Awards and Rewards

And the winner is……everyone in London who has been on the receiving end of any of the numerous programs recognized last night at the 10th Annual Pillar Innovation Awards. One can’t help but be humbled by the amazing work of so many dedicated and caring individuals who take on the most challenging of situations in order the makes the lives of others better.  As someone who was born and raised right here in London Ontario, last night was a moment of pride in “my” city.  A city where diversity is celebrated and innovative practice is recognized as a way of ensuring that we continue to always look for better ways to make a difference.

As the ceremony transitioned from opening ceremonies and sponsor recognitions to highlighting the work of each finalist via the video clips that were created by Gotham Studios,  I watched with great anticipation as I had not seen the final version of our presentation. I worried that my words of recognition for the incredible team and the work that they did might be lost on the editing floor. But, alas, my fears were alleviated and the production company captured and created a product that our GENTLE Thames Valley team could be proud of.

As the name of the winner in our category was announced and our team made their way to the podium amidst a standing ovation, I paused at the bottom of the staircase and saw the pride in each members’ eyes as they joined me on stage to receive the recognition they so greatly deserved.  I was thankful that the selection of our program provided me with an opportunity to publicly acknowledge all of the contributing factors to the success of GENTLE.  From the inception of the concept by Denise and Melanie to the celebratory cake on our final day, there wasn’t a department within TVDSB that didn’t somehow impact the work.   We can ALL be proud of our response to the “almost 500” Syrian newcomer students who became a part of our Thames Valley family between January and April.

2016-11-24_2322As the music ushered us across the stage, we were whisked away by the photographer for a number of group shots and then a reporter wanted a few minutes for a news report, so I stepped out into the hall and answered a few questions.  After enjoying a chance encounter with the wife of a former colleague in the hallway, I slipped back into the reception hall and waited quietly at the side, as the next recipient gave his acceptance speech.

Then all of sudden I heard, “Mrs. Bruyns” and to my surprise a former student from Wilfrid Jury rushed up with his older brother and threw his arms around me. His brother shared that when he saw me on stage, he became determined that he would come and find me.  It was at that moment, that those tears of pride that had been so controlled all night, started to trickle down my cheeks.  For you see, this student was there as sponsored member of the Children’s Aid Society’s table and I remember all too well his younger years and the challenges and the struggles that this boy endured as a young child.  I was thrilled that he was safe and attending a new school.

When I had arrived at the Convention Center last night around 5:30pm, I had anticipated the possibility of the team receiving the AWARD and the recognition from Pillar, but in leaving the Convention Center 5 hours later, I had never anticipated the REWARD of having a former student recognize me and want to reconnect.

The ABCs of October

imagesWe’ve all experienced them before and interestingly enough, when I did some research, women are more prone to them…..  Earworms!  You know when a song gets stuck in your head and no matter what you do, it plays over and over again.  We’ll I’m currently in the middle of a classic (well it was a classic about 20 years ago) earworm. When my kids were young, we never went anywhere without a stack of tapes or later on CDs.  My kids loved Barney and Sesame Street, but their favourite was Sharon, Lois and Bram.  So the other day, out of the blue I started humming the Alphabet Song,  You know the one that starts, “A  ~ you’re adorable, B you’re so beautiful……”.  And here I am almost a week later and it’s still rambling around, never far from my lips.  So as I started to reflect on what to write this month, I took my “earworm” as a sign that I should use the alphabet for my platform.  So, here goes….

My October Alphabet.

A ~ This month, I attend the AGM for Teacher Mentors Abroad, an organization that I’ve been involved with for the past year and a half. Each year teams of educators from Ontario travel to the Dominican Republic to work with Dominican teachers and share strategies for collaborative learning environments. I had the opportunity to share reflections from our Santa Domingo team.  It was great to have our Director, Laura Elliott in the audience.  She has been a supporter of TMA for many years. I’m so proud of the work of this organization and I feel blessed to be a part of it.

B ~ Bulletin Boards, Baskets and Bosses Day ~ as a follow up to our LitCon16 ~ Igniting a Passion for Reading Conference, Jane Baird, one of our Literacy Learning Coordinators has taken the lead and created a number of exceptional bulletin2016-10-30_0740 board displays which highlight the conference and our Director’s Hot Reads selections. The team surprised me with a wonderful basket of goodies for Bosses Day including personalized socks for Hot Reads and a personalized “Come Write with Me” notebook and pen.

