Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Philosophy of Teaching

My Philosophy of Teaching

Nicole ‘Chinook’ McLean
University of British Columbia (Okanagan)

I believe the differentiated learning that is so imperative for success in, and for, the world today begins “with a sensitive, empathetic teacher who values the worth of every learner” (Sousa & Tomlinson, 2011, p. 12). Professor Cherkowski’s Reflective Best Self (RBS) Exercise coupled with my Identity Pie helped me appreciate that:
I want to be “that special teacher” who “cares” enough to “make a difference” for my students by being “passionate” about helping them “feel good about themselves”. As an “enthusiastic, engaging and energetic role model” with “healthy confidence and a rare positive outlook on life”, I want to make “an impact”. “Fearless in an accessible, welcoming way” with a “natural ability to lead and inspire”, I value my “unique ability to relate to people from all walks of life” and “see the best in” everyone. (Various, Personal Communication - RBS, August 2016).[1]

I was brought up to believe that I could do anything. I was tremendously fortunate to have been born to parents who instilled this unshakeable belief. When my Dad, an educator himself and the son of a widowed, strict schoolmistress, heard that I was considering a career in education, he tried to dissuade me. I would find, what I whimsically refer to as, assigned reading laid out on “my” bed when visiting my parents’ home. These assignments would be full of evidence touting other interesting vocational opportunities Dad figured I ought to consider. Full disclosure: Dad-endorsed vocational prompts began in my early teens and, I hope, shall continue ad infinitum. My Dad still believes I can be an astronaut, a surgeon or a large-scale disaster manager. And my Mom would not be as surprised as you might expect if one day I turned around and told her I was off to Mercury to conduct experiments on alien-fauna: “Pack some sunscreen,” she might suggest.
I have been a barista, an aid worker, a raft guide, a field researcher, a taxi driver, an all-American rugby player, a volunteer fire fighter (still), and a commercial helicopter pilot, among other things. Dad somewhat mysteriously continues to feel compelled to convince me that I can achieve anything even as I persistently evolve, professionally and personally. He finally let up, and both my parents firmly have my back – as they inevitably do – after I resolutely explained that I knew I could become a surgeon or an astronaut one day but that becoming an educator was what I felt called to do right now.
I did not feel ready be a teacher in my early 20s when I invested all aspects of my soul into adventuring in far-away places: in tiny sweltering villages rife with malaria; at a refugee settlement for genocide survivors; with my Leatherman, beside a broken-down scooter and a troop of raucous baboons; on the roaring Nile in equatorial Africa; on stilts dressed as a 6-armed blue goddess cruising the high seas. Nor did I want to teach in my late 20s when I threw all my hopes, time and money-I-had-not-yet-made into my passion for flying. I saw beautiful scenery, appreciated physics in an entirely imperative way, grew awareness and skills that kept me and my clients safe while performing a pas-de-deux with the machine to achieve the ends for which it was made. Family friend and medical laboratory technician Dee McEnery iterated my reflective and timely motivation in her own words: “You haven’t rushed into (teaching). You seem to have somehow waited to do this – when you (were) ready rather than (hurrying) in years ago. That, to me, is huge and very important” (PC - RBS, August 2016).
In my mid-thirties, as I struggled to step away from the flying career into which I had poured 8 years of my essence, an astute advisor pointed me towards Parker Palmer’s “Let your Life Speak” (2000). What opportune and life-affirming counsel! Will I miss flying? Absolutely, but my soul was withering; exposed, as it was, to a level of materialism and misogyny, both spoken and subversive, in the Canadian helicopter industry that I had never otherwise experienced. [2]Palmer reminded me: “When (you) follow only the oughts, (you) may find myself doing work that is ethically laudable but that is not (yours) to do. A vocation that is not (yours), no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self—in the precise sense that it violates (your) identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm” (2007, p. 31). I no longer feel able to be a cog in a system that contravenes my values and my philosophy.
The revised BC curriculum (2015) says: “It is our job to prepare all children for success in whatever life path they choose” and this jibes well with who I am as a person and how I envision my life as an educator. I bring energy, attention and empathy to our profession of education. I value diversity, inclusion and equity, positivity, self-worth, community, innovation and individuality. Drawing inspiration from many sources, I plan to model these motivational principles for my students and our extended community. Should all “my literary peeps” come to dinner, I would have to organise a feast and rent some chairs so I could include everyone. In addition to the sources mentioned already, over the past 5 weeks, I have been literarily and personally mentored through the teachings and readings of Professors Schnellert, Wetterstrand, Switzer and Cherkowski, by my fellow Education Candidates, particularly the GLs, as well as by Cajete, Draper and Siebert, Dumont, Istance and Benavides, Kessler, Jensen, Nakkula and Toshalis, Neufeld, Noddings, Woolfolk, Winne and Perry, Wormeli, Stengel and Shelly Moore.
Some kids do not really need great teachers. Those kids will succeed in spite of, or perhaps because of, the stacked odds in life. Those kids will end up at Princeton no matter whom they had for 9th grade science. Those kids are rousing to watch as they blitz vivaciously through life. I think the real rewards, and likely some sleepless nights, come from working with the tough ones; the ones who enter grade 9 (or 11 or 5) without any inkling of a post-secondary education, let alone one dressed in ivy. While that kid may never “make it” to university and may never even want to, that kid can indeed “make it” in life. All kids have dreams of how they want to live, from their everyday existence to “when they grow up”, and you can bet an adept teacher is going to give that kid a better chance of realising and honing those aspirations than almost anyone else. Some kids are not so lucky to have parents like mine, so they may be in desperate need for a teacher role model to help them realise that they themselves hold the key to their own magnificence. 
I want my students to inherit from me, as their teacher, the lesson I received during my upbringing  - the belief that we are all capable of achieving, and deserving of, the kind of life about which we dream. We may not all end up as the astronauts or movie-stars our 8- or 11- or 15-year old selves dreamed of being, but as long as we have timely and insightful guidance as we develop our self-awareness on why we may want to be that astronaut or movie star, then we can more easily identify and incorporate the values and traits to ensure we are the superstars of our own lives.
In our society all kids have teachers, formal and otherwise. So if all kids need teachers, I had better be the most effective teacher those kids could ever have. Three years or three decades down the road I doubt my students will remember the results of a particular titration experiment we did together but I hope they remember how learning made them feel so they will become “self-regulated learners” (Butler, Schnellert, & Perry, 2016) and seek out a life full of wonder through the practice of “living inquiry” (Meyer, 2010). I want to have developed enough of a connection with each of my students such that even if they can not remember my name thirty years from now, they will remember how I made them feel about themselves: that they were worthy; they were remarkable; they were loved and they had something unique to offer our world.

