What Would Mike Say?

A friend messaged me today out of the blue. She was in CELP when I was in Headwaters, in 2009. She said she was thinking of her next steps and asked “what would Mike do?” We exchanged a few messaged reminiscing about Mike’s mischievous ways, his smile, and sense of peace and optimism with life. It reminded her of the book Why is God Laughing? (because he gets the joke). It reminded me of the book The Music Lesson (where a music teacher, Mike, makes a journey out of the point of music). These connections to literature remind me of quote Paul pulled from Halfway Man about weaving landscape and narrative. I felt deeply moved by this brief conversation, and, naturally, it sparked a flurry of memories for me. I re-read the 2010 Pathways issue, Zocalo’s blog post from 2015, sifted through photos, only to arrive here, my own journey through writing.

I have to admit, I’ve never stopped to ask myself what a conversation with Mike might be like today. I have been so focused on finding my own mentors, carving my own journeys, and creating my own communities that I never really thought about what he’d have to say about it all. I feel like he’d probably tell me to have more fun.

“So… what’s in the news?” he’d say, with a smirk and arms outstretched, briefly, only lowered to pull one leg over the over and sit with his hands clasped. He’d wiggle his nose, blink, and then tilt his head to the side and wait for one of us to speak up.

Mike, the news right now is wild. I had to stop tuning in daily because it feels like a constant crisis. I think if you were here during this pandemic you’d be in full force to get people outside. More access to trails and rivers and trees, I’d think.

I wonder if you would have made a new trail somewhere in Arkell/Eden Mills since they are getting so busy. Perhaps maintain the popular ones. Or spend time in a tent somewhere.

I’m sure you’d have things to say about the whole stove-in-the-winter-tent issue that came up last year. Warmth, after all, was the point of a hot-tent.

You would not believe that the other day I told my friend about The Hero’s Journey. It came up naturally in conversation and I probably butchered the description. But the wild thing is that the next day she read about it in the book she’s reading. That prompted me to get the audiobook. I feel like you’d tell me to find a physical copy somewhere.

I returned home, Mike, 10 years after we embarked on our journey to The Source. But I’m still returning. I think that this is the fourth story that you told Paul hadn’t happened yet. It’s all your students returning home, in their own time. We trickle back, one by one, to visit the old places that were so sacred. Edgewood. The boathouse for ice cream. Your solo spot. Sacred places from sacred journeys.

I live by the river now, by the way. Close to the mill where we did our interview. Imagine I could interview you today?! You’d give me such fantastic prompts, challenges, and insights to wrestle with, I’m sure. You’d probably tell me to be a musician instead of a scholar. Music was important to you. I think you’d like the role of pedagogical consultant though. I get to mentor other people, hopefully. And I think you’d like what’s happening in early learning in terms of emergent curriculum, pedagogical documentation, and risky play. We would have some fascinating conversations.

I’ve learned so much wisdom from Paul, you know. He doesn’t carry your relationship lightly. He is moved, deeply, by his love for you. We all are.

“We were so in love with each other”. That rings in my ears from time to time. It’s something my friend said to me a year ago, at an Outdoor Ed conference, as we reminisced about you back then. That was the magic you created for us in your programs. It was beyond community and activism. It was poetry. It was belonging. It was transformational.

I wonder what you’d think of this blog and my writing. My songs. My presentations. My research. My work ethic. My break down a few years ago. I wonder if I would have ever attended COEO in 2020 or if it would have happened at a different time. I wonder if I would have never failed Uni Geography. I wonder if I would have gone to Queens. I wonder, if you had lived longer, when I would have returned home. I suspect it would have been so much later.

Noticing my own sense of wonder makes me proud. I feel like it would make you proud, too.

