The Day ‘Student Voice’ Almost Died

Thankfully, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been reprimanded during my career in education. But during the late-1990’s – at about the time the provincial Conservatives were deep into slashing and burning education and health care budgets – I decided enough was enough.

It was the Harris Tories’ threat to kill the stand alone grade 11 media studies course that made it personal and put me over the edge. The death of this course would have meant the end of a golden opportunity for many of my academically challenged students to graduate. You see, that course, for many, represented a chance to earn a ‘5th English credit’ that students needed to graduate with their Ontario Secondary School Graduation Diploma.

Not only that, the media course contained content (movies, music videos, magazine/tv advertisements etc.) in which most were deeply engaged and immersed on a daily basis. Students who wouldn’t dare dream of raising their hand in Algebra or History class – felt at ease and in complete control when analysing a music video or Superbowl TV spot in media class.

mass media & pop culture

Through such a course – they were able to ‘pull back the curtain’ on pop culture and get a valuable glimpse into how and why various media are able to effectively use marketing and cinematic techniques to construct meaning, manipulate and control an audience.

So upon learning that the government was intent upon gutting the media literacy credit – without consulting teachers or students – I got mad, then I got inspired. What if my students and I actually staged a media event (silent protest) to make others aware of this threat?

I sprang the idea on my students the next day and took a vote to see if they were interested in my plan. All were in favor (by show of hands) of: inviting the local media to our class, wearing black clothing and duct tape across their mouths (both optional – to symbolize that they were silently mourning the fact they had not been consulted in the decision to axe their course). Most of the class time would be spent writing and editing letters to their local MPPs expressing their thoughts at the government’s decision.

Of course, once the media arrived and the school’s administration discovered what was happening in Redfearn’s media class – guess who was summoned to the office and, not surprisingly, ‘raked over the coals’?

As I sat sheepishly in front of the admin team of three and endured their rebukes and indignation – I empathized with them. They were completely blind-sided by my actions. Yet, had I tipped them off before hand – I risked having the protest squashed before it began. Their biggest concerns – that they were not consulted and that the ‘image of the school’ would be adversely affected. Seeing students’ mouths bound with duct tape had, I think, something to do with it.

Fortunately, the media coverage was minimal. A segment ran on the local TV station at noon and later that evening (see YouTube video below) and an article with photo did run in the local section of The Record but the admin’s fear that pandemonium would be loosed upon the world was unfounded.

Instead, my students actually witnessed the media in action and THEY were part of the process: they took part in media interviews with local reporters, wrote to their elected representatives about how they felt about the government’s decision and watched, critiqued, filmed and edited TV and print coverage of their event.

In retrospect, I truly believe it was one of the most powerful learning experiences I and my students had ever been a part of. By taking part in the silent protest, ironically, my students actually found their ‘voice’.  And isn’t that what real learning is all about?

P.S. There was such a ground swell (provincially) from people outraged over the potential loss of the media studies stand alone course – that the Conservative government of the day backed down from its original decision to cut it.

 

 

 


CoMO Seattle 2015: Promises To Keep . . .

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Mohandas Gandhi
It is fitting and ironic that CoMO’s (Confederation of Meningitis Organisations) recent global conference transpired in the shadow of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. The imposing tower’s lofty height mirrored the expansive hopes and dreams of CoMO’s 43 attendees representing 26 countries.
The gigantic needle-like structure was also a constant reminder to CoMO members, many of whose lives and families have been forever altered by meningitis, that vaccine-prevention is still the most effective way for people to avoid contracting this indiscriminate killer.

Led by CoMO president Bruce Langoulant – with a supporting cast of Governing Council members, this year’s gathering had its fair share of golden moments under the Seattle sun. Most notable among them were as follows:

Gates Foundation Visit/Tour
Prior to the CoMO global conference – governing council members were privileged to be able to meet with representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hoping to explore the possibility of a future relationship with the Foundation – CoMO president Bruce Langoulant, gave the GF reps an overview of CoMO’s history and accomplishments.
CoMO GC members then were provided with an overview of the GF, shared a wonderful lunch and given a tour of the amazing eco-friendly complex and visitor center, both of which contained countless precious artifacts and inspirational exhibits. In short, the GF visit was a perfect motivational introduction to the conference.
GC members at Gates Foundation

GC members at Gates Foundation

Members’ Personal Stories
 Unquestionably the most powerful, heart-wrenching part of the conference unfolds near the beginning, the sharing of painful personal stories. Hearts, minds and souls of both story-tellers and audience members are stretched to the breaking point as painful memories are revisited and shared.

 Yet it is through tears and sharing the heartache, that meningitis survivors and family members can begin to emerge from the long, dark night of the soul into the hope-filled brilliant light of day.

