Moments to Find Your People and Your Beat

The Elusive Perfect Moment from The Educator’s Sandbox (theedsandbox) was the first blog post I read in IMMOOC. It was also the moment that I knew I was hooked. ‘This person TOTALLY gets Me’ is all I could think as I read. I too have been gripped by fear of ‘doing it wrong’. I’m so glad that joining learning communities like #IMMOOC and encouragement from colleagues in my Digital Lead Learners team have helped me break that cycle of fear. Now I love trying new things and jump right in to learn more!

My connections didn’t end there. Find Your People, also by The Educator’s Sandbox, seemed to describe my journey. I love the ending advice:

No longer will I advise preservice teachers to, “find your person” – they can do way better than that…

I was that teacher, but now, like the author, I have found my people. What’s truly amazing is just how many people and how I haven’t even met a lot of them!

Finally, the post that I will remember for a very long time is Moved by the Beat of a 16-Year-Old by Tara M. Martin. It so wonderfully describes the passion and creativity that our students possess, but it also reminded me how important it is to let go and let those students take the lead. For someone who fears ‘getting it wrong’, this is BIG!

I will take away so many nuggets of wisdom from many others like Kristin Houston’s As Elsa would say, “Let it Go”, Katie Martin’s Why Are We Still Assigning Homework?, or Annick Rauch’s Not Easy but Worth It. There are just so many!

Thank you all for being on this journey with me. You have supported and helped me more than you know.


The Antidote to Fear

“I don’t think loneliness is a locational thing. I think loneliness is a feeling of disconnect, of not feeling like you’re doing something worthwhile and not feeling like you’re involved in something that has purpose.”

Chris Hadfield

Two years ago I was fortunate enough to hear Chris Hadfield (@cmdr_hadfield) at the canConnectED conference in Niagara Falls. He was absolutely inspiring that day and I have followed him on Twitter ever since. He spoke this past weekend at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum for a gala event where he was presented with a well-deserved leadership award. It is serendipitous that his speaking engagement coincided with the end of IMMOOC since many topics he touched on resonate with what I have been thinking about during my reading and reflecting.

I was struck with his statement about loneliness not being locational, but rather a “disconnect” from being “involved in something that has purpose”. Becoming more connected — through Twitter, my digital lead learner group, and IMMOOC — has been the best thing I ever did for my teaching practice. Seeing new ways to do things and the possibilities that are attainable have given me a very meaningful purpose and that happened by being involved and connected.

Peter Mansbridge emceed the event and asked Hadfield about being afraid. Hadfield’s response is a lesson for everyone:

“The greatest antidote to fear is competence.”

His simple statement reminded me of how often we fear trying new things, but it also assured me that the antidote is learning. We can all overcome fear and do great things — maybe even a space walk.

Hadfield’s final remarks succinctly state why we do what we do. I have been blessed in my life, and I am able to read and learn and reflect. It is my solemn duty and privilege to give that gift to others. IMMOOC and Hadfield have helped me see that even more clearly.

“Every single one of us, once we’ve taken care of the compulsories, has an absolute obligation as a citizen of this country to try to enable as many other people as possible and I feel a great responsibility to do that.”

Frketich, Joanna. “David Bowie “got it wrong” about space says astronaut Chris Hadfield“. Oct 30, 2017.

Don’t Just Interrupt – Disrupt

Definition of disrupt

a :to break apart – rupture

b :to throw into disorder 

:to interrupt the normal course or unity of

I have interrupted my normal course plans temporarily for special occasions and other timely reasons, but until recently I had never really disrupted my routine.

This past month my class and I have been involved in the Climate Action Project which has completely made me disrupt, rupture and break apart my old way of doing things and what an invigorating learning experience it has been! The disruption has forced me to look at the content and delivery methods I have traditionally used from a whole new angle, turn them on their head, and realize there are better ways. Most importantly I have discovered these new ways are do-able even if I may find it uncomfortable at first.