Your sense of wonder is one of the things that sustains me today. Alongside your hard work was your visionary style, compassionate leadership, and commitment to reflection and documentation. Reading your writing today demonstrates how deeply you had journeyed with your ideas. You showed us that at 17 we could get published, noticed even, if we journey to the source and offer something meaningful for our community. You showed us that we had the strength, ideas, and endurance to create innovative solutions to the world’s problems. You made us into the farmers, engineers, entrepreneurs, partners, architects, teachers, nurses, and community partners we are today because, to you, were always those things.

Thank you for showing me the power of an authentic educator, father, lover, and community dweller.

Micro-Teaching Session – Revisited

What went well and what didn’t go well?

I ended up changing quite a bit of my lesson based on the feedback I got and the personal reflecting I did afterwards. I think I made a good choice to really focus on one small element of the content and to provide more space for the learners to self-reflect. That in turn felt more aligned with Indigenous pedagogy, because the learners were able to draw upon their own knowledge sources to contribute to the lesson. I got feedback that my choice not to use slides ended up being effective in creating some human connection and reflection over zoom, rather than just a one-way channel of information exchange.

I was unsure how it would feel for the learners to move between zoom and the Jamboard that I used. I tried to direct the learners to specific parts of the Jamboard when necessary, and my feedback told me that that was quite useful. While this was nice to hear, I realized that my commitment to not using slides does not necessary mean that I achieve the outcome I desired. I tried to created a less hierarchical learning environment or a more relational space without slides – but it only felt like that happened the second time (I got much better feedback the second time I implemented the same strategies, which tells me that being an effective educator really is a unique blend of so many characteristics and strategies). By not using slides, it meant that students were leaving the zoom space to look at and access the Jamboard. This strategy could have easily perpetuated the same dynamics that I was trying to avoid and that I felt were not aligned with Indigenous pedagogy as I currently know it. Therefore, I acknowledge that a challenge of trying to learn about, foster, and implement Indigenous pedagogical strategies is that it can actually be much more personal than other pedagogical philosophies or strategies. It was my own humanity, it seems, that sparked some reflection and connection for the learners. This makes me wonder about how else I can try to foster connection, relationships, and belonging in my learning spaces.

With this knowledge, I must also acknowledge that this is an on-going learning journey that I am on. How I have chosen to initially attempt to implement these strategies may be wildly different in 3 years. In the future, I plan continue to create and consult my list of pedagogical strategies that I’ve been making as part of my goals – not to hoard knowledge, but so that I can draw upon a bank of a variety of strategies depending on what the learning outcome is for a particular lesson. Since seeing my talk without slides was helpful for sparking reflection, how might I chose to introduce a different topic with a different outcome? And how might that topic and/or strategy align or contrast with what I’ve learned about Indigenous pedagogy?

What have you learned about your teaching or you as an instructor through this process that is different from your first delivery?

What a gift it is to have space to try something twice, after receiving feedback. It was so valuable to be able to hear my peers’ feedback and to make adjustments to meet their needs. Without their feedback I would have had to guess what worked and what didn’t. The most valuable realization I’ve had about myself, is that I want to have “space” in my teaching style for learners to reflect, engage, and “linger in generative space”. It doesn’t feel right for me to always be talking, telling, and convincing. Sometimes I want learners to convince each other. Sometimes I want someone to think differently after a provocation or invitation. I want learners to be able to have space to wonder, ponder in reverence, and to have affective experiences, not just cognitive ones. These insights are not necessarily new to me, because I have been trained to think this was as an ECE, but finding ways to translate that into higher education is what I have learned in this course.

Unfortunately, it seems that there aren’t many organic opportunities for feedback to occur within my grad school training. But since I’ve recognized the value of seeing if my intentions translated to impact, what I can do is to intentionally create or engage in those feedback opportunities. In the future, this means continuing to seek feedback on my teaching, through having an observer, through presenting to peers, through using feedback tools like Qualtrics surveys, and through ongoing professional development in the area of SoTL (not just my content areas).

What did you change or improve upon based on the feedback you received from your first delivery?

