Monday, May 26, 2014

Local Red Maple Event - Worth the Effort?

On Wednesday May 21, months of planning came to fruition and the second annual ER19-ER20 (formerly known as NE4) local Red Maple Marketing Campaign and Celebration was held. I've written about the inaugural event on this blog before. This year, the numbers were a lot smaller: 3 schools instead of 6, 60 students instead  of 118. I attribute this to recovering from last year's "pause", a busy time of year, new local boundaries, and many new teacher-librarians in the schools who were unaware of the event. In fact, we actually had 7 schools express interest, but more than half had to drop out for various reasons. I know at one point a few weeks ago, as I was juggling withdrawal emails and coordinating permission forms and funds, I asked myself if all this effort was worth it. Wouldn't it be better just to focus on the Festival of Trees as our culminating celebration and leave it at that?

Based on how the students conducted themselves and the projects shared, the answer would be that it IS worth the effort. Here are three reasons why.

1) The Partnership

Our local Red Maple PR Event and Party was held at the Malvern Branch of the Toronto Public Library. School libraries and public libraries working together make twice the impact. The facilities were beautiful and during the lull times, the students could wander the library and borrow books from their large collection. Big thanks to our liaison, Analisa Zabella.

L-R: Analisa, Diana, Ted, Jennifer, Allison

Partnering between schools is also beneficial. I worked with Rita McCann from Emily Carr P.S. and even though she was not a teacher-librarian this year, she was so passionate about this event that she agreed to co-plan it and introduce it to her school. (A family crisis prevented her from attending, unfortunately.) It was also wonderful to work with Jennifer Tovitch from Milliken P.S. (who became the official photographer when my fancy camera ran out of batteries) and Allison Seaborn from Brookside P.S. (who could barely stand the day before but made a miraculous recovery and brought three teams to compete).

We were also fortunate to partner with two communications companies. Our judges were:

  • Adrian Kailan from Pumped (
  • Logan Broger from Manifest (
  • Paul Abrams from Manifest (

These gentlemen traveled all the way to northern Scarborough to examine the student projects, watch marketing promotional spiels, and decide on the best campaign.

L-R: Paul, Logan, Adrian

2) The Cost

Ted Staunton, author extraordinaire
Ted addresses students from 3 TDSB schools

This trip was economically feasible. The Toronto Public Library paid for our marvelous author, Ted Staunton, so it was essentially free for the schools. It was a local library, so most of us just took the TTC to arrive. We decided on a small entry fee of $10 per school (not per team) to help cover the costs of certificates and prizes (a pizza party for the winning team). We arranged to have an ice cream truck come at lunch for students to feast if they chose - and teachers were allowed to eat for free. (We also received 10%  of the proceeds from the sales - an unexpected bonus.) For an entire day of fun, it was affordable.

3) The Student Leadership and Authentic Purpose

When it came to the actual marketing campaigns, most of my work as a teacher came at the beginning. I found out how many schools and how many teams would be involved. I conducted a random draw to determine which book titles would be represented by which schools - you can see the video embedded here - and then I let the teams loose.

Other than providing them with space and/or materials upon request, I didn't have much to do with creating their campaigns. I shared the feedback from the advertising executives we had judge the first time - their biggest suggestion was to use social media much more.

I'm pleased and proud to report that one of the teams from my school, Team Loki's Wolves, won the grand prize this year. They really took the prior suggestions to heart and used many social media platforms (Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter) as well as a wider target audience (e.g. they put up posters in the library for public library users and had young readers outside the involved schools like their Facebook page or follow their Twitter account) and gave permanent, unique giveaways (e.g. cardboard Viking helmets signed by the authors themselves). The group even told me that they want to continue marketing the book after this competition is done. Isn't that remarkable?

The judges gave wonderful descriptive feedback to every group and to the entire assembly. The piece of advice I'll remember from this year is: technology is great but don't rely just on that alone - ensure that your public speaking skills are up to par, and practice, because the power of an in-person speech is vital. Hearing that from real-life ad executives, rather than teacher-librarians, is so important and authentic.

Everyone involved, from the judges to the public library to the other teacher-librarians to the ice cream vendor, said that they want to be back next year. Looks like it was worth the effort after all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Crazy Witch at the Silver Birch Ceremony


That was the sound of last week flying by. I was only at my school teaching for a day and a half, due to leadership workshops, circulation system reviews, and the awesome Festival of Trees at Harbourfront. I debated long and hard with myself about what I wanted to reflect on here on the blog and I finally decided on a second-hand insult.

