That Gut Feeling – More than Numbers

This blog post has been swirling for a while (see a pattern) but I kept second guessing it. Did I have the right to write it? Was it really that meaningful? Maybe this post is more a reminder for me than a learning piece for anyone else.

Have you ever had one of those weird feelings in your gut? That feeling that something doesn’t sit right, something is off, but you can’t tell why. I remember feeling that way whenever chatting about Social Risk Index data and I was baffled.

Then one day it hit me.

My final year of high school I remember going to an OSAP meeting in the library. I can still picture standing across from the OSAP officer and a guy I had a crush on (a small miracle considering I forget what I have for breakfast). We had been back from Italy for a year and I was still adjusting to the changes of high school in a small town. At the time I believed OSAP was the only way I was going to university (Looking back now, I’m sure my grandparents would have helped). My worry wart tendencies started to make me panic so I just went up to the OSAP officer, told her how much my parents made and asked if I would have any problems getting assistance. She chuckled and dismissed any concerns I had. I think that was the first time I truly realized how little my parents made.

For most of my childhood I would have been reflected in the social risk index. 

  • Speaking a different language at home
  • Moving every few years
  • Didn’t own our home
  • Mom dropped out of high school to raise us (Went back to university later in life. Way to go mom!)
  • At times my parents were on student visas not officially employed, at others making a limited income

img_1220See all those stats are true but they don’t tell you my story. I have had the luxury of often blending in which helped as well as the fact that going overseas makes it sound exotic today. It really was an amazing childhood looking back. As I was watching a 60 minutes clip with Bruno Mars shared today, I loved how he mentioned it was the best of times. As kids we often don’t notice any of the above.  Michelle Obama had a similar note in her commencement speech at CCNY, reminding us that our struggles are really advantages in the long run. Looking at just the checklist misses the lessons I learned, the adventures had, the strengths that I developed.

Then I got that terrible gut feeling again.

How often had I let a set of data, labels or checkboxes lead my conversation about learners (big or small)? Was I letting the numbers become an excuse or see them as opportunities for growth and learning? How often had I stopped to connect to the learner’s individual story?

What did I learn? Data is important. It helps us see trends, needs, a bigger picture. But data should never come before the wonderful being behind it. Humanity first, numbers second. Another reminder to #listenclosely.


Just Right – A Reminder


We know the story of Goldilocks. This little blonde girl somehow is wandering without any adult supervision.  Her exhaustion gives her permission to break in to a house, leading her to find the ‘JUST RIGHT’ things she was craving. Crazy when you think about it but I love Anthony Browne‘s backstory if you have never read it.

There is some thing familiar to Goldilock’s JUST RIGHT moments that makes us keep coming back. To be honest I don’t really remember the story as a kid, but I know I’ve used it or heard it dozens of times as an adult. As Goldilock’s Principles, Strategies and Rules popped up in a quick image search, the idea seems to fit many worlds and situations. Maybe it is because the concept seems universal. Who isn’t in search for that JUST RIGHT pair of jeans, work out, car, home, book? Last week I was reminded that there are  JUST RIGHT edtech moments too.

It was a Thursday Lunch and Learn and I was nervous. There was a tool I had been introduced to a year before but never found the right setting or group. It was an audio feedback tool that allowed you to annotate artifacts with personalized written, audio feedback or lesson links. I was a little apprehensive to share it.I must have re-read the email request a dozen times. It wasn’t an idea I had tried, tested and perfected but I couldn’t think of a better option for what they were searching for. The day came and as we chatted, the questions started flowing. We started exploring the different uses. We signed in as student’s would to see their experience. It was so awesome to see it was possibly a JUST RIGHT fit for some of the tasks they had ahead.

Friday I was sitting with a few colleagues that work in a very unique situation. I had grand plans of what we would work on for the afternoon. The go to standards; the newest and brightest tools. We started chatting and sharing about our learning communities. As I listened I realized there was one particular need that kept coming up and the  JUST RIGHT tool to address it may not be what I had planned, but rather a simple, free app. We tried it out and I could see the excitement growing. I love those moments when educators see the possibilities, the potential the tool has to enhance the learning experience. It was a very different tool from Thursday’s Lunch and Learn but none the less it was JUST RIGHT.


In Edtech we sometimes have a tendency to create really long lists of possible options or champion the newest and greatest. I know I’m to blame as much as the next person. I love to find new tools and think of the possibilities. Sometimes we feel we need to use a tool because others are championing it. It’s been tweeted by our role model or a district leader so it must be the right fit. Sometimes we feel we need to show we are innovative by using the newest, flashiest tool and other times we keep reusing our GO TO tool because it just works.

