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These are the big 3 that are somehow branding

entire school boards, but the education

software sector is a 10+ billion dollar industry

beyond even them.  Happy to make money

from education, not so happy to pay taxes

to provide that education in the first place.

I attended a panel discussion yesterday a #BIT17 between educators and education IT support that jumped up and down on a number of hot button issues.  One thing that's always struck me about attending a conference like ECOO is the point of view of the support people in education; they don't seem to get the support piece.  Our function is to educate.  Not provide PD for teachers, or build an IT network.  Those things are there only to support the main function of what we do: educate children.

In the course of this discussion it was suggested by curriculum support people and board IT professionals that teachers should be spending an inordinate amount of their time closely reviewing the legal documentation around software applications and vetting software.  I thought we had people for that.  Having a teacher do that is akin to pulling all your commandos off the front line in a war and having them do paperwork.

Once I got past everyone who doesn't work in a classroom earnestly telling me I should be doing their job for them (odd that teachers never suggest that of other education employees), we continued to pursue the topic of heightened responsibility - the term that was used to shut down my suggestion of using your online PD community to source new technology ideas for your classroom.  From my point of view, if a number of educators I know personally suggest trying a new app or other piece of educational technology, that's a fantastic resource.  I was told by a panel member that this stifles innovation.  I always thought it was a source of innovation.  Perhaps this was a misunderstanding in terminology.  I used the term crowdsource to describe my process of vetting a new piece of software.  To the CIO and curriculum experts on the panel this meant trusting strangers on the internet.  That isn't my experience with online learning communities at all, it's anything but dealing with unsubstantiated strangers.  Maybe that's how they tentatively work online though.  Let's call that one lost in translation.

Michelle Solomon from the Association of Media Literacy was on the panel and created an awkward moment when she suggested that using even board/ministry sanctioned software like (a private, for profit company that uses student data to make its money) was morally ambivalent.  The CIOs and curriculum experts were quickly able to compartmentalize that truth and function again within their fiction, but it knocked the floor out of what we were talking about for me.

When describing themselves and their school boards, the IT people in the room said, "we're a Google board" and "we're a Microsoft board" as a means of stating their, what, affiliation?  Their purpose?  You're public school boards here to promote and deliver public education; what you aren't is an affiliate of a multi-national media company that undermines democracy and avoids paying taxes.

The 'stop loading malware onto our networks/teachers should be happy with less choice and spend more time pouring over software legalize' angle was designed to create a locked down, heavy drag system where innovation and moving with trends in data management would be years behind what everyone else is doing.  I have to wonder just how bad the teachers-installing-malware issue is, because I haven't heard anything about it.  This invented and absurdly low threshold for software access (watch out, everything might be infected!) then had the blanket of heightened responsibility thrown over it all.  Of course, you know what the answer to all these technically incompetent teachers installing malware is?  Get a corporate system!  Become a Gooplesoft board!

Except, of course, those earnest, well meaning multi-nationals, from their totalitarian labour to expert accountants, aren't in it for education, they're in it for money.  You want to talk about malware?  It's all malware!  Google promises not to advertise to your students while they are in Google Apps for Education, but they can't stop mining data on what students do in GAFE because Google is a data mining advertising company, it's how they make their money.  They always serve themselves first.

I left this talk with my head spinning.  I feel like we were talking in circles about a fiction that doesn't exist.  We could have a self-built, non-corporate technology foundation for Ontario Education, but it would be hard work and would require technical talent to achieve.  Why do that when we can give in to the hype and Vegas-like allure of the educational technology juggernaut?  Pick your poison, but if you're going to use educational technology none of it is blameless, it's all built on shifting grounds undermined by hidden revenue streams.


At one point it was suggested that we need to build media literacy in order to battle this situation.  It needs to start with the educators and technologists working in the industry.  If we're too busy drinking the koolaid to recognize just how twisted this all is, then there is little hope of graduating students who anything more than consumers.


Originally published as ECOO 2017: building your Edtech house on shifting ground on Dusty World, Nov, 2017

The other day I asked my senior class how millennials listen to music when they get their first car.  They seemed confused by the question.  I've noticed that young people don't like to manage files any more (many grade 9s don't know how to find files on a desktop), and since music turned into file management around the turn of the millennium, it's all about file management these days, isn't it?  It turns out it isn't.


When I started driving near the end of the 80s the couple of cassettes in my pocket turned into a briefcase of tapes.  That briefcase contained whole albums by artists, both what they released and B side stuff.  When you went to a concert you'd hear the released stuff, but you'd also hear the unreleased songs, and the majority of people in the audience were very familiar with it; they were fans of the artist who had spent a lot of time in a long form medium (the album).


