Monday, December 26, 2016

The Best Gift

My Christmas Day tweet was used in an online news article about the Queen's health.

It's true that Her Majesty and I were both too sick to attend church, to my chagrin. The chills started Wednesday night and I spent the first day of Christmas vacation sleeping the day away, trying to recover. I was marginally well enough later on to drag myself and my family over to my parents' house for our traditional Christmas Day dinner.

As an adult, presents aren't the most important part of the celebration; yet, there was one gift this year that bowled some of us over completely. It was the last parcel unwrapped and was from my sister, who lives in Calgary. I wasn't sure what it would be, because she had already shipped presents to my house beforehand.

It was a pair of books.
Comic books.
Made by my sister.
About some true events from the past.

My brother and I lost it. We laughed so hard, we cried. We couldn't speak. We pored over each page. We were flabbergasted. We were blown away. With this present, my sister "won" Christmas.

No one else in the room had quite the same, extreme reaction that my brother and I did. They thought it was "nice". I think this speaks to the sibling bond of shared experiences. My sister took a few literary liberties for greater impact, but the funniest pages and panels were hilarious because they were so true - and here it was, saved for posterity, in comic form.

After a flurry of texts exalting her amazing gift, we discovered that there were actually more comics that she had created using Bitstrips, but when the site closed, she was unable to access or upload her work.

Those who follow me on Twitter know that I loved Bitstrips and the educational counterpart, Bitstrips for Schools. A long time ago, my school even appeared in a news segment on how we used technology, specifically Bitstrips, in our learning. (Go to and scroll down to the bottom to see the video clip.) I was really upset when Bitstrips was purchased by SnapChat and stopped operations. On the school side, we received this note back in the summer.

Hi there,

We’re sorry to announce that this is our last year of Bitstrips for Schools. The website will no longer be available after August 31st, 2016. The Ministry of Education is currently working with us to mitigate the end to services.

You can save digital copies of your classwork and activities by archiving your classrooms and then saving them on your hard drive – just follow these steps. You can log into your account here.

Thanks so much to our teachers and students for making Bitstrips for Schools such a special space for learning, creativity, inspiration and fun!

All the best,
The Bitstrips for Schools Team

Sadly, the virtual doors shut prior to August 31 and I didn't archive all the materials we had on there. It sounds like the public side was equally dismayed about the end of this fabulous tool.

I doubt that Jacob Blackstock, the CEO and founder of Bitstrips, reads my blog. What I'm hoping for is that the promised "links to download all of your comics, characters and messages" will come through, so that I can actually read and experience more of the incredible comics documenting my family stories.

Comics are important.

Comics are powerful creative outlets. This message was reinforced this year by this present from my sister and with my participation in TVOntario's Teach Ontario course, "Panels, Gutters and Bubbles: An Introduction to Comics for Educators". The learning will continue in the new year with the book club devoted to the graphic novel Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. Participants can register for the free club at What sadly won't continue is the first kids only comic book store in North America. Little Island Comics will be closing its doors on December 30, 2016. The staff and support will continue to exist as part of The Beguiling, but it will no longer have an exclusive space. Andrew Woodrow-Butcher and his staff were (and still are) a vital part of my comic knowledge building circle. I would not have been able to recommend such current and marvelous comics for that Teach Ontario course without his guidance and generosity. I was shocked to hear from Andrew (and other vendors) how some shoppers would pick their brains, only to then turn around and purchase from another distributor or vendor because their prices were lower. This is why independent sellers struggle to stay afloat. If you get a chance in the next few days, pop by Little Island Comics and buy a book. After all, it can be the best gift.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Multilingual Media Movies

I try not to repeat "old" projects that I've already worked on with students in previous years. I think it's healthy to try new assignments and not be content to go with just "tried and true". It keeps things fresh. Sometimes, however, it's worth returning to a task if you can improve on it. I think we have.

Way back in 2012, my four primary division classes that I saw for media literacy instruction created movies that we published to YouTube about the definition of media. It was an ambitious project but was popular and quite successful. This year, I've tried to improve my focus on incorporating equity. My six primary division classes watched the videos that their schoolmates created four years prior, which was a neat experience because those 2012 students are now in the junior-intermediate grades and the younger students could see what their older schoolmates were able to produce when those "big kids" were their age. We asked ourselves a powerful set of questions: Whose voices are not heard? We made those videos to help other students learn about media - who would have difficulty accessing that message? I was amazed by the insightful responses. They mentioned students without the Internet at home, students with disabilities, and students who speak different languages. The classes decided to make new videos from scratch and create them in multiple languages.

It wasn't easy. This project took a LONG time to complete. We learned about the various jobs involved in movie production and most of our decision making for the project was collaborative, except for the times when the executive producer (that's me) decided to exert her influence because of time constraints or project management issues. There were times when I worried about what the other teams would do while a certain group was active - because these are six- to nine-year-olds, it was challenging to provide other media-related tasks for them to complete independently while I helped the group that was involved with a certain stage of the project. Some groups needed a lot of coaching and support to complete their tasks.

It took three months of work, but I'm proud to announce that we made our self-imposed deadline and we have six new films to share with the world.

