Monthly Archives: January 2013

Message in a Bottle

Did you watch Lost? The show had a lot in common with teaching.

You find yourself thrown on an island. You feel disoriented, confused, and overwhelmed. You go into survival mode – what do I need to do to at a bare minimum to keep my heart beating and my lungs breathing?

Then you notice them. The others. They are a mysterious bunch, and they now must be included in the survival plan. You aren’t sure if they are friends or foes. Some of them are still trying to figure that out. But it becomes quickly apparent that you need to work together to survive. What do they know about survival that they can teach me? What do I know that I can teach them? You learn more about each other, and as time passes, things settle down. Life on the island begins to make more sense. You learn how to build a fire. You learn where to find food and how to build a basic shelter.  (And, unlike Lost, there are no polar bears, time travel, cryptic numbers, or button that makes the world go round.)

You survive.

And that’s the problem. Teachers spend the first year or two of teaching in “survival mode”, and unfortunately, some get stuck there. They continue to teach as though they are on an island, isolated from other teachers, working hard to do their job as best they can, reinventing the wheel every semester. It’s tiring. It’s discouraging. There’s no one to bounce ideas off, no one to borrow things from, no one to tell you you’re doing a good job, no one to share your frustrations with, no one to problem solve with. Some teachers left on the island too long become bitter, disfigured memories of a teacher who was once optimistic and eager to teach. Now they just throw coconuts at you if you try to show them a way off the island. (I think they’re resentful of all the time they spent alone, and intimidated by a world they were cut off from for so long).

Sharing with our colleagues is critical. Without sharing, we risk becoming overworked, lonely, irrelevant, bitter, or coconut-flingers. And the great thing about teaching nowadays is that you don’t have to eat lunch in the staff room and hope you find a colleague to connect with (although that’s good too). You can connect and share using Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or any number of other sites, or take part in learning experiences like #etmooc. (For anyone who might be feeling overwhelmed or uncertain of where to start, here’s a helpful infographic.)

So, with sharing in mind, here are some reflections from the “Sharing is Accountability” #etmooc session tonight:
just because I shared it doesn’t mean I’ll think like that forever.  Allow people freedom to change their mind and message.
lather before you shave. It’s an old lesson, but a good one. If you have constructive criticism to share, it sure doesn’t hurt to point out what was done well first. We do it for our students, so why wouldn’t we do it for each other?
– filter. There is a lot of information out there, and there is no shame in filtering it. “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t do everything, feel guilty if you don’t do anything” – Shareski
– comment. Sharing can be a vulnerable experience, so it’s nice to know there’s someone out there. And comments can start conversations that lead to connections and more sharing.
– we are on the same team! – so stop throwing coconuts.



I’m taking part in a massive online open course on educational technology:

This is my introduction:


Lead a Horse

In the realm of School, in the land of English, there stands a group of horses. They have been assembled by the Head Horse Herder to be led through this land of English, by one who has traveled it much. They are a diverse group, ranging in size, colour, shape, and running speed. As the sun breaks over the horizon, the Horse Herder sweeps her hand across the land and explains that this will be their domain for the day. It is a barren land, with cacti and bramble bushes and thistles, but there are throughout the land Pools of Knowledge. It is these pools the horses must visit with the Herder, so they can gain knowledge of the land and make it through the harsh terrain alive. “Some pools,” explains the Herder, “I will lead you to. Some pools, you will discover on your own. But you must surely drink of the Pools of Knowledge, or our time in this land will be wasted, and you will not make it to the end.” She explains the rules in the land of English, how they will start out as a pack and learn about how to drink from the Pools of Knowledge, how they must never splash each other, and that the land was tough and unsympathetic, but together, they would make it through. “And the most important thing for you to know about this land,” she went on with a heavy voice, “is that I can lead you to these pools, but only you can decide to drink of them.”

