I was working in downtown Toronto, on two different occasions, when the power went out.

The first instance occurred during the construction of Dundas Square sometime around 2002. A gas line was cut by heavy machinery and in the ensuing crisis response, all hydro was shutdown for several blocks around the spewing pipe. The restaurant I worked at was in the Eaton Centre and pretty much at ground zero for the event.

The second time, a bigger and beastier moment, happened in the summer of 2003. Everyone, province-wide, felt that one.

Both times, the restaurant was packed with customers. The staff was in full service mode. And all of our systems were rockin’.

When the power went out, everything – literally and figuratively, stopped.

Shutting down at the end of a regular day was a complex enough task in itself. Shutting down instantly was a nightmare.

I remember walking through downtown T.O. at dusk, looking at the emptiness in the streets and wondering to myself, ‘what if the power does not come back on?’ and ‘why did this happen in the first place?’… the moment generated a lot of fear and anxiety.

Sometime between the two blackouts, our management team put together our crashkit.

Basically our plan focussed on how to run a restaurant without power. Imagine?!

Try to imagine the ‘if this, then that’ matrix for designing a fire drill plan or any other emergency response strategy and that became the heart of our challenge. Ensuring safety was a primary concern, saving the business was a pretty close second.

It took a few weeks of staff meetings to get our formula balanced. Each successive manager meeting intensified the iterations of ‘what if?’ pitches and swings. And every time we thought we were approaching a usable response to the next incident, we found one more contingency. What about fires? Tornadoes? Locusts?

And really, the only way to fix on a plan is to use it in real time.

As it happened we got to test drive our response during the summer blackout of ’03. Our system worked pretty well – everyone got out safely and we managed to re-open two days later with reasonable losses*. [*food, not human]

On the weekly, I talk teacher life with @rchids on our DeCodEd podcast. Last week’s episode got me thinking about crashkits, classroom crashkits.

Rolland and I got knee deep into the challenge of supporting students with the resources at hand in the myriad of ways they could be presenting their needs.

I’d say that teachers innovate into their spaces for all types of EDU-mergencies.  Forecasting outages, shortfalls, calamities, and all of the other micro-disasters tends to be the bane of young teachers short on experience. But when you can achieve enlightenment, recognizing that teaching and being a teacher can sometimes be two very different things, education starts to look very different. Especially when the forecast is ‘constant learning with a chance of random.’

I appreciate @pernilleripp and her post about innovation in the classroom. It deftly throat clears on the topic of constantly innovating in the classroom just to meet the everyday needs of her students. The piece unabashedly comes at anyone who dares to recommend innovation in EDU without regard for the endless micro-transactions that occur before first bell.

tea & affirmations

The day to day reality of teaching is definitely made complicatingly-awesome by little humans constantly beta testing all of our assumed best practices. Lay these players out on the system game board and it becomes apparent pretty quickly that no matter the plan, the day can run in more than one direction.

And despite the fact that some non-teachers may find a teacher’s prioritizing of the ‘minutiae of things’ [kleenex, snacks, hand sanitizer … spare socks] ridiculous, a truth that seems to emerge time and time again is that quite a few ‘off the books’ items have become essential.

Learning spaces in both elementary and secondary schools are evolving into Googlean common spaces of creature comforts, with new necessities. New arrivals. New fluencies. And a kaleidoscopic array of demands that are not quite corralled or understood by board supports and strategies.

And even though there is a homogeneousness to much of the flexible menu options, what’s not posted is the hidden members-only menu, with offers that truly define the learning space. Tell me any learning space is personalized, agile, and responsive and the litmus is probably cached in the details of the crashkit.

And in that crashkit lays the opportunity for a conversation.

What if, instead of trying to produce good or even excellent students, we aimed more for empowering excellent people, outstanding citizens, valuable community members? What if we created learning centers where people of various ages could gather to pursue purpose, challenge and connection with each other in meaningful ways? What if learning remained part and parcel of living, every day, and we acknowledged and recognized that publicly and privately? Sherri Spelic

I can say for myself that our tea station is essential. Conversation and mentorship happens there. The reading nook is essential. Self-regulation and mindfulness happens there. The snack fridge is essential. Hunger is staved off there. The rocker chairs are essential. Comfort and contemplation happens there. The workout spaces are essential. Wellness and stress is managed there. What they mean to our program may not translate well with the common tongue of standardized student success, and we are okay with that. But in our conversations, we sometimes eschew the grand debate, and focus solely on wellness.

The catch-22 of accessible and flexible spaces is that they shift the frame in which school happens. An open concept room, opens up new opportunity to assess students. And when more of the student is noticed, our practice changes.

This is not as simple as  accommodating needs. That jargon is far to schooley to push back on those that would question the appropriateness of a calming space in a classroom. If the view is that somehow our innovations are taking from learning time then we need to be helping the bystanders see what we see. Ask questions like we do. Connect with the tensions that we feel. And build bridges to the outside of our silos, that travel in both directions.

When I think back on the blackout of 2003 I keep getting hung up on the fact that no matter how prepared we became – the real issue lay beyond our control. We, as ninja level restauranteurs, were never invited to the table where the discussions around sustainability of resource infrastructure and hydro management happened. I guess our responsiveness was our primary focus, our responsibility, maybe even our duty.

Spellic said it best

These are not school questions but they are the ones we will chew on and make meaning with throughout our lives. These are the questions which become our education once we take our rigid notions of school out of the picture. If we want to think differently, even innovatively about education, we need to re-center human needs rather what the “economy” claims it requires.

To my former staff and customers I felt compelled to care by duty. The humanity in our decisions was easy to manage and compartmentalize because of the bureaucratic framework.

This detachment made it easy to share high fives based on the numbers. And to feel good about our closed system response.

To my students and their families, I have no such luxury of detachment.

My EDU infrastructure clicks by human connectivity.

I welcome everyone to this space for conversation.

There is no debate here. My context is real, to me.

This narrative is fuelled by purpose, not data.

What’s in your crashkit?


One response to “crashkit”

  1. […] The day to day reality of teaching is definitely made complicatingly-awesome by little humans constantly beta […]


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