115 Marbles

As we turn the page on the calendar to not only a new month, but a new year, one can’t help but be reminded of the passage of time. As the sayings go, “The older we get the faster time seems to tick away” and “My how time flies when you’re having a good time”.  We also know the anguish of being someplace that we’d rather not be and watching the hands tick slowly on the face of the analogue wall clock or the annoying checking and double checking of our iPhone ~ only to see the digital face remain the same.

It was embedded in the notion of the passage of time and making what time we have count that last week at church the pastor shared a story of a father who determined the number of Saturdays that he had left with his teenage daughter before she headed off to University and filled a jar of marbles. Each Saturday he would transfer a marble from one jar to the next, thus reminding him of the importance of making the most of the time he had left.

It was that story that prompted me to purchase my own two glass jars and fill one of them with 115 marbles.  Why 115 you may be asking???  Well, I have only 115 instructional days left in my current system position as a Learning Supervisor before I transition onto my adventure (principal of a new school in the Northwest end of London). I have truly enjoyed the opportunities that working at a system level have afforded me and I’m incredibly proud of the work that the teams, that I’ve been blessed to work with, have accomplished over the past four years.

So with my time now limited, I’ve committed to make the most of each day that is left in my current role. As the jar of blue and green marbles glistens in the sunlight on my shelf, they are the visual reminder of the decreasing number of days that I have left where my “voice” will be representative of the system.  My final task before I power down my laptop and switch off the lights each night is to physically move a single marble from one jar to the next and take a moment to reflect on the day.  Did I do my best? Have I honoured the voices within the portfolios that I represent?  Am I working purposefully towards building capacity and sustainability? Have I made the most of the day?

As the glass marbles pass from one jar to the next, the reality of my transition from one role to the next will become more and more apparent.

How do you mark the passage of time?

Come write with me…

#oneword17 ~ Imagine

A year ago, it was a song performed at church which inspired my #oneword16 ~ Unwritten.  In reflecting upon the year, it was indeed a well-chosen word.  It became a constant reminder to not let memorable moments go “unwritten”. It also became the mantra for our GENTLE Reception Center, the implementation book on such an undertaking had been “unwritten” ~ and it was through this work that we truly lived in a world of innovative, caring and compassionate practice.  As we close out 2016, I find myself on the verge of a new adventure that a year ago I could never have imagined writing about.

So, with my new adventure in mind, as well as celebrating and respecting the work of the past four years, I’ve selected the word IMAGINE as my #oneword17
Imagine a literacy conference with an inspirational keynote and powerful presentations by some of Thames Valley’s finest educators and LITCon was born ~ I can only imagine how incredible LitCon17 will be.

Imagine a K-12 Newcomer Reception Center, where all of the needs of newcomer students and their families are met and GENTLE was born ~ I can only imagine how what we learned from GENTLE will inform future decisions

Imagine a social media platform where Thames Valley administrators freely share the
ir thoughts, ideas and inspire each other to be better and @tvdsbopc was born ~ I can only imagine the power of this professional learning network as we continue to grow our “followership” in 2017.

As I begin to shift my focus to the opening a new school, my list of “imagines” builds on successes from the past and exciting possibilities for the future.

Imagine a school community where all students feel loved, respected and challenged by the staff.

Imagine a school community where new ideas are embraced, encouraged and expected.

Imagine a school community where parents know they were valued partners in their child’s education journey.

Imagine a school community that is so proud of their work that they open their doors to educators from other schools to learn alongside of others

Imagine a school community that embraces curiosity, collaboration and expects students to contribute to the world around them.

Imagine a school community where educators know they are valued for their diversity, their commitment to personal growth and their love of teaching.

Imagine a school community with a shared vision of creating a place of learning, unlike any other school.

As you look towards a new year, new experiences and new possibilities what will your #oneword be?

Come write with me….

