“Research shows that students are most successful when…” started Vice Principal Doyle. It was a rare occasion when a member of the school’s Admin Team found himself in the staff room. It was even a rarer moment when Principal Bunny was in the school. But the staff and students at Lord Byron Secondary School in the Granite District School Board didn’t seem to mind or even notice. In his absence he had tasked Vice Principal Doyle with the creation of a committee to promote metacognition. Vice Principal Doyle wasn’t quite sure what metacognition was.
“Sorry what?” Perkins said removing his Ipod headphones from his ears. He was listening to the Boston Pops version of Carmen while he was marking a set of grade ten lab reports.
Doyle continued: “Students are most successful when…”
Roberts said to Rickards: “D’ya see the game last night?”
“D’ya mean the so-called battle of Ontario? I’d call it a comedy of errors” said Rickards to Roberts. The reference to Shakespeare was purely accidental.
“Not a great defensive struggle between two disciplined squads intent on stymieing the potent offensive of their opponent?” answered Roberts
“The Leafs and Senators? No, more like two groups of losers who couldn’t hit the net to save their lives.”
‘If students are allowed to express themselves fully taking into concern metacognition then…”
“Mega con what ?”
“Is that like chili con carne?”
“Megacognition; learning about learning, as opposed to learning for learning and learning through learning”
“I’m lost. What’s the difference?” Perkins asked thinking he should have left the headphones in his ears.
“It’s really simple, really.” Doyle continued, warming up now that he thought he had their attention.
“Students learn about how they learn. Not what they learn, or why they learn, but how.”
“Not why, how. Well let me explain to you in terms of coaching.” Doyle had been a phys ed teacher before getting into Admin.
“You don’t explain to the player how to throw the ball; you teach him about the ball, why he should throw the ball; how the ball feels about being thrown, things like that”
“How should the ball feel about being thrown?”
“How would you feel?”
“So how does he learn to throw the ball?”
“It doesn’t matter whether he can throw the ball or not. What is important is understanding the why. How doesn’t matter.”
“But you just said why doesn’t matter, how does.”
“So if you play a team that doesn’t know why but knows how, who wins?”
“That’s the beauty of it. Winning doesn’t matter. It’s not the only thing; it’s not everything; it just isn’t anything.”
“Why would a kid want to play?”
“To understand why he wants to play.”
“How can you relate this to education?”
“That’s the beauty of it” the VP continued. “The student doesn’t actually have to do any work at all. He just needs to understand why he would want to do work. It’s easier for him; it’s easier for the teacher and the parents are always happy, the Board and the Ministry are happy. It’s perfect. No one in my office complaining about Jones or Smith, no students failing; no teachers burning out.”
“Who’s in your office complaining about me?”
“Teachers burn out because of all the stupid ideas that Admin forces on us.”
‘D’ya see the breakaway in the second period?’ asked Roberts.
‘Prstic’s in the second period? When he deeked left then right and had Hoplininin stretched out on the ice without a chance in hell of stopping a beach ball.” replied Rickards who had stopped even pretending to mark.
“Hoplininin never has a chance of stopping a beach ball”
“Yeah that’s it. Totally open net. My grandmother coulda scored.”
“Then he trips on the blue ice and the puck trickles into the corner.”
“Typical of their season”
“What a bunch of losers! Who pays to watch these guys?”
“Isn’t it Metacognition? You called it Megacognition.’ If there’s Megacognition, would there also be Gigacognition?” sometimes Perkins was a bit of a jerk.
‘Yeah what would that be?’
‘Learning about learning but in a much bigger way.’
‘How much bigger?’
‘Will you two shut up!’ said a frustrated Doyle.
‘Shut up? Shut up? Show a little respect for your elders, young man. In my day no V.P. would ever tell a teacher to shut up.’
“Yeah but in your day, students wouldn’t tell a teacher to shut up.”
“That’s not true. I remember Pat Dunn. Oh what a foul mouth. Told a number of teachers to shut up, fuck off and even told Barovsky to suck her dick?”
The new guy Ryan piped in ‘Suck her dick?’
‘Yeah, failed biology I guess. To say nothing about sex ed’
‘Okay I’m sorry I said what I said, but you guys need to take Megacognition..
‘I said Metacognition, You need to take it seriously” Vice Principal Doyle didn’t appreciate their sense of humour.
‘Hey, I just looked it up on Idefinitions. It isn’t so much learning about learning as thinking about thinking’
“It’s the science of thinking. You know, how the brain works.”
“No it’s not that, it’s being conscious of our thinking process.”
“Yes, now you’re taking it seriously. Go on” Doyle was beside himself with enthusiasm
“Who thought this stuff up?”
“Research from the Colorado Institute of Learning shows that students perform better when we don’t expect anything of them.”
“You mean if you lower the bar low enough, everyone passes.”
“Yes, that’s it: everyone passes. That’s are goal isn’t?”
‘Yeah what a couple of totally useless hockey teams. That big stupid defenseman is especially tits on a bull”
“Which one?” asked Rickards, who wished he had got more sleep last night. But with a baby at home that wasn’t likely.
