Tag Archives: #ADLC

Marrying Constructivism & Instructional Design


Carr-Chellman (2010) describes both constructivism and behaviourism as “beliefs about how people learn” rather than as learning theories (p.2).  Due to the conflicting nature of these beliefs or learning theories, Carr-Chellman offers in this chapter, a means by which to integrate constructivist principles into the ID4T model.  Carr-Chellman offers solutions to the potential conflicts between the goal and results orientated behaviorist approach of ID4T and the learner-centred views of constructivism.


The shift in education due to digitally connected classrooms has led to a call for the integration of constructivist principles into instructional design models.  This shift towards creating participatory, digital learning is the difficult but essential work of teachers. The Alberta Education (2013) Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) requires of all teachers to “use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student-centred learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students” (Alberta. Ministry of Education, p. 30).  This connected approach and philosophy to learning and teaching requires personalization, a shift with far reaching implications for instructional design. In a constructivist approach, the teacher moves from the content knowledge expert who supplies information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey, 2010, p.241).  In order to make these shifts to constructivism within the ID4T model, a teacher is required to be responsive using Branch’s (2009) ADDIE approach to constantly analyze the learner and the context  in order to be able to create the plan for learning materials, activities, technology and authentic assessment required to meet the learning goal.  As Branch describes, this approach to instructional design is both behaviorists and constructivist in nature where “intentional learning should be student centered, innovative, authentic, and inspirational” (Branch, 2009, p.2).   Jacobsen (2015) makes the distinction that although the theoretical framework of constructivism is learner-centered, the role of the teacher as designer in essential.  “The most powerful thing teachers do to engage students is to design engaging, meaningful, and authentic work and technology-enhanced learning experiences. In other words, teaching matters.”

The role of instructional design is necessary in order to create, implement and assess learning outcomes. But, this is not done through better instruction alone, instead through combining instructional design methods with constructivist principles, “teachers who design for peer collaboration and individual reflection on learning cultivate stronger learning outcomes” (Jacobsen, 2015).  Alignment to curriculum objects is key when using the constructivist notion of authentic assessment in order to ensure that learner outcomes and objectives are being demonstrated. In a learner-centered constructivist approach, learning goals would be set “in collaboration with your learners” but the teacher is ultimately responsible for ensuring that designing learning that aligns with (CBC) curricular objectives (Carr-Chellman, 2010, p. 4).  In a constructivist approach to ID4T, students would start their learning at individual entry point based on their prior learning assessment. Before any instructional model or learning experience could be designed, the teacher would first analyze where each student is entering the learning, assessing their context, experience and understanding (p. 5).

An area of potential conflict between ID4T and constructivism as identified by Carr-Chellman is in the selection of learning resources (texts, media).  In most instructional design models, the teacher is as the designer of learning chooses the appropriate learning resources and experiences to reach the behavioral objectives and performance outcomes prior to beginning the instructional unit.  In a constructivist classroom, texts “can be more broadly defined” and used to support authentic tasks and problem-solving (p.5). In this way, an exhaustive list of resources and experiences would be very difficult to define prior to engaging in the authentic task and would need to be designed in collaboration with the learners. One bridge for implementation that Carr-Chellman offers between behaviorism and constructivism is through the use of scaffolding. Carr-Chellman believes that “scaffolding can allow a bit more of a traditional tinge to the classroom experience” (p.4).  Jacobsen takes the notion of scaffolding one step further where nothing in the instructional design is left to chance. “Strong discipline-based inquiry work exhibits a number of very discernible characteristics, including academic rigour, authenticity, assessment that is deliberately woven into the work, digital technology that is used in purposeful and authentic ways, connections with experts beyond the school, constructivist approaches to learning, and relevance beyond the classroom.”  Due to the iterative nature of a constructivist classroom explicit examples for implementation are difficult to produce.  Carr-Chellman stresses that constructivist learning design is very interpretive in nature as it depends on the learner and the context and therefore is difficult to use a specific example as a guide to implementation (p.6).

Final Question:

What considerations are required of teachers in order to adopt a constructivist approach to the ID4T model in order to ensure that learning is as both Branch (2009) and Jacobsen (2015) describes: deliberate, rigorous, purposeful, authentic, innovative, relevant and inspirational?


