Transcript #12 Rebecca Chambers: Unlearning Journey and Social Change Makers

Ti-Fen: Hi everyone welcome to compass teachers show. I’m your host Ti-Fen. My job is to interview teachers around the world and tease out their teaching tactics and education research work. Hopefully this show can offers ideas for you to experiments in your classroom.

Ti-Fen: Today our amazing guests is Rebecca Chambers. Rebecca is a high school teacher in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. Her goal as a teacher was to make the classroom a place where students could feel good about who they were gained self confidence and you know why she cared about them. She also wanted to make it a place where students were engaging to get out of their seats to learn the material. She is the founder of unlearning academy an online community connecting schools for the next generation of social change makers. Today I’m really excited to talk with Rebecca and learng more her unlearning journey.

Ti-Fen: Rebecca, thank you for coming to our show.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for having me.

Ti-Fen: So I learned that when you started teaching you followed very traditional ways of teaching. In 2011, Sir Ken Robinson’s really popular ted talk “Do schools kill creativity” changed you. Why and how the Sir Ken Robinson’s talk inspired you?

Rebecca: That’s a really good question and it is a question I get a lot. And I’ve kind of gone through and really thought about this this question. I have to say that definitely. In the beginning teaching in a very traditional manner I started in 2003 and I got into teaching I think for for different reasons and some teachers I was not a fantastic student and I did not one of my high school experience there were things about it that I did log but but looking back I’ll win this looking at the school part. I always you know I did okay I did fine. But I always kind of wanted to do things my own way and that just never really fit in the box it was that’s nice that’s a great idea but that’s not what we’re looking for. So I also I think as I went through high school I struggled a little bit and never really felt as though I was smart and I I’m doing air quotes because you know what we define as smart in traditional school is not my definition of smart anymore. Anyway so when I got into teaching I really felt as though right from the get go I wanted to change things for students like myself/. I want like it says in my right up there I really wanted to focus on you know that relationship peace and confidence building because my philosophy at the beginning was if I can make somebody feel good about who they are and what they bring to the world. Then I think I’ve done my job but but I did I did really I deliver my material in a very traditional way because that’s that’s what I knew when I when I went through teachers college that’s what I you know prepared. Anyway so I try to make things a little bit more entertaining and to like it says get get us out of our seats and moving around but then I did see Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted talk and it really was I I would have to say my aha moment where it was the first time that somebody was saying out loud I think everything that I had been feeling but didn’t even realize it. And when I saw it I just said all right you know what enough is enough what I’m doing right now is is really not helping the students not preparing them as as I’m supposed to be for for the world but they’re going to live in and so it was at that point it was a huge pivot. I started to do all kinds of research you know look into obviously Sir Ken Robinson and it just kind of snowballed from there and and I just found so many amazing progressive educators from around the world I joined Twitter which was was transformative gave me the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world and see what they were doing and then I just started to change the way that that I did things in my classroom.

Ti-Fen: Great yeah I really love how do you get your learnings into actions. So since then you started the unlearning with us movement. I’m curious about how a unlearning process look like your own journey ?

Rebecca: Yeah so that’s where I would start talking about. There is it really opened my eyes to the fact that I can no longer stand at the front and be the keeper of all knowledge. So that was in 2011 and obviously you know technology has changed dramatically you know from when I was in high school but even in my own career you know when I started 2003 I remember using web quests and they were really cool. Like the kids could go on and you know all these different things online and and took you through this quest and that was cool but that was kind of the technology that that was there and just how everything progressed so quickly. I too needed to sort of really dive into what what kind of way can I progress in my own classroom and I came across educators like Alan November. He was kind of in the beginning. I also had a an amazing not but he was my superintendent and time but I had had the opportunity to attend the conference within our board called lead the way. And Peter Gamwell was a superintendent in our board. And he spoke and it really resonated with me and his focus he’s written a book in the last little while called the Wonderwall and it’s all about you know finding the brilliance and every child and and helping them just pursue what they want to be learning and and using not brilliance. So yeah so it was just this it was it was bouncing from one educator to the next to the next looking at you know progressive schools around the world there was something I came across in Massachusetts I was called the independent school where the kids had read a school within a school. And so I really jumped into that night tried some things out in my classroom and I Max out worlds I came across another school called Iowa big and really loved what they were doing. I visited a private school here in in Ottawa called blue sky high school and another educator from our board who had kind of branched out and decided to open up her own school and really got a lot of information out through what she was doing. And yeah and every time I kind of came across someone I would you know contact them and have conversations and then I would come back and I mean there’s a group of students who now are in their second year out of high school and it definitely call them my Guinea pigs because they never knew what was coming next. We were always experimenting with something some new way of learning and some new way of connecting with community and and I’m all those things and it was just so the I’m learning process for me was the reading and that the gradual release of what are you under understood school to be armed and real really reimagining what I wanted it to look like by you know taking snippets from all these different people that I had come across.

