Category Archives: OSSEMOOC

#onewordONT 6 months later…

How is your #oneword guiding your work and learning this year?


Six months ago I had defined my #oneword as the ability,

 to say “no” to those opportunities that fall outside of one’s focus. (Collins, 2001)

This definition isn’t wrong, but it is simplistic.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great describes both disciplines of thought and of action.

To have discipline of thought is to

  • Confront the brutal facts (yet never lose faith), and
  • Define what the one big thing is that is important to me (who am I; what I am about or my Hedgehog Concept) and transcend the curse of competence.

To have disciplined action is to

  • Exercise self-discipline; to know that I have more than a job to do; I have a responsibility;
  • Use technology  as an accelerator for great performance; to be intentional in its use.

I have spent the past six months thinking deeply about these constraints. What am I best at? What drives the educational engine of my classroom? What is the driving force of my educational passion? I talked to many people inside and outside of education. I considered my ‘from the gut’ reactions to decisions made by parents, students, colleagues, and administrators. I examined what I did say ‘yes’ to and why. Did my thinking and my action align?

I have taught at a First Nations school for the past 16 years. I have always worked at helping my students develop their communication skills not just because that was my job, but because I believed that if my students’ were confident in speaking, reading, writing, and creating then there was a better chance that they would find a way to tell their story. I have done a myriad of things over the years inside and outside the classroom:

  • Stratford trips
  • Student Council advisor
  • Art events
  • Leadership courses
  • School newspaper

And likely some of these activities supported some of the students in their lives after high school. Yet, when I returned to teaching after a three year stint as a central coach, I was determined to ensure that the students had hard skills in using the technologies available to them. This commitment on my part precluded the organization or participation in those other more customary high school activities (most of which are extra-curricular) because I had to do the learning too!

The other thing that happened post-2013 was (and is) the growing movement of First Nations people who have entered the pubic arena to speak to the inequities that their people have faced both historically and continue to in the present day. Sparked by the Idle No More Movement, my students became more interested in all aspects of their culture and history. There has been explicit interest in that learning, and from my perspective, there are more students willing to share their understanding of the world (ways of knowing) with me.

This is crucial contextual information because while all the above is true, I was having this “what is my focus” debate with myself. Maybe it is obvious to others, but besides learning how to use technology as an accelerator for learning and teaching, I was also facilitating collaborative inquiries (CI), writing on e-learning teams, and working with  OSAPAC. This diverse array of educational experiences did not feel like ‘discipline’ to me.

I had this conversation at the same time as I was reading Good to Great:

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The #craftreconciliation project has clarified the disciplined thought and action that has emerged in my classroom.

  • My students and I had learned how to integrate technology into the teaching – learning process and the technology was now an accelerator in the learning process.
  • #Craftreconciliation offered the opportunity for increasingly rich conversation about technology, inquiry, and pedagogy. BUT, it also created a platform from which I could support First Nations students in discovering their voices and inserting them into the conversation.

This then is ‘discipline’ six months later:

What am I best at?

I have the skill, the perseverance, the perspective to support my students.

What drives the educational engine of my classroom?

A blend of high expectations, critical and independent thinking, and flexible support for the process of learning.

What is the driving force of my educational passion?

An unwavering belief that First Nations students are the next generation of leaders in this country.

So, what’s your reflection on your #oneword for 2016?

Please share your thinking with me and others by leaving a comment below.




Filed under #craftreconciliation, First Nations, OSSEMOOC


I grew up in a place and at a time when communication beyond face-to-face interaction was limited to the phone. Long distance calling was exorbitantly expensive and so, rarely done. It was hard to imagine being an ocean biologist when the nearest ocean was a thousand miles away. It was hard to believe that you could do anything other what you saw in front of you, and most of the time, there was simply nothing there.

Nothing on TVCreative Commons License via Compfight

I’m not even exaggerating.

I still live on the edge of the populated spaces in this country where there are no traffic lights, no stores open for evening shopping, and no line-ups for…well, anything. Waiting in traffic means someone is helping that turtle trying to get to the other side or a family of raccoons have decided to cross the road. And yet I don’t have to live on the periphery of  intellectual spaces any longer. I can participate in the most current educational thinking of Ontario, Canada, and beyond. I don’t have to wait for someone else to decide what is important for me to know about teaching and learning. I don’t have to hope that someone will provide me with inspiration for my work. I don’t have to draw on only the local resources to design courses that are meaningful, relevant, and intellectually engaging for my students.

What this does mean; however, is that others in my situation don’t have to either. This has been the challenge, then the difficulty, and now the problem facing me of the past five years. Why are the educators around me not embracing the opportunities offered via the current technologies to grow and learn past where they are physically located? Why rely on Nelson or Pearson solely to teach their students? Why do they think that what they have always done is sufficient today?

This brings me to this…..

MakeThingsDifferent screenshot Fryed

And Donna Fry’s blog is a source of inspiration for me. She tagged me in this post where she enumerates the 5 things that she thinks we need to stop pretending in order to #makeschooldifferent.

