Monday, August 13, 2018

Preferred Pronouns

I have a friend who is probably the most organized person I have ever met. They can organize even the most unruly and expansive teams. They can run huge events and keep all the moving parts operational. They have incredible reservoirs of energy and can somehow function on very little sleep, which sometimes leads me to believe that they are part-robot. They also prefer using the pronouns "they" and "their" to refer to themselves.

Switching my terminology has not always been easy. I first met my friend when they went by their "dead" name and it took concentrated effort to use the pronouns they prefer. English grammar lends itself to certain regular sentence constructions. A lifetime of using either "he" or "she" has ingrained those two choices in my brain and mouth, but I can change.

For example, there are several meetings leading up to the big event where my friend and I volunteer. At one of these meetings, we were going around the table introducing ourselves, because we had some new members. I started the introductions and said, "My name is Diana and my preferred pronouns are she and her." This gave my friend the opportunity to mention their preferred pronouns without having to initiate the conversation. I was pretty pleased with myself and my actions, until two realizations stopped the self-congratulations.

First, the only reason I included that statement about preferred pronouns was because my friend was in the room and I knew my friend is trans. Would I have considered mentioning pronouns if they were not present? Shouldn't I be mentioning my preferred pronouns, regardless of who is in the room? After all, I shouldn't rely on a visual scan of the room to decide whether or not someone in the room has a preferred pronoun that might not match the ones society considers appropriate for us.

Secondly, when I shared this anecdote with another friend, she asked if by addressing the pronoun issue, might I inadvertently be putting those who are struggling with their gender identity with making a stand or decision? I think it's better to bring it up but I can understand the conundrum it may put people, even for those who have never considered the possibility that someone's gender may not match their perceptions.

This is why representation in books matter. Maybe not everyone has a trans friend. Exposure to these concepts should not be dependent on whether or not someone knows someone else. I've seen it written that homogeneous schools are the ones that need even more diverse perspectives in literature, so that everyone, not just those who relate to certain characters, can interact on the page with different people. Fellow teacher Rabia Khokar reminded us recently in the Library AQ course during her presentation of the importance of books as "windows, mirrors, and doors".


It's important to have all sorts of books in a school library that reflect various lived experiences, regardless of personal opinions. After all, one of the "rights as a reader" is for readers to abandon books if they do not want to read it; no one is obligated. For some students, books like these may be the only chance to see someone like themselves. A few years ago, a parent asked me through my administrator about what "percentage of gay books" I had on the school library shelves. My original answer to my principal was "not enough". Needless to say, he didn't quite phrase my response to the query in the same way I delivered it. In 2017, one of the Red Maple Non-Fiction nominated titles was Trans phobia: deal with it and be a gender transcender by j wallace skelton and Nick Johnson. I know that this book addressed the topic of pronouns; I just never took the initiative to try the suggestions for pronoun use that the book offered. Hopefully it will not take the presence of a racialized friend to make me pay attention to colour and culture, or a friend with a disability to notice accessibility issues, or someone with financial issues to care about class/economic concerns. Sometimes, it does, because when issues are personalized, and you actually know someone who experiences discrimination due to their identity, you pay attention more. At least, I do. But I can change; I can improve.





Monday, August 6, 2018

I got an N on my report card

During the last week of school, I was away for three of those four days. I had a good reason; I was supervising the Grade 8 students on their grad trip to Albion Hills. It can be challenging to plan a decent lesson for students to undertake with a supply teacher for these "dying days" of school, but I had a risky but useful task. The job of the students was to team up and write a report card - on me. With me away, I felt like they would be more honest about their opinions. I had a wonderful supply teacher, who went over the learning skills and what they meant, explained how teachers cannot decide on grades without having evidence to back up their claims, and helped the students take this task seriously. After all, on the Annual Learning Plan, there is a section where educators can include student and parent feedback on their teaching. This would be an authentic way to gather some thoughts directly from the students.

When I returned from the trip to the Etobicoke Outdoor Education Centre, I found a huge pile of report cards for me to read. Guess what? I didn't need to worry about the students being frank. Two of the seven classes that were given this activity to do did not have as much time as the other groups did, so the occasional teacher did it as a group activity and recorded the whole-class answers.



