Thursday, January 6, 2011

A caring adult makes the difference: Berlin trip

Welcome to 2011!
While the fellowship program is pretty much an 'off-the-record' experience -- it's not apropos for me to be writing and quoting every moment we experience for public consumption -- I've been using this space to write about some of the highlights. Our December travels definitely count among these.
Principal Ulf Schroder / Neumark-Grundschule
We had an opportunity to travel to the Neumark-Grundschule during our fellowship trip to Berlin Dec. 5-12, 2010. The school, built at the turn of the last century, is now in a central Berlin neighbourhood, surrounded by high-density housing. According to the principal, pictured above behind three of my colleagues, there are approximately 240 students registered. Approximately 98% of the student population come from immigrant families and either accompanied their families to Berlin or are first-generation to their new country. It's a small, urban elementary school -- nothing earth-shattering in that concept as there are countless small, urban elementary schools in this country and elsewhere around the world.
What I was most impressed by -- again, as I am whenever I see this during a school visit -- is how much of a difference one person can make. Ulf Schroder did his teacher-training placement at this school, has taught here for the bulk of his career and now leads this school. His wife also teaches in the building. A musician, he brought his passion for musical education into the school and the pair run two instrumental student orchestras, the Blue Elephants and the Green Elephants.
The students appeared engaged, enthralled even. Student achievement results, Schroder said, are on the rise.
As the group reflected on the visit, we kept coming back to Schroder. That school has developed into what it is because of who he is. What he's brought to the school. It was a delight to meet him and he was very accommodating with his schedule -- even allowing us to witness one of the Elephant groups play some short Christmas carols (Jingle Bells, if memory serves).
That, I've found, is also pretty universal. Get the right, caring adult in front of a classroom (or school) and it makes all the difference in the world when it comes to touching every aspect of school life. A caring adult was one of five key things for the healthy development of children when it comes to recreation (see Parks and Recreation Ontario's High Five program), it's no different in education.
We're off to Finland and Denmark in April under similar fellowship-travel arrangements, where I also hope to have a similar visit-- or at least a chance to speak with people about elementary / secondary education.

This semester is off to a flying start.
Thanks to the welcoming flexibility of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, I have been shadowing the year-four cohort (the first ever for this program) of the concurrent education program at OISE/UT. I won't be auditing all their sessions, but have been appearing at the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (for primary / junior) sessions as well as the Mentored Inquiry and Teaching (Victoria College cohort) sessions. With some of the other non-OISE courses I intend to audit and the leftovers from the Master's of Teaching Issues in Numeracy and Literacy from the fall term, January is going to be hopping. Given the OISE ConEd students are in a seven-week practicum starting in early Februrary (which I obviously don't do) the weeks ahead are going to be far more OISE heavy than the months following. The teacher candidates will just be flying though, as they complete about 30-35 hours of class a week and then go home and work on their homework assignments. It's intense, but then again, so is teaching.