#edvent2016: how do we hold back from hitting people who want to be hit?


I was honoured to be in the presence of inspiring, powerful, and passionate educational leaders at a wonderful event (Back to Basics: All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten) hosted by Gabriel Pillay, Rose Pillay, & students of St. Mark’s College. Thank you for the invitation and what a wonderful theme from start to finish!


Transcript from #edvent2016.

My chosen line of the poem: don’t hit people.


I have one simple question for you today: How do we hold back from hitting people who want to be hit?

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Now, before you say it looks like Joe learned absolutely nothing from kindergarten, I want to give you some background behind this perspective. Before I became a classroom teacher I was on my way to becoming a family counsellor. I had studied everything from lifespan development, interpersonal dynamics, to the ever changing family context. However, I had a passion for studying parent-child relationships.  I was fascinated by the categorization of parent-child relationships into dimensions such as secure, avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized. I was thrilled with having a means to understand the relationships I had with my own parents, and how we fit into the “Canadian context of family.”

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You see, I come from a Chinese family. My parents immigrated to Vancouver in 1979, and my brother and I were born in the late eighties. My family was the epitome of Chinese collectivist culture – individual passions and desires were out of the question; rather, family goals took precedence over all personal decisions. In the occasion that we strayed from the family’s desires, we were reprimanded promptly, often with some form of corporal punishment.

My first year of formal schooling was definitely an experience for me, not to mention for those around me. You see, I was not a very patient or easy child. I was what you’d call – spirited.

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I wanted to do things, and I wanted to do them yesterday. Consequently, the following phrases were often used with me: Now Joe, what is a better choice when it’s not up to you? Don’t hit others, Joe. Would you want someone to hit you?

And a common question that’s used with me up until today:  Joe, is this a big problem, or a little problem?

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In my current work with teachers, building human capacity in the context of communicating student learning, I have realized the same shifts we have made around shifting the focus away from us as authorities, to students and their individual passions – needs to happen with professional learning.

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Just like students who ask “what is the answer, just tell me the answer and I’ll remember it,” we have well-trained teachers, including myself, who do the same: “tell me what the reporting order will be and I’ll just do it,” “just give me a template to do formative assessment in class and I’ll do it”

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In other words: Just hit me. Hit me with that information. I need to know information in order to change.

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So far in my experiences participating in professional development, consuming hour-long lectures, half day sessions around one topic, full day sessions where my lips and body don’t move,  I’ve realized two qualities about professional learning where hitting professionals with information is the focus:

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  1. Hitting distracts from professional learning.

When we hit people with information, the how-to-do a strategy, about something as personal and emotional as teaching practices, it becomes more about the transmission of the how-to, and the replication of a strategy outside of someone else’s lived experiences, rather than the true ownership of what we do and who we are, seeing the purpose and reason for making shifts in our learning and practice.

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  1. Hitting prioritizes compliance.

One question I got over and over when I first started my work with Communicating Student Learning was: Joe, what’s your mandate? I thought: What’s my mandate? What do I want to impose on my colleagues? What do I want to tell people to do?

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While we encourage sharing of teachers’ journeys and work, I am often hesitant to tell people what is “best practice” only to have my colleagues think that to be current in their practice means they have to do things a certain way and best practice is the end.

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In fact it’s quite the opposite, I’d rather my colleagues realize that it’s more about “next practice,” practice for the future, that is more important in empowering our learners for the future.


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How do we hold back from telling people what to do, what to know, how to do it, even if they express frustration with not knowing, ask for templates, fall on district mandates? How do we engage our professional learners in a way that sparks their own curiosities while releasing the perception of having to learn yet another thing?

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And how do we shift from hitting each other with information to hitting each other with motivation?


One thought on “#edvent2016: how do we hold back from hitting people who want to be hit?

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