Monday, December 31, 2018

Early Reveal! - My #onewordONT #oneword2019

Being sick during the holidays STINKS! I was able to complete my 9-day, 5:30 am Christmas Novena but after I returned home after my final early morning Mass on December 24, I didn't feel well. I rapidly degenerated, so much so that I couldn't attend Christmas Eve Mass that night with my family. Swollen glands, sore throat, high fever, depleted energy levels, persistent headache and violent chills made for a very unpleasant couple of days. My poor husband even contemplated taking me to the hospital when labored breathing during the night Santa works was added to my mix of ailments. Thankfully, a combination of rest, copious (but sadly non-alcoholic) liquids, pills, home remedies and more rest have helped me regain my health.

Which leads me to my choice for my #onewordONT - and no, it's not the word "healthy", although that would have been a suitable pick. Like Julie Balen, the educator who curates and encourages the #onewordONT collection, this is a process that involves examining last year's word.

Unlike Julie, my word choice has other conditions and stipulations. This is why, for my 2019 word, I consulted with my wise daughter for help. For instance, I don't like selecting a word that is common. That's why I loved my friend Jen Apgar's 2018 choice, because she invented the word: Re-Co-Cogitaction

Let me allow you in a bit on my decision making process.

1) I re-read all my blog posts that dealt with my One Word choices. In 2016, it was continue. In 2017, it was forgive. In 2018, it was seek.

2) Then, I reflected on how successful I was at approaching the spirit of this word.

3) During this last week of December, I kept a sticky note near my computer desk, and if a word popped into my head, I'd write it down.

4) I think about what the upcoming year might have in store - what challenges do I know are coming? What might happen that I need to deal with?

5) I try to examine the personal selection criteria in my head (unique word that others won't also use, something that can apply to my personal and professional life, a word that is open-ended enough for wide interpretation, etc.)

This year, I combined steps 4 and 5 with a conversation with my daughter as consultant.

Words I had on my list but were rejected included ...

  • change = change for change's sake isn't a good thing, and all my goals do not necessarily involve me changing things
  • respond = this was almost too open; how I respond to things is just as important as whether or not I do (and sometimes I shouldn't respond at all)
  • consider = I already spend a lot of time reflecting as it is, so how would this be a big challenge or a new focus?
So, before revealing what my new word will be, how did I do on my 2018 word?

Did I seek answers and understanding? I certainly tried. There was a young Year 1 student who came to our school in September 2018 and challenged a lot of notions I had about behaviour. I sought out a lot of experts and had a lot of conversations to try and figure out the best course of action to take. I never got to take that MEHRIT Centre course on self-regulation in the summer of 2018, but that was because of another "seek".

Did I seek the good in people and situations? I think I improved in this area. I complained less about people who can drive me bonkers, and I took an active role in trying to help others.

Did I seek serenity and peace? Yes, although I didn't always find it. That trip to Calgary was restful but peace of mind could elude me if I wasn't careful.

Did I seek opportunities and help when needed? Yes, and sometimes opportunities sought me out! After "retiring" as the editor-in-chief of The Teaching Librarian (a decision I have never regretted, because Caroline Freibauer is AMAZING in the role), I both joined the Association of Media Literacy on their executive board and became the OSLA SuperConference co-planner with my incredible friend Alanna King. What I didn't expect was that I'd get the chance to teach the Librarianship Additional Qualification course for York University in July, a great honour! I met an-8-year-in-the-making goal and actually got a research paper I co-wrote published in a peer-reviewed academic journal (thanks to the talented Terry Soleas). I presented at some new conferences at the prompting of some friends (Unleashing Learning because of Denise Colby and ECOO Camp Owen Sound because of Doug Peterson).

But ... stop the press ... something that happened on December 30 made me alter my word and add another! I'll continue with this blog post as written and then add a huge section near the end. There are actually two words. 

And so, my 2019 One Word this year is ... [insert drum roll here]


Enough is an adjective. It means adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire: (according to

Enough is the first time I haven't chosen a verb. This made me a bit anxious. Will this give me enough to do? 

While I was recuperating from my holiday illness, my husband repeated a line he says often: don't do too much. He likes to claim that the P in my name (Diana P Maliszewski) stands for "push it", and in a metaphorical sense, he's right. (In a literal sense, he's wrong; my middle name is Patricia.). So, I don't want to do less. I don't want to cut down on the number of projects I'm involved with, because I enjoy doing them. But, I don't want to do more. I don't want to overwhelm myself and leave myself with no free time. I want to do enough - for me.

I looked up some visuals for "enough" and found a few (all licensed for reuse according to Google) that will serve as useful reminders for me.

Do enough for me - know my limits, and don't feel like I need to prove anything to anyone (thanks Maya).

Having said that - consider whether or not I've done enough (marking, reading, praying) to make changes that I want to see. If I see injustice, do I speak out enough? Don't shy away from a challenge (like the ones I may face during my Cross Fit classes) but decide if it's enough because I'll hurt myself if I do more, or if I'm just saying it's enough because I'm tired or scared to try.

I've seen Angela Maiers on Twitter plenty. Without falling into excessive pride or hubris, I will remind myself that I matter.

This vonGoethe quote (which I'll have to look up to ensure that it is properly cited - after all, anyone can stick some words on a pretty background and claim someone said it) is my prompt to say that enough also means knowing when it's NOT enough. Take action. Like the earlier definition suggested, has the desire been satisfied adequately? Is my action sufficient based on what I can do?