Here is my list…

#1.  We need to stop pretending that teachers can do this job alone. We need to recognize that planning time cannot mean that teachers work in isolation; nor can it only mean planning across grade teams. It must also mean having time to connect with educators beyond our four walls.  It means growing our PLN. It means honouring social media connection time as valuable.

#2. We need to stop pretending that all educators are de facto good learners. Tom Whitby has said, “To be better educators, we must first have to be better learners.” Agreed. And this does mean all of us who claim the title of educator: ECE, EA, Teacher, Coach, Consultant, Coordinator, Principal, Supervisor, Education Officer, Program Manager etc. We all need to expect of ourselves first what we expect of our students…to be risk-takers, metacognitive, and ‘learning ready’.

#3. We need to stop pretending that someone else is going to do the work. All educators at every level of our education system must engage in the actual work with students. The days of “walk-throughs” by administration need to end. Rather, administration needs to work in the classroom to remain connected to the ever-changing demands of the teaching-learning exchange.

Instructional rounds conducted by teachers and administration have taken hold in some places and work because they support/model a culture of ongoing learning. I have to believe that that culture is passed on to and/or picked up by the students, too.

There are other examples that demonstrate the importance/value of everyone doing the work. You can see here the Northern Ontario eLCs working with teachers and students of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. Another example comes from a session I attended for preparation work for a new e-learning course where Lori Stryker from the Assessment Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Education spoke about her work with teachers and students in classrooms to ensure that the work does not live in the theoretical realm, but moves always to practice.

#4. We have to stop pretending that learning is about isolated subjects driven by content. We need to design learning to be interdisciplinary so that students and teachers can tackle real world needs. This might mean solving real problems like how a school can acquire a new field for outdoor learning and recreation/training, or it might mean developing a program that responds to students’ desire to learn about the traditional life of their people (much like the  Specialist High School Major program in Ontario does). We need to see this kind of learning become the norm.

Frankly, it is becoming more and more difficult to explain to high school students why they need four English credits. They don’t dispute needing to develop and strengthen their communication/literacy skills, but many of them would rather do that work via robotics, student council, or a music business course.

Which brings me to …

#5. We have to stop pretending that only some teachers are teachers of literacy. Everyone needs to be able to speak, read, write, and create really well. Literacy is the set of skills that drives all other content–regardless of discipline. Literacy instruction needs to be built into every part of a students’ day because it is a set of skills that was, is, and will always be needed. Advanced literacy skills ensure that students will be able to think critically, communicate persuasively, and work collaboratively. In Ontario, the work of incorporating/embedding literacy into every grade 7-12 classroom is supported by the Adolescent Literacy Guide and the folks at the Curriculum Services Branch of the Ministry of Education. It’s up to our school and system leaders to make sure that every teacher is skilled at literacy instruction.

Of course, there are more than 5 things to stop pretending. Here are some other voices who have expressed ideas that I would add to my list too!!!

Heather Theijsmeijer

Colleen Rose

Ms. Armstrong

Deborah McCallum

And I would like to challenge my English teacher colleagues  @msjweir@arachnemom, @sarle83, and @danikatipping. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts ladies!!!


Filed under Literacy, OSSEMOOC, Professional Learning, Teaching

Time changes everything.

Time is tyrannical. It strong-arms my work to fit, to conform, to be done without allowing me processing time–the conversation required for me to think out loud and for my colleagues to respond.

When I try to work within the parameters of job-embedded professional learning, the pressure is ever-present. The tick-tock of the clock, eyes shifting upward, phones flicking on & off; time taps its foot, and if I don’t respond, pouts. We are not done, but time is out:  papers shuffle, chairs scuffle, apologies mumbled.


The power of the collaborative inquiry is real–if we only have time for it.

I have the extraordinary opportunity to work-learn with an educator who has battled time and won. With her (@CarolineBlack39), I have (we have, I am sure) experienced the satisfaction thrill of deep collaborative learning.

Let me back up a bit.

We know that “we are better together”, and that working in isolation is now a choice. We know that “CI requires a safe, inclusive environment built on trusting relationships”. We know that “genuine learning can only  take place when we collectively accept that learning is not about knowing all the right answers, but about struggling together to find them, without being intimidated by the mistakes that  are inevitably made along the way” (In Conversation). And we know that ongoing learning is not a choice. Jim Knight says it well…

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                           Image is linked to video.

To help educators begin this work, various frameworks have been designed like the Ontario Ministry of Education’s organizing framework for CI processes, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s The Disciplined Collaboration model, and Jenni Donohoo’s step-by-step guide to collaborative inquiry. What all the frameworks have in common is the acknowledgment that CI can only succeed if “trusting relationships” exist so that educators can ” struggle safely”. Stephen Katz and Lisa Ain Dack  in their book Intentional Interruption, suggest that professional learning only takes place when there is permanent change in practice, and to get there our current thinking must be intentionally challenged. We need to be pushed beyond what we think we know, past the head nodding and the congenial (historic? predictable?) conversations. Stephen Hurley builds on the Katz/Dack comment “most people if left to their own devices will talk by defaulting to the lowest common denominator of agreement” by asking us to consider what might happen if the criteria for professional learning includes the notion of intentional interruption.  When we learn to monitor the thinking that emerges from within our conversations, we might be reminded of the need to be challenged.