One of my students loves the Forest of Reading so much that he read from four different lists (Silver Birch Express, Silver Birch Fiction, Silver Birch Non-Fiction, and Red Maple) and used his birthday money to pay to go on both trips - the Red Maple Awards ceremony on May 14 and the Silver Birch Awards ceremony on May 15. He'll also be attending both our local Red Maple Marketing Campaign / Celebration on May 21 and our local Silver Birch Quiz Bowl Competition / Celebration on June 12. He had a fantastic time at Harbourfront but was really shocked by something he witnessed and he felt the urge to report this to me and every teacher at our school that he saw last week.

2014 Red Maple Awards ceremony at Harbourfront

The authors on stage during the Festival of Trees thank many people and groups during their short time at the microphone. I can't remember exactly who it was during the Red Maple Awards that asked all the teacher-librarians to stand up and be recognized - it may have been Ted Staunton. I stood up, hooting and hollering, and my student was aghast to hear a student from another school in the audience look in my direction and comment, "crazy witch".

How do you adequately respond to a story like that? My student was so flabbergasted that he told the same story to me twice.

"He called you a crazy witch!"

The second time he recounted it, I told him that it wasn't so horrible. After all, at the time I had inch-long fingernails painted black, my hair (red on top, white on the bottom) was tied in knots with Popsicle sticks sticking out the tops, and I was yelling "WOOHOO" and making "raise the roof" actions with my hands. Combine this with my smiley-eye wrinkles and Roman nose and I could see why this connection may have been made. This isn't the image of a typical school librarian. Just like women who are told they are too bossy, or sexual minorities reclaiming the term queer, I could accept and re-appropriate the insult - witches are powerful females!

Selfie taken with the awesome Leslie Holwerda from Peel DSB
But I have to wonder if my reaction was the "right" one that my student wanted or needed to hear. Did he need me to share his dismay? Did he need me to be outraged? Should I have suggested things he could have said or done in my defense? Should I have examined his response to the overheard mutter as a teachable moment for handling bullying? I'm just not sure.

I'm old enough now, with skin thick enough to withstand the unkind words of young strangers, that moments like that didn't ruin my day ... but it did make me think about my reaction to my own student. What would you have said or done in my situation?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Looks like tech, feels like people: #tllp2014 & #tdsbgafe Part 2

It was so busy this past week that I can't even fit my reflections into a single post! After returning home from the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program on Friday, May 9, 2014, I had just enough time to doze on the couch and go to bed so that I could be ready for the Toronto District School Board's Google Apps for Education Camp (TDSBGAFE) sponsored by the ICT department. Just like the event before, it first looked like it was all about the technology but it was more about the people connections.

TDSB GAFE - About the Tech

My goal was to learn at least one useful thing from each session I attended and I was successful.

Session 1 (10:00-11:00)
Inquiry, Curriculum and Content: Using Google Apps in Meaningful Ways Presented by Kim Delamere & Andrea Sykes

What did I learn? = My big take-away was that I should use Tool > Research instead of Insert > Image because then you can get the citation information along with the image. Simple change, but brilliant!

Session 2 (11:15 - 12:15)
Using Google Drive from Research to Presentation Presented by Denise Colby

What did I learn? = My big take-away was that I should search for the Google templates that are available and make copies for students to use, instead of doing all my own from scratch.

Session 3 (1:15 - 2:15)
Six Sweet Suggestions for Google Suite Tools for Library & Literacy Presented by Diana Maliszewski

What did I learn? = My take-away was that the audience has tons of knowledge and we should always give a chance for members to express it. Also, people always want a bit of practical (e.g. "how do you make a blog?") along with the theoretical / inspirational.

Session 4 (2:30 - 3:30)
I was a bit late because of organizing the Google Demo Slam so I did something I almost never do at a conference - I session hopped.

Google Forms are Awesome Presented by Ray Mercer
= You can embed video in Google forms. Also, if you click the Add On section, you can get an Easy Bib creator for citations.

Using Google Apps Throughout the Inquriy Process by Julie Millan (Google Certified Teacher)
= While using the comment feature, if you type a + and the person's email, they will get an email notification of that comment (and you can send it to multiple people).

Using Google Docs in the writing process Presented by Francis Ngo
= While using the comment feature, if you type a + and the person's email, they will get an email notification of that comment (and you can send it to multiple people). (Yes, they shared the same idea - awesome!)

GAFE: Evolution of the Tool's Use in the Classroom Environment Presented by James MacLean-Taylor
= When you click File>Publish to Web, it will give you an embed code, so you can embed any Google document or presentation on your webpage.

How are GAFE being used in a Grade 3/4 classroom? by Diana Hong
= You can send a document to a few select students and have them share it with others, depending on their level of trust and responsibility.

TDSB GAFE - About the People

During lunch, I went to "talk business" with Moses Velascos and we ended up chatting with Maria, who knew us from Tribes. It was so nice to talk in the sun with two chipper people. Moses just joined Twitter, a great step to establishing his digital footprint.