This leads to "enough is enough". I need to know when to stop. I need to know there are times to tolerate certain conditions or conduct but there are times when I shouldn't because enough is enough.

"Enough" is a bit of a risk, but I'm willing to try it for 2019.

Note: Edited on December 30, 2018 to include the following:

Blame my priest.

Father Hansoo Park gave the homily during the Feast of the Holy Family and it's his "fault" that I must add in another word to my one word. Father Hansoo talked about the idea of the need to labour gratefully - to be thankful for sickness as it can bring you closer to the suffering of Jesus, or to be appreciative of the person that irritates you, for it teaches patience. Fr. Hansoo also said that's it's not easy. That's when I realized I must have this word as part of my #oneword2019 #onewordONT.


For something to be "enough", I need to have tried, or worked at it.

I still need to labour - (not too much, not too little, but enough) - labour on being a better teacher, Catholic, mother, and wife. I need to put in the effort, like in my Sweat 60 / Cross Fit exercises. I want to labour on making the Association for Media Literacy an even better organization. If I want to see a better (aka more equitable, happier,) world, then I need to put in the labour to make it happen.

I guess like I really needed a verb to go along with my single word of "enough". Therefore, let it be "labour" as well as "enough".

Monday, December 24, 2018

Perils and Pleasures of Holiday Staff Parties

Hooray, it's the holidays! We're on break from school right now and my household is preparing for Christmas. There are many traditions and activities linked to this time of year, some of which I like and some I don't. One particular event that I've had mixed feelings about for a while is the annual holiday staff party.

I've got to confess that I have never been a big fan of work socials in general, and Christmas staff parties specifically. Why? My reluctance can be attributed to a combination of my own personality and past experiences.

  • December is a hectic time of year and a staff social feels like just *another* expectation on a kilometer-long list of things to do.
  • At previous schools, we had a lot of "enforced socialization", which chafed me; there can be a difference between work colleagues and friends. I've been a teacher for a long time and I can't say that every fellow teacher I've shared a school with qualified as a friend.
  • There are a lot of "social minefields" to navigate when at a festive gathering with people you work with: How are you expected to behave? What can/can't you discuss? To what extent should you mingle? Should you or others imbibe (if alcohol is something you partake in at parties)?
  • Cliques sometimes rise to the surface in uncomfortable ways. I remember going to a pre-winter-break party (not with my current staff) at a restaurant, arriving early and being told "sorry, these seats are saved" for other teachers and their spouses. 
  • Gift games are just not my thing, especially the ones where gifts get "traded" or "stolen". Buying and giving gifts are a personal process to me and I feel uncomfortable with the commodification that characterizes some of these fun gift exchanges. (Even Secret Santa can become awkward, as a recent news story involving a text exchange between co-workers can attest.) 
Having said that, I attended my staff Christmas party this year and had an enjoyable time. What made the difference? Why did I have fun?

  • A lot of choice was built into the evening, and this is thanks to the social committee. The start time was flexible. (Thank goodness, because I got lost and was the last to arrive.) The end time was flexible. (I'm grateful for that, too, because I was the last to leave because I was busy playing a board game with the daughters of our host.) We didn't have to participate in the gift exchange if we didn't want to. A small amount of money was collected towards the dinner and there was plenty of food (and lots of options for those on staff with different food allergies and intolerances). It was BYOB for those who wanted a stronger drink (and no one got drunk).
  • The location of the party (a teacher's house) was big enough that flexible groups could form and re-form throughout the evening for different conversations.
  • My current staff consists of a lot of pleasant people that are welcoming and considerate.
  • I've worked at the same school since 2004, so I'm comfortable and familiar with many of my coworkers. There are new staff members every year, but I try to connect with them starting in September so that we aren't strangers.
  • No one brings their spouse to this party. This may be a deal-breaker to some, but I find that there's additional stress if I have to worry if my husband and I are both enjoying ourselves.

Now comes the family gatherings, with their own unique dynamics and protocol. May everyone enjoy the break. Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and enjoy the final days of 2018.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Never Bored with Board Games

I introduced several new clubs this school year, partly due to the unfortunate demise of my regular Minecraft clubs. (Long story. I'll explain later.) There's Keva Plank Club for Grades 1-8, Comics Club for Grades 1-8, YouTube Club for Grades 7-8, and Board Game Club for Grades 4-8. 

Board Game Club meets on Fridays at lunch. Each grade gets a month of meetings. I try to introduce some new games that students might enjoy. I brought Food Fighters, Anomia, and Lords of Waterdeep, which led a small subgroup to try Dungeons and Dragons at a pre-arranged separate time after school with my university-attending eldest child as the DM (dungeon master). We also played some "old familiar" games that the students already knew, like Blokus. All of these are games that I myself own and enjoy playing with friends socially. I wondered how I could introduce my students to new games that I didn't already know.

Playing Food Fighters, a game I got a Breakout Con

Who came to the rescue? Board Game Bliss. Board Game Bliss is a board game vendor and store, located in Scarborough, Ontario (with an expansive online sales presence as well at I emailed Board Game Bliss with a proposal - would they be interested in coming to my school and introducing a few new games to us? We offered to create a purchase wish list and buy games that students and teachers were interested in acquiring.

I spoke to Bosco, who owns the establishment. He said that he had been approached by other schools in the past but he had declined their offers. This time, however, there was something about our request that changed his mind. He agreed to come! We arranged for a lunch visit on Friday, December 14, 2018.

I cannot begin to explain how much FUN this visit was for everyone involved! Bosco, AJ and Chris arrived around 11:00 am and set up in the library. We arranged that the teachers could come from 11:30 - 12:00 and that the intermediate students from Board Game Club could come from 12:00 - 12:30. No one wanted to leave! There were a variety of games that appealed to all sorts of players, and Bosco, AJ, and Chris did a wonderful job of "luring" people in, helping them overcome their shyness and explaining the rules in a clear fashion. Adults came in, intending only to pop by briefly, but many stayed to ask lots of questions and try a few games out. I even invited a parent in and she made the time to play. I wanted to make sure that the adults had a "safe" place to explore these new games, without a large group of students present.

The students were practically breaking down the door to enter! Once it was their time, they came in droves and were eager to try many different games out.

Adults still there while a group plays Numbers

Playing either For Sale or No Thanks with Bosco

Playing Tsuro with Chris

Playing Looping Louie

Trying out Ice Cold

This was one of the most popular games

When the bell rang, signalling the end of lunch and the beginning of the afternoon's learning, once again, no one wanted to leave. I liked how one Grade 8 suggested that "it was just the second bell and we can stay until the third bell (at 2:05)". I'm not sure who was having more fun, the Board Game Bliss staff, or my students! I was able to persuade Bosco and his team to stay for a few extra minutes so that the Grade 6 class that I was scheduled to see first thing that afternoon could also experience some of the games. We ended up throwing out the originally planned lesson to play the board games and then gather in a big community circle to summarize some of the games and try and persuade each other which game was the best and worth purchasing for the school. 

There were so many good games, that it was hard to choose! Here are some photos of just a few of the games that the Board Game Bliss team brought.

Ice Cool



Looping Louie


AJ explains this game (name I forgot - will update later)

Board Game Bliss has this posted on their website as part of their mission and mandate:

We believe that games act as an excellent medium to bring joy to family, children and friends - especially the new modern games.  The modern board games that we carry are very different from the traditional board games that we used to play.  We carry different types of games that fit different people and age groups.  We encourage you to give them a try and experience how good they are!

Board Game Bliss truly brought joy to us with their enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge about playing board games. I want to thank the team at Board Game Bliss for taking a risk with us and closing the store for two hours to spend time with our staff and students at school. (I hope they didn't lose a lot of revenue by changing their operating hours for that day! To be honest, this [going to a school to showcase a few games] is a service that Board Game Bliss could actually charge a fee, especially considering that there's a regular price for using the play space [a reasonable amount that you can use towards any purchases you make]). Thank you also for the unexpected donation of some games - you should have heard the gasps from the students when they realized what was happening! If you can, please support this wonderful local business - check out their online store or visit them - they are found at McCowan Road and the 401.

Monday, December 10, 2018

What's in a (Webkinz) name?

Since 2007, I have been using Webkinz as a part of my media literacy program. Even though I incorporate this stuffed toy and online equivalent every year, it's never quite the same. One thing we usually do each year is purchase a new Webkinz toy and we learn about collaborative decision making through choosing a name for the toy, using the 3-part process as outlined in the Tribes TLC training. In 2011, our focus was more on voting. This year, based on experience from past years, I wanted us to look more deliberately at naming. In the past, the students chose names that, in my opinion, weren't particularly good. Maybe, I theorized, the reason for these "non-name" names was that the students had never been given the opportunity to create a name for something. I was also keenly aware that I didn't want to put my own ethno-cultural biases on what a "good" name was. After all, around this time in the news, an airline was doing social media damage control because one of their employees made fun of a young passenger whose name was Abcde. (Although, to be honest, this news story led to a lot of informal discussion in the staff room about reasonable and ridiculous names for children.)

Our inquiry unit for this term with the kindergarteners focused on belonging. There was a deliberate social intent - the hope was for the students to be more welcoming of others in their play time. We read many books that dealt with characters who did not feel like they belonged and how this was resolved. (We read Noisy Nora, Can I Play Too?  [an Elephant and Piggie book], Small Saul, Spork  and Where Oliver Fits.)

Although we did not belabor this point, when it came to working on a name for our various Webkinz (Room K1 has a chicken, Room K2 has a lion fish, and Room 110 has a reindeer), we talked about how giving a name to something or someone shows both how they belong to a group (or family) and also how they are unique or special. We made a conscientious effort to encourage creative naming, i.e. we don't name a girl "Girl" or a dog "Dog", so try to think of something that would be a way of identifying that one Webkinz.

I am relieved and happy to share that we've had our brainstorming, narrowing down of options, and final vote - and the names are actual names!

K1's chicken is called Macdonald.

K2's lion fish is called Unicorn.

Room 110's reindeer is called Santa.

This coming week, we'll use the codes that come with the new toys to "register" them online with their new names. We'll continue to look at tags (which the students have learned indicate who made the toy or piece of clothing), logos (the rainbow W for Webkinz is a significant one and we'll branch out to look at other examples) and ads. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Months of (map) practice lead to moments of success

Do you ever have those teaching moments, where you worry that the assignment you've given may be just a bit too hard, but then you stand back and the students tackle the task like professionals as a team without your interference and you feel so very proud? This happened to me last Friday with Room 112's Grade 3-4 students. While I celebrate the accomplishment, I need to remind myself that it took a long time to get to the stage.

