Ahava Shira – The Heartful Entrepreneur


Who are you?

I am a poet, storyteller, performer, photographer, and long-time journal writer. I am the founder of the Centre for Loving Inquiry, where I facilitate individual and group mentoring programs, retreats and home-study courses for people who want to bring more creativity and compassion into their lives. The practice of Loving Inquiry supports us to open our hearts and to engage with more kindness and curiousity toward ourselves and others.

I also work as the program facilitator for the Connecting Generations Program, which creates opportunities for conversation and learning between high school students, youth, adults and elders in the Salt Spring Island community.

I am the host of Love in the Afternoon, a radio show that walks listeners through the practice of Loving Inquiry, and encourages them to live with more creativity and compassion (on Salt Sprig Radio, CFSI 107.9FM or www.cfsi-fm.com online).

I am also the author of a book of poetry, Weaving of My Being and a poetry CD, Love is Like This. To learn more about my work visit www.ahavashira.com/

What do you do for fun?

I write, do yoga, walk in nature, hang out with my Goddess-son, listen to all kinds of music, host my radio show, make raw truffles, watch movies with my partner, play in a collage journal, read novels and non-fiction books on relationships, work and spirituality, sip tea in cafes and have wonderfully deep conversations with friends and clients.

What is your favourite community? Why?

The human and more-than-human community because I am intrigued and delighted by our interconnectedness. I live on a farm and find joy and refuge in nature’s variety and beauty.  I also love listening to people’s stories and learning about the diverse ways they live.

What is your superpower?

I am present and alert when I am speaking or being with others and that makes me highly intuitive and a really good listener. I am also very good at improvisation: being willing to “not know” what’s going to happen, to stay open and to say yes to whatever emerges in the moment. I use these superpowers in my work as a writer, facilitator, mentor, radio show host and as a speaker and performer.

How do you use it to build community?

In my experience, we build community when we are kind and authentic and when we share our unique gifts and ways of being in the world. Through the Centre for Loving Inquiry, Connecting Generations and Love in the Afternoon, I am helping to create a world that honours the diversity and interdependence of all people and all beings. In my writing and teaching, I seek to relate to people with openness, empathy and compassion.

My Three Favourite Things About Ahava Are…

1. Entrepreneurial Spirit. I love the myriad ways that Ahava both engages and builds community; from hosting a radio show to truffle making, she is an absolute model as to how the practice of education can uniquely realize its potential. Ahava speaks with authenticity and positive energy that captivates audiences and clients in a one-on-one environment and her many projects reflect the passion with which she connects with her community.

2. Connecting Across Generations. The Connecting Generations Program is just fantastic! Our elders have so many stories to share and so much history that can, well, warn us about mistakes we might be repeating and, more importantly, inspire us to build a better and happier future. Connecting youth and elders represents an unfortunate gap in many communities, and it’s inspiring to see how Ahava and her team are creating and sustaining such an important connection.

3. Lovin’ the Creativity! Reading this interview simply makes me feel love and creativity. Such things radiate from Ahava. And this is a beautiful thing!


Laneway Learning: crowdsourcing education

Ever wondered who invented the roller coaster, or more importantly, why on earth they thought it would be a good idea? Or maybe you’re living with a secret longing to learn the ukulele, but you’ve never had the time to learn how to play anything but a slightly Hawaiian version of Smoke on the Water. Or perhaps, like me, you really love to learn stuff, but the thought of attending (and paying for) a 10 week course in meditation is a little too high on the commitment scale.

If any of the above resonate, you’ll love the new Laneway Learning program that’s cropped up out of one of Melbourne’s mega-awesome laneways. The concept is simple – cheap, informal, relaxed classes that are aimed at letting working people learn new things in a totally non-committal way. The aim isn’t to make experts of learners, but rather, give them a taste of a cool new skill that they can go home and practice.

The classes for June range from the foody (Homebrewing on May 30), to the academic (Law, huh. What is it good for? on June 20), to the delightfully bizarre (Every stupid trick I know on June 12). What they have in common is that they’re all one night only, they all go for a maximum of 75 minutes, and most awesomely, they’re all only $12.