My class produced PowerPoint  presentations collaboratively, they blogged with another highschool, they worked together to create a video using a green screen, and they Skyped with classes from around the world. My class and I learned many things together and it was refreshing and dynamic! My students not only learned a great deal about climate change, but more importantly, they learned collaborative skills, ed tech skills, and practiced deep reflective learning.

Disrupting my normal routine has been one of the best learning experiences I have had. I would recommend a little disorder for everyone – it will, in the end, interrupt a stale state of mind.

Learning Needs

As teachers we all learn about Bloom’s taxonomy and want to push our students to attain upper levels of thinking – analyzing, evaluating and creating. If we apply the SAMR model we want students to also attain the upper levels – modification and redefinition. Yet we also have to take into consideration the needs that our students have to be able to attain those levels. Maslow’s hierarchy has to be overlaid on all the other models because without meeting needs there is no learning.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


The same goes for teachers. Sometimes we forget that people, even well established professionals, may fall into the lower end of the hierarchy of needs at certain times in their life. A marriage break up, a death in the family, a job loss (theirs or their spouse’s), an accident, could all have negative effects and hamper a person’s ability to learn.

This is why it is so important to build relationships with your colleagues. They need support and so do you. We all have rough times in our life and the support of understanding individuals to get you through and to help you meet some missing needs is paramount. Recognize your own needs and recognize the needs of others. Simple, kind gestures go a long way to help someone climb back up the hierarchy.

Our REAL Impact

Fourteen years ago my family and I began a journey that we didn’t expect and didn’t want.  My 5-year-old son, second oldest of my four children, had been suffering with allergy issues all summer and into fall. Our doctor and doctors in the local Emergency department all had differing opinions, most of which were short term and unhelpful. Finally, we saw our doctor to get a referral to a specialist. That appointment revealed a lump, then life got crazy. Ultimately we had to take a detour on the way to the allergist — my son had cancer.

Looking back, I can now recognize details I couldn’t before, in particular in relation to teaching. I had a wonderfully supportive principal at the time who bent over backwards looking out for me. Unfortunately, from a systemic perspective not everything was as supportive as it could have been. Quibbling about sick days and requiring extra meetings to explain my absences stick in my mind as something that added a lot of stress on my already stress-maxed brain. Mental health is important. It’s pretty hard to be effective with students if you are suffering, so taking care of the mental wellness of teachers should be paramount, yet that was not the resulting message that was communicated to me through those actions.

The learning curve that I had while my son was in treatment was huge. I teach English, so tracking temperature data and blood counts, knowing what neutrophils do while calculating when my son would most likely be neutropenic and understanding side-effects of chemotherapy drugs were all the learning I could manage. As George Couros said recently in his blog “The stress of new learning can become overwhelming.”  My principal understood that and didn’t add to my load, yet the system did.

When we are looking at policies in-depth consideration needs to be taken about the REAL impact they have, not how they will ‘reduce absences’ or encourage ‘accountability’. In the end, policies and everything we do impacts living, breathing PEOPLE. Let’s remember that and we will go a long way in improving mental health and wellness for everyone.

Empowerment and Star Trek

Today I want to tell you about Sarah.

Sarah is a student in my grade 10 academic English class. I don’t have to engage Sarah. She came engaged and ready to learn because she has goals, big goals, laudable goals. But, Sarah struggles in my class sometimes. She has a hard time keeping up with the readings. Sarah has dyslexia.

I had Sarah in my class last year when she was in grade nine and we worked on various support tools to help her with the class work, but the unfortunate drawback is many tools are not easy or convenient to utilize; some even require something akin to a computer science degrees to figure them out! We were able to successfully use Learning Tools in Microsoft OneNote and WordQ allow give Sarah the text to speech feature and hear many of the readings we studied.