Ti-Fen: I see that sounds lots of effort. t I think we can get deeper to know how the teacher can start. but before we doing that I’m curious about what did you see the transformation in your students before and after the unlearning process? If there’s a story that you can share that will be great as you can give us a deeper understanding of that.

Rebecca:  Yeah I think so for people to understand what it is that I do is I moved away from we’re all going to do this too what do you want to do and how can I support you individually and so seeing that shift our I mean one of the biggest things was you know when you’re teaching thirty kids I can pick out whatever I think is the most interesting thing from that the curriculum and as I teach those different sort of snippets in in the curriculum you know.   You might have for five kids out of that thirty that are really interested in that particular topic and then you move on to another one and then maybe have a different or five that are interested in that specific topic and so then you have like three quarters of your class there just kind of going through the motions. So making that transformation for more about personalized learning experience not that I would say that everyone was a hundred percent engaged in my classes when I made the switch but it was kind of the first time ever where they were all getting the opportunity to really dive into things that that they really were more interested in in the curriculum while you know maybe I’m learning you know.   I taught grade ten history and maybe I’m really into warfare and I want to dive really deep into that but maybe the person beside me really wants to learn about women’s rights and then the person beside that wants to look at other social justice movements and you know it was just it was really interesting to sit to watch them really get to have the opportunity to to learn the curriculum but in a way that are they were more engaged because they wanted to dive further into a specific topic.   I may still have the opportunity to also learn the other stuff that I would’ve taught because the person beside them was doing something and there were a lot of great conversations about curriculum that I as the teacher wasn’t expert anymore.  There were different people in the room who became the experts and they would share different things.   Yeah I mean I do are you I have lots of different examples of kids.  One specifically how I don’t even know which one to pick.  One students  really didn’t yeah one student really didn’t love school and I had the opportunity to teach him first three years in a row and I when I work with my students in the beginning they’re very confused at you know when I asked the man green can you know okay well what is it that you want to learn it what are you passionate about what do you care about.   And often it’s just like wow I don’t know I’ve never been asked that I had and just tell me what I should be learning.  So I teach the social sciences and so this this boy for his entire three years studying he was with me he really delve deeper into the education system  and so it didn’t matter what course he was he was taking he was a huge advocate for the fact that you know you could be learning in so many different places. But unfortunately we don’t value all types of learning. He was a self taught hobby mechanic and there are between the ages of grade ten to grade twelve. He bought and sold cars, dirt bikes and snowmobiles side by side that he would go on YouTube and learn how to fix some and data and then sell them.   And he was making money doing that and you know often he was holding classes that he wasn’t a great student and you know he wouldn’t be going anywhere and I mean I saw this young man who loves learning  but just in a totally different way in using different scales.  But one of the coolest things for for him was that I was asked to speak at our a PD day  for all the English teachers in our in our board and he came and was so passionate about this topic and had done so much research on that he came and beat he was my co presenter  and he spoke to you know a couple hundred English teachers and and gave his perspective and really opened up the eyes of a lot of people thought was really cool to watch this kid who had kind of been deemed a really bad students are getting up in front of all of these people and and data sharing his knowledge and his experience.   

Ti-Fen: So if a teacher wants to start an unlearning journey, how can they take the first step ? And I believe that you have lots of stumbles before in your experience.  What advice would you give teachers so that they can start out more smoothly?

Rebecca: Yeah I think there’s two big things like the first is that you have to have an open mind.  You have to and this isn’t going to happen overnight.  That’s definitely something that you need to understand because even myself, somebody who got into teaching already knowing that they wanted to change things.  It still took me a while to move away from where we really were. There was this ingrained feeling that if I don’t give a task then I’m not a good teacher.   So I think it’s sort of having that open mind finding those other people who are doing things differently and and lifting and listening  often educators are not necessarily open to listening to new ways of doing things so that would be sort of my first advice.   The second thing is kind of going back to that this isn’t going to happen overnight  my learning journey I think I you know I’ve been teaching for seventeen years I think it’s been ongoing since day one and I think it’s going to continue until I’m mall arcade I see myself as a lifelong learner.   So I think it’s going to continue for a long time  but just try something you know you don’t have to overnight. This teacher where you know you’re doing a hundred percent passion based are individualized projects because that is extremely overwhelming.   But the way I did it with each year it just kind of I got inspiration and I tried one thing out around on all the other stuff that I knew that I was comfortable with.   And it’s also for the kids too because you can’t just throw it at them right away because they’re so used to sort of the traditional way  but if you can take one thing and try it out that to me would be thirty years your starting point  and as you as you go through it I understand and be okay with failure  because it’s not all going to work.  It’s not all going to be perfect  but you won’t know unless you try.