In case you can't read it clearly, those are "S"s for Organization. If you aren't familiar with the Ontario elementary report card, Learning Skills are given an E for Excellent, G for Good, S for Satisfactory, and N for Needs Improvement.

With some of the other classes, in which they wrote the report cards in small groups, some of the results were even ... harsher. Some groups tried to lessen the blow by giving me Term 1 and Term 2 results and showing some improvement (e.g. I got an N in Term 1 and a S in Term 2). This example I've scanned and replicated here had quite a bit of detail and evidence. I blocked out the "teachers' names" (I loved how many took a creative writing approach to the upper section of the report card), but read this report.


I came home to my family and cried, "I got a N on my report card for organization!"

"This somehow surprises you?" was my sarcastic son's reply

 Now, I have to give the students credit. These marks did not appear out of nowhere. They gave rationales. They provided examples. What I found interesting about this exercise was how they conceptualized "organization" and made it synonymous with "tidy". Have we inadvertently created this idea - equating a clean desk with a good grade? It doesn't say that on the report card description of organization. It seems to be more about time management and completing work. Many student "evaluators" also felt that it was my responsibility (as opposed to a shared responsibility) to maintain order in the school library. Having said that, I realize that keeping things orderly is not one of my strengths and is something to which I should devote more time and effort. We didn't get a chance to go over the report card results with my "teachers". I wonder what next steps, if any, I should take ... both to improve my organizational skills, and to expand student ideas of organization. If you are reading this and have any ideas, please share them in the blog comments or via Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, July 30, 2018

My Favourite Trainer (and Good Teaching Techniques)

Today is the second day of our "real" vacation. Although our family has been looking forward to the trip, the food, and the adventures, those who aren't teenagers in our household have been concerned about leaving Toronto and losing all the health gains we've made since Easter Monday. So much of our progress is due to Zach.



This is Zach. He's our coach at Cross Fit Canuck, the gym my husband and I attend. I worked with Zach in the fall of 2017 but took the winter off to take sewing classes. I realized that it shouldn't be an "either-or" situation, and so I rejoined Cross Fit Canuck in April with a new support person, my husband. Those earlier two blog posts talked a lot about the physical discomfort involved in starting exercise regiments, but I want to write about why we are still taking classes, in July, four months in, with no sign of stopping. I also want to describe what it is about Zach and Cross Fit Canuck that translates to good teaching practices that can be emulated by educators.

1) Zach knows how to interact with and motivate participants on an individual level. For instance, joking with some people at certain stages works for them but would backfire on others. He knows when it's appropriate to be a loud cheerleader and when it's the time for a quiet word of encouragement.

2) Zach differentiates the tasks and modifies them based on our abilities. He changes tasks to just the right balance of going slightly beyond your comfort level but not beyond your ability level. In education circles, that's known as the zone of proximal development (Vgotsky's ZPD). Can't do a push up with your legs straight? Do them on your knees. Holding a plank difficult? Try resting on your forearms instead. Knee issues preventing you from doing burpees? Use a box or "wall ball" as support when you do squats. It doesn't feel like he's "Nerfing" the task, because it still makes us sweat, but it makes the job feel possible.

3) Zach presents the information in many different ways. He breaks down the exercises into manageable chunks, has it written on a white board so we can refer to it, and demonstrates the exercise so we can see it, even if the exercise is one we've done before. By showing all of us what proper technique should look like repeatedly, it helps our newest members who may not have encountered the exercise, and it helps participants who have been there before to ensure we are performing the action in a way that provides the most benefit to the muscles we are targeting.

4) Zach encourages a collaborative environment and the competition is focused on personal goals instead of "beating" other participants. There are people of all ages, shapes and sizes at Cross Fit Canuck and my husband and I have become quite friendly with some of the regulars. (Shout out to Asad, Nila, Ruth, Phylisha, Judy, Ryan, Kai and Lisa, among others.) Some of our warm ups involve team tasks (like passing a medicine ball / wall ball from person to person as we are all in a squat position with our backs against a wall). Zach records some of our times or results from certain exercises, but it's never meant as a ranking or tool of shame.