C ~ CEFR ~ The Common European Framework for Reference was the focus of an FSL Ministry session this month.  The learning was good ~ but being able to spend the day with Deb Smith, our FSL Learning Coordinator and Jen Moodie is always a pleasure.  Their passion for French is contagious

D ~ Duckworth.  On two separate occasions this month, Sylvia Duckworth ~ known for her eye-catching and meaningful sketch notes was in Thames Valley.  She was a featured speaker at LitCon 16 and an invited guest to a Saturday session hosted by Jen Aston, as she shared the initial work for her TLLP project.  One has to be “in the zone” when Sylvia presents, as she shares multiple technology applications in rapid fire motion

E ~Evaluation. This month I’ve had several opportunities to engage in concentrated discussions about evaluation and the importance of reporting, as we’re rewriting our Board’s Evaluation and Reporting policy. Great learning about negotiation and bringing differing opinions to a common understanding has been challenging and yet rewarding.

download-3F~ FreshGrade.  Our pilot project is certainly testing our “Pioneering” spirit.  I’m so thankful for our patient teachers as our IT department and the FreshGrade IT department work together to finalize uploads/downloads and inbetween loads.  Fingers crossed that teachers will be ready to use their apps this week.

G~ George Couros. Our Planning team invited George to spend a day with our Thames Valley Administrators. He did a wonderful job of inspiring the audience to explore social media and to expand our repertoire of technology practices as we model for our staff and students.

H~ Hot Reads.  One can’t listen to Steven Layne and not be inspired to celebrate and display what you are reading, as a strategy to turn kids onto reading.  As a result of LitCon16, not only are staff at the Ed Center displaying their Hot Reads, but schools throughout the Valley are getting into the spirit.

I~ iCon. As the month wrapped up, once again the Learning Technologies team hosted a Technology Conference ~iCon, iDiscover.  Over 500 educators came together on Saturday to learn with and from each other.  We hosted a session for 50 administrators ~ trying our hand at an EdCamp model.  Throughout the morning we were engaged in learning about Google Forms, Google Docs, Google Classroom, Twitter, Padlet, Bitmoji, Remind, Plickers and Google Slides.  I have great colleagues!

J ~ Journeys.  Although it’s been a couple of years since the Literacy team offered Journeys into Literacy as a professional learning series, this past week I was reminded about the power of the professional learning model that we first implemented at Journeys and how it has now morphed into various other portfolios and learning opportunities.

K~ Katina Pollock. This month we were invited to share the story of GENTLE at the Western Values and Leadership Conference.  At the end of the presentation, Dr.Katina Pollock, the Director, Western’s Centre for Education Leadership and Co-Director, Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER)    came over to chat and she reminded me of the first time we met, as she was collecting data for her principal workload study and I was the principal at Wilfrid Jury.  She recalled my telling her about Twitter and the power of social media. At the time she wasn’t on Twitter. She was excited to share that now, Twitter is a natural extension of her work.

2016-10-30_0022L ~ Languages Team, LitCon16 and Layne.   The month started with our first, but definitely not last, Literacy Conference.  The team did an outstanding job, from finish to end of creating an event that continues (a month later) to impact the work of teachers in classes.  Steven Layne’s message will continue to have us cheer on others from the balcony.

M ~ Math ~ With both our board the province deeply embedded in a Renewed Math Strategy, the work of the Literacy team has become more important as we continue to model and remind others that our students need quality instruction, resources  and support in both Literacy and math.

N~ This month  my audiobook was The Nest, written by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.  A cleverly written account of the lives of 4 siblings as they come to terms with an inheritance which was once a given until a tragedy changes the trajectory of their receiving of the money.

O ~ Our Voices, Our Stories is a compilation of both newcomer student and parent voices, sharing their journey and transition to Canada.  The video is being released this fall and Jennifer Shields, our ESL TOSA had an opportunity to share components of it with some administrators at our OPC Symposium.  Heartwarming and poignant!

P ~ Plickers ~ This past month I had a couple of opportunities to share the power of collective “live” data through the use of cardboard symbols and a mobile app.  I’m excited to see other portfolios/administrators use them in a meaningful way with their teams.

Q ~ QIS.   For any Scrabble players, you’ll know this word and have probably used it on many occasions. One of my favourite “down time” activities is to play Words with Friends online. My mom and I always have at least one and sometimes up to 5 games going at once.  She has learned to use the chat feature as a means of “texting”.  My other regular opponent is a teacher from Fox, who just announced his retirement this week.   I wish him all the best.  May mean more time for Words with Friends….

R~ The Road to Ever After by Moira Young.  As the month of October comes to a clos2016-10-30_0027e, I decided to treat myself to some new books from Indigo.  Love that store!  One of next projects will be to share new releases with the system.  The Road to Ever After looks like a great read for ages 9-12.  I’ll let you know, once I finish it!

S~ Sarah Conrad and Summers’ Corners.  Each year, Carol Mailing, the surviving member of the Conrad family generously donates funds to support literacy in Elgin County.  This month we were thrilled that she was able to visit Summers’ Corners and see firsthand the impact of her funding. The students in Simon Golding’s LEARN class presented Carol with a powerful slide show and thanked her for the funding which made it possible for them to purchase iPads, computers, document camera, data projector and a significant amount of literacy materials and math tools.  They also took the opportunity to share their All About Me presentations.  One student, Fatimah (a recent addition to the class, from Syria) shared (with the help of another student) that she is most proud of her parents, because they were brave enough to come to Canada.  Well, there wasn’t a dry eye at that point.  I love my job!