After much thought, I decided not to include the feedback related to rethinking my lack of slides. But what I did instead is add information to the Jamboard so that learners could follow along visually if they wanted that. I was really concerned with wanting the learners to have visual access to the information after I got feedback about my lesson not feeling structured, and wanted to find a way to resolve my competing interests in way that still felt aligned with the Indigenous pedagogical strategies I was using. This felt like a good way to compromise and include some of both methods (and it was brought to my attention that in person this would be different because I could just give a hand-out). I chose to copy and paste some key information into the chat on Zoom, such as the learning outcomes and the quotation I used as my bridge in.

I noticed that last time I didn’t feel like there was enough thinking and reflective space for the learners so I took out 2 sections of my content, and instead focused on the what epistemology is, rather than different epistemological orientations. I was quite rushed last time and didn’t feel like I left learners with a clear message or idea. Whereas this time, the simplicity brought with it a focus that all learners could engage with.

I chose to take out my pre and post assessment for the sake of time and simplicity, and opted to use the Zoom reaction feature for some feedback about student’s knowledge. I got some helpful feedback that doing that in a large class might be problematic due to anonymity, number of reactions, and not being able to compare the results. I really appreciated this, and it got me thinking about the value of engaging with the same group of learners and peers so that in our space answering my question in a non-anonymous way didn’t feel intimidating. What I mean by this is I wonder if having small break out rooms with the same people each week could allow learners to create a small community of practice for themselves, and a safe space to be themselves, grapple with content, and learn authentically. It’s funny how feedback about a Zoom reaction ended up making me reflect on the larger learning environment and sense of belonging.

For my future work, I am really pondering how and where I can find “space” in my lessons to allow for active self-reflection, engagement, and the creation of some sense of community. I really have valued that classes I have been a part of that offer a space that I feel I can contribute to and that moves at a pace that lets me grapple with things that are just beyond my current knowledge. I’m quite happy with how my second less went, and I would love if I could re-create that effect in other spaces that I enter as an educator. I have started to think about what I would need in order to recreate the success I felt, and part of it includes knowledge of my learners (which I may or may not have). As Dale said, sometimes we make pedagogical and universal design decisions based on the learners once we have a relationship with them. I’m thinking about where and when I can create that rapport and culture. But I’m also thinking about how I will have to seek feedback from my students within a single lesson, unit, or semester, in order to make these appropriate adjustments. Since it’s unlikely that I give the same lesson twice to a group of learners, I am trying to think about how else I can receive feedback for times when I give a second lesson on different content or with a new group of learners.

What would you have done differently if you had another chance to deliver it again

I would make my active learning task even more simple. I so badly wanted to push learners to think beyond the traditional academic frameworks of knowledge, but I’ve realized that I may have to let some of that go (or make it more explicit as part of my learning outcomes). Because with this being part of the hidden curriculum, it made that last activity is bit muddy. As part of my future practice, I want to be fairly clear on what I want learners to learn and why, and I don’t want there to be additional information or a hidden agenda. I might have to continue to reflect upon my own values and how I can suspend them in order in places where appropriate. I don’t really believe I can be a fully objective educator, but I believe I can work form a pragmatic place such that I can support learners in their own journeys rather than convince them to follow mine. In that regard, this is a challenge that I am still grappling with, especially on a topic like Indigenous pedagogy because it is a topic that can be “mastered” by a white person, not something learned in a set amount of time, and there definitely is not a mapped out curriculum in order to become competent in this area. It is a messy and ongoing journey of un-learning and re-learning, and a journey that perhaps is not for everyone.

Addtionally, I wish I had asked for feedback about what it meant for me as a white cis-woman to be delivering a lesson using Indigenous pedagogy. I would like to know if it felt extractive. That felt like an icky thing for me to be doing and something I need to continue to reflect upon and seek support on in my future as a culturally-responsive, relationship-based educator.