I was never really happy with any of the solutions for Sarah because they didn’t truly fit her needs. All of the tools required digital readings that could then be manipulated by any given tool to be read aloud. All of this meant Sarah had a lot of extra steps to be able to do the same work as anyone else in the class.

By the end of that semester, Sarah felt perhaps the applied level would be better for her because it wasn’t as strenuous and didn’t require as much reading. This made me sad because Sarah has TONS of potential. I felt like I had failed her.

Flash forward to September. Three days into the semester, Sarah came to me and said she wanted to join my class. She didn’t want the applied level because her aspirations involve going to university. Great! I know she can do it, we just need to find the right tools and I was ready this time! I had been to the ConnectEd 2017 Conference the previous April and had found the perfect tool for Sarah. While at the conference I came across a booth showcasing the C-Pen reader pens. It was a bit like a Star Trek moment come to life.

A reading pen is about the size of a highlighter and used in much the same way. As you ‘scan’ over the text with the pen, it reads it aloud to you. There is a port for ear buds and it comes complete with a dictionary built in as well as a translator. I couldn’t believe it when I traced a line of English in a book and instantly it was read aloud to me in Spanish!

I was even happier when I told my principal about the pens and she agreed to buy a set for our school. So when Sarah came to me worried about keeping up with the reading I directed her to go borrow one of the pens. Her parents have since ordered a pen for her because of its ease of use, portability and convenience. She never has to worry about scanning pages into a computer, if the book is available digitally, or how much the digital version might cost.

Sarah came to me already engaged, what she needed was to be empowered. A portable reader pen has helped to empower Sarah.

Sarah’s story was the first thing that came to mind when considering engagement vs. empowerment, but while reflecting and writing about her story, I also came to the realization that Sarah wasn’t the only empowered person in this scenario. I was also empowered as an educator. I have the support of my administrators, and also of a larger Digital Lead Learner team that have empowered me to take risks and learn new things. Without empowerment, I would have been at a loss in knowing where to start to help Sarah and I certainly wouldn’t have been at the conference and would still not know a pen the likes of something from Star Trek even existed.



The Epiphany of Knowing Nothing

And any man who knows a thing knows, he knows not a damn, damn thing at all…” Take a Minute by K’naan

After years of schooling, practice, PD, Workshops, AQ courses and over 2 decades of experience I have finally gained all the wisdom I need to be able to teach successfully and I can bestow it upon you in three words – I know nothing. While this may sound rather fasitious, it is true at least as a general attitude of mind.

My rebirth in ignorance really began in earnest when my children – I have four – came into their teenage years and subsequently entered the highschool where I teach. I was already a seasoned teacher, but seeing highschool through your sons’ and daughter’s eyes, up close and personal, really has a way of changing your perspective and making you rethink all you know. My epiphany came during that process and it boils down to the fact that I know nothing, or at the least very little. I had so much more to learn. How could I have missed how boring that lesson was? How did I ever think the way I was doing things was revolutionary? Or even remotely interesting? What a humbling wake up call!

That is when I started earnestly seeking out new ways of doing things and started to turn my practice upside down. I went into this learning curve clearly recognizing that I know nothing. I have come to understand that really that’s the best attitude I can have. I’ll never stop learning because, with knowing nothing, I have lots of room to keep growing. I used to think you ‘arrived’. Now I know arriving is an illusion that limits you – knowing nothing is the true freedom.

Accidentally innovative?

So people who know me understand that I get bored easily. I’m one of those people who has a hard time sitting still. As a child I was constantly being told to quit tapping, bouncing or jiggling. And if I am sitting still my mind is probably racing on into next week. 

Apparently a trait that I considered to be negative is actually a really good thing! My boredom with doing things over and over the same way again and again has helped me be innovative and I didn’t even know it. I created new units and new ways of delivering material. I chuckle as I think about being accidentally innovative. Can that even REALLY happen? I can tell you with the utmost certainty that yes it can – sort of.