T ~ Twitter.  This month our OPC Twitter account took off.  As the Social Media Director for OPC, my goal is to get all of our administrators embracing the power of using social media to leverage their leadership skills.  I’m so proud of my colleagues for sharing the exciting work that is happening in their schools and remembering to use   #tvdsbopc.

U ~ Underwater.  In a reply to an email from a colleague that I started my career teaching alongside of, I was reminded about a unit that we developed in our first year as teachers, while taking our Primary additional qualifications.  Our Underwater theme was complete with not only amazing activities and texts, but a theme song, Three Dog Night’s Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.

I think I have may have just discovered the cure for my Earworm….smile

V~ Volume Purchase Pricing. For those of you who manage a set of iPads, you’ll know the term VPP.  For me, this past month required a bit of learning curve as we transitioned our 60 ESL teacher iPads, our 33 Instructional Coach iPads and our 15 Language iPads to this management system.  Gotta love technology!

W~ WS Fox.  “Once a Flyer, always a Flyer” was a text that I received after I visited the school where I started my admin career.  The current amazing admin team were kind enough to invite me to join them on their PD Day this past Friday. I loved reconnecting with so many outstanding educators.  Walking the halls still felt like “home”.  The Fox tradition lives on!

X ~ eXcited, eXhausted, eXhilarated….. As I come to the end of the alphabet and my reflections from October, those three words seem to sum it up!

Y ~ Yvonne Lennards, was one of my hosts on Friday as we reviewed her caseload of English Language Learners at WS Fox.  As we went through her caseload, other teachers popped in to pick up Hallowe’en costumes, discuss transition gifts for new students and share strategies for ensuring their United Way donations would be significant.  That conversation reminded me that our teachers do so much more than just “teach”.

Z ~ Dr. Zed to be exact!  This past week, Catherine Zeisner, not only graduated with her doctoral degree, but she invited 20 Thames Valley administrators to come and spend an hour with her pre-service teachers. We each had the absolute pleasure of spending an hour with these young, excited, somewhat nervous, but very prepared teacher candidates to discuss classroom management and the importance of creating a safe, positive learning environment.   I love my job!

Well it worked, my earworm has been “tamed”!  I’ve transitioned from the Alphabet to

If you were to capture your past month, what would your top 26 reflections be?

Come Write with me…

Who Matters?

493cc0ebd13265ab1c39dacbe5bb631f“Shhhh” please don’t tell the pastor, but there are times when I take advantage of my one hour on a Sunday morning (while sitting in church waiting for the service to start) to generate my weekly list of things to do, resources to collect, colleagues to connect with and even my grocery list.  Yet, once the worship team takes the stage and the first note pierces the air, I shift my focus to the task at hand and listen intently ~ frequently finding significant connections between the message and my day to day interactions with family, friends and co-workers.  This Sunday was no different. On a pad of paper with the IMBES letterhead (another blog topic for another day) I started my list:


Shoppers Drug Mart
ESL Staff Meeting
FreshGrade ~ CBesse
List to LT Team
Review meeting notes from sessions with LIT, FSL and ESL teams
IBM Consultation
Survey Results OPC
iCon ~ Admin session
Western Conference ~ panel members
OPC Symposium ~ Panel members
Blog from IMBES ~ Knocking on Heaven’s Door ~ the power of music in presentations/Researcher/Educator Partnerships

And as per my usual mode of operation, my pen was placed aside as the music filled the auditorium and the service started.  The focus of this series is MYCHURCH and last week there were several parallels to the message which once could easily connect to a school community.  As a school principal, I was thrilled when students, site-based educators and parents referred to our building as “Our School” or “My (speaking from their perspective) School” vs “Your school”.  The selection of the possessive pronoun sends a loud message as to one’s investment in the school.  If you are personally invested, your choices, your dedication and commitment to that school are more visible and meaningful.  If you abdicate connection, then you are less likely to invest and/or take responsibility for challenges and more likely to blame others.

This week, Pastor Rob continued in the MYCHURCH series and shared a light-hearted, yet somewhat macabre story of Cannibals working within a company and he drew connections between Kevin Costner’s character in The Guardian and “his number” as he intertwined passages from the Bible to support the message of “Who Matters”.

As he started to bring the message to a close, he emotionally shared that within the life of this church, he doesn’t matter, the incredible worship team doesn’t matter and gesturing towards us in the audience, he shared that we really don’t matter either.  His closing remark, which had me frantically searching for my “now misplaced” pen and writing in bold letters at the top of my “to do list” was
“Those who matter the most are the ones who are not here yet!”