5) Zach is never condescending or patronizing. Even though Zach is in phenomenal shape, he talks and acts like he is our equal. He plans on participating in an upcoming program that involves body scans and nutritional talks because he says he needs to get in shape for competition season. This is the same man who can scale a peg board wall with just his hands holding wooden stakes.

6) Zach points out progress and growth, while still offering feedback that helps us improve. Sometimes we may not notice how we've changed for the better, but Zach notices and tells us. For instance, Zach mentioned our increased flexibility, or how we used to be completely winded after running 400 m around the building but now we can run further before getting tired. My husband never knew how to skip before signing up for Sweat 60. Zach taught him how. Hubby will probably never look like boxers in those training montages in movies where they skip so fast the rope is a blur, but he can skip.

7) Zach alters his program so it's never the same thing. My husband has actually reached the stage where he likes going every day and finds the hour of exercise physically rewarding as well as mentally and emotionally satisfying. I'm at the "it's like brushing my teeth - I need to do it, it's good for me and I'm glad when I've done it" stage. Heck, we've even walked around our neighbourhood with cases of pop over our heads to see if we could mimic some of the overhead plate carry exercises Zach has made us do in the past.

8) Zach seems to like us. This doesn't appear to be a big deal, but it is. He knows our names. He notices if we miss a class. Relationships are so important.


We've had great "supply coaches" (like Graham, Rob, Bernie, and Baz) but our favourite is Zach. Thank you Zach and Cross Fit Canuck for turning this pair of couch potatoes into workout regulars.

If you are interested in joining Cross Fit Canuck (or a gym with a similar philosophy and culture), check out http://www.crossfitcanuck.com/

Monday, July 23, 2018

10 Days, 5 Guest Speakers

My Library Additional Qualification course has ended the face-to-face portion of the classes. It was a fantastic experience, made so by the twelve thoughtful, hard-working participants. It was a very compact, intense course, but we learned so much from each other in such a short time. I was also grateful to five guest speakers who willingly came and spoke with the educators about important issues in school librarianship. In chronological order, these wise wonders were:

1) Melanie Mulcaster on Monday, July 9, 2018


Melanie spoke to our group about two important topics - collaboration and maker spaces. She brought micro.bits for everyone to tinker with and drew upon the brain power of the class through the use of menti.com for polling.


2) Michelle Solomon on Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Michelle wore two hats during her visit with us - as a representative of the Association of Media Literacy, and as one of the teacher-librarians of Northern Secondary School, the site of our course. Because of Michelle's connections, we were able to actually tour a library space during a library course!

3) Jennifer Balido-Cadavez on Monday, July 16, 2018


Jen is a DECE (Designated Early Childhood Educator) and demonstrated to us the importance of honouring knowledge from other sources. She was our only non-teacher-librarian speaker and illustrated effectively the way that the school library and the kindergarten program can work together to benefit our youngest students.

4) Alanna King on Monday, July 16, 2018


It was a bold experiment to have two guest speakers appear simultaneously, but with elementary and secondary teacher-librarians-in-training at the course, it was important to offer choice. Alanna used Google Hangouts to "teleport" into our space and discuss transliteracy. Thankfully the technology cooperated and we enjoyed Alanna's insights.

5) Jennifer Brown on Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Jenn initiated some courageous conversations around Equity in the Library Learning Commons. She tag-teamed with me, in her capacity as the Ontario School Library Association's President-Elect / Vice-President, to explain the importance of this subject association.


Now, I've heard and read about what makes effective professional learning for teachers. This article decries what they call "drive-by training" and what I've seen described negatively as "parachute presenters". (It refers to someone who is unfamiliar with the local scene dropping in from above to share their ideas and then leaving.)  However, I think that our five speakers brought a lot of value to the class and were worth including. Why?

