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.

 

 

 


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)


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


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/


Circles & Catholic Education

It does not happen very often in life, but when it does, there’s no experience quite like it. I am referring to those rare moments when fate, destiny and circumstances collide and converge to bring a chapter of one’s life full circle.

This particular chapter started in the fall of 1984 when, fresh out of the faculty of education University of Toronto and three weeks into September, I landed my first fulltime teaching job at Philip Pocock Catholic secondary school in Mississauga. 1984-85  was a year of firsts for me: my first teaching gig, matrimony and the birth of the first of my five children.

Pocock

Hanging out with my student peeps in portable city at the original Philip Pocock campus circa 1987

I spent only 3 of my 21 years in the classroom at Pocock in Mississauga 1984-87 (Kitchener-Waterloo was home for my wife and I) – yet those 3 short years were filled with precious people, moments and memories that have endured for 3 decades. Following another 18 years teaching at St. David Catholic secondary school in Waterloo and 7 years as a school district K-12 technology coordinator – I decided to transition, to strike out on my own (Michael Redfearn Consulting) in a new role as a digital literacy consultant.

While scanning the Internet for potential conferences at which to share my ‘Being A Catholic Parent In A Digital World’ presentation – I found OAPCE (Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education), sent them an email and received a response from Renata Quattro, one of the conference co-chairs. After exchanging a few emails we quickly discovered that our paths had crossed at Pocock from 1984-87.

 A school is much more than bricks and mortar and measured more by the collective spirit and generosity of its many members than any fleeting material wants.

pocock_e_sign

The original Pocock campus, located at Rathburn and Cawthra in Mississauga was, previously, an elementary school site. An additional 10 classroom portapac and 33 portable classrooms outside the main building were added to accommodate approximately 1,800 students. Inspite or because of the cramped, bizzare conditions – I spent 3 incredible, unforgettable years with dynamic, dedicated teaching colleagues and a culturally diverse mix of energetic inquistive students. As a ‘Pocock pirate’ I learned early on in my career that a school is much more than bricks and mortar and measured more by the collective spirit and generosity of its many members than any fleeting material wants.

Mike_RenataQ

Former Pocock teacher Michael Redfearn with former Pocock student Renata Quattro at the OAPCE Conference 2014

Both Renata and I left Pocock in 1987 – she as a grade 13 graduate and I to return to Waterloo for a teaching job at St. David Catholic secondary school. That we are now both immersed in and working on behalf of Catholic education in Ontario and united again at Philip Pocock CSS (Tomken Campus) for the 75th Anniversary of OAPCE Conference – is a delightful and deeply satisfying irony.

The current Pocock campus, constructed in 1992, is a truly impressive three-story building that is designed around a bright, expansive indoor atrium and cafetorium – which make it an ideal facility to host events like the OAPCE conference.

During the moments before and between my workshop presentations – I took a little time to wander some of the halls and peruse the beautiful wall murals and scores of framed photos of former Pocock graduating classes. But what really seized my attention was the framed photos of the current (2013-2014) Pocock staff on the wall outside the main office.

As I eagerly scanned and recognized the familiar names and faces of staff members I worked with from 1984-87 (close to a dozen) my mind raced, my heart warmed and my soul soared back, to another time: to staff ball hockey nights, students, school teams, tournaments, clubs and assemblies, to the glory that was ‘portable city’ on Rathburn road, where new friendships, circles, fate and destiny converged and another chapter in someone’s life . . . began.

 

 


Twitter & Facebook: A Self-Imposed Fast

A little more than a couple of weeks into my self-inflicted forty-day Lenten social media fast and I find myself reeling from the fallout. I have even stooped so low as to changing the email alert on my mobile device to the sound of a chirping bird’s tweet – just to soften the psychological blow and separation anxiety of temporarily withdrawing from Twitter.

One could try to rationalize, by channeling and modifying the famous axioms of existentialists like Descartes, tweet ergo sum (I tweet therefore I am) or Socrates, ‘the unexamined online update is not worth posting’. Or perhaps Einstein would be more appropriate; ‘a person who never made a mistake never tried SnapChat’.

A person who never made a mistake never tried SnapChat.

