2016 TEDxKitchenerED Interview... Enjoy!
Meet Bob Kline! Bob is a teacher at Huron Heights Secondary School in Kitchener, Ontario. He co-founded his school’s grade nine orientation and mentorship program; since then, not only has his Leadership and Student Council program tripled in size, but they alo won two consecutive ‘Most School Spirit’ awards at the Ontario Student Leadership Conference!
In order to learn more about Bob, we asked him some questions. He talks about his love for English and books, wanting some technology-free classes in the education system, having fun at work in order to survive, and more!
Spoiler alert: every summer, he takes a train across Canada in order to get away and meet some incredible people.
Keep reading to learn more about Bob!
Question: Growing up, what was your favourite subject at school and why?
Answer: I always loved English; I’m a lot like my dad in that way. I used to lay on my bed and read books all day long, so much that my mom used to get worried that I wouldn’t have any friends if I kept it up. She used to kick me out of the house to play outside. Books captured my imagination and I always felt like it was the English classes where I could really be creative and talk about ideas. A lot of my love for English also had to do with my teachers; they were all so different. Some of them would banter with us, some would wax philosophical and ask probing questions that seemed impossible to answer, and some were grammarians who hammered us with exercises. They are the people who helped me realize that I wanted my life’s work to somehow involve stories.
Question: Is there a teacher or professor that really made an influence on your life, possibly beyond just school? If so, looking back now, how do you think they did it?
Answer: My English professor in university named Judith Miller had a profound impact on me. I met with her during office hours once to ask for advice. I remember the dimness of her office, the shelves filled with books, and the look in her eyes when I told her my situation. She told me that people ask for advice because sometimes it’s easier to be told what to do rather than to make our own decisions. Then she gave me these instructions: "Go for a long walk in the woods, and when you come out of the woods, you’ll know what you need to do. The answer is already inside of you; sometimes you just need to listen to yourself and have the courage to act upon what you really already want.“ Well, I went for the walk, and her advice worked. Now I listen to myself a lot more than I used to.
Question: Education can happen in many different locations and ways, not just through a traditional school system. Where is one other place that you learned the most?
Answer: Every year I ride the train across Canada just to get away, and over the course of the trip there’s lots of time to get to know people from all walks of life. I’m blessed to have lifelong friends who I met on the trip, but most of the time people come in and out of my life as they embark and disembark the train at different spots along the way. A magician from Toronto, a singer-songwriter from interior BC, a retired CEO of a very successful company in Guelph, a violinist and poet from Haliburton, a married couple from Texas, a retired radio shock jockey from who-knows-where, a dog trainer from Halifax… I could go on and on. It’s the stories they told that I’ve learned from.
Question: If you could change one thing about the education system today, what would it be and why?
Answer: I would designate certain courses as ‘technology-free’ and require students to take at least one of them each year. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not anti-technology. My school is full of excellent, innovative staff who have brought our building to the forefront of classroom technology use and I’m on board with increasing access to technology, but I also believe that students need balance. In my view, the most important skills we can instill in students are the human skills that don’t involve a screen, and we need to be intentional about providing opportunities for students to develop them at school. Check out an essay by Alan Lightman called "Progress.” The essay is a bit dated now, but Lightman raises some questions that we should still be thinking about. Or watch the opening monologue Glenn Close delivers in the film called 'Heights’. Here’s the thing: A lot of people don’t understand that we’re in a postmodern era of education and that schools are fundamentally different than they were not just in the post-war years, but even 2 years ago. Society can’t even keep up with the ethical and moral conundrums that rapid advancements in technology have caused, so people need to realize that it’s ok and important to slow down sometimes in schools. I hazard to suggest that someday it will be considered 'innovative’ to put away technology entirely - what a paradox.
Question: What is your favourite quote, and why?
Answer: A number of years ago one of my colleagues, Brian Henry, delivered his retirement speech and it transformed my working life. He said, “In this line of work, you have to have fun every day to survive.” In staff work areas it’s really easy to 'debrief’ all the challenges we had throughout our day because let’s face it, our colleagues 'get it.’ But after Brian’s speech I realized that debriefing or rehashing the challenges from my day wasn’t helping anything - it was like choosing to swim around in a pool of stinky garbage. I also realized that everyone has their own crap to deal with, so why should I pile more on? I decided to consciously leave negative experiences inside the classroom if they happened. I’d take a moment to reflect before walking out the classroom door, but I would physically leave whatever conflict had happened inside the room. Since then I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way I feel at work. His words also had an impact on my decision to teach Leadership and that’s certainly fun every day!
Question: When was the last time you had a big epiphany/“aha” moment, and what was it/what triggered it?
Answer: I dropped out of a part-time PhD program even though I was loving it. I was commuting to Toronto for classes on top of my own teaching, coaching, and other student activities; it was busy but manageable. At a Christmas dinner party that year I met a man who had suffered brain damage in a workplace accident. He was telling me his story and kept repeating that people should live in the now and enjoy each day. Life is simple, he said. When I left that party I knew that I wasn’t going to follow through with the PhD. I realized I had everything in my life that I needed, and that I would still be totally happy even if I didn’t achieve my dream of earning a PhD.
Question: If you had to all of a sudden pick a new career/job (even if you love yours now), what would you pick and why?
Answer: I’d go back to my teenage job lifeguarding at the YMCA. I’m sure nostalgia is a big part of why I say that, but the Y truly is an amazing place. In a single day I could bring joy to seniors in an aquafit class or see the wonder in pre-schoolers’ faces when they realize they can swim. Everybody loves swimming, so it’s fun to watch people having fun. At the Y there’s a noticeable 'hum’ in the building as people come and go to participate in fitness classes, lift some weights, or attend a youth group. It’s just a great place to be all because of the people who go there, so I think I could handle being there every day.