What I love most about these classes though is that both the topics and the teaching is 100% community crowdsourced. Anyone can suggest a class they think would be cool, and anyone can sign-up to teach a class based on their area of expertise, however niche. You don’t need to be a professional educator to teach, all you need is a bit of passion and the ability to get other people excited about the things that you’re excited about.

These classes would have to be pretty close to my idea of the perfect night out. A couple of friends, a couple of beers and learning about something great in a totally non-committal way. If you don’t live in Melbourne, start packing. This is worth moving for.

The Inspiring World of Adult Education

Last Friday, I got a chance to witness the hefty emotions and cathartic experience that graduation frequently illicits in people. It was a scene that I missed during my own graduation from high school thirteen years ago.

When I graduated from Prince of Wales in 1999, I remember it feeling like a bit of a non-event. I was never all that concerned that I wouldn’t be able to finish. I came from a  privileged home of loving and supportive parents with the means to support me in anyway deemed necessary. I was awkward and “down in the dumps” much of the time. But I never considered leaving school or changing the way I was doing things. Grad was a foregone conclusion. The question was just what my marks would be and which university I’d go to.

Last Friday, I attended the Vancouver School Board’s Adult Education Graduation Ceremony at John Oliver where for some students, nothing could be taken for granted. It was an eclectic and inspiring crowd.

Many of the students who walked across the stage that night had survived refugee camps, alcoholism, drug abuse and other significant life challenges. Their acceptance of the diploma was a vivid symbol that perseverance pays off.

Other students had chosen the Adult Ed path because they’d found the traditional  routines of secondary schools overly constricting and difficult to manage. Their success at the district’s six Adult Ed Centres showcased that an alternative model like adult ed’s course-based curriculum can be just as effective in preparing students for post-secondary enrollment and success.

Finally there were mature students looking to improve their English, nail down an additional college pre-requisite course (or two) or just improve their marks.For many of these students, adult education served as a ladder to climb higher in pursuit of their career, education and life ambitions.

Throughout the Grad that evening, it was clear there was something special in the air. When a large proportion of your grads have managed to succeed despite (often considerable) adversity, that’s what tends to happen. There were many examples of these successes.

There was Suryya Jan who’d recently been awarded a full ride scholarship from UBC after surviving an awful earthquake in Pakistan and moving to Canada to excel both academically and in the community. There was Khine Htwe, a Burmese refugee who was made a class valedictorian and is headed to UBC to study science. And then there was Ali, a young Iranian student who survived years in a Turkish refugee camp until he was able to immigrate to Canada. Ali’s goal was to head to BCIT and one day become a food safety inspector so that he might help people avoid getting sick. The guy eked goodness and promise. More than anything his story (and the story of many other grads) reminded one to be thankful for our lot in life and conscience that with hard work and perseverance everything is possible. Talk about an inspiring community of people.

Head to Main this Wednesday to Eat for Education

Photo courtesy of CanadaPenguin

Vancouver diners are invited to help take a bite out of the public school funding crunch at the second annual Eat for Education evening taking place this Wednesday (May 2). Launched last year with one school and nine restaurants, the event has grown to include four schools and 21 restaurants (and counting). The majority of restaurants are based on Main Street with a few also participating in North Vancouver.

Here’s how it works: Local restaurants will donate a percentage of Wednesday’s food profits directly to participating schools in their area. Each school controls how the funds are used, and so far updating technology for students has been a focus. This year, VSB schools Mount Pleasant Elementary, Florence Nightingale Elementary and Simon Fraser Elementary stand to benefit from diners.

“We are delighted that some local restaurants in this area are committed to supporting education. Their willingness to get involved is amazing,” says Sue Stevenson, Vice Principal at Mount Pleasant Elementary. “As an Inner City school we believe that it takes a village to raise a child. This fundraiser will support our school initiative to increase access to technology and provide these children with outdoor educational experiences.”

The idea for Eat for Education was born at a Mount Pleasant Elementary Parent Advisory Council meeting in 2010. The first event was held in 2011 and most of $2,100 raised was used to buy the school a SMART Board. Remaining funds helped with travel costs for outdoor educational experiences.