And there it was…..whether you call it a mission, a vision, a commitment, a strategic priority, goal-setting ~ the title doesn’t matter ~ identifying the audience and doing something concrete about it does!  Our audience in Learning Support Services for our Learning Coordinators, Instructional Coaches, Math Facilitators, those educators who need to matter the most to us are “those who are not here yet”.  Our educators who may not have a solid understanding of a comprehensive literacy or numeracy program. Our educators, who for a variety of reasons are reluctant to welcome other educators into their learning environment and those educators who rarely, if ever take part in voluntary professional learning.  It is those educators who need to matter the most to us.  How can we bring them into our world of professional learning and growth as an educator?  How can we encourage them to see the value in engaging in professional dialogues with others? In our roles, it is very easy to feed and please our educators who are willingly coming the buffet of professional learning that we are offering.  In some cases, our school based staff, who are attending, are poised to bring the additional ingredient of “day to day life experience with students” to the buffet.  Our challenge is to engage our educators who aren’t coming to the table of professional learning, yet!  They are the ones that matter the most. They are the ones who will help us reach our tipping point in terms of real system change.

My challenge to you today (because chances are if you are reading this, then you are somehow connected to developing your own professional learning through Twitter, Facebook or Blogging ~ and as much as I love and appreciate you ~ in the spirit of this blog ~ You don’t matter…smile) is to engage in a conversation with a colleague who may not yet be invested in their own professional learning.  Listen to their story.  Let them know that you care and are here to help.  Recommend a quick article for them to read.  Provide them with a rich task that they might try with their class. Invite them to a conference (LitCon16, iCon, STEAM).  But most importantly….Let them know that THEY MATTER!

I would love to hear how some of those interactions went.

Come write with me……


Let the Journey Begin

Well, here we go again….. Longingly cherishing the final few hours of the Labour Day weekend in our rear view mirror as we look ahead to the journey of another school year.  From the posts on various social media platforms, many educators participated in a number of family traditions, some visited favourite locations, some soaked up the final rays of sunshine at cottages and at beaches, some were making the trek to various universities both near and far as their own children were beginning a new leg of their educational journey, some shared their anxiety and excitement as their young children are beginning their elementary careers and others posted relaxing pictures of BBQs and campfires with family and friends.

It’s hard to believe that in 24 hours that view in the rear view mirror will become almost indiscernible, as visions of welcoming students, supporting new colleagues, distributing notebooks, sharpening pencils, charing Chromebooks, selecting the perfect first day outfit and packing a lunch will be front and center as we embark on this year’s journey ~ the 2016-2017 school year.

File_000 (9)Like others, I took the opportunity this weekend to visit a favourite spot as I, too, wanted to bottle a final few carefree (meeting-less, technology-free ) moments.

And although I hadn’t anticipated thinking about the upcoming school year, as I watched the changing movement of the water I couldn’t help but draw a few similarities.  As I looked to my right, the water was calm and the trees were peacefully reflected on the water. The sunshine seemed to dance and twinkle on a few ripples.

How easy it is for us to “reflect” when things are calm and going well. My initial view reminded me of the beginning of the school year ~ smooth sailing.

As my view started to shift to the left, a few rocks were noticeable just below the surface of the water, with a few larger ones breaking the surface and the movement of the water seemed to pick up some speed.  As our school year begins, very few of us have the luxury of calm waters for an extended period of time ~ the speed at which we need to deal with everything increases and those rocks (obstacles) break the surface and become more noticeable.

As my gaze followed the direction of the stream, the rocks got even larger ~ large enough that one could cross the river and follow a completely different journey.  Large enough that the movement of the water could be described as rushing.  No more could you see the reflection of the trees, and the sunshine, which, to the left, could have been described as twinkling was now exploding so much so that you could no longer see the blue of the water… just the white reflection of the sunshine.

At one point on the river, a large tree had fallen and thereby creating a significant obstacle for the running water ~ at certain spots, impenetrableFile_005 (1)

We  know this feeling all too well.   Lots of obstacles, lots of distractions, things moving so quickly that we don’t make the time to stop and reflect. As we look at the obstacles, we can’t help but wonder if an alternative journey is better than the one we are currently on.

But alas…. as I continued my panoramic view, 180 degrees (better get some math in here….smile) later, the water was calm again, the trees were peacefully reflected and the sunlight once again danced and twinkled on the few crests of ripples.

For those of us returning to similar assignments, we know all too well that the ebb and flow of “my” river is what we are about to embark upon.  Our rocks and overhanging trees may change (last year at this time, we could never have imagined the world of GENTLE), but we can undoubtedly expect them.  We can predict that at some point we’ll want to take another route on our journey ~ as it seems easier than the current rush of water and large boulders.  But we’ll stay the course and celebrate the obstacles (as that is where we do our greatest and most authentic learning) and we’ll cheer as we return to calmer waters ~ more reflective, stronger and ready for the next leg of our journey.

