In praise of ye ol’ lecture

I’ve never been to London. So when I decided to go to an Online Learning Conference in England to learn all I could learn internationally for our 2051 Project, I did what I rarely do when I travel – I added a day to be a tourist.

Those who know me know that I am directionally challenged. So the trip into London by train alone was daunting. Meanwhile, I was overwhelmed just thinking about a day in the city with so much anxiety over what to see and do. But my journey turned out to be remarkably uneventful, and it was a sunny day, so I was in a great mood to start my day of exploration. I took the good advice of many, headed to Trafalgar Square, and bought a ticket for a bus tour.

Now I am a big believer in engagement in learning. I get anxious when I see student desks lined up in rows and imagine hours spent passively listening to teachers. I believe that learning should be personalized and designed to suit each person’s capacity and passion. And I love to explore and walk. So I was amused that I was going to embark on an afternoon on a bus, sitting and listening. I had this idea that I would get out and explore the amazing sites along my route then hop back on. The bus tour was only a means to the real end – my great adventure in London would be highly interactive and active.

I was wrong. Yes, the sites were unbelievable, and I was excited to actually see Big Ben, St Paul’s, the Tower of London, and of course, Buckingham Palace. But I spent over three hours seated. I never got off the bus – not once! – even though it was a sunny day in London and I was a bit chilled just sitting there. I chose to stay seated because I was mesmerized by my tour guide.

Before we even left Trafalgar Square, he told us about the lions, the most photographed animal statues in the world. Sure enough, there were people on, beside and around them posing for cameras (and iPhones). But as we drove closer, he told us to look carefully at how their scrawny legs and paws didn’t quite match their massive beastly bodies. (I include a photo below as proof!) He told us that the sculptor wasn’t a sculptor, he was a painter; and furthermore the sculptor had never seen a lion before he was commissioned to make the lions, so he was given a real but dead lion to copy. Problem was, by the time he got to the legs and paws, the poor lion’s body was decomposing.

Every time we approached or left a site, my tour guide told a story that was funny or quirky or just plain interesting, so I just stayed put. The time flew by, and even though we were stuck in traffic a couple of times, and in some very uninteresting places, he was so entertaining that I just sat back and listened and laughed.

The same thing happened at the International Symposium on Online Learning at Eton College. I was overwhelmed by all that is happening in the world of blended learning, and I don’t mean what is “blingy” and hot, I mean pedagogy, research-based, learner-centred, thoughtful work. But I was also reminded that a good speaker, whether it be someone who is well-prepared, smart and doing interesting work, or someone who is naturally funny, witty, and entertaining, is worth our time. My hope is that the best schools are simultaneously engaged in cutting edge work that uses technology to accelerate learning, but they also continue to celebrate great teachers who tell a great story.

p.s. Shout outs to some of the great speakers at the conference who are doing great work: Peter Warsaw, Academic Dean at Deerfield; Brad Rathgeber, Founder of the Online School for Girls; Heather Staker, co-author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools; Mike Ehrhardt, Head of School at Cary Academy, Michael Nachbar, Founding Director of Global Online Academy; Marjo Talbott, Head of the Maret School and founder of the Malone School Online Network; and Sarah Hofstra, Director of Hybrid Learning Consortium.


Why do we work so hard?

Every once in a while I pause and think – do I work too hard? In my job, the travel can be the real slog, especially with delays and cancellations. Usually around this time of year, my husband reminds me how often I have been away. (To save you the time, Kevin, the answer is 17 nights in two months, including three weekends). But then I think – everyone works hard! Sometimes conversations are like competitions as people compare schedules – long days, evenings, and travel – until someone gets a topper (for me recently, it was weekends).

So the more interesting question, and I think we should all pause and answer it from time to time is this – why?  Why do we work so hard? I found myself thinking about two reasons, and then really dwelling on a third.

The first is people. I work hard because I work with incredible people. I mean it!  CAIS leaders go the extra distance to get the job done, and my passionate team feeds on their passion. I am so motivated by everyone that I work hard to keep up. I don’t want to single anyone out, but Friday night at 10:17pm, I got this email from Sheri Little, our PD Coordinator: “We are on fire!  I am thrilled to be part of this team.  This LI is going to be the best ever and the CAIS team is going to set the bar even higher in 2015/16”. With that kind of attitude, who wouldn’t work hard?

The second is projects. I get to work on incredible projects designed to support the very best schools in Canada. Our schools are busy and CAIS leaders work relentlessly on improvement; so the projects we design – accreditation, PD, and research – must always add value, both now and in the future. Projects such as revising our Accreditation Guidelines and creating The 2051 Project compel me in a way that I can forget that my job is a job.

So when I stop and think about why I do what I do, I feel lucky to have a meaningful career. I actually love the people and the complexity of the challenges. I feel fortunate that my time is spent doing something that really matters to me. Furthermore, while some people like to be experts at their job, I actually like feeling that I may be in over my head. So I get sucked in, and yes, I work hard. My guess? Every CAIS leader and educator feels similarly.

But this week, I had to dig deeper. I had meetings and then the NAIS conference in Boston so my days were long, and by the fifth night at the hotel, I found myself really wondering why I do what I do. It is a privilege to work for CAIS, and I genuinely love my job, but at the end of a long day, when I am away from my husband and kids, that just doesn’t cut it. I need a topper.

So I focus on my family. It is hard to think about, and it can seem inherently contradictory, but my job, which takes me away from them, also enables me to give them more than I could have hoped for. Kevin and I believe that money is best spent on experiences and the gift of learning. So at the end of the day, when we both think about this question of why we do what we do, we always agree that there is no better investment – albeit it’s an expensive investment! – than giving Jacob and Kathleen a CAIS education.