Organizers say they hope to raise even more money this year.

Restaurants are still being encouraged to join. The whole event is being organized by bcfoodies.com.

This year’s Eat for Education restaurants in Vancouver are:

8 1/2 Restaurant and Lounge - 151 East 8 Avenue (604) 568-2703

Latitude - 3250 Main Street (604) 875-6246

Hyde - 2960 Main Street (604) 709-6215

Habit Lounge - 2610 Main St (604) 877-8582

The Cascade Room - 2616 Main Street (604) 709-8650

Elysian Coffee - 590 West Broadway (604) 874 5909

Che Baba - 603 Kingsway (604) 558 1519

Slickity Jim’s Chat n Chew - 3475 Main Street (604) 873 6760

Grub Restaurant - 4328 Main Street (604) 876-8671

The Five Point - 3124 Main Street (604) 876-5810

Locus Lounge - 4121 Main Street (604) 708 4121

Portland Craft (formerly Coppertank) – 3835 Main Street (604) 569 2494

Mavericks (in Howard Johnson Hotel) – 395 Kingsway (604) 872-5252

BierCraft - 3305 Cambie Street (604) 874-6900

Pizzeria Barbarella - 654 East Broadway (604) 210-6111

Vera’s Burger Shack - 2922 Main Street, (604) 709-8372

The Whip Restaurant - 6th and Main 604.874.4687

Some of the Coolest School (Community) Programs in Vancouver

Ok, this is the first time (though likely not the last time) I’m going to toot the horn about my employer the Vancouver School Board. Part of the reason I wanted to write this blog post is because there are some truly amazing little communities existing, in many cases, right below our noses. After five months of sleuthing around the VSB, I’m starting to realize the wide range of programs I’ve been exposed to are only the tip of the iceberg.

So without further adieu, here’s a brief round-up of some of the coolest programs I’ve discovered recently:

Scientist in Residence Program

This school year is off to a busy start with the Scientist in Residence Program. Fifteen Vancouver School District teachers began their collaborative work with seven partner scientists so they can prepare their 341 primary and intermediate students for a scientific experience that’ll give them a firsthand opportunity to see how fun and tangible science can be. Click here to read the full story!

UBC/VSB Transition Program

UBC/VSB Transition Program

Nestled off West Mall in the heart of the University of British Columbia is a small wood-paneled three story building that houses one of the Vancouver School Board’s most dynamic learning environments  – the VSB/UBC Transition Program.

It’s a place whose alumni include the head of Microsoft’s Extreme Programming division, a 20 year old entrepreneur generating millions of venture capital for innovations in electronic communications, and a young Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UBC with a doctorate in Classics from Oxford. The level of accomplishment is palpable. Click here to read the full story.

John Oliver’s Digital Immersion Program

This Revolution will not be Televised!

John Oliver School is on the cusp of a digital revolution engineered by Principal Gino Bondi and a band of tech-savvy teachers. The school’s digital immersion program is one of the first of its kind in British Columbia and administrators and teachers are hopeful it could become the cornerstone for a new innovative style of instruction and learning that will one day become the norm in all Vancouver’s schools. Click here to read more.


Alison Atkinson – The Teacher

Who are you?

I’m a reader, a writer, a Vancouver lifer, a pretty good veggie cook, a yogi, and depending on the day and season, a whole lot of other things.

By day, I work as a high school English teacher. This year, I have grade tens and elevens. We’re using literature and writing to explore crisis and resilience, and prejudice and stereotype.

What do you do for fun?

I have amazing friends, so I spend a lot of time with them. I do a lot of yoga. I read a lot of books. And I try to make the regular stuff, the day to day stuff, fun too.

What is your favorite community? Why?

My favorite community is Camp Fircom, which is a magical place on Gambier Island. I’ve been involved with camp since I was 16 and I’ve seen countless people get to play, make friends, connect to the earth, and fully be themselves. It’s a community that fully embraces imagination, enviromental awareness, and connection – everyone should check it out!

