Christmas Memories

I hope you forgive me for some reminiscing in this post. Hopefully it links back to education at some point!

Ever since I was little, December has always been my favourite month. Growing up it had this magical feeling with the first snow fall, the twinkle lights, the family gatherings. As the courses have come to an end this semester, I have been thinking of some of my favourite Christmas memories. I have the worst memory (to the point I fact checked the below with my parents) and often can only remember single snapshots. Most of those images are from December with Swiss Christmas markets or chestnuts roasting on an open fire in Rome. There are three that have taught me invaluable lessons.

St. Nicholas Day

In Germany and Switzerland St. Nick (aka Santa) doesn’t come on the 25th, he stops in on December 6th to fill your shoe with goodies. The night before you leave your boot outside (more room to fill) and excitedly check your shoe in the morning. We were living right off the Rhein river in Busingen in an apartment that was probably too small for a family of 5. I didn’t expect much. So you could imagine our surprise when we opened the door to see our boots overflowing. Someone in the building had taken it upon themselves to brighten our day just a bit, with out ever wanting recognition.That sense of magic has stayed with me all these years.

Christmas Eve in Milan

It was our first Christmas Eve in Milan as a family. My parents dropped off the little ones, packed us up in the car and then hussled down to the busy train station. With some food and wrapped presents, we spent our first Christmas Eve wishing those without a home a Merry Christmas with the little we had to give. To be honest I don’t know if the 12 year old me appreciated the depth of the experience at the time. My introvert self was just panicking that I had to talk to strangers and probably was a little worried about what others would think. Looking back I realize how much that one small experience shaped how I see the holiday season.

Last Night at the Sharing Place

I have volunteered for a few years now at a food bank up the street. It is small and cozy and the holiday season is always the best, most hectic time of year. Last night I came with some rice krispy squares and 3 food hampers that would only be a small contribution to a much bigger event. As the food hampers and well wishes were exchanged, an older lady who attends regularly stopped before for a holiday greeting exchange and after the Happy Holiday’s and Merry Christmas came by to say goodbye with her usual big smile. She hesitated this time, stopped, looked me in the eye and said Thank You and We Love You with a big hug. She said it with such warmth and sincerity it was hard not to get lost in the moment. As much as I say I get more than I give from the experience, that moment proved it. At just the right time the right words were a much greater gift than anything I may have brought.

The lessons learned are many: the wonder and magic of a surprise gift with no expectation of return, a reminder or model that it is better to give than receive, and sometimes the best gifts cost nothing at all. These memories have acted as great reminders this season to focus on what is most important and after a busy, hectic year I am reminded that we all make choices. There is never enough time, but I can choose how I use it.  Of course the teacher in me leaves hoping that my nephews, niece and the kids I care about have the pleasure of the same lessons one day. The lessons above didn’t happen in a school, classroom with books or paper, but there is nothing to say they can’t. I hope they get to experience compassion and the good in humanity.

Happy Holidays! I hope that whatever you may celebrate, it is a season of rest and joy.

Professional Learning: My Moment

I was asked to reflect in writing about a profound or transformational professional learning experience. It is hard to choose just one. I find that they come in different formats, sometimes through one on one conversations with mentors, other times through the back and forth of tweets, a great book like A New Culture of Learning or an inquiry for my Masters of Education (I fell in love with Papert this weekend). If I have to choose just one experience though it would be my Junior Specialist that focused on Instructional Intelligence.

This is a few years back now, but my board put out a call for a three part specialist program in primary or junior education that focused on Instructional Intelligence. I had already received my specialist in Computers in the Classroom (Integration of ICT today) and was looking for a new path to explore. The board kindly provided funding for the course as well so that the financial burden did not factor into my choice. It seemed like there was nothing to lose so I filled out my application and was eagerly awaiting the first day of class. There were so many valuable lessons learned through out the course, guest speakers that enhanced the experience, instructors that were supportive but I think there are a few things that made it an experience with immense impact.

Personal Inquiries:

It was the first time I actually engaging in a professional inquiry around student practice. The instructors did a great job at giving us just enough to get started but then also enough freedom to follow our own passions. As I reflect on how the inquiries evolved over the three course I can see how my understandings of instructional strategies and concepts evolved. Having a learning journey to share empowered me to find new ways to share with colleagues. More importantly it better allowed me to frame my understanding of teaching and learning.


