I am taking the liberty of sharing some of the philosophical underpinnings of an independent secondary school in Toronto. I was fortunate to be part of the creation of this school that was started by the YMCA of Greater Toronto in 2003.
A few words about the YMCA of Greater Toronto first because YMCA’s all over the world are quite different from one another! This YMCA is secular and stands on the principles of diversity and social inclusion. ‘YMCA’ is not an acronym as it is in many parts of the world. The YMCA is a charity. Read much more on their website.
The following is from their website but is so relevant to many of the discussions we have about education. I want to share this now because I want to discuss some it in future posts – especially the more controversial aspects such as the ‘trans-theoretical model of change’ and ‘harm reduction’. Many can accept these at face value, but when you try to implement it in class or schools, you need to be prepared for some soul searching and flexibility. For example, how are you going to cope with students who are regularly late or absent? How will you handle incomplete assignments? What about ‘inappropriate’ dress? Or other issues where schools normally have ‘rules’ and/or a ‘zero tolerance’ policy?
The Academy’s approach to working with youth is based on a series of frameworks inherent in all YMCA youth programming:
Youth Engagement, Competence, Belonging and Identity are nurtured and supported through the following frameworks:
I. YMCA VALUES: we embrace the six core values of the YMCA of Greater Toronto:
Respect – we recognize and protect the inherent worth of every person, including oneself
Responsibility – we are dependable and accountable for choices, actions and commitments
Inclusiveness – we appreciate diversity, strive to be open to all, and seek to understand differences and find common ground
Caring – we act with compassion and concern for the well-being of others
Health – we are committed to physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development
Honesty – we demonstrate integrity and trustworthiness
II. ASSET BUILDING
The framework of Developmental Assets is grounded in extensive research on what adolescents need to succeed. Upon admission to the Academy students are asked to list those assets which are strongly rooted in their lives. Our programming assists students in developing the skills to increase the number of their developmental assets.
To see the complete list of 40 Developmental Assets click here.
The Academy understands that change is not a single action but a complex process of awareness, reflecting, planning, doing and sustaining behaviors. With this paradigm we can more readily work with students at their present stage of change. When we do this we can offer the appropriate supports that will help them achieve their goals and minimize resistance or sabotaging of their own efforts.
We recognized that health is not merely the absence of disease but emerges from a complex interaction of many factors, including: socio-economic status, physical environment, genetics and biology, education and literacy, employment and working conditions, social environments and support networks, personal health practices and coping strategies.
V. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE
The adolescent brain is in a very delicate stage of growth. The pre-frontal cortex, where higher level thinking and judgment are developed, is incomplete and does not finish growing until the age of 24. The Academy supports the development of these capabilities in students, creating opportunities for them to explore and take risks but not to endanger their well being. It is also proven that young people’s sleep needs are different from children and from adults. For this reason The Academy starts its day at 9:30 and has a full-time counselor present to assist in asset building.
VI. HARM REDUCTION
Respect is at the root of the Harm Reduction philosophy; respecting the right of another human being to make choices is its goal. This philosophy assumes willingness to understand all human behavior as having a positive intent, however maladaptive it may appear to the observer. This philosophy allows staff to assist students to make smarter, healthier, safer choices in their lives regardless of their stage of change.
*source: YMCA of Greater Toronto “Teen Strategy” October 2006 p20-21
For some ten to fifteen years, I have called my computer ‘Intentional Serendipity’. I did this somewhat flippantly at the time because I had recognized how many wonderful events seemed to serendipitously occur in my professional and personal life. (In fact, my spouse has suggested that I have a well-placed horseshoe that brings me good luck!)
Whether it was in my teaching, or researching, writing, holidays, or adventures- I always seemed to have ‘good luck’ with the ways things unfolded and turned out. Of course, I knew it wasn’t really luck.
It appeared to be related to my willingness to be open and flexible to opportunities as they arose. Although I might have made plans to pursue things in a certain way, those plans were rarely etched in stone. I was on the lookout for chance events, signals, ideas that might lead us in a better direction. I believe we should maintain an opportunistic vigilance.
…maintain an opportunistic vigilance.
So often, if our plans are made in a top-down fashion, we are bound and determined to follow them. Not me. For most things. I see planning as important – but, I view the ability to change those plans rapidly as circumstances dictate, to be even more important.
The Power of “Why?”
The trick, I think, is to know ‘why’ you are making the plans. Understand the ‘why’ deeply to your core. The plans are actually the ‘how’ and ‘what’. The ‘why’ becomes your ‘intention’. The ‘how’ and ‘what’ are the ways in which your intentions are achieved. These can be flexible…and you should always keep your eyes open to changing them to better achieve your intentions.
We, leaders at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, have been asked by our CEO, Medhat Mahdy, to always start with “Why” when we are developing a new project or initiative. It is a request I honour and respect.
Interestingly, I have been reading J.S. Brown’s work since the eighties because he is a cognitive scientist who worked at Xerox PARC. In fact, JSB was the “Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)—a position he held for nearly two decades. While head of PARC, Brown expanded the role of corporate research to include such topics as organizational learning, knowledge management, complex adaptive systems, and nano/mems technologies. He was a cofounder of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL). His personal research interests include the management of radical innovation, digital youth culture, digital media, and new forms of communication and learning.2” So as a teacher and student of ‘learning’, I worked with his extended family of colleagues at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (now OISE/UT) – including Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter.
The Power of Pull is worth the read. One of the points the authors emphasize is the role of serendipity in moving organizations to capitalize on the connections across the organization. They speak of how we can ‘shape’ serendipitous encounters; how we can organize environments so that beneficial communications and connections are more likely to occur; how we can ‘pull’ information, resources and ideas from the ‘edge’ to the ‘core’.
