“You can’t push people, but you can walk with them on the journey.” – Lynn Thomas, Canada
Secondary English Teacher, Digital Lead Learner
Dunnville Secondary School, Granderie District School Board
MIE Expert Lynn Thomas, who will be attending E2 in Paris next month, recalls a tweet with an intriguing picture. “It had four overlapping concentric circles and contained in the circles were four thoughts: what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs,” she remembers. “Alongside these thoughts were four words: Passion, Mission, Vocation, Profession. It made me pause and smile because there in the circles was what I had been trying to put into words.”
The picture Thomas is referring to is the Japanese concept called ikigai. Laura Oliver, author of the article, The Japanese concept of Ikigai could be the secret to a long, meaningful life, says that “while there is no direct English translation, ikigai is thought to combine the Japanese words Ikiru, meaning ‘to live,’ and Kai, meaning ‘the realization of what one hopes for.’ Together these definitions create the concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life.” That idea resonated with Thomas.
“In the last few years, I have jumped into learning new things and have challenged myself to try different approaches – a very scary thing for me, but something I felt necessary because I was starting to feel stifled by the way I had been operating in my classroom,” says Thomas. “I had been craving something, and this Japanese notion helps explain what it was I craved: A purpose, but not just a purpose, a passion and mission that would enhance my vocation and profession.”
Serendipitously, around the time Thomas was feeling disheartened and restless, her school board took a big leap into technology.
“I would not have thought at the time that technology would be the impetus that would send me on the learning path I find myself on, but here I am,” shares Thomas. “I found I was very adept at learning this new tech and embraced it. I loved the organizational capabilities of Microsoft OneNote. I am, by nature, rather obsessive about organization, and I became a pro quickly and found myself assisting my colleagues and running mini PD sessions in my school. This led to my principal recommending that I join the newly formed Digital Lead Learner group on our board. Little did I know what a game changer this would be for me.”
The Digital Lead Learner group takes a collaborative approach to learning not only about digital technology, but also about pedagogy – deep pedagogical learning that has impacted all aspects of Thomas’s practice, most of which, she notes, have nothing to do with digital anything. “This whole process reminded me to be a learner again which, in turn, reinvigorated my curiosity and re-energized everything about my practice,” she shares. “In short, I discovered my passion.”
As an English teacher, Thomas knows that most people have fears surrounding speaking in front of others, and her students are no different. However, she has a new ally in combatting this fear: Flipgrid.
“Flipgrid has become the center of one of my favorite activities,” says Thomas. “As our foray into public speaking, I start with a persuasive speech or ‘rant’ that students can identify easily with. We study effective speeches, persuasive techniques, and effective oral speaking skills. They then write their speeches and, instead of having them present to the class where traditionally large numbers of students immediately shut down, I have them do their speech on Flipgrid.”
According to Thomas, there are a number of fortuitous results. First, the students like using Flipgrid and are eager and more relaxed about doing their speech. Second, they are relieved at not having to do it in front of their peers. And third, Flipgrid makes students practice without them even realizing it.
“All my students end up taking quite a few ‘takes’ to do their speech,” says Thomas. “In the past, telling them to practice hardly ever actually happened, so the fact that they ‘accidentally’ practice their repeated ‘takes’ is a happy circumstance.” Later in the year, the class will work on other oral activities, and after their initial introduction using Flipgrid, they have gained the confidence they need to then present face-to-face.
Thomas sees the biggest challenge facing education today as combatting the “but this is how we’ve always done it” attitude. She believes a shift away from this mindset is necessary, including in curriculums, physical classroom set-ups, methods of course delivery, and even the structure of school programming.
“A continued commitment to improvement requires an open mind,” she says. “I have implemented a lot of new strategies and integrated technology into my classroom using a 21st century design process to support students in their learning and prepare them for an uncertain future. By doing this, I also expose other teachers to new things. After seeing a lesson play out and hearing about the positive results, many are intrigued and start to try new things as well. You can’t push people, but you can walk with them on the journey.”
About Lynn Thomas
- Educational background: Honours B.A., B. Ed.
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: OneNote
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Worry steals your present and is a pointless pastime.
- Favorite childhood memory: All of my cousins and I taking turns stirring my Grandma’s Maple Black Walnut fudge then getting to lick the big spoon afterwards!
- Favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee