Monday, March 30, 2015

Reaching across Religions

This week marks the beginning of "Holy Week", a special time of year for Christians that includes Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I have two stories to share that prove to me that we need to overcome our shyness and actually talk about religion and other identity issues in public schools with others, in respectful ways that help promote understanding.

1) Lenten Sacrifices

I am a Roman Catholic Christian, and a common practice during Lent (the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday) is for Catholics to fast and abstain. Here's a link that explains the purpose behind the practice. For Lent this year, my entire family decided to forego eating out. My husband chose to drink only water and I gave up drinking tea. This paragraph from, explains the rationale and why it is flawed for some:

Giving something up

For most older Catholics, the first thought that Lent brings to mind is giving something up. In my childhood, the standard was to give up candy, a discipline that found suitable reward in the baskets of sugary treats we received on Easter. Some of us even added to the Easter surplus by saving candy all through Lent, stockpiling what we would have eaten had we not promised to give it up.
Some years ago a friend of mine told me that he had urged his children to move beyond giving up candy to giving up some habit of sin that marked their lives. About halfway through Lent he asked the children how they were doing with their Lenten promise. One of his young sons had promised to give up fighting with his brothers and sisters during Lent. When his father asked him how it was going, the boy replied, "I'm doing pretty good, Dad—but boy, I can't wait until Easter!"
That response indicates that this boy had only partly understood the purpose of Lenten "giving up." Lent is about conversion, turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way of life. That always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ.

Although we do plan on resuming our visits to restaurants and drinking our favourite beverages after Easter, it is not for a temporary, self-inflicted punishment, but as a reminder that we have many crutches in our lives and it is more important to turn to a better support system when we need energizing or rewards. When I feel tired, I usually reach for my cup of Red Rose or Tetley filled with six spoons of sugar; during Lent, I had to turn to prayer or reflection instead of the physical pick-me-up.

This is a difficult thing to understand, especially if you don't practice the faith. Many of my wonderful colleagues have made many suggestions to help me "get around" my Lenten restrictions. "Drink coffee" / "Let me buy it for you, and then it won't count" / "What about green tea?" All of the recommendations were given out of kindness, and it was challenging for me to find the right words to explain why I couldn't or wouldn't take them up on their offers of "help". At least I tried.

2) Food Restrictions

I'll be writing about my experiences with our big Primary Division Media Projects (the real-life Restaurants) extensively in a separate post, but I had to mention one specific incident here. I tried very hard not to inconvenience any of our teachers during the preparation of these restaurants, but I did have to borrow the "business owners" (a.k.a. the individual classes responsible for their restaurants) for a double-period just before lunch to prepare the food. I offered the time as extra prep for the teachers involved, but all of them felt the need to offer their services during the actual lunch hour. I appreciated the assistance, especially because running a restaurant is super-busy and chaotic! On the afternoon after our second restaurant opened, the Grade 2 teacher spoke to me. She was very apologetic, because she said she felt very useless. I reassured her that having her supervise was good enough, but she was still uncomfortable about her level of participation during the "lunch rush". She explained to me that she was in the middle of celebrating the Hindu festival of Navratri. She told me that during the nine-day observation, she is not supposed to touch meat and she was unable to help the students organize the hamburgers and hot dogs. I felt very bad for putting her in such an awkward position, and I asked her to write down the name of this celebration so I could understand better. When I looked it up at home, I learned that there are many restrictions as part of the celebration related to Navratri. I'm glad that she felt comfortable enough with me to explain this, but I felt disappointed that this kind of conversation is the exception rather than the norm. What if some people considered her actions during the restaurant to be about laziness rather than religious devotion?

Actions Needed

In my Mentor AQ course, students received a copy of the Equity Continuum: Action for Critical Transformation in Schools and Classrooms. In the introduction, it says "The work of creating more equitable experiences and success is complex. However, to move forward, we must have conversations regarding the work of this Equity Continuum. We must look at issues that challenge us; ask difficult questions; and allow for divergent opinions to create a better environment for those students whom the current system has failed" (page 7).  We don't have an Equity Committee at our school - the members that used to sit on it have moved on to other schools. Maybe it's time for that committee to be revived, even though I feel I am too new with this kind of work to be effective. Still, we need to nurture the climate of the school so that people - teachers, students, or visitors - can openly talk about their life experiences so that others can understand, and change their practices.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Save the elementary TLs in TCDSB

I don't usually do "political posts". My blog focuses on my teaching practices as a teacher-librarian. However, there are some teacher librarians, in the very board my own children attend, who might lose their position due to budget cuts. 