During Andrea's session, I sat on the floor next to Shelley Neal. Shelley is the teacher-librarian at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Centre. She is passionate about her students and her position and I was so taken by her enthusiasm that I'm arranging to visit her school so we can write an article for The Teaching Librarian magazine. (This is a photo of my session; Shelley is near the window but you can see the awesome Clare Gorman in the foreground.)

I worked the Photo Booth with Erich Shih early in the morning. It's amazing how willing people are to pick up props and pose just for fun. This is a photo of me and Annie Slater (and darn it, I've forgotten the name of the person to my left!) I recognized a lot of people as they entered the auditorium for the keynote.

This was one of the most retweeted photos from #tdsbgafe (which trended on Twitter in Canada on Saturday) and you can see why - what appealing educators! Julie Scott, Kim Davidson, and Annie Slater chatted with me and Sybille Parry in the hallway between sessions and it was just as educational. (Special thanks to Sybille for offering her personal support to a new issue of mine.)

This was Julie Millan's room during one of her sessions: packed to the gills! Julie is a Google Certified teacher, a TDSB ICT IL, and a nice, nice person. It was her tap on the shoulder that got me to attend Google Camp in the first place (and volunteer at the Photo Booth, and participate in the Google Demo Slam at the end) and I suspect that this event would not have been possible without the many hours put in by Julie and her colleagues (like Andrew Schmitt, Kevin Bradbeer, Hugh Chamberlain, Lisa Weaver and others).

Four teachers from my school attended #tdsbgafe, (Dean Roberts, Diana Hong, Francis Ngo & I) and three of them were presenters. This is even more impressive when you realize that two of them are supposedly "new teachers" (as in, they've been employed by the board for three years or less). Here's my colleague, Francis, explaining how to use comments in a shared Google document.

Heeeeere, he iiiiiiis. Miiiiister Ameeeeeeerica!
Okay, it's more like Andrew Schmitt, the winner of the TDSB Google Camp Demo Slam. It was really fun to see the different, quick-fire tips were shared by: Colin McCauley, Shelley Lowry, Kevin Bradbeer, Julie Millan, Andrew Schmitt, James Fulton, Sylvia Duckworth, (and yours truly). I nearly forgot a couple of names but someone clever took a photo of the Slam List - thanks!

This was a fun event, not because of the technology (after all, there's only so much Google love you can take in a day!) but because of the individuals involved. Big thanks to everyone involved.

Looks like tech, feels like people: #tllp2014 & #tdsbgafe Part 1

Another hectic week has flown by and there are two epic events for me to reflect on: the Ontario Ministry of Education / Ontario Teachers' Federation Teacher Learning and Leadership Program for Experienced Teachers gathering (May 7-9, 2014, a.k.a. the TLLP) and the Toronto District School Board's Google Apps for Education Camp (May 10, 2014, a.k.a. TDSBGAFE). The unifying theme they both had in common was that on the surface, it appeared to be about the technology, but actually, it was about the relationships that foster learning.

TLLP - About the Tech
I am honoured to be a part of a very unique team involved in the first ever cross-board TLLP project. The original GamingEdus from the Toronto District School Board (Liam O'Donnell, Denise Colby, and I), along with Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Mark Hadala, and BreAnna K from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board will be investigating "Digging Into Minecraft with Inquiry" and "the learning potential of Minecraft to support the learning of students, while providing leadership to teachers interested in bringing Games Based Learning to their classrooms." Ours is one of 115 projects funded by the Ministry and the teacher union. There was a lot of technology floating around the huge ballroom at the Sheraton Toronto Airport Hotel, where we were housed, especially in our table section. Many of the projects involve integrating technology, such as iPads, into inquiry, math instruction, or early years classrooms. We will also be expected to contribute to the Ning, found at

TLLP - About the People
However, what struck me most during the two and a half days was the importance of connecting with people. Mainstream media and even our own organizations can make it appear as if the government and the union are continuously at loggerheads with each other, but when it comes to the TLLP, it was hard to distinguish who was the government worker and who was the union representative. They were united under a common goal (professional learning, which is [to quote a slide] inside-out transformation, collegiality involvement in planning, student centered, where teachers determine their own learning goals and knowledge is constructed by collaborative teams) and they were all so gosh-darn NICE! I was delighted to reconnect with the ever-inspiring Jim Strachan and meet Satbir Sidhu-Thomas (recently seconded to the ministry), and Ann Lieberman (a Stanford scholar who is not restricted by her age [82]), and other great people. I learned more from a five minute conversation with the wise and frank Peter Skillen than I have from many a staff meeting or newspaper article. Joanne Myers was marvelous and understanding, even as I gave less than 100% during her presentation on developing and delivering a dynamic workshop; her patience and enthusiasm in the face of a distracted learner reminded me to return to my Tribes philosophy and activities frequently and thoughtfully in all my teaching and learning interactions. Peter Lipman gave our team great advice for our SMART goals.