This movie, "Media in the Library", was created by the students in Ms.Chiu's Grade 1 class.
They used claymation and selected Tamil and Spanish as the languages they'd feature.

This movie, "The Super Media Movie", was created by the students in Mrs. Morgan's Grade 1-2 class.
They used Lego and selected French as the language they'd feature.

This movie, "Teaching Media (In Chinese)" was created by the students in Mrs. Voltsinis' Grade 1-2 class.
They used Fisher Price toys and selected Mandarin as the language they'd feature.

This movie, "A Beary Good Lesson About Media", was created by the students in Mrs. Commisso's Grade 2-3 class.
They used puppets and selected Urdu as the language they'd feature.

This movie, "Media in the Mall", was created by the students in Ms. Daley's Grade 3 class.
They used live action actors with green screen and selected Mandarin as the language they'd feature.

This movie, "Going Crazy with Media and Minecraft", was created by the students in Ms. Chan's Grade 3-4 class. They used Minecraft and selected Greek as the language they'd feature.

I am so proud of the process and the product, for several reasons.

First of all, I appreciate the parental input and support we received. We voted on the languages we'd use in our films, with the caveat that someone in the class had to know how to speak it. We had parents translate, train and coach their children how to recite the definition of media we used in class in their home language. We could not have done it without our home language experts.

Secondly, I was pleased how the majority of students were able to understand the film making terminology by being immersed in the project instead of by providing vocabulary worksheets. Many of my ELL students were able to explain about "the person who says cut" and other roles.

Third, I like how we strove to use different tools for expressing ourselves. That included the technology tools for filming and editing. Some of the software we used included DoInk, Lego Movie Maker, Minecraft Stop-Motion Movie Creator, Sto-Mo, iMovie, and WeVideo. No one had whole-class lessons on how to use the tools. A mini-tutorial for a small group sufficed.

Fourth, students were excited and engaged about the work they were undertaking. No one groaned when it was media time. I'm sure they'll be excited, like the crew was last year when we made book ending videos, to see how many views their videos receive on YouTube. We're celebrating by having a film festival and popcorn party to view everyone's project and play a new role - that of film critic!

If you get a chance, please watch their videos and leave a respectful comment. Even better - use their videos to teach your students about media, especially your English Language Learners. That's why we made them, after all.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Professional Learning Bleeds Into Personal Life

Adulting is hard.

Some parts of being a grown-up are great. For instance, I just came back from three days in Vancouver, British Columbia. My dear friend Denise Colby and I presented at the Learning Forward conference.

We're here!

Selfie outside the Vancouver Convention Centre

We were fortunate enough to get an "Extended Sharing" grant from the TLLP (Teaching Learning and Leadership Program) to lead a workshop on "Passion Led Communities"; otherwise, we would not have been able to afford to attend. As it was, Denise and I tried our best to be as frugal as possible. This meant we were only able to spend a single day at the conference. (The other two days were for travelling there and back.) In our schedules, we had room to sign up for just a single workshop to attend as a participant. The session I chose to attend was called "Handling Difficult Discussions With Ease". This was an excellent and timely workshop. You can tell by the tweets I posted.

I think I was meant to attend Kate and Michele's workshop.  You see, just before I went to Vancouver, I had a huge disagreement with people close to me.

In blogging etiquette, according to this site, we should
Think before you post any information that you do not want the world to see. The blogosphere is global and open to the public.
I won't go into details about the specifics of our falling-out. The usual pattern after a "fight" with these folks is to avoid talking about it and pretend like nothing happened. This strategy can become a problem, as Kate said in the workshop, because it's like piling dry timber up; it gets bigger and bigger and has the potential to burst into flames with any tiny spark. Kate and Michele explained that all the feelings and reactions that arise when faced with the possibility of a challenging conversation are natural - they had a very creative way of replicating this in their session with an "ice breaker" that had the audience fleeing for the hills! Kate and Michele also had several wonderful suggestions that made me decide to stop sweeping problems under the rug with these individuals and address the issues directly like a real adult. This is a lot harder than it sounds, because as the workshop leaders acknowledged, emotions can be even stronger between friends and family than between co-workers, and there are many factors at play that complicate things.

(I have to add that reading the book Lemons to Lemonade: Resolving Problems in Meetings, Workshops and PLCs by Robert J. Garmston and Diane P. Zimmerman, which I was given at my Presenter's Palette workshop and read on the plane to Vancouver, also helped with my resolve to take what I had learned on my trip to Vancouver and apply it.)

I took the initiative to start this conversation. Kate and Michele said that the person who begins the talk will often have more advantages, because they are mentally prepared for the discussion. This was true. I looked at the "Crucial Conversations Planner" (from VitalSmarts - I don't know if I have permission to share it online so I won't) and went over some of the questions. I practiced what I would say. I rehearsed it without letting my emotions get in the way or interfere with the message. I reviewed 1) the facts (e.g. everyone was upset about how a recent event went), 2) my story (e.g. I was upset and [not but - a key word choice] I didn't mean to upset both of you) and 3) the questions to ask (e.g. how can we communicate our needs and expectations better so we can avoid misunderstandings in the future?). I mentally prepared for the worst possible response. I wasn't sure how this would proceed. After all, leopards don't change their spots and I was uncertain what they would say. Despite this preparation, my stomach was still in knots.