That process continued into the 90s as my tape collection evolved into compact disks.  The smaller form factor resulted in flip books of disks.  The plastic box with the album art on it got left behind, but I was still listening to whole albums and collecting the works of specific artists in a detailed, long form, album based manner.  I was introduced to mixed tapes in the mid-90s by my hot, new girlfriend, so the idea of designing your own playlists have been around for a long time, but albums were the main point.  We spent a lot of time curating our collections.  You'd discover new artists in friends' collections, you'd hear unreleased music while in their car.  At a concert you knew the words to every song, even the unreleased stuff.  What happens at concerts nowadays?  They play their released songs only and then do popular covers so everyone can sing along?


I went digital early.  From Napster to modern mp3 distribution, I kept cultivating a locally based, artist focused collection of music, but that isn't the way that the industry has gone.  Nor is it the way that teens today relate to music.  The gigs of music I've curated aren't the future, it's me using modern tools to imitate my past relationship with less fluid, physical mediums, but is that a bad thing?  I'd argue that my relationship with an artist's music was deeper and more intimate because of the limitations of our mediums.  When you have the collected works of Dire Straits (six original albums plus four live ones) on hand, you are diving deep into what they did.  Surely deeper familiarity breeds a more loyal fan.


Kids are still into music, but the digitization of the medium has resulted in a much more fluid relationship with it.  I frequently watch students randomize YouTube videos as background music and then click through a song in the first ten seconds if it isn't grabbing them.  Their's is a high input low attention threshold relationship with the artist.  You can hardly blame modern artists for producing shallow, catching songs - the cloud based medium that has descended upon us pre-selects that kind of music for success in a fluid, digital landscape.


Laying on a bunk at air cadet camp in Trenton on a hot, un-air conditioned summer night in 1985 and getting lost inBrothers in Arms on a walkman isn't something millennials consider doing with music, is it?   We started doing the skip a song thing on CDs in the 1990s, but it was such a pain on tape that you'd just listen to the song.  In doing so you sometimes came around to liking something that didn't grab your attention in the first ten seconds.  At the very least you're experiencing an artist's thoughts and music in a more detailed fashion.


When I asked my students what they do when they get a car for the first time they were confused.  Spotify was the answer (it turns out Spotify is the millennial answer to any music related question).  I get it if you're swimming in wifi at home or at school all the time.  Sure, it's bandwidth and data ain't free, but it is if you're a kid in 2017 for the most part.  But what do you do when you're going for a ride in your first car and have no locally curated music to take with you?  I figured they'd all have MP3s on their phones, but they don't.  Spotify premium was the answer.  That's ten bucks a month to listen to whatever you want, and you can evidently save it locally if you're on the road, but do they?  If you've never had to manage a local music collection before I suspect it wouldn't even occur to you to do it this late in the game, it'd feel too much like work.


So the young driver's solution to the problem of never having cultivated a personal collection of music is to pay for a monthly cloud based service and then now begin cultivating a local music collection?  You could just hope your phone is willing and able to bring down all that data in a continuous way, but that's an expensive prospect in Canada.  With some of the highest mobility costs in the world and lots of long car trips in store, Canada isn't a comfortable place to be cloud dependant for your tunes.  If you end up not being able to pay the ten bucks a month for the pro version of Spotify, you lose all your local music.  Just when you thought the digital native's relationship with their tunes couldn't get any more ephemeral, it gets more so.  When you live in the cloud you don't really own your data, do you?


Another problem with cloud-based digital music natives is the interactivity.  When you're used to constantly inputting changes to infinite cloud based music it's second nature to go looking for whatever strikes your fancy, or skip through the play list looking for whatever drifted into your mind as a must-listen-to song in the moment.  How long are your eyes off the road while you're doing that?  If that's your relationship with music then you've trained yourself over many years to surf through your fluid, digital music with frequent inputs.


I wonder how this is reflected in statistics...

  • MADD stats on young drivers.
  • Young Driver stats on distracted driving
  • Transport Canada on distracted driving: "the highest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes was in the under-20 age group (16%) followed by those aged 20 to 29 (13%)"
  • NHTSA on distracted driving
  • It's a world wide issue, here is Australia


The texting culture is generally blamed for the problem of distracted driving, but I suspect this learned, constant input approach to music has a part to play in it as well, especially with younger drivers.