[1] Content Note: Reflective Best Self Exercise:
Asked by Professor Cherkowski to solicit feedback from people in my life to help determine my Reflective Best Self, I wrote to friends and family:What do you think there is about me that will make me an effective educator? Some of you already know that I have returned to university for my Bachelor's of Education. Some of you may be floored. Some of you will be unconcerned, unsurprised or uninterested. Many will wonder if this means I am done with flying. I may return to helicopters in the summers. Maybe I will never work as a high school science teacher. Who knows what the future holds. Certainly not I! Right now though, is incredible. For the past 3+ weeks I have been immersed in an engaging and life-altering experience that should last through next June at least. I have received such extraordinarily positive feedback from my mentors, professors and colleagues: it feels like, for the first time in a desperately long time, I am involved in something that truly appreciates and celebrates my talents and is guiding me to better myself in all aspects. Can you tell me why you think I am going to be a fantastic teacher? Tell me a story. Describe a strength or characteristic of mine that speaks to teaching. How do you see me at my best?”
Reflective Best Self Respondents / Contributors:
·       Sandra Allen (Greater Vancouver Board of Trade Events VP; Former cruise ship supervisor)
·       Lana al-Kaznachi (International educator)
·       Liz Bernier (UCLA Outdoor Adventure bike shop manager; Princeton roommate)
·       Joseph Boyes (Retired mill worker; In-law in waiting)
·       Dr Kai Chan (UBC Professor: Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability; Father of two)
·       Brian Critchley (Yogi / Masseur; Fellow Princeton Pride (LGBTQA) educator)
·       Mary Darling (Retired CRA administrator; Aunt)
·       Blanca Gonzalez (Educator, BC; MEd; Fellow Right-to-Player)
·       Susan and Peter Hassall (International educators)
·       Maria Teresa Hervosa Gonzeira McLean (Accountant / Retail; Mother of two; Sister-in-law)
·       David Himmelman (International educator)
·       Ingrid Himmelman (International educator)
·       Lorraine Martens (Grandmother of 6; Former mother-in-law to former chief pilot)
·       Jeanette Merrick (Arborist)
·       Christin McDowall (Auditory Technician; Traveller)
·       Dee McEnery (Medical laboratory technician, UAE)
·       Katie McGinty-Botha (Special Olympics Virginia VP; mother of two; Fellow Right-to-Player)
·       Dr Amy McLean (Western Carolina University Professor: Clinical Psychology; Mother of three; Sister-in-law)
·       Neil Mueller (Fixed-wing bush pilot)
·       Gerry Nel (International helicopter pilot; Greenpeace activist)
·       Ultan Peters (Fellow rugby coach)
·       Selwyn Price (International educator)
·       Jiordana Robinson (International Woman of Mystery; elementary school classmate)
·       Samar Shera (Women’s empowerment advocate; writer; high school classmate)
·       Markus Schramm (Farmer; father of three; 100-hour helicopter pilot)
·       Cathy Stang (International educator)
·       Suzanne Turell (Innovative designer / architect; Rugby teammate)
·       Emily Wood (Lawyer; Mother of two; Rugby teammate)
·       Ross & Irene Walker (Business owners; In-laws in waiting)
·       Dr Jenny West (Retired RN / midwife; PhD; Aunt)

