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Connected Canada

May 28, 2012 3 comments

Photo Credit: B. Harrison

 Look away said they across this mighty land
 From the eastern shore to the western strand
Canadian Railway Trilogy ~ Gordon Lightfoot

The inaugural ConnectED Canada conference wrapped up Sunday with full day of conversations led by a passionate group of educators. The diverse collective included teachers, students, consultants, school and district administrators and superintendents. I spent the good part of the flight home from Calgary resting my eyes and allowing the experiences of the three-day event swirl around my mind like a nice Cabernet. Ideas, like wine, often need to be aired out and mixed around a bit.
Those of you who know me, either face to face or through my blog know of my almost pathological adherence to the rule of three, so, in the interest of consistency I offer three reflections from my time at the Calgary Science School:

O Canada: It is evident that, in spite of our geography, there is a unique and specific ‘Canadianess’ that exists in our collective educational systems. How we view public education is deeply rooted in the origins of our confederation, specifically the stipulation that education is a provincial matter, with no federal presence. The clarity of our constitution, the British North America Act, has enabled us to create school systems that truly reflect the cultural and social dimensions of  each provincial context.  Just as deeply rooted, is the ideal that public education is essential to our democracy; a democracy that is both resilient, adaptive and generally suspicious of anything that smacks of classism. We have been, and are, a nation that has thrived through the constant addition of new arrivals. Our viable, universal, democratic public school system is a common thread in each of our provinces and territories. John Ralston Saul’s writings in this area are very instructive.

An East West Network : It occurs to me that we tend to look abroad for access to expertise and resources. Now, in no way do I wish to diminish the rich learning garnered from our global colleagues; be they American, Aussie, from the UK, Finland or Asia. However, for most countries, education is the most culturally-specific institution that is likely to exist in a society. Our regions, though varied in many ways, are connected through a thin but tensile bond that has historically resisted the more natural, north south flow. Like our railroad, and a hundred years later; our rush to ensure national broadband connectivity, the national east/west cohort at ConnectEd gave the ideas and expertise of Canadian educators a chance to to flow and blend; allowing us to extend our networks and draw insights that were surprisingly relevant and applicable to our own provincial context.
Connected Leadership Matters: We were an eclectic mix; social media mavens and techies, teachers, parents, students and others from a wide range of educational roles. Most of the teachers were, logically, from Alberta and the out of province contingent was tilted more towards the central office and principal types. The teachers spoke in turns of their challenges and delights; some of the isolation, the limits placed on innovation or the slings and arrows of the tall poppy syndrome. Others shared the rewards and joys they felt about the collaborative, inclusive cultures that existed in their schools, some were ‘connected’ others were not. It is important to note that school culture is a function of school leadership. Predictably, almost all the school and system leaders attending were ‘connected’, especially the ones who had come from out of town or province. I hope that each of us has the heartfelt expressions (both the positive and the painful) of the teachers we were co-learning with branded on our minds (it took 5 paragraphs, but I managed to work in a cowboy metaphor).
What’s Next?  Teachers in every province are sharing the same stories and struggles. Over the three days, through our formal and informal conversations the similarities and interest in networking were common threads. With so much common ground, culturally and practically, those of us who are connected leaders have an opportunity to grow a wider and richer national network of educators. A national PLN focused on the sharing of best practices that can support all of our Canadian teachers, schools and students.
I’m happy to have been a part of this event and am grateful that @gcouros and @neilstephenson envisioned this conference and had the determination to make it happen.
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