CDLI‘s eLearning team is spread out over 15 locations within the province. We mostly communicate and collaborate online using both synchronous and asynchronous tools–after all eLearning is what we’re about and if we can’t walk the walk well…who can? Twice a year we get together for meetings. On June 17-19 we gathered at Gander, NL and I had the opportunity to address the team for the last time before I retire in August. It went like this…
What to say when your message took decades to build but you only have time for a few words? Sure, you could break the rules and say them all anyway but the message needs to fit the listeners’ needs too. The few minutes you get have to count.
Thirty years—you could summarize. These phrases fit:
- I’m grateful and to have been a part of this team.
- I, too, learned a lot along the way.
- It was hard work.
- It was worth it.
- It’s been fun.
That can’t be it, though. Thirty years of kneading a bit of clay leads to a transformed piece of muck. The stress, the deadlines, the learning, the…work. It has to result in something better than grey hair, a belt that seems tighter than it used to be and, maybe, an overwhelming sense of weariness…
…else there would be no real reason to celebrate.
But that’s how it’s supposed to be. Fortunately, those aren’t the only changes. With experience comes patience, a willingness to listen rather than talk (but I can do that too) and, best of all, a few lessons.
The best things have been team efforts. Sure, individual efforts count, but if you look at the bigger things we’ve accomplished you’ll see that none of them were the work of just one person.
It’s important to be confident. The tentative, shy voice is generally ignored. There are times, when we have to just speak up, move to the front and do what has to be done. There’s no time to second-guess, just time to act and at those times you must seem to be sure of what you do. And, yes, sometimes it’s okay to just fake it if you are not too sure.
It’s even more important to be humble. We have lots of good ideas. Coming up with new ways of doing things and, even new things to do is exciting. It’s been my happy discovery, though, that, without fail, every time I’ve shared one of those good ideas with my colleagues, and listened for feedback the result has been an even better one. Perhaps the idea thrown out was met with one that was better but, more often, bits from the one offered were joined with pieces from the ideas of others and the result was far better than what any one of us could have come up with alone.
So, then, that begs an important question. If it’s important to be both humble and confident then which one should lead? It’s hard to be both…at the same time. Fortunately we don’t have to choose. It’s possible. You know how it is. We can be the people we need to be, as the situation requires. Sometimes it requires confidence and sometimes it requires humility. Perhaps it’s best to see the whole thing as one long protracted dance between the two. And who calls the tune? Hopefully, your better judgment.
This year marks twenty-five years of DOE supported distance education in our province. I sort of came on board twenty-four years ago when my school became a part of the new system but formally joined twenty-one years ago when we started teaching physics through the system. There’s never been one moment in that time when I thought we were on the wrong track. For sure there have been doubts about pieces of what we’ve done, been many times when it became necessary to simply sweat it out and push through hard times. But the goal has always been the right one.
Together we’ve been able to change along the way. We:
- Tightened up the legacy system; made it more reliable.
- Shifted our legacy instructional model to bring it into alignment with school schedules and needs.
- Added courses, as needed.
- Built one digital provincial network, based mostly on dialup.
- Then another, an urban part and a rural part that relied on the hybrid satellites.
- Then, another—the frame relay one.
- Then finally another—the one based on fibre. It’s incomplete, of course.
- Experimented to learn how to do synchronous and asynchronous on digital networks.
- Made the shift over to digital.
- Added an LMS, then another.
- Added new synchronous tools.
- Made forays into content creation.
Most importantly, the work continues.
Now, here we are, different, in so many ways, from the entity that was originally created twenty-five years ago. The org chart is different, as are the technologies and, of course, there are completely different personnel. Through it all, we are still fundamentally the same. In the end we’re here because of our students and their success is what matters most. Everything else, as vital as it is, is subservient.
And we are resilient.
Through all of the changes our core objective has persevered and we have gotten better and better at it. But, like a tsunami the recent budget and school district restructuring is rolling right through our system. Almost nothing is being left untouched. The districts are rolled together—different in ways we do not even know at this point. We, ourselves, were not immune to the cuts that happened. We are wounded; diminished.
But the wave can wash clean too and we are resilient.
We will continue to do our part. This fall will be difficult; only a fool or a liar would believe otherwise. But we are not alone—our team is part of a larger one and, bit by bit, it will all come back together, hopefully, stronger than ever; maybe different, yes, but better.
These past few years we have been mainly focused on making the small improvements that could be made. Now, though, in the midst of profound change perhaps this is a time for us all to, once again, set sights on the bigger picture.
Our world today is not the one it was when I started out in ’83. Boundaries that define countries have changed, wars have been fought, ideologies have changed and yes, electronic devices have become parts of everyday lives. While they offer the opportunity for us to reach out to others they bring dangers too. They are addictive and, what’s more, they encourage a type of thought that is, at best, shallow and, at worst, in-keeping with an ever growing global consensus driven primarily by big corporations intent on nothing but their own profit and power. A consensus that tries to say among other things that your needs are more important than those of the environment and of society at large and, oh, by the way, here are your needs. Trust us; we know what’s best for you.
Now, more than ever, we need so much more than just naïve but highly skilled workers. Sure it’s in the interests of big business to have eager, trained workers all ready to dig up or refine another blob of Athabascan tar or bucket of Grand Banks crude. But is it really good for the economy to build a single-commodity petro-state while doing so? Of course not, in the end that leaves us completely at the mercy of the energy market.
Does it serve society to force-feed information sugar-coated and conducted through slick, new iPads (this is not to dismiss tablets and such; they’re amazingly useful and it’s only a problem when they, and not the students’ learning, become the focus) and such or delivered through the gun barrel of large-scale, high-stakes international testing to the extent that our students lose track of how to really think. Of course not. The hard-fought social and environmental reforms that our parents and grandparents attained are really what are under siege and our young people will need to be vigilant, critical and well-spoken if they are to continue to work toward an evolving society that is both just and sustainable.
And finally, if nailing good jobs is the only goal that education seeks then what sort of lives will our students really lead? Without having spent the carefully-guided, thoughtful time developing their future lives then what can our young people look forward to? Long hours slaving away in work camps far from home and family with just occasional visits punctuated by the purchase of flashy, expensive toys. Things that will give, at best, 48 hours of pride leaving only bills requiring even more work. Lives punctuated by plaintive shouts through the megaphones that are Facebook, twitter and the like. “Look at my new quad/truck/apartment, whatever.” Too bad no-one’s listening anyway. They’re too busy doing the same. Nothing left but to anaesthetize through alcohol or worse.
We know it does not have to be that way. A nurtured, educated soul is much more likely to live a life that is prosperous, productive and, most of all, worthwhile. That’s why we are here. It’s not just about the individual subjects, yes, each one matters, but it’s the totality that really counts.
That’s never been easy: insufficient resources, budget cuts, conflicting views on what we should be doing and how, and, of course, the unwanted baggage that so many of our young people have to bring: ill health, bad situations at home, the list goes on.
But that’s why we are here.
And we are resilient.
And so, here we are. The path ahead is uncharted and littered with obstacles. But you know why you are here; you know the goals you seek and, most importantly, you are not alone.
In this time of uncertainty and change, now is not the time for divisiveness. Now is the time for us—all of us; those who are staying and those who will be moving on, whether it be by choice or otherwise—to continue to work together, to challenge ourselves to find renewed courage and skills to face that uncertain future with the combination of confidence and humility that is so needed at this time.
As you move forward I may be watching from the sidelines now but rest assured I will be watching, with hope. I look forward to seeing this thing advancing; thriving. And I will expect that wisdom, through the spirit of cooperation and respect will always be your guide.