  • All these individuals came from my PLN (Professional Learning Network), which demonstrates the importance of developing your own contacts for ongoing learning
  • Knowledge never comes from a single source or individual, so giving the floor to other people and perspectives are vital
  • Every one of these presenters offered to keep the conversations going. They've provided their emails and Twitter handles and encouraged all participants to contact them in any way if they want to talk
  • No one is an expert in everything - each speaker brought their own expertise to the class
  • It's encouraging to meet people at different stages of their library journey. This September will be my 22nd year of teaching in a school library, so I'm at a different area of my development. Library leaders Melanie and Michelle were actually in the process of taking their own Library AQ courses while they were addressing my AQ group! Anyone can be a library leader!
I really hope that I will stay in touch with all the participants from the course. Who knows - maybe if York University asks me to return in my capacity as AQ instructor, some of the participants from Summer 2018 can be speakers for Summer 2019 (if they aren't taking the next stage of the AQ!).

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Teaching About (But Not In) A Library

I love teaching the blended model of the Library Additional Qualification Part 1 an Part 2 course for York University! There are a lot of things I enjoy about it (and 12 reasons come to mind immediately - the 12 people who are enrolled in the course and bring so much of themselves to the experience). The ironic thing is that I'm teaching about library without being in a library. We are situated at Northern Secondary School in Toronto and the permit did not include using the library.
Signage in the hall by our front door

It is possible to learn about librarianship without the physical library - after all, many 100% online AQ courses do exactly that. However, knowing the impact of the physical spaces we work and learn in, we really worked hard as a group to make the classroom work for us.
I brought boxes and boxes of books for reference materials, as well as some of my old library-themed posters to hang up, but some of the most powerful and important displays in the room were made by all of us together - instructor and participants.

It was important to get to know each other by name and something as simple as having our names, correctly spelled, on the board, helped as a visual reminder.

This is US
Despite being a Library course, we didn't delve into library business right away. We spent a lot of time establishing and developing our group norms. The neat thing is that we've referred back to this chart, both to congratulate ourselves on a job well done and to remind ourselves when we must stick to our ideals.

Keep it simple - just 4 norms
Something that evolved from suggestions from the group is the Ideas Wall. When someone mentions something that someone else wants to remember or record, we are now at the point where someone just points to the Ideas Wall and someone (not even the originator of the idea) writes it down. We also make a point of including the name of the person that brought it up, so that we can model how to cite sources even on a very basic level. Don't worry, we have a Google Doc where we save all of the ideas from each day online (as well as a photo of the board).

Capturing an idea
Another display that wasn't originally part of the plan grew out of our group norms. Since we are all on the path towards considering equity even in our use of words, we've created an Inclusive Language area. That way, we brainstorm alternatives to using terms like "guys" or "crazy".

We have online tools, but sometimes a physical reminder is helpful, which is why we added a big paper calendar to the classroom. Notice the TALCO / OSLA Student Inquiry Process Guide poster next to the calendar? We've referred to it several times during the course.

Calendar became out of date almost immediately, but we modified it.
Sometimes making something, even if it isn't as pretty, is super-handy. The Part 1 candidates made this question matrix and then added examples of "juicy inquiry questions" for each category. Some of these questions are so intriguing, it just makes you want to investigate!

Q words on top, verbs on side, great Qs inside!
We did a big experiment and made a "visible thinking wall" of the Inquiry Process. When it was on the floor, it was actually 3D!


In my own library program, I'm a big fan of field trips. This AQ is no exception. On July 5, 2018 the group went to MakerEdTO. On Wednesday, July 11 our wonderful guest speaker (Michelle Solomon from the Association of Media Literacy, who also happens to be one of the teacher-librarians at Northern Secondary School) brought us into the library.

Checking out the Northern SS Library space

On Thursday, June 12, we went to The Beguiling to learn from the best (aka Andrew and Christina) about graphic novels, collection development, and the importance of supporting local, independent, specialty book stores. On July 17, we are heading to Mabel's Fables.


So even though our classroom is not perfect, it's much better than some of the other spaces used by the other AQs (our room isn't as hot and isn't as crowded) and it's a wonderful way to build displays and areas we could use in our own libraries, co-constructed by all who use the space. There's only four more in-person days left for the course (and then the rest is all online completion) and I'll miss this group of educators. Thanks for making that old classroom a vibrant place that belongs to us! 