[2] Content note: This misogyny may seem surprising, given all my time in blatantly patriarchal countries, like the United Arab Emirates and Uganda, but it unfortunately proved true for me, albeit verboten for a female in the “old boys” rotary (wing) club

British Columbia Ministry of Education (2015). Building Student Success: BC’s new curriculum. Retrieved from: https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca 

Butler, D. L., Schnellert, L., & N. E. Perry (2016). Developing Self-Regulating Learners. Cajete, G. (2005). American Indian epistemologies. New Directions for Student Services, 109, 69-77.  

Draper, R. J. & D. Siebert (2010). Rethinking texts, literacies, and literacy across the curriculum. In Draper, R. J., Broomhead, P., Jensen, A.P., Nokes, J.D., & D. Siebert (Eds.) (Re)Imagining Content-Area Literacy Instruction. New York: Teachers College Press.

Jensen, A.P., Nokes, J.D., & D. Siebert (Eds.) (Re)Imagining Content-Area Literacy Instruction. New York: Teachers College Press. 

Dumont, H., Istance, D.,  & F. Benavides (eds.), (2010) The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD Publications, 2010.  

Jensen, E. (2005). Critical thinking skills. In Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 

Kessler, R (2000). Teaching presence. Virginia Journal of Education, 94(2). Downloaded, July 1, 2014: http://passageworks.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Teaching-Presence-Virginia-Journal-of-Ed-2.pdf?d1d008

Meyer, K. (2010). Living inquiry: Me, my self and other. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. 26(1). pp. 85-96. Moore, S. (2016). One Without the Other: Stories of Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion. Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press 

Nakkula, M.J. & Toshalis, E. (2005). “The Construction of Adolescence”, “Flow and Possibility Development” In Understanding Youth: Adolescent Development for Educators Boston: Harvard University Press. pp. 1-16, 61-77. 

