Tag Archives: 2014


What one word captures your work, your learning, your focus for 2014? After all is said and done, what one word synthesizes your thinking of the past 12 months? What one word caught your attention and distracted you every time you heard it?


One Word Reflection

for 2014


2014 is the year I worked on my Principal Qualifying Program part 1 and 2 courses. Predictably, we were asked to list our top beliefs that would guide us in our leadership. EQUITY emerged as #2 on my list (#1 being honesty and #3 being collaboration). Equity for students, for families, for all staff is desirable, of course, but it’s not always easy to attain. Everyone has ideas about what should happen in a school–from access to technology to class room resources to experiential learning opportunities–and many can make very convincing arguments as to why their ideas should be put into action. And many still confuse an idea of fairness with that of equity. But with a strong conviction around student learning, I think that true equity can be attained and maintained.

New field trip idea?

You want to teach a ______course?

You think we should spend money on_________?

No problem.

Tell me how it’s best for students?

And now….

One Word Focus for 2015

So a lot of great words have been chosen for 2015….

@Glennr1809 has a few:  balance, serving, network, vision, network. Check it out here.

@avivaloca chose being uncomfortable. Check it out here.

@Dunlop_Sue chose change. Check it out here.

@fryed chose courage. Check it out here.

My word is INNOVATE. But this choice has little to do with technology directly and more to do with thinking about using the curriculum in innovative ways. I want to challenge my understanding, my perspectives, my biases about the curriculum. What does it mean to construct meaning? Communicate meaning? What about to generate, gather, and organize ideas and information? What changes, if anything, when literacies include digital literacies? How might English as a discipline need to be reconsidered?

I am thinking that I will post about this work, but better I will tweet out what INNOVATION looks like more regularly with #oneword15

UPDATE!!!   There is some desire to create a Word Cloud of Ontario Educators’ one words. Tweet out your one word for 2015 to #onewordONT.

Please Join Us!



Filed under Professional Learning, Year End Reflection

Reclaiming Storytelling

2014 represents the year that I moved digital storytelling from theory to action. Well, began to move…there’s lots of learning to do.

Storytelling was often used among native peoples, not only for moral teaching, but for practical instruction, to help you remember the details of a craft or skill, and for theoretical instruction, whether about political organization or the location of the stars. One advantage of telling a story to a person rather than preaching at him directly is that the listener is free to make his own interpretation. If it varies a little from yours, that is all right … However many generations have heard the story before the youth who hears it today, it is he who must apply it to his own life.

                                                  – George Manuel and Michael Posluns, The Fourth World, 1974.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 9.18.10 AM

By Tom Thomson (1877 – 1917) Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22491980

“Free to make his own interpretation…”

Inquiry-based learning has grown exponentially in the past few years, which is terrific from my thinking. It connects to the kind of parenting I did when I was a stay-at-home mother. I hated the thought of my kids going to school to sit in rows and to be told what to do. Inquiry learning is about exploration and questioning, and it begins when we need to know how to do something or when we are truly keen on a new idea.

But inquiry-based learning also reflects pedagogy that sustained indigenous people for thousands of years. In fact, at least one resource explicitly acknowledges that there “are several parallels between Indigenous perspectives on education and those of Inquiry-based Knowledge Building” (Natural Curiosity, 13).

Because I teach First Nations high school students, I am constantly considering ways in which the learning we do can be holistic, experiential and relationship-building. One of the challenges is that I teach English where inquiry-based learning, although not impossible, does not lend itself easily on its own to real-life applications like that of The Students Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) created by Jeff Goldstein or even the Flat Connections Global Projects run by Julie Lindsay.

 What we can do is revisit storytelling as pedagogy.

First Nations’ tradition of storytelling is a method of transferring knowledge–their history, ways of being, reconciliation to the tragedies of life, thankfulness, observations about natural phenomena and behaviour–from one generation to the next. Not merely entertainment on the long, dark winter nights, storytelling was a foundational piece upon which the communities were built. The on-going conversation between storyteller and listener emphasizes the value of listening and of the trust that is needed to listen well, and it is an opportunity for the exchange of ideas, which sustains the process as a significant part of their intellectual tradition.

