Friday, 27 April 2018

The time I got up early to say goodbye

As you head into retirement, it's hard not to think about your career. So many memories.

The time I started as a marker. My first memory was of how poorly paid I was. I drove all the way to Barrhead at my own expense to complain about the lack of money I was getting. The irony is not lost on me. I then applied for a teaching job writing course materials for English under Chris's leadership. After writing English 13 and 33, someone phoned and said he had been told to tell me to apply to teach Social. 

The time I co-wrote an English course with a marvelous seasoned teacher, Marvin. Marvin and I convinced our bosses we should create both online and print courses, moving away from the old model where DLRB- a government branch, at times far distanced from recent classroom instruction-wrote the course materials. It was a pioneering move to create print and online courses that mirrored one another and it was great fun to work side by side with this wise and innovative teacher. I went on to English 20-1 online, creating course content and marking student work for a hand-selected bunch of kids. To this day, I think that was the best course I ever wrote as I was so aware of the impact of each lesson. 

The time my family went to Vietnam for summer vacation and Pat insisted you take a whole ton of ADLC materials, paper, pencils and more to give to the kids over there.

The time Michelle and Danielle and I started some kind of crazy club called "OLE". We held dress up days - my favourite being "Pyjama Day" where kids were supposed to email us pictures of themselves in their PJs. An in-joke based on the misconception that all telecommuters spend the whole day in their pyjamas. I also started a book club with kids aged 12-18.  Kids voted for a book, we all read it and then we met on Fridays via Centra Symposium to discuss. We had a Christmas party where I posted lyrics to Christmas songs on the whiteboard and everyone sang their hearts out in the privacy of their own homes. Cameron (now an astrophysicist with a PhD from the Netherlands) was taking German and asked if he could sing "Silent Night" which he performed impressively in a deep man-voice. This same group of kids, a year or so later, decided they wanted to do a real time campout. By now, most of them were in grade 11 and their parents were going with them, but they needed someone to pay the campground deposit which I volunteered to do. I was re-reimbursed and they all had a wonderful time but I did get a slap down from Pat for getting involved in an unsanctioned event at which no teacher was present. 

The time I sent an email to All Staff saying there were fresh cookies at my desk and a new teacher ran all around the office looking for them until someone told her I worked from my home office in Slave Lake.

The time Danielle and Lise and I did a presentation for Online Symposium and then again at teachers' convention. We called it "Traditional Schmaditional- Come See the New Face of Online Learning." We found ourselves all too amusing as we created Powerpoint slides with images of Barbies in many educational poses.  I can honestly say I had more laughs creating that presentation than anyone has a right to on a work day. If I am not mistaken, we might have even worn our PJs when we made that presentation, much to Ralph Helder's embarrassment. However, I also heard him say "when teachers like these come up with ideas-all you can do is stand back and get out of their way."

The time I became a member of the  Provincial Advisory Committee on the new Social curriculum. I knew what was coming and our department convinced the powers that be that we should create our own courses, without a textbook, in time for the official implementation of the new curriculum. We did just that as I searched high and low for great images, videos, maps and other source materials and Diane tried to find someone to sign off on their use. The other teachers in my department graciously took over my class list to allow me the time to write. I was so enthused about this work that I emailed my assessments to teachers across the province, and even now I occasionally find a Social 10-1 assignment on some other school's website, thanks to Course Hero. A year after the course rolled out, we set up meetings with markers and partner teachers in outreach schools. We met as a collaborative group of about 15 teachers and went through the assessments one by one, taking suggestions for improvement.

The time a "formal" tea party was hosted for a retiring boss and one of my colleagues got told he wasn't dressed fancy enough so he made a tie out of construction paper and sat at his desk all afternoon instead of attending the party.

The time I took a secondment with Alberta Ed to help them create provincial materials for Social. This was around 2008. Alberta Ed had never created an online course, apparently believing that online learning was a flashy gimmick that wouldn't catch on. It was not until ADLC and other online schools had been delivering online instruction for nearly a decade that they got on board. Course development meetings had 17 people involved. I drove to Barrhead 34 times that year. Seconded teachers wrote content in MS Word that was converted to PDF, sent to the editor who literally wrote on it with a blue pencil, sent it back to the teacher, who added notes to the PDF- then to a whole other department who converted the document into Front Page. For teachers who worked out of the office, these pages were physically printed off and carried from desk to desk in a metal tray. The fact I could write content myself in Front Page-eliminating three steps in the process- was poo-pooed by the head of development. 

The time I begged to come back to ADLC. Soon I was writing Social 30-1. We had learned a lot about instructional design. By then, many ADLC courses were being created in print and online formats in-house. Our department came up with a brainwave part way through the development- why not make the print and online identical so kids could just move back and forth? This meant that our outstanding DDU person Kelly had to go back and revise the first half of the course, which she did cheerfully and without complaint. We also started using our exceptionally experienced markers to support the course creation. Bob wrote items, Larry wrote automated question feedback, Wayne wrote keys. It was truly a group effort.

The time Randy as department head promoted the idea of blueprinting all our exams and revising them to mirror diplomas. He had to fight for funding for this process, as Jason told him "You guys have had your hand in my pocket long enough!" But Jason caved and the blueprinting took place.

The times I conducted staff polls about provincial and federal election and Olympic projections,almost always won by Bryan.

The time Larry as department head came up with a new idea- one marker per online course. The benefits to students and teachers were substantial. He played with numbers till he got something workable. Lo and behold if that idea did not bear fruit, with completions increasing something like 11 to 18 % depending on the course.

The time I sat on the KSAs of an Online Teacher Committee where Pat, Pat, Patti, Alanna, Barb and others had so many deep conversations as we tried to translate the document which was devised for classroom teachers into distance ed language.

Most recently, the Social department piloted the "no marker" model. Many lessons were learned in this experiment. And now ADLC finds itself moving headlong into a school-wide implementation of this model, the implications of which have not been fully explored. 

As I look back at what was supposed to be a summary of my time at ADLC, the one thing that comes through is that none of these things could have happened without a team of people pulling together. Teachers, support staff, tech support, partners, markers and administrators, all working together in the best interests of our students. ADLC, from the very first day I began work, has been a team and I feel privileged that I have been a part of it. As Lise said last week, "We have had an amazing run."

Truly, the best of times.
On my very first day at work nearly 20 years ago, there was a luncheon for a retiring teacher who had spent his life in distance education and had brought in many innovations.

I felt weird going to his luncheon since I didn't know him. 

But as he talked about ADLC, he very graciously mentioned ME as the most recently hired person. Someone who would carry the torch forward. I always thought that when I retired, I would mention the people who had just been hired. I was excited to pass the torch to Jennifer, Wayne, Nicole and Corvin, our most recent Social Studies hires. I knew they would move ADLC forward with their own brand of creativity, compassion, innovation and professionalism.  

That was not to be.

I can only hope that as ADLC moves on, teachers and support staff will be allowed to innovate and create and experiment. That they will wake up every morning excited to start work. That they will move forward, knowing they are part of something that matters in this province.

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