I am a passionate, globally-minded educator who is driven to empower students to become critical democratic citizens who play an active role in creating a more just and sustainable world. I grew up in the multicultural milieu that is Toronto, Canada--between India Town, Greek Town, and one of the three Chinatowns, to be specific. My passports tell me I am Canadian and British, but my childhood context and opportunities for extensive travel, cross-cultural contact, and work abroad mean I identify more as a caring human being than anything else. I love exploring cities and mountains on foot or by bicycle, learning new languages, finding the best food stands or restaurants, and listening to the waves hit the shore. I've taught in small-town Japanese junior high schools, large, multicultural urban high schools in Toronto, in an early childhood education centre in a squatter community beside a garbage dump in Kingston, Jamaica, in a remote, rural, technology-averse fundamentalist German Mennonite community in Northern Alberta, and now at Pacific American School in Hsinchu, Taiwan, where I am Head of Social Studies.
Philosophy of Education
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Nelson Mandela's quote gets right to the heart of what it is I choose to do with my life and why I am so passionate about education. I teach not only because it is fun, challenging, and intellectually stimulating, I teach because education is so monumentally important. It matters so much for the growth, happiness, and future of the kids and parents I serve. More broadly, to the extent that I play a significant role in empowering students to develop the knowledge, skills, qualities, and ethical orientations that will allow them to go out and make a concrete, positive difference in the world, I help make the world a better place. To the extent that in doing so I help kids harness their creativity to materialize their dreams, I make it a happier place, too. For me, education is a weapon of peace, social justice, and human happiness.
I believe schools must be sites for creative expression and self-discovery, where students are guided to become increasingly self-directed in thinking critically about how, with whom, and why they will have a positive impact on the world as active global citizens. As an educator, I see my role as more of a learning coach or guide than as a teacher in the traditional sense. I believe my job is to understand my students as unique, creative individuals with varying motivations, interests, aptitudes, ethnocultural backgrounds, and levels of prior achievement, and to thereby orchestrate personalized and collaborative learning experiences to maximize their intellectual, social, and emotional growth. I do not simply impart what the curriculum states needs to be known, I help my students learn how to learn. Above all, I do my utmost to ensure my students meet my high expectations and are empowered to make their dreams come alive.
My practice is, and will always be, constantly evolving. Teaching is a craft that is both art and science. There is always room for creativity and improvement in course, unit, and lesson design; indeed, that is a big part of what makes teaching a continually exciting challenge. Yet, I believe strongly that teachers should not rely overly much on guesswork or even their own experience when making pedagogical decisions. Rather, I aim to align my teaching with solid research evidence and current best instructional practices. One of the most interesting findings from the educational research is John Hattie's distinction between "experienced" and "expert" teachers, and how belonging to the former category is not predictive of belonging to the latter. One reason for this, he argues, is that so much of what teachers do works. Just about every teacher can cite some evidence of student learning, even if all they do is stand in front of the room and talk all day. However, the reality is that not all practices work equally well. There are significant qualitative differences that arise from the employment of different instructional and assessment strategies, and I believe it is incumbent on all educators to become expert practitioners at those which the evidence shows helps kids the most. As educators, we can best do this when we work in highly collaborative, supportive contexts where professional development opportunities are abundant and all teachers hold themselves to high standards of professional practice and life-long learning.
One of the strongest and most consistent research findings is the powerful role played by formative assessment in the learning process. Based largely on the model provided by Dylan Wiliam, I expend a significant amount of energy helping students understand learning intentions through exemplar analysis, co-constructing rubrics, and engaging in peer- and self-assessment. These and other strategies for formative assessment, paired with timely, descriptive, and informative feedback, have been shown to be powerfully effective, and my students would agree. After all, if they don't know where they are expected to go, how to judge where they are relative to where they need to go, or how to get there, they are as good as lost in the woods without a map. Likewise with other well-evidenced best practices, by focusing on what has been shown to work best, I am able to help my students continually develop and get the results they wish to achieve.
However, there is one major domain where I have been devoting considerable effort and attention that the evidence does not yet necessarily support: educational technology. The fact is that in 2014 we do not yet have a strong sense of how best to use technology to improve student learning. One of the challenges stems from the fact that technologies have been so rapidly changing and the vast majority of the research has been conducted on classroom applications of inferior technologies. The other implication of the rapidity of change is that there has not yet been enough experimentation with edtech nor enough systematic research on it. That said, I feel such research will eventually emerge for a number of reasons. First, edtech is no longer the major distractor it once was, for kids have learned to self-regulate (some better than others) as "digital natives" who have never known life without the web. Second, edtech at the very least is, when deployed well, incredibly engaging, which itself is a variable strongly linked to student success. Third, it provides opportunities for creative information synthesis through movie-making, app-smashing, and the like, that I simply never had access to as a kid. The sustained nature of such production puts it in Webb's DOK Category 4 and the highest level in Bloom's (revised) Taxonomy, and we know having greater opportunities for critical thinking is related to student learning. Finally, regardless of any direct correlation between edtech and student achievement, we have an obligation to prepare students for a future where the only certainty--apart from perhaps the ubiquity of technology in the workplace--is uncertainty itself. We have no idea what kinds of roles and careers our students will have in the future, but I am certain that most of those in a knowledge-based economy will require basic tech literacy. Thus, to deprive students of such opportunities would be doing them a disservice, indeed.
Finally, and I regret that it is so often an after-thought for me these days, I really believe very strongly that education, even through schooling, should not be confined within the four walls of the classroom. I believe young people should be given opportunities to grow not only as academically capable students, but also as holistic beings whose social, emotional, physical, and spiritual attributes are in balance with the cognitive. There are many ways to support the growth of students holistically. Experiencing nature has profound positive effects on many students, and I have seen many "unexpected leaders" emerge when opportunities have arisen while camping, horseback riding, or camping in the Rockies. Supporting students through service learning is clearly another way their skills as effective communicators, critical thinkers, and caring contributors can develop. Indeed, if we hope for our students to become active global citizens, providing opportunities to construct such identities is arguably one of the most important things we can do. A third, much more introspective area is one I explored considerably during graduate school at OISE: embodied learning. Helping young people reflect on their automaticity through mindfulness strategies that focus attention in the present moment allows them to become more conscious (re)constructors of habits and thereby become better self-managers and more effective learners. As I move forward in my career, I hope to find better ways to empower students through such learning modalities.
As I continue down my own learning path, I will continue to be guided by passion, empathy, a drive to serve, and a professional commitment to using evidence, experimentation, and self-reflection to further develop expertise as an international educator, and thus play my small part in making the world a more socially just, sustainable, and happy place for us all.