For those of you entering new assignments ~ embrace every part of the river’s flow.  Reflect as much as you can, even if the speed of the water and boulders seem to make it impossible and you have moments in which you want to change direction.  You’ll want to have those memories documented, as they will make the celebration at the end that much more meaningful.

All the best to each and every educator, as they shift from the rear view mirror to looking straight ahead ~ ready to forge the streams!

looking forward

As you look forward to this school year, what are you most excited about? How will you document the reflection of the trees, the rushing water and the boulders (those hidden below the surface, those cresting the surface and those impeding your journey)?

Come write with me…

Simple, Complex and Thoughtful

Today I received an email from our TMA  (Teacher Mentors Abroad) Coordinator in which she shared the reflections from the educators who attended our 4 day Conference in the Dominican Republic in July.  As a team, we were thrilled with the positive comments about our ability to inspire our participants, not only during the conference, but as they return to their respective roles this fall. Our audience was comprised of new teachers, experienced teachers, principals and superintendents and therefore our messages about implementation were differentiated in order to meet their needs.  It was rewarding to see that we were able to share strategies which our participants could easily translate into their practice.  Words like dynamic, fun, motivating and charismatic have a wonderful way of jumping off the page and reaffirming that our decision to take the learning to the next level was appreciated and acknowledged.

The foundational text for our work in the Dominican is the Tribes book. We use that mentor text as we demonstrate how to create a community within a classroom and use various strategies to support a cooperative learning environment.  Daily, we modeled many of the energizers and then took the discussion to a deeper level in terms of connecting the strategy to both community building and curriculum connections.  As our participants became comfortable with the Tribes book, they took on the challenge of leading the energizers.  On our final day, the energizer of choice was the Spider Web. File_000 (7)  As the ball of yarn was tossed from person to person we reviewed what we had learned yesterday and our expected individual learning goals for the day.  As the activity wrapped up (no pun intended), I was presented with the ball of yarn as a reminder of the group and their appreciation.  Such a simple, yet complex and thoughtful gift.


The importance of knowing your student as a person and as a learner was discussed through the exploration of Multiple Intelligences.  As a consolidation task, we had groups demonstrate how they would teach someone to tie their shoe laces, based on one of the Intelligences.  Our Dominican educators love to sing and act, so we had some amazing presentations.  The visual group drew a picture of a “conejo” ~ rabbit ~ and proceeded to give instructions about rabbit ears.  I immediately shared that I had used the “bunny ears” technique to teach my own children how to tie their shoes.  File_000 (6) The next day, one of our participants ~ Wendy ~ called me over and proceeded to give me a small pink bunny.  Such a simple, yet complex and thoughtful gift.

For the conference this year, we focused on the Dominican science curriculum, specifically the environment, and shared ways to purposefully connect literacy expectations.  Their cumulative task was to present a Public Service Announcement based on the themes we had developed in conjunction with the environmental issues plaguing the Dominican. We were completely amazed at how much work the participants did (beyond the hours at the conference) to prepare for their final presentation.File_003 (1)

As we came to the final day and the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but become overcome with emotion as the Director and the Superintendent shared their appreciation for our dedication to TMA and for our work with their educators.  It is becoming evident that the work of TMA is making its way into classrooms in the Dominican.  As with all changes in education, it takes time, persistence, dedication, and an unwavering commitment.

I will cherish my “conejo” and ball of yarn as “simple, complex and thoughtful” memories of our 2016 TMA conference.

File_000 (8)

Have you received a “simple, complex and thoughtful” gift?  What was it for?

Come write with me…

A View From the Side of the Road

Take 9 women, all with luggage for a week, 150 Tribes textbooks in Spanish and supplies for a week-long conference and one can expect that transportation may pose a challenge or two. Our air travel was uneventful, but worthy of a shout out to WestJet for their courteous service and humanitarian baggage policy which allowed us to check all of our bags without any cost. As this year’s TMA team arrived in the Samana airport, we were lovingly greeted by Gloriannie (our Dominican contact ~ extraordinaire) and her father Pastor Lopez ~ our host for the next week.   As our driver expertly loaded our mounts of luggage into the back of a covered wooden trailer, we piled into a van (thankful for air conditioning) and started on our 2 hour trek to Hainamosa.  The drive is beautifully scenic with lush fields of produce, towering mountains and winding roadways (some smooth and some “not so smooth). It was about an hour into our drive when one of the “not so smooth” roads may have been the impetus for the tire on the trailer to burst. But, just as our driver had expertly loaded our luggage, he expertly changed the tire with the spare and we were on our way again. Travelling a little more cautiously, as one does on a spare, but still moving closer to our destination, which would include one of Gloria’s famous “Welcome” meals ~ complete with fresh mango and pineapple, we continued along the roadway.   And yet our trip was not to be without some more excitement, as the spare tire burst and now we hobbled along the side of the road with the few remaining bits of rubber clinging to a soon to be completely dented beyond recognition wheel rim.  Pastor Lopez once again phoned his wife to share that our arrival time had been delayed.

