Make Learning Matter – Connect 2013

This morning I watched Canada AM as I got ready for my second day at Connect 2013.  The feature story was a profile on Pier 21.  It was great to hear stories about new immigrants coming to Canada.  It was comforting to hear stories from many different families that sounded like the the adventures of my grandparents.  Guests shared family experiences of poverty, ambition and success. 

About an hour later I arrived at the conference in time for the day’s keynote address by Robert Herjavec.  Serendipity: his speech began with the experience of his family moving to Canada from Eastern Europe.  He spoke of their hardships and the importance that his parents placed on education.  He mentioned that no matter how successful he became, his parents would always be proudest of the fact that he had graduated from university.  His learning, in their opinion was his greatest success.

I loved the anecdote. 

It made me think of my university commencement.  Long story short, I skipped it.  My parents were heartbroken.  At the time I didn’t get it.  It was my learning, not theirs, why would they care about it?  A few years later, my brother graduated from grad school. I went to the ceremony, and I was so proud of him.  Not only had he finished school, but he had come back and done more learning to better himself.  It made me realize that my learning, like his, was bigger than me.  Others were a part of my learning; that’s why my parents were upset that they couldn’t see me shake someone’s hand and throw a hat into the air.

I’m lucky to teach a very motivated and cool bunch of kids.  They’re seven and learning matters to them.  I regularly tell them that I’m proud of them, and they’ve taken to doing the same for each other.  They get it.  Every day is commencement for them.  They encourage each other to learn.  They challenge each other.  They’re stake holders in each other’s learning.

When I think about the great speakers I’ve had the chance to hear over the past two days – Kathy Cassidy, Dave Cormier, George Couros – I think I have found a tie that binds.  I have found some common ground that I want to add to my teaching.

I want to make student learning matter to the world… not just to one student or to a class.

I know that sounds cheesy, but good teachers do it all of the time.  Teachers like Kathy invite the world into their class for their kids to learn from (Astronauts, doctors, and grandmas).  Teachers like Dave “prepare students to deal with uncertainty” by making them navigate through messy concepts and messier networks of professionals.  Teachers like George encourage people to share their learning so that the world can benefit from their work.

Great teachers make learning matter.

As I write this, I’m thinking about the real world connections that I draw for my kids.  I know that I make learning matter to them, but how do I get them to make a difference in the world?

I took this photo last week because I thought it was a strikingly defiant image.  New life springing out of an empty bottle in the middle of the road…


Now I look at it differently.

Now I see life that some person nourished until it flowered, then shared with the world.  It makes the street and the world prettier, greener, more oxygenated, better.  In a not-so-abstract way, this is the direction that I want my teaching to take next.


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