Ti-Fen: So Rebecca.  I believe you have tried lots of different teaching methods but so what are the few of the ways you try that you found really useful

Rebecca:. Like I said the traditional sort of deliver material all the students do you know a project or task I do lessons  and that I mean that is what teachers know how to do  but I revolved into this  I guess you could say a 100%  passion based project  classroom and it has again been trial and error on how to because this is so different.   I don’t collect thirty papers or thirty tests or thirty assignments and then go home and marked down and then hand them back you know because that was kind of the routine that’s what what I know.   And that’s what most teachers now so now I’m more of a project manager and I’ve had to have conversations with friends of mine who are actual project managers and  you know the government and so  it’s it’s been a learning process and it’s not finished  but I’ve found ways effective ways to give feedback are using Google forms.   You know the one on one conversations are so valuable  but you still have to be able to document stuff and  making this transition to at home learning in the online learning the hacks really really helped for me because I could record our sessions and then I would have a feedback.   But yeah it’s I don’t know that like with what I’m doing I don’t have an easy answer.

Ti-Fen:  Yes I hear some key components there’s more frequent feedback from Google doc you know one to one conversation and then there’s an online they’re needed for home learning. So that’s really great.  And then you have a program called social change maker.  Would you mind telling us more about how you came up with this program and what kids do through these programs ?

Rebecca: Sure I’m up to very excited about it  so when we we hear in our while we were told that we would be going back to school in March  I have a daughter who is twelve and a daughter who is eight and die out you know we started the at home learning and her teacher although both of their teachers are phenomenal and we’re sending stuff home  and they had the meetings  but my kids were just really not engaged and so  I had actually thought about offering the social change maker program  right in our local community center sort of been face to face  before this all happens  so obviously the face to face couldn’t happen and just in talking to some friends and my sister you know she’s got young kids and whatever I said you know what happened I did this you know online what if I offered an online but anybody and be interested and so it just kind of started from there and we ran a ten week program are from April to June  where I had kids from Ontario come back and  England and Scotland in the program we had twenty one kids and the whole concept behind the social change maker program is very similar to what I’ve done in the past I’ve created what I call the social change maker model  where are the kids learn about their strength there are what motivate some  what they’re passionate about are you introduce them to the United Nations sustainable development goals where we sort of Delvin and look at different issues that are you know throughout the world but also  it right here in our own communities we invite people who are trying to do things to help with their their Esty jeans  so we have a lot of not for profit to come in and share what they’re doing  and die and tell us all about that and then from there the kids are connect with  not for profit organizations or come up with their passion about and we learn to create solutions that we take action  so  right now so we finished that first what program it with ten weeks and right now we’re just kind of coming to the tail end of the second program  and we have to move really really cool projects happening we’ve got two different video series that go on one of the mental health one about the LGBTQ plus community  and then we have two other projects that are really dealing with anti racism  one where boys are using minecraft where they’re gonna hold a virtual March  and  people are gonna March part by different historical protest  no relating to civil right and then there are another group of girls who are hockey players are trying to get a a movement going where  they look at racism in hockey  so it’s really really exciting were you know connected to lots of different people in the community and  like I said they work with not for profit organizations  yeah and the kids the kids in the program are that I’m working with are between the ages of eleven and fourteen  but then we also offer a program for younger kids my youngest daughter is in it  and that’s ages seven to nine are where they’re not working on quite as big projects they have a theme each week and they do a little action by the end of the week to help that particular team R. as a group  and so yeah so what’s going on and  in the fall  I know that that you had said I was the founder of on learning how to me but we’re just right now going through  a a re brands and yeah yeah and Donald we are now called the rise academy and are we I’m going to be offering high school credits are for Ontario students in September.

Ti-Fen:  That’s great I am curious about you mentioned lots of great projects that the kids can do in social change maker  so how do you help them to define the outcome they want because I feel like it’s a big problem and that they want to solve social issues and it might be hard to get for it so I’m curious how did you guide throughout this process?

