My teaching career has been made possible by sharing. I will give a, not so brief, brief summary.
As a first year teacher I moved to a small town and taught in a k-12 school. I mostly relied on the resources from my own highschool experience. I was that student that never threw away my stuff and that first year I basically taught as I had been taught 5 years previously in my own high school. The notes and assignments that had been used on me I used on my students and this made it possible for me to have enough time to innovate some new stuff. Which I did digitally so that I would not lose it.
Then I got married and moved across the country to Victoria BC and could not find teaching work for a few years. When I did it was in a small private k-9 school looking to expand to highschool. I was hired as the grade 10 everything teacher. That year was a lot of work. I did not have resources that I could borrow from others. It was a different curriculum than the Saskatchewan one, and since it was a small private school I was not part of a union that could provide me with supports. I had to develop a lot of stuff. I remember we went to a teacher conference late in the year with other private schools and I took a USB stick and basically hunted down everyone who taught anything similar to what I taught and I asked them for their resources, their lessons. They delivered. I still had a lot of work to do, but I was given whole year plans for the maths and sciences that I was teaching.
The next few years at the school I would go on to develop many resources of my own and I remembered the help that I had received from others so I would take my USB stick full of information to conferences to share. As cloud storage and high speed internet became more prevalent I started to use dropbox and eventually google drive to share everything between multiple devices. By my 5th year at the school my wife and I were feeling it was time to return to Saskatchewan. I told the school, and in that final year I kept a careful digital record of every lesson for each class to give to my replacement. I knew that my job was a hard one and that being able to tell a potential employee that this resource existed would make it easier for them to find a replacement. (I was teaching 12 separate courses, some of them splits between different subjects of different grades because that is all that would work for the schedule of the small school.)
When I arrived in Regina at a much bigger school, although still k-12 and private, I found a very different environment than what I left behind. I was a part of a department here. The private school was an associate school so we actually work very closely with the public system helping them when we can, and receiving help from them. The science teachers of Regina meet about once a month at the board office to share resources. We call this the Science Curriculum Advisory Council. These meetings often have any or all of us sharing what has worked, what hasn’t, and how to prepare lessons for new curriculum, etc. That first year I was handed so many full year plan resources, by amazing teachers who have sat on curriculum writing boards. Within a few years I was piloting courses for Regina public and did the same for other teachers. I shared whole year plans of the courses that I had taught.
The sharing is not just limited to Regina though. My cousin is an amazing science teacher in the Saskatoon region, and when she was starting I handed her the full chemistry and physics year plans. She has in turn shared stuff that she has developed back with me. There is also a provincial shared google drive by all of the science teachers in the province. Anyone is allowed to contribute and take from it. It is moderated by three amazing teachers and I will occasionally put things into it, and get contacted by other teachers asking for clarification or help understanding a lesson, but never criticism.
So there is a sharing culture that exists in the sciences in this province, and I love it. So why does this exist in Saskatchewan for me, and why didn’t it in BC to the same extent? What was different about the architecture of the environment as Steven Johnson likes to call it? The biggest difference was isolation. In my little school in BC we were not part of any larger body except for 2 days a year. We were not part of the school division, we were so small that I was the entire math and science department, and I had no professional body of colleagues to call upon. In Regina my school has mulitple science teachers to share ideas with, I belong to a division that has purposefully built a program and environment of sharing. While I was able to innovate to a certain extent while working in BC, it was those times that I connected with others and shared resources at conferences that really gave me the ideas and the room to innovate more. Here in Saskatchewan it has been the cross pollination of ideas at council meetings, and seeing what others do with my stuff that has helped me be more creative. There is also an accountability factor. I produce better stuff and hold myself to a higher standard knowing that someone else will someday likely look at and want to use my materials.
I found myself really agreeing with everything that Steven Johnson said in his TED talk: Where do Good Ideas Come From. Also I think I have a new favourite mantra that I can take from it. “Chance favours the connected mind.” So, with that in mind I have been reflecting on my sharing and what things have helped me share more and less in the past. Sharing for me requires the following:
- Be prepared to share. Whenever I develop a lesson or a worksheet, or anything I want to be able to reuse it so I store it digitally in a common format that can be edited later. I give it a useful name so that I can search for it later, and I file it in a subject folder sorted by year and semester. So often I have been able to find a resource to share with a colleague with a quick directory search for the keyword in the name, or by looking in the subject folder from the semester I think I did that lesson in.
- Ask others for resources by offering your own. I have found that if I offer what little I have I will often get much more back. In that first year in Regina at that first meeting I remember giving away a simple little vocabulary worksheet creation tool that could work for any subject that I had programmed in excel. I got back an entire biology 30 and physics 30 course. It was easier to start the conversation by offering than asking.
- Share what you got, even incomplete stuff. You never know if your half-baked idea will help someone come up with something else. The year that I piloted health science 20 I shared everything that I developed. Even the lessons that flopped. Teachers could go through the stuff, and if they did not like something they just would not use it. The partial share gives them the room to innovate.
- Give credit where credit is due. I share stuff that I did not create with others, but I always ask permission first. The easiest way to do this is to ask the person that you are getting something from if you can share it with others in the future, and if you can share their contact information with others. Most people will just say to share it and not worry about mentioning them, others will say yeah and you can direct anyone with questions about it back to me. If they say don’t share it, then I mark the file as un-sharable. (Very rare). This makes it easier than tracking down people later to ask.
So my whole career has been made possible by sharing. The things that I have learned this semester about open education resources, and about better ways to connect using social media only excite me more. I am now looking for how best to share digitally in the digital world. Most people do not have time to look through a stack of resources and instead use quick searches to find what they need online. I would like to find an online open community that I could post my work into to help contribute, and also to be able to make withdraws from.
Well those are my thoughts on how sharing has impacted me and my career. Let me know what you think, and thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read all of that.