Monday, September 4, 2017

Diana's Defining Teacher Moments

Aviva Dunsiger always gets me thinking. She posted her "My Five-ish Defining Moments", her personal response to Jonathan So's original blog post, "Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments". Jonathan's definition?
"The moments that redefine your direction and make you really reflect on why you teach and how."
 This is a really hard question, because it comes to the heart of who we perceive ourselves to be as educators and what we value most in teaching and learning. I suspect that I might answer this differently at various times throughout the year or throughout my career. As I reflect on what I might pick as my defining moments, I notice they have to do with choice. Or maybe not. This is what comes to my mind at this point in time, just before I begin the 2017-2018 school year (my twenty-first in teaching as a permanent teacher).

1) Taking my Library AQ Part 1 course > defined my identity as a "teacher-librarian"

In the late 1990s, I was a newly minted Faculty of Education graduate. At first, I had no job, but I was fortunate enough to get on the supply teacher call list for the City of York. Eventually, I was accepted as a potential supply teacher for several other boards (the Metropolitan Separate School Board, East York Board of Education, and Scarborough Board of Education) but I realized that I needed to take some more courses to continue learning and increase my chances at getting a permanent position. My first three AQ courses were in Special Education, English as a Second Language, and Librarianship. My father advised me against taking the Librarianship AQ, because he said there was no future in being a school librarian. I still took the course, for two reasons: I had done some supply work covering for teacher-librarians, which I found enjoyable AND the location of the course was conveniently close to my house! Taking that AQ made me realize that I didn't have to be a classroom teacher - being a specialist teacher was a viable option and a possibly rewarding one. As this story I shared before showed, it was due to my Library AQ course that led me to my permanent position. It also introduced me to some fabulous people (like Carol Koechlin) who still influence me to this day. There is a slight negative side to this - by identifying so strongly as a TL, I may have passed over opportunities because it wasn't "who I was", but I've enjoyed my years so much in the library that I can't complain too strongly.

2) Being obnoxious at a workshop > introduced me to presenting and to Tribes

I'm not proud to admit it, but sometimes I'm a pain in the butt. I've told this story before on this blog, but for a quick summary - at a training session, I was an irritating participant, constantly questioning or complaining about the defects I felt existed in the program we were there to learn how to implement. The workshop leader recommended that I take Tribes, because it would answer some of the questions I had. Not only did it do that, but it opened me to a way of working in schools that felt safer, more enjoyable, "stickier", and productive. The definition that Tribes facilitators memorized to explain it to people who have never encountered it is: "Tribes is a process that creates a culture that maximizes learning and human development". It was the start of developing my comfort in sharing and facilitating learning for fellow educators. Now I run workshops in places all over North America, which connects me to incredible educators, which introduces me to new perspectives and great ideas. My involvement with Tribes has not been without its flaws. Because of things that have occurred during Tribes trainings, I've been stressed, lost friends / damaged friendships, and experienced my most shameful moment as a teacher, that I wish I could go back in time and fix. (I've debated about blogging about my biggest shame, but it's still difficult to discuss, even though many years have passed.)

3) Writing for Library Network Group > embedded blogging and regular reflection in my practice

My very first blog post was March 30, 2009. The portal no longer exists - I merged my old posts onto Blogger in 2010. I first wrote as a favour to the library folks in charge of that online space. Now, I can't imagine not writing every week. Aviva mentioned in her comment section to her blog post that:
The “old me,” [Aviva] likely would have commented on blogging as being about sharing ideas and writing for an audience, where the “new me,” would comment on blogging as a way to reflect.
 I never expected that anyone would read my blog, and I was often surprised when people did. The tone of my blogging posts changed, and the blog posts repurposed themselves into being for me, as a way to process my thinking, as a method of preserving moments and memories. I have serious holes in my memory - I cannot remember a lot of my childhood and teen years and I don't know why - so journaling like this is a way to preserve my thoughts and help me know myself better.

4) Taking a Comics Course as part of my Masters of Education > opening my mind to different forms of literacy

I have to tell the truth - it was my husband that suggested this point as a possibility, and my reaction was "Of course! How could I have forgotten?" The course was called "Comics and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries", run by the wonderful Gail de Vos at the University of Alberta. That course was the reason I wanted to take my M.Ed. in the first place. I learned so much and found a medium that I became passionate about. My school libraries became filled with graphic novels; I wrote graphic novel reviews; I joined clubs and participated in TCAF. I even recently ran a course on Teach Ontario all about graphic novels. I met my comics mentor at the Canadian Children's Book Centre awards gala and got a chance to tell her how pivotal she was to my development.

5) Getting lost in a pixelated hole > discovering Minecraft and Games Based Learning

Another husband-recommended moment in my educational evolution. I could have tied this with comics, as I met Liam O'Donnell at TCAF and he introduced me to Minecraft. I wrote about my beginning experiences with this game on the predecessor to (a wiki) and transferred all of my journals to another blog of mine (see for the very first time I went on Minecraft in 2011). I had toyed with the concept of Games Based Learning long before this, but it was my collaboration with Liam and Denise Colby that truly got me using it less randomly as part of my teaching repertoire. We had a TLLP that explored the benefits of using it and it also led me to present all over the place and meet some fabulous people. I've "divorced" myself from Minecraft, now that it has a new corporate overlord, (and this article on branded educators also helps to explain the purposeful disconnect) and I vowed not to present any more about Minecraft after 2016. I still use it in my teaching and learning, and I suspect that students would stage a full-scale rebellion if I chose not to run Minecraft Club. It's also taught me about giving students choice.

