I want to Remember this Moment

CDLI‘s eLearning team is spread out over 15 locations within the province. We mostly communicate and collaborate online using both synchronous and asynchronous tools–after all eLearning is what we’re about and if we can’t walk the walk well…who can?  Twice a year we get together for meetings. On June 17-19 we gathered at Gander, NL and I had the opportunity to address the team for the last time before I retire in August. It went like this…

What to say when your message took decades to build but you only have time for a few words? Sure, you could break the rules and say them all anyway but the message needs to fit the listeners’ needs too. The few minutes you get have to count.

Thirty years—you could summarize. These phrases fit:

  • I’m grateful and to have been a part of this team.
  • I, too, learned a lot along the way.
  • It was hard work.
  • It was worth it.
  • It’s been fun.

That can’t be it, though. Thirty years of kneading a bit of clay leads to a transformed piece of muck. The stress, the deadlines, the learning, the…work. It has to result in something better than grey hair, a belt that seems tighter than it used to be and, maybe, an overwhelming sense of weariness…

…else there would be no real reason to celebrate.

But that’s how it’s supposed to be. Fortunately, those aren’t the only changes. With experience comes patience, a willingness to listen rather than talk (but I can do that too) and, best of all, a few lessons.

The best things have been team efforts. Sure, individual efforts count, but if you look at the bigger things we’ve accomplished you’ll see that none of them were the work of just one person.

It’s important to be confident. The tentative, shy voice is generally ignored. There are times, when we have to just speak up, move to the front and do what has to be done. There’s no time to second-guess, just time to act and at those times you must seem to be sure of what you do. And, yes, sometimes it’s okay to just fake it if you are not too sure.

That said…

It’s even more important to be humble. We have lots of good ideas. Coming up with new ways of doing things and, even new things to do is exciting. It’s been my happy discovery, though, that, without fail, every time I’ve shared one of those good ideas with my colleagues, and listened for feedback the result has been an even better one. Perhaps the idea thrown out was met with one that was better but, more often, bits from the one offered were joined with pieces from the ideas of others and the result was far better than what any one of us could have come up with alone.

So, then, that begs an important question. If it’s important to be both humble and confident then which one should lead? It’s hard to be both…at the same time. Fortunately we don’t have to choose. It’s possible. You know how it is. We can be the people we need to be, as the situation requires. Sometimes it requires confidence and sometimes it requires humility. Perhaps it’s best to see the whole thing as one long protracted dance between the two. And who calls the tune? Hopefully, your better judgment.

This year marks twenty-five years of DOE supported distance education in our province. I sort of came on board twenty-four years ago when my school became a part of the new system but formally joined twenty-one years ago when we started teaching physics through the system. There’s never been one moment in that time when I thought we were on the wrong track. For sure there have been doubts about pieces of what we’ve done, been many times when it became necessary to simply sweat it out and push through hard times. But the goal has always been the right one.

Together we’ve been able to change along the way. We:

  • Tightened up the legacy system; made it more reliable.
  • Shifted our legacy instructional model to bring it into alignment with school schedules and needs.
  • Added courses, as needed.
  • Built one digital provincial network, based mostly on dialup.
  • Then another, an urban part and a rural part that relied on the hybrid satellites.
  • Then, another—the frame relay one.
  • Then finally another—the one based on fibre. It’s incomplete, of course.
  • Experimented to learn how to do synchronous and asynchronous on digital networks.
  • Made the shift over to digital.
  • Added an LMS, then another.
  • Added new synchronous tools.
  • Made forays into content creation.

Most importantly, the work continues.

Now, here we are, different, in so many ways, from the entity that was originally created twenty-five years ago. The org chart is different, as are the technologies and, of course, there are completely different personnel. Through it all, we are still fundamentally the same. In the end we’re here because of our students and their success is what matters most. Everything else, as vital as it is, is subservient.

And we are resilient.

Through all of the changes our core objective has persevered and we have gotten better and better at it. But, like a tsunami the recent budget and school district restructuring is rolling right through our system. Almost nothing is being left untouched. The districts are rolled together—different in ways we do not even know at this point. We, ourselves, were not immune to the cuts that happened. We are wounded; diminished.

But the wave can wash clean too and we are resilient.

We will continue to do our part. This fall will be difficult; only a fool or a liar would believe otherwise. But we are not alone—our team is part of a larger one and, bit by bit, it will all come back together, hopefully, stronger than ever; maybe different, yes, but better.