I Am From

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to be asked to come and share a bit of my blogging life, as a part of a Reluctant Writer professional learning series that Annette Gilbert was facilitating with Intermediate teachers. In preparation for the interview-style presentation, I took some time to reread, reflect and reminisce on my past posts.  In doing so, it came to my attention that I had 198 submissions under my belt. So, with last week’s “The True Meaning of Leadership”, this becomes my 200th post.

Upon entering the presentation space for the Reluctant Writers session, Annette was finishing an activity with her participants which had them using the “I am From” framework as they exercised their writing muscles and created their own poems. I was immediately impressed with the flood of shared memories that certain phrases evoked from the educators.

So, in honour of my 200th post, I decided to explore the same framework and embed it in the Spirit of Christmases past.

I am From

I am from a musty smelling box of red glass ornaments, with a concave center glittered with silver

From red paper fold out bells and green plastic holly candle holders

I am from a bungalow with multi-coloured lights adorning the roof line

And a cardboard Santa and Frosty framing the sides of the fireplace

I am from a tree lot selected fresh smelling pine

Whose needles became drowned in sliver tinsel

I am from a ceramic Christmas tree with small green lights and plastic mistletoe hung in the front hall

From Saddler and Taylor

I am from Boodle bags filled with trinkets and treasures adorned with decorations that still stand the test of time and playing Silent Night on a new electronic organ

From games of Euchre, Rummy, Hearts and Shanghai

I am from Christmas Eve drives home from my grandparents, counting the number of houses with lights

From bread sauce and ricotta filled cannolis

I am from Mary’s Boy Child

From Boney M

I am from the animated Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch and the stop action animated Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer ~ whose broadcast time was known weeks in advance and calendars were cleared to come together to enjoy the show and some popcorn.

I am from those moments of Christmases past, whose memories continue to warm my heart and remind me of the spirit of the holidays.

I would love to read your version of “I Am From”

Come write with me…

The True Meaning of Educational Leadership

nutcrackersThe tree is up and decorated, the Nutcracker army is on guard on the fireplace hearth (I think they multiplied in storage), the fridge is filled with a colourful and hopefully delicious variety of sweet treats and the first gifts have been lovingly wrapped with festive paper and matching bows and placed under the tree.  Today’s falling snow, glowing fireplace and Christmas music playing throughout the house finished the picture ~ we are officially in the midst of the Christmas season. Which means that most television stations are now offering a plethora of Christmas specials and movies and I’m loving watching old favourites and new renditions.

grinchWhether the main character is a furry Grinch whose “small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of *ten* Grinches, plus two!”, a sleep deprived miser named Scrooge or a lovable loser named Charlie Brown, whose attempt to find the perfect tree led to Linus’ King James version of scripture reading from Luke 2:8-14, the true meaning of Christmas is revealed just before the final credits begin to roll.

In each of those stories, the cast of characters were constantly looking for the true meaning of Christmas in presents, lights, sixpence and perfect trees and not where it truly lies ~ something that not only fictional characters find themselves doing.

I often wonder if we are guilty of that same misguided lens in the area of educational leadership. Do we solely measure the effectiveness of a school leader by the increase in test scores, like the number of presents under the tree?   Do we focus so much on the financial resources, like Ebenezer, that we forget about the human resources? Do we honour and celebrate the glitz and glamour, like the lights of the season, even though it may lack depth and true understanding?

This past Friday, a colleague took a group of students door to door to shovel driveways and sidewalks.  When I think about strong educational leadership moves that quickly rises to the top.  I’m not sure that their afternoon away from instruction was purposefully connected to improving math scores, but I have no doubt that the feelings those student received about being appreciated, will serve them well, beyond any standardized test.


After you watch the video read some of the many comments from the Ingersoll community.


The true meaning of educational leadership can’t be neatly wrapped with a pretty bow, nor measured by the number of green vs red markers on a moderated task.  It needs to be an honouring of our past as we venture through the present and look towards the future.  And one never knows who will inform our leadership ~ we need to be open to the possibility of a trusted friend, with a figurative security blanket, being the best source of inspiration.


What is your true meaning of educational leadership?

Come Write with me…

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 Bullfrogs.download-1

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.

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

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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!

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