Then there was the team. Most groups are only permitted to send one or two representatives from the team, but because ours was the first cross-board endeavor, we were allowed to have all of us attend. Zoe from Hamilton was already booked for the OAME and Connect conferences (and she has already participated in a prior TLLP) so five of us were there. This was crucial for us. I didn't know Mark or BreAnna before this week and I think it's incredibly important to connect as individuals. By the end of our time together, we were feeling more comfortable with each other and were able to articulate our own personal learning goals associated with this project (a key component) and begin to work together more than as two separate silos. It was also wonderful to have time with Denise and Liam to talk in person, face to face.

And then there are these two fantastic guys: Dustin and Jeff are from the Grand Erie District School Board and their project is called "The Building Blocks to Engage and Support All Learners: Minecraft to Develop Inquiry Skills". They have much better memories than I do, because they remember meeting us at a past ECOO conference and on our Professional Play server. They are smart and enthusiastic, and even though technically our projects are separate, we hope to find ways to work together.

 I'd be remiss if I didn't mention two other groups of participants: the other educators in our school board that also received TLLP grants, and a group we know through Twitter and ECOO that we are working on some online workshops with.

Ray Mercer and Cindy Matthews are working on "Collaborative Inquiry Learning Through the School Library Learning Commons: Early Years Inquiry ePortfolios". Since many of us are teacher-librarians or former teacher-librarians, Cindy suggested we propose a session at the 2015 Ontario Library Association conference on the TLLP with a Library Lens.

See the background in the second picture to the left? It's an empty ballroom because a small group of us were still working half-an-hour after the TLLP session officially ended! Michelle and Scott were planning with Denise and with me about the upcoming ECOO Minecraft webinar. The first one didn't go quite as planned so we wanted to learn from the experience and improve it. I think it's a testament to our passion that we soldiered on, even though at this point, we were all pretty exhausted and looking forward to getting home.

This is a pretty long post, so I'm going to talk more about the Toronto Google Camp in a separate entry.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Not Perfect - and OK with it!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014 was the first Toronto District School Board Library Learning Commons Showcase. It was a busy and educational event, as the Twitter stream can attest.

Because I couldn't decide what to share, I had two separate elements: the partnership between the school library and the Ontario Early Years Centre (OEYC), and the evolution of my long-range planning from the beginning of my career as a teacher-librarian to the present, with the influence of Together for Learning  and the Library Learning Commons showing through. I took great delight in pointing out what my very first long-range plan was when I was just an "itty bitty baby teacher-librarian" in 1997. It consisted of a lined piece of paper with the month and a single phrase written beside it (e.g. May = Research).

In a related incident (well, I'll make the connection clearer in the latter half of this post), on this very same day in the morning, I was trying frantically to submit my Forest of Reading votes on the Ontario Library Association website. Our school voted for their favourite Blue Spruce, Silver Birch, and Red Maple titles on April 28, 2014 and the 30th was the last day to send them. Three of the ten titles were missing from the screen when I tried to input my numbers and I was panicking. I tried a different browser, I phoned OLA, and in desperation, I grabbed another teacher in the building to see if she could trouble shoot for me. She took one look at the screen, reached for the mouse, and scrolled using the mouse wheel instead of the side bar. Presto.

(Did I mention that I'm the lead ICT teacher at my school? Um ... yeah.)

Why am I highlighting my errors and my less-than-ideal past performances? I think it's important to see the process and not just the product. If you don't see all the mis-steps, stumbles, re-tries, and changes, then the end result looks unobtainable. Like Hedley says, "I'm not perfect, but I'll keep trying". While at the Library Learning Commons Showcase, several people made reference to the recent issue of Voice magazine and my article. It's a good read, if I do say so myself, but I'm no superstar. Stress can impact performance, like my goof-ups this week partly due to the hectic schedule of Spring Concert rehearsal week. It takes reflection and practice and revision to make things better. Even the collaborative endeavors between the school library and the OEYC has been a work in progress - it was in conversation with Kitty (the site lead) and realizing that the pre-schoolers were listening but not understanding that spurred us to modify the program to include a retell portion for the children post-library time.

So, I happily accept the compliments from last week and potential ones for this week (which will be filled with Track and Field Day, Toronto East Heritage Fair, the Ministry of Education TLLP workshops, and the TDSB Google Camp), but I'll also point out that it took a lot of work and slip-ups to get to this stage. I'm not perfect, and that's okay.