Saturday, April 18, 2015

A retrospective for #rhizo15--subjectively speaking

This retrospective is something I'm posting because I'm:
  • not sure how else to provide an introduction piece for #rhizo15
  • hoping it'll further my own understanding of how I got here
  • sure it'll be highly subjective 

I grew up in a small, rural town in Ontario, Canada. Very early on, I got the sense that there was much more out there, and I'd do well to "get outta Dodge" and seek experiences in the larger world.

 A month after my 18th birthday, I dropped-out of high school, packed-up what belongings I could fit into a backpack, and hitchhiked the 3250 km to Calgary.  This adventure was filled with experiences--some more positive that others--and drove home the realization: I really  learn when I'm pushed out of my comfort zone.

My experience on road construction, as a surveyor's assistant, landed me a similar gig working on seismic exploration crews, based out of Calgary. We spent the fall working hot-shot (per-diem) living out of motels in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan), and in the winter, after freeze-up out of camps (Northern Alberta, and NWT (as it was known then)) settings. This led to many more learning opportunities--perhaps chief among these being: "remaining in a remote camp for a month can result in 'cabin fever.'" 

I'd already planned to return to school for the winter semester, and I can tell you the month straight in camp did nothing to undermine the decision. This marked the first time a job experience sent me back to school. 

My return to school lasted until just after basketball season ended. It was then I retired from high school, for the second and last time, and returned to Calgary.

On the return to Cowtown, I decided it'd be a better idea to find a gig that would allow me to actually live and work in the city itself. Responding to a help wanted ad for "management trainees" resulted in me becoming a 3rd-party commercial bill collector. Perhaps the best thing I can say about this is that my teenage self had no real concept why this might have been a bad idea from day one. "Ever since a bad day at work" has had an entirely different context.

Following a couple of years, and transfers to Edmonton and Toronto, this was the second job experience which sent me back to school. This time as a non-matriculated pre-university student at Woodsworth College--University of Toronto. What awaited in the working world ensured that I was a much more motivated learner than I'd been on my first return to school. I began night classes in the spring, and was a full-time undergrad at New College by the fall.

After completion of my undergrad (in English) I returned to the my home town to be with my father, prior to his death from cancer. I'll spare you all the gory details and just say that I'll forever be grateful for the opportunity to at least begin remediation of the relationship we shared before he was claimed by this particularly nasty disease.

It was also during this time that I got my first experience as an educator. I signed-up on the supply teacher list at a high school in my home town. My first day was with a "special education" class comprised of "behaviourally exceptional" students intent on making short work of the newest candidate for the position of Mr. Spence's substitute at the school. It was mid-October and I was the 10th contestant

After day one, I visited the office to return the classroom key. The school secretary asked, "How was your day?" She seemed a little puzzled when I responded, "great, have me back any time...." (It was only later that I found out that I'd been the 10th contestant!)

By the end of that school year, I'd been hired as the permanent supply teacher, and had been designated at the principal's proxy for discipline at the school. I'm especially proud of this fact, because:

  • I was hired as a non-Catholic by a Separate school board--apparently very rare
  • I was able to make a positive impact at the classroom, school, and board levels
  • I did all this without a teaching certificate
I moved on to youth work following this, and remain an advocate for youth who've be labelled, ghettoized or otherwise marginalized. In more recent times, this involvement has been, and is, on a volunteer basis with various employment, mental health, social service initiative--both at the board, and "front line" level. 

My mother taught me very early that volunteering and contributing to your community is a critical aspect of being a citizen. My first formal volunteer position was a member of the Gatineau Zone: Canadian Ski Patrol System--the only zone in the country which permitted recruits as young as 16 years of age.

To this day, it grates when someone tells me they're "giving back." It's all I can do not to scream:


The mid-90s represented yet another return to Calgary. Ultimately, this led to another job experience resulting in a return to school. I'd decided that given the opportunities, it'd be a good idea to secure employment in the recreation sector. Calgary is the closest major centre to some of the best recreational opportunities on the planet, year round. I settled on golf and skiing, with a side helping of snow boarding--which brings us....

