Schools, Volunteering and Change

Schools

I gave a presentation at work on September 18, 2019, on Ozobots and VTO.  At Salesforce VTO means Volunteer Time Off and we get 7 days a year to give back to the community as part of their 1-1-1 model.  It’s a feel-good thing and a large part of why I joined the company (still miss my EA folks though!), in reality, most technical people will end up working more hours here and there to make up for the time off.  That being said it does mean that there is more acceptance during the day if you have a volunteer gig, such as meeting with schools. I am grateful to have this flexibility and the climate of giving back, call me a sap but it seriously gives me the warm and fuzzies.

If you read my blog or check out these videos, you will know that Ozobots are little programmable robots.  I bought a class set of these last year for my son’s school and this year I am working with the principal to see how we can get the robots used more.  Currently, we are looking at piggybacking on an existing after school club or maybe even an in-class session supported by volunteers.

One of the questions that came up was specifically about why these particular devices.  The robot market is fairly large and there are a few major ones I found when I did some research so it’s a good question.  I think the answer I have is sound, “Given price point (about $100) they offered varied programming models that could be accessed by the widest range of children”.  To justify that more the Ozobot Evo has 3 programming models:

  • Drawing + Colour Codes
  • Record/ Playback “programming” via the app
  • Ozoblockly – a visual programming model

This makes the tools accessible even in the K-2 groups who might not grasp other concepts right away.  They can experiment with the app and colour codes in these grades and eventually move on to the more complicated programming models.  I work with a great bunch of open-minded people so the questions were engaged and even if some had their favourite robot they generally accepted the answer.  

The danger with presenting a solution, however, is that there are a lot of people that will immediately assume that you have not considered X, Y or Z solution or it’s benefits.  They could be correct if you know about X and Y but not Z. Now, since you didn’t know about Z does that mean you were not informed enough? Does it invalidate your entire platform?  Why is this relevant? Let me give a bit more background and maybe it will come together.

Volunteering

I’ve been volunteering at my son’s school for about 4-5 years now, by this I mean beyond the normal field trips and the like.  It started out as just helping students with reading and math. I also was planted in a classroom for about a year doing various things.  That year I also put on a small programming crash course with Scratch and some other efforts, which I’ve mentioned before.

It’s taken a while to build this relationship and when I talked about the process at the Lunch and Learn a lot of people were interested.  It’s not a normal thing to be so accepted into a school, it takes a bit of time, effort and relationship building and I am grateful that I’ve got such a great group at my son’s school.  They not only put up with my persistent nature but they have been trying to find things to keep me involved in the school even warmer and fuzzier as I write this.  

The truth though is that the system does not seem to be designed with this sort of interaction in mind.  In most cases as a colleague noted schools are just looking for bodies to help out with projects and not interacting with parents who are trying to enrich the experience.  Like I have said though there are some great people at my son’s school and over time we’ve built a good relationship and they have helped facilitate a number of things I wanted to do: a Scratch Programming Mini-Course, the Ozobots, G-Suite for Education, MasterClass and we’ve also been looking to see if Grammarly and Duolingo might fit in somewhere.  

I’ve also been looking into the non-technical aspects of the process, such as hardware donations, volunteering and criminal records checks.  I’ve been having an email back and forth with the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General about the approval process for volunteer criminal record checks.  It is a process and normal I guess but when I start looking into something I typically look for ways to improve it. The process as it stands is a bit fragmented, it is a mix of municipal checks and an overlap with a more overarching process called the Criminal Records Review Program (CRRP).  There are some expedited services for volunteer organizations, schools and daycares that the CRRP provides and they seem to provide a more comprehensive program than local municipalities.

I am interested in this program because I think it would be great if it could be expanded to other professional groups that have an interest in giving back to the community.  One other small thing I have been asking about is whether it might help to change the wording on the site to refocus what the group is trying to do. In my latest email I suggested that they switch some of the wording on the site, for example on the main page:

The Criminal Records Review Act ensures that people who work with or may have potential for unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults undergo a criminal record check by the Criminal Records Review Program (CRRP).

A person whose criminal record suggests they present a risk of physical or sexual abuse to children or a risk of physical, sexual or financial abuse to vulnerable adults will not have access to these groups.

Rewording this with enablement in mind might make the volunteering experience more engaging.  As it is, after reading this I have a bunch of horrible thoughts in my head. If it were reworded more towards enablement I think the purpose would still be clear:

The Criminal Records Review Act enables volunteers by providing comprehensive criminal background and criminal records checks.  This enables volunteers and organizations to find the best possible fit for interested candidates and ensures the safety of individuals and the community.  

Not once did I mention abuse in that description, and by focusing on safety I draw attention to what we are really trying to accomplish: the positive interaction most volunteers want when volunteering and the safety of everyone involved.  Warm and fuzzies.

Change

It takes time to move all of this forward and persistence.  When you start asking around about these sort of things it usually takes some time to convince someone that the process could be better, most times the answer is, “If it’s not broke, why fix it?”.  In this case, though I would say the lack of help in the classroom and classroom sizes increasing is something that is broken.  More volunteers here and more community involvement will help with that burden and give more people the warm and fuzzies. 

In the case of the CRRP, a change might just be the wording of their site, but I think even that would be huge.  It will start to get the people looking at it thinking more positive, less like they are doing something bad by wanting to volunteer.  Maybe with that positive attitude, we can even start thinking about how we can expand the number of volunteers in the school system and expedited that process for other professionals. 

I do understand that the natural tendency though is for people to be worried it’s not safe, what about X? What about Y?  The truth is, I am worried about X and Y as well, even though I don’t know what they are yet.  The other truth though is that most people that are looking into this process and have navigated to the Nth layer of government sites to find it are not there because they want to be malicious.  They are there because they want to help, I am making it up but I would guess at least 99% of the people that find the site are there because they want to help. What sort of amazing things could come if we just started asking: how we enable these people?

References

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