I'm relieved to say that it wasn't a complete disaster. It was a frosty greeting but someone else whom I respect was there to help facilitate the discussion. We spent more time on a practical version of the third point in the path (e.g. "let's talk frankly and honestly about how we foresee this upcoming event running, so that we don't have an experience like we did with the last one"). My third party even took notes, so that we had our decisions recorded so there would be less likelihood of misunderstanding or poor recollection of the agreements. When exploring the others' opinions, I used only half of the AMPP strategies; I asked and mirrored, because they were not at the stage where they were ready or willing to paraphrase or prime. The upcoming celebration is now all ironed out, and people actually had the chance to express their feelings about certain past patterns, and we were able to address them calmly and with consensus.

Will things change now? I doubt it. Just as I was leaving their house after this fruitful conversation, someone brought up another unrelated issue and when I clarified my view, she quickly became agitated and defensive. Thankfully there were witnesses around so we could quickly reassure everyone that this was solvable without arguments, re-establish what steps needed to occur, and repeat what we agreed to do. I just have to remind myself this three word adage: assume positive intentions. These people don't mean to aggravate me. I may not be able to change people, but I can change how I react and respond.

Thank you so much to my (anonymous on here) third party member, Kate and Michele from the Connecticut Education Association, the Learning Forward organization, and everyone. It's great when you can apply what you learn from a workshop at your workplace; it's incredible when you can apply what you learn from a workshop to your life.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Trudeau as Teacher and Expert Presenter

My union nourished me well this past week. On Monday and Tuesday (November 28-29), I had the good fortune to attend the Presenter's Palette Part 2 workshop at ETFO headquarters with Jane Bennett, Ruth Dawson, and Joanne Myers leading the learning. On Friday (December 2), the Elementary Teachers of Toronto hosted Federation Day 2016 at the Toronto Congress Centre with a special keynote speaker: the Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada.

This photo was taken by my dear colleague, Farah Wadia.
She sat a lot closer than I did.

ETFO Presenters' Palette Group 2016

Obligatory "silly shot" (but why am I silliest?)

I wrote about preparing for the workshop last week on my blog and Doug Peterson commented on it (twice!). He noted that "the skill set can't help but benefit any classroom teacher". He's right. Your audience can be fellow educators or students of a younger age range, but many of the strategies can apply to any group you address.

I decided to tie the two separate events together in my reflection by noticing how Prime Minister Trudeau used some of the techniques mentioned at the Presenter's Palette workshop. That might consolidate my learning solidly!

Joanne reminded us that for children, the capacity they have to sit still and listen is their age plus two minutes. She was quick to add that this formula doesn't translate exactly for adults - for grownups, we can listen for 22 minutes before we tune out. Good teachers and good speakers will change things up. Trudeau kept his talk short, because he said he wanted to get to the Q&A portion, where deeper engagement can occur.

Stance / Non-Verbal Communication
Ruth had the workshop attendees think of an important event, influential person, or pivotal moment in our lives and then we had to speak about it for a minute. We were videotaped so that the next day, we could watch ourselves to examine our voice, gestures, facial expressions, eye directions, stance, and our body language. A lot of people groaned when the task was initially introduced by our workshop facilitators, but it was useful to analyze ourselves with supportive, critical friends. Knowing how to act natural when cameras are around is important too - Usha described her experience with a news station to me and to Jacqueline when we discussed our minute-long footage and I recalled my "ping pong head" when I first went on a TVO show. (I'd put my minute story here on my blog but I've lost my USB stick with it on it! Maybe Ruth can re-send it to me?)
ETA: Kelly, Ruth's assistant, is amazing! She found the clip and sent it to me. Here's my clip.

The Prime Minister did a masterful job of using gestures effectively and communicating with the crowd and the cameras. He rolled his sleeves up, as if to say "I'm getting to work, down to business". He made eye contact and wore a smile that didn't seem forced. He stayed in front of his transparent podium during his talk but moved to a portable microphone and left the podium, which made him appear more approachable. For instance, look at his open hand stance in this tweet. Open hands, as opposed to finger pointing, makes the speaker appear inviting; it looks more like a two-sided conversation than a lecture.

Different Participant Types and Their Goals
I really liked how Jane offered different "lenses" for us to use when planning our workshop. Her metaphors made the ideas concrete. She advised us to examine our workshops for a balance between content and process - what she called "gum and chewing". She also encouraged the flexible use of strategies (planned activities) and moves (impromptu tasks you use when you notice things need to change). Jane recommended we consider four professional "hats" (presenting / coaching / facilitating / consulting - this reminded me greatly of Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman's Consult-Collaborate-Coach mentoring work) and four types of participants (professors [engage them with facts], friends [attend to their feelings], scientists [involve them in formulating ideas] and inventors [take them on flights of fancy] - this reminds me of the Four Corners activity Moses Velasco did in our board's Leading Professional Learning workshop series, with feelings, big ideas, details, and action).
Trudeau balanced the needs of the big audience well. He told a personal story and related to the crowd as "one of them", which resonated with the "friends" demographic; he discussed the rationale behind giving precedence to neither the environment nor the economy when addressing the pipeline issue, which would appeal to "scientist" and "professor" types, and he encouraged creative and critical thinking for the "inventor" group:

Dealing with Elephants in the Room / Difficult Audience Members
One of the gifts we received from the Presenter's Palette workshop was a book called Lemons to Lemonade: Resolving Problems in Meetings, Workshops, and PLCs by Robert J. Garmston and Diane P. Zimmerman. Time was also devoted to discussing difficult people and situations you may encounter during presentations.
It wasn't just a "love-in" for the Prime Minister at Federation Day; he had to deal with audience members who were decidedly unhappy about his position on certain issues. There were large signs held in front of the cameras. He acknowledged their presence, promised he'd address their issue, but also used teacher humour and another personal anecdote to defuse things: "I shouldn't reward bad behaviour" (and he quickly assured the audience that those protesting weren't behaving badly and were within their rights to object, but he stated he wanted to answer other questions too from quieter participants, which is why he alternated between taking questions from the audience and questions written in and placed in a bucket for him to randomly select).

This is not a commentary on Trudeau's work to date as a politician. (To be honest, I didn't vote Liberal in the last federal election.) However, I thought that his time as a teacher has helped him to be an appealing presenter. Thank you ETFO and ETT for arranging such enriching events for teachers.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Effective Facilitating and Blogging

This past week, I had four separate meetings to attend, half of those as the person partly responsible for running them. I've been thinking a lot about facilitating because of the Teach Ontario course I'm running online about graphic novels, and because, for two days (today and tomorrow, November 28-29, 2016) I will participate in ETFO's "Presenter's Palette" course. The aim of the course suits my needs to a T:
This program is designed to promote the ongoing continued development of members’ presentation and facilitation skills. It has been developed to meet the needs of experienced presenters who are looking for ways to re-energize and improve their presentations.
There are three modules in this course, focused on:
  1. Strategies to grow as a curriculum workshop leader
  2. Ways to develop effective voice and facilitation styles
  3. Strategies to develop a high level of audience engagement and understanding
I thought it might be useful to reflect on my most recent meetings as a way to prepare for the Presenter's Palette class. I'll use the Stars and a Wish format to examine the strengths and areas for improvement for the recent area teacher-librarian meetings.

⭐👍 Stars / Strengths

  • Being flexible with the agenda and pace
  • Moving on when the technology wasn't working
  • Ensuring all attendees had a chance to speak and ensuring their needs were met
  • Reflecting feelings of the participants
I checked in with teacher-librarians after the Tuesday and Thursday sessions and everyone I spoke to indicated that they got something out of the meeting.

🌈👎 Wishes / Areas for Improvement

  • Arriving late and not starting on time
  • Missing the timing on shared speaking with co-facilitators 
  • Pointing out the time mid-way through
  • Having a "wishy-washy" ending as people filtered out in on their own
My co-presenter spent a ton of time preparing this beautiful Google Slides presentation but the Google Form messed up. We felt the time pressure (as the meeting was only 90 minutes long, after school) and unfortunately that leaked into the presentation.

Doug Peterson got this reflection thing rolling earlier with his post on blogging reflections. Blogging and facilitating have things in common. Instead of stars and wishes, Doug used five tips as his springboard for analysis and added five more. I'll follow suit and see how this blog measures up.

1) Having a plan is essential for making your blog a success.

My plan has evolved since I first began blogging in 2009. Now, my plan involves personal reflection on the past week's events and tying them in with my professional practice. Often, it's personal reflection ON my professional practice. I didn't research competitors. I started on the Library Network Group because they wanted people to blog, so there weren't many examples at all there. I migrated to Blogger and do it once a week, like clockwork. I didn't really consider about evaluating its success. 

2) Your blog is more likely to succeed if it's social.

That's true. Nowadays, I always post a link to my blog post for that week on Twitter, and I'll mention the people who are included in the reflection. What I could be doing but haven't yet is cross-posting my blog link on Facebook or other sites. I did that when I wrote about the death of my friend Jeff, because I knew his mother was on Facebook but not Twitter and would like to read what I wrote. I discovered that Facebook, despite reports to the contrary, is still a popular place to post - I received many more hits for that particular week than I did when just sharing via the blog and Twitter.

3) Content is king.

The funny thing about this point is that content that I think is huge isn't what draws in readers. Sometimes a "fluff piece" hits a chord with some people in ways I didn't imagine. 

4) You may have to learn basic Search Engine Optimization

I'm worse than Doug at this. At least he knew what it was. I don't tag my posts. I don't name my posts in ways that grab search engine bots. I skipped reading the multi-chapter guide that was linked to the original LifeHack article. 

5) Relationships matter

This is important to me in my blogging, my facilitation, my teaching ... probably my life! I started my blog with the intent of writing for myself. I was shocked to learn that people read it or cared what I wrote. Blogging helps develop other relationships too, not just online. I just shared my blog post about learning how to sew with a Grade 7-8 class as a way to promote the Library MakerSpace with them and connect on a personal level on learning new skills (and mothers who sometimes foil plans). 

6) Commit to posting regularly

I'm really proud of this, and it was key advice that my husband gave me when I first started out. I post every Monday (ergo the title of the blog, Monday Molly Musings), even when I think the stuff that I've written isn't so stellar. This is part of the "planning" portion that was the first tip.