It began early in the school year, when I noticed that despite past lessons, students were still unfamiliar with where to find books in the library. I decided to make a concentrated effort to explicitly teach about our library layout. This took a REALLY long time, and many, many lessons. We reinforced the concept visually and kinaesthetically, hiding in spots in the library and colouring codes on maps. I hid little paper people in the library and students had to find them using the denotations on library maps. Then they created "treasure" and hid them in the library with similar denotations on library maps for me to find.

I marked their progress and felt like the Grade 3-4 students *might* be ready for the big "chocolate challenge". Our inquiry question for the term centered around various types of effective communication. On Friday, I gave the class two maps and a few papers with the Morse Code alphabet and said "go". They had 40 minutes to find and then decipher the clues.

THEY DID IT! A few students let the thrill of the hunt overwhelm their sense of reason and they started searching randomly, thinking that the chocolates were just hidden somewhere in the library. All I had to say was "remember the maps". The students broke off into two groups (one per map) and started hunting with more deliberation. Once they started to find the clues, the excitement and energy in the room rose.

When they opened the clues and saw the dashes and dots, then the roles started to differentiate more. Some took on the job of decoding the message while others continued to hunt for hidden papers. Others watched the decoders, ensuring they didn't make any mistakes. Still others pointed at the code sheet to assist the writers.

There were only a couple of students that needed some slight redirection. As they deciphered the messages, students started calling out things like "we have to jump!" Others realized that starting too quickly had its disadvantages: "Oh, the messages are in order! When did we find this one? Did we already find this one at this spot?"

Groups formed and reformed into different combinations as students saw where there was a need and tried to fill in. Some were big and some were small, but there was a lot of teamwork evident.

One of the clues indicated that they needed a phone. That's when they looked up at me, taking photos with my cell phone, and had an "aha". Not all the clues were visual! I couldn't take a photo of the moment that a small group huddled close and listened attentively and intensely to a short recording of Morse Code on my cell phone. They only had to listen to it three times before they understood the message.

At one point, I suggested that they meet as a whole class to share what they had discovered so far.
If you look at that photo of the whole class, (the eighth in this sequence) you may notice a few things. 
One, they couldn't care less about me. (And that's good!) The focus is all on the assembled clues.
Two, check out the focus. Where are most of the gazes? On the centre of the circle.
It was shortly after I took this photo, when they realized where they had to go and what they had to do, that I temporarily lost control of the class. The 23 students ran up the stairs gleefully screaming as they fled the library. Teachers poked their heads out of their doors to see what the uproar was all about and I had to ask the students to go back downstairs and come up quietly.

Their final destination was Mr. Roberts' Grade 7 class. He was in on the plan and was prepared for the interruption to his Grade 8 geography class. The students suddenly became a bit shy. Do we just walk in? Do we "do the thing" and "say the password" out here or in the class? Do we do this in front of the Grade 8s?

With 10 minutes to spare in the period, the students earned their chocolates and happily returned to the library to do a quick book exchange and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

I am SO PROUD of the students. They really worked well together and used the previous lessons about reading maps and understanding where to find things in the library to help them solve the challenge. I saw proof that they could apply what they had learned previously for a new situation!

This same group also did a fabulous job with our library/science class partner unit: the Grade 3s made Lift the Flap book pages about plants and the Grade 4s made I Spy book pages about habitats. That project had a similar trajectory to the library layout familiarity work. The classroom teacher and I had our moments when we worried that the students would never understand the job and never finish within a reasonable time. We were so delighted when it all came together at the end. I tweeted some of the Grade 3 projects and we presented the Grade 4 book at our month-end assembly.

The concerns that the classroom teacher and I had are typical for people engaged in inquiry. Carol Kuhlthau, an American expert on school libraries, has done a lot of work about guided inquiry design. Her work on the Information Search Process, especially the thoughts and feelings associated with the process, are important to remember.

Just like I need reminding that it takes time to get to the final product, I also need reminding that it's acceptable (and normal) to have mixed feelings (including despair) and believe that we'll never get things accomplished, but that with time and effort, we can achieve. Thank you to this particular teacher (name removed by request) for being so willing to work with me, the teacher-librarian. And thank you to the students in Room 112 for your enthusiasm, curiosity, and drive!

Monday, November 26, 2018

My Favourite Mechanic (and how he teaches the teacher)

I've been meaning to follow up my post on how my Cross Fit coach helped me to be a better teacher with one about another non-educator "schooling" me on how I can improve at my job by watching him do his.  Now is my chance.

This is my mechanic, Jeremy.

Jeremy works at Redline Automotive. He takes care of my car, but more importantly, he takes care of me and my family. How? What's so special about this guy?

Before I explain, let me provide some context. I drive, but I know very little about how cars actually work. In the past, before I started taking my car to Redline, this lack of knowledge was problematic. I'll admit that I've been "fleeced" in the past by dealerships and other car repair places that charged me lots of money for repairs or work that I didn't really need. My father used to accompany me when I took my car in, but nothing makes you feel as uncertain and immature as having to bring your Daddy when you need an oil change. I'm not sure when or how I discovered Redline, but I'm glad I did. It hasn't been a perfectly smooth ride, but the way things are handled even then are part of the reasons why Jeremy (and the crew) has earned my trust and respect.

