Living that Open-to-Learning Stance


jan blog 2

As a relatively new vice principal with teaching responsibilities, I seem to be constantly considering anew how to create the conditions for our staff and students to learn. As we are in the midst of the report card writing period, I consider again how we gauge when a student has learned and the evidence we value when assessing that learning.  But what puzzles me and keeps me wondering is … what about teachers? How are our teachers learning and how do we know? I have a few thoughts around this:

  • If you don’t change (your practice, your mind, your attitude), have you really learned?
  • What is the evidence of learning? Is it a change in thinking, in behaviour, both?
  • Do others have to see or witness the change?
  • Do you need to practice the learning in order to galvanize change? or can it really happen overnight?
  • is learning a tsunami wave, or building blocks?

I like to throw myself into ‘new’, into places that are outside my comfort zone IF I’m passionate about the learning.  Funny that.  Aren’t we just like kids this way? I mean, toss me into a tennis match, and I’m out.  Not interested in learning.  But parachute me into a foreign country or language, and I am a sponge.

I had the awesome yet demanding experience of travelling to Ghana over the Christmas holidays as my daughter is living there while she completes a UN internship. Immediately upon landing, I am the outsider, the minority, whether language, skin colour, clothing, privilege or lost look on my face, I am obviously new.  I’m still processing the weight of the entire experience but if I had to capture my memories in a quick snapshot, it would be one of sensory overload, a sun-beating, dust-bowling, trotro-bumping, speaker-blaring, shoulder-brushing ride.


The treasure about travelling is that it reawakens your spirit and brings the real you to the surface.  Sometimes this is not pleasant for your travelling companion! But it offers a chance for you to reflect and learn something about yourself: your limits, your openness, your values. When you travel, you live every minute. Every next step is new so you cannot anticipate how you’ll respond. I found I had to rely on my daughter and the help and kindness of others constantly.  I had to exercise a lot of trust rather quickly sometimes.

I couldn’t rely solely on my own knowledge because it wasn’t enough.

My experiences in Ghana helped me, or perhaps reminded me, to become comfortable with the uncomfortable, and so I decided to apply the same approach to some teaching upon my return. I had set up Google classrooms already, but it wasn’t really changing my practice.  It seemed like more of a repository for shared readings and responses. In fact, I think I was avoiding the use of Chromebooks recently because I wasn’t tapping into an interactive experience for students.  But a trip to the grocery store opened my eyes again. During my routine visit, I noticed again how much fresh produce we have access to in the midst of January! I wondered if students realized where all the food comes from that we eat. I didn’t really know how I might gather the data, display our findings or where it might lead. But after seeking out the assistance of our instructional coach (@LKarts) and some colleagues from twitter (thanks @SabrinaTyrer and @tvdsbmatthews ), students are currently pinning the locations of fruits and vegetables from our refrigerators on a Google My Map. Each class has its own layer on the map so we can combine all the data. Already they are asking questions, noticing trends, wondering about purchasing habits.  Frankly, I’m not exactly sure where this might lead us.  I’m trying to follow the lead of the students.

I hope that modelling my learning for our staff benefits the conversations I have with them and makes my input authentic.  I’m also thinking of ways to leverage the learning that could be shared between our teachers so they don’t feel like they are alone.

Adopting an open-to-learning stance forces you to rely on others.

Not being self-sufficient is a big lesson for me. One that I’m still learning.