Rebecca:  Yes so this is where  how do you know what it is like a backwards sort of model of of of providing instructions for for students right so in a traditional classroom you know teachers create assignments and then it says you know goal tasks are maybe there’s the rubric all that sort of thing and they handed to the kids in the your your stop this is what you have to do so  are what happens in our social Changemaker program is  all right we go through the whole process of you know what do you care about what are you good at  and what motivates you and from there we look at I’m not an issue and we think okay well how can we pair those things together so like I said I have this group of boys who love mine crafting and they’re great at it and died so then from there and then we say okay well what issue do you want to tackle and they they were really you know upset about everything happening are in the media  and and in our world related to racism  and so then we connected with  a gentleman by the name of James Delaney who is on the board of an organization called block by block are they use minecraft to help  it’s different our places in the world that have  poverty and they don’t have green space and anyway long story short they used minecraft to rebuild these areas and so  we we set up meetings with the kids and with these people and we brainstorm and we come up with okay what do you want to do how do you want to do it what is your end goal and so from there as we do that I as the teacher sit down and I take my notes and I listen to what they say and you know give suggestions and then we together co create their to do lists and each week we meet up at least once if not twice the sort of check in when you get done what do we do like what our next steps do we need another meeting  and so it’s just sort of like planning an event but we do it together and and I provide them with instructions that like you said I was a kid they may not think of certain things or they may not  I know exactly what to do or where to go and that’s my job is to meet with them and to make sure that they they know what to do.

Ti-Fen:  Wonderful so last few questions is there any groups that influenced a lot around you’re thinking ? It doesn’t need to be any books that are relevant to teaching but just in general that affect your own thinking process ?

Rebecca: Yeah I where do I begin so  I’ve got a I’ve got a bookshelf of these but I would say  I mentioned Peter down while he’s written the Wonderwall I he’s he’s written not specifically for  you know for educators but also for business  I haven’t meant mentioned this gentleman yet who has really really shaped a lot of what I’ve done but his name is don what track and he is in Indiana  he’s written a book called pure genius and at I mean it’s it’s worth my road map to to sort of where I am today  anything by Seth Godin  I love his books there shortened to the point and  I follow his blog very very  very good  there some other authors here like I said there’s a local author her name is Jennifer kasa Todd  and she’s written a book called social media because that is something else that are a huge part of what what I do is are teaching the kids how to connect and to use social media in a in a positive and a professional way  dot has really influenced and you know what I mean I’ve definitely jumped on the grenade brown bandwagon our anything that she has to say I love  all about you know taking risks and and being vulnerable and  I think that’s really really important as an educator who’s willing to to make changes is that they need to be ready to be vulnerable and open themselves up and letting people know that I’m trying this I’m not perfect  that’s true yeah yeah I guess I could there’s so many different yeah that’s L.

Ti-Fen: Yeah I think that should be a really great list for now so before we close up,  do you have any other thoughts, programs or workshops you want to share with our listeners ?

Rebecca:  I think that when you when you had sent me the questions one of the questions with advice for new teachers  and I would I would love I would love for new teachers zero and I know it’s scary going in but try like right from the beginning try something new try something that scares you  and and for  you know a veteran teacher same thing I I write a blog which I haven’t written in awhile what are I have taken an Eleanor Roosevelt quote unquote and it’s sad do one thing every day that scares you.

Ti-Fen: And I think that’s really really good advice to live by that’s really really great so if people want to learn more about your work how they can find you online? 

Rebecca: Yeah I saw on Twitter online Mrs R. chambers and I just started up our rise academy  social media so you can find us on our Twitter and Instagram and its rise academy twenty twenty  if they want to hear more about  the different programs that we have that’s great as I know there’s a social change maker program any other programs that  you want to bring up are just E. R. in September were it’s it’s going to be our rights academy the high school level  it doesn’t have a special name maybe I should give her a special ring I’m there’s their commercial change makers to but there are there different courses our social science courses from  the Ontario curriculum so they can get credits that go towards their Ontario secondary school diploma  but then that will be I’m just we’re just about  we’re close to launching our website and  we ride the county dot CA they can call as they are.

Ti-Fen: Yeah thank you so much Rebekah for sharing your great were with us today.

Rebecca: Thank you so much for having me really appreciate it.

Ti-Fen: Thank you for listening we will put the things mentioned interfere to the show notes if you enjoy our show will come to share thank you

#12 Rebecca Chambers: Unlearning Journey and Social Change Makers

Rebecca Chambers is a  high school teacher in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Her goal as a teacher was to make a classroom a place where students could feel good about who they were, gain self-confidence and to know that she cared about them.  She also wanted to make it a place where students were engaged and could get out of their seats to learn the material.

She is the founder of RISE Academy, an online community connected school for the next generation of social change-makers. To learn more about Rebecca teaching philosophy, check out the CBC article done on her classroom in May 2018 How an Ottawa teacher is helping students unlearn learning.

Connect with Rebecca:
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