Neufeld, G (2004). A Matter of Attachment. In Hold on to your kids. Knopf. pp. 16-39.  Noddings, N. (2013). Curriculum for the 21st Century. In Flinders, D. & S. Thornton’s, (Eds.) The Curriculum Studies Reader, 4th Edition, New York: Routledge. 

Palmer, P. (2000). Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.Palmer, P. (2007). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass Inc. 

Sousa, D. A., & Tomlinson, C. A. (2011) The Non-Negotiables of Effective Differentiation. Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom. USA: Solution Tree Press. 

Stengel. B. (2004) Knowing is response-able relation. In No education without relation. C. Bingham & A. Sidorkin (Eds.). New York: Peter Lang. pp. 139-152. 

Woolfolk, A., Winne, P. & N. Perry. (2015). “Learning, Teaching and Educational Psychology”, “Cognition, Development and Language”, “Self and Social and Moral Development” In Educational Psychology. (Sixth Canadian Edition). Toronto, ON: Pearson Canada. pp. 15-17, 25-51, 86-91. 

Wormeli, R. (2006) Differentiation and Mastery: The Differentiated Instruction Mind-Set: Rationale and Definition. Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. USA: Stenhouse Publishers. 

Various UBC-O professors (EDUC 405, 2016). Learning through Inquiry. (Blog post). Retrieved from: https://blogs.ubc.ca/educ4052016/guide-to-educ-405/learning-through-inquiry/  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Return to water

Last night I went in the water after sunset
Where the 2 rivers meet

Rough sand underfoot

I waited until fire centre released me
And the heat of the day had gone

Cool, twilit evening

Just me and the dark water
Nothing else under the surface

Fresh, swift current

Tinkling laughter echoes in the distance
Twisting, diving and dolphin kicks

Liberated, joyful dance

Last night I left the river after dark
Twinkling lights reflected

I return always, to water

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mountains in the Moonlight

I went outside
Just go outside
Look look
Either the cold
or the view
could've alone been responsible
for taking my breath away
But it was both
though it wasn't so cold
Cold for November 1
Wearing pyjamas and flip flops
with a fleece blanket like a parka
So it would be fair to say it was the view
a photo wouldn't do it justice
Maybe a painting but only one painted on the inside of a sphere
could compare to the scale and wonder that I saw
Words are wonderful and fluid and deep and emotive
but my words would never begin to pry out the melancholy and power
I saw
I can only hope these words will always be enough to remind me of what
I saw
But the lace of the night might slowly unravel
leaving my mind with just the hint of the extraordinary that
I experienced
Shadows across mountain cirques
tracing peaks
and peaks and peaks
and I imagined being colder and higher and closer to the earth than
I was
right there with my sandaled feet in the gravel of pad 1
And I wonder if I'll ever experience
such as I did tonight
Such poignant, cloud-fly-by, passing, shining
and though it may never return
to rest in front of my eyes
I so deeply wish that it will always rest
lightly and exquisitely
at the back of my mind
permeating my consicousness
Whenever I need a hint of otherworldliness
of sacred raw light
let me remember
oh please
Let me remember

Nov 1 2009
Cline River, Alberta, Canada

I post this now - many months after I wrote it late one glorious night....because I have a feeling and a hope that beauty and majesty will be in my life even more often now here in the North than perhaps ever before in my adult life.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Princeton-in-Africa Photography Book

In case you want to support a cause I believe in – the one that helped send me to Uganda for the first time with Right to Play – I thought I’d do a little shout out for the Princeton-in-Africa Photography Book. Put together in part by another Princeton Rugger who fell for the red mud of of the continent, it features a few of my own photos (so I’m told) and the profits go back into the fellowship program! Check it out at http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/152821

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Bottle-caps & Butterfly Wings