People are speaking up and speaking out about the importance of teacher-librarians in elementary schools. Anita Brooks-Kirkland wrote a fabulous post about the problem in TCDSB and beyond. When Doug Peterson, shared Anita's post in his weekly "This Week in Ontario Edublogs", he wrote an eloquent testimony to the power of elementary school library staff - and he's not a teacher-librarian. News reports say that the board wants to ensure that "we cut everything that we can possibly cut so that we don't have to hurt the classroom" but my fear is that the trustees won't see the school library, the biggest classroom in the school for all students, as an actual classroom. 

I can't keep quiet. I must speak up. After all, we are talking about the school board where my own children attend. I sent the trustee this letter and I'm replicating it here (taking out the name of the specific schools my children attend). 

Hello Mr. Tanuan,

My name is Diana Maliszewski. My son goes to XXXXXXXX, a school in your ward, and my daughter is a recent XXXXXXXX graduate who now attends YYYYYYYY. I know that the TCDSB is trying to balance its budget but I'm concerned that one of the solutions being considered is to eliminate the 45 teacher-librarians in the elementary panel and replace them with library technicians. 

Let me be very open and transparent with you - I myself work as a teacher-librarian, albeit in the public board. The system in TCDSB that decided which schools received teacher-librarians and which received library technicians was already flawed even before this current debate. My children never had a teacher-librarian. In fact, they were only able to borrow one book a week, because their school didn't (and still doesn't) have an electronic circulation system - they still use a paper card system like I did when I was a child in the 1970s and 1980s. My email to you isn't about the library space, but the people that run and grow that space to help student minds grow and blossom. 

You are probably thinking that there isn't much difference between a teacher-librarian and library technician, but there is. Just because my own children did not have the opportunity to have a teacher-librarian working with them does not mean that I want the TCDSB schools fortunate enough to have a teacher-librarian to lose them. This information may help clarify things. (To quote my source - and teacher-librarians instruct their students how to cite sources to avoid plagiarism and research ethically - I must let you know that I found this information at )

While both positions are integral to the success of the school library program, the Teacher Librarian has the following impacts on student success: 
• Schools with professionally-trained school library staff have reading achievement scores that are approximately 5.5 percentile points higher than average in Grade 6 EQAO results. 
• Schools without trained library staff tend to have lower achievement on grade 3 and 6 EQAO reading tests, both in terms of average achievement and attaining level 3 or higher.(1) 
• The Elementary Teacher Librarian provides the fundamental information and digital literacy skills to bridge student learning in high school. 

Teacher Librarians: 
• Support implementation of new curriculum and teaching strategies. 
• Are a central and collaborative resource for the school. They co-plan, co-teach, and co-assess with teaching partners. 
• Are the literacy partner and technology leader in the school. 
• Have the expertise to evaluate and select resources that engage students as readers and helps students develop a love of reading. 
• Are the technology mentor and coach for staff and students. 
• Provide equitable access to technology. 
• Provide equitable access to authoritative digital and print resources to support inquiry-based learning.

Please speak up for the students by questioning or preventing the loss of elementary teacher-librarians. We are blessed to have teacher-librarians in our TCDSB secondary schools, but without prior teaching or exposure to a teacher-librarian, this leaves our high school teacher librarians with a huge burden to try and help all their students "catch up". Let's not have our TCDSB students lagging behind those in other boards due to this particular cut.