Make no mistake, information dependency, especially new information, however trivial, is an addiction. From both a psychological and behavioral perspective I can honestly state that I am addicted to the constant need for new information and the need to share that information (photos, videos, links to articles) with as wide an audience as possible.

Image

How do I know this you may ask? One does not spend a good part of the past six years investing time in thousands of twitter posts and Facebook updates without feeling the effects of suddenly going cold turkey. I hunger for the immediacy of social networking and the convenience of being ahead of the curve on breaking news. But most of all I miss being able to share via my social media feeds – inspirational content like uplifting videos, unique photos or inspiring quotes.

To a lesser degree – I will miss the narcissistic feeling of having my posts liked and shared. Yes, I too have savored the sweet siren call of the odd ‘selfie’. I do not deny that these are also motivating factors for my social media obsession. What gives me some comfort, though, is that I and my digital dependency demons are not alone, that millions of people across our global village are just as digitally dependent, or more so, than I am.

Choosing to temporarily fast from Facebook and Twitter has opened my eyes to how truly ubiquitous and embedded these forces are into the social fabric of our modern culture. Unless I purposely choose to shun all electronic media – this dynamic social duo shows up in numerous forms such as social media feeds on news-related web sites, television news and entertainment programs and automated programs. Ironically, new McLuhansghost blogs , when published, are automatically launched to my Twitter feed as is my Ontario Educator’s Daily, the daily twitter aggregator that originates from the Paper.li self-publishing site.

Blessing in Disguise

As dire to some as my time out from Twitter & Facebook may seem – I have managed to fill some of the void by: reading more electronic and hard copy daily newspapers and books, enjoying the beauty of the natural environment through peaceful walks, as this blog indicates – writing more and spending more face-to-face time with real people. I have also had more time to explore the features and communities on Google+.

As unsettling as it has been – abstaining from daily Twitter posts and Facebook updates during this brief hiatus has restored some serenity and balance to my life, forcing me to refocus and gain perspective on what really matters. So far, my social media fast has been a blessing – allowing distance and perspective on current provincial and national political and social issues that could have increased the possibility of a spontaneous, regrettable knee-jerk rant on Twitter or Facebook.

Some Final Thoughts

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become txts. Watch your txts; they become tweets. Watch your tweets; they become Facebook posts. Watch your Facebook posts; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

PS – feel free to retweet this post on Twitter. I promise I will try to get to it . . . eventually.

Photo Credit: I-am-bored.com


Ode To An Amazing Journey: Or I Can’t Believe They Paid Me To Do This For 28 Years!

“The moment you know, you know you know.”  – David Bowie
Where Are We Now? The Next Day Album

I cannot remember where I was or the exact moment I ‘knew’ it was time for me to ‘toss in the chalk’ and call it a career. All I know is, at some point within the past year the whispering voice of doubt within, eventually gave way to a roar of certainty that 28 years service in education (21 in the classroom & 7 as a technology coordinator) = time to move on .

What a glorious 28 year journey though!  At its best – life in and outside of the high school classroom really was one daring adventure after another, a truly wonderful odyssey. I had the amazing and humbling honor to lead, be inspired by and, at times, inspire the students entrusted in my care.

Pocock

I spent the first 3 years of my career teaching English and Religion at Philip Pocock Catholic secondary school in Mississauga.

It still beggars my imagination to realize that I actually got paid to share with my students my passion and love for: my faith, family, social justice issues, literature, media studies, drama, athletics, computer studies, and the natural environment. I will forever treasure the moments spent in the presence of every one of the thousands of students (with all their complexity, incredible ‘beauty’ and ‘baggage’) who walked through my classroom door every day.

The last 7 years as a system technology consultant and E-Learning contact has been an astounding whirlwind of networking and professional learning with a myriad of wonderful teaching collegues, I.T. support staff and technology consultants. Time away from the frenetic pace and pressures of the classroom, (lesson prep, marking, always being ‘on’ and chained to the bell) also allowed me the opportunity and time to pursue my dream of completing the Master of Catholic Thought Program at St. Jerome’s University.

Still, it would be dishonest of me not to admit feeling a little like the poet, “my heart aches and a drowsy numbness dulls my sense as though of hemlock I had drunk,” as I bid a bitter-sweet farwell to a marvelous 28 year run in education.