Last week’s experiences reminded me that maybe innovation in education is less about the flash of an app or the release date of a tool, and more about finding that JUST RIGHT tool that will enhance the learning experience.

How would learning change, how would our discussions change if we focused on the JUST RIGHT tool, at the JUST RIGHT time, for the JUST RIGHT learner?

Grateful for the reminder that maybe more than anything my role is to slow down, listen and find the JUST RIGHT tool for the learning & learner.


I shared a little about how #1smalltweak came about at in an earlier post but it’s hard to believe it’s here. From those steps a few months ago in the corner of a conference hall, we now are ready to share on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Super excited to work with a great group of #ADE on a new project #1smalltweak Stay tuned for more!

A photo posted by Tina Zita (@misszita) on

As we chatted we realized many of us had supported individuals that felt overwhelmed with the choices that come from digital technologies. So many options and often it felt so far removed from their everyday practice. Together we wondered how we could help educators’ get started on that change journey. If it’s all about moving from our point A to our point B, how could we help educators try something new. We didn’t want it to be something extra, but easily integrated into their practice. Just a small tweak. And that one small tweak could lead to another small tweak and so the journey  would being. We wanted to help educators see how they could use those quick tools/strategies and apply them across the curriculum.

So here is the plan: Each month there will be a new theme that builds on a typical classroom activity. Every Friday we will share a resource to start the conversation. The weeks are outlined below.

  • Week 1: A Recipe Card-A one page image that will help you get started with the strategy in your classroom right away. No detailed steps to follow, just a prompt for you and your learners to dive in.
  • Week 2: Ideas for the Classroom – After learning the strategy we wanted to make sure it could be used again and again (if the kids enjoy it of course) across the curriculum so we will share just a few of the ways we have done so in the classroom.
  • Week 3: Resource Round Up Many of the strategies and tools we are sharing are not new so we want to help connect folks to some of the great resources already out there.
  • Week 4: Share What you Have Created! Part of being a community of learners is sharing that learning. We want to celebrate how you have used the strategy in your own practice.

It is such a pleasure to learn and create alongside a fantastic group of educators: Ann, Cindy, Matt, Mike, Stuart, Tami. I hope you join us on this wild ride as we see where it may lead. Connect with us each Friday on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts and see the learning that follows!


Not All Who Wander Are Lost – A Lesson in Leadership Paths

IMG_3197.jpgIt was a hot Sunday afternoon when I arrived in Lucca. The first day of the solo leg of my summer adventure and I was nervous. With all my travels, this was the first time I was all alone with no agenda. With no set plan and hours to spare, I set out map in hand. Like many medieval Italian towns (built on Ancient Roman towns), Lucca was full of narrow winding streets. Streets cars could barely pass (they actually only let you drive in the city if you are a local). It wasn’t long before I got lost. Now to be fair I can get lost going home so this wasn’t necessarily something new. What was new was there was no rush, no deadlines, no meetings. There was nothing to hold me back (or become my excuse). I had the freedom to enjoy the journey. I wandered in to old churches, up crooked towers and down bicycle laden laneways. To others it may not have been the best use of time. It may not have seemed logical to go in circles or miss a few landmarks here and there. When in doubt I could go to the standard path: a walkway above the city walls that circled the city, or back to the anfiteatro in the core but for a moment it was ok to be wandering .

Not all who wander are lost. Tolkien

Sitting on a plane heading back to Toronto, I kept thinking of Lucca, those narrow pathways and the wandering in my own personal leadership journey. It’s hard to give yourself that permission to wander, the permission to not take the standard path set out. Education seems to have a pretty clear pathway for leadership: step 1 leads to step 2 leads to step 3, the quicker the better. Like the city walls, they become a constant reminder of a common path I haven’t chosen to take yet. Sometimes wandering feels uncomfortable. At times I feel completely confident navigating tiny laneways. At other moments panic sets in that I’m lost with no way out. Lucca reminded me that the classrooms I get to visit, the conversations I get to be a part of, the questions I get to ask, the risks I get to take are like the gems I got to experience while wandering Lucca. There is freedom in letting yourself wander. I can see the common path and take it when I’m ready but for now I want to remember that just because I’m wandering, I’m not lost. I may be exactly where I need to be.

Were there moments in your leadership journey where you felt you were wandering? Is there a harm in getting lost? Love to hear your thoughts.


Storytime Part 2

It’s been almost a month since we were all sitting in rows in the grand hall of a Berlin hotel anxiously awaiting the start of the institute. 400 or so Apple Distinguished Educators that made the treck from various corners of our world to learn together.

I’ve been thinking about the takeaway for my time together with such amazing educators and every time I’m led back to the idea of STORY. It was my takeaway last year as well (Storytime Part 1: read more here), the power that comes from listening and appreciating the stories of others or co-creating a story as a community.