Welcome New CoMO Members
If new CoMO members Nick Springer (National Meningitis Association), Sue & Al Koeing (Emily’s Dash Foundation), Alicia and Michael Stillman (Emily Stillman Foundation), Furakh Mir (Meningitis Relief Canada), Nayoon Song and Hyeran Kim (Korean Meningitis Centre) are any indication – the future of CoMO looks bright indeed! All of these individuals bring a deep passion and keen intelligence to the task of educating others of the symptoms and how to protect themselves against meningitis.
Group shot

CoMO Conference Seattle – Group Photo

Promises To Keep And Miles To Go . . .
As always – with so little time and much ground to cover – the conference agenda was jam-packed. Agenda topics over two days included: CoMO Initiatives/Reports, Regional Updates, Strategies to Ensure Fundraising Success, Making Meningitis Relevant In Your Country, Developing and Sharing of Regional Plans.

Passing The Torch
One of the more bitter-sweet moments of this year’s conference involved current CoMO president and Asia Pacific Regional leader, Bruce Langoulant, handing the CoMO leadership baton off to incoming president Chris Head, CEO of the Meningitis Research Foundation UK. Langoulant’s personal story of meningitis (2 Lives Two different Outcomes) involving his radiant daughter Ashley – ignited his passion to cultivate, nurture and grow CoMO into the world-class organization it is today.

The Glue
Of course, any organization would soon fall apart without the selfless, dedicated individuals who toil behind the scenes – people like Linda Gibbs (Office Manager), Daphne Holt and Sam Rosoman (Marketing and Admin Officer).

As the Seattle sun set on another CoMO Global conference – CoMO members would do well to reflect on a job well done and their pledge to continue the good fight against meningitis in their own regions.

by Michael Redfearn
Secretary, Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada
Secretary, CoMO GC & Americas Regional Representative

Related Links:
Other CoMO Member Stories
‘Out of the Blue’ : The story of the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada


So Many Memories of St. David . . . flowing, like a river

Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others. ~ Rose Parks

In light of St. David catholic secondary school’s 50th anniversay – I recently started digging around and dusting off the old Celtic archives – wondering if any of the VHS footage from the 25th anniversary Video Yearbook had not yet disintegrated and was still viewable. Having spent a significant slice of my teaching career at St. David (18 years) capturing and editing so many Celtics in action, I was hoping that it was not too late to transfer some of that fine vintage footage over into digital format.

If you are currently an active member of the rapidly-growing St. David CSS 50 Year Renuion 2015 Facebook group – you probably already know that I have been posting ‘rescued video clips’ to the group’s timeline. And I can honestly say that I am thorougly loving re-watching those videos for the umpteenth time as much, if not more than perhaps even some of you.

StDavid50

God gave us memories so that we might have roses in December. ~ James Barrie

I just want to share with you a few personal observations resulting from the recent postings and associated comments:

  1. Sometimes Smaller is Better
    The 1988-90 25th St. David Anniversary video footage is quite unique in that it represents a time when the school population was significantly smaller (800 students – give or take before the early 90’s expansion) than it is today. I think the smaller community vibe is quite evident in some of the footage – especially the ‘sing-along 60’s day love-in’ in the school’s main hallway. The footage looks, feels and sounds like a ‘kumbaya cliche’, but 60’s day aside, I think that’s because the smaller community really allowed the students and staff to connect and develop closer bonds. Of course, footage of Celtics who have passed on (staff and students) – only adds to the power of video to evoke vivid personal, deep feelings and memories.
  2. The Power of Social Media
    The postings have generated an exciting buzz and sense of nostalgia within the Facebook group – as former alumni and staff ‘like’, reshare, and share their own personal thoughts and feelings about the video clips and the events and people contained in them. Leveraging social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.) allows us to build on this momentum quickly, widely and easily, at a click.
  3. Golden Opportunity
    The upcoming St. David 50th Anniversary events represent a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate our rich history/heritage together, reconnect (‘catch up’) with other former St. Daivd alumni and staff and connect with members of the current school community.

The St. David catholic community provided me with nearly two decades worth of precious memories of amazing people and events both inside and beyond the classroom walls: liturgies, teams, clubs, assemblies, victories, defeats, class excursions and memories of former teachers & students who have passed on etc. Many St. David graduates have gone on to establish wonderful careers and create loving families. I just  thank God that I was fortunate and privileged enough to work with some of you, to capture and now revisit once again, in the age of social media, some of those priceless moments, . Carpe diem!

Twitter: @StDavid50 #Celtic50
Email: SDCeltics50@gmail.com
Facebook: St. David CSS 50 Year Renuion 2015
Lisa Denomme (StDavid50 Co-Chair)


An Open Letter to All Students

Everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody.  – Marshall McLuhan

An Open Letter to All Students,

Look up! That’s right, put your smart phones away, look me in the eye and listen to me for just a few minutes. Seriously, I mean it; your future may depend on it!

