Standing at a precipice…

What could Earth Day 1990 and trying to integrate tech in the classroom possibly have in common? That they’ll be forever tied in my mind by the experience of frustration and surprise at standing at the edge of a precipice…

In 1989, as a young and naive environmental educator, I had really high hopes when they announced there’d be an Earth Day 1990, and I was interested in what would happen here in Ontario. But my repeated calls to the Canadian headquarters in Vancouver went unanswered until finally, one day, someone at the other end said rather impatiently, “Cathy, you’re the only one who keeps calling from Ontario. There’s no one who will take on organizing things in Ontario — you do it!” Yea, sure… a lowly small-time outdoor educator and teacher like me, take on the whole province of Ontario, when there are big leaders who do things like that all the time… Not a chance. You’ll find one of them to do it.

But when a few more weeks went by, and then another, that’s exactly what I did. I don’t know what I was thinking. But I just couldn’t stand by and let Ontario NOT participate — with 9+ Million people who had enormous power to do both good and bad — in such an important environmental global event. And besides, I reasoned, whatever I could do would be better than absolutely nothing, right? So with the help of a lot of people here in small-town Peterborough, we mobilized folks across the province to undertake all kinds of projects and actions to celebrate Earth Day 1990 with the rest of the world. But going over that precipice is a whole other story.

Because here I am, 20 years later, with the same feelings, and the same unanswered calls… Only this time they’re emails and tweets, and it’s just a local board of education, a local area, a local school, and a single class… Compared to a province, a piece of cake, right?? Wrong.

As an older teacher, already past my prime and “Best Before” date, I conciously chose to dive into Web 2.0 a year ago because I could see that many of my Gr. 7-8 students were living in a different world, and the gap between us was growing too wide. Classroom learning was becoming irrelevant to my students, and I believed I’d already become a dinosaur by not embracing 21st Century technologies.

So it was a pretty big surprise to me to recently discover that I’m not nearly the dinosaur I thought I was, and that most of my own colleagues are a whole lot farther behind in learning and embracing all of this than even I am, including administrators, mentors, and my younger educational colleagues! And to find them asking ME of all people to explain things to them — just does not compute.

And while I’ve been trying to implement amazing learning activities with and for my students in my classroom, I’ve discovered barriers and walls and challenges I naively assumed had already been breached…. Where I expected to find a vibrant world of fellow-teachers who were far ahead of me, having created, integrated, and problem-solved the same kinds of things I’m now facing, I discover a very strange quiet with only whispers. Oops?

Where are the local mentors I assumed I’d find? Where are the groups of passionate educators locally who’ve embraced the new technologies for our kids, and who are showing the way? Where are the visionary leaders who are opening the classroom doors and walls to help dinosaurs like me discover and value the powerful positive pay-off for our kids, and who are helping to ease the process of change for this generation of educators who are caught in the middle? Am I blind and out of touch?

I keep calling, but not getting very many answers. And while I know that “If you knock on the door long enough, you’re bound to wake somebody up,” what if they tell you they’re not opening the door, and just to go back to sleep?

“A mind changed by an experience cannot return to its original dimensions.” But it’s also a huge leap to try to be a learner and a leader at the very same time. It’s so much hard hard hard work. I did it once before — but do I have the energy and the will required to take that leap again?

How about I get back to you on this, in about a year?

cb (-:


About Cathy Beach

Recently retired elementary teacher and outdoor educator in rural Ontario, Canada. My Olympic Journeys may be over, but they lead me into some very exciting adventures with teachers and kids and the world of connected learning...
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4 Responses to Standing at a precipice…

  1. Colin Jagoe says:

    I want to say ‘Welcome to the club.’ I’ve been beating this drum (or a version of it) for a while now, as you know. I know that sometimes when you go out to find someone, the only thing you actually find is yourself. The educators you seek are out there (and you’ve found a lot of ’em), but they’re not leading, only walking beside. There’s lots of roads and many ways to go. I don’t have any answers for you, but know that they only way that we’re going to make any forward motion at all is to continue to do it. We can’t change everyone, and never will, but the kids you have RIGHT NOW are the ones to focus on. Don’t lead. Do.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Standing at a precipice… | Journeys off the Beaten Path… --

  3. dougpete says:

    I don’t think that your story is unique, Cathy. For all the talk of those who move forward, there are those who are cautious. Having been around for a few(!) or more educational initiatives, I’m sure that you’ve heard the “here we go again” talk. I think that it’s a shame that so much is spent on technology to tinker with the old way of doing things. Instead, educators like yourself, need to start asking “What more can we do?” Only when that question is asked and answered will the potential be unlocked. By connecting with educators on Twitter, you can get all the support and affirmation that you want. You’ve been a great addition to our little group of Ontario Educators.

  4. Cyndie Jacobs says:

    Hi there! I just read this post and realized you’re from Ontario! Are you a member of the Env Ed subject association? I think there could be a bazillion ways I could connect you to all kinds of folks and organizations with whom I connect about environmental and sustainability education. You’re calling here and maybe I can answer!

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