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A New Challenge

I haven't blogged as much this year as I have in the past. It wasn't intentional, I love writing, reflecting and sharing my thoughts with those of you who read this blog from time to time. This year just turned into one project after another with students and I wanted to solely focus on each moment and each day in the classroom.

This year was big for me in a lot of ways. I was able to work with students on our #OnePositiveMoment Instagram account, co-organize the Indigenous Youth Leadership Conference , and even piloted a few social justice classes using the outcomes from Alberta Ed's social science curriculum. On top of this, I had the privilege of working with another wonderful group of students who never ceased to amaze me with their intellect, positivity and ambition. Like every year, the large majority of my students have either been expelled, dropped out or have not attended school in quite some time. It has become routine for me to watch these students not only meet expectation, but succeed anything I could have imagined for them. In the last five years at Inner City High I have had the opportunity to watch students organize conferences, attend community events, organize school campaigns, challenge authority, and grow into positive young people.

My teaching is based around a social justice framework and I have long argued that all students within Alberta can benefit from this type of education. Teaching for social justice has allowed me to explore new pedagogical models like using hip hop in the classroom, creating dialogical circles, and most importantly allowing students real lived experiences be a part of the learning journey, which allows students to not only take ownership of their learning, but also in how the classroom is run.

Over my five years at Inner City the one thing that sticks out to me more than anything else is when I talk with students about their experiences with education. When I ask students what their largest barrier to succeeding in schools is, I often expected students to respond with answers like poverty, addictions, racism etc. However, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT I HAVE TAUGHT has said that the relationship with the teacher can be the largest barrier to success. The students who come through my door say that beyond the social, economic, and political barriers they face, their relationship with the teacher is the most important part of finding success in the classroom. A teacher's attitude and the amount of respect they show students trumps everything else. I know this isn't easy for a lot of teachers to hear, in fact I've received my fair share of criticism for mentioning this to teaching folks in the past, but if we believe in student voice then we must start to listen, even if the answers make us uncomfortable.

I will never forget what my students have taught me at Inner City. I can't even fully express the gratitude I have for them. If I didn't have this opportunity to work with them, I wouldn't be the same person and teacher I am today. They will forever be a part of me.

I apologize if this has read like a bit of a stream of consciousness, but I wanted to share with those of you who read this that I won't be returning to Inner City High in the fall. I've accepted a two year position with Alberta Education to be the Social Studies Curriculum Manager. This wasn't an easy decision to make but it seems it could be an opportunity where I can continue to advocate for the principles and ideals that my students have taught me over the last five years. Curriculum can be a major tool in the classroom to make the world a better place, I hope I can contribute to this ongoing work for the next two years.

I get to come back to Inner City High in September of 2018. Until then, I'll carry a piece of Inner City and the students I've taught with me into the curricular work I'm embarking on and hope that I can positively contribute to the work that lies ahead of me. It will be a new challenge, a very different one than I'm used to, but for a guy who struggled in high school and was told to quit teaching numerous times early in my career, I've been fortunate enough to have an impact on the education community I'm a part of, and it's all due to my students at Inner City High who gave me the strength, confidence and belief that their story and social justice education is worth advocating for.

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