I initially met Andrew Campbell on twitter and invited him to the Islands of Excellence Hack Jam in July. Since then, Andrew has been one of our greatest supporters and inspirations for IOE. Outside of the classroom, Andrew is running a few education initiatives including Staffroom Radio, Beautiful Learning Spaces blog and a campaign to get iPads for his school, so far raising over $13,000! Andrew and I have been working on the Beautiful Learning Spaces blog since mid-September after a series of conversations about how we could start re-designing schools that were destinations on people’s travels as are the fountains in Rome.

Andrew is a grade 4/5 teacher at Major Ballachey Public School.


What is an Island of Excellence?

Umm hmm. Well I think we talked about this before. I think calling it an island of excellence is always problematic. Because people don’t see themselves in terms of excellence you know. I think that is just the way we are. We are pre-programmed to see the faults and the cracks. Not what you are doing. So I struggle with that part of the excellence part. I was trying to think about how this would apply to me. And I think that this idea of island of being isolated as being that sort of something that is on a higher ground surrounded by stuff that is not like it. Right? There is difference around it and I think that the thing that helps me with that is the idea that the island is isolated but technology, social media that kind of stuff, provides connection between the islands and allows there to be bridges built between the islands so you can communicate back and forth between the islands and generally just fill it in.

Describe your best or most challenge day.

I get to choose which one? I immediately went to teaching. I think that for me the best days are the days when you come in with sort of like no expectations but are pleasantly surprised with what happens. That you suddenly go “Oh”, I thought it was going to this way. Like, going back to what we were talking about before about letting the kids lead. I love those moments when suddenly you think you are going this way and something happens and you go Oh, that’s way more interesting to go that way, which I wasn’t expecting. And you do it. And you suddenly go, Wow. A good example would be last year the board decided they wanted to engage students more? So they decided what they will do is that they will have a conference. Where they would invite representatives from all the high schools to come in to the conference and they would meet and talk about all this stuff. At the start of the day I told my students that this was going on and they expressed disappointment that it was just high school students. Like why are they the only one that get voices. And I thought about it, and I said you’re absolutely right. And so I checked it out and sure enough there was a twitter feed. So we tweeted about it. And we worked out so that my kids were able to say “ok what are the focus questions” they got the focus questions.. And they tweeted their responses in to the conference. And they showed up on the screen to all the delegates. And this was something completely unplanned and I had no idea this was going to happen at the start of the day. And it was amazing. And that to me, that kind of stuff is what I would say is the best day. And then if I had to flip it the other way, like a bad day would be a day when it is just crushingly boring, you know, when nothing cool happens. It’s just kind of just going through the routine, there’s no creativity, there’s no spark of energy. I mean there are, in all of our lives there are days when there’s just stuff you have to do.

When did you do something that surprised yourself?

When I surprised myself? Umm, I think I surprise myself a lot. I think that is something that happens pretty frequently with me. I think I tend to have a low opinion with myself and abilities [snicker]. So what I try to do is I try to set myself up to do stuff that I don’t really think I can do. And then I am surprised when it works out as well as it does, you know? I was thinking of actually when I started off teaching and not the first school, but 2 years after. I went to a school that was the first network schools in TDSB. And my principal came to me and said “You’re a new a teacher, we have this thing called a computer network. I don’t know what it is. Do something with it”. I kind of went “ok” and umm and i was able to pull it off and do some really cool stuff with it. I had no idea going into it that was what was going to happen. I guess it sort of happened this year as well. In this past school year, where I went to my principal and went, “look, we really need more technology in our school. Our students don’t have very much money. I would really like to try and raise some how can we do that? “and he said ” I don’t know see what you can do” and so now suddenly we have a fundraising campaign, and we have 13000 in the bank towards new technology in our school. The fact that that stuff kind of happens and it’s not because of forethought or good planning or intelligence in anyway; it’s just because people throw themselves at it, and let’s see what happens you know. It’s like one of my favourite quotes, from one of my favourite books the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. In that book Arthur is taught how to fly. And he is told that the way you learn is that you throw yourself to the ground and miss. I always think that is such a good metaphor for taking risks and learning you know? Cause that is essentially what we do right? We kind of go “alright we’re going to go, boom!” and when you miss, you fly. I think that’s really cool

What are the benefits of connecting educators from different fields and industries?

I guess, I got to ask a question, so by multidisciplinary or different perspectives we’re talking about people outside the traditional education sphere? Is that the idea? Or do you want me to answer it how I think?

<What do you think it means?>

I think that one of the mistakes that we have made in education. And i think every discipline kind of does that. We’ve gotten caught up in wanting to be experts in everything we do. We’ve gotten caught up in thinking that we know what we are doing. And that has its strengths because we take pride in what we do and it pushes us professionally. But the problem with it is that education is not just for educators it’s for everyone, you know. And in our efforts to wall off what we do and make it for us, we shut other people out and other people become disconnected from all of education. I was thinking about this on the weekend, we have kind of missed the point of public education. We have made the mistake that public education is about educating this child and we’ve missed the fact that public education or any education is an investment in our society and we’ve missed that you know. The only way that we get back to getting people to understand that public education is really about making this a better place to live for everyone forever and not just about educating this one particular individual child. That’s the only way we’re ever going to move forward. We’re only going to get that if we include other people and like breaking down all the walls and inviting people into the process and taking the process out to other people

Tell us a story about an Island of Excellence who you know

I think my, the one that sprung to my mind, is actually one of my favourite sort of people doing excellent things story. I went to a TLCP meeting last year and this was a TLCP meeting with 3 other schools. TLCP is teaching and learning through critical pathways. It’s sort of a process of teaching. So you’re grouped by grades. So I sat at a table with a guy that is teaching the same grade as me from a different school and I didn’t really know him. And we started talking about what we are doing in different programs. And what I found out that he was doing a 1 to 1 program that nobody knows about. He has over time through people donating things, through going out and begging things collected a class set of laptops. And he has them, and his kids do everything on laptops. And nobody knows about it and nobody talks about it. He is the only one doing it. He doesn’t go out and tell people how to do it. He doesn’t share it. He just does it. Because he thinks that’s the right thing to do. And it’s not like he’s possessive about it. He just doesn’t thinks it’s anything nothing special. It’s just more of sort of an expression of him doing what he thinks is right. And he kind of thinks that everybody should do what they think is right. And it was just such a surprising thing to find out that somebody was doing something that they didn’t, I was just like “wow”, and you are doing that, you just so far ahead of everyone else in doing that sort of stuff. And he just didn’t think it was a big deal. He was very unassuming about it. And doing it, like in a school where everyone thought it was insane. So he was doing something very excellent, and he was surrounded by differences or indifferences?