1) Jeremy makes me feel like I'm his most valuable customer.

Jeremy is busy in the shop but when I come to pick up my vehicle, he doesn't ship me off to whomever is working the front desk. (That wouldn't be a hardship, as Sue, who usually handles the reception area, is a delight to talk to.) He never makes me feel like it's a chore to interact with me. I'm not just a job to get done and push aside. Jeremy makes me feel welcomed. He doesn't hurry through our interactions, even though there may be other people in line. He even takes the time to ask how things are doing in general, not just car issues.

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Make every student feel like they are my "favourite". Be welcoming and eager to talk to a parent who approaches me.

2) Jeremy explains procedures and costs while still giving me choice.

I have no clue what needs fixing or why things need replacing. Jeremy takes the time to explain them to me. He'll even bring me the part to show where there's wear and tear so I can see it for myself. Car bills are often unpleasant because of the size (and sometimes the unexpected nature of receiving them). Jeremy and his fellow mechanics Charlie and John try to "break the news" as gently as possible. Before doing any work, they call and check in with us, to get approval. The wonderful thing is that if a job can wait, or is a low priority, Jeremy and his co-workers let us know. We are not obligated to buy any parts or do any work. I remember my brother telling me that Redline called my father (who has now started bringing his car there) to tell him, "No Mr. DeFreitas, you don't need X and Y done. Your car doesn't need it."

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Don't try to "save time" by skipping sharing the rationale or process description. Knowing how and why we do things may increase both compliance and engagement. Also, provide options as often as possible. It makes people feel like they have some control over the situation, which makes them willing to work with you.

3) Jeremy is super-patient and empathetic.

Last Tuesday, I took my car in to replace my all-season tires with winter tires. It turns out that I need new winter tires. Redline tried to call, but Tuesday was a particularly busy day and I couldn't get to my phone. My husband was reluctant to approve the purchase of four new tires without consulting with me so I picked up my car without getting anything done. Jeremy could have been irritated. ("Why didn't you answer your phone?") Jeremy could have been dismissive. ("You, who knows nothing about tires, think THAT'S expensive?") He was neither. "I understand" is what he said. "You must have been very busy." "I can store these tires for you here until you make your decision." Turns out the price was on par with the industry average for the quality of the tires they offered, and so on Thursday, I took the car back to have the work done. No eye-rolls. No "I told you so"s. Redline got the job done.

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Duh! Be just as patient and empathetic! Just like Jeremy with his automotive expertise, not everyone has my level of training (I have a BEd and MEd) but I need to meet people where they are at, and put myself in their shoes.

4) Jeremy knows how to fix cars and will be honest when he doesn't know the answer.

Jeremy knows his stuff. He can diagnose problems very well. Having said that, he's not a magician or miracle worker. In fact, there was one time in the past where we brought in the car and every time we thought it was going to be ready, it wasn't. We were told to try again the next day, and then the day after that. I'm the only driver in our family and we only have one car. This lack of wheels started to negatively impact our daily life. But here's the thing. I spoke to Redline. I said that I was frustrated about continually being told that it might be ready by the end of a day, only to discover that it wasn't. I said I was disappointed and that I'd prefer to be told that it'd be a longer period of time and then pleasantly surprised when it was ready, instead of strung along with false hopes of a ready car. They listened. They admitted that they were having a challenging time diagnosing the issue. They helped me rent a car and they deducted part of the labour costs. I had friends that said I should find a new mechanic after this incident, but I disagreed. I really admired how, when they realized that I was unhappy, they worked with me and were upfront about the difficulties.

The lesson I can learn from this as a teacher? = Demonstrate that I know about how to teach (without ever lording it over someone) and be truthful when I am struggling to find a solution or reach a particular student.It's okay to not be perfect, and admit it in a way that doesn't undermine credibility but shows vulnerability.

There's one more minor thing that makes working with Jeremy wonderful. For a brief time, I was his elementary school teacher librarian! When I first moved to my current school in 2004, he was in his last year. I tried to find a photo of Jeremy in my school scrapbooks, but he wasn't in my Grade 7 math class or any of my clubs or teams. Just take my word for it that he was a bit shorter than he is now, but just as nice!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Recognizing a great teacher even if you don't see them teach

I am very fortunate to work with some talented and dedicated teachers. Our new French teacher, Saadia Isaahac, is no exception, but she is exceptional. Saadia is hard-working, passionate about French and a skilled educator.

Saadia Isaahac, our French teacher

She and I are both specialist teachers. Her work centers more on the junior and intermediate students and this year, my time is reserved more for the early years and primary students. I don't have time to sit in on any of her lessons. How do I know how great she is?

Listen to the Students

First and foremost, I witness the impact by overhearing conversations between students or watching students and what they do. Early in the school year, I eavesdropped on some Grade 8 students. They had no clue I was listening to their conversation. I heard them complimenting Madame and commenting on how much new French they have learned in just such a short time.

In the Grade 7 class, I was seated with the classroom teacher waiting for the morning announcements to play before taking the students to the library. I saw several of the students with their French notebooks open, studying for their test and practicing their vocabulary out loud. The classroom teacher confirmed that this was a frequent behaviour and that the students studied not out of fear of failing a test, but a genuine interest in doing well in French.

