Roots of Opportunity

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Photo Credit: Ken Whytock via Compfight cc


We are in the midst of incredible change in education with so many different forces pushing and pulling. It’s hard for teachers to know which way to turn, what technology to use, who to seek out for assistance, where to look for reliable information, how to find it and use it and, maybe most importantly, why they should change what they are doing with so many different voices calling in the wind.

 Learning as Community

Last week Dave Cormier joined the ECI831 class to discuss Rhizomatic learning. Now, I’ve read a number of Dave’s post and articles about the concept of Rhizomatic learning in the past. As someone interested in the concepts of learning communities and connected learning, Dave’s ideas and discussions have always resonated with me. When I took part in a MOOC on Design Thinking, there was a sense of the kind of learning that Dave describes in the different communities that were created in the MOOC. Dave’s discussion of the social contract between learner and teacher and the shift that connected learning via Internet is allowing reminded me of the shift that Dan Schwabel discusses in his books about the changing landscape of the workplace. I also thought of Patti Johnson’s book Make Waves which examines how individuals can be positively disruptive in their workplace and their own lives. The idea of learning as rhizomatic allows for multiple entry points to learning with a variety of different learning connections. One of my more recent readings is by Sunni Brown author of The Doodle Revolution. In this book, Sunni explores the power of doodling and the way it can free people to think and explore ideas in new ways and provide the opportunity for innovation through visually exploring ideas as individuals and groups. These ideas challenge us to examine our ideas about learning, school and education.

As an administrator for the past 13 years, it has been interesting to navigate the school community as education undergoes continual shift and change. Being someone who was willing to explore new ideas and push the boundaries in learning, resistance to change came from all levels. Students were resistant and not ready to explore “new ways” as they came to the end of their high school. For many of them, the changes were too extreme especially when looking at needing marks for scholarships. It wasn’t that these students couldn’t change, it’s just that they were worried about the impact of something “new” and, truthfully, were concerned about the impact of these “changes” on the academic standing. As an administrator and parent, this was a legitimate concern on the part of the students. They were in a system that rewarded marks/grades and changing it as they neared the end without a viable sense of how that change would impact them made them very uneasy.  They liked the familiarity of what they understood to be school and, as they were coming to grips with the impending life-changes they were soon to experience, messing with the constant of “school” was a big issue.

Does this mean we don’t make changes? No, but if we are going to focus on the idea of community learning, discussing these changes with the main group is probably a great place to start! With first-hand experience of dealing with these changes – I had 3 children who were moving through senior grades in the past 10 years, I was able to get feedback from them and their peers. This feedback came in all sorts of different ways. It’s great to say we need to listen to students but do we? Do we listen to feedback from parents? Are we supporting teachers the way that will allow for transitions to be a smooth as possible? Are there different ways to navigate the change? How will students be accommodated in the change?

Learning from Others

One of my favourite movies is Teachers with Nick Nolte, Ralph Macchio and Richard Mulligan. One reason is that the movie subtly looks at what is wrong with the education system in a number of different ways. When Nolte finds out that Macchio can’t read, instead of dismissing him, he gives him an alternate way to express his learning – the camera and slideshow. And Mulligan’s entire character examines how to engage students in what they are learning in many different through dramatization, enacting events and so on.

Reaching out to students and finding ways to engage and challenge them as learners is changing as new technologies and new ways of creating community expand/explode the traditional ideas/formats of school. No matter what mode/method is being used, building relationships and developing connections is vital. By focusing on the learning and using a variety of different tools to engage students, teachers no longer have to be the “all  knowing” but can shed that burden and become Learning Leaders with their students. Instead of focusing on content, teachers can help learners delve into learning at deeper levels. However, there will be a time of transition for students, teachers, parents and community. It’s at this time that using the different methods of communication can aide schools and teachers in drawing the other partners into dialogue about the changes. Teachers can share their story with others. As Michelle Smart mentioned during a recent twitter #saskedchat – “we need to tell our stories before someone tells them for us.” You can check out how she is doing this on her blog. It’s an example of how teachers can expand their learning networks and reach out to others and to their community.

Learning. School. Change.  

Change has always been a part of life. However, recent changes/innovations in technology and an ability to be globally connected has brought about different types of changes. As educators, we can take a deep breath and move forward or we can hold our breath and try to avoid change. The first case leads us down new paths to new places with new roles and new responsibilities. The later causes us to black out, or at least turn purple, but it doesn’t stop the change. We just end up confused, wondering where everyone has gone and what’s going on.

Opportunities abound for learning and a crucial skill during this time of distraction is focus and deep concentration. Helping students to sift through the distractions to find place of deep learning requires much more than just content knowledge or turning off devices. It’s about helping students to explore and learn where they are involved and engaged at deep levels – the idea of flow comes to mind that place that Dave described where people are absorbed in their learning. It’s a combination of deep personal learning combined with a community orientation to learning that comes from different places and can, unexpectedly, take you in different directions with different people. Ah, the places we’ll go and the things we’ll see!



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I am a husband, father, son.... I am currently working on my PhD in Education - Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is teacher professional development and social media integration. I have a beautiful, supportive wife who has been my partner for 28 years. We have 8 wonderful children who are amazing individuals. Together, we are exploring the world around us, sharing our stories, and enjoying the journey!


  1. I agree with your thoughts on being learning leaders. This is something I tell my students at the beginning of the school year. I am learning with them and from them each day. Teachers should not be afraid to say they don’t know and help the students to find out.

    I like how you said we have to take a deep breath and keep going. If we don’t we are left far behind in the dust. It’s sometimes a tough move to make but necessary to be able to teach our students the way they learn!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

    • Thanks Lisa! I agree that we need to keep going. Sometimes it is hard and that is where building connections is so important. It gives us a network of people who will support us and help us out. I am more convinced than ever that it is not how many people you connect with but the quality and depth of those connections that is important. We can connect to hundreds of thousands but are they connections that are deep and meaningful, will they support us if we ask. It’s so hard sometimes for students to see that the “likes” don’t necessarily mean “support”. If you haven’t seen Seth’s Godin’s discussion of social networking, I recommend it!

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