“You know, Havelock.” added Roberts “Tries to clear his zone, puts the puck into his own bench, hits his own coach in the head.”
“Yeah and gets two minutes for delay of game and the coach has to go for stitches.”
“I remember back in my day.” Mrs. Templeton changed conversations. “They only had one goalie and he didn’t wear a mask. If he took a puck to the head, the whole game stopped while they stitched him up.”
“How old are you?” asked Doyle who was barely over thirty.
“None of your business, young man!” Mrs Templeton, who could have retired years ago, didn’t offend easily. But these young Admin Team members were hard to take. They ought to at least be shaving before they’re put in charge. “I don’t ask you how long you taught before you became a vice principal, do I? But I imagine it wasn’t more than five years, was it?”
“Then on the power play, those idiots can’t manage a shot on net. They get paid for that, imagine” Roberts probably enjoyed watching bad hockey more than the good stuff.
“So if I understand correctly we are going to ask students to think about their thinking.”
“How will we know that they are thinking about their thinking and not about the girl two rows over?”
“Yeah they are teenagers. Can we even use teenager and thinking in the same sentence?”
“Yeah, my dog has a longer attention span than a teenager and he’s been dead for years.”
“I had three very successful years in the classroom before moving to the board office.”
“Learning Centre. They’re not calling it the board office any more.”
“Yeah, I heard a rumour -I think it was Jenkins who told me-that they’re going to spend 3 million on improvements to the board office.”
“Yeah, 3 million on the board office and we don’t have a second gym or enough lockers for every kid.”
“So Jenkins says they changed the name to Learning Centre so that the public would think they were actually spending on students.” The Granite District School Board was good at spending money. But from the perspective of the teachers at Lord Byron Secondary School it didn’t show. The school was old and in need of repair. The chemical storage room was positively unsafe. The French department used textbooks from the 80’s. And the computers were donations from industries that didn’t want them anymore. But LBSS was in a forgotten corner of the Board, far enough away from Granite City that the Board easily forgot about it.
“I thought Jenkins was dead.” remarked Ryan the new guy.
“No that’s Burns. Jenkins runs an antique store over in Sloat’s Corners. But he still keeps up with school board gossip.”
“Anyway, after moving to the Learning Centre I had four successful years as Obesity Consultant for the Board.”
“Obesity Consultant. I helped schools get rid of their fat kids.”
“Isn’t that the same as the Fat Boy Consultant?”
“It’s not called the Fat Boy Consultant.”
“That’s what Perkins calls it.”
“What d’you do? Kick the fat kids out of school? Shoot ‘em?
“No, don’t be stupid. I helped schools build programs for kids who needed to lose weight.”
“Is that a full time job?”
Gates Tanker, the phys ed head, had proposed something she called the Obesity Consultant. The Board had loved it but decided to give it to a young teacher with only three years experience, but someone they were grooming for Admin.
“Then two years as Character Consultant.”
“Shouldn’t Character education be done by the parents?”
“Do you really want some of our parents to be responsible for bringing up their kids?”
“Isn’t that the idea?”
“How come the Board has money for a Fat Boy Consultant but not a science one?”
“The Board always has money for the latest half baked idea. Like the time they put dogs in every Guidance Department in the county. They thought the dogs were less judgemental than the guidance councillors.”
“And they gave better advice.”
“Where’s the 3 million coming from?”
“Jenkins didn’t know. But that didn’t stop him from speculating.”
“He figures it’s coming out of the regular building maintenance fund. So the bathroom on the second floor isn’t going to get fixed any time soon.”
“Yeah but not fixing one bathroom isn’t going to pay for a 3 million dollar renovation.”
“No but if you don’t fix all the bathrooms in all the schools all over the board that need fixing, and you don’t shovel the snow after every little storm and you don’t replace lost books and you don’t… well you get the picture.”
“Why don’t they just take it out of the French grant like they normally do?”
“Can’t do that. They spent that money a long time ago.”
“On the previous director’s golden parachute. She got two years’ salary, her car and they covered her costs for her and her husband to go to two “conventions” in Bermuda and Arizona.” He made the quotation marks with his fingers. “They were in a hurry to get rid of her.”
“I wish they were in a hurry to get rid of me.”
“They are. But don’t hold your breath waiting for a golden parachute.”
“Did you see the end of the game?”
“Are you kidding? I couldn’t take it anymore. Marked for an hour and a half and then went to bed. Didn’t sleep though. Amy wouldn’t stop crying.
“Well it went down to a shootout. Neither team could score until the eighth round; Havelock, of all people bears down on Hoplininin. Hoplininin tries to poke check the puck just as Havelock loses the handle. Hoplininin slides into Havelock; they both go down. Both are injured and have to be stretchered off.”
“Did they have to use the backup goalie?”
“No. With both of them lying on the ice, Havelock’s non-shot trickled into the net. Leafs won.”
“So anyway. The reason I came up to this staffroom is I’m putting together a little work team to look at the role of mega- I mean metacognition in the classroom. Is anyone interested?”
“I don’t know”
“Try Ryan the new guy.”
“It involves missing a lot of school.”
“When do we start?”