The precipitous learning opportunity took me WAY outside my comfort zone. I'm here to tell you a broken wrist will do that. I learned it's very good idea to always wear wrist guards when snowboarding. I also learned:

  • there's an acronym for this type of injury: FOSH (fall outstretched hand)
  • the scaphoid bone's blood supply makes it particular susceptible to avascular necrosis
  • this type of injury takes a long time (12 wks) to heal and/or often requires surgery 
The day before I'd signed-on to work year-round for the company which owned the resort in question, along with a series of others. Six weeks later, when I showed up to work summer lift maintenance with a cast on my wrist, their occupational health and safety department wouldn't let me on site and I was laid off. I ended-up at the employment insurance office to file for benefits and to see what options there might be for education/retraining. This led to enrollment in a fast-track, object-orientation software engineering (OOSE)program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

My OOSE certificate, BA in English, and practical experience in education led to various technical writing, curriculum development, facilitation and training gigs for corporate, educational, government, non-governmental organizations audiences. It was during this time that I became the Training Developer by SMART Technologies Inc or, as I was fond of calling myself, "Employee Zero" of their training department. It also prompted the latest entry on my "return to school job experience" list. While at SMART I applied to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT) to complete a M.Ed degree in Curriculum, Teaching and Learning with a specialization in Computer Applications. I choose this program since it would allow me complete degree requirements remotely, while also travelling 80% of the time conducing face-to-face training sessions for SMART (if you attended a SMART Board interactive whiteboard Masters Session in North America between 2001 and 2004 there's a good chance we've already met ;-)

I have to end there (thank goodness exhaled the .0004% of you who've made it this far) and will be back with more regarding the last decade, although much of that may be found scattered across various communities, networks and spaces of the world wide web. And, especially in terms of how I got here, I'd be remiss if signed-off without at least mentioning my introduction to Jeff Lebow and Dave Cormier and EdTechTalk a decade ago.


Barry Dyck said...

Thanks for sharing your narrative and providing your learning context. I have no SMART experience, so I'll have to look here for you to share your smarts.

Unknown said...

The potential intro via SMART board training seems somehow ironic and simultaneously counterintuitive! But that's just my wandering brain. Thank you for sharing your life!

Unknown said...

Thanks Barry and Susan,

Appreciate your feedback! Have a great weekend

Vanessa Vaile said...

I almost got stuck in the seismic crew section but only because I spent my early childhood years with a doodlebug crew and don't often come across references.

I wonder how many of us share that wandering / exploring pattern and how much it might have predispose us to accept (even prefer) the uncertainty

SarahH said...

Wow, what a story. Thanks for sharing it :)

Unknown said...

Thanks Vanessa, I think you're onto something regarding the predisposition to explore/wander and comfort with uncertainty. Your comment got me researching "doodlebug"--my initial assumption was it was synonymous with" jug hound" but it seems to be a more all-encompassing term, referring to the entire operation.

Unknown said...

Thanks, and my pleasure Sarah. Thanks for reading & commenting

Unknown said...

Thanks, and my pleasure Sarah. Thanks for reading & commenting

Unknown said...

Thanks Vanessa, I think you're onto something regarding the predisposition to explore/wander and comfort with uncertainty. Your comment got me researching "doodlebug"--my initial assumption was it was synonymous with" jug hound" but it seems to be a more all-encompassing term, referring to the entire operation.

Maha Bali said...

I think you just demonstrated the embodiment of what happens when we don't know where we are going, but embrace opportunities that come our of my close friends worked for SMART, shortly after 2004 like 2006 maybe. Too bad he missed meeting you? Or did he?

Unknown said...

Thanks Maha, I don't know that I met your friend, since I left SMART in the first part of 2004. But as mentioned elsewhere in relation to this post, it's a small world, so you never know....