I should also mention my community of best friends here in Vancouver. They are spectacular human beings who have just heaved love on me over the years.

What is your superpower?

My superpower is creating and holding spaces for people to express themselves – be it in the classroom, the yoga studio, or just around the kitchen table.

How do I use it to build community?

When people can feel comfortable and confident on who they are, it’s easier to connect and form community. My dream is to help people be real, take themselves less seriously, and find ways to be creative. From there, community follows.

My Three Favourite Things About Alison Are…

1. Her Smile. It’s very reflective of her superpower. When Alison smiles she reveals her compassion, inclusiveness, sense of humour, and also that she kinda already knows what’s going to happen and/or what you’re going to say next. People who are very comfortable in their own skin have such a wonderful way of making those around them feel the same way.

2. She’s Candidly Direct. The world needs more straight-shooters. As the newest member of the Circle of Literary Judgement, it would be easy for Alison to agree with the collective opinion of what is a pretty outspoken and opinionated group of judgers – but that’s not how she rolls and it’s just lovely. Being a good teacher means being able to criticise without offending and Alison has this powerful skills in spades.

3. Sense of Adventurous Community. Her work with Camp Fircom – and how she collaborates with friends and fellow volunteers to creatively connect people to the natural environment is the best kind of stuff. The eloquence and passion with which Alison speaks of this experience is reflective of someone with difference-making abilities and I’m lucky to call her a friend.

- As told by John Horn

Header photo courtesy of m.prinke

Travellers: Consider Yourself Labeled

Labels are bad. But then again, we love them. Oh, do we ever love them. Without labels we couldn’t classify things and fit them into the hierarchy. Everything has a stepped grading system of better and worse. How else would we know how to value things? Hmm? And don’t get all Zen on me and say that all things are equal. If that were true I’d buy a vintage Harley for the same price as a used Piaggo. They’re not the same thing.

After a recent hiatus from the Daily Gumboot in the south of France, I embarked on a wee trip in Western Europe. What I saw? The hierarchy of travellers. Now this isn’t necessarily how I see it, but wow do travellers love to grade themselves.

For those status oriented people (meaning, most of us), let’s start with the lowest on the food-chain:

Pre-packaged Group Tours: The Tourists

“Now everyone please get off the bus. Anyone need a bathroom? Plug in your radio headsets and tune into channel #1, because we’re the best tour group in Paris! [waits for laugh]. Versailles was built by blah, blah, blah…please try and stay with the group everyone  —”

And the group checks off their list of tourist sites like a dabber on a foreign bingo card , The Louvre = B3, Eiffel Tower = G46, etc. This group flies in to see 12 cities in 10 days, by bus, talking with nary one local person, then jets back home. Typically between in the older of travellers, these groupsters will finsih their travels with hundreds of pictures and videos as proof of presence, and a garage sale’s worth of Union Jack coffee mugs and Mona Lisa keychains.

Bonus points for: number of pictures taken, number of stars on hotel, horror stories about hotels and airports, darkness of suntan, and full bingo card.

ALSO INCLUDED IN THE TOUR GROUP: resort resters, hotel tv-watchings vacationers, and timer-sharers isolationists.

The Young and the Dirty: The Backpackers

“You can totally save 20€ if you sleep on the train, or just sleep at the airport. I did Prague and just stayed out all night. No, I was just there for a few days, but it was awesome. Not as, like, open as Amsterdam, but cool. I’m totally going to Barcelona next. You can’t leave without doing Spain. Oh man, check out that tour…man, those people don’t see anything.”

This group spends between 1-6 months with rail passes and newly purchased behemoth bags, hiking boots, bandanas, and moneybelts hopping from city to city with other backpackers. They will “do” 16 cities which will serve as the backdrop for their mind-opening experiences they’ll talk about for years to come. Hostels and sex, you will find them in either a haze of drunkenness or hangover. Sure they go to the same museums as the tour groups, but they tend to smell worse and their cameras are smaller.

Bonus points for: dreadlocks, braided beards, number of flags on backpack, not having Lonely Planet in hand at bus station, and the possession of Moleskin notebooks full of ticket stubs.