These past few years we have been mainly focused on making the small improvements that could be made. Now, though, in the midst of profound change perhaps this is a time for us all to, once again, set sights on the bigger picture.

Our world today is not the one it was when I started out in ’83. Boundaries that define countries have changed, wars have been fought, ideologies have changed and yes, electronic devices have become parts of everyday lives. While they offer the opportunity for us to reach out to others they bring dangers too. They are addictive and, what’s more, they encourage a type of thought that is, at best, shallow and, at worst, in-keeping with an ever growing global consensus driven primarily by big corporations intent on nothing but their own profit and power. A consensus that tries to say among other things that your needs are more important than those of the environment and of society at large and, oh, by the way, here are your needs. Trust us; we know what’s best for you.

Now, more than ever, we need so much more than just naïve but highly skilled workers. Sure it’s in the interests of big business to have eager, trained workers all ready to dig up or refine another blob of Athabascan tar or bucket of Grand Banks crude. But is it really good for the economy to build a single-commodity petro-state while doing so? Of course not, in the end that leaves us completely at the mercy of the energy market.

Does it serve society to force-feed information sugar-coated and conducted through slick, new iPads (this is not to dismiss tablets and such; they’re amazingly useful and it’s only a problem when they, and not the students’ learning, become the focus) and such or delivered through the gun barrel of large-scale, high-stakes international testing to the extent that our students lose track of how to really think. Of course not. The hard-fought social and environmental reforms that our parents and grandparents attained are really what are under siege and our young people will need to be vigilant, critical and well-spoken if they are to continue to work toward an evolving society that is both just and sustainable.

And finally, if nailing good jobs is the only goal that education seeks then what sort of lives will our students really lead? Without having spent the carefully-guided, thoughtful time developing their future lives then what can our young people look forward to? Long hours slaving away in work camps far from home and family with just occasional visits punctuated by the purchase of flashy, expensive toys. Things that will give, at best, 48 hours of pride leaving only bills requiring even more work. Lives punctuated by plaintive shouts through the megaphones that are Facebook, twitter and the like. “Look at my new quad/truck/apartment, whatever.” Too bad no-one’s listening anyway. They’re too busy doing the same. Nothing left but to anaesthetize through alcohol or worse.

We know it does not have to be that way. A nurtured, educated soul is much more likely to live a life that is prosperous, productive and, most of all, worthwhile. That’s why we are here. It’s not just about the individual subjects, yes, each one matters, but it’s the totality that really counts.

That’s never been easy: insufficient resources, budget cuts, conflicting views on what we should be doing and how, and, of course, the unwanted baggage that so many of our young people have to bring: ill health, bad situations at home, the list goes on.

But that’s why we are here.

And we are resilient.

And so, here we are. The path ahead is uncharted and littered with obstacles. But you know why you are here; you know the goals you seek and, most importantly, you are not alone.

In this time of uncertainty and change, now is not the time for divisiveness. Now is the time for us—all of us; those who are staying and those who will be moving on, whether it be by choice or otherwise—to continue to work together, to challenge ourselves to find renewed courage and skills to face that uncertain future with the combination of confidence and humility that is so needed at this time.

As you move forward I may be watching from the sidelines now but rest assured I will be watching, with hope. I look forward to seeing this thing advancing; thriving. And I will expect that wisdom, through the spirit of cooperation and respect will always be your guide.

The team. Too bad they thought I was taking a video and started waving...blurred up the panorama.
The team. Too bad they thought I was taking a video and started waving…blurred up the panorama.

26 thoughts on “I want to Remember this Moment

  1. Mary

    A very moving farewell speech – you will surely miss your ‘team’ they look like a great bunch – so much you have all achieved together. I do not know about changes in the Nfld education system but you/ they have navigated so much technological change these past decades – that they are sure to be …resiliant.
    What will your next chapter be?

  2. Johnny

    A great speech last evening, Maurice. I knew you would be posting it here as well. I am glad you did, so that it can be revisited from time to time. Wise and genuine – thoughtful and from the heart. It has been an honor and privilege to work with you for many years. All the best to you and family.

  3. Without dedicated folks like you Maurice … the world would stop spinning on its axis. Do not laugh … I’m not joking … I’m serious. Without you, eLearning in your not-so-small part of the world wouldn’t be nearly what it is today. Without dedicated folks like you nothing would be the way it is. All fields of endeavor need smart, dedicated people with vision, determination, and drive – without these kinds of folks, nothing would happen … nothing … or at least nothing new. So … I repeat … ‘Without dedicated folks like you Maurice … the world would stop spinning on its axis.’ Congratulations on what you have accomplished … you can enter your retirement with pride and with a broad grin across your face. D

    1. You are too kind, but I am very grateful for that. Now, there’s a summer of passing things over and ensuring that the transition goes well and this fall, after August 30, who knows??? …but it will be fun to find out.