Alberta. Ministry of Education. (2013). Learning and technology policy framework 2013. Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/7792655/learning-and-technology-policy-framework-web.pdf

Branch, R. M. (2009). Instructional Design: The ADDIE approach Springer Science and Business Media. (Vol. 722).

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge.

Jacobsen, M. (2015). Teaching in a Participatory Digital World. Education Canada. 55(3).  Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/teaching-participatory-digital-world.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244. doi:10.1080/13540600903478433

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How to Blend Online Learning?

Current Models of Blended-Learning at ADLC:
At the Alberta Distance Learning Centre, the majority of the students we currently teach are those who primarily attend bricks and mortar schools but “choose to take one or more courses entirely online to supplement their traditional courses” (Staker, 2012 p. 14). This self-blended approach is one in which the students experience indirect blended learning by engaging in online learning for a portion of their schooling while attends the majority face-to face.

Another subset of students that ADLC serves is full-time online students in a fully online model. This approach involves very intentional instructional design choices that include, “Supplemental, Replacement, and Emporium models including web-based, multi-media resource, commercial software, automatically evaluated assessments with guided feedback, links to additional resources and alternative staffing models” (Twigg, 2008, p. 4). What we are looking to move towards with this group is a redesign that shifts towards an enriched virtual model where students would blend their time between online delivery of content and instruction and face-to-face experiences and opportunities for instruction. In this approach, rarely would students attend a bricks and mortar school every day, but could use the physical space and face-to-face connection with teachers and peers to supplement their online learning experience.

Redesigning Professional Learning:
As ubiquitous access to technology increases in K-12 classrooms, a shift in the way in which learning is designed and delivered is beginning to materialize. In the k-12 education, technology enhanced learning, whether it be a version of blended, or fully online is a growing and developing area of education. In 2012-2013, 10.3% of Alberta K-12 students took some form of distance education (Barbour, 2013). This trend will likely only increase in the future due to increased access to technology, better understanding of connectivist approaches to learning and demand from learners. As teachers begin to shift their classroom practice towards technology enhanced learning in its variety of models and classifications, a need for deep understanding of the pedagogy, theory and practice of this type of learning has emerged. Because online and blended learning is complex and continues to evolve, a need for professional development for pre-service and in-service teachers within the K- 12 system has materialized.

The Alberta Distance Learning Centre and the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University have begun to redesign their traditional delivery of both teacher professional learning (ADLC) and graduation level courses (AU). In a partnership that pairs, a PhD professor from Athabasca University with a practicing teacher researcher in K-12 online and blended learning, a process of co-creating and co-delivering a new model for professional learning in online and blended learning is being prototyped. The goal is to offer a series of micro-courses that will provide professional development in the theory and practice of online and blended learning. This redesigned model will use either a fully online or an enriched online model to create professional development that is more substantial than a one day seminar and less time demanding than a graduate level course commitment. These courses are designed to teach the theory of online and blended learning through the practice of engaging in the experience that model research informed best practice. Through this learning experience, practitioners will develop a deeper understanding of the opportunities and implications of technology enhanced learning for k-12 students.

Barbour, M. (2013). State of the nation: K-12 Online learning in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.openschool.bc.ca/pdfs/state_of_nation-2013.
Staker, H. & Horn, M.B. (2012). Classifying K to 12 Blendded Learning. Boston, MA: Innosight Institute. Available online at: http://blendedlearning.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Classifying-K-12-blended-learning.pdf
Twigg, C.A. (2008). Six models of course redesign. Available online from http://www.thencat.org/PlanRes/R2R_ModCrsRed.htm

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Teaching in a Distributed Learning Environment

The readings for week three are wonderfully connected to my work and all attempt to answer questions about online teaching and learning that define my work as a teacher researcher in a distributed learning environment.  What does it means to teach online?  How is teaching and learning different when students and teachers are physically at a distance from one another?  What unique skills are required of teachers to be successful in distance learning?  How does research inform us as to best approaches for design and delivery of e-intensive learning?  How can we best train and prepare teachers for working in digitally enhanced and intensive learning environments?  And lastly, what are the implications for teachers working in digitally enhanced learning environments?   All four articles point to something that I feel to be true: there is something inherently unique about teaching online and at a distance.  Online teachers require a specific skill set and mindset.   These teachers are required to be both pedagogical content experts but also experts in digital tools that require a resiliency in approaching e-enhanced and e-intensive learning.