ALSO INCLUDED IN THIS GROUP: post-university mates hitting up the world before “real life starts,” people searching for something (most often getting away from something), thrill seekers who prefer the thrill of beaten paths but sound exotic, and introductory globetrotters

Life Experiencers: Exchange Students and Volunteers

“I know it’s the best Indian restaurant around, but they just don’t do the spices right here. Hawaii is great, but the nothing tops the surf in Oz. He’s cute, but you should’ve seen Raphael in Milano. Of course I speak fluent Spanish…oh, I don’t understand that, I learned in Madrid.  Sorry, I can’t come tonight I have to go to my capoeira class.”

For a semester or a year, these students of the world pack their books and laptops and head out to have their rite of passage experience of a lifetime.   With incredible opportunity to truly immerse themselves into the culture and enrich their lives with a first-hand look at living histories this group of travellers unfortunately performs minimum scholastic or actual volunteer work.  Yes, they have a few local friends, can tell the difference between a Bavarian and Belgian brew, and have developed a solid distaste for tourists and backpackers. They may have lived with a local family, can speak the language at a decent level, and have opinions on why the country is like that.  Much like the backpackers there is a lot of partying, but sometimes includes local parties.

Bonus points for: having local friends/boyfriend/girlfriend, speaking language, less-travelled-to or more-difficult-to-say-countries are better, more time spent away = more bragging rights

ALSO INCLUDED IN THIS GROUP: do-gooders who tend to spend more time at Big Milly’s Backyard than their “boring” volunteer project, high school and university students looking for foreign fun away from watchful eyes of parents, intermediate globetrotters

Expatriates to the Rescue (and Michael Ignatieff)

“I have to wake-up at 4am to be sure I can talk with Seoul and get specs by the ends of the day. I just wish the property values here would go up before we sell and go back home. The bureaucracy is terrible, it’s really incredible, but the health care system is so much better. I think the money’s about the same, but you just can’t get the same ________ back home, which makes it totally worthwhile.”

Foreign assignments, contracts with overseas companies, working from home anywhere in the world, this jet-setting group is monstrous. 3 million Canadians overseas right now. Expats, they like to call themselves.  Michael Ignatieff was one before he tried to become the prime minister.  You’ll find them at the Irish pub watching whatever sport doesn’t air on local television, excessive time on the internet talking with friends back home, and speak with a certain authority about their host country, as cultural/political/social interpreters that are basically experts in this esoteric field. This group complains about all the lower classes of travellers because they usually make their home culture look brutish and stupid to the locals. They don’t do “touristy” things because it’s beneath them.

Bonus points for: being married to a local, having children with said local, having local friends, using correctly strange and subtle slang and cultural jokes, knowing the “best” places to do anything touristy for visitors, and having a super-cool job that doesn’t exist at home.

Emigrants are just Immigrants in Reverse

It was brought to my attention that people who move across borders aren’t always travellers.  There are people who actually move overseas…for good!  Since an emigrant (or conversely, immigrant) are not really travellers but rather residents, I thought I’d leave them out, like the government tends to do. It’s actually a whole can of worms that I’d really rather not open.  And then there are all those politics and power and integration and problems, problems, problems to address. I think I’ll just stick to the nice, easy, privileged people who travel for fun and bum around the world under the guise of becoming worldly. They’re a far easier target.

In Conclusion…

So where does this leave us in understanding the movement of people around the world? It tells us that hierarchy certainly exists and that travellers love it like everyone else. So many people want to feel superior to others. No, we shouldn’t all live overseas for years just to prove we’re better than your friend Jim who did his PhD research in Belize.

Yes, tourism has real inherent problems. That doesn’t mean we all stay at home either. People should just stop being such jerks about how their experience is better than someone else’s. That’s the moral here. So grow up and enjoy travelling already.

Oh, and if your city attracts tourists, makes you millions of dollars, perhaps consider a halt to complaining about the tourists?

My friend Iain hates platitudes, but really this is a situation of “it is what it is.”

