Christmas Memories

I hope you forgive me for some reminiscing in this post. Hopefully it links back to education at some point!

Ever since I was little, December has always been my favourite month. Growing up it had this magical feeling with the first snow fall, the twinkle lights, the family gatherings. As the courses have come to an end this semester, I have been thinking of some of my favourite Christmas memories. I have the worst memory (to the point I fact checked the below with my parents) and often can only remember single snapshots. Most of those images are from December with Swiss Christmas markets or chestnuts roasting on an open fire in Rome. There are three that have taught me invaluable lessons.

St. Nicholas Day

In Germany and Switzerland St. Nick (aka Santa) doesn’t come on the 25th, he stops in on December 6th to fill your shoe with goodies. The night before you leave your boot outside (more room to fill) and excitedly check your shoe in the morning. We were living right off the Rhein river in Busingen in an apartment that was probably too small for a family of 5. I didn’t expect much. So you could imagine our surprise when we opened the door to see our boots overflowing. Someone in the building had taken it upon themselves to brighten our day just a bit, with out ever wanting recognition.That sense of magic has stayed with me all these years.

Christmas Eve in Milan

It was our first Christmas Eve in Milan as a family. My parents dropped off the little ones, packed us up in the car and then hussled down to the busy train station. With some food and wrapped presents, we spent our first Christmas Eve wishing those without a home a Merry Christmas with the little we had to give. To be honest I don’t know if the 12 year old me appreciated the depth of the experience at the time. My introvert self was just panicking that I had to talk to strangers and probably was a little worried about what others would think. Looking back I realize how much that one small experience shaped how I see the holiday season.

Last Night at the Sharing Place

I have volunteered for a few years now at a food bank up the street. It is small and cozy and the holiday season is always the best, most hectic time of year. Last night I came with some rice krispy squares and 3 food hampers that would only be a small contribution to a much bigger event. As the food hampers and well wishes were exchanged, an older lady who attends regularly stopped before for a holiday greeting exchange and after the Happy Holiday’s and Merry Christmas came by to say goodbye with her usual big smile. She hesitated this time, stopped, looked me in the eye and said Thank You and We Love You with a big hug. She said it with such warmth and sincerity it was hard not to get lost in the moment. As much as I say I get more than I give from the experience, that moment proved it. At just the right time the right words were a much greater gift than anything I may have brought.

The lessons learned are many: the wonder and magic of a surprise gift with no expectation of return, a reminder or model that it is better to give than receive, and sometimes the best gifts cost nothing at all. These memories have acted as great reminders this season to focus on what is most important and after a busy, hectic year I am reminded that we all make choices. There is never enough time, but I can choose how I use it.  Of course the teacher in me leaves hoping that my nephews, niece and the kids I care about have the pleasure of the same lessons one day. The lessons above didn’t happen in a school, classroom with books or paper, but there is nothing to say they can’t. I hope they get to experience compassion and the good in humanity.

Happy Holidays! I hope that whatever you may celebrate, it is a season of rest and joy.

Professional Learning: My Moment

I was asked to reflect in writing about a profound or transformational professional learning experience. It is hard to choose just one. I find that they come in different formats, sometimes through one on one conversations with mentors, other times through the back and forth of tweets, a great book like A New Culture of Learning or an inquiry for my Masters of Education (I fell in love with Papert this weekend). If I have to choose just one experience though it would be my Junior Specialist that focused on Instructional Intelligence.

This is a few years back now, but my board put out a call for a three part specialist program in primary or junior education that focused on Instructional Intelligence. I had already received my specialist in Computers in the Classroom (Integration of ICT today) and was looking for a new path to explore. The board kindly provided funding for the course as well so that the financial burden did not factor into my choice. It seemed like there was nothing to lose so I filled out my application and was eagerly awaiting the first day of class. There were so many valuable lessons learned through out the course, guest speakers that enhanced the experience, instructors that were supportive but I think there are a few things that made it an experience with immense impact.

Personal Inquiries:

It was the first time I actually engaging in a professional inquiry around student practice. The instructors did a great job at giving us just enough to get started but then also enough freedom to follow our own passions. As I reflect on how the inquiries evolved over the three course I can see how my understandings of instructional strategies and concepts evolved. Having a learning journey to share empowered me to find new ways to share with colleagues. More importantly it better allowed me to frame my understanding of teaching and learning.

Time:

Although everyone didn’t follow through with all three parts of the specialist, a core group did and it was amazing to be on a learning journey together for just over a year. It is very rare to be engaged in conversations about ‘good instruction’ with people you trust for that long. Time was essential to build relationships; to consolidate our ideas, to challenge and extend our understanding. Time is what I feel often holds me back today. Busy in the day to day needs it is hard to take the time to stop, connect, question, challenge.

Relationships:

After spending close to a year learning together the relationships that were formed continue to this day. The time to get to know each other, share our learning journeys, share our struggles helped build a trust that I have rarely experienced in another structured learning experience. I think partly it was due to the time we spent together. I think it is also due to the community that was established by the instructors. I think it also came to our willingness to be present in the moment. I count many as friends and can still count on many of the course members for advice now years later.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I think now that I look back I can see that active, constructivist approach situated in my classroom context coupled with an emerging community of practice facilitated a professional learning experience that has had a profound affect on my practice.