Many of my colleagues at the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) participated in the Alberta Teachers Association study on the impact of digital technologies and therefore when the research was complete, it was used in discussion at ADLC about what it means to teach online and at a distance. This research along with many other studies helped to inform changes to ADLC as it transitioned from correspondence style distance education into an e-intensive online school.  I feel very fortunate in my role as a teacher researcher to have many opportunities to discuss the issues and implications as presented in this document with one of the researchers, Dr. Phil McRae.  The Alberta Teacher’s Association makes an interesting  point in that “the term distributed learning means different things to different people” (ATA, 2011, p. 9)  This is something I have come to find in my own research and personal experience and in researching best practices and research informed approaches to distributed learning.  This lack of consistency when it comes to defining the approach to learning makes it equally difficult to prepare teachers for teaching online and at a distance.  If the terms online/distance/distributed/blended were more clearly defined, teacher professional learning for each might be more effective.  As Yang (2014) concluded, the blended approach to teaching, “prompted the needs for new teaching approaches and skills that are different” (p. 202). Therefore new approaches to teaching require proper training and development.  Discussions during the ATA focus groups pointed to the need for continual training as the teacher’s believed, “substantial effort was required to attain mastery” in the skills required for e-enhanced learning (ATA, 2011, p.6).  The teachers in the focus groups also felt that their teaching context was unique and new teachers to their environments may  not be prepared in terms of “specific interests and aptitudes” (ATA, 2011, p 6).

As distance learning continues it’s shift in terms and approaches from correspondence, to distributed, to online and now to blended approaches to learning, a deep understanding of connectivism in essential for teachers.  As Starkey’s (2010) research clearly states, “The beginning teachers in this study were working from theoretical models that pre-dated the digital era” (2010).  In a connectivist approach to e-enhanced and e-intensive learning, the teacher shifts from the content knowledge expert who gives information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey 2010, ).  Starkey categorizes knowledge of digital tools as pedagogical content knowledge and stresses that in a connectivist approach to learning teachers would, “encourage students to go beyond the teacher’s existing knowledge base by making or enabling connections” (Starkey 2010).  This new role as teachers a expert  or lead learner who encourages their students to make connections by modeling learning, interaction and cognitive discourse for their students would require a unique skillset including; knowledge of learning theory, practical experience and a great deal of digital resilience.  As Ferriter (2011) points out, digital resilience is much easier for a connectivist as it is “easier for those of us who are willing to share what we know – and what we need” (p. 87).  As we work on planning our professional learning for our online teachers for the upcoming year, I will take away a great deal from the week three readings and apply it to our long and short range plans.  Recognizing the e-intensive teaching is an exciting profession that comes with many unique challenges and unique joys is the first step to creating professional learning that will help  online teachers see themselves as expert learner guiding their students to engage in critical discourse with the teacher, with each other, with the content and then connecting those experiences to their place in the world.


Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA). 2011. The impact of digital technologies on teachers          working in flexible learning environments. Retrieved from http://engage.education.alberta. ca/uploads/ 1006/20100621inspiringact86934.pdf

Ferriter, W. M. (2011). Becoming Digitally Resilient. Educational Leadership, 68(6), 86-87.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244.

Yang, Y. (2014). Preparing language teachers for blended teaching of summary writing.Computer Assisted Language Learning, 27(3), 185-206.

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Special Education at a Distance


– Excerpts from ADLC AISI Cycle 5 Project

When teachers traditionally think about supporting our most at risk learners, those with various learning needs such as learning disabilities (LD), English language learners (ELL) and First Nation, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students, it is unlikely that we think about teaching them at a distance.  It is true that some of the best interventions and supports that schools have for students with special learning needs involve proximity to a caring adult.  Schools often focus on providing specific, one-to-one interventions designed to close the achievement gap and promote academic growth. The traditional correspondence method of distance education may have lacked support for some of our most at risk students.  Fortunately, times have changed for the better in distance delivery and in the best interests of all unique learners.