The long and the short of all this is that the music culture of young people is completely foreign to anyone over thirty.  For people who got into music before it got very cloudy in the twenty-teens, curating your own local music means you can jump into a car or go on a trip and never once wonder about access; you own your music.  Because of that effort you've probably also got a closer relationship with the artists you call your own.  For the cloud dependent millennial that move to vehicular mobility produces a number of expensive problems.  Of course, since you never really got into any one musician when you were younger because listening to more than one third of a song is boring, maybe you don't care.


Originally post on Dusty World, October, 2017.

The idea of computer technical proficiency has come up many times over the years on Dusty World.  Whether you want to call it digital literacy, digital fluency,  or twenty-first Century skills, there is obviously a problem with the computer user skills we're graduating people with.  This isn't a new thing, I've been benefiting from this lack of fluency in the general public for decades.

After dropping out of high school in the late '80s I started apprenticing as a millwright.  At our warehouse the new building control systems were becoming computerized and all of the very skilled welders and mechanics in our department were leery of them, so guess who got to take that on?  The new guy who had been working with computers since he was ten.

A summer job I got while going to university in the early 1990s involved converting an engineering shop over to computerized ordering (they'd hand written all parts orders and completed shipments prior to that, ironically while producing telephony computer electronics).  I got Lotus1-2-3 (which I'd never used before) working with the formatting so we could print out orders using our existing forms.  This took a bit of trial and error, but I wouldn't have described it as particularly difficult, it just took a willingness to make effective use of digital technology in problem solving.

After graduating from uni I continually found myself moved into technology implementation simply because of this fluency I seemed to have that many people didn't.  This eventually led to me getting IT qualifications as a technician.  It even followed me into teacher's college where I found myself teaching other students software, and my technical fluency has been a mainstay of my teaching career.

This week I came across a recent study that sheds light on all of this anecdotal experience.  The Distribution of Computer User Skills research across wealthy OECD countries point to some rather astonishing facts:

"Overall, people with strong technology skills make up a 5–8% sliver of their country’s population, and this is true across all wealthy OECD countries.  What’s important to remember is that 95% of the general population in North America cannot make effective use of computers in resolving even simple problems or overcoming unexpected outcomes."

Computer use isn't just poor, it's astonishingly bad.  Over a third of Canadians aged 16-65 can't do anything other than simple, rote, habitual work in a digital environment.  If asked to do tasks that I would consider straightforward and that require no particular digital expertise, they are unable.  Keep in mind, this is only looking at the skills of work-aged people.  It's not even considering seniors who generally have much weaker computer skills - so the actual computer skill level in the whole population is even lower than this implies.

You're probably doubting your ability to be considered an advanced user in this study, but you shouldn't.  None of these tests involved programming or having to do anything engineering wise with a computer, it's all user focused work using simple software.  To be considered a strong (level 3) computer user you had to be able to "schedule a meeting room in a scheduling application, using information contained in several email messages."  If you've ever had a group of people email and work out a date for a meeting and then you've put that meeting in Google Calendar, you're considered a high end user.  If you're reading this online blog on TeachOntario you're probably considered a proficient, level 3, high-skills user.

The article that started this leads on to another on the digital divide, but rather than hang it all on economic factors it also considers psychological and skills based limitations.  A few years ago I attempted to provide local households that said they couldn't afford one with a computer.  It was a complete failure - like giving books to illiterate people then wondering why they weren't illiterate any more; there is a lot more to the digital divide than economic barriers, though they no doubt play a part in it.  The fast evolving nature of technology means relatively recent computers are available often for free to people who otherwise can't afford them, but the problem isn't just access to technology, it's the inability of our education system to build sufficient digital fluency in our population to make use of them.  There is no point in handing out technology to people who can't make use of it.

With all of this in mind, who are we aiming at when we introduce digital technology into the classroom?  What are we doing when we pitch elearning at a general public who have this distressingly low level of digital fluency?  The vast majority of our students (fictitious digital native prejudices aside) are functionally illiterate when using digital technologies in even simple, user focused ways.  We seem to think we are graduating students who are able to make effective use of computers - except we aren't.  Many educators dwell in that level 0 to 1 poor user category themselves.


I've been advocating for it for over five years - nothing changes.

If our digital fluency were seen in terms of literacy, we're handing out the complete works of Shakespeare to illiterates and then wondering why it isn't working and why it's being vandalized.  At some point we'll stop dumping the latest multi-national prompted tech fad (ipads, chromebooks, whatever) into classrooms and start teaching a K to 12 digital skills continuum so people can actually make use of the technology we provide.