6) Learning to finger knit and sew > opening and expanding my school library makerspace

I got a little concerned as I wrote my list - isn't there anything more recent that has altered my teaching philosophy? Am I old and stale? Calm down, Diana - it's not that dire! (See why I'm hoping self-regulation will be my next defining moment?) I combined sewing and finger knitting because I wasn't sure which one truly re-launched my Makerspace (I got into finger knitting in a serious way in July 2016 thanks to Melanie Mulcaster, and learned how to sew in August 2016 after a conversation with Jennifer Brown). Ray Mercer's advice encouraged me to persevere with my makerspace and I'm really excited about how it's altering the library and the possibilities. In fact, all three of the workshops that I'll be presenting at the American Association of School Libraries conference in Phoenix this coming November have something to do with makerspaces! I spend way too much of my own money on supplies (and I just bought my own sewing machine, which will probably travel back and forth from school and home) but this is another area that is still expanding for me.

7) Something else - might it be self-regulation? Equity education? Something I'm not even aware of yet?

I love how Aviva ended with keeping the possibilities open. I noticed many people who did this mentioned Dr. Stuart Shanker's work on self-regulation. I hope my exploration of self-regulation and executive functioning is as positive for me as it has been for others.

Speaking of positive - I noticed that for many of the defining moments, I've added less-than-positive after-effects. I think it's because a) learning sometimes comes at a cost, b) that progress isn't always linear - otherwise the worst teacher would be a beginning teacher and the best teacher would be one that has taught the longest and we all have examples that prove otherwise, and c) sometimes I didn't realize that the action would take me where it did or change me as it had - it's complex.

I was very tempted to organize my list via people (like Salma Nakhuda, my friend who was my first official mentored relationship, and who has taught me so much) but I feared I would forget some wonderful people. I was also tempted to include my children and how their school experiences impacted the way I "do business", but it wasn't so much defining as it was reaffirming. Plus, I didn't want to look like I was copying anyone!

Sorry the list is so dense (and without images to break things up! tsk tsk!). I hope to see some other people's lists. Happy Labour Day - and happy 40th birthday to my "baby" brother!


  1. I love this list, Diana, and how you helped us see the reasons for each point right away before expanding on them. I think there's something to be said for this time spent reflecting. As another school year is about to begin, I can't think of a better time for this kind of reflection. I hope that you'll consider blogging again on this topic as the year progresses to fill us in more on #7, and if any of your other points grow and/or change. Hopefully others will also chime in with their lists.


  2. I have a mini list: it's still weird being in the place I am and having some define me as definitely a teacher, while others aren't sure about that. Participating in this on Facebook, or Twitter, or elsewhere, raises questions...and potentially eyebrows.

    1) Having an in-house kid with an LD, and realizing I likely do as well. It's interesting: I was an A/B+ kid and my kids have been in that realm as well. It took years of fighting to get one identified because "he's really doing okay" (not my words). My own potential LD--even more difficult as women profile vastly different than boys/men do. This has been an educational eye-opener for me: that a wider range of folks can have challenges, including educators themselves, and that strategies and a keen ability to listen to both words and reactions to stressors are key.

    2) STEM writing: it made me finally feel like a "real" teacher, and gave me a chance to delve into multiple grade levels and subjects of curriculum simultaneously. It was uphill. Challenging. The curriculum didn't always bend the way I needed it to to fit what I was trying to do, so I had your rethink. Plus, being writing for a company delivering programming to schools vs my own work for my own classroom, it had to be original and something teachers might not do themselves. Receiving positive feedback was validation (yes, even the group of teachers who thought my hard work was basically Pinterest and photographed it "for later" in front of my colleagues).

    3) the "trying the get hired": I missed the teaching job boat. I had Miss S and the boat sailed while I was in the midst of that. Prior to that, and since, I volunteered hundreds of hours and thought that it could work as the means to grab courses didn't exist. I've now rethought that: volunteering is beneficial but one has to know they're receiving recognition for teaching vs straight-up volunteering. From that volunteering I did learn that I enjoy older grades than I thought I was willing to push into and would go that route. This has been the difficult piece because I get to witness plenty of 'interesting' teacher practices, and I know I could offer a lot to a regular classroom. I wish the system would shift a little, but it won't so the change in perspective has to be my own. Meantime, I am still working on the "am I really a teacher?" piece--which is likely a work on listening to my inner sense rather than perceived feedback from others (see LD reference above).

    4) working Family Math Nights--I was asked to write these up, and I did with the incorporation of Lego, and they sold like hot cakes. Fabulous! They were all booked on an evening I had family obligations for, but then we had a couple of instances where I was needed so I rearranged things and thanked my husband later. This was life changing. Seeing teachers, superintendents, model school leaders, and most importantly parents and kids, enjoying what came out of my head onto paper was a literal rush. The highlight was getting to incorporate my equity training, working with families with a range of first languages that I lacked, seeing them build with Lego together, and leave with a new, learned piece.

    That's the short-list. I've enjoyed reading your list as well!

    1. Angela, this is a pretty powerful list - many of them (like Aviva's examples) are quite recent too, yes? If you get a chance, post your company's URL or contact information - so many schools are "getting into" STEM and could use help (don't consider it self-marketing, but outreach!). When else would it be possible to have serious, thought-out discussions like this on influences without things like blogging technology? Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the topic.

  3. Mine's coming! Really!
    I am so happy that you included the downside. I think we need to acknowledge that powerful moments aren't always positive. They can be painful and embarrassing to look back on, but they move us forward, and hopefully in a good direction.
    I, too, like the Open-ended what's next.

    1. I'm looking forward to reading yours, Lisa. It's odd that so many of my examples HAVE a downside - I'm glad that it's not abnormal or unusual. Growing pains! Now to turn to Alanna's request for some reflection via FlipGrid!