7) It doesn't have to be in print

I'm still a traditionalist - I write. Sometimes a blog post is a series of photos, yet I don't have Snapchat and rarely use Instagram or Pinterest.

8) Take risks

I'm doing it here. I admit when a lesson tanks, or when I did less than a bang-up job with running a meeting. It's scary for me to talk about equity issues because I worry I'll do it wrong, or offend people, but if we don't talk about these things, how can we learn?

9) Reciprocate

I won't post replies to blog posts unless I feel like I have something valuable to contribute. I should change that policy, because even just a "good post" comment shows that I found it worth the effort to answer. I know I like seeing when readers post even a single sentence comment to one of my blog posts.

10) Look for a niche not already done

I can't say that I do this. I started writing for me, as a way to preserve what was happening in my school life. Others write about what it's like to be a teacher-librarian. The only unique part is that they aren't living my life, so my experiences might be common, but they're mine. 

Doug, you analyzed your blogging habits and evaluated them accurately. I'll share what I learn at my ETFO course - I've even booked time with my pal Denise Colby to report on the course at her house Tuesday evening!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The CCBC Awards - Be Both

On Thursday, November 17, 2016, I was at the 2016 TD Canadian Children's Literature Awards ceremony at the Carlu in downtown Toronto. This was my second time at this gala event. I enjoyed myself immensely. My fellow teacher-librarian, Joel Krentz, and I were the last to leave and I didn't return home until midnight. As I looked through the photographs I took and read the tweets that were shared with the #CCBCAwards hashtag, I was struck by a couple of contrasts.

Exclusive and Inclusive

The Canadian Children's Literature Awards is a very exclusive event. Invitations are non-transferable and not particularly easy to obtain. (I received mine because I was on one of the Best Books for Kids and Teens review committees. It's one of the perks of the volunteer job.) Attendees are a whos-who of the Canadian children's literature scene - authors, publishers, and significant movers-and-shakers. - YET - The group of people I spent the evening with were the most welcoming and inclusive bunch I could have the pleasure of socializing with. I'd occasionally hesitate before speaking with a particular famous face, shy and uncertain about the reception I'd receive, and every time I was addressed warmly and enthusiastically. It didn't matter that I was "just" a teacher-librarian; I was worth affection and attention, and the same was true for other educators who attended.

Lisa Dalrymple (author) and me

Jess Longthorne, Teresa Totten (author), Melissa Jensen, Pam Jeffrey

Willow Dawson (author/illustrator) and Joel Krentz
Diverse and Uniform/Homogeneous

The awards ceremony was a treat to see and hear. Unlike the Oscars, where it is unlikely for me to have experienced the nominated works, I was pleased to discover how many of the titles I own in my school library and have read myself. The acceptance speeches were heartfelt and grateful. The bravest speech, in my opinion, was by Cory Silverberg (@aboutsexuality on Twitter), who wrote Sex is a Funny Word: a Book about Bodies, Feelings, and You, the winning book for the 2016 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Non-Fiction. He expressed a desire to see greater diversity in the Canadian's children's literature industry and in those we recognize - different faces, reflecting different experiences. I thought it was courageous of him to use his time on stage to draw attention to concerns about homogeneity, and it's true that the podium and audience held many similar looking faces.   - YET - there seem to be steps made towards greater diversity. The winner of the top prize, the TD Canadian Children's Literature Award, was Missing Nimama by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Francois Thisdale - Melanie is of Cree and Scottish heritage (see

Also, this tweet:

Independent and Dependent

Corporate involvement in non-economic affairs can be a dicey business and a delicate balancing act. Many of the activities and awards of the Canadian Children's Book Centre would not be possible without companies like the Toronto Dominion Bank, Sylvan Learning Centre, Friesens and other sponsors. I know that the York Region District School Board used to refuse to distribute the Grade One Book Giveaway title because it was funded by TD and the book had the TD logo on it. (They didn't like what they considered advertisements.)  The CCBC is dependent on these patrons. - YET - Good things happen because of these generous donations. Half a million children receive a book of their very own, to keep forever. I myself have seen the thrill on the faces of the young students as they are given these quality books. Selection of the winners has nothing to do with the businesses funding the awards. Alec Morley, the Senior Vice President of TD Bank Group joked several times throughout the night about a sad lack of children's books about banking but I doubt it will actually have any impact on the stories told or honoured.

Don't misinterpret my list of contrasts as a slight against the Canadian Children's Book Centre of the Canadian Children's Literature Awards. I think it's pretty amazing that they can be simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, diverse and homogeneous, dependent and independent.

I was delighted to be a part of this incredible event, especially because it gave me an opportunity to thank someone in person. Gail de Vos presented the Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People. She was my professor for my "Comics and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries" course at the University of Alberta in 2004. My Masters of Educations studies was conducted completely online, from 2004-2010. It was that course and her guidance that led me to learn so much about the medium - and I was finally able to tell her the impact of her teaching on my learning path face to face.

Thanks Gail. Thanks CCBC.

Me with Gail deVos

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Helpers Everywhere

I notice there are some recurring themes to my latest reflections - they are all intertwined.

