From February 21 to 26, I was one of 70 educators who attended the Teacher's Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy, hosted by the Library of Parliament. Hopeful attendees had to be accepted through an application process and, if selected, spent a week in Ottawa engaging in excellent professional development sessions led by the Education Outreach Department of the Library of Parliament and a range of Parliamentary professionals.
The schedule in Ottawa was busier than many of my colleagues might have expected. I typically responded to the " did you enjoy your vacation?" banter by explaining that our schedule had us on the Library of Parliament's time for 10 to 14 hours each day. The busy days, however, were well worth it. As part of the process, my team leader asked that we document our thinking and 'take aways'. What follows started as an email to my team leader; I have since made some minor changes, added the visuals and links, but the core of this blog was written in room 205 at the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, Ontario on February 25th, 2016 at around 6:30 pm.
When I first decided to apply to the Teacher's Institute, my goal - if I was accepted - was to bring back as much practical, useful learning as possible for my school, my colleagues and myself. In the last several years my interest in Canadian politics has grown and I have re-kindled a passion for politics that I also had while I completed my minor in Political Science at the University of Toronto: my personal interest in Parliament and politics was just as strong as my desire to get some valuable professional development. I was very excited when I learned that I had been accepted to attend this year's institute.
Over the course of the week, I have found that the education outreach team for the library of Parliament has been working on modernizing the materials and resources that they offer to support teachers. I plan on showing my colleagues that this is happening by presenting the websites that were shown to us to interested teachers. I'll be provided with a few minutes at a staff meeting to explain that I am available to staff who would like to go over resources from the Library of Parliament; I'll also send out an email with links. I plan on also making a point of visiting our grade 5 teachers as well as our grade 6 - 8 teachers (grades where government is specifically in the curriculum) to show them the excellent ways that they can engage their students with the resources that I have now learned more about. In particular, I think I will show our grade 5 teacher "Bill on the Hill" and possibly show the intermediate teachers the "Setting the Agenda" online activity to support their learning, or prior to our trip to Ottawa. I can also, of course, show our staff the "searching for symbols" resource which may be useful in a very broad context.
Perhaps even more importantly, the experiences that I have had and the insights that I have gained will provide me with the tools to, hopefully, clear away some misinformation and misunderstanding that I have actually seen amongst my peers. It's one thing to bring resources and activities to teachers - and I am glad that I will be able to do that - but it's quite another thing to work on changing minds. I hope to explain to my colleagues, again, why it is worth their time to understand and appreciate the parliamentary democracy that we are so lucky to have; too many of my colleagues told me directly that they didn't vote because it "doesn't matter" or they simply "don't know anything about politics" - if we, as educators, believe that this kind of thinking is okay, how can we possibly hope to influence and guide our students in ways that lead them to a life where they are responsible citizens who contribute to our society?
I hope that I can convey to my colleagues that there are a lot of similarities when we consider perception versus reality for both teachers and MPs, Senators, etc. To be a good educator, you have to be committed and dedicated to your class. You have to work hard to meet the needs of your students and you are FAR more busy than anyone in the general public knows or will give you credit for. To be a good MP, you have to be committed and dedicated to your constituents as well as your country and political party. A good MP has to meet the needs of the people in his or her riding and is ALWAYS busy, though some members of the general public tend to believe that MPs aren't doing very much besides living large off of public money.
Another significant similarity that I've noticed is that MPs and other parliamentarians seem to agree that the way Parliamentary democracy is conducted and shared with citizens is in need of modernization; a large part of this process is developing useful tools for collaboration. I don't think that any educator can say that they aren't painfully aware of this same trend within education.We are constantly looking at ways to improve student voice through collaboration tools and many of us spend a lot of our time in efforts to modernize our practice (effective implementation of technology is likely the phrase we are used to).
Understanding and presenting these connections might be a great start to get some of my colleagues on board - again, the point being that if we don't understand the value of our Parliamentary democracy, there is NO WAY that we can teach it well. If I share these resources with teachers who haven't yet "changed their minds", it won't really matter.
Lastly, some of the most powerful learning and deepest insights came from simply listening to the stories that the various speakers shared. The stories we heard over this past week were powerful and, from what I can tell, transformative in that many of us had at least some of our opinions re-formed. When I get back to school on Monday, February 29th, I am going to start telling my version of the story of the 2016 Teacher's Institute
I'd like to think that this blog is a great starting point as I continue my work in telling the story of #TIFE16.