Diana Maliszewski

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hoza for March Break

On the day before March Break, our school had a presentation by Derek and Amadou from Hoza! Hoza, we were told, is an African word used often during dance performances around Burkino Faso, meaning to stop, start, or change. (I tried to research this to learn exactly what African language uses the word "hoza", but the Internet was not helpful and rather rude when I investigated.) The theme of Hoza's presentation was "Growing Canada". According to their website,, in this program:
Students explore why diversity and inclusion are important values to Canada.  Participatory music, story and multi-media provide an engaging examination of: Canada’s role in the world, the Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe people, and the important role that we each play in a Growing Canada.
 I hope that the excellent message of embracing diversity and embodying humility and teamwork did not go over the heads of the young listeners. I realize that they might have been more enchanted with the chance to play drums or vote on the staff dance competition than they were to internalize some lessons, especially with the vacation looming.

Hoza's message unintentionally fit with my March Break plans. I need to ...

Hoza - Stop!

I need to stop worrying about my upcoming TPA in early April, the final assignments for my Mentor AQ course, or the massive culminating tasks facing me and my primary division media students during the last days of March which have me both excited and terrified (the grand opening of our restaurants!) I'll have time during the week off to finalize plans, but fretting about how well events will proceed isn't important to this process.

Hoza - Start!

I need to start some projects, like the school yearbook and some award nomination packages. My to-do list for the week's holiday is rather large and I should start attacking them with vigor so that I feel like I have accomplished something.

Hoza - Change!

Yes, my to-do list needs addressing, but I've got to change this hectic pace, and slow things down. January to March is usually the "dead time" of year, but not in 2015. I have to change what projects I accept and change my attitude so that the cynic lies low and the optimist with the growth mindset takes centre stage. I've got to spend quality time with my husband and kids, and I think March Break will be a good time to change.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"Penny", Many and When (EEEE!)

Last Thursday, (March 5, 2015), our TLLP team in TDSB working on the "Digging into Minecraft with Inquiry" project hosted a half-day of learning with a crew of educators. It was a wonderful opportunity to dig deeper with a smaller group of committed individuals. Many of the presentations the GamingEdus team typically conduct are for much larger audiences and are more introductory in nature. I don't want to "steal the thunder" of my incredible colleague Denise, who plans on writing her own reflection on the day on the GamingEdus website but I wanted to offer my own discoveries based on my reflections. The rhyming title of this post ties in with three of my realizations.


The group of invited guests have all heard about Minecraft before, but even with this background knowledge, everyone was at different levels of comfort and understanding. As one teacher said, after listening to a few of us babble to each other excitedly about PvP and mods and servers, "I'm the Penny in the group." (It's a Big Bang Theory reference, so I'm told.) It was a funny reminder that we need to make sure that we don't get too caught up in our world-specific terms that we lose anyone. After that joke, I tried hard to make sure that, in our exuberance, we did not forget to check for understanding in the group. We defined SAMR, clarified the difference between Survival Mode and Creative Mode, and spent some time reviewing concepts such as Gamification and Games Based Learning. When the team first discussed the agenda for the day, we were tempted to delete the GBL/gamification debate, but I'm glad we didn't, because it helped our participants to comprehend our philosophy. It's not as clear-cut a distinction in the minds of others as it may be in our own.


We had a diverse group of people represented at the table, including some centrally assigned educators from the ICT, Assistive Technology, and Professional Learning Departments in our board. We have participants who have been using Minecraft in their classroom for two years, and some who haven't launched it yet at their school site. This diversity makes us stronger. I really appreciated having different voices and different points of view present, because they elevated our discussion and provided insights that furthered our learning. Our SAMR discussion was deeper and more complex because of the expertise in the room, not just as educators but as parents and players.

When (Eeeeee!)

When we first made our TLLP plans, we thought we'd have some sort of Learning Marketplace / Carousel / Fair where the teachers (or the students) would share their Minecraft-related activities and practices. Thankfully we were flexible enough to listen to our participants, who said that they'd prefer to meet with this core group again in a few months to share their process and progress. It's a lot less pressure this way instead of presenting, having a "final product" or performing for a large audience. Yes, this means that some teachers keen on attending an introductory workshop in TDSB will have to wait, but it means that some of the funds we had earmarked to release TDSB teachers to attend a Minecraft Marketplace will instead be used to release both the protegee and mentor of their choice for half-day co-planning, co-teaching, and technical trouble-shooting. One of our participants also suggested that we could explore alternatives to a face-to-face exhibition, such as creating videos or writing articles for the GamingEdus website, which will last longer and reach more people beyond our board. This relaxing of the time constraints (somewhat) is a big detour from the original plans, which may affect the plans we have with our Hamilton Wentworth District School Board cohort. However, the learning of our teachers (and their students) should take precedent over the plans we hatched months ago without their input.