imagesAs we chugged along, we passed a young boy who was walking on the side of the road.  The Pastor asked him if there was a place close by that repaired tires.  The boy provided directions and we continued along on our way.  Within minutes, on our left we saw a brand new Texaco station and assumed that with a click of our left blinker, we’d be repaired and back on the road in no time.  But to the surprise of the passengers, we took a right turn down a dirt road and then a left into a small rural village. Homes were mainly constructed of corrugated metal, the tire repair shop was a small lean-to with several young men sitting out front enjoying their Saturday afternoon.  Young girls prepared hot tea and served the men, a young boy led a cow deep into the village, younger boys were playing a game of lassoing each other and then 15 minutes later that same lasso was used by one of the boys as he rode a small horse down the road.  At one point a large truck with an open flatbed drove by, overflowing with men (possibly on their way home from the fields). A family of 5 drove by on a scooter (I still shudder at the lack of safety features, such as helmets or shoes). Dogs and chickens roamed aimlessly throughout, as young children played tag.  A young man drove up on his motorcycle and purchased an entire “rack” of bananas and the children operating the fruit stand rummaged through their belongings to find a rope long enough to secure the bananas to the back of the bike.

bananas_at_a_fruit_stand_in_dominican_republic_canvas_prints-rd08c9ed8adec4115b2104010de6a32a0_ilxq6_8byvr_324 Our tire repair became quite the scene with lots of spectators and many offers of advice.  Pastor Lopez continued to connect with Gloria letting her know our status and new estimated time of arrival.  Women entered the village with parcels of food for their families and the young girls giggled as they sauntered past the young boys who initially didn’t pay any attention ~ only to take a glance backwards once the girls had passed.

As all of this life was going on, there was a young boy about 4 sitting at the fruit stand, on bar stool, leaning back on his elbows and watching absolutely everything.  He didn’t move, he didn’t engage in conversation with anyone ~ he just sat there, taking it all in.   Although time seems to stand still for us when we’re guests in the Dominican, I would venture to guess that our pit stop probably took 30 – 45 minutes.  And all that time, that young boy was content to sit and watch  life around him.

As we cheered for the repaired tire and our return to the main highway, the vision of that young boy stayed with me.

We hear countless stories about how our children can’t sit still in class and one can’t scroll Facebook or Twitter without coming across at least one article on a daily basis about our children and their decreasing attention span.  The rate at which we are diagnosing ADHD and ADD is alarming.

I can’t help but wonder if we’re giving our children the right things to watch and engage with.  The young boy, at the side of the road in the Dominican, certainly didn’t need reminders about paying attention ~ his view from the side of the road was enough!

Come write with me….

Do Pirates Improve with Age?

We all love to listen to our favourite song over and over again. Many of us can recite the lines from our favourite movie even before the characters on the screen deliver them and we all know the power of rereading favourite books, as each time we encounter a memorable passage, we bring new meaning and a deeper appreciation of why it resonates with us.  But what about watching the same guest speaker deliver the same message three years later?  This past week, I had the opportunity, to once again, welcome Dave Burgess ~ from Teach Like a Pirate fame to Thames Valley.  Unlike his last visit, where we invited him to present to a number of full school staffs, this presentation was shared with all of our K-12 Learning Coordinators, our Instructional Coaches and their invited classroom teacher guests.51c7vKRzfFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

I reread my post from his April 2013 visit and was surprised at what resonated with me then and how it compares to this week’s reflection.  For this visit, I will admit that I was a little anxious in that the audience (our system staff) have a very refined palate when it comes to professional learning.  They are the ones who are on the leading edge of inspiring other educators, highlighting best practice and demonstrating finely tuned presentation skills.

But, within minutes, Dave had the entire audience in the palm of his hand (as he used sleight of hand to achieve his first magic trick).  I was purposefully watching the reactions of some of our team members ~ those who would be looking for depth of message beyond the multiple lingerie bags, raw steaks and the large gold earring.  Through the smiles and the nods of agreement, my worry dissipated.  Follow up conversations lead me to appreciate Dave’s message on a different level and just like the conversation that I crave after reading a good book, the discussions after his presentation had me reflecting, questioning and challenging my previous ideas.

In his fast-paced 2 hour performance, Dave inundated his audience with magic, memorable hooks, meaningful quotes and most importantly, moments where his voice slowed and paused and we all listened just a little more intently as he shared why it is imperative that we “Teach Like a Pirate”.

