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Posted on May 1, 2010

Don’t You Sense It Too?

by Bill de Jager, Director of Learning  ◊  

What a fearfully exciting time to be teaching and learning! What a great time, what an opportune time, to be riding the wave of innovative educational practices, to be in the middle of ever-expanding learning spaces that may fuel the flourishing, release the potential, and nurture the spirit of all of our students!
To me, that fear and excitement is palpable. I sense it in the conversations and stories of the veteran, established, and new teachers. I sense it in the remarks and questions of board members, education committee members and parents.
Don’t you sense it too? Don’t you feel that this work of learning and teaching is on the cusp of something terribly new, something remarkably different? Don’t you feel the gathering of a possible perfect storm of educational change? Don’t you sense that it may be the coming of a convergence – a convergence of numerous learning spaces, options and possibilities?
I do, and with a sense that “the center cannot hold,”1 that “the jig is up,” and that schooling is moving closer and closer to a tipping point, and there is no going back.
The opening article in the September 2009 issue of Educational Leadership suggests:  “We are at the threshold of a worldwide revolution in learning.  Just as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the wall of conventional schooling is collapsing before our eyes. A new electronic learning environment is replacing the linear, text-bound culture of conventional schools.  This will be the proving ground of the 21st century mind.” 1
Our current learning spaces are enlarging; new spaces are being birthed, providing mushrooming additions.
We are leveraging that potential as we continue to discover the rich, local learning experiences just outside our school yards.
Affordable air travel and contained world conflict has created the space for our confining classroom doors to be opened wide, allowing some of our students to spill out to new countries, to new continents.  Such global travel shifts and deepens their understandings of the complexity of God’s awe-inspiring, yet broken world.
The vines of the cyber-digital world have provided powerful computers, the Web and its 2.0 tools, challenging us and our students to carefully taste its nourishing fruit, and to avoid its poisonous thorns.
We are collaborating with each other in professional communities; we are basing some of our learning on relevant projects; we are twisting, tugging and redoing schedules to serve learning needs and spaces.
We all intuitively understand the biblical imperative of being stewards of God’s good earth (it’s His topsoil!) and how that responsibility must be instilled on the hands and in the hearts of our students. Especially now, our school budgets need line items for shovels, hoes, rakes and seeds.
Whether it was our church buildings, our homes, or our brick and mortar classroom spaces, deep down, we knew that “architecture always wins”.  New school designs are replacing boxes – designs that display creative aesthetics, designs that provide gathering and learning spaces with an ambience respecting, rather than suppressing, us as God’s image-bearers.
We are tapping into the power of affirmation and celebration.  We are carving out the time and space to honour our students’ giftedness.  Our schools’ cultures are being strengthened and enriched as we showcase individual and collaborative learning.
Are you also seeing colourful glimpses, tasting innovative variety, hearing collaborative chatter, and sensing the expectant foreshadowing of learning in new ways?  Those new ways of teaching and learning aren’t theoretical but are real and tangible.  They’re happening right now in growing pockets in our educational backyards and all over the world.
Now is the time to be educationally bold.  To be instructionally daring.  To incorporate and enlarge learning spaces.  So be bold. Be daring!
Be confident that your courage and leadership in educational change, nourished by the grace and strength of our Lord, will
fuel the flourishing, release the potential, and nurture the spirit of our students!
1 William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming.

Expanding Learning Spaces

by Bill de Jager, Director of Learning

Born in 1906,
my father’s limited learning spaces
were contained
within Sijbrandahuis, Veenwouden,
Marrum and Rinsamageest,
backwater hamlets closely clustered
around the dull village of Dokkum
in northern Friesland,
a remote, insular province
of the Netherlands.
My father’s travel was confined
by foot, bike or horse;
by suspicion and fear
of the unknown beyond.
His schooling was constrained
by crude chalk, boards of rough slate,
pencil stubs, repetition and rote,
and fearful, unquestioned respect
for authority.
My father’s learning spaces
were hedged and fenced in
by the routine of hard work,
bland food and thankful sleep.
Born in 1950,
my expanding learning spaces
found room
in the growing towns
of Raymond, Sunnyside, and Coaldale,
conveniently connected by gravel road
to the bustling city of Lethbridge
in the southern endless openness
of the booming province of Alberta.
My childhood travel extended
to Calgary in the north, to Taber in the east,
to the U.S. border in the south,
and to the Rockies in the west.
My schooling provided
Dick and Jane, pencil crayons,
Gestetner, the strap,
sages (and stooges) on stage,
projected reels from the National Film Board,
slide rules, weighty textbooks,
and the unquestioned bell curve.
My learning spaces
were larger than my provincial geography:
a home-made transistor radio
receiving the World Series, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and rock and roll;
a well-worn library card – my passport
to mysterious continents
and imaginative places
beyond my planet.

Born in 1993,
our current grade 11 students’
seemingly unlimited learning spaces
began
in the towns, cities and megacities
of Delta, Duncan and Dalian;
of Prince George, Prague and Pusan,
all interconnected
within the vast global village.
Their travel
continues to exponentially increase:
via affordable air flights,
allowing them to physically experience
the wonders of Egypt, the Great Wall, and the Third World;
via optic fiber,
allowing them to virtually communicate
with anyone, any place, any time.
Their schooling (for some of them) engages them
with collaborative projects, leadership practice,
service opportunities, online database bundles,
tablets, slates, clickers, interactive white boards,
and laptop backpacks brimming with Web 2.0 learning tools.
Our students’ learning spaces
are mushrooming
from the explosive birth of the cyber-digital world —
its hyper-speed access to the Web
and its powerful mobile computers
camouflaged as cell phones.

Now in 2010,
with a nonchalant, fluent maneuverability,
our students glide their learning
through thin walls in an ever-expanding flat world.

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