The week was definitely chockfull of stories. Some of the most memorable came bright and early during the fast paced morning spotlights. House lights down and 3 minutes on the clock. Each story brought with it inspiration, from educators that took the risk and innovated their practice whether it was connecting on social media or having learners design their learning space, to stories of empowerment and student voice. I had to hold back the tears more than once seeing/ listening to the story of learners that found confidence and a voice through the tools and the support of caring educators.

Every lesson I shared about stories last year stood true: the humanity, the inspiration, the power to build community. This time I picked up a few more.

We often look for story in the words written on a page or spoken on a screen but there is a story being told all around us. As we had the opportunity to explore Berlin one day, I realized how much PLACE tells it’s own story. Definitely there is no greater city than Berlin to illustrate that each road, each monument, each dimple in a wall carried with it a story. It made me wonder if I was taking the time to listen closely, to observe and appreciate the story that was all around. Funny how you have to travel thousand of miles sometimes to be reminded of simple truths.

Sharing stories can spark new adventures. Our work group was massive at the institute. Many amazing folks with great ideas of how they had used STEAM with K-5 learners and how we could support fellow educators. I’m going to blame my inattention on the fact that I just finished an AQ course or my introvert-ish tendencies but Seth Godin said the good stuff happens at the edges, right? Well either way, as we sat on the steps Stuart shared his story of success with animation. It got me sharing my story with animation and math this year. We roped Matt and Mike in suddenly there was this spark with our small group that grew to even more by the end of the week. We could see the common thread between our stories of success as well as our stories of need. What we needed to share was #1smalltweak. (Stay tuned for more!)

We all tell our stories differently. I have been working on #the100dayproject and it came to an end right in the middle of the institute, actually the same day we heard from the team at EyeEm. I was excited to listen to a fellow photographer. As I sat and listened to her process I did have a moment of panic. Listening to her process it varied so greatly from mine. It took a few seconds to realize that was ok. We each have a different process, desires, drives for our storytelling and that is ok. It was a reminder to be open to different paths. To approach each story with open ears (eyes) understanding our different rhythms.

It’s amazing the power stories can have to connect, inspire, empower us. As varied as the storytellers or the formats, each story reminds us how much we have in common.  


Yellow Light: Getting Ready to Speed Up or Slow Down


This year has been a bit of a whirlwind. I can’t believe I haven’t posted since June! I’ve had a few ideas swirling as I traveled across Europe, kicking the time off with a group of dedicated educators at the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Berlin. Here goes nothing!


There were many great sights while travelling across Europe the last 3 weeks but there was one simple difference that caught my attention. It’s funny how the little things get you. It happened first in Berlin then later again in Split. We were waiting, sitting at a red light when the yellow light lit up as well. Our driver inched up, anxiously waiting for the green light to flash, preparing himself so he could zoom off.

It seemed like a silly difference to notice but it made me think about what we do in education. Do we often treat innovations in education like our Canadian stoplights: full speed ahead till the cautions start popping up and then we slam on the breaks? Is there value in the pause and preparation that comes with the yellow warning light along with the red? Seeing the red and yellow light together reminded me that in education we really never just stop (or at least we shouldn’t). There is always a yellow light reminding us to get ready before we go full steam ahead.

Maybe more than anything it was a reminder to me that a yellow light can remind us both to slow down and to speed up.

Love to hear your thoughts!

The Sweet Spot of Learning

Coming in to #the100dayproject, I knew I would be learning. It is one of the reasons I enjoyed the project so much last year and jumped at the chance again. It’s funny how it still catches you off guard. Maybe it is because as educators we are focusing on the learning of others but it is beautiful to be in that moment, the sweet spot of learning, and reflect on how you can help others experience it.

I needed a push, something different and a friend on Instagram suggested I focus my next theme of 10 on minimalism. I have to admit that I went in with a very lose definition of what I actually committed to. I’ve seen it happen in education once or twice before: hear a word, hope we understand what it means and muddle through. After posting the first picture I asked for some feedback and realized I was off track. So I started googling to better define what minimalistic photos had in common (negative space), along the way finding some Minimalism Instagram Greats to follow and be inspired by. As the week went on I could notice myself adjusting photos and looking for the negative space. It was that sweet spot of learning where inspiration, challenge, feedback all hit at the same time.

Then came this latest theme. I had promised myself I would do at least one theme of portraits before the end of the project, originally that was going to be the focus of the whole project. Maybe I got just a little too confident. I love taking pictures of family and friends but I find it stressful to invade their space. How do you walk up to a stranger and ask them to take a photo? Even with friends, how do you boss them around if you can’t guarantee a good photo? Folks were lovely and accommodating but my fears really took over.

As we were reading research reports for a