Unlike our first visit, this time Dave was able to join us for lunch and then a Q&A with a few team members.  He was asked to reflect on his journey from teacher to Pirate to Presenter to Publisher. We appreciated his deep reflection and honesty about the challenges of maintaining the integrity of the classroom and meeting the demand for personal appearances.

As I watched the same execution of punch lines, the same taboo teasers and the same intentional instructional strategies woven into raw steaks and a deck of cards, I gained a deeper appreciation for Dave, the educator.  This is a teacher who knows his curriculum (common core in the U.S.) inside and out and he preaches (as if he’s on a pulpit) that in order to reach your students on an academic level, you need to know them as people first and get them into your classroom as you provide them with an experience ~ not a lesson ~ a well-crafted, intentionally embedded in curriculum and engaging experience.images (3)

Three years ago, my favourite Pirate line was “It’s not meant to be easy, it’s meant to be worth it”. And regardless of anything that I’ve read, written or experienced in the last three years, that line is still my guiding principle.

If you’ve read the book or experienced Dave in person, what is your most memorable quote?

Come write with me….

Reflection is good for the soul

Day 31

Well, here I am on May 31, 2016 deciding how to wrap up my “One a day in the month of May” self-imposed blogging challenge.  Like most days this month, I’ve been on high alert for “blog-worthy” moments and today did not disappoint.

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Today’s post could have easily been focused on the meeting that I had with a former student who has just graduated from Teacher’s College and is getting ready to apply for a position in our board as an Occasional Teacher.  We reviewed and refined her resume and cover letter and talked about potential additional qualifications and next steps.  I know, as teachers, that we’re really not supposed to have favourites… but if I did, she would be at the top of my list and I couldn’t be more thrilled that she has chosen education as a career path.

Or, I could have chosen to, once again, share the pleasure that I experience each time I get the opportunity to engage in meeting new teachers when they are applying for positions. Tonight we were interviewing for summer school ESL teaching positions and the depth of knowledge, understanding, compassion and asset-stance lens that many of these potential candidates spoke from made me proud to know that many students will be able to benefit from spending time with these educators.

Or today’s post could have been a recount of a leadership challenge of how to share potential changes with team members.  That is a skill that I continue to work towards refining.  Conversations never play out the same way that they do in my mind and at times, reactions are hard to anticipate.

Or I could have written about the sheer pleasure that I get from knowing that when a team member is having a good day, they take the time to come and share.  Today, the office was filled with lots of  “Aujourd’hui est une très bonne journée”

Or I could have written about how one team member shared that she was enjoying my daily blogs as it gave her a chance to “interact” with me on a daily basis ~ in knowing that in our two roles, being in the same building happens maybe once or twice a month and therefore time to interact on various topics of learning are limited.  This team member faithfully commented each morning.

But instead, I took some time to reread last May’s daily posts, especially the final one wherein I took the opportunity to thank those contributors who commented, liked, retweeted or added a quote to each of the daily posts.  Once again, I find myself indebted to those readers who took the time to read my daily posts and then to engage in conversations about the topic (either online or in person).  My dad even sent me an email, following the Twisted Sister post.  As a result of a reader sending one of my posts to Sandra Brown the author, she took the time to read the post, send thanks and a comment.  Even Dee Snider from Twisted Sister took the time to challenge my ideas, but admit that the post was “Still cool”!  It’s those “Superstar” moments that continue to remind me of the power of hitting the publish button and it’s a power that is available to each and every one of our students (and educators too…..)


As I critically analyzed and compared last year’s writing to this year’s, my initial thoughts were that I did not progress as much as I would have liked as a writer. But to be honest, I’m not sure what my expected outcome was ~ other than 31 posts in 31 days.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, one’s writing doesn’t magically improve.  Some days the words flowed, the well-crafted phrases eased the transition from one thought to the next, the analogies  bubbled through my brain so voraciously that I just needed to select the most effective one and the ideas came forth faster than my fingers could type away on my keyboard.  But then other days (usually as  I was feeling the pressure of the impending stroke of midnight) it was much more challenging and I sheepishly hit the PUBLISH  button knowing that it wasn’t  my best work, but it was  something ~ it was a record of something that resonated with me that day.

So for my faithful readers this month…..A sincere thank you!!

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From Miners to our Minors

Day 30

echoOnce again, on the recommendation of one of my colleagues, I’m becoming consumed by a fantasy infused historical fiction book entitled Echo and written by Pam Munoz Ryan.  As one of the first main characters is provided with the opportunity to work at the factory with his father, images of corrupt factory owners immediately creates a connection to the miners in Ken Follet’s Fall of Giants. In that story, the rise of the union and their role in ensuring the safety of the workers is brilliantly described.  Factory owners cut corners, refused to upgrade safety equipment and put the lives of their workers in harm’s way in order to generate more revenue.

