Walking Forward Together

 

As a Learning Strategies Teacher, my thoughts surround my students, all of whom are identified with a Learning Disability. They are the focus of my participation in our OECTA CLC Project: “Learning Enabled-Leveraging Technology With Exceptional Learners.” The team for our project is Leslie Cardarelli, Charlene Davidson, Sarah Faloon and I. Here are my reflections on our CLC Wrap-up recently held in Toronto, Ontario. For more information go to https://laurieazzi.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/learning-enabled-leveraging-technology-with-exceptional-learners/

A morning full of teaching, a forgotten computer and an unexpected family emergency are followed by a quick lunch.  The midday rush to the airport provides no time for Sarah, Charlene, Leslie or me to consider the flight, weather or landing ahead. On the plane. Buckled in. We take-off in Ottawa, heading to Toronto for the OECTA CLC Wrap-up.

Airborne, the Bombardier jet bounces around the skies. Discussion of school and family are a convenient distraction. Thoughts turn to the aeronautical instruments that are guiding our flight. To the phenomenal Science of flight – drag, lift, weight and thrust. As we propel through the sky, a thick coat of fog obscures the view. The pilot holds our fate. We trust his training to navigate through what seems like zero visibility.

With a collective sigh of relief, the plane lands safely. Then rolls down the runway and onto the tarmac. Where its wheels encounter deep pools of water. We see ducks swimming in flooded stretches of grass along the periphery of the airport.

Upon arriving at the conference site, Sarah, Charlene, Leslie and I hear that the flight after us–containing several OSCB colleagues–returned to Ottawa after failing two landings. With our feet on the ground in Toronto, grateful for being safe and together, we are eager for the conference to begin.

The conference is the wrap-up for projects funded by OECTA and the Ontario Provincial government. Mathematics and Technology are the foci of this year’s projects. Our project sought to leverage technology to enable greater independence in exceptional learners. Here, we will consolidate our learnings, share them with attendees, and learn from the projects of educators from across the province. Dinner, a keynote speech by Diane Vetter of York University and cheering for our home team Ottawa Senators bring the night to a close. 

2+The following day we learn, share and meet with OCSB colleagues,  as well as educators from Barrie, Windsor and Toronto. Finding the many similarities in practice from across the province. Finding slight differences in the tools used. Being encouraged to try new things next year that we’d placed on the back burner.

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What my team and I hear and see here flows through a Special Education lens. How will this work in our own classrooms with exceptional learners? What can we bring forward to others? It is all in the discussion and the questionings we share. Common thoughts, sometimes differing views. Bending and shaping our practice collaboratively through our ongoing discussion. This is my tribe. A tribe based on common passions.

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Afterwards, reflecting on my CLC experience, I realize that it is about the honing of relationships. The meetings, classroom visits, reflective practices and the trip to Toronto are about mutual support, engagement and understanding. A reminder of how we support each other.

It is also about finding your tribe. The people with common interests. Who ignite your passion. Push you forward. Lift you up when circumstances drag you down. In schools, on boards,  across distances. They ignite and fan your flame.

Here, our team and tribes of colleagues from across Ontario bring capacities in specific areas. Some with passions in Spatial Reasoning, Rich Tasks, Coding, Math Talks, or French and Technology. Different passions from our own, but with the same interest in creating impact in Education.

As the facilitator, I sought out Sarah, Charlene and Leslie for the diversity they brought to our project. Each from a different school; each with a different area of expertise. All with the same passion and determination to impact exceptional learners. When we sit down with Anthony Carabache from OECTA Provincial to discuss next steps, he challenges us to branch out and to bring others along with us on our journey. To be the pebble in the puddle that creates a ripple. Letting our passions be a beacon that guides others. Inspiring and being inspired by each other, and those we attract to our tribe.

Flying from Toronto, under clear skies, we discuss next steps. Bringing our specialized learning to regular classrooms. Engaging with the teachers in each of our respective schools. Sharing our knowledge with them. Empowering them to be more confident in programming for exceptional learners. Letting the ripple of our learning expand.

“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience. (John Dewey)

As I reflect on the CLC process, I recall the  African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” By nature, I am independent. I go alone. Raised an only child, it is who I am. But I see that now, none of us can go it alone. We must teach, collaborate and work as teams. It is the lesson of coming to the conference in the fog, then, two days later, flying out of the airport in clear skies. 

I think back to my one-word goal this year – Faith. I realize the irony of the blog post I wrote about it. How in it, I compared faith to driving in the fog. How for me, faith is not seeing where the path may head but continuing to move forward nonetheless.

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This CLC fuels my passion. Clarifies my path. Reminds me that I am meant to advocate for students with exceptionalities, particularly those with learning disabilities. Making them a part of education conversation. Helping others understand the strengths and needs of such students. Through this CLC, I realize the role I play in empowering my students to own who they are as learners, and as people who use their gifts to enhance the world. As an educator, I must be a voice for the voiceless and be an advocate for the vulnerable.  We must walk in solidarity together to create the change this world needs.

Looking ahead, I vow that when my path is in the fog, and where I am headed is unclear, I will learn, teach, support and let myself be supported. That if I must, I will let others in, open doors and pull others through. The people around me will help me find my way.

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On the days when those around me are landing on a runway in the fog, I will provide the thrust to counteract the forces that limit their view and weigh them down. I will combine with others to provide a lift for those who need it. Be the countervailing momentum for them. Lessen the turbulence in their lives. Toward this end, I take the time to build and foster relationships. Having faith that we are always stronger walking forward together.

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This school year,  the Catholic Education theme in Ontario was Walking Forward Together. Recognizing and celebrating our togetherness with God, with our families, with others, with Creation, and in hope. I offer the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) prayer for Education Week (April 30 to May 5,  2017).  May we all continue to find strength in the path we walk together.
Catholic Education Week Prayer
God of Mercy,
You have taught us that where two or three are gathered in your name, you are here with us.
You call us to grow in our knowledge of you, into relationship with those around us and with the world you have created.
Deepen our faith as we walk together in understanding and hope.
Lead us to a future that realizes your kingdom of peace.
May your love continue to light the path we walk.
We make this prayer in the name of Jesus, our brother and guide.
Amen.

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