And I don’t mean that the teacher is telling or creating the stories. No, the idea is to challenge students to tell their stories–traditional or new–for a modern audience.

This is an idea a long time in the making. 14 years ago, I wondered if technology open-up the possibility of a re-emergence of Native storytelling. Sure, the form would be different…virtual rather than face-to-face, but the voice would be there and sound effects could replace hand gestures and body movement. Well sorta. But you get my drift, right? (I had not yet come across the actual phrase “Digital Storytelling”!). Outfront, a CBC show that ran in the early 2000s was billed as, “radio stories about real life… all about your ideas, your experiences, your perspectives, your story. It’s an hour of storytelling, experimental audio and new ways of making radio” (PRX). The general idea was that non-journalists could submit a proposal to CBC, and if chosen, producers etc. would travel to you and produce the piece.

Perfect opportunity for us. And yet, I could not get this idea off the ground. Maybe I didn’t know enough back then to pitch it well. Maybe I had not yet learned how to work around the deep shyness of so many students. Maybe it was too far of a reach.

And yet, at its core, I knew that students needed to tell their own stories. I knew that we needed to find ways to honour the literacy of the place and its people. My students needed to not just be in this world as First Nations people, but of it. Not to recreate or hold on to the past as it was, but to embody their belief system in the now.

Fast forward to 2013 when the conditions seem ripe to try again: technology was more advanced, the advent of cell tower spurred on the acquisition of personal devices, which meant more individual involvement with social media, Chromebooks had arrived, and web-based tools had become wide-spread.

 Darkness Calls by S.K. Sanderson

Examples of digital storytelling from a First Nations’ point of view were also emerging all over the place. We watched the first episode of the 8th Fire where we met Steve Keewatin Sanderson, a comic and computer games illustrator from the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Have a listen to him talk about people’s response to his art here from 3:35-5:15.

Ruptured Sky presents the War of 1812 from First Nations’ perspective in an interactive graphic novel format. From the site:

The Ruptured Sky is a digital literacy title that delivers insight into the vital role played by First Nations in the outcome of the War of 1812. The resource exposes an important part of Canadian history, one that has been underserved throughout the generations. Most of the principals involved in this project are First Nations artists, creators, writers, historians, subject matter experts and educators. It is important for students to have access to a resource that reports historical events from First Nations perspectives.

And then there is Never Alone.

The pedagogy of digital storytelling

We know that digital storytelling is a powerful way to get students engaged in learning.  But I am working toward an understanding that by using a variety of web tools, students will be able to garner the skill set to experiment with telling their own stories to not only gain traditional literacy competencies, but to also gain self-confidence and increase a sense of dignity in themselves as Anishnabek.

Let’s have a look at the progress to date: The why of digital storytelling*, followed by examples from my high school classroom….

  • It develops creativity and critical thinking

Students synthesized their understanding of three different narrative elements in The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS) via Tackk board (unfortunately the site is gone).

  • Students who are shy or afraid to talk in class get a chance to speak out their minds

Grade 9 students choose a web-based tool to learn and then created a tutorial. Here is one tutorial  created by a selectively mute student.

  • It empowers and provides students to express and share their  voices

Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process. Student’s first Post

  • It helps students explore the meaning of their own experience, give value to it, and communicate that experience with others

We are in the process of creating a grade 9 collaborative project with every grade 9 student ( 45 students). It has two main parts: (1)  Lipdup based on the song We Are Done by the Madden Brothers and (2) an online wiki collaborative textbook called, Global Perspectives: A Collaborative Textbook for Teens by Teens. The overarching questions is: Do teens really have to care about dignity and tolerance?

  • It is a reflective process that helps students reflect upon their learning and find deep connections with the subject matter of a course or with an out-of-class experience

Learning Well: a story of contrasts produced collaboratively by a grade 11 class.