Monday, July 9, 2018

From Good to Great at Major Maker Events

This will be a short post. I'm exhausted. It's been a wonderful but hectic week.

1) My Library Part 1 and 2 Additional Qualification course started on July 4, 2018.

2) The MakerEdTO conference took place on July 5, 2018. I presented twice and was a small part of the organization team.

3) Maker Festival Toronto ran at the Toronto Reference Library on July 7-8, 2018. I was the Volunteer Manager / Volunteer Coordinator.

I will do more in-depth reflections later on, but I've thought about the "glows and grows" and I have to say that I believe I have a much more positive opinion about the end results than I did last year. I think there were some great improvements to both events. However, my view may be a bit biased, because I actually put "Maslow before Bloom".

During MakerEdTO, I went out to lunch with my long-time friend Angela McCabe and it was an actual, sit-down, chew-and-swallow meal at Hero Burger. While preparing for Maker Festival Toronto, I actually left the Friday preparations at 9:00 pm to ensure that I got more sleep (10:30 am - 5:45 am, 6.25 hours) than last year (4.5 hours). Although my meals during Maker Festival were irregular, I actually got a chance to walk around and see things at the festival. It wasn't long, and there was a purpose to my wandering (to select a "Best in Show" award for an attending maker), but it was an opportunity to "stop and smell the roses". You can tell that I invested in some self-care because in the photos I have of myself from these events, I'm not sitting behind a desk and most of the time, I'm smiling, and not maniacally!

July 5 - Angela and Diana with "proper selfie techniques"

July 5 - Arianna, Teresa, Diana pause in the action

July 6 - Diana and Trevor in mock collapse

July 7 - Diana congratulates Tinkertorium


July 8 - Diana gets close with a RoRo puppet

I won't go into huge detail right now on all the improvements, but for MakerEdTO, I was so impressed with how smoothly registration went. Changing the process made a huge difference, as did having Derek and Ray at the desk, freeing up David to do other, more pressing tasks. 

For Maker Festival Toronto, we made some significant, risky changes. Some went well and some were bumpy. A lot of credit has to go to Aedan, our Director of Operations, who used their expertise in event programming to take things in new directions. Laurels should also be heaped on my co-coordinator, Nathan, who managed much of the technical aspects of volunteer management. Big thanks also go to our volunteer captains (Teresa, Jessica, Russel, Lucien, and Patrick) for their efforts on the front lines. The one change that I will claim as an actual good idea I myself had was to distribute the volunteer hours sheets to all the high school volunteers after the festival via email as a PDF. This decision meant that there were no long lines of students waiting for me to calculate their hours and sign their sheets as soon as the festival ended. 

To my relief, and unlike last year, there were also no incidents that I regretted the way I handled them. I wasn't brusque or less-than-polite in my interactions (even when there was someone who didn't deserve respect and actually was going to be evicted from the library for their actions). Thanks to Zelia for stepping in and keeping people safe when I had concerns. 

I have to stop writing this blog and start doing paperwork, marking, and preparation for my AQ courses. The busyness doesn't end yet, even though Maker Festival Toronto and MakerEdTO has!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Lessons in Patience and Failure at EOEC

Most of my final week of school was spent at Albion Hills at the Etobicoke Outdoor Education Centre with the Grade 8s for their graduation trip. This was an amazing and exhaustive three days and two nights with superstar educator Dean Roberts (you've read about him on my blog here) and nineteen fantastic intermediate division students.The program and activities were active and challenging. Students played lacrosse and archery, rode fat tire bikes along forest trails, performed skits during our campfire and searched for hidden clues using GPS technology.

