As I come to the end of a year of exploration and self-directed research, I feel overwhelmed yet hopeful, thanks to all the ideas I have now seen in practice. These ideas include: individualized higher education; outdoor education; systems and critical thinking; arts as empowerment; redefining "success"; purposeful technology use; marginalized youth as community leaders; and enabling learners to direct more of their learning.
In trying to combine my research 'highlights' with my own vision for future learning, I began building a framework to facilitate the design of emerging programs. Inspired by the Business Model Canvas, I call it the "EduModels Canvas", a strategy tool to help us think about both the big picture and the details involved in redesigning learning programs.
Along with inspiring a new, more systematic approach to designing programs, my other hope is that we are able to improve existing school systems, using some of the principles I observed this past year.
These principles, as well as a quick explanation of the "EduModels Canvas", are outlined in this final section of my talk from AERO 2016:
Thanks for your continued interest and support throughout this project. Special thanks to all of the educational innovators who graciously shared their lives, work and visions with me throughout this past year - you have inspired me to continue my own work.
I look forward to continuing to share the Educators Who Inspire video series, and to collaborating with some of you in spaces of innovation and educational access!
From the beautiful Green School in Bali, to the inspiring Dharavi Art Room in Bombay, another recurring point of learning for me was around access. Educational access isn't a new concern in education, yet I haven't found it to be a priority in the design of many innovative and progressive models.
(Dharavi Art Room and the School in the Cloud/SOLE Colombia are great examples of programs designed to increase access, as is the sliding scale for tuition that some independent alternatives are implementing.)
Here is the "lesson" shared at AERO 2016 on this issue. Look forward to sharing the final two parts to this talk next week!
Over the past year, one theme that kept surfacing for me across visits was the importance of contextual factors in designing learning experiences and determining priorities.
Although the importance of context to inform our understanding may seem obvious with global comparisons (ie. a school in rural Uganda compared to a school in urban Toronto faces clearly different circumstances), contextual factors can play an important role for schools even within the same city.
Two distinct schools in New York helped me to demonstrate this first lesson: Context Matters.
Here is a brief explanation shared at AERO2016:
I look forward to sharing lesson #2 next week!
Over the past year, I have been fortunate to dedicate much of my time to visiting innovative programs in several countries, collecting stories as Himanshu at Dharavi Art Room aptly put it. My intention was to engage with courageous trailblazers; to showcase their approaches; and to raise awareness of key educational challenges that are being addressed.
Recently, I summarized some of the lessons learned for a presentation at the AERO 2016 conference in Portland, Oregon. Over the next couple of weeks, I am pleased to share these with you, beginning with the Intro below.
I am grateful to everyone who has welcomed me and my mochila full of interview gear so far. To all my gracious hosts, educators, students and communities: THANK YOU for being willing to share your struggles, your hopes, and your dreams for education. You helped to shape a rich year of learning and creating for me.
I look forward to sharing the "lessons" from my talk, and more Educators Who Inspire as the journey (and the editing!) continue.
From most dangerous city in the world to most innovative: social urbanism and the link to education in Medellin
This past weekend, I finally had the chance to visit Medellin, a city I've been intrigued by for years.
Mention Medellin to "etranjeros" who have never visited Colombia, and you generally hear comments about Pablo Escobar, reactions from "Narcos" viewers (thanks Netflix!) and media coverage of the drugs and violence in the city's recent history. Mention Medellin to Colombians, and people will tell you about how amazing the city is, and how it was named most innovative city in 2013 by the Urban Land Institute.
Putting aside others' perceptions, I was curious to see for myself how a place that was deemed the most dangerous city in the world in my lifetime, managed to transform itself into a global leader in innovation in just 20 years. And of course, how does education play into this?
Few cities have transformed the way that Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, has in the past 20 years. Medellín’s homicide rate has plunged, nearly 80% from 1991 to 2010. The city built public libraries, parks, and schools in poor hillside neighborhoods and constructed a series of transportation links from there to its commercial and industrial centers. - Urban Land Institute, 2013
My first afternoon, I decided to overcome my "I'm too cool for tours" attitude (:)) and join a Real City walking tour in the centre of the city. (Thanks Kate Fraser for the suggestion!). Our local guide, a former Stats prof and creative writer (I know, interesting mix!) was passionate in sharing his perspective. He went through an overview of the city's history and people, including the distinct identity and pride that Paisas (people from this northwest region of Colombia) have, and their ancestry (including a mix of settlers from the Basque region of Spain and Jewish settlers). He explained how way before the drug cartels and drug trade, Medellin was the country's most industrious city, as it developed through gold and coffee production.
I appreciated that the guide was open about the impacts of the drug cartel of Pablo Escobar, the violence, conflict and political strife that was intertwined with it all, and the fear, and death that were a daily reality for people in this city a couple decades ago. And that, to a lesser degree, the political complexity and conflict still existed. But there is a clear shift that you can feel, and one that the guide addressed, towards creating public spaces and infrastructure that honoured the city's complex past, while moving towards a more hopeful, peaceful, and socially inclusive future.