Don’t worry. I am not going to tell you how you should NOT use your mobile device or judge you. I have taught, observed and spoken with enough of you about digital technology over the years to know that the vast majority of you are decent, respectful human beings who, like me, make mistakes from time to time.

I know that your time is precious and that there are a gazillion things you could be doing with your mobile device right now, like chatting and playing online games with your friends via at least a dozen trendy social media and gaming apps; or capturing cool photos and videos of one another, tagging and uploading them to the internet.

You might even be texting, blogging or video-calling about how much you love your new sneakers or the amazing adventures you have planned for the summer. These are all valid and wonderful ways to celebrate the miracle of digital technology. You should keep doing these things!

balance-224644_640

I just want a minute or two to share three suggestions that may enhance your valuable time and perhaps alter, for the better, your life’s path.

  1. Always be positive. Whether you are online or offline, in person or in cyberspace, strive always to be upbeat, kind and gentle with yourself and others. Use digital technology and social media to stay in touch with family and friends and create a positive digital identity that you, your parents and teachers would be proud of. Build one another up by sharing all the incredibly wonderful things you are already doing in your school communities (charity fundraisers, arts, science and technology fairs, community partnerships etc.). If you are always positive and THINK before you speak or post online – this will go a long way in helping you to construct a positive persona and digital footprint, thereby avoiding potentially embarrassing, hurtful and perhaps tragic situations.
  2. Strive for balance in everything you do. It doesn’t take a genius to know that spending too much time doing anything: sleeping, listening to music, playing video games, or watching videos, is likely not good for your physical, emotional, intellectual or social well-being. Take some time every day to go outside and walk, run, or cycle in the natural environment. This would be a perfect chance to exercise your body and clear your mind, while celebrating, appreciating and enjoying nature.
  3. Be thankful. Make time to slow down, meditate, reflect on and be thankful for all the gifts in your life: family, friends, shelter, food, health and the natural environment. By slowing down, being appreciative and thankful for the people and possessions in your life- you will gain a deeper understanding and respect for them.

Remember, all it takes is one thoughtless moment: sending an angry text, posting or sharing online an inappropriate or embarrassing comment, photo or video of yourself or others – to derail your dreams. Ironically, by slowing down, thinking, being thankful and periodically looking up from your digital gadgets – you may just find a sense of peace, balance and new appreciation for life and all its wonders.

Photo Credit: jesslef


The Power of Prayer

When we have prayed prayers long enough, all the words drop away and we begin to live in the presence of God. Then prayer is finally real. When we find ourselves sinking into the world around us with a sense of purpose, an inner light and deep and total trust that whatever happens is right for us, then we have *become* prayer.
~ Sister Joan Chittister

contemplation

When approaching the expansive topic of prayer – I find that drawing upon the wisdom and prior experience of others helps to ground me. Therefore, I offer the following quotes about prayer for your consideration and reflection.

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
~ Kierkegaard

Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.
~ Bruce Lee

Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.
~ Mother Theresa

When man is with God in awe and love, then he is praying.
~ Karl Rahner

When I pray for another person, I am praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person.
~ Philip Yancey

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.
~ Woody Allen

Sometimes the best answers to prayer are the ones God doesn’t answer.
~ Robin Jones Gunn

Whenever I have prayed earnestly, I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, but He always comes.
~ Martin Luther

Love people who hate you. Pray for people who have wronged you. It won’t just change their life…it’ll change yours.
~ Mandy Hale

Photo Credit: Leyland Fransciso Photostream


Fleetwood Mac: Lightning strikes ACC twice

Well, lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice
Ah, and it lights up the night
And you see your gypsy . . .
To the gypsy that remains faces freedom with a little fear
I have no fear, I have only love . . .

Excerpt from Gypsy by Stevie Nicks

By Michael G. Redfearn

If great artists are judged by their ability to inspire and evoke deep feelings of joy, pathos and divine despair, then Fleetwood Mac painted another masterpiece yesterday evening at the Air Canada Center in Toronto.

Only six months after elecrifying a packed house of largely aging boomers back in October – the suprisingly well-preserved 70’s folk-rock demigods thundered and gingerly (given their advanced years) pranced and strutted across the stage.

Fleetwood Mac

As in October (same set list, same songs) though a timeless pantheon of hits that most fans and critics believe reached its apex with their montrously successful 1977 studio album Rumours. And who could really blame them for not giving their faithful throngs of followers exactly what they want?

Heaven knows, the fab five (Mick Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham) have paid their dues and then some. The Mac pack have endured enough heartache and struggle to last many lifetimes. Their personal battles with each other and life-threatening addictions to cocaine and alcohol are legendary.