Last week one of my essential students intentionally punched and broke a Chromebook in my classroom.  This made me quite angry because I saw a useful and expensive digital tool being broken.  After reading this report I can't help but wonder if he was just breaking a thing that he can't do anything useful with that frustrates him.


“Educational technology has failed to move the needle on either cost effectiveness or student success in the past ten years…”  - Brandon Busteed, Gallup Education (they were talking about this in Phoenix in 2014)


OECD (2016), Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, France.


Originally published on Dusty World, December, 2017.


Exploring Math and Mindsets

Posted by sandlau May 12, 2017


Our TLLP  journey begins. Excited to see where math mindsets takes us... and how we will unleash our own math POTENTIAL and that of our students. Or where ever the journey leads...


At the end of #TLLP2017 training, I am thankful to have had time to sit as a team reflect and set goals. Grateful for the strengths of our team members, Jenn and her say like it is, no nonsense , get it done attitude, and Tracy's quiet go and think about it, come back with my thinking pages dedication.  And me, Laurel, the try anything, anytime,  I'm in!, have you heard about,  I have a book for that, and here are 7 more ideas related or maybe not, am I overwhelming you, Ok let's back up!!


You can find our journey here #SVETLLP and us @sandersonlaure1 @MrsClementJKSK @TracyMcNallySVE


Building Futures at OISE

Posted by noproblem Apr 12, 2017

Thanks to an invitation from leah.kearney I had the privilege of participating in the OISE Building Futures event on Monday, April 10th. I joined kwalton and her colleague, Yong Lee, from the Upper Grand District School board as experienced educators doing our best to offer perspective and perhaps answer some questions for this year's concurrent teacher education program graduates.



Image result for OISE building futures



Led by stefaniemuhling, our conversations were informal and, where ever possible, driven by authentic questions and wonderings from the teacher candidates. As part of my participation I did my best to explain TeachOntario and demonstrate how the platform could be used as not only an excellent place to find ministry resources and planning tools but also a place to foster collaboration beyond the school level with like-minded educators around the province. The teacher candidates seemed excited to learn about the TeachOntario community and hopefully they'll all be joining us soon.


Through my discussions I learned that the next generation of educators in Ontario have the passion and enthusiasm they will need to be successful. They seem to understand that the most important characteristic of a great teacher is a never-ending desire to keep learning; these candidates are comfortable with the vision of teacher as lifelong learner which needs to be embraced by educators today perhaps more than ever.


The teacher candidates that I had the pleasure of speaking with also seemed to have the necessary perseverance to be successful in education. Through sharing their stories and practicum experiences, the candidates made it clear to me that they had already dealt with some of the realities that education has to offer. No placement is perfect just as we all know that every role in education has its own unique set of challenges. Despite being surprised by some of the difficulties they faced, those who shared some of their challenges were also undeterred by these experiences - if anything, they seemed to be further motivated by the obstacles they faced which is a mindset that will serve them well in the near future as they start their careers.






I was honoured to share my personal experiences with a genuinely interested audience who will hopefully benefit from their discussions with me. I've had a small peek into the future and I look forward to the contributions that these graduates will make to our profession.

The 10 day challenges in both PQP Part I and Part II certainly allowed me to think and
reflect upon the use of technology in my classroom today, and how it can be
used effectively as a future administrator. Twitter was one platform that I was
using beforehand, however through the course work and 10 day challenges, I
realize its value in creating and maintaining PLNs and creating a collaborative
learning environment. Digital literacy was also a major theme throughout the 10
day challenge and how we can develop this skill in our schools. Through some of
the challenges a began to recognize the importance of creating a learning space
where students can become more digitally literate. Skills like
the ability to read and

interpret media during media literacy lessons or the ability to reproduce data and images
through digital manipulation through stop motion animation projects, the more
opportunity we give our students to develop these skills, the better they will
be prepared for the future. Creating collaborative learning spaces with teacher
colleagues and administrators through twitter, google docs, and blogs will help
to consistently move staff forward in the ever-changing digital world. As a
lead learner, it is important that we meet teachers and other staff where they
are, and then help to move them forward. The use of technology can often be
overwhelming and frustrating for some, so it is crucial that we support these
individuals every step of the way. When we do this we are not only helping them
become more digitally literate, but we are building positive and professional
relationships that will no doubt pay dividends in future learning and


Critical Digital Literacy

Posted by krystenc Feb 16, 2017

I'm doing an inquiry project for my Critical Digital Literacy Class and I would like any educators or future educators input. My question is: How can critical digital literacy learning activities be effectively integrated into the Health and Physical Education curriculum at the Intermediate/Senior level? Thanks in advance!

