Denise Lamarche

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Starting A New Year With Essentialism

As I sat on the plane travelling to Australia for a family Christmas holiday, I found myself in a reflective state about the work that I love to do amid my excitement of our upcoming adventure “Down Under”.

Perhaps this was because holidays are a time for pause and relaxation after a very full term with exciting projects and directions ahead. Perhaps it was because the flight was a sixteen hour journey and what else might one do but reflect on life’s passions and commitments? After all, you can only watch so many of those movies. There weren’t many selections that appealed to me anyway.

This reflective state could be quite natural and a practice that educators are actively implementing in their approach to student learning.

My first reflection point over the holiday break, reminded me how inspired I was by the dedication of our SMUS faculty to ongoing professional learning and collaboration. I was equally inspired by their continuous pursuit for creative and progressive ideas for instructional and program planning. In many of our meetings, the conversations were filled with ideas and plans for learning activities that deepen the engagement of our students and allow them to explore broader connections and real-world learning.

I was also inspired by the students. In the last weeks before the holidays, I had the opportunity to participate in two events that demonstrated creative and real-world learning. In one, I was a judge for one of our Law 12 Mock Trials. In the other, I sat on a Dragon’s Den panel for our Business Education 10 classes. In both experiences, our students fully immersed themselves in their learning and had prepared extremely well for these real-world simulations.

In the Business classes, the student groups were pitching their ideas to the ‘dragons’ and responding to questions about their entrepreneurial ideas. Questions were asked about research regarding product packaging; suppliers and ensuring that they were ethical; profits and how much they would be donating to charity – the usual line of questioning to budding entrepreneurs to ensure they have thought out their business idea.  I was indeed impressed by these students. Their solid preparation for this event and how they handled ‘Dragon’ questions and suggestions was superb.

Also while on holiday, I read the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I find that I am also reflecting on what is most important in both my personal and professional life. This is my second reflection point.

I admit, I am one of those people who have more ‘nonessentialism’ in themselves. In a nutshell, I try to fit everything in. You know, the usual “I can do that as well as X, Y, Z”. My husband, Dan Pontefract, often comments on this and most of the time it’s in a loving, supportive manner.

It’s the fault of many of us, really; not buffering enough time in between meetings, running late on many occasion, running too tight to deadline. Not too long ago, I would blame this on the result of my personality type. But after reading Essentialism, I now fully understand that I need to be more strategic with the choices I make and the time I spend in my personal life and in my professional life.

This book has given me some great ideas to begin implementing in my work and my life; intentionally building in time to exercise, sleeping seven-eight hours a night, staying focused and not allowing non-essential distractions to creep in. This is something I have already talked about with several of my friends and colleagues (and Dan) but for some reason, now that I’ve read this book–from the essential vs. nonessential approach–it resonated with me.

My third and final reflection point related to what looms ahead in 2016, specifically in education.

The more real-world and innovative approaches to learning for both students and faculty is very exciting. Personalization of learning, experiential learning and inquiry excite me from both an educator and a parent perspective. The faculty at SMUS are keen to innovate and experiment with learning in interesting ways for students and I have the opportunity to support their work.

When our faculty return from holiday we will spend a professional development day together considering the shift with the new BC Curriculum and how personalization, inquiry, experiential learning connect to curriculum planning in this new paradigm. We need to consider how consistent collaborative and creative planning time as educators will look amid this change and I am excited about how I can support this.

One of my personal goals for 2016 is to focus on communication – oral presentation and written communication (aka blogging – something I’ve avoided until now) about this innovative shift in education. I have been impressed by one of my colleagues, Tanya Lee in her start to blogging regularly for our SMUS Review about personalized learning. Her quest to share professional and student learning started long ago with Vivat Voice!  videos demonstrating ‘how-to’s’ in educational technology and other tidbits of helpful pointers. There are other educators I work with who have started blogging to share their learning and their ideas ( Alison Galloway , Richard DeMerchant and several others who I will mention in future posts). All very inspiring.

Blogging is foreign to me from a ‘creating’ point of view; I love reading the blogs of other educators and in fact, my three children and husband all blog (ClaireColeCate). We encourage our children to blog because we want them to reflect on their life and learning experiences in a creative way and we use it as a learning tool. It’s also a great way for family and friends to stay connected with them, too.

If you haven’t noticed, this is my first blog post on this site. I wonder how I will plan my blog posts and the topics I should focus on going forward, but I know from reading Essentialism that I must build the writing time in my schedule, otherwise it simply will be placed on hold for yet another year. This was a major reflective, and learning moment for me over the past few weeks.

Stay tuned and let’s see how it goes! I hope you will join me in my reflective, educating journey.

P.S. I figured out links in this post, next will be images and I’m sure my kids can help me with that! Thanks for reading.