Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fertilizing the Grass Roots

At today's Western RCAC Symposium, educators from across southwestern Ontario were called to engage with emerging tools in order to ensure learning is relevant to 21st Century learners. The audience was energized by keynote presentations by David Warlick and Amber MacArthur, but many left wondering: "Where do we begin?"

My personal suspicions are that most attendees will fail to make effective use of any of the many tools introduced today. Even with everyone recognizing that we have a long way to go: A significant knowing-doing gap will remain!

The conversations I overheard, tended to focus on problems:

"Our IT department won't let us!"

"My superintendent doesn't get it."

"We don't have enough money."

"Our computers are too old."

"The school networks are out of date."

"We still ban cell phones in school!"

"I've never even heard of RSS."

"The kids know more than we do."

"I don't have the time!"

Many discussions on the drive home, will no doubt focus on the need for change to come from the grass roots. Grass roots on their own, are just baby blades of grass; but get enough of them together, and we'll have a rich, think lawn.

My hope is that conversation will soon turn in this direction:

"Let me show you the great blog post I found!"

"I found a Canadian was nominated for an EduBlog Award!

"Have you seen David Warlick's conference handouts?"

"Look what I found when I Googled the 'wrcac08'!"

"I joined Twitter... and started following RCAC attendees like: redfearn, qdsouza, rdelorenzo, dougpete, and thecleversheep."

"I explored a wiki... and after reading, I even added a hyperlink!"

"I'm exchanging emails with a colleague I met at the symposium."

"Amber Mac's interview was a good reminder about the 3 C's"

If instead of filing our notes from the day, we perform some independent learning as a followup, we may find ourselves participating as members of a collaborative community that will bring much needed change to schools across southwestern Ontario.


Colin Jagoe said...

That's always the issue with these things, you get energized, get ideas and then the drag of the daily grind of education slows you down. I agree though that the best way is to continue to grow from the ground up. Slowly, we'll continue to open eyes to reality.

Rodd Lucier said...

It was refreshing to attend a conference where I had no responsibilities beyond learning and networking. It was a rich experience to learn alongside colleagues from my own PLN, but I left wondering how many would actively engage with others in followup...

Would've been great to see you here Colin! Maybe at Leading Learning?

Lorna Costantini said...

there are at least 2 canadians nominated for edublog awards.
Now the serious stuff - show a parent - convince them that their child will be left behind and everything will flow from that - education - education. I found a great window in the classroom.

Think how exciting it is that David Warlick was in London Ontario!!!

Rodd Lucier said...

Nice window Lorna!

I know of four Ontario Edublog Nominees:

Parents as Partners (Use of Audio)
Off the Record (Individual Blog)
The Clever Sheep (Educational Tech Support)
Portable PD (Group Blog)

Stephen Downes (Lifetime Achievement) is representing Eastern Canada...

There must be others!?

Rob said...

Well put Rodd. While it is very exciting to hear reaffirming words, the challenge, as you state, remains the same. Unless there is some formal supports put into place and a critical mass that are moved, it's unclear how far grassroots will push change. Two questions I've begun asking in my conference presentations are, "Is this new cultural phenomena making our school system obsolete? Will this, and should this, lead to more choice in how students are formally taught?" I am a firm believer in a strong publicly funded education system but relevancy is a serious issue and future extinction is a real danger that we face. How will we react?

I don't pretend that I have answers to these questions but they must be asked.


Anonymous said...

They do need to be asked, Rob. We certainly solved all of the ills of the world in our debriefing in the committee room after the event.

Unfortunately, it was a group where the change is an easy sell.

The real work begins on Monday when we head back to reality.

David Warlick said...

Thanks so much for this article. I don't remember, but it was probably you who asked, "So what are just three things I can take back...", and I didn't answer it very well.

I've already copied some of your post into 2¢ Worth and will add some thoughts to those comments -- while flying home ;-)

Thanks so much for continuing this conversation...

Mr. Byrne said...


All of the comments you overheard are also comments that I've overhead at conferences. Where I teach, these three comments are the most common:

"We don't have enough money."

"Our computers are too old."

"The school networks are out of date."

These are real concerns, however teachers that are creative and spend a little time looking can find free resources that will function well on 5-10 years old computers. The key to this happening is a school district filtering policy that creates a least restrictive environment. Lack of access to the Internet is bigger problem than old computers because the newest computer on a restrictive network is useless compared to an older computer on a less restrictive network.

David Warlick said...


I've just submitted a blog post on 2¢ Worth, where I try to address, in small ways, some of the comments that you overhead. The link is:


-- dave --