Leaving a Job & Building Connections – Part 2

Previously on Lost in this series:

  • We avoided self-righteous indignation
  • We said nice things to people
  • Locke totally isn’t Locke, he’s the smoke thing OMG AMIRITE!!1!ONE1!

Ahem… Focus

Part Two

Put on your blinders and blinkers boys and girls.

One Track Mind

Maintaining focus during the wrap-up period is one of the most difficult, and most important, parts of successfully leaving a job.

As much as it’s tempting to start taking it easy and wind down to the last day, actually cranking it up is by far the better option.

The reason for this is twofold:

  1. You won’t look back with any guilt over your last few weeks or days.
  2. You’ll leave with a much stronger foundation for your reputation.

You won’t be able to complete everything, and what you can’t complete will need to be handed off.

With that in mind get a notepad and pen, and keep it with you 24/7. A notepad is simple, reliable, and perhaps because of it’s lack of wifi, one of the best ways to keep yourself focused.

Out of Focus


Starting at the front make lists of projects and how you’ll finish them off or at least prepare them for the next person. Starting at the back, write down a tips list for your replacement.

A good list of tips and lessons learned will be invaluable to your replacement, or replacements if your work is being spread across several positions.

On your second to last day go through that notepad. Transcribe the tips, and make a special note providing brief details for projects you just couldn’t complete or prepare for handing-off.

You’ll have kept yourself focused, and left a solid foundation for both the person(s) taking over your position, and your reputation. Much like the tips from the first post in this series, it’s all about building your professional network the right way. You’ll probably meet your colleagues again, do it as friends and mutual admirers.

Redefining the Classroom Community

"Where is my professor? Oh, doing research. I guess that's pretty cool..."

"Where is my professor? Oh, doing research. I guess that's pretty cool..."

Whatever happened to well-rounded, liberal arts education? Like my friend and colleague, Margaret Wente, I was  lucky enough to have one at Bishop’s University. In a September 24, 2009 article in The Globe and Mail, Ms. Wente outlined the terrible state of our Canadian universities, which, according to her, do not engage students, employ grad students as peasant-instructors to teach kids (instead of professors) in classrooms packed with hundreds of students, and prefer multiple choice tests instead of essays or other creative mediums through which students can express themselves. Ms. Wente argues that, because universities are so research-based and no longer about creatively engaging students, professors don’t spend enough time in the classroom actually teaching students. “Their job is now done by an itinerant class of ill-paid academic serfs, who cobble together a living teaching sessional courses as they strive to churn out yet another scholarly article that might help them land a steady job,” says Wente. That quote goes out to my dear friend Jim, who is a graduate “serf” at York University and will soon embark on an adventure of serfdom as a sessional instructor. Or he’ll change the world through the movement of active history. I kinda hope it’s the latter, as the world needs more social enterprize carried out by historians.

Sadly, the vast majority of professors in the vast majority of universities are stuck and marred in an educational paradigm of the nineteenth-century. Here is a Vision of Students Today.

In another unfortunate turn of events, The Ubyssey (UBC’s student newspaper) uncovered an interesting fact about teaching evaluations at the university. It turns out, they don’t really matter and the evaluations themselves are horribly flawed. Here’s a sample from the article: “For starters, only professors who consent to disclosure will have their ratings made available to students. Standardized questions, called University Module Item (UMI) questions, appear on every evaluation form. Only results from the UMI questions are released with no student comments attached.” For the record, Bishop’s University doesn’t publish evaluations unless the professor releases them; and my student experience in the History department is idyllically similar to that of Ms. Wente’s. Such a huge problem, though. And where’s the accountability, academic superstars of Canada? Needless to say, our obsession with research-based universities – combined with our inability to properly evaluate the lack of student engagement in the classroom – is failing the young people who come to Canada to learn. Did you know that the University of Manitoba only graduates 56% of its students? I didn’t either. But that’s fairly deplorable.

