An Interview with Will Gourley


It seems that I’ve known of Will Gourley for quite some time now.  His blog posts have been regularly featured in my Friday This Week in Ontario Edublogs post.  He offers an interesting take on educational issues and is always good for some original ideas to make me think.

He was good enough to take the time to be interviewed so that we can learn more about Will.

Doug:  Thanks for doing this Will.  I seem to have always had you on my radar.  Do you know when our paths first crossed?

Will: Thank you for the opportunity Doug. I would have to say we have known each other for almost 10 years since I joined Twitter and then from ECOO and other conferences around the province. It seems like you have been there almost since the start of my teaching career.

Doug:  And the last time we actually met face to face?  It seems so long ago now that the past few years make it easy to lose track of time.

Will: We were at the Edtech/Googley summit in KW where we sat together with the group of students from Northern Ontario who had created the Ojibway keyboard. A very cool session.

Doug:  I remember that session distinctly. It was so innovative and just made you feel so proud that our education system could product such an original idea.

On my blog, I had the opportunity to interview Shyama Sunderaswara who indicated that you were one of her host teachers.  https://dougpete.wordpress.com/2022/05/16/an-interview-with-shyama-sunderaswara/ That’s got to be kind of neat to have her words paying it forward for you.  What would being paired with Will Gourley look like to someone new to our profession?

Will: I love Shyama. Her spirit as an educator was strong from the get-go and continues to turn into a force majeur in the classroom. Each teacher candidate’s experience has been really different over the past 10 years. Happily, I think all of them are connected to a board and working as we keep in touch. One thing that is guaranteed, they do not sit on the sidelines for more than an hour before I am asking them to lead or support in class. Always best to empower teacher candidates to jump in with both feet rather than gradually. I would not put them into a situation that they could not handle.

Additionally, there are many daily conversations about approaches, a file of notes made throughout the day, a tonne of resources to reference, and reflection time for next steps. If anything, I want to make sure that TCs are relationship builders and not curriculum pushers first.

Doug:  Be still my heart! In all of my career, there have been so many pedagogy pushers and self-proclaimed game-changers. The one thing that remains constant has been those relationships between teachers and students in the classroom.

Teachers, students, and schools have been through a great amount of discomfort (to say the least) with Covid.  How did you personally cope and keep your sanity?

Will: I am not sure I did all that well when it came to my mental well being. I know that writing my Heart and Art blog was definitely a release valve that not only mirrored my own experiences, but also those of others. I took more time away from school at the end of each day. I vowed not to work past a certain hour or take on too much. I baked and consumed my share of comfort cookies too.

Doug:  Was Covid your first opportunity to teach online? 

Will: Since the advent of digital classrooms, I have always used Google Classrooms as a means to communicate and share lessons/work. Once the pandemic hit, it necessitated that I teach to rows of faceless icons online

Doug:  How did it go?

Will: It went as well as could be expected considering everyone was jumping off the same cliff hoping there was something soft to land on below.

Doug:  How did you prepare yourself for lessons delivered this way?

Will: Interesting you should ask. I soon realized that what took 10 minutes to work through in class was taking 30 minutes or longer to achieve online. Students struggled with output from the get-go and I had to adjust expectations and stick to shorter and more precise instructional asks.

Doug:  Did all your students have good technology for this purpose?

Will: There were some who struggled with tech, but our school was able to provide them with a device to support them at home.

Doug:  Did you “lose” anyone in the process?

Will: Yes. Sadly the disconnect was real and it showed when it came to participation. I think I would have checked out too. It became an impossible dream to expect students to sit through virtual school from 8 to 2:30 each day and believe it was the same as in-class connection, delivery, learning, and affirmation.

Doug:  Was going back face to face a relief or more stress on you and your students?  Or maybe a little of both?

Will: Definitely a combo. We had 2 immuno-compromised family members at home and the stress was real. I was really thankful to have a basement where I could work while we all kept our distance. There were so many unknowns and that was amplified greatly until the vaccines were rolled out and the number of reported cases decreased. Messaging/directives from the province et al did not help. I am thankful no one in my school was seriously ill through those times although I am not naive to think that the risks are still not high.

Doug:  You recently guest hosted This Week in Ontario Edublogs with Stephen Hurley and me.  We kind of alluded to one of your previous lives and you did work in commercial radio.  Where was this and what was your role?

Will: I started off as a volunteer DJ at CKLN 88.1 FM and then DJ/newsreader at CHRY 105.5 FM in Toronto. In 1994 I took a job at CJAV 1240 AM in Port Alberni, BC. There I was a reporter, newsreader, DJ, ad copywriter, and voiceover dude. Oh and coffee maker.