  • It fosters students sense of individuality

 Students in grade 10 receive their own blog and we begin to learn this process.  Student learning to blog about her own interest.

  • It also gives students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation and establish their identity

Introverts and Extroverts inquiry presentation.

It is no small task for teens to figure out who they will be. For First Nations teens the task can seem insurmountable. What does it mean to be a First Nations person in the 21st century? I don’t have the answer, but maybe if students have the knowledge, skills, and tools they can reclaim storytelling as their guiding force.

Finally, thanks to all my digital storytelling teachers:

Alan Levine, 50+ Web Ways to tell a story

Alan NovemberEducational Resources for Educators

Amy BurvallCreative Projects

Darren Kuropatwa, Presentations

Silvia Rosenthal TolisanoBlog

Susan Oxnevad, Blog

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What Great Principals Do Differently: An Introduction


What sets great principals apart? Whitaker argues that if we can clarify “what the best leaders do, and then [practice] it ourselves, [we] can move into their ranks” (xi). But he does not argue for a prescribed recipe. In fact, he strives to build a framework within which each principal can continuously work on improving his or her leadership skills. “Think of [this book] as a blueprint. The principals are the architects. The teachers establish the foundation. The students move into the building and fill it with life and meaning” (141).

Let’s begin.

The Best Teacher

One of Whitaker’s key ideas is that of the best teacher. What does “best teacher” mean to you? And why is that person(s) so important to great principals?

 Best teacher 2

 Superstar teachers from Al Burr (1993) are those who

  • former students remember as their best teacher
  • parents regularly request for their children teachers
  • have the respect of their peers

Great teachers are indispensable. They can help a new principal learn the job. They will tell the principal the truth in a way that is acceptable.  They keep the principal’s confidence. They have school wide-vision.  Great principal’s will always base their decision on what the great teacher will think of it.

Todd Whitaker’s voice.

I think it’s important to hear Todd speak because his passion, confidence, and style will remains with you as you read the text.  Here he is speaking to the first of his 18 statements of effectiveness: “It’s people, not programs who determine the quality of the school.”


This is some list. What jumps off the page for you?

Here are my top three picks:

#3 Who is the variable? Great principals make all teachers aware that they are the variables in the classroom. When we talk about high expectations, it’s that teachers need high expectations of themselves. Likewise, effective principals view themselves as responsible for their school. They do not look to factors outside the school as the cause of problems or issues with students or staff. Great principals are problem solvers. They draw upon people from within and from beyond the school community to look for innovative ways to approach problems.

# 7 Hire Great Teachers because you want your school to become like the best teachers you hire. Whitaker argues that many principals will hire who fit into their existing staff, but it’s impossible to improve your school in this way. Hiring teachers who will lead other teachers and who have talent will be teachers who help principals achieve their goals for the school.

#11 Loyalty to whom? Great principals know to keep the students, all students, at the centre of their decisions. Principals are constantly faced with ideas, initiatives, plans, and opportunities for their school, students and staff alike. Great principals will ask the question of any new idea, “What would my best teachers think of this?” But they will also ask, “What is best for the students?” 

Does Whitaker’s thinking align with our conversations in Ontario? I think  it does. Have a look to see where his 18 statements of effectiveness fit into the Ontario Leadership Framework. At least, where they fit for me, today.

Whitaker and OLF 2014 PQP2

The “Building Relationships and Developing People” strand gets the bulk of the effectiveness statements, and that makes sense. As George Couros comments in the beginning of his post exploring the “Setting Directions” strand,

“building relationship and developing people” should have been the first leadership strand in my opinion, as everything starts with relationships and knowing your people.

There are a lot of books on leadership and being a principal. Whitaker speaks to ways a principal can become more effective that are grounded in his experiences and his work in education. He shares his philosophy through personal anecdotes and vignettes to which all principals, and aspiring principals can relate.

Every principal has an impact. Great principals make a difference.

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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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