All of the home room classes on the second floor of the school have big wipe off sheets affixed to the doors so that students can write class reminders, inspirational quotes, birthday wishes, or whatever messages they deem important. The Grade 6 students wrote their message in French. Originally, there was a short note at the bottom saying "Are you proud of us, Madame?" When I took the photo of the door, Mme Isaahac had written a reply. In French, she wrote "yes, I am very proud. You all are wonderful".

Listen to the Staff

We teachers can be a gossipy crew. In this case, it's not to tear anyone down but to build someone up. I have heard so many glowing reports from the junior and intermediate classroom teachers about Mme Isaahac. Without naming names, teachers have told me about her effective classroom management (a truly remarkable feat considering that Saadia teaches French à la carte, which means she is "entering another space" that she is not usually the one in control of for the majority of the day). Other teachers are impressed with the amount of work that she is able to coax out of the students. They marvel at how engaging her tasks are and how games are not time-wasters but useful ways to reinforce vocabulary, grammar, and other key concepts. The teachers are delighted to see and hear how much French the students are learning, and how happy they are to be learning from her.

It's not just the classroom teachers that are wowed by Saadia. Our Educational Assistant spend some time supporting students in the Grade 4 French class first thing in the morning. Both our past and current EA have spoken highly of Mrs. Isaahac's teaching style. They've said that they themselves are learning more French as a result of supporting students in this class, and one took back handouts and activities that Saadia developed herself for use with his own child at home!

Look at the Displays

If I didn't have a physical space to call my own, I might not be motivated to create displays. A lack of a specific French classroom does not deter Saadia. I've noticed that in every classroom that Saadia teaches in, there is a section with hand-made French posters reminding students of certain sentence constructions or common phrases.

And the hallway - oh, the hallway! In the stairwell that leads up to Saadia's little office, the student creations from Grades 6, 7 and 8 are posted. Whereas some of my displays stay up for a long period of time, Saadia replaces the artifacts with new evidence of French learning monthly. Here are some of the items up for November.

In the downstairs hallway, I've seen some equally neat pieces of work from the younger grades. I wish I had taken a photo of some of the word-art pictures that the Grade 4s completed; they created illustrations but coloured certain sections by writing the name of that colour (in that colour) over and over again in the space. It attracted a lot of attention, both from the students that made the artwork as well as the students that passed by the display on the way to their own classes.

Look at her Involvement

We just finished Parent-Teacher Interviews. My role was the translator escort, ensuring that the five translators we had working on Thursday evening made it from one interview to another in a timely manner. Where was Saadia? She had a full slate, sitting in on interviews alongside the classroom teacher. I hope Saadia does not mind me guessing that for many of these talks, the parent(s) did not request a meeting with the French teacher. However, Mrs. Isaahac took the initiative to introduce herself to families, especially those where the student is struggling with some aspect of the French program, to explain in person the class situation. Her presence indicated that this subject matters, and student efforts in French matter.

Talk to the Teacher Directly

I love chatting with Saadia. We do not have many scheduled times together - our specialist teacher PLC meetings aren't as frequent as those attended by the classroom teachers - but informally we get small opportunities to exchange a few words. When I talk to Saadia, I can tell how much she cares about the success of the students. She never brags, but it's evident how much effort she puts into her lessons. What makes this even more inspiring is that she has a nine-month old baby at home!

When I asked Mrs. Isaahac about taking her photo and writing my blog post about her, she was a little uncertain. She doesn't do the work for the attention, but for the students. However, I think it's important to a) celebrate the accomplishments of our fellow staff members and recognize when they are doing a good job, and b) to acknowledge that teaching isn't just something that happens behind closed doors. Forgive the biblical allusion, but don't hide your light under a bushel - even if you don't intend for it to happen, the light will peek out. It's not about self-promotion, but about helping others.

As I told our wonderful Grade 8 teacher, Farah Wadia, I'm so grateful that she tweets about what happens in her class because it makes me aware of what they are learning, helps me make connections for networking, and see the possibilities for what students can accomplish. I'll end with four tweets of Farah's that demonstrate the depth and breadth of the type of learning going on in her classroom.

Monday, November 12, 2018

ECOO Conference Reflections from #BIT18

On Tuesday, November 6 and Wednesday, November 7, I was fortunate enough to attend the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario's annual Bring IT Together conference in Niagara Falls. I've attended in 2016, 2014, 2013 2012, and 2011 (when it was in Markham, ON). I've noticed that this year's conference had some immediate consequences. Here's a breakdown of my learning.

Educational Computing Organization of Ontario #BIT18

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Minds on Media

Summary (taken from website): Minds On Media© (MOM) is a model of professional learning that respects the learner's 'desire to know'. Teachers come to learn and facilitators respect their choices in how they wish to do that. MOM is run in a large room with multiple stations. Participants choose which stations they would like to visit, how long to stay there and when to move on. Some participants spend the entire day at one or two stations building and creating things for their classroom. Others are like butterflies and spend short amounts of time at each station. The following stations will be at the BIT18 MOM this year. 

3 Key Points: 

1. We are all media educators.
2. Global competencies and media literacy go hand in hand.
3. Media teaching moments are everywhere; it's a matter of finding them, tying in the key concepts, and asking those good questions

So What? Now What? 