A hilarious flow chart assembled by Paul Bucci and Kyrstin Bain at The Ubyssey

A hilarious flow chart assembled by Paul Bucci and Kyrstin Bain at The Ubyssey

Interested in making your classroom a community instead of an unaccountable research-ocracy? Here are some strategies to try out:

Edutainment: the concept of edutainment combines performance with learning; basically, make the classroom a fun place to be. Use YouTube. Play games. Talk about pirates. And, most importantly, when you link learning outcomes to enjoyable activities, the result(s) are those wonderful ‘ah-ha!’ and epiphany moments that make teaching such a rewarding experience.

Use technology: sorry, Luddites, but at least part of your curriculum needs to be online (I mean, let’s put it in context…grade ones probably aren’t going to be blogging…I mean, this isn’t Ender’s Game, right?). Whether we like it or not, Web 2.0 has allowed a whole generation of learners to personalize their consumer experience. Education is a product our students consume, so why wouldn’t they expect one of their most expensive purchases (or their parents purchases) to have the option of being tailored to their needs. Whether it’s downloadable lecture notes, an online forum for discussion or a wiki, having technology supplement a comprehensive academic experience will provide a personalized touch that so many students want…and, arguably, need.

Be inclusive:
ask them questions. And don’t stop there. When your next lesson comes up, show your class that you’ve taken their feedback and used it to make your material and their experience even better. Empowering young people to take on creative leadership roles can be risky, sure. But when students are set up for success by their teacher and then their plan comes together – wow – it’s a beautiful thing. The stuff of inspiration, really.

Let them collaborate: no great thing in the history of humanity was every done by just one person. So, from team-based projects to sharing notes (yes, even on Facebook), let students work together to solve problems. Better yet, encourage them to do so.

Make it relevant: From “machine to community” and “hierarchy to network” – according to Goran Carstedt, this is where the real-world of the workplace is heading. The material (ie. the sociology of peasant uprisings in Early Modern France) might not be directly related to life, but the transferable skills sure will. So why not make education as relevant (with content, form and style) as possible? More than ever, employers are accepting that, when it comes to concepts like social media and interdisciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration the boss, not the analyst/intern/consultant/researcher, will be the student. It was two twentysomethings who brainstormed Best Buy’s internal wiki, not the CEO or VP of HR. Having a meaningful, inclusive conversation in the classroom as well as a lecture is a great place to start.

Because if we keep up with our expert orations and do not empower students to engage our ideas with theirs, well, we just might, as Sir Ken Robinson says, kill creativity for good. So, whether you teach kids or adults to dance, do math or save the world using business, try something new in your classroom. You might fail. And that’s okay.

So there it is. Something for all young people out there to think about as they (or their parents) pay for tuition or sign up for another student loan. And, perhaps more importantly, this is something for we educators to think about, too – we can do better. And is we are going to continue to develop a healthy community, we must do better.

So there it is. Be sure to have fun with it as you collaborate with colleagues to redefine the classroom experience.


Aboard the Editor’s Pirate Ship – Back to School

[Editor's note: Aboard the Editor's Pirate Ship is pretty similar to "from the Editor's desk" or "The Editorial Section" of a "newspaper" (remember those, kids?) - thing is, I spend a lot of my day at a desk, so, when I get to twitblogging, it takes place on a creativity-inducing pirate ship where I can stretch my legs as I expand my mind. To you, dear readers, I say "Welcome Aboard!"]

ist2_3965048-back-to-school-colorful-child-writingAcross Canada and around the world (The Gumboot has followers from Uruguay to Uzbekistan, baby!) millions and millions of people are going back to school. Obviously, there are a lot of places to get advice on everything from school supplies to fitting in to increasing your career potential by exploring your options. Now. The highly paid staffers here at The Daily Gumboot possesses a collective expertise in a lot of things – compassionate conservatism, tennis, laundromats, pirates, existential detection, qat, scrapbooking, butter – but, in all truthiness, where we really shine is in our knowledge of education. First, almost all of us went to school at some point. Second, yours truly was raised by two teachers and has attended and/or worked in schools (high ones, colleges and universities) forever. Third, education is pretty much the only thing that’s gonna save our poor little planet; so take it seriously as you have fun with it!