Over 90 years ago, Alberta Education entered into a service agreement with The Alberta Distance Learning Centre to serve the distance education needs of the students and teachers of Alberta. Over the years, this service agreement has taken on many forms. However, the mandate remains the same: to provide high quality learning resources and services to the students and teachers of Alberta.  This includes students with exceptional learning needs and learning disabilities.  ADLC registers students from urban, rural, and remote community schools from across the province in facilitated or independent learning programs. ADLC students may also be homeschooled. ADLC’s students are as diverse as Alberta’s populations with various learning needs including FNMI, ELL, Children in Care, and Learning Disabilities.  When thinking about distance education as a means to meet the needs of learning disabled students, it is important to examine four core factors: the universality of online course offerings; the ability to differentiate instruction; flexibility in time, pace and place; and online supports for skills remediation including specialized online courses.

Universally Designed Online Courses


Over the past ten years, many students accessing distance learning resources have made a shift from traditional print correspondence to online learning. As a result, the opportunities for creating universally designed, online learning resources increased. This became the mission of ADLC; to design courses and learning opportunities that are universal (providing access to all learners) and that engage students in authentic learning experiences. Many students have difficulty understanding concepts that are presented primarily in text and may benefit by online course materials that consider different learners, using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Visual and auditory supports implemented in the ADLC online courses aim to provide students with opportunities to learn using lesson materials incorporating audio, video, imagines and text-to-speech software. As well, an additional UDL strategy of providing students with options to express their understanding from various alternative assessments in a benchmark of all new ADLC courses.  By implementing UDL, instructional materials and processes ADLC courses and resources are designed to allow students with diverse needs to engage, interact, and learn from them (Abell, Jung, and Taylor, 2009).  The UDL learning principles frame ADLC course design by providing choice of alternative assessments and assistive technologies, such as video and text-to-speech software, in online courses for all learners. “The UDL perspective looks to create flexible instruction, engagement, and assessment options that reduce barriers at the outset of the learning process” (Messinger-Willman and Marino, 2010, p. 9).

Differentiation of Instruction

Differentiated instruction essentially is the understanding of the learning needs of our students and differentiating content and process to support those needs. To differentiate, teachers must be able to pick and choose from a myriad of tools to support student learning.   Alberta Distance Learning Centre resources provide classroom teachers with supports to meet the needs of their diverse learners. Teachers have the ability to make strategic choices as to how content will be delivered, what process students will come to understand and make sense of this content, and how the students will be required to show what they know (Tomlinson, 2003, 2005, 2012; Turville, 2008, Strickland, 2009).  Teachers can differentiate ADLC content and assessments that are already created to curriculum standards and with UDL principles in mind.  ADLC course content also contains assistive technology such as; engaging videos that have both captioning and transcripts, font can be easily changed and enlarged, audio and text-to-speech tools. Most importantly, the content and assessment can be self-paced to go as fast as students can but as slow as they must. This is the essence of differentiation. Teachers and students working with ADLC resources do not have to proceed in a lock step, group fashion. There are multiple entry points for students to receive the appropriate pacing and interventions required to promote learning.  ADLC course materials support differentiated instruction and personalized learning.


Flexibility in Time, Pace and Place

Many of our most at risk learners seek to be at a distance: at a distance from peers who may not accept their differences, at a distance from teachers who are overwhelmed by the demands of our classrooms, and at a distance from those very supports that schools work so diligently to provide.  Many students in distance education programs self-identify as having a learning disability.  As students become aware that the ways in which they learn may be different or unique to their peers, many students realize that they need flexibility in time, pace and place in order to effectively learn.  In our busy, full classrooms, providing this flexibility is difficult.  Students come to the Alberta Distance Learning Centre in order to meet their learning needs.  Whether it is to upgrade or accelerate, to access courses that are not offered by their community schools, or to allow for flexibility in schedules, ADLC provides students with the access they need.  Students who choose to take ADLC courses benefit from student-centred programs and customized instruction to meet their individual needs, where learning can happen at any time, at any place, and at any pace.


Skills Remediation

As the composition of our classrooms change, to become more and more diverse with students not only with unique learning needs but also with English language gaps, ADLC provides options for skill remediation at a student’s own pace.  Many of these tools can be used either inside or out outside of a normal day of instruction.  Alberta Distance Learning Centre provides options for teachers, parents and students to remediate these skills at a distance.  Programs like Imagine Learning (for English Language Learners) and Successmaker (for skill development in numeracy and literacy) provide remediation in a way that supports both teachers and learners.