Last week was a busy one. My car (see October 24) died again on Monday night after my boot camp session (see September 19) so there was the hassle of renting a substitute. On Wednesday, I drove to Niagara Falls to run two sessions about Minecraft at a conference (this time with Andy Forgrave and Jen Apgar at #BIT16, instead of Denise Colby at #ETFOT4T - see October 31). On Thursday, I had hoped to talk with the fabulous Andrew Woodrow-Butcher about titles for my upcoming Teach Ontario course while at the GTA Resource Fair but it was too busy a time to conduct that sort of business at the fair, so on Sunday (yesterday) I drove to Little Island Comics to spend some quality time planning and reviewing (see November 7).  While at the GTA Resource Fair to purchase books for the school library, my students and I met someone with whom we just clicked (see October 17).

My students and I go book shopping regularly, and I really don't know what I'd do without them. They know the collection much more intimately than I do. They carry all the heavy boxes. They get excited when they see new books and they take purchasing seriously.

Another type of "book helper" is the individual who volunteers to help their vendor comrades with customers and questions. This group is varied, from retired teacher-librarians like Cathy Baker, to publishers like Richard Jones, to authors like Tory Woollcott, but all united in their love for literature and willingness to help.

Tory charmed my students (and me) with her enthusiasm, knowledge about graphic novels, and her sense of humour. My students had no idea they were speaking to a real, honest-to-goodness author and illustrator until I told them. Books were autographed and photos were taken. I don't have permission to post my students' faces, so apologies if this looks like a police lineup!

I'm going to rely on another set of book helpers in the next few weeks - my fellow staff members. In preparation for our Forest of Reading program launch in January 2017, the teachers read the nominated titles in advance so that they can chat with the students about the books. I'm grateful and relieved that the people who work at my school love to read and volunteer happily to read these books and give up their recess times to have conversations about books.

I will end with a shout-out to another book helper - my adult volunteer, Mrs. Pat McNaughton, mother of talented teacher-librarian Kim Davidson. She helps to train my library helpers and comes to my schools two half-days a week to shelve books and keep the library tidy, despite my crazy projects strewn around the space. (I'm not joking - we're filming six different media videos using everything from Lego to Fisher Price toys to claymation to puppets to acting in front of green screens and in Minecraft. It looks like a tornado passed through, but Pat is the calm in the storm, ensuring that books are put back properly.) Last Friday, she and I were able to Quick-Cat process all of the books I bought the previous day from the Resource Fair. Thank you to all the book helpers everywhere!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Restricting Revision

In November, the TDSB character trait of the month is empathy. I'm feeling very empathetic towards George Lucas lately. Why?

George Lucas, creator of the insanely popular Star Wars movie franchise, is known for returning to his films to revise them. Some of the changes seem minor. Some seem monumental. George responded to his penchant for revision in this interview.

Why does he constantly go back? Early in that interview, he says that he's trying to make the best possible movie he can. It's about improvement.

Right now, I'm working on the content for a course for Teach Ontario, called "Panels, Gutters and Bubbles: An Introduction to Comics for Educators". I've fretted about this course because, like George Lucas and his projects, I want it to be the best it can be. I'm already hyper-conscious about the end product because I was less than satisfied with a a webinar I did for Teach Ontario in the past, and many people will be able to see this course. I want this course to be successful and a great opportunity for many people to learn. (Let me clarify - I want that when I teach in the classroom too, but this is a wider arena with a bigger audience and a longer lasting digital footprint.)

I'm fortunate to have a team at TVO helping me create this course - Matthew, Karen, Elina, Albert, and Katina - and they have been incredibly supportive. Other courses and work zones on Teach Ontario have been exceptional in terms of the quality of their content, the design, and the level of engagement has reflected this. Check out Makerspaces on the Spot and on a Dime by Melanie Mulcaster, Mentoring for All, facilitated by Jim Strachan, the book clubs run by Alanna King / Melissa Jensen or Mindful Facilitation, run by Peter Skillen and Brenda Sherry.

I know I'm not the only one keen to make this a fabulous learning experience. Matthew, who took video footage of me for mini-videos to be shown as part of the course has tinkered with how images appear. Even though the "final" version looked fine, Matthew returned to alter it to make it a bit clearer.

Here's Matthew during filming - he's amazing!

In the attempt to make this course the best it can, there's a danger that I spend too much time fixing things. There has to be a cut-off to my revisions. As I explained to Karen, I'll be tweaking ad nauseum if I'm not stopped! I've got to trust the team and my own efforts and let go.

Often, our students are less than thrilled with the revising and editing stages of the writing process. They may not see that it is in these moments that the learning happens, where we realize what could be improved or changed and make it happen. It may be arduous. It may be challenging. However, if I can look back on the final product afterwards and admire it (like I do with my Masters of Education capping paper, which took many curses, tears and prayers to complete), all the headaches will be worth it.

The course Panels, Gutters and Bubbles: An Introduction to Comics for Educators, begins November 21, 2016 on Teach Ontario and runs for two weeks. It will be followed in January 2017 with a book club discussion of Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire. Register at

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hug Monster (Even at #ETFOt4t)

For those who celebrate, Happy Halloween! The monster in the title isn't your typical Halloween fright ... read on.

