personalities and stories that will shape the year for all concerned, and I like to think I’m pretty good at trusting in them to do just that.
I make plans, and frame the content of my courses within my own developing sense of its relevance to myself, the themes I see running through current events, educational trends, popular culture, or what I know about the groups I’ll be working with come September (as TALONS is a split class, our grade nines replace the departing cohort of grade tens, and welcome a new group from our feeder schools).
But I’m very much aware that these are mostly points of departure.
All of which is part of what has me excited about the TALONS Teachers’ approach to goal setting and planning for this school year, a process we are in the midst of sharing with both morning and afternoon classes these first few weeks of September.
Borrowing from an idea brought to me – among countless others – by Langley teacher Sherrine Francis, Quirien Mulder ten Kate, Andy Albright and I each resolved to focus our work and teaching with the TALONS group around a single word that would ground our teaching and provide something of a thematic conversation piece for us with our classes. I will allow my colleagues to speak for their own chosen words, but back in June I decided to set my sights on the idea of engagement, of occupying a person’s attention or efforts, of binding, as by pledge, promise, contract or oath.
As a social studies teacher, I feel as though I am entrusted in some ways with a responsibility to promote and provide guidance in navigating an increasingly disengaged democracy. And as a teacher who frames a lot of what I’m trying to accomplish in notions of socially constructed knowledge, and the potential of connectivism, I think that a lot of the skills this type of collaborative wordview deems necessary begin with a personal engagement in a collective struggle. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching Philosophy, or Guitar; mostly I come back to Richard Dixon’s notion that “every class is just another chance for young people to practice building and maintaining communities.”
And so I find myself this September thus far talking a lot about the potential of digital technology and social media to complement the learning we are doing in the classroom. About how it can offer space for a different sort of relationship between peers, and teachers, and the community beyond the school. About how these digital extensions of our physical communities can support the lives and learning of the participants.
But also about how this potential relies on collaborative engagement.
Engagement with our own learning, as well as with the learning of others. Engagement with our local communities, the people down the hallway, and our peers across oceans and continents.
Which is what I find myself coming back to in the way of a research topic and background interest for the start of my master’s education and my Personalized Learning and Social Media class at the University of Victoria: to explore the potential and the means of digital media and storytelling to support and complement physical learning communities in my classrooms, school, and personal learning network. It’s nothing particularly new to this blog,or my own learning in these last few years, but I am happy to have the focus of EDCI338’s assignments, as well as my newly minted #TIEGrad cohort, to help in the further exploration of these ideas.