And on the mornings after the blissful nights when you were actually able to fall asleep and were free of dreams or even dreamt of sweet, simple things. On those mornings you awaken and all seems right in the world until all too soon the memory of why you have those hollows where healthy flesh used to be comes rushing back like a sudden wind through your forest of trees. A chunk has been ripped out of your heart. And you ask yourself that surely losing a chunk so large would be enough to kill you. But it doesn’t—the human body is so resilient—and you keep on living. Some days you wake up and the hole doesn’t seem as huge as it once was. Occasionally you just continue naively on, not questioning the small blessings in life. But other times you are not so quick to allow yourself reprieve. These mornings you turn the microscope inward and force yourself to search your heart. Those days you find the hole stuffed with all sorts of things. Things that surely should not help compose your heart. Thoughtful words and parts of candy bar wrappers. Blades of freshly mown grass and pages out of dusty first editions. Exoskeletons of cicadas and barnacles off bleached and weatherworn dock buoys. All manner of materials that have been healing into hearts for generations. But they do not seem right or worthy of the memory of your loss so you pick them out one by one. The fresh bleeding that ensues seems cathartic and just to you in your righteous mind. And it is only when you stop staring into your heart that fresh grass blows in to staunch the painful flow. It joins the other blades that had already healed over by the time you first thought to look deep inside yourself. Bottle-caps and wings of butterflies help to fill the void, until they too are ripped free during one of your cleansings, or are eventually left alone as you find other things to occupy your days that are not so punishing. Obliviously you move on. You may wash back to your tide of loss because there are still some mornings when you turn over in your bed and you feel a pit inside. You may not even recall how it got there. Eventually when you look inside, you won’t be able to see anything but tissue the colour of garnet and the faint outline of a cicada.

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Walk

Bilkent, Ankara, Turkey

I walk out and down a valley
A glance shows all is rough and wild
But evergreens fresh from a nursery
Belie the wilderness

Black irrigation hoses to trip over
Angry dog barks in the distance
But nothing spied in a few minutes
Curious search.
Continue descending.

A cut off hose is an unnatural spring
Spurting and trickling the water
Has built its own house
Unusual ice sculpture

I place a hand to understand the texture.
Press down. Drops extend away and I leave
A barely visible imprint when I
Eventually walk away
To see into a birds nest

In a twisted spiky tree.
There is a leap up and attempt to scale
A vertical living pole.
A skinned shin and white dusty clothes are the only result.

I wander some more and
Then walk back out of the valley.
Derelict outbuildings wait at the top
Exploring, I find
Tables and seats roughly assembled

Child’s play of house,
Or someone’s cold reality

Memories of adolescence
Floating to the surface
Of consciousness
Like warm air in winter

Shy hand holding on an orange-patterned seat
Between white water-tanks.
Shaded by dusty green and prickly acacia trees
Dirt on cement floor.
Sneaker-clad toe-scratching.

‘Lambada’ he says, ‘Do you know what
It means?’ Of course I do—I was the one who said it was
I love you
No matter that it isn’t.

But I only say ‘yes’ so quietly as
I turn away
Nervous but smiling.
But, ‘Do you know what it means?’—I want to ask him now.

For at school
Our neighborly friendship and courting
He ignores me and plays basketball
With his twin and friends instead.

No sign of Lambada
No dance for me at Valentines.
A lone card dropped on his doorstep
And a hasty, awkward escape after the bell is rung

With an arm cast to protect a broken wrist,
12 year old heart soon to join it.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

Streaming through the night

Gately on Nile
Jinja, Uganda
On the way to watch the Superbowl

Streaming through the night
On the back of a motor bike
Sunglasses on
Eyes wide open
Wind blowing
Surreal nostalgia down in the pit of the stomach
As friends and football wait at the end of the ride

Dark and cool Africa town
Pavement and pot holes
Like a silent soundtrack playing
To the wrong movie
You think
But it’s not

Just a different place to what you thought it was
Or maybe just a
Different side to the story you were living

Streaming through the night
Surreal and nostalgic light

This is now
This is home
For now

Right now this is home