Two pillars he mentioned in the transformation of Medellin, were an emphasis by recent mayors on "Democratic Infrastructure" or social urbanism - public spaces developed for people from all classes have access to buildings, libraries, parks and schools, and be better served by development. A few examples I saw were a huge public library overlooking the parque de las luces (Park of lights), the renowned metrocable lines that connect hard to reach 'barrios' to the city, and images of outdoor escalators in Comuna 13. (Although Comuna 13 remains one of the most violent neighbourhoods in the city, the escalators help connect people to jobs outside of these neighbourhoods, and for youth to turn to options outside of the pull of drugs).
The other pillar he termed "education with dignity" referring to the libraries, schools and quality of education that needed to be improved for people from lower income areas. This reminded me of the emphasis needed not only in the education sector, but from the perspective of urban planners and government for cities and people to develop more integrally.
Over the rest of my weekend, I managed to get a pretty good feel for the city, and connected with a range of interesting people, from my airbnb host who is working with Heart for Change to co-teach English at a lower income school, to a family living in the barrios near Santo Domingo (proud to show me the schools and colegios in the area), a couple at a Hare Krishna gathering looking for more value-based schooling for their kids, and a friend's 8 year-old sister who is quite happy at her private school in the Laureles neighbourhood.
My takeaways from these conversations were that as always, education in a city like Medellin is complex; although broad access exists to public schools with an increase in publicly funded education programs, the quality of that schooling and the degree of effectiveness in implementation is questionable. Private schools abound in Medellin but serve only those who can afford their fees. Also, the social issues and conflict are far from over, with new gangs forming in recent years, and can't be ignored for schooling to serve the needs of people in the barrios. (This article gives a lot more insight on the complexity and depth of change needed for the barrios to really gain equality).
Still, Medellin as a city really impressed me: the beauty of the landscapes, the sprawling architecture and housing, the pride of local residents, and access to amazing public spaces. The scale of the social urbanism projects and access to them are a bold and proud statement to the city and to the world.
So grateful to finally visit this amazing city and get a deeper feel for its people and context. Gracias Medellin, hope to see you again really soon!
It’s that time of the year again… resolution time.
Many of us share the shame of failed resolutions despite setting what we feel are achievable goals every year. One Harvard Business School Paper explains this problem as “Goals Gone Wild” (the title of this Harvard working paper), and warns against setting goals that are too narrow, too numerous, and set to an inappropriate time frame.
Here are six strategies to help us become more successful with our resolutions this time around:
Four years ago, on the first Thursday morning after Labour Day, I woke up nauseous as hell for a job that I couldn’t believe I was about to start. All day, I couldn’t fight the butterflies. Was I really going to teach at Laurier, my alma mater? What if I fell flat on my face? Should I do the Ellen dance as I walk down the stairs to music?
I showed up to class 15 minutes early, with a stack of course outlines so high and so heavy that I thought I would drop them. A student interrupted me on my way in. “Hey!” he called out. “Sweet,” I thought. "This guy’s going to help me carry this monstrous pile!" Instead, he gave me a puzzled look and asked “Are you the TA?”.. haha. At least I didn’t fall flat on my face. (I also never worked up the courage to run the Ellen bit at the start of class.)
The minute class started, I knew with more clarity than I can describe that I was in the right place; I could just feel it. Two hundred bright eyed students were looking at me with anticipation, excited to start their undergraduate careers.
Recently, I’ve been feeling a resistance to work of all kinds (summer time vibe?!), and a resistance to creating. So I turned to one of my favourite books, Women Who Run With the Wolves (WWRTW), and as always, got the insight I needed.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes likens the “murkiness” of our creative lives to the pollution of a river, and explains the importance of being patient with ourselves, giving time to sit with new ideas before jumping ahead. She also reminds us that the driving force we each have to execute will wear down at some points - a natural part of our cycles. We deserve time to renew and strengthen our intention.
The following reflection was contributed by Jerry Liu, one of the Laurier Enactus students who took part in our service learning trip to Haiti. As their Faculty Advisor, I am happy and humbled to share their thoughts with you. We are also grateful to Steve Sider (check out his blog here), for inviting us to be part of this experience.
After working remotely with a Haitian NGO on their micro-finance program since October, I had the opportunity to travel to Cap-Haitien to work with the team on the ground. It was a great opportunity for us to apply the skills we learned in university, while having a deep learning experience in the Haitian context.
Our team managed to strike a balance between digging deep into the culture and economy in Cap-Haitien, and synthesizing these into specific insights for the NGO. Most notably, while coming up with business ideas for the micro-finance program, we toured the nearby market, and realized that most vendors were selling either products purchased in bulk at the Dominican border, or donated clothes from the United States.
The following reflection was contributed by Laura Douglas, one of the Laurier Enactus students who took part in our service learning trip to Haiti. As their Faculty Advisor, I am happy and humbled in sharing their thoughts with you. We are also grateful to Steve Sider (check out his blog here), for inviting us to be part of this experience. Stay tuned for Jerry Liu's reflection, coming tomorrow!
After finishing the first week of my final semester at Laurier, my prepared personality had me completing a checklist before I jumped on a plane to Haiti. However, no matter how prepared I was, or thought I could be, I very quickly learned there as very little I could have done to ensure I could make the most my service learning trip. Reflecting back on such a powerful experience I was able to see the very apparent motives, meaning and memories that arose from learning outside of the classroom.
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!