Is it possible for your students to influence what you do and what you say?
I'm starting to suspect this happens more than I realize.

Some of the students in my school love to hug. I'm not sure if it's because they can detect that I'm okay with hugging (which I've written about in the past here) but they make a point of collecting a "morning hug" and "afternoon hug" each day from me, and will verbally scold me if I've forgotten or neglected to give them their twice-daily allocation. They are the ones to initiate the contact, as I must be cautious about this sort of contact. We've also worked with particular students around issues of consent, and I've tried to transfer this useful practice in general to other students - ask before touching. Coaching students to ask "May I have a hug?" instead of grabbing an adult in an unexpected embrace is a good idea.

I had to remind myself to use this technique while at the ETFO ICT conference on October 28-29, 2016. I'm glad I asked for permission most of the time. Who received these physical greetings?

Bixi Lobo-Molnar, one of the ETFO organizers. I've been fortunate to work with Bixi on the 2016  ETFO Summer Academies. She and Jill and Emma and all the team members do a fabulous job ensuring all the needs of participants and presenters are met.

Using Plickers on Friday

Denise Colby, my co-presenter. Denise was a saint and saviour at this conference, because not only did she co-run our Friday and Saturday sessions on Minecraft, she volunteered to lead two more Friday workshops because the original presenter could not attend.

Showing Minecraft tips Saturday

Great comics website I can use! Thanks Melissa!
Melissa Jensen. I sat with Melissa and several other teachers from Simcoe County DSB during the opening keynote and I also picked Melissa's brain about my upcoming Teach Ontario course on graphic novels and comics when both of us had a break from presenting in our schedules on Friday. Melissa has a wealth of information at her fingertips (and on her phone) and I really appreciated the feedback she provided for me.

 Andrea Payne. Andrea said it wasn't necessary for us to attend her session on search techniques, but her absolutely stellar slides - perfect for use with students and a designer's dream - were the perfect PD piece for me on Saturday. We ate lunch together as she polished her presentation and it felt like I experienced her session first-hand. Although Andrea and I are in the same board, she is in the west-end of the city and we don't get to see each other often. That's a shame.

 It was an excellent conference as usual - most of the sessions were similar to the ones offered in June but thanks to some additional funding, ETFO was able to provide it again for those who were not chosen to attend this past spring. Dr. Camille Rutherford was an excellent keynote (don't worry - I didn't run up and hug her - we don't know each other) and it was very affirming to hear her mention female ed-tech leaders of Ontario by name, like Zelia Tavares, Aviva Dunsiger, and Alanna King, with whom I was also familiar. These were some key tweets from the keynote and some important things to remember as we continue:

Monday, October 24, 2016

No Car

I had plenty of fodder for this week's blog post ... filming at TVO, getting sick mid-week, bringing the baby skinny pigs to school, lamenting the lost of Bitstrips and getting frustrated with the lesser replacement ... but I thought I'd write about my car.

While I was home recovering from a epic migraine that hit the day before, I decided to "use my time wisely" by taking my car in for an oil change. (I'll refrain from commenting on why I felt the need to use my sick day for more than just time to recuperate.) The engine light was on but it often lights up due to a flaw in the car's design that makes it activate when the gas cap isn't turned tightly, but I didn't think much of it. The reality was that there was indeed something wrong with my car's engine and I just didn't realize it. The car has been at the mechanic's garage since last Wednesday as they order a replacement part and fix the problem.

I could stop my blog post there and reflect on how what I thought was wrong wasn't the issue at all and that we risk ignoring signs and symptoms (in cars and children) at our peril. I could invoke the "assume" warning: when you assume, you make an a** out of "u" and "me".

I learned more, however, in the subsequent days of managing life as usual without my wheels. The experience certainly increased my empathy. On Thursday morning, I took the bus with my son and daughter part of the way - they had much further to travel. Despite having used public transit all during my university years to get to York University from south Scarborough, I found I lacked the stamina and tolerance of my youth. It was so dark! It was so crowded! It was so long and dreary!

I appreciated the kindness of my fellow staff members, who upon discovering that I temporarily had no car, offered to drive me home. Thank you Renee, and thank you Lisa - especially for carrying the skinny pig cage to my house in the back of your car!

I learned that I had to think and plan much more thoroughly before going anywhere.
Math became quite important as I turned often to my computer to investigate how much longer it would take for me to arrive at destinations I never gave much consideration to going before. Our family walked to the local library on the weekend - a 5 minute drive was a 20 minute walk one-way. Getting to my Bootcamp Fitness Centre takes 11 minutes by car and 28 minutes by bus. Going to work takes 16 minutes by car and 41 minutes by bus. Because times usually doubled, I had to leave earlier, factor in the return travel time, and earmark a longer period of time to accomplish tasks. How do people manage when they have to go grocery shopping and haul their purchases in buggies or on the bus?

Then I realized how thankless I was being. I'm fortunate to live in Toronto, where we have the TTC and most locations are accessible for just $3.25 per trip. What about other areas of Ontario without adequate public transportation? What about other areas of the world, where children have to walk for hours just to collect water or get to school?