Sometimes I think I overwhelm myself. I hear about new things and feel guilty that I’m not doing them. Yet, on the other hand I am doing many new things – they may just not be the latest buzzword of the day. 

What I have now realized is that what I was doing was little like being lost in the wilderness doing whatever I could to make sense of things. I did some innovative things, but at a great expense of energy and without the results I hoped for. Mostly because I always stayed inside my comfort zone only going so far.

I feel that now I understand better that innovation is not just doing a new thing, it is a change of mindset. I am more purposeful and focused now on true innovation which includes bettering myself through networking and reflection resulting in a richer and better experience for myself and my students. I have taken the time to network more using Twitter as my best new PD learning tool with access to so many gifted and inspiring educators. I have also taken much more time to reflect. Writing this blog is one way I do that, but daily reflection about what is working and not working in my class has long been part of my practice. My more purposeful focus has most recently lead me to take risks that I would not have been comfortable with not so long ago. This semester my class and I are part of a Global Project (#ClimateActionP) where the students do much of the leading and I am learning to let go more than I have before. I also have been developing a Mental Wellness unit and I am using the idea of the “audience effect” and having the students research and do the teaching. Both these projects have me stepping out of my comfort zone as a teacher, but they both also have my interests totally piqued! 

Well, being accidentally innovative has been good for me because it lead me to purposeful, focused and definitely exciting true innovation. 

Innovation, Insights and Ikigai

Recently I came across a tweet whose picture intrigued me. It had four overlapping concentric circles and contained in the circles were four thoughts: what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. Alongside these thoughts were four words: Passion, Mission, Vocation, Profession. It made me pause and smile because there in the circles was what I had been trying to put into words.

The circles helped explain a Japanese concept called ikigai. Laura Oliver, author of the article The Japanese concept of Ikigai could be the secret to a long, meaningful life, says that “while there is no direct English translation, ikigai is thought to combine the Japanese words ikiru, meaning ‘to live,’ and kai, meaning ‘the realization of what one hopes for.’ Together these definitions create the concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life.” That idea resonated with me.

In the last few years I have jumped into learning new things and have challenged myself to try different approaches – a very scary thing for me, but something I felt necessary because I was starting to feel stifled by the way I had been operating in my classroom. I had been craving something, and this Japanese notion helps explain what it was I craved – a purpose, but not just a purpose, a passion and mission that would enhance my vocation and profession.

Serendipitously, around the time I was feeling very disheartened and restless, my board took a big leap into technology. I would not have thought at the time that technology would be the impetus that would send me on the learning path I find myself on, but here I am. I found I was very adept at learning this new tech and embraced it. I loved the organizational capabilities of Microsoft OneNote – I am by nature rather obsessive about organization – and I became a pro quickly and found myself assisting my colleagues and running mini PD sessions in my school. This lead to my Principal recommending that I join the newly formed Digital Lead Learner group in our board. Little did I know what a game changer this would be for me.

The Digital Lead Learner group takes a collaborative approach to learning not only about digital technology, but also about pedagogy – deep pedagogical learning that has impacted all aspects of my practice, most of which have nothing to do with digital anything. At first I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store. There were so many things I was unaware of and being part of this group opened up many windows I didn’t even know existed. I began building a positive, supportive PLN and I also re-examined the way I approached teaching and my students. Learning to use technology taught me why and how to best integrate that technology in my classroom. This whole process reminded me to be a learner again which, in turn, reinvigorated my curiousity and re-energized everything about my practice. In short, I discovered my passion.

The process continues and now includes delving into completely new territory for me. Participating in Tweetmeets, webinars, facilitating PD, global collaborations, to name just a few. I am seeing much of what I do in a completely new light. The epitome of innovation – revolutionizing, transforming, and doing new things – are all contained in the learning curve I have embarked on. For me, innovation is serving as my ikigai and I can’t wait to see what is next.

Oliver, Laura. “The Japanese concept of Ikigai could be the secret to a long, meaningful life.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 Sept. 2017, Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.