  4. Josephine Barry

    I am so happy I got to share this important moment with you . Your children and I couldn’t be prouder . A great career coming to a close but as I know you very well this will be another great beginning . Love you Josephine ❤

  5. Wish I had been there to witness your moment, Maurice! i am delighted that I had an opportunity to work with you for our first 6 years at the Distance Learning Centre. I learned a lot from you. I wish you well in the next phase of your career. I am sure we will be seeing you around campus!
    Bonne chance!

    1. Thanks, Camilla. Yes, just a few more months and new choices to be made. I imagine you’ll be seeing me around, even if I’m just dropping by for Friday morning breakfast with the tech gang or for pizza in 3005 :>)

  6. What a powerful speech!! You nailed it down – I couldn’t agree more on your assessment of the fossil-fuel driven economy, the necessity of cool gadgets like iPhones and the need to display those on social media – if your Very Important Job Allows with an Important Title allows you to do so.

    Looking forward to reading the book you are going to write now! I am sure you are in inspiration for the next generation of teachers!
    Your blog is one of my favorite ones and I will continue visiting also during my social media break.

    1. Thank you. I’m going to take a lead from you and slow down the posts over the next few months. This summer will be a transition period as I ease out of my current responsibilities and, at the same time, look for what might be next. I won’t want to be posting about any of it until there’s anything concrete.

  7. That’s a splendid speech to go out on…hope your last few weeks till August are as memorable for you and that you have something fantastic planned for your retirement!

    1. Thank you. I figure I’ll be working again in the fall…but for a different organization. Right now, the fact is I love being an educator and see no time in the immediate future when that’s going to change. The real question now is how to channel it differently :>)

  8. They’re going to miss you, Maurice. It doesn’t get any better than to leave a fulfilling job on a high note, and know you have made a difference. And for those who have basically lived through the history of applying technology to education, it’s been a treat as well, hasn’t it! Best wishes with your next gig.

    1. You are absolutely correct. It’s true that I love my job very much and know I will miss it. That said, I’m also a ‘planner’ and some time ago, decided that this would be the year. It is going out in a positive way–my feelings toward work are fond and warm and will remain that way.
      …and yes, it’s been quite a treat!

  9. The things you’ve done are amazing and inspirational Maurice. Education is something everyone should have access to, it transforms lives and forges brighter futures. The work you’ve done will have transformed so many lives in so many ways and that is something few of us every get to achieve. You do not strike me as the retiring kind, I don’t sense someone who has played his part and now wants to put his feet up so I hope whatever is next will be as fulfilling and rewarding for you and everyone whose life you touch. You are an inspiration in so many ways and have helped me decide on my future career direction, all the way from NL to my rural spot in the UK and I sincerely thank you for showing me a new path.

    1. You are deeply insightful, as always. This time you have completely read my mind! As the summer plays out and I transition away my thoughts will be turning more and more towards what’s next. I will not have it figured out by the day I leave (August 30) but the new journey will be underway somewhat. I am really looking forward to it too. No, I won’t be retiring–making a new start is more like it. We’ll see.
      Speaking of new starts. Looks like another one is underway…for you. I am very happy for you. It’s been a hard few months for you and now, it’s nice to see things turning around.

  10. That’s a great summary, Maurice. Congratulations on your decision. With your record of devotion, I doubt that you won’t be more than an arm’s length away. With that experience, I’m sure that your wisdom will be tapped into by friends and colleagues in the future.

    1. Thanks! At this point it’s not retirement I’m looking for but, instead a transition to a different role. It’s a great big educational world out there and I’m excited at the possibility of, once again, choosing a new path. I’ve already indicated to my director that I’m more than happy in continuing to help out, but now as a volunteer. I don’t finish until August 30 as I am a secondee to the DOE from the school district so my current school year does not end until just before the new one starts in September. Summers are always very busy in my work and I expect this one to be more than usual owing to the transition. Today’s a holiday and, here I am, at a Starbucks, just back from spending an hour’s work in the district school, assisting with the setup for a summer institute. Like I said to the friend I was helping–this is as much fun as is anything else I do! That’s the thing about being an educator–as long as you keep the ‘jadedness’ out it’s easy to see that what we do is life-giving.

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