My Grandma used to tell a story about how when I was a young she would take me for a walks to help learn about the world; meet new people, see new things. We never made it past the end of the block, as she would lovingly retell “it took us three hours just to get that far because you touched and tasted every damn thing you passed until you knew exactly what it was”. But she didn’t stop me because I was learning, and a method of understanding I notoriously had throughout my younger years. However, it was technique I had to lose as I entered public school and not everyone cared for their stuff being tasted.
In a way it’s a shame that I wasn’t allowed to keep experiencing school through my taste buds. I mean, it’s probably healthier this habit was squashed so early on, but I like to wonder what I could have learned if I hadn’t been forced to fit in that box from the start. The lights that could have been flicked on, the discoveries I could have experienced if I had not been forced to stop doing things my way and be ‘more normal’.
Which is, unfortunately, what so much of education has become – pushing people into categories and boxes. It’s a system premised on giving you a quantified measure of how you stack up against your peers. Throw in hormones and finding out what second-base is and it’s no wonder the stress of school leaves so many individuals sour.
As a student I was lucky, because I fit within the perimeters of the system — I was smart enough, laughed enough, stayed out of the way of the right people, and came out relatively unscathed (despite not being able to taste most things). And I’m lucky when it comes to education as I have a twice-baked opinion, having the opportunity to do it all again as a teacher. But getting to go through a second time with a different perspective opened my eyes in a way that they can’t be closed again.
While school worked for me as a student, I get why some people’s experience is not as awesome; everything about being a teacher has shown me that there cannot be a prescriptive ‘right way’ to learn in any setting, no boxes will ever work. That having a collection of individuals put in one room necessitates diversity in lessons and ideas, and how they are communicated. It should be an institution of working together and innovation, but unfortunately, these are the ideas traditional education doesn’t have time to deal with.
In University you’re taught these amazing innovations of education, these new ways to engage students, to help them access materials, to make each learners day special and important and not just feel like they’re trying to get the right boxes checked off. What they don’t teach you is that schools are not ready for these sorts of changes, and most of your innovations will be met with ‘no’ and ‘stop’ before they’re even out of your mouth. And as a recent graduate, it is extremely disenchanting that the educational profession was, once again, not letting me work my way, to my potential.
Enter ICOM. The lens of education may be shifted, but here is a place that has let me spread my wings as not only as a teacher, but as a learner. As a learner I’m challenged daily on the best way to think about and execute my ideas – collaborating to make positive change rather than finding ways to make old solutions fit new problems. As a teacher, my ideas are welcomed and embraced as I’m privileged to work with our whole team who have education as their focus – not grades, not pass/fail ratios, not worrying about whether this is ‘how it’s been done before’, but education. Authentic education.
With ICOM, I’m able to truly teach and to truly learn, like I’ve been once again invited to keep touching and licking every damn thing I pass until I understand it – it might not be conventional, but hell, that’s ICOM.
Rob Sanderson is an Instructional Designer and Project Manager and is based in Calgary,