Big thanks to Liam, Denise, Julie, Moses, Renee, David, Brendan, Paul, Sylvie, Agnieska, Lisa, Anne Marie, Fred and anyone else I may have accidentally missed. I look forward to co-learning with you over the next few months!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Teaching Is Teaching

This year, my husband and I are the coordinators for our parish's Marriage Preparation course. This means that we handle all the administrative duties associated with the classes as well as organizing teaching responsibilities and resources. We have many new mentor couples working with us, a new pastor, and actually a new course. (After much reflection and conversation with our priest and the other experienced facilitators still on the team, we significantly revised the structure and content of the classes we offer at our church, to better match what is taught throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto and to better serve our participants.) This has been a bit nerve-wracking for us - we were bringing in so many changes for the very first time and we prayed that everything would go relatively smoothly. However, as James and I planned for the upcoming class we'd be leading (on Intimacy), I realized that teaching is teaching, regardless of the age of the students.

1) You have to prepare.

I know some teachers say they no longer write lesson plans once they've graduated from teachers' college. I still do. For my school-age students, I review my long range plans and what I taught previously, and decide what I need to cover, how I will cover it most effectively, and what materials I'll need to make it happen. The same is true for the Marriage Prep course and the engaged couples enrolled. I read the background material we were given when we took our Marriage Preparation Facilitators' course, consider the main ideas, the best strategies for conveying the information, and ready the handouts and activities.

2) You have to make it interactive and engaging.

One of the biggest changes we made to the Marriage Prep course was to involve the participants more. The previous course was good but involved a lot of lecturing and lengthy Power Point presentations. It was very "sit n' git". Now, there are a lot more tasks that the couples are asked to do together and a lot more time is allotted for guided discussion between them. I aim for this sort of chunking in my full-time job as a teacher. I try hard not to talk for more than ten minutes before asking students to say or do something.

3) You aren't the only one with responsibilities, but flexibility is key.

When the engaged couples registered for the course and on the first night, we provided them with a syllabus outlining the course dates, times, topics and conduct expectations. This is part of what we wrote:
To successfully complete the Marriage Preparation Course, participating couples must:
·         Attend all six sessions together (make up sessions are needed for missed classes – contact one of the facilitators to arrange)
·         Pay course fees prior to the first day of class
·         Demonstrate active involvement, attentive listening, and respectful conduct
The course facilitators wish to make this an educational and enjoyable experience for all so we will:
·         Attend sessions together and offer make-up classes for those who cannot attend
·         Begin promptly, end on time, and provide lessons, resources and snacks (except on the last night = potluck buffet!) to nurture participants physically, mentally, and spiritually
·         Demonstrate active involvement, attentive listening, and respectful conduct
We deliberately tried to make the teacher norms match the student norms. In the past, it was pretty lenient about punctuality and absences - attendees could miss a session without penalty. However, we realized that every session had important content that we didn't want them to miss. Offering make-up classes was a new extra layer of work, but it was worth it. This is similar to my regular students. We want them to show up, ready to learn. We realize that external circumstances might make it difficult, but it's our job to help students catch up on misunderstood concepts and missed lessons so that there are no holes in their understanding.

4) You try your best but there's always room for improvement.

When I reflect after school on how the day went, or when I reflect with my husband or the team on how that evening's class went, there are always portions that I'd love to re-do. The very first night of the 2015 Marriage Prep course, James and I forgot to bring pencils! Thankfully the parish office had a few we were able to borrow. Whether or not we were the ones to lead the session, I always notice something that could have been done differently - the pacing, the phrasing of directions, the activities assigned, the specific questions used with the small groups during the book talks, etc. This is the same for my lessons with my students.

There are a few differences between teaching 4- and 5-year olds media literacy and teaching adults about sexuality and spirituality (less formal evaluations and fewer worries about classroom management, for example), but many of the essential portions are the same. I hope that the engaged couples AND my students learn a lot while they are with us.