Things started out well. They followed the Herder to the first pool. They listened to her instructions and most horses followed them. Some of the horses were already showing rebellion, though, because they jumped and splashed in the pool when they should not have. The Herder went over to one such horse and explained why the rules were in place: “I have led many horses through this land, and I have seen horses who did not make it. You must follow my instructions to survive the day. My rules and teachings are for your good, because I know what it takes to make it through this land.” The horse nodded its head and ambled off to join the others drinking from the Pool. The Herder smiled and a mist filled her eyes, and she knew that the “Horse Whisperer” training had served her well. She watched as the herd drank, albeit tentatively, from the first Pool of Knowledge. She could see that some of them were used to drinking from Pools, and some were not. She noticed that some horses were very skinny and had clearly missed drinking from some Pools of Knowledge in other lands, while others were strong and well nourished. She knew it would be a challenge to lead these horses through the land, but she was prepared and excited for the challenge.

Some of the visits to the Pools of Knowledge went very well, while others did not. She talked to many more horses about the rules and about the importance of drinking from the Pools of Knowledge. “Your survival in this land depends on it!” she would say with fervor.  She learned new things, too, as some of the horses had different ways of drinking. Some of the horses didn’t know how to drink, and she took a lot of time and energy teaching them how. She noticed that some of the horses weren’t coming to the Pools of Knowledge. Some of them were running around playing, while others were just standing in the distance. She always made the trek to talk to these horses and herd them to the Pools, but as time wore on, she grew weary of her journeys to meet these horses, especially because some of them whinnied and neighed at her quite loudly. But she did not give up. She had met horses like this before, and knew that sometimes, with the right amount of patience and correction, these horses would come to the Pools and drink. And some did. But some ran and played no matter what she said. She tried to herd them still, but hoped that some day they would realize their own need to drink from the Pools and join the herd.

Some of the horses ran away and the Herder could not find them. She grieved this deeply, and searched for them every chance she got.

By noon, the hot sun hung high in the sky and the horses – and Herder – were feeling worn down. The horses grew restless of visiting the Pools. They wanted to run and play and chase each other, and the Herder would sometimes let them, but she knew that they had a long journey and they needed to stop at the Pools, or they would not survive.

There was one horse in particular the Herder was worried about. This horse came near all the Pools of Knowledge, but did not drink. Pool after pool, the Herder watched the horse; it did not drink. Was the horse scared to drink? Did it not know how? Did it already drink from this Pool? The Herder prompted and persuaded the horse closer to the Pool. She gently pushed its head nearer to the  Pool, until its lips touched the cool waters, thinking that if it felt the water it would realize its own thirst and drink. It did not. She took some water in her hand and held it up to the horse. It did not drink. She threw the water onto the horse’s lips. It did not even lick them. She grew frustrated with the horse. She got out her “Horse Whisperer” training manual and read about similar situations. She wrote letters to the Head Horse Herder and asked for suggestions. She consulted other Herders who had led this horse through their lands. She tried everything they suggested.  She got out her canteen and filled it with water from the Pool, pried the horse’s mouth open, and poured the water in. It did not swallow. She filled four buckets with water and put the horse’s feet in them, holding one up to its mouth. It did not drink. She brought another horse near it, letting it watch that horse drink. It did not drink. Out of sheer frustration and defeat, she jumped in the pool and splashed the horse, yelling, “Do you not know your own thirst?” It did not drink.

The Herder continued to lead the horses to the Pools of Knowledge. As the sun ambled slowly down from its peak in the sky, the horses ran throughout the land, selecting Pools to drink from. The Herder smiled; then the horse that would not drink came into her sight, and her smile faded. With desperation, the Herder went to the horse that would not drink and dragged it to a Pool. She went through the familiar routine they went through at every Pool. It did not drink. She sat down, defeated. Her “Horse Whisperer” manual fell out of her bag as she sat. She felt like a fraud, and threw the manual at a cactus in the distance.

As the sun slipped slowly into the horizon and the last light began to fade, the horse that would not drink looked at the sky. It furrowed its brow. It looked at the other horses drinking their last Pool to its dregs. It looked at the Herder and said,

“Hey, is there a way I can, like, quench this thirst of mine?”

The Herder passed out.