Although everyone didn’t follow through with all three parts of the specialist, a core group did and it was amazing to be on a learning journey together for just over a year. It is very rare to be engaged in conversations about ‘good instruction’ with people you trust for that long. Time was essential to build relationships; to consolidate our ideas, to challenge and extend our understanding. Time is what I feel often holds me back today. Busy in the day to day needs it is hard to take the time to stop, connect, question, challenge.


After spending close to a year learning together the relationships that were formed continue to this day. The time to get to know each other, share our learning journeys, share our struggles helped build a trust that I have rarely experienced in another structured learning experience. I think partly it was due to the time we spent together. I think it is also due to the community that was established by the instructors. I think it also came to our willingness to be present in the moment. I count many as friends and can still count on many of the course members for advice now years later.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I think now that I look back I can see that active, constructivist approach situated in my classroom context coupled with an emerging community of practice facilitated a professional learning experience that has had a profound affect on my practice.

CTL 1608: A Final Reflection

As our time together in Constructivism and Online Design comes to a close, it is hard to capture it all in one blog post. I have to admit that there are still times where I feel like a wanna be but I believe I am leaving with a better understanding of the terminology and concepts we explored. As I look back on my take aways I feel they could be applied to both face to face and online learning experiences which is very exciting as we head in to more blended learning environments.

Here is a quick sketchnote that outlines my 10 take aways but feel free to also listen to the audio version on the bottom of the page.


For a better explanation, please CLICK HERE.

#peel21st Blog Hop: Learning in the 21st Century is…

After a successful #peel21st blog hop in September, a few of us decided to take another stab at it. We hear the term 21st Century learning often but what does it mean to each of us. Don’t forget to hop over and see the other blog posts listed at the end.

In trying to define 21st century learning, it seems so much has changed and then at times nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed: Learning is learning. Relationships are still essential.  Play and discovery still draw in the young and old. Real world experiences help learners transfer from the classroom to the big wide world.

Everything has changed: The list of digital inventions continues to grow. Information at our fingertips. Limitless ways to contribute to a global understanding.

With the passion of educators of the past and new digital tools of today, learning in the 21st century is continual, empowering and exciting. 

John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas said it much better than I can:

IMG_9230What does learning in the 21st century mean to you?

Read some of our thoughts:

CTL 1608: Lessons from Gaudi

I was never much of a Gaudi fan. Liking the clean smooth lines of century old homes, his architecture always looked a little tacky from far behind my computer screen. But as we visited his works in Barcelona, I feel in love.


In love with his environmentally friendly design whether in Park Guell’s naturally cooled market square or finding new life for broken ceramics in the Casa Batllo’s exterior.

In love with the story behind the design, the details in the facade of Sagrada Familia so all could access the story without entering and yet the simplicity of the interior to draw you up to the stars.

In love with his dedication to his vision and passion no matter how uncool, unpopular or ahead of it’s time it may have been.

7903661114_ec8f7636a3_zAs I stood in the middle of towering columns of stone it was hard not to be in awe. In awe of the intricacies of design in the seemingly simple, the vision that had to be laid out for the many to carry forward years later.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gaudi and his Sagrada Familia project as we have journeyed through the readings about constructivism, situated learning, distributed cognition and now communities of practice. When I first blogged about the Sagrada Familia a few years back for a work blog what stood out to me was the distributed nature of the construction. The shared vision that each artist carried forward almost 100 years after Gaudi’s death. The selflessness that must exist when you have a vision that you know is greater than your lifetime, the urgency that must come with wanting to pass it on. Although I didn’t know the term distributed cognition or distributed constructivism at the time, standing in the middle of Sagrada Familia reminded me of the power of a community, the fact that no single person could accomplish the masterpiece but rather it was the knowledge of the past and the community in the present.

I thought my take aways were done but there always seems to be more to learn. As I was reading the characteristics of a community this week in Barab & Duffy’s, I wondered if they could be applied to the artistic community around the project. The community definitely has a heritage spanning 100 years. They have a clear vision driving their work which is being passed down by the community. With out each of the community members the project would halt. They are interdependent on each other to complete the work being done, mentoring those that are at the peripheral’s of the project searching for more.

The question I had the day I stood between the towering columns, is the same question I have today. How can I foster or contribute to such a community of practice that stands the test of time, that reproduces and creates a web of interdependence? Can I be selfless enough to share in a collective vision, to know at one point I may have to walk away? Our tools may be different, but as we design online learning environments I think there are many lessons we can take away from Gaudi.