I spent my entire time at the Association for Media Literacy's booth. This was good because we had a steady stream of educators chatting with us. I was so happy to get time to speak with some colleagues (such as Danika) that I haven't seen in ages (or at least 2015). This was bad because there were so many great stations that I would have liked to visit. Doug Peterson made a special effort to introduce me to Dr. Elizabeth Pearsall from his former school board. She was also part of MoM but was equally busy. At least I eked out some time during lunch to talk with Ray Mercer, Melanie Mulcaster, and Alanna King. I also met some new contacts that I'm excited to connect with, like Mary and Melissa. The last-minute decision to bring some costume animal heads for selfies was a very good choice - it attracted people to our location and also prompted some great questions (like why do we smile for a selfie, even when we are wearing a mask that obscures our faces?)

Another important next step after Minds on Media is to continue to increase the visibility of the Association of Media Literacy. So many people told us that they had never heard of the organization before. It's the 40th anniversary of the AML, so we need to improve on spreading the word of effective media literacy awareness and instruction throughout the province. We are going to do that with a revised website, a transition plan and another new endeavor - a series of discussion salons. Stay tuned!

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Happy BIT18 and Happy Media Literacy Week!

Happy 40th Anniversary AML!

Lunch with Katina, Sarah, Alanna, Ray, Melanie and Michelle

Me, the horse and Danika

My new contact Mary, my old friend Lisa and me (with the horse)

The title image from our slide deck

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
Opening Keynote by Dave Cormier

Summary (taken from website): Dave has led change based teams in K12 and Higher Education. He is currently finishing a two year contract designing a K-12 edtech strategy in PEI. This summer Dave is transitioning to the University of Windsor Medical School. As a change leader, an educational researcher and learning community advocate he has worked with groups around the world to better use technology to serve their technology goals. Dave has published on open education, Rhizomatic Learning, MOOCs (Massive/Open Online Courses), and the impact of technology on the future of high education.

Dave’s educational journey started in 1998 teaching little children to speak English. The pivotal moment of his career happened when he was teaching at Hannam University in South Korea in 2003 surrounded by the papers of 275 writing students and wondering if he had them all. That winter he started using discussion forums to bring all of his students together in a writing community (and to digitally keep track of their work) and he hasn’t looked back. He’s since helped organize online communities of teachers, spoken at events around the world and worked to understand how internet changes what it means to know. His educational exploration partners have included faculty and researchers from well-known universities, and lone teachers in small town classrooms. Some of them are even still talking to him.

Dave’s keynotes in the last couple of years have centred around how coming to know is a messy, imprecise process at once intensely individual and necessarily embedded in a community – Rhizomatic Learning. You can follow him on twitter at

3 Key Points:

1. Edtech will not save us - the commonly quoted "fact" that we are preparing students for jobs that don't yet exist is fake; this has been said since 1957 but there is no evidence corroborating this.
2. We need to, consciously and overtly, build a prosocial web - what's missing from the Internet is "being nice". Target the 60% of the population that, with support, will do it (not the usual 20% keeners or the 20% naysayers). 
3. Embrace the use of complex (as opposed to simple or complicated) problems, which are not directly measurable, will lead to some failure, and can be confusing, uncertain and scary.

So What? Now What?

This was a thought-provoking talk, although as I re-read the notes I took during the keynote, I'm not sure exactly HOW we are supposed to build this "prosocial web". I guess that's one of those complex problems that Dave is encouraging us to use. 

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Organized Chaos: Code and Create in a Maker Library

Summary (taken from website): I would like to share why I started a maker space and what I have learned along the way. I will discuss the changing role of the school library and the exciting way the technicians can help drive them forward. The session will end with some hands on learning where participants can get an idea of what a typical maker period would look like.

So What? Now What?

Confession - I skipped this workshop but I had a really good reason. My dear friend, Lisa Noble, who was busy at BIT18 with several workshops, discussion groups, and booths, took precious time out of her schedule to sit with me and walk me through the steps of creating a fabric fidget maze / labyrinth. This was not initially part of her plan for her self-regulation station, but I brought my sewing machine all the way from Toronto to Niagara and we spent an hour together crafting and collaborating. I loved it! She was so encouraging and reminded me (when I sewed some of the pathways too narrow, preventing the bead from travelling through) that this was a prototype and not to worry about perfection the first time around. What a precious gift! My next step is very clear - I'm going to try and make some more of these safe fidget tools to give to other teachers, (which I already began on Saturday November 10 at my sewing class) and maybe I can even encourage some of my students to try and make some themselves!

Another piece of learning that happened because of this interaction was some exploring around cross-posting on different social media sites. It really reminded me of Media Literacy Key Concept #8, that each medium has a unique aesthetic form. The way I post on Twitter differs from Facebook and Instagram. As a result of this exploration, I de-linked my social media accounts from each other. I still post similar content to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (like my blog post notifications) but I realized that I craft the message differently based on the social media platform.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Copied the maze, compare measured to the original

Cut the cotton and plush squares

Lisa coaching me on leaving a space to flip it

Lisa pins the map to the fabric

Sewing the maze paths

Peeling off the paper guide

11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
The Embedded Librarian: Rocking your virtual Library Learning Commons in digital spaces

Summary (taken from website): How do we make students that we don’t see every day successful? Don't let physical geography prevent you from collaborating or supporting every student in your school! The library learning commons isn't just a change in furniture or a mindset. It's about creating a pervasive culture of learning and collaboration even in digital spaces. Embedding your librarian in eLearning and blended classrooms allows all staff to take advantage of digital tools to help students to become more: confident, metacognitive, independent and critical.

