By Graham Vogt, Assistant Head of School, Academics
It is the difference between spotting the barred owl on a trail walk - perched still and silent, otherwise invisible within the overhead limbs of the maple - or simply seeing it through the chain link at the local zoo. The bird is impressive in either scenario, but the experience is vastly different.
As we describe learning at Rosseau Lake College, we refer with ever-increasing frequency to the role of the teacher as ‘facilitator’; we are responsible for identifying and even creating the opportunity for exciting experiences, even if we’re not always entirely sure what the outcomes of those experiences will be. We love for our students to see the owl not because we show it to them, but because they discover it on their own, or we discover it together. Now learning is embedded in a moment that is at once exciting, deeply personal, remarkable and maybe even unlikely. In the case of the owl in the woods, the learning, like the experience itself, is never quite forgotten.
Even though the teacher will always be the relative expert in the room (and this too is important), this “flipped” approach disrupts traditional models of teaching and learning in which students may be more likely to defer than pursue. We love for our students to “look within” more than “looking to.” In a classroom setting, one might imagine the teacher alongside the student, providing calm, encouragement and guidance. It is extremely common to walk into a classroom at Rosseau Lake College with the teacher among the group, positioned in a circle, collectively wrestling with a complex issue, concept or formula. Like the barred owl in the maple, the teacher is often hard to spot.
It is important, as we consider this personalized learning journey of discovery, that we recognize the many ways in which the parallel experiences of teacher and learner extend far beyond the classroom. For the teacher, the approaches to guiding, supporting and inspiring students, and the pursuit of ideas and tools is unending. The teacher is also the learner, forever researching, imagining, refining and implementing, while connecting with and contributing to the larger field of education.
Our faculty gathered for professional development early in the morning on September 28th. The setting within one of the lower-RAC classrooms was that of any given class within the academic day. In co-operative structures, using a “design-thinking model,” we were sharing, capturing and synthesizing our individual summer experiences reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s text Braiding Sweetgrass. To continue extending the metaphor of the owl, the outcomes of the morning were astounding, unlikely and no-doubt lasting, with so many implications that will be carried across the curriculum this year and beyond. Kimmerer’s exciting and personified account of the natural world, and our reciprocal relationship to it, is inspiring in so many unending ways; it is, however, the passionate and determined approach and mindset of our teaching faculty that will elevate the overall experience of our students.
* on a slightly separate note, Braiding Sweetgrass will continue to be a reference point throughout this academic year. As you look for ways to connect to the overall student experience, we highly recommend reading this book and joining the ongoing discussion.