Alberta Distance Learning Centre offers Imagine Learning, an interactive ELL resource designed to teach English and develop language and literacy skills using an engaging and effective online software program.  With Imagine Learning, students complete activities focusing on phonological awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. This adaptive program provides over 2500 engaging activities.  Ongoing assessments are provided throughout the program and can be printed for parents in the student’s first language.  Strategic first language support is also available to students within the program, with an option of fourteen languages.

SuccessMaker® is another interactive tutorial software used in over 20,000 schools throughout Canada, USA, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The program presents new skills and concepts in small chunks that help build student confidence. Consisting of sophisticated multimedia mathematics and reading courses delivered through an online management system, SuccessMaker®: enhances math skills, develops elementary math concepts, and increases reading skills.  With Successmaker, each student receives an individualized program monitored by a supervising teacher as well as monthly reports that outline progress and changes made to accommodate the needs of each student.


Implementing Universal Design for learning principles and strategies can make educational environments and materials naturally and seamlessly functional for learners with diverse needs by guiding the selection of flexible, usable, and accessible tools, materials, and surroundings, and the development of learner-centred collaborative and interactive curriculum (Curry, Cohen, and Lightbody, 2006). “By offering UDL-aligned instructional approaches and curriculum materials,… students might begin to show more interest and engage more fully with curriculum materials that are relevant and comprehensible given their own learning style, ability, and interests (Abell, Jung, and Taylor, 2009, p. 182). However, Edyburn (2010) asserts that to understand and meet the special instructional needs of all individuals, researchers and teachers must continue to “seek to understand the impact of various instructional designs on the success of diverse learners” (p. 36).  ADLC strives to determine and evaluate UDL instructional processes that increase student learning and performance through sustained engagement and development of expertise (Edyburn).


Abell, M., Jung, E., & Taylor, M. (2009). Students’ perceptions of classroom instructional

environments in the context of ‘Universal Design for Learning’. Learning Environments

Research, 14(2), 171-185. Retrieved March 23, 2012 from Eric Database.

Bennett, S. (2009). Including students with exceptionalities.(What Works? Research into

Practice: Research Monograph #16). The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, Ontario:

Ministry of Education. Retrieved March 9, 2012 from

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Bennett.pdf .

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2011). Universal design for learning

guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved February 17, 2012 from

http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/downloads .

Chen, M. (2009). Influence of grade level on perceptual learning style preferences and

language learning strategies of Taiwanese English as a foreign language learners.

Learning and Individual Difference, 19, 304-305. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from ERIC


Curry, C., Cohen, L., & Lightbody, N. (2006). Universal design for science learning. The

Science Teacher, 73(3), 32-37. Retrieved February 17, 2012, from ERIC database.


Abell, M., Jung, E., & Taylor, M. (2009). Students’ perceptions of classroom instructional

environments in the context of ‘Universal Design for Learning’. Learning Environments

Research, 14(2), 171-185. Retrieved March 23, 2012 from Eric Database.

Bennett, S. (2009). Including students with exceptionalities.(What Works? Research into

Practice: Research Monograph #16). The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, Ontario:

Ministry of Education. Retrieved March 9, 2012 from

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Bennett.pdf .

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2011). Universal design for learning

guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved February 17, 2012 from

http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/downloads .

Chen, M. (2009). Influence of grade level on perceptual learning style preferences and

language learning strategies of Taiwanese English as a foreign language learners.

Learning and Individual Difference, 19, 304-305. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from ERIC


Curry, C., Cohen, L., & Lightbody, N. (2006). Universal design for science learning. The

Science Teacher, 73(3), 32-37. Retrieved February 17, 2012, from ERIC database.

Toulouse, P. (2008). Integrating aboriginal teaching and values into the classroom.

(What Works? Research into Practice: Research Monograph #11). The Literacy and

Numeracy Secretariat, Ontario: Ministry of Education. Retrieved March 9, 2012 from

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Toulouse.pdf .