Without further ado, here are five key things to think about as you head to class on Tuesday (or a little earlier, I don’t know if Uzbekistan has Labour Day or not):

1. Be Yourself. This one is simple and complicated. People who change schools or enter college or university with a clean slate are often seduced by the opportunity to re-invent themselves. And it might work. For awhile, at least. Thing is, you are who you are and, no matter how much you pretend, you will inevitably be yourself. Besides, being comfortable in your own skin – maybe even confident in it – is so incredibly attractive and magnetic that, before you know it, you’ll be the most saught-after friend in your class! In conclusion, just ask Oscar Wilde: “be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

2. Find Your Tribe. Get involved. After all, hopefully you’re going to school to become a well-rounded, value-adding person in life, the universe and everything. Start reflecting on what you value (ie. accountability, you do not pay tuition because you think the system is unfairly structured and you would like to choose where your money from hardworking night shifts at Subway goes) and what interests you (ie. pirates) and try to combine them into a fun, campus-based community (ie. The Revolutionary Pirate Club). Also try to be a bridge-builder or connector – maybe your basketball friends and your History department friends and your revolutionary pirate friends will get along and collaborate to form a larger, awesomer pan-community with world-changing potential. It all starts with finding people who give you energy and bring out the best in you.

3. Demand Edutainment. Edutainment combines education, technology, media, entertainment, and, ideally, humour in a classroom setting. Basically, it is a force of positive change that is endeavouring to blow apart the nineteenth-century paradigm of education. Your classes should be collaborative, infused with technology, personalized, and, most importantly, fun! Teachers from kindergarten to university are shaking things up in a lot of ways, so keep your eyes open for distance learning, mind-mapping, social media insta-polling, blogging, e-portfolios, digital media projects, service learning, and project-based courses. And, most importantly, if you find yourself in a classroom listening to an expert for more than an hour, start yelling. The content and style of education should be engaging, after all.

4. Write Down 101 Dream Goals. What 101 things do you want to accomplish before your funeral? What stories do you want to tell your grandchildren? What kind of person do you want to see when you look in the mirror? What do you do for fun? Backpocket COO, Cameron Herald, told me about this supercool mind-mapping exercise. No, you don’t need to map out details like your professional title, geographic location, marital status, family size, and name of your three dogs that you will have by the time you’re 34. You should, however, start identifying your core values, skills and interests sooner than later. If you’re heading into a post-secondary institution, track down their career services office and schedule an appointment in your first year. Again, by no means should you be expected to define an exact and specific post-graduatation job, but you should start thinking about what you want to do when you’re finished school. And keep this in mind. More than likely, the job you will have at then end of your post-secondary education hasn’t even been invented yet. So, maybe put “know three interesting future trends” in your 101 Dream Goals…school-bus-resized

5. Handle Your Booze. “You don’t need to drink to have fun.” My mom told me this as she packed boxes of clothes to be shipped from Vancouver Island to Quebec. Frank the Tank she is not. Little did I know how powerful and unifying this phrase would be. Because, as silly as it sounded to a hyper-masculine 18 year old, I didn’t - and don’t – need to drink to have fun. When my friends and I got heavily involved in Bishop’s University’s orientation week – which, in its hay-day, was a complete gong show of the best kind – our team/group/community motto was “you don’t need to drink to have fun.” Obviously, the boozers in the crowd laughed at our sarcasm; however, we weren’t being sarcastic, as we wanted to make sure that everyone felt included, comfortable and safe. Speaking of safe, take “booze” as a metaphor for whatever vice you put in, on or around your body.  The sooner you figure out that stories beginning with “man, I was so wasted last night…” are cool, absolutely, but only have a limited shelf-life, the more ready you will be to create positive change in the world. Still, when the time and audiences are right, start some stories with that line because, well, they’re usually pretty hilarious! And remember this line that I found scrawled in a Victoria, BC pub called the Bent Mast: “everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Students. Your brilliant young minds have never been as needed as they are today. And the world’s biggest employer is, well, The World. And She is lookinf for someone to help with a rather monumental change. There will be opportunities everywhere for you to find. Good luck. And have fun with it!