That’s powerful stuff.

Trusting relationships

Collegial conversation

Intentionally interrupt assumptions

Push past the echo chamber

Work within an organizing framework

This is the recipe for a good professional learning opportunity, and “good” is a goal. But to get to the kind of professional learning that is fearless, energizing, contagious and yes even, joyful, another ingredient is needed—time.

Of course, job-embedded time (not release time) for educators to meet and learn together is a must. (School boards and unions need to figure this one out.) And yet, even this amount of time is not enough to satiate the appetite for learning together, once tasted. It’s not enough when the work/learning you do together can, for example, closes gaps in students’ learning by years.

And that’s the battle: to allow yourself the time to deeply invest in your practice.

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Filed under OSSEMOOC, Professional Learning

Building the habit of learning

Asics Gel-Volt33
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Dirk Knight via Compfight

Most of us would agree that good habits are good to have. We are encouraged to eat well, drink lots of water, exercise, and pay attention to our relationships. We are also encouraged to make these habits a daily routine. Eat 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, drink 8 glasses of water per day, eat dinner with your family every day, get your body moving every day. This last habit is a hard one for me. I usually rationalize my lack of commitment to exercise as an issue of time. I just don’t have time for it everyday. The truth is that I’d rather read than run, write than workout, garden than go to the gym, and learn than lift weights.

Recently though, my husband shared his new learning around building the daily habit of exercise. It seems that many fitness gurus are advocating a 15 minute daily workout as a sustainable approach to life-long fitness. 15 minutes. Any 15 minutes in the day. Hardly seems worth it. I mean, a 15 minute workout can’t generate the sweat and pain needed to feel like gains are being made, right? Ah, but there’s the rub. This plan is for sustainability–for building the habit of exercising. Start with 15 minutes every day and build from there.

There is so much to like about the 15 minute plan. It can happen almost anywhere, at anytime. It’s personal. It can be low-tech or high tech. It can happen multiple times in a day. It grows self-confidence. It affords choice and variety. It offers potential opportunities for extension and expansion. The more I considered the 15 minute plan, the more I understood its value as a way to build the habit of daily exercise. And then, I made the connection to how this approach could work for building a daily habit of learning.

Many of my colleagues lament that they do not have the time to engage in professional learning. I get that. Like packing up and going to the gym, professional learning can feel like an event and end up consuming a whole Saturday morning. The beautiful thing about social media is that it offers us the opportunity to get some learning on our own terms.

Here are some ways to use social media to help you build your daily habit of learning:


Wading in—Twitter is often compared to fast-flowing river that can be tough to navigate. You might decide to take 15 minutes a day to read some tweets and follow a few people, or check out a link or two.

#slowchatED—Originated by David Theriault who describes #slowchatED as “an experiment in a new type or style of educational Twitter chat.  #slowchatED is just like a normal teacher chat except that it takes place from Monday through Saturday. Only one question per day is asked using the #slowchatED. You can jump in whenever you want so you don’t have to be locked into a certain day or time. Follow the link to read more about the #slowchatED concept.

SparkchatScott Capro, the man behind #BFC530 or The Breakfast Club Chat, says “The Breakfast Club 530 is a family of educators who gather M-F 5:30am EST/7:30pm AEST. We call #BFC530 a sparkchat* 15 minutes, 1 question. Our mission as a community is to have every voice get a voice. Each member should post to the question, then engage with another member. Inspiration comes through engagement. Our mission as a chat is to empower! To provide a safe place for your first chat experience, first feeling of connection… then, your first experience co-moderating the chat with us!

Weekly chats—There are weekly chats that cater to specific grades like #1stchat. Check out @Cybraryman1 ‘s page of educational hashtags.

Google + Educator Communities/Facebook Educator Groups: Twitter may not be your platform of choice. That’s fine. If you are more at ease navigating Facebook, search Suggested Groups for a group that ties into your teaching/learning. Google + also hosts a wide range of educator communities from Crafting Digital Writing to Mine Craft in Education.

Your Smartphone: By adding apps like Zite or Feedly to your smartphone, you can easily fit in 15 minutes of reading from content that interests you.

Your email: No smartphone? Pull interesting content into your email for quick access. There are many email newsletters that you can have come directly to your email. Interested in literacy, then check out Choice Literacy’s newsletter. More interested in general educational trends and conversations, then have a look at Edutopia’s offering.

Once you have chosen your platform for learning, set your timer for 15 minutes, and go for it! Who knows where this good habit will take you!

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Filed under OSSEMOOC, Professional Learning