Knowing others have it worse can be small comfort. I asked myself how this experience would change my behaviour or attitude in the future. I think I will be more grateful when my husband (who doesn't have a licence and walks or takes the bus everywhere) does errands without me. It's a bigger effort on his part and I should recognize the amount of time it takes him. I'll also offer my chauffeur services more often to him and others. I will also be less quick to judge people when they talk about the hardships of getting to places when they can only rely on others to get them there.

Monday, October 17, 2016

We Just Clicked

Have you ever met someone and it felt like you've known each other for ages, as kindred spirits?

I was corresponding pretty frequently last week with two of my favourite people, Melanie Mulcaster @the_mulc and Jennifer Brown @JennMacBrown, about some big projects and ideas when this realization hit me like a ton of bricks - I've only known them this calendar year (2016). In fact, I've only met Melanie face to face twice - at Treasure Mountain Canada and at Maker Ed Toronto. I've only met Jennifer once in person, at that same Maker Ed Toronto event in July.

Despite this brief period of time together, I have to admire and thank Melanie and Jennifer for pushing my thinking, supporting my experiments, and providing feedback in thoughtful, caring, engaged ways.

You can tell by my Twitter feed how important these two have become. This is a copy-and-paste of my notifications.

  1. After a day in bed with a wicked flu what could be better than an impromptu with & ? A win maybe?
  2. Not sure - wondered too - perhaps the Google tech held some teachers back from promoting it - learning curve maybe?
  3. I also laugh at myself say "we are doing..." - should say we are trying for the first time! LOL
  4. Oct 14
     liked some Tweets you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    our approach as well, am also collaborating w Ts in their classes
  5. I don't have any scheduled book exchange so it offers me more flexibility with small group & whole class visits
  6. our approach as well, am also collaborating w Ts in their classes
  7. Oct 14
     liked your Tweets
    Oct 14
    . Great idea! My Jr Div kids have lobbied 4 & got MakerSpace time during Lib periods after book exchange if time

  1. we are doing the intro workshops during instructional day then "open" maker times after school
  2. I had grades 1,4,5,7,8 sign up. So 3 sessions grade 4 with another teacher, grade 1 on their own, grade 5,7,8 together
  3. same most activities will be grade 4 and up
  4. I am very new to being a Google believer but wow - I am totally hooked now! Still lots to learn!
  5. Oct 14
     liked some Tweets you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    to not tu lol
  6. to not tu lol
  7. I sent the link to staff & they facilitated it. I want to get tu the point I just send it the kids' Google accounts.
  8. How did you do the Google forms? Kids did it in class? or when they came to the LLC?
  9. Oct 14
     liked a Tweet you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    I used google forms for sign up & the google spreadsheet tool has saved my brain tonight for the scheduling!
  10. I used google forms for sign up & the google spreadsheet tool has saved my brain tonight for the scheduling!
  11. I don't know what I would do without you 2 when I need advice about all of this!!!! ❤️
  12. Oct 14
     liked some Tweets you were mentioned in
    Oct 14
    I plan on doing the Safety Skeletons first as per my last tweet. We can compare successes/next steps :)
  13. Have I told you that I love that you're my friends? <3
  14. I plan on doing the Safety Skeletons first as per my last tweet. We can compare successes/next steps :)
  1. Organize into groups prim/ jnr/int/. Int 1st - use as mentors and instructors 4 prim/jnr. Do over several days
  2. thoughts about the ideal way to schedule everyone?
And all of this transpired over the course of just a single day!

Jennifer has saved my bacon more than she's realized. I am the school library editorial board representative on Open Shelf, the official online publication of the Ontario Library Association. I've had trouble trying to solicit articles from school library professionals because these are typically very busy people with not a lot of time to spare to write, and we have another publication (The Teaching Librarian, OSLA's magazine) to fill with content as well. Not only has Jennifer written an article for Open Shelf, she's agreed to be a regular columnist! Look for her "It's Elementary: Adventures in School Libraries" articles to appear in late 2016. (I should also mention that her writing is impressive - it's the right mix of emotion and information, personal and professional. Open Shelf's readers are going to love it.)

Melanie is an inspiration. She created and ran a course on the TVO site Teach Ontario called "MakerSpaces on the Spot and on a Dime". I've been asked to do something similar about graphic novels. I didn't think I could do it. Melanie set the bar too high! Melanie's course is absolutely incredible, a pedagogical gold mine. She (and the fabulous Alanna King, who runs the very-popular book clubs on Teach Ontario) answered my numerous email questions patiently and reassuringly.

Both these teacher-librarians have also been incredibly helpful and supportive with my finger knitting endeavours. Melanie told me about a fabulous place to buy yarn inexpensively. Jennifer has offered to host finger knitting socials at her house. When I post photos of my work in progress, they often like, retweet or reply to them.

I feel blessed and fortunate to have met this pair of human dynamos. I'm sad that, since we are in different school boards (Peel vs Toronto), we don't have the opportunity to meet as often as I'd like. However, thanks to social media and the immediacy of texts and emails, their advice and words of encouragement are close by. I can hardly wait until the OLA Superconference when we'll be there simultaneously (with thousands of other library folks, but we'll find each other among the crowds).