Doug:  Was the experience doing a podcast a step backwards?  What are the similarities between doing commercial radio and amateur podcasting?

Will:  I think podcasting is a step along an important yet different path. I’ve never viewed it other than a step forward to furthering conversations and sharing ideas. I appreciate the intimacy and immediacy of podcasting and wish there was more time for it in my life.

Doug:  Have you ever done podcasting with your students?

Will: It is on my to-do list. We have done broadcasting (news stories, ad creation) as part of Media Literacy, but not specifically podcasting.

Doug:  You know that you’ll have support and advice from Stephen if you make that leap.

You’ve had your own blog for a while but have shifted instead to writing on the ETFO Heart and Art of Teaching Blog.  What made you make the switch?  Do you have an idea of the number of readers that might read any of your posts?

Will: I still post on my own blog from time to time, but it has become more difficult these past years to keep the content coming on two platforms. I joined ETFO Heart and Art in the Fall of 2015 and have written almost 150+/-  posts for them. I have found it to be a great way to share/amplify the feelings, concerns, and voices of other educators.

With regards to numbers, that is tricky. I know that since I started in 2015 reads have gone up from 30 000 to over 100 000 annually, with readers in over 80+ countries. I think it has largely been a benefit of broader access through social media. I find that very encouraging to know that educators in other parts of the world are accessing the blog.

Doug:  Are you free to blog about whatever topic you want?

Will: Let’s say that I have a pretty free rein to write about what is on my heart/mind although a few posts have been pulled due to their inflammatory nature. In those cases, I usually move them to my personal blog if I feel that the message needs to be shared regardless of it being canned in-house.

Doug:  Your blog titles are always in lowercase.  Since you have a person checking your work, that’s got to be a personal choice.  Can you tell us the story behind it?

Will: This past year I decided to differentiate the titles a bit more and it kind of stuck. I recently finished a book by author/educator bell hooks and kind of liked how she chose to keep her name lowercase. It removes a barrier in my mind almost as if asking readers to come in rather than waiting at the door.

Doug:  I know of whom you speak. She definitely stands out in a crowd just by that one simple move.

As we start this interview, it’s the first of August.  All teachers, I suspect, see this as a starting point to think about September.  Is it different this time around?

Will: As of the end of September it is definitely different this time around. I love how we are collectively excited to be back and reinventing the new normal that is so necessary in our schools. There is a conscious effort to reconnect, to re-establish relationships, and to relish the moments we are now all (well most of us) are all finally back together.

Doug:  Teachers in the province will be negotiating a new collective agreement for September.  What does your crystal ball reveal about how negotiations will go and will an agreement be in place for the start of the school year?

Will: I was thinking about this a lot over the summer and it equates to driving a car with the gas light (pun intended) on. Everyone in the vehicle knows that a stop to refuel is imminent yet the driver (let’s call them the current MOE) chooses to see how far past empty they can go. No one wants to disrupt school when negotiations could have taken place far sooner. No one wants to be gaslit by a government and their sycophants committed to undermining our profession. Look at how they are trying to stick it to CUPE right now.

Doug:  The Minister of Education and the Premier have indicated that they want students back in classes and extra-curriculars / field trips to happen.  Can all of this be negotiated?

Will: Extracurriculars happened last year. We ran 2 TED-Ed clubs over 6 months in 21-22. They are already happening this year. I play and have played in the boxes they put me in. If they want to pay us extra for the time that they seem intent to mandate then so be it. That goes for after-school support programs such as OFIP which this current government killed when they took power in 2018.

Doug:  Is there anything else that you think we should be talking about?

Will: We are stronger, smarter, and better together. Take time to share your lessons, encourage the emerging, and experienced teachers in your building. Take time to build your CRRP anti-racist tool kit. Take time to host a student teacher or CYW candidate. Take time to chat with /support the CUPE staff in your building.  Read blogs, listen to podcasts, and create. Phew.

If any educator wants to learn more about TED-Ed they can hit me up on Twitter.

Doug:  Thanks for taking the time from your summer to be interviewed.  I wish you all the best in September.

Thank you for all you do to support educators in the #onted family. I am humbled to know you. I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and adventures in the year to come.

You can connect with Will on Twitter at:  @WillGourley

The Heart and Art of Teaching where Will and others blog can be found here: https://heartandart.ca/

Will’s personal blog can be found here: https://medium.com/@WillGourley and https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Will.  You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

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