This sweet sorrow is softened by the following memorable highlights of a long, satisfying, rewarding and blessed career:

  • Supervising a Philip Pocock student dance at which the Canadian new wave band The Spoons performed in the mid-80’s
  • Physically breaking up a fight between two male students outside my portable and walking both of them to the principal’s office
  • Coordinating and viewing countless dramatic performances by my students of scenes from a variety of plays (Macbeth, R & J, Man of La Mancha etc.)
  • Facilitating at 2 Race Relations Camps for students from both local school boards
  • Participating in teacher-led skits/performances at numerous school assemblies (e.g. Hans & Franz, teacher bands etc.)
  • Advisor of the social justice committee at St. David C.S.S.
  • Advisor for the St. David Perspective school Newspaper & Video Yearbook
  • Joining in a ‘Pro-Life’ walk with teachers and students outside an abortion clinic in Toronto
  • Accompanying World Religion students to Holocaust conferences and talks by Holocaust survivors and visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center in Toronto
  • Facilitating workshops at the St. David Week For A Better World Symposia
  • Teacher liason accompanying/supervising WCDSB students participating in dual credit courses at WCDSB & Conestoga College’s Communication Program
  • Coordinating the Ping Pong Panic fundraiser in memory of Michael Longo
  • Hosting and speaking with former Canadian Heavyweight boxing champion George Chuvalo during a Drug Awareness Assembly at St. David
  • Supervising students during numerous Shakespearian and other performances (Phantom of the Opera, We Will Rock You etc.)
  • Playing ‘Let’s Play Carpe Diem’ with my English classes
  • Giving out ‘Fearnback’ bonus bucks to my students for particpating in class activities
  • Inner-city social justice awareness walk with my grade 10 Religion students
  • Leading my grade 10 & 12 Religion students during class retreats
  • Meditating with my grade 11 World Religions classess in the school chapel
  • Coaching boys wrestling, hockey & soccer teams and girls soccer and baseball teams
    (including my daughters Melissa & Michelle on the girls soccer team)
  • Coaching boys hockey players / teams during tournaments in Cape Breton NS and Lake Placid NY
  • Accompanying my media students to a taping of the Camilla Scott day-time talk show in Toronto
  • Hosting guest speakers / Chilly Beach creators/actors and former students Todd Peterson and Steve Ashton in my media studies classes
  • Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy film marathaon at the Princess Cinema Theatre with my media and English students
  • Leading my media studies students in a silent protest to voice their concern over the ministry of education terminating the Gr. 11 media studies credit
  • Witnessing the priceless look on the faces of students who finally understood something they struggled mighty hard to grasp
  • Participating in the St. David Fast-in-Action in solidarity with the hungry poor
  • Having my son Jonathan as one of my students in my grade 10 Information Technology course at St. David
  • Canoeing, portaging and camping with grade 12 students during 5 trips to the Algonquin Park interior
  • Participating in intramural ball hockey at St. David and being on the inaugural championship team – the Red Kellys
  • Legendary ping pong games during lunch with the Mighty R (Runstedler) and other Celtic legends
  • Stage managing during St. David’s performance of The Wiz – my daughter Melissa as one of the actors.
  • Supervising at numerous St. David Coffee Houses
  • Attending 3 Graduation ceremonies at Philip Pocock C.S.S. and 18 Graduation ceremonies at St. David – 5 of which involved my own children
  • Managing the Interactive White (SMART) Board Pilot at Waterloo CDSB
  • Co-chairing the annual Waterloo Region Technological Skills Elementary Competition
  • Creating the provincial Catholic resource – Ethical & Responsible Use of Information & Communication Technology: A guideline for all stakeholders in Catholic education – (This resource was shared with the former Pope Benedict and the Pontifical Council for Social Communication in Rome.)
  • Coordinating the first-ever online course offering at Waterloo CDSB
  • Managing 10 online courses and teacher training at Waterloo CDSB
  • Leading professional learning sessions on Ethical Use of ICT, E-Learning and digital resources for teachers and administrators at numerous conferences/PD days.

Now as I prepare to fill my hours with other passions and dreams close to my heart, I sit and wonder . . . was all this a “vision or a waking dream? . . . Do I wake or sleep?”

Onward Sancho! The quest! The quest!