But great pain and suffering sometimes yield extraordinary work and the sheer volume of stellar music generated by the late 70’s and its remarkable longevity, is testament to the band’s creative spirit. At a point well into last night’s show – Buckingham stated,  “I think it’s safe to say we’ve seen our share of ups and downs and I think that’s kind of makes us what we are. In this particular moment, with the return of the beautiful Christine, she is a beautiful soul, now it signals the beginning of a poetic, profound and I think prolific new chapter of this band – Fleetwood Mac!”

It appears that adoring Fleetwood Mac fans are still smitten with the relatively recent return of keyboardist Christine McVie – following her 16-year hiatus from the band. And draped in her Godiva-esque blonde locks, trademark all black ensemble, shawls and lace, Nicks twirled, swayed and charmed her worshippers like a high-priestess dancing on an altar of love .

Throughout the solid three hour performance, Buckingham again proved that he is one of rock history’s most vital visionaries and talented guitarists. His lightning-fast fingers skidded across his various custom guitars delighting the 17,000 worshippers in attendance.

The whimsical lyrics of Nick’s enchanting song Gypsy (she dedicated this song to her closest friend Robin Snyder Anderson – whom she met in high school and who died from Leukemia at age 34) remind us of how truly sacred and fleeting life is.

Perhaps what is most compelling about Fleetwood Mac is how many of their songs echo the longings of the human heart. How their own personal stories reflect both the countless joys and wonders of this incredibly beautiful and broken world and the people in it.

That no matter how much we strive to avoid it, none of us escapes the dark night of the soul. Though if we have faith, work hard and are tenacious enough, we can sometimes attain our wildest dreams and this may be their greatest legacy of all.

SET LIST:

The Chain
You Make Loving Fun
Dreams
Second Hand News
Rhiannon
Everywhere
I Know I’m Not Wrong
Tusk
Sisters of the Moon
Say You Love Me
Seven Wonders
Big Love
Landslide
Never Going Back Again
Over My Head
Gypsy
Little Lies
Gold Dust Woman
I’m So Afraid
Go Your Own Way

ENCORE:

World Turning/Mick Fleetwood drum solo
Don’t Stop
Silver Springs

SECOND ENCORE:

Songbird


Passing The Torch: #bit14

They were born well before the dawn of the Facebook and YouTube generation, watched VHS movies on VCR’s and listened to their favorite music via portable cassette tape players. But, ultimately, it was the internet and 21st century technology (LinkedIn) that allowed two of my former students, Monika Bural (1986-87) and Pat Downey, (1987-88) to stumble upon and connect with their former high school English literature teacher.

How ironic that these same two individuals attended the only two schools spanning my entire 21 years in the classrrom, my first 3 at Philip Pocock Catholic High School in Mississauga and the following 18 at St. David Catholic High School in Waterloo.  Imagine how delighted I was to discover that they had both become teaching colleagues at the Dufferin-Peel CDSB and were searching for someone to help them navigate the rocky path of 21st century learning and digital technology. It was a bit of deja vu all over again and back-to-the-future combined.

When I learned that Monika and Pat would also be attending the recent ECOO BringIt Together Conference in Niagara Falls and that they wanted to reconnect after almost 3 decades – I immediately agreed to meet up with them. After reconnecting, we opened and dusted off our collective ‘time capsule’, sharing a few memories from days gone by.

Bold makeup, bracelets and crimped Madonna-esque hair adorned the hallways and classrooms of Philip Pocock Catholic secondary school in 1987.

Pocock

Chillin with my grade 10 English ‘peeps’  circa 1986-87. Monika Bural is 3rd from the left in the photo.

It was fitting that the three of us meet at BringIT Together, a cutting-edge educational technology conference that connects educators and information technology support staff from school districts far and wide, encouraging them to share ideas and collaborate so that students can benefit.

A highlight of the conference was sitting in on a Android Tablets and Google Play EDU presentation by the Upper Grand DSB. While there I saw an engaged information technology specialist from my former school district (Waterloo CDSB). It was incredibly encouraging to see school district technology consultants and IT support staff sitting in the same room, side-by-side, grappling with challenging technological issues and working together to help break down barriers to create a more authentic and engaging learning environment for all students.

L to R - Monika Bural, Michael Redfearn, Pat Downey

L to R – Monika Bural, Michael Redfearn, Pat Downey reconnect at Bring IT Together 2014.

An artifact and metaphor that dominated the BringIT Together conference was a green VW microbus with a sign above that read, What will education look like in 25 years? Conference participants were encouraged to write their responses to the question in marker somewhere on the bus.

If the past 25 or so years in education is any indication – the next 25 years will also contain its share of challenges and obstacles. But judging by the energy, enthusiasm and hope expressed by the #bit2014 conference delegates and presenters – the next 25 years in education should be filled with a host of wondrous new digital technologies, a dynamic culture of learning, sharing and collaboration and, most importantly, passionate educators, eager to pass the torch of learning to the next generation.

Web site:  http://bringittogether.ca/


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