3 Key Points:

1. We need to create sustainable models for the Library Learning Commons - if I was to be hit by a truck tomorrow, could the LLC program and space continue without me?
2. Instead of a "growth mindset", consider Chris Hadfield's idea of "preparing for failure"; be aware that you, your staff, and your students will not "get it" the very first time
3. There is so much mental health in what school librarians do (for staff and students) - be the safe adult where they can ask questions about reading, texts, technology / if you can't be the "right person" for them at that time, direct them to someone who can be / offer hospitality like supplies, snacks (and consider how to replicate this digitally, like an "ask me" button in a Google classroom or offer to assess formative work and revision suggestions).

So What? Now What?

I love Alanna and the inclusion of the theme of motivation in her talk really resonated with me (and with my own research on readers choice programs and motivation). I know I can get overwhelmed with all the notifications with the Google Classrooms I can be asked to join, but maybe I need to ask to join some more. (Thankfully, Diana Hong has already included me in her class Google Classroom; my next step is to stop lurking and start assisting or offering.)

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Great quote on sanity!

Alanna in action!

Icebergs are important educational metaphors

Quoting key motivation research

1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
How to Motivate and Engage Gamers and Support Healthy Digital Gaming Habits

Summary (taken from website): We will start by unpacking the the Quantic Foundry Gamer Motivation Profile and looking at our gamer learners through the lense of their motivation in the games they love. Then we will examine some concrete examples of the game based learning activities that would appeal to gamers with different motivations.

Finally we will look at the research based Practical Advice for Gamers by author and game designer Jane McGonigal which will explain the science behind why games are good for us--why they make us happier, more creative, more resilient, and better able to lead others. We will build our understanding of why some games are better for us than others, and that there is too much of a good thing.

3 Key Points

1. Not all gamers are the same; they have different motivations. Understand students' gaming profiles and then appeal to what they like, using "challenge language". You can even use tasks in a non-gaming environment that might appeal to those gaming profiles.
2. There is no wrong way to be a gamer. Gaming has some great positive benefits (see Jane McGonigal's work) and sometimes when needs are not met in real life contexts, sometimes it can be found for people in games.
3. Balanced technology management is good; positive benefits are linked to between 7-21 hours per week of game play but over 40 hours a week of online gaming will replace the positive benefits with negative impacts (these are research based findings, not theories). Consider how, what, and where you play because this can affect the benefits/drawbacks.

So What? Now What?

This was the best session I attended at #BIT18. I had way more than 3 key points to include. I am proud? delighted? blessed? (pick an adjective) to consider Jen Apgar, the presenter, a friend of mine. She had so many wise and perceptive things to say! This talk makes me miss our time together as fellow GamingEdus (when our group was much more active). My next step from this talk has already been implemented. I went home and completed the gaming profile from the link in her presentation. Then I begged my son and daughter to complete their own. I'll share our profiles and ramifications of this on our dormant Family Gaming XP blog. I loved Jen's analogy of a Minecraft environment to building snow forts in the school playground (consider how to manage the commodities, resources and space, and don't dismiss student concerns with "it's just X"). I also loved how Jen included the neurodiverse in her talk (e.g. that cooperative game  play helps us to be cooperative in real life; neurodiverse individuals can often do this in games and just need reminders and scaffolding to help them transfer the skill in-person). I wonder if I can encourage the students in my board game club (or even in just the intermediate grades in general) to complete this profile (or even have it included on the TDSB Virtual Library website as another tool for students to use to determine their strengths and/or learning profile)?

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Title slide from Jen's talk (see URL for link)

Reframe - we like to knock down block towers we build, how differs?

2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Media Literacy: Past, Present, and Futures

Summary (taken from website): An engaging and informative panel discussion! We will examine the 40 year history of media literacy in Ontario in order to provoke thought and conversation on what the future of media literacy will look like. We will address digital literacy, Global Competencies, the role of ICT and more. Participants will leave with tools to enable them to address environments and media forms that may not yet exist, as we project into the future of media literacy!

3 Key Points:

1. Media literacy means agency through conscious, critical awareness.
2. Apply media literacy key concepts when teaching with technology creatively through production.
3. Anyone who uses a form of media in their classroom is a media literacy teacher.

So What? Now What?

Bias alert - I was part of this session. Our actual talk morphed a bit from what was initially proposed, but that was a good thing. We had a good talk with the small but interested and motivated audience members about news headlines about the Tony Clement sexting story, the viral image of the engagement with a substitute hand model, and other topics. We should have collected the names of the people in attendance. Our next step will be to contact at least one person present, Adam, to continue discussions of the future of media literacy in general and AML specifically.

Visual / Social Media Artifacts:

Michelle and Carol highlighting 1 of the 8 key concepts

Overall Commentary

I am grateful that I attended #BIT18 this year, even if it meant using up all my personal days for this school year to make it possible. Thanks Michelle Solomon for letting me bunk with you (and nice to meet you, Greg!). Thanks Tim and Max King for letting me eat dinner (Tuesday) and breakfast (Wednesday) with you and answering weird questions about sights and smells. Thanks Caroline Freibauer for the conversations squeezed in at the bar or between meals. 

Other people have already blogged about BIT18. For their insights, see