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Ways of Knowing

follow your instincts

While traveling in Ukraine over five years ago, I spent a great deal of time looking at art.  My aunt, Anna Kuchabska and her husband Andri are both artists, Anna a professor at a college in Lviv and Andri an art teacher for young students. Seeing art through their eyes has been a gift I will treasure all my life.  On one particular day we at lunch at an artists’ cafe, Dzyga, in the city centre surrounded by the old walls that protected the city from invasions over the centuries.  We finished eating and decided to step foot into a small art shop.  More of a junk shop than a formal gallery, art and antiques  strewn throughout the space, we wandered and explored each finding our own way through the store.  And then my eyes hit it painting above and I stopped.  I didn’t move, I didn’t speak.  Instead, the piece of art spoke to me.  It spoke as if we had spoken before, as if we knew each other.  Andri found me standing alone and came to see what I was seeing.  I couldn’t explain it but I was moved by the emotion of the piece and I had a tear in my eye.  He took one look at the painting, then at me, and smiled.  Yes, he said, she is beautiful.  It is Olena Kulchytska, a much celebrated Ukrainian folk artist.  Motioning his around the room he asked, how on earth did you find her in all of this?  I couldn’t explain how.  I just knew.  I left the shop without buying the painting that day.  And over the years I had long forgotten the name of the artist, but I never forgot the image of the mother and her baby and they way it made me feel.  Not ever.


I have been fortunate enough to have returned to Lviv, Ukraine two other times for both work and pleasure.  Each time I searched out the small shop near the cafe to see if I could find the painting.  Each time the shop was closed. This summer, I returned once again to the city I love with my family.   We ate lunch as we always do at the small artists’ cafe where my art shop no longer lives.  I smiled quietly at the boarded up door.  Then as we got up to leave, I  noticed another small junk shop across the way.  Curious, I motioned for my family to go ahead without me and I stepped inside.  It was tiny and crowded and full soviet memorabilia.  I looked around seeing war medals and weapons, not my kind of thing.  Then I looked up and a tiny painting caught my eye.  It was of a woman sweeping and I asked the man to take it down for me.  He told me that it was expensive as it was made by a famous artist. Having traveled to Ukraine many times, I know that tourists are often told these things and they are not always true.  I told the store owner in my broken Ukrainian that if the artist was so famous, please write the name down for me and I will check with my aunt who is an art professor.  I expected him to gaff at this request but he did not.  He simply wrote one word in Cyrillic on a tiny scrap of paper.  I couldn’t read it so I thanked him and walked away.  That night, I showed the paper to Andri who once again smiled and laughed.  You know who this is, yes?  No. I replied.  It is her, Olena Kulchytska.  The artist you loved many years ago when you visited.  I couldn’t believe it.  In all the art in Lviv and trust me there is a lot, I had found another tiny work by the artist I had once so loved.  This time, I bought the painting, and it now hangs in my office where I can see it everyday I work.  It reminds me that sometimes you just know something and that way of knowing is just as valid as any other.

Women's Work

Intuitive ways of knowing are where you know you know something, but you just cannot explain how. You feel it, in your heart, in your mind, your body.  The knowledge comes from your lived experience.  There is no evidence or explanation for your knowledge.  This way of knowing, and feeling the knowledge in your whole body is what we call intuition.

Intuition in education is viewed as a key element to discovery, problem solving and gaining understanding.

In the initial stages of inquiry, intuition can be considered  as a basic source of evidence to support a theory.

Intuition is the capacity for attaining direct knowledge or understanding without the intrusion of rational thought or logic.

Intuitive knowledge comes to the surface seamlessly when a person is confronted with a complex problem.

When used intelligently, intuition has the potential to enhance executive judgement and decision making.

(Parsons and Beauchamp)

Intuition as a way of knowing by feeling or embodying knowledge can be counter-intuitive to everything that we have been taught in schools.  In schools where evidence rules supreme, trusting our intuition as evidence is rarely if ever encouraged or rewarded.  Yet, most people can agree or attest to having similar experiences to the one I described above.  If we sometimes know that we just know something, why do we not encourage this way of knowing in our students?  As we begin the process of rewriting the Alberta Curriculum for all students in our province, we have the opportunity to embrace and celebrate the many, varied ways of knowing.  It is imperative that our curriculum developers do so.

In order to know what is true, one must have a complete understanding of what is considered to be knowledge, knowing and truth.


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Tenure – A tenuous topic

Last night I had the honour of accompanying my husband to the Long Service Recognition Dinner put on by the Board of Governors at his private school.  This night was of special interest to me because not only would my husband be recognized for his 11 years of service, but this would mark my “tenure.”  That is if I had stayed.