The sunset on Tuesday evening at Albion Hills

 The staff at EOEC were wonderful. I can't say enough great things about
  • Lynda = our first friendly face we met and our "wise woman of the woods"
  • Dean = more machine than man (he led two 6 km, 4 hour bike rides in two days!) but had such rich perspectives and life experiences to share
  • Dave = congratulations on your retirement, sir, and thank you for the stories!
  • Jim = leading with wry humour and knowledge; enjoy your new site next school year!
  • Abbey = organized official, ready for anything (and thankfully, no puke!)
  • Kristina = my "co-nurse", comforting those with bites and itches so professionally and empathetically
  • Jamie = my "book buddy" who read Optimists Die First in a day and a half and took time to chat with me about the plot and characters
  • Bronte = my rock of encouragement with only kind words who patiently watched me slooooooowly chug up the hill on the bike (making it only sometimes) and supported my attempts
Dean, me and the great kitchen staff
Me, Jamie, and the book we loved!

This blog will focus on what I saw Chris do. Chris Mermer led one of the two groups in our teamwork challenge. I know it's popular in some quarters to mock team-building exercises, but when lead well and taken seriously, there can be a lot of growth for the participants. Watching Chris in action reminded me about the importance of not jumping in to "save" students as they struggle with how to solve a problem. 

Teamwork isn't easy. As Chris reviewed with the group, teamwork involves all the character traits that TDSB promotes. Chris taught an acronym to use to help remember the process: U.B.O.J. (Understand the Problem, Brainstorm, Organize, Just Do It). The group I was with consisted of nine students, four boys and five girls. Four of those girls were English Language Learners. Communication is key to teamwork. When some of your teammates are reluctant to speak and others are more keen to jump in on tackling the task than on surveying quiet peers, then it makes for an interesting conundrum. 

Chris never scolded the students when they forgot to listen to each other or became fixated on repeating the same strategy repeatedly without altering it. The first thing he'd do is wait. He waited. Then he'd wait some more. After each activity, he'd group the participants in a circle and lead some reflection. 

Occasionally he'd remind the students about the observations from the previous reflection cycle. Once in a blue moon, Chris would ask a probing (but not leading) question. 

I kept quiet, but it was hard. The urge to help was strong. Here are a few of the many, many photos I took of their work together. I deliberately tried not to share here any of "solutions" they came up with, so that the images aren't "spoilers". The names of these tasks may not be accurate; these are based on the way Chris described them to the students.

Crossing the Hot Chocolate on Marshmallows

Students had to get from one spot to another but could only travel using three small hula hoops. No students could be left behind.


 Monkeys Gathering Fruit From Trees

Students had to reach a tree, using only ropes and a wire to walk on, and then make it to the next tree (there were three trees, in a triangle) while other monkey teams were also walking and gathering simultaneously.



Sharing Shrinking Space

Teams had to make sure everyone could stand on a small platform without touching the ground.

Balance Beam

The group had to load everyone onto a seesaw-like contraption and get it to balance evenly.



Remove the King's Ring from his Finger

For this task, students had to figure out how to get the "ring" up and off the long pole, without either the ring or their hands touching the pole. The ring also had to come off in a "controlled manner" (i.e. not flicking it off wildly) As Chris observed and helped students reflect on their own progress before, he made a new rule for this challenge - only the girls were allowed to talk.


I think teachers who aren't involved with outdoor education regularly feel the time crunch and are tempted to provide hints so that the group can "move on". Thankfully, Chris prevented me from even asking questions during this task. There was a lot of wait time, but once the students realized that Chris wasn't going to quit unless the girls talked and started to make suggestions, then, slowly they did. At first they got into a "rut" by trying only one method with the same people in the same roles, but eventually, their thinking branched out a bit and they were able to succeed. Chris never let us feel that we were going to "miss out" on other challenges by taking so long with this one. He also ensured that the students focused on themselves as a group, instead of comparing themselves to other groups. Occasionally they'd ask "Did we solve this faster than other groups?" or similar questions where they wanted to evaluate their performance based on other teams from the past. Chris gently discouraged that sort of assessment. It wasn't about that sort of a contest - it was a challenge for them as a team.

Their last task was super-challenging but most of the photos I took of it would reveal too many tricks or techniques. It was great to see them using some of the collaboration tools (like standing in a circle to discuss strategies, or using a talking stick to ensure all voices and ideas offered were heard). Big thanks to Chris and everyone from EOEC for making this a fun trip and a useful learning experience.

The EOEC staff waving goodbye to us on the bus