…we must accommodate the rapidity of ‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.
So I believe in ‘intentional serendipity’. It is not luck. It is a way of being in the world that suggests we must accommodate the rapidity of
‘knowledge flows’ that stream over us.
After all, it was rather serendipitous that I discovered The Power of Pull. I had shaped the possibility that it would be discovered by me – through Twitter, blogs, conversation, and, yes, Amazon bots!
Hey all, I am cross posting this here. It is currently posted at the Cooperative Catalyst site where I occasionally write. I felt I needed to post it here as well because the Connectivism course has the rss feed to this site.
So I just started taking the Connectivism and Connected Learning course – and I shall struggle to see how it differentiates itself as a ‘learning theory’. George Siemens is developing this theory along with Stephen Downes. George outlines it here in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age.
The first analysis I wish to make is how it speaks to the construct of ‘collaboration’ – one of the essential elements of ‘social constructivism’ – and George and Stephen, in no uncertain terms, distinguish connectivism from constructivism. In fact, they, like others, suggest that constructivism is not a learning theory but is rather a philosophy. Two of the principles of ‘connectivism’ are:
- Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
- Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
…constructivism is not a learning theory…
Although these are explicitly stated, on quick glance through the course materials, the references I see to collaboration are more ‘quantitative’ in nature – such things as ‘social network analysis‘ and so on. The nature and quality of the collaboration doesn’t jump out at me at first blush. I may be wrong and will be interested in reading the rest of the articles, videos and presentations.
Let me take us on a somewhat retro look at some of the literature on collaboration in education.
I love learning. And I expect confusion. I thrive on dissonance. But, this morning, as I write this, I am curiously unsettled.
It has been the first week of the Connectivism course and I have not been able to attend to the readings and the webinars as deeply as I had hoped. One of those weeks, I guess.
I have generally described myself as a constructivist, indeed constructionist, over the years. However, I have always had a distinct distaste for packaged descriptions and formulae and indeed theories propagated and, often marketed by gurus as if there it is a ‘truth’ delivered from the heavens.
I have always found myself in discord with any proponent of any theory because there is often a rigidity in their thinking or a flippant dismissal of other aspects of self or other domains that may bring the chosen theory into question.
Now I see George Siemens and Stephen Downes differently because of the value systems I see inherent in their behaviours and actions. The openness and richness of diverse voice is welcomed, and indeed encouraged.
Now I don’t intend to get into hero worship here either. Also, not my style.
However, I am continuing my struggle to gain deeper understandings.
Right now, my brain is turbulent. This week’s readings and webinars have unleashed noises and visions that won’t settle – everything from my discussions with Derrick de Kerckhove and his work on connected intelligence in the 1990’s to the newer research into neuroplasticity to the nightmarish classifications of our western medical models which define, and advise on, ADHD and learning disabilities.
Ok, no really intelligent thoughts today.
I just need to become one with the messiness of my mind.
- Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011 (downes.ca)
Gavriel Salomon distinguishes first-order effects from second-order effects of technologies. First-order effects are a result of what the technologies have been designed to do. Second-order effects include the longer term impacts of any technology.
Cars were designed to move people from one place to the next – a first-order effect. One of their second order effects was the development of suburbs and city sprawl. Read more
We go through the world observing and interpreting, making decisions based on what we see and experience. But many of those observations and interpretations are wrong. Plain and simple. Wrong. But we carry on as if we are right. In fact, we don’t even know we are wrong. So we aren’t aware that we have misread something. Is this a problem?
…we don’t even know we are wrong.
I have been reading Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan. He has made me think about this some more and to ponder the implications for our students/youth in particular. How might we address these issues with students to increase their awareness, their mindfulness. Hallinan gives the classic example of the ‘table top’ illusion.
These table tops are identical. Don’t believe me? Measure it. Print it out and cut it up. Or, take them to PhotoShop and play around.
“Turning the Tables” was created by Stanford professor, Roger N. Shepard. It demonstrates “not only that our perceptual machinery is deeply entrenched in our nervous system but that its operation is totally automatic”. So we can’t even choose to see it for what it is – a bunch of lines in ‘flatworld’* – but we automatically impose our meaning from the real 3D world on it. Our brain circuitry is triggered to see the tables in three dimensions. Hallinan also suggests that even worse, we don’t even know we’ve been tricked. We’ve made an error – but we don’t know we’ve made one.
…we can’t even choose to see it for what it is.
Should kids know about this? I sure think so. How can kids ‘be in charge of their own learning’ if they are not aware of automatic and hidden errors. This looks to me like another reason to focus on helping kids to learn to be mindful – to be aware of their brains and how they work.
* Any Big Bang Theory fans out there?
For a long time now, I have been wishing to write much more – but I find every excuse in the book. @dougpete has given some reasons in his post of today entitled Regular Blogging. One of my challenges is that I am a bit of a perfectionist – in some things – not all, by any stretch! But, that’s ok. The personal adventure involves determining which things deserve a perfectionist approach and which don’t. And, of course, it’s not either/or, but rather a continuum. So, to learn to behave accordingly is a personal goal.
I am also not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I hate disappointing myself. Anyone else feel like that? Ummmm yeah.
At any rate, ‘the reader writes the story’, so I hope that any writings posted here allow you to author some stories that enlighten, inspire, and entertain you. Better yet, if the story you understand from what I write strengthens your practice and ‘way of being’ in the world, then how could I not be a happy guy.