The year I was hired, 2002, there were ten new hires.  Our private school had a mandatory, intensive new staff training program.  The new hires spent a week together learning about the organization, its history and pedagogical philosophy.  The training was fantastic.  The hires were young, smart, keen, talented, and brought with them a diverse range of teaching experience. We had everything going for us and last night, we were recognized for 10 years of service.

The problem:  Of the 10 original hires, only one remained.  Not me.   And I couldn’t help but wonder, what were we recognizing?  What is significant about staying in one place?  Why is loyaly recognized over and above excellence? And what about the others, like myself who have moved on?  Should we not be recognized for our accomplishments as well?  Those of us who left undoubtedly took a risk to walk out the door.  Hopefully, we all did so to pursue a passion, to move our teaching forward, to learn and grow personally and professionally.  Some of us are raising children at home, others are teaching in different schools, some in new and exciting roles and yes, others have left the teaching profession altogether.  It has always bothered me that we as teachers label our colleagues who move out of teaching into other careers, as burnt out.  Would we say the same of someone who moved from selling real estate to mortgage broker and then later investment banking? Is this person burnt out or simply moving forward as a professional in ways that challenge them and bring fulfillment?

The other day I was reading Chris Smeaton’s post, “Do we want great school?”  which made me think (as his posts always do). What does it take for a school to be great?

Greatness also requires us to take a significant leap from our current paradigm. We need to understand that although our current schools are “good” we will never elevate to greatness following the same path. Collins suggests that as little as a 20% change (need to ensure the “right” 20%) will assists us in getting out of our comfort zone and move us toward greatness. Simply put, we can no longer exist as we are and reach that pinnacle.

My previous school certainly had every opportunity to be great.  And there were certainly moments of greatness over the past 10 years.   Undoubtedly,  the teachers who were recognized last night are excellent educators who have done great things for students.  The combined experience and organizational knowledge that a long-service teacher provides a school can be invaluable.  These teachers have been required to read books like, “Good to Great” and “Danger in the Comfort Zone.”   They clearly understood that they were not allowed to “get too comfortable” in their teaching.  Yet, all of the administrators at the school had been in their roles over 20 years.  What dangers have they experienced in the comfort of their leadership positions?  What innovative ideas were brought to the school through new leaders and diverse perspectives?  The safety and danger for any school  administration staying the same for over 20 years is that the leaders are rarely asked to risk and are seldom challenged in their thinking about education, students and the future.

For me, I hope to never be recognized for long service alone.  My hope is for a career defined by positive risk taking, strong work ethic, life-long learning and a commitment to do what is best for students.  First, last, and always.  If that means I never stay in the same place for 10 years,  so be it.  Tonight I will throw my own, Shorter Service but Hopefully No Less Significant party.  Join me?

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Hydrangeas and other Sensitive Species

Why I love hydrangeas: They don’t flourish everywhere. They are sensitive. They are delicate.  They change colour dependent on the acidity of their environment. They are beautiful.  Many people wish to grow them. Very few people can keep them alive.

What do hydrangeas have to do with teaching? With learning?

We all are attracted to those things; plants, animals, and in particular people that are special and vulnerable yet attractive and beautiful. We all want to be able to grow a hydrangea, conquer that unconquerable goal, and help the most challenging student to learn.

What makes another person attractive to us?

More importantly, what is the purpose of being attracted to others?   Many of us have “magnet moments” were we are drawn to another person whether it be same-sex or opposite.  Often people we have never met before.  Why? Many philosophers believe that there are no coincidences, simply opportunities to connect and learn from others that are often missed.

Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner. The concept of synchronicity was first described in this terminology by Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychologist, in the 1920s. – It was a principle that Jung felt gave conclusive evidence for his concepts of archetypes and the collective unconscious, in that it was descriptive of a governing dynamic that underlies the whole of human experience and history — social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Concurrent events that first appear to be coincidental but later turn out to be causally related are termed incoincident.- Wikipedia

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Albert Einstein, The World as I See It

“I don’t think that anything happens by coincidence… No one is here by accident… Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason”…”
James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy: A Pocket Guide to the Nine Insights

“We know that attention acts as a lightning rod. Merely by concentrating on something one causes endless analogies to collect around it, even penetrate the boundaries of the subject itself: an experience that we call coincidence, serendipity – the terminology is extensive. My experience has been that in these circular travels what is really significant surrounds a central absence, an absence that, paradoxically, is the text being written or to be written.”
Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds

“We often dream about people from whom we receive a letter by the next post. I have ascertained on several occasions that at the moment when the dream occurred the letter was already lying in the post-office of the addressee.”
C.G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle

Therefore if Jung is correct and nothing is a coincidence, how can we relate synchronicity to our experiences teaching and learning?