Originally posted here: A Chance to Celebrate & Share:#TLLP2016 – Educators Tell Us

Through the 2015 – 2016 school year I had the pleasure of leading a Teacher Learning and Leadership project at Holy Cross in Malton, Ontario, the school I called home for 10 years. The project is explained in the video loop here: TLLP explained and the work that we shared has been made accessible on TeachOntario and on twitter as well.

On November 24th and 25th my colleague Joe Florio and I traveled to the Hilton Meadowvale to participate in the TLLP Sharing the Learning Summit. The summit featured 100 projects proudly displayed and explained by over 200 educators from all over Ontario.


Joe and I taking our mandatory selfie (double selife?) just after setting up


With most of the participants coming in from out of town, the summit easily carried a culture of celebration and discussion; teachers almost always appreciate the chance to share the work they’re so passionate about with like-minded colleagues. As things started to come together at our display I realized that taking the time to stop, reflect and share my learning was EXACTLY what I needed before I stepped beyond this great experience and onto new challenges.


Summit participants were treated to inspiring talks from previous notable TLLP participants including keynote speaker, Michelle Cordy. We also had the privilege of hearing about how the TLLP is sparking other similar programs internationally and setting the tone for positive change within the profession through shared leadership and genuine teacher-led professional development. Ann Lieberman, Carol Campbell and Anna Yashkina shared the significant research and collaboration that they’re all a part of in this important initiative.


The DPCDSB secondary (led by Linda Primier) and elementary panel TLLP teams


Joanne Myers from the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario inspired us sharing her stories of success and learning throughout a career where she “woke up every morning to go to work as if she’d won the lottery”. Her passion reached everyone in the room.

We were even treated to visits from Minister of Education Mitzie Hunter and Ontario Teacher’s Federation President, Mike Foulds who both gave talks that made us all feel appreciated, important and certainly validated in our efforts for the students of Ontario.

Despite the clear value provided by the summit’s guest speakers, the most meaningful discussions and connections happened during the market place sessions where TLLP leaders had the chance to share our projects with each other. The opportunity to strengthen and expand our professional/personal learning networks will lead to continued learning and exposure to different perspectives. Many of the educators we connect with at the summit will serve as sounding boards for our future ideas, co-planners for lessons or an inspirational spark through some work, idea or reflection they’ve shared, typically through social media. Despite the fact that many of us will only have the chance to see one another perhaps once or twice a year, these connections with like-minded professionals, facilitated through digital mediums, can keep us energized and creative at times where our motivation might be at risk of fading.


In front of my display with Rolland Chidiac who has led two TLLP projects so far and is a part of my PLN via twitter


After two days of reflecting and sharing with colleagues I’m recharged and ready to continue doing what I love and supporting the efforts of the many teachers and students I’m so fortunate to work with each day. Beyond that I have new ideas for ways that I can have a positive impact on the teaching profession and, perhaps most importantly, an ever-expanding PLN to learn with and from.


Starting a New Role

Posted by noproblem Sep 27, 2016

Starting a New Role

This content originally posted here: Starting a New Role – Educators Tell Us

Change isn’t easy. In fact, it’s plain old difficult. This year, after 7 years in special education and 11 years at the school where I started my teaching career, I begin a two-year contract as a Special Assignment teacher in the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board. I obviously wanted to leave the school where I was working – I had to apply to be hired for a new role – but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t love what I was doing and working with the colleagues that have become my friends over the past decade or so. Why did I leave? Was it for a better commute? No, in fact my new role has me driving a lot more. Was it for a raise? Actually, no, my salary is exactly where it would be if I stayed in my previous role. I applied for and accepted a different role within the DPCDSB because it was time for new challenges, new learning and, hopefully, the opportunity to have a larger, positive impact on my profession.

My wife gave birth to our first son on August 13th, 2016. Now there’s a big, beautiful, mind-blowing life change to accompany the change in my career; it’s been an adjustment on all fronts. Going to work in the morning is bitter-sweet because it’s tough to leave my 5-week-old son, even though I’m eager to do an excellent job in my new position. How do I plan on meeting the elevated expectations that these changes in my life and career present? How does any educator handle a simultaneous change in life and career responsibilities?

I’ve learned that you need support from the people you care about most. If my wife and family didn’t support my decision to make a change in my career, I simply couldn’t do it. It’s an obvious piece of the puzzle, but it’s essential. It’s important to remember that people close to you will be affected when you make decisions that impact the amount of time you spend on your work. I’m doing my best to balance my new family commitments with my desire to excel in my new role. Sometimes I feel like I am burning the candle at both ends AND here and there I’m also holding the candle over a burning match; the matches are temporary, but they take their toll. Some of us need to be reminded that it’s okay to do nothing once in a while and our family and friends are great candidates for the job.

When you’re starting a new role it’s also vital that you find ways to de-stress. It may feel normal to narrow your focus down to only work as you try to wrap your head around your new responsibilities, but ignoring the need to do the things that bring you balance is a mistake. For me that means continuing to be an athlete and showing up for my hockey games, even when I feel like skipping one. De-stressing is different for everyone but whether it’s yoga, long walks, cooking, reading, writing, singing or dancing, doing what makes you who you are is never a bad idea. It’s also probably a good idea to have more than one “go to” when it comes to de-stressing. I think I’m lucky to have reading, music, writing and spending time with my family to go along with my hockey.

Professionally it’s a given that you will need to learn, learn, and learn some more when you start a new role (that’s why you need support and a chance to de-stress!). I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great team to work with and a coordinator who has facilitated mentorships and connections throughout the team. The situation will be different for each educator depending on the new role they’re moving into and the amount of support they are receiving from administrators, coordinators, etc. Regardless, it definitely helps to connect with other educators who are in your role. This might mean networking with educators outside of your school or even outside of your board, but it will be worth the effort.

It’s almost certain that the first year in a new role will be filled with challenges. No matter how much support we have, how much learning we do and how often we find ways to de-stress, we’re bound to struggle at times. My plan for the tough times is to be patient enough to give myself the time necessary to grow into the role and confident enough to believe that I will, eventually, be great at it. I’d suggest that anyone starting a new role should do the same.

What’s your experience with starting a new role? Do you have any advice to give?

This content originally posted here: Educators Tell Us – Meaningful professional development designed to match educator interests and needs.




As many educators across North America get ready to start another school year, it’s a great time to think about ways to improve our teaching practice and things that we can ALL do to better serve our students and the school communities we support. When we’re able to improve as educators, we add value to the contributions we make to our classrooms and our school communities. Here are five ways to grow this school year:

Find a Mentor

Perhaps some of us think that finding a mentor means we need to find a guru who can teach us their wise ways. But, while we can all learn a lot from our more experienced colleagues, we don’t necessarily NEED to find someone with more experience than we have when we’re looking for mentorship. This year, find someone who has a skill set or knowledge base that you think will be helpful to your practice and allow yourself to learn from them. Even more importantly, find a mentor who can help you with methods and approaches that will best serve your learners. Your learning should find its way into your teaching and when that happens your students will ultimately learn more.

Be a Mentor

This one flows pretty easily from the previous idea; of course if we’re all looking for mentors, some of us need to also BE mentors. Similarly, you don’t have to be the Yoda of education to mentor a colleague. If you have strong tech skills, maybe you can support a colleague who isn’t as well-versed as you are. If you have a real handle on inquiry or project based learning, maybe you can work with a colleague looking to get his or her feet wet with the approach. When we are thinking about being a mentor or finding a mentor we simply have to make sure that learning and growth can take place. That’s the beauty of these kinds of arrangements; we often find that the relationship becomes reciprocal almost accidentally. In this way finding a mentor sometimes also equals being a mentor; we all have something to offer each other and that’s really what collaborative relationships are all about.

Reinvent the wheel for some of your lessons

This one is especially important for those of us who are in the same placement for the third, fourth, fifth or fifteenth year. Maybe you feel that you have amazing units that cover the content of your grade level curriculum very well. Maybe you have received compliments on how wonderful your lessons and units have been. If that’s the case, well done! Now, do something new. Even if your lessons seem to have been amazing, let’s remember that every year you are teaching a new group of learners and, almost as importantly, the ways in which you can reach your learners are changing almost daily. Take the brilliant ideas, content and approaches that made your previous units amazing and use them in new and exciting ways that fit the needs of this years’ learners. Technology may play a big role in your innovation, but it doesn’t have to. Again, don’t think of it as scraping lessons that are “still good”, think of it as improving your already-good material to match the needs of your learners.