Gentle Daily Reminders

IMG_9735-2I realized I may have a problem when more than one individual mentioned my morning sky pictures. I can’t help myself! It seems like this fall we have had more stunning sunrises then usual. They were begging to be captured. As I paused and took a few minutes to enjoy the sight, It was interesting to notice how such a simple act can help put things in perspective. My gentle reminder of the beauty in the world.

It has been a busy fall. Busy year for that matter. Busyness seems to be the lesson I just can’t get a handle of (see past blog post). So as I stumbled upon Matt Steel’s post on The Abundance of Slowness I was a little taken back. His opening quote had me up in arms: “Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up”Have I been using up my days? At the end of a week of 5 am starts and midnight crashses I could see myself more and more in his story. I think what spoke to me the most was how the busyness took over the time for reflection, creativity and innovation. I could see myself in that moment. I keep telling myself if I finish my work I can: go for a photo walk, get lost in designing a poster, read that book but I realized I had it backwards. It is hard to give myself permission to pause, the emails can wait, the work will get done. What is even harder is to let go of the fear of judgement (probably imaginary on my part).

Just as my sunrise snapshots are a reminder of the beauty in the world, I have been reflecting on the reminders in my day to day that make me pause, reflect and recharge.

  • The connection felt with an old friend, falling back in to deep conversations
  • The simple words in a closing keynote that remind you of the gift you have as an educator
  • The amazing workings of a child’s brain when they are engaged and you take the time to listen closely
  • The back and forth conversation of a learner that thirsts for feedback

For me the work is in remembering to cherish and pause for the gentle reminders, to take the time to create, reflect and recharge and to hide the long to do list even for just an hour. I’m a work in progress but the gentle reminders help.

What are your gentle reminders? How do you stay focused?

A Tale of Two WORDs

I have been reading and chatting with colleagues a lot about vocabulary and it’s expiry dates. It has made we reflect on how powerful words can be. So here are two stories that show the two sides.

Story 1:

It was my first M.Ed. class and I was nervous as heck so tried to make myself small in a corner of the room. The discussion started and I thought ‘I can do this’ and then I heard it. An eloquently composed statement that included the typical Edujargon and educated language I knew I couldn’t keep up with. I had a B.A, B.Ed. and several AQs but at that moment I felt like the kid from Italy that was sitting in the back of my grade 12 English class trying to fake an understanding of Macbeth. It took me a class or two to let go of the eloquent language and just jump in with my ideas. I carried a small fear of criticism along but was grateful for amazing professors that encouraged the dialogue. I wish I could say that was the only time I felt inferior and confused by the words used but the moments keep popping in courses, in meetings, even in Twitter chatter. There is always a moment where I ask myself if I have been faking it all along. It is amazing the power words have.

Story 2:

Last week we were reading Mitch Resnick’s writings on Distributed Constructivism, the idea that we can use computer networks to have learners discuss, share, and construct together. Resnick points out that the constructing together truly maximizes the potential of the technology at our disposal and engages learners in new ways. Now it may not seem earth shattering with my description of it, but I felt like I just found the Holy Grail. The word sounds lofty and intimidating when you first look at it but I finally could name my inquiry. I had a label, a concept to explore further. It was hard to articulate before what I felt was missing with educational technology, this need to go further than I have gone before. Last week I really felt the ideas that have been floating in my head connect and organize under with just that one paragraph, one term. It is amazing the power words have.

As a social linguistics major, words and their journey have always fascinated me.  I understand the power words carry with them but I don’t know if I have taken the time to reflect on the power educational vocabulary can have both to draw us in as well as alienate. I am always stumbling upon posts about what words are trendy in education, words that are overused, words that are just taboo. I will admit that I am guilty of dropping the educational vocabulary often.  But maybe that isn’t a terrible thing. Maybe it comes down to how I use my words. Am I using them to draw colleagues in, to help clarify, extend understanding and connect or am I using them to prove how current I am? We often blame the word itself for it’s overuse and  misunderstandings, but perhaps it is more the tale to blame. I have to let go of whether it is in style or not and focus more on whether it is the right fit for that moment. I know I will be thinking more about the words I choose and the tales I tell this week.

What are your thoughts about words in education? Would love to hear your thoughts!