As educators, we must remember that the students that come to our classrooms each year are not a coincidence either. We have drawn them to us for a magnitude of reasons. If we were not destined to learn from each other, these students would have wound up in someone else’s homeroom. Therefore, we must take these most sensitive of “hydrangeas” under our wing, those students who are special and vulnerable. Those students that we find the most frustrating, the most challenging. We must learn from them too.  In fact, it is from these hydrangea-like students that we have the most to learn.  It was synchronicity that brought them to us and us to them. If we applied this theory to every person that crossed our path, if we remembered that they were there for a purpose to teach us something about ourselves, how would that change the way we interact?

My sister has a saying that even in our most frustrating moments, “god is in fact there too.”  god (by whatever or whichever name you call it) is everywhere drawing us like magnets to those people we have the most to learn from.

My attempts at growing hydrangeas and teaching complex students have taught me a great deal about frustration and patience, about risk and reward.  People have told me year after year that hydrangeas can’t grow in Calgary, that they will not survive our harsh environment.  Just like we are often told that certain students can’t and won’t learn.  In the face of these assertions, we have to be relentless.  I currently have two hydrangeas growing in my garden. They aren’t thriving yet, but they have survived…and I am vaguely confident that the longer I watch and listen and learn, the more likely they will be to grow and flourish.  Sound like any of the students in your class?

Until then, I will cherish their sensitivity and admire how they change and grow to reflect the conditions that surround them. Hydrangeas are symbols of love, gratitude and enlightenment. I guess it’s not a coincidence that, for me, they too are magnets.

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Platypuses – Aligning Innovation with Pedagogy

In our last Innovation, Research and Learning Resource Development Meeting (yes, we have a group by that lofty name) we discussed platypuses.  The platypus was our principal’s  analogy between new pedagogical ideas in education and the British naturalist of the 1800s.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, we (I) were jammed up by trying to figure out how project based learning relates to UDL.

This is a good thing, and started me thinking about how we try to process new ideas or try to integrate old ideas into what we do at ADLC.

We are like the British naturalist in the 1830’s. The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge would send people to the far reaches of the globe and they would bring back specimens of flora and fauna, many of which were “unknown” to science.

A platypus was dropped on desk in London in 1835.

Everyone gathered around said, “What the hell is that?”

We are exploring new world and bringing new ideas back to our desks every day.

I think we may need to be more thoughtful about how we do this.When we come across a new idea, here are the types of questions we need to ask ourselves and put some effort into answering as we introduce the idea for discussion:

  • What is our personal understanding of the idea?
  • Why is idea important?
  • How does the idea relate to the larger frameworks that we frequently reference?
  • How would the idea help us improve/change in a positive way
  • What further research does the idea require?

We need to start making our implicit thinking explicit so we can uncover our core beliefs about teaching and learning.

If we can better understand that, we will be able to better judge each new idea and innovation against what we believe and act on the ones that will have the most value to our students. – Jason Wiks (Associate Principal of Research, Innovation and Learning Resource Development ADLC)

Today,  I am reading and thinking and writing.  I have come to realize it takes more than simply reading and tweeting  to really understand how a pedagogy fits within an institution’s goals and vision for the future.  Nor do we serve our students but simply moving from one pedagogy to the next with no reflection on how they fit with current practice.  Having worked for a good school that jumped from one edu-bandwagon to another, I see the need to investigate pedagogy and ask ourselves how they fit (or don’t fit) with our organizational beliefs and goals.  Just because something is a “good” idea doesn’t mean it is right for us, right now.

Our first goal at ADLC is “success for every student.”  Every innovation and pedagogical shift must be run through this filter.  How will it improve outcomes for our students?  Are the resourcesrequired worthwhile in terms of return on investment?  And being that the investment is our students’ future…I think it is a question requiring daily reflection, how about you?

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