Connect with educators outside of your workplace

Mentorship requires that in-person touch, so when we talk about finding and being a mentor, we’re thinking about colleagues that you have consistent access to. We all can and should, however, connect with educators who don’t teach at the same location we do. Educators at other schools within your board can be quite helpful but to really get a wider perspective and “learn something new” we might want to consider expanding our professional learning network (PLN) well beyond our board, district and maybe even country. When we open ourselves up to a wide range of experiences, opinions and practices, we gain a greater sense of perspective and can’t help but learn something worth learning. Several communities already exist and we’d like @educatorstellus to be one of the communities you consider being a part of! But, to be fair, you can easily find a number of learning communities on twitter and other social media that will help you begin your perspective-widening journey.

Read books that AREN’T about education

So, this one definitely sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes a lot of sense. A lot of books have been written about ‘good teaching’ and related topics. Some are great, some not so much. Regardless, many of us fall into a bit of a trap when it comes to our reading. Professional reading is a must for all of us who wish to improve, but we simply have to read books that nourish the OTHER parts of our identities. When we forget to feed our own interest and curiosity we run the risk of narrowing our creative vision. Ironically, reading about education too much can make us less effective as educators (at least in my opinion). Every novel we read, every biography, every collection of short stories or science-theory text has the potential to impact us as individuals and as educators. When we live our lives as actual ‘life long learners’ we’re a lot more likely to instill this kind of attitude in our students. When we read texts out of sheer interest we expand our knowledge base and build our perspective-taking and critical thinking abilities. When we “do it right” our personal reading can improve us as educators.

When we grow as educators we stand a greater chance of reaching our students and helping them to grow as well.

What are your plans for professional and personal growth this year?

Check out my personal teaching blog:


Teacher Resource Blog - FSL, HPE, EdTech, Digital Citizenship & more!
Follow me on Social Media: @MrsGeekChic

Collaboration, Camaraderie and Tech Integration Too! (TLLP Wrap Up)

Posted by Emile Ferlisi in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP on Jun 1, 2016 8:51:58 PM



In a previous blog post, I talked about how I serendipitously found that the real value in our TLLP project was in the human connections made between colleagues:.Special Education Resource Blogger . Our team members learned from each other and collaborated in ways that they didn't expect to at the project's onset. When I drafted the project proposal, the goal was to develop team members' capacity for effectively integrating technology AND to give them the opportunity to grow as leaders within our school (and perhaps beyond).Included in the original proposal was the fact that our students would benefit greatly from our improved capacity as educators and we'd hoped that other students throughout our board and province would benefit from our decision to share our learning with our school, board and provincial peers through TeachOntario and twitter.


As part of my final follow up I sent out a  self-evaluation survey for team members and for staff who allowed us to mentor them. I was flattered and humbled by some of the feedback I received. I know that I have been lucky to work with an amazing team and, apparently, they feel that their involvement in the project was meaningful too; I can't imagine a better result:


Great feedback TLLP.png

TLLP feedback.png



Staff who allowed team members to mentor them also seemed to have enjoyed the experience. These teachers mentioned that their mentors made them feel comfortable enough to be open to learning and that this learning helped them to be brave enough to take risks in their classrooms. Even more importantly, teachers who had been mentored mentioned that they had overcome obstacles in their implementation of technology thanks to their mentors. Overall comfort with technology implementation increased for the group and, just like the TLLP team members, these staff mentioned that their connection with another person was significant and made the learning more meaningful.


I've been inspired by what I've learned; so much so that I will be leading a 'Summer Institute' for the DPCDSB titled "School Improvement Through Mentorship". Though technology will have its place in my session, the focus will be on improving school cultures and nurturing teacher leadership; my idea is that the framework we've used for Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP can be applied to any content area since I've now come to embrace that the culture of learning was the key. I hope to help other educators replicate this kind of culture within their school improvement teams.


My next step for this project will be to discuss the continuation of a 'learners to leaders' model for Holy Cross next school year and to apply for Provincial Knowledge Exchange funding this fall. My hope would be to share the culture of collaboration we have built over the past 10 months with a much larger board and provincial level audience with the hope of making a positive contribution to school cultures, professional development and teacher leadership in Ontario.


I'll have to finish by saying, once again, that I have been truly fortunate and blessed to work with this amazing team. I'll be looking for support if my PKE plans come to fruition and I think I'll know who to ask!


The Math Guy

Posted by mikejacobs May 27, 2016

The Math Guy  is a blog written by Mike Jacobs, a K to 12 Math Consultant with the Durham CDSB.