Fast forward to today and my own connection to unions and their role in the work that we do in education.  In researching the history of teacher unions in Ontario, I found it very interesting that for the majority of their time in existence, unions were mainly concerned with salaries and equity in terms of salaries.  It has only be recently that their scope of influence seems to have extended well beyond salaries and working conditions.   Not unlike the work of the unions back in the days of Follet’s early 1900’s, the health and safety of today’s educators is commendable work on the part of their union.  And every employee group needs to be represented fairly when discussions of wages and benefits are occurring.

But what I struggle with is the role that today’s teachers’ union seems to be playing in decisions about instructional practices, assessment expectations, participation in professional learning opportunities, interview structures ~ to name but a few; none of which will physically harm an educator. I’m not sure that I see the direction connection between the union’s role in monitoring working conditions (safe environments) and the work that we as educators should be doing in terms of supporting student achievement.  And yet, it seems that at most turns, whenever a new initiative is shared with the system, there is an understanding that we will connect with the unions in order to offset the chance that they will craft a memo and encourage teachers to not take part.  And the sad thing is that some teachers seem to forget who their employer is and actually consider following the direction of their union over the direction of their employer.

It has been said that the teachers’ union main goal is to reduce the work load of educators.  I certainly hope that that is not the case.  I would like to believe that all of us entered the field of education to have a positive impact on student learning and in order to have a lasting, meaningful impact that means that we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and work hard.  Our kids deserve educators who are willing to work hard,  educators who are willing to go above what is expected ~ because it is in that “above what is expected” stratosphere where miracles happen and students who were once disengaged realize that if their teachers are willing to work harder, then maybe they should work harder (1)

Whenever we are provided with an opportunity to engage in a conversation with our union representatives, I’m always waiting for the right moment to say “Would you want your son/daughter’s teacher to take the easy way out, to avoid professional learning, to complete the bare minimum when it comes to reporting achievement”?

I wonder if such a question will cause a pause in the discussion.

Come write with me…


It really is all about Connections!

Day 29

cortinaAs my little grey car made its way up the winding curves of “Snake Hill” on my way to today’s Google Summit, for just a split second I was transported back in time (about 30+ years) to when I was driving, yet another little grey car (a ’73 Ford Cortina) up the same hill on my way to high school ~ wishing each time that the clutch didn’t slip and that I wasn’t going to be responsible for a long line up of vehicles behind me.  As a former Saunders Sabre, this weekend I was a useful traveling companion as I knew the fastest route to the cafeteria, the numbering system for the classrooms and which seats in the auditorium gave you the best view.

During my time at Saunders, I had spent many a night, on the same stage that over the weekend welcomed several Google Educators, playing in the band and the orchestra.  My spare periods and lunch hours were devoted to practicing over and over again until I could finger my way through a piece of music without looking at it and my breathing was rhythmically in time with the pace of the composition. So it was great to spend a few minutes with Mark Carbone, the Chief Information Officer with the Waterloo Board, another former Saunders music grad, and reminisce!

Once my nostalgia for my musical days dissipated (and I stopped wondering why I hadn’t continued playing), I started to reflect on what technology I had access to as a secondary student in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  I recall thinking that teachers who used the overhead, instead of just writing on the board, were making an effort to somehow engage us as learners.  English, Math, History, Geography ~ all used novels and textbooks as the main source of information.  Every once in a while, the old reel to reel would be pulled out and we’d see a movie. I recall our Sociology teacher had us take care of an “egg” as a project to highlight the challenges of parenting.  I used to love the Chemistry classes when we’d pull out the microscopes, Bunsen burners and various objects to explore ~ mind you, as I recall, the exploration was controlled step by step.  In remembering some of my classmates that control is probably the reason that Saunders is still standing.

I guess you could say that the sewing machine and various kitchen items used in Family Studies would be considered technology ~ after all a Singer sewing machine does amplify the speed in which you can shorten a skirt.

1979-1980-Typing-01It was in typing class with Mr. Costello where we thought that we were actually using “technology”. And yet again, it was very controlled.  We started the year with “aaa sss ddd fff” and by the end of the year if we were able to type “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” we had reached mastery.  I guess that is as creative as one can get with a typewriter.

So in knowing the limitations of access to technology, what did teacher professional learning look like in the early 80s?  What inspiration were our teachers given to push us to greater heights, to ensure that we followed our dreams and to bring out our inner super hero?

I wonder if 30 years from now, some educator will be reminiscing about the days gone by when Google Apps For Educators, Sphero, Google Cardboard and Plickers were the latest and greatest and that teachers used to come together for two full days at a thing called #gafesummit #maplesyrupedu

If they do, I hope that they remember it with fondness ~ as these past two days have been an incredible reminder about what being a truly dedicated educator is all about.  And without bursting anyone’s bubble, it’s not about how to connect the latest and greatest technologically advanced tool to your computer, it’s about connecting with the learner that comes through your classroom door every day!

Teacher and students