In it he shares ideas about how we best learn Math from activities that have been tried in various Ontario classrooms.On Camel's Hump summit July 28 2011.JPEG

Providing our Learners With Tools to Tell Their Stories

Posted by Emile Ferlisi in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age - @HCTLLP on May 15, 2016 10:21:40 PM



Today I'm trying something that I think is fun and unique, the only problem is for several very intelligent and very creative people this isn't really unique, it’s just necessary.  What I'm doing right now is dictating this blog to my laptop and a Google Document is being typed with my voice. I'm not touching my keyboard  at all except to make sure I take care of the spacing and make the odd edit here and there.


As a special education teacher I see students who have incredible narratives to tell but simply can’t use a paper pencil method to get their stories out. Most often the solution to this kind of problem will be to try to teach a student how to type. Typing is an excellent option and for a lot of students it really really works, the only problem is that for a lot of students it simply doesn't. Students who have learning disabilities that affect their written expression can sometimes overcome that learning disability through typing  and I would always encourage teachers to help their students learn how to be proficient with a keyboard. However, there are some really excellent advantages to also having our students work with effective speech-to-text technology. I'm thinking about students who are still developing their typing skills or who are rather young and haven't had an opportunity to become proficiently coordinated with their typing and quite frankly there are always going to be students for whom typing does not make a difference in improving written expression. There will also be students for whom oral expression will always be the best indicator of  understanding on any given topic.


Right now I've just switched to using my smartphone and this is one of the most incredible features of this kind of technology. In some ways the Google Document is more accurately recording my voice through my smartphone and that's pretty awesome. So we really have to think about the applications of a technology like this. For me this is a little bit awkward and I'm probably not generating my best writing, however, I think we've all found students who were really strong orally and we still haven't had excellent speech-to-text technology to really get an accurate idea of what the students are capable of and really get the narratives that these students have to offer and the understandings that these students have inside of their heads documented.


I don't want to make this sound like some kind of plug for Google products because I’m really  not endorsing any technology over another. Right now I'm speaking out loud without making any special effort to articulate and this Google Document is picking up almost everything word for word. When I've used Dragon Naturally Speaking in the past students have sometimes become frustrated in the training process and ironically students need to read passages in order to train Dragon to understand them. Now, here's the thing, when we're working with students who have language-based learning disabilities we're quite often dealing with students who have difficulty decoding and of course I don't need to explain how trying to read passages out loud would be a less than ideal way for these students to train a speech-to-text software.  My colleague Joe Florio (joeflo) can certainly attest to the frustrations that his SERC students have sometimes experienced trying to train on Dragon. On the other hand,  I do think that Dragon Naturally Speaking is a great product and I am in no way critiquing it beyond simply stating the genuine experiences that I have had and that I have seen as an educator.





So what's the point of this? did I just feel like dictating into a speech-to-text software? Maybe a little bit! But really this is a lot more than just some kind of blogging stunt. You see,  one of the most important things that we can provide for our students is the opportunity to genuinely express themselves. In many ways our stories are the most important things we have. When we can provide our students with user-friendly digital tools that help to bridge the gaps between "traditional learners' (if there is such a thing) and learners with differing abilities (really this is all of us, isn't it?), we basically have an obligation to do so. In a day and age when we are so focused on student voice and student well-being while simultaneously trying to be precise and meticulous in the data that we collect from our students, we simply have to provide tools like this for students who need it. I think it's also very important to remember that a technology like this is going to be useful for a lot of our students but absolutely necessary for others. There is a large number of students whose capacity to express themselves, tell their stories and show their teachers what they know might hinge on technologies like this.


Knowing our Learners through assessment is  is an important part of effectively teaching them. When we can find easier ways to incorporate tools that allow our learners  to express themselves we will be able to gather more meaningful assessments from all of our students  not just those who may actually require some of these accommodations.


A  final thought that I think is worth mentioning is the question of whether or not tools such as text to speech software are doing more than just replacing paper pencil tasks. When we think about the SAMR model we usually consider replacing paper pencil tasks with digital tasks as simple substitution or augmentation at best but for the student who nearly can't express himself or herself through writing with a pencil perhaps providing text to speech is almost redefining the task because quite frankly when we’re able to bridge the gap for these students we are allowing them to express themselves and create in ways that aren't possible without the digital tool that they are using.


I've just taken a moment to look back and read through my entire blog. I noticed that I probably express myself better when typing then I do through dictation but since you're reading this you know that I still decided to post this. Here's the thing: I would have no problem writing this blog with a pen, with a pencil, typing it on my laptop, or dictating it into a speech-to-text device. However, with tools like the one I'm using right now this blog could still be written and I could still tell my story, even if something kept me from being able to effectively “write it down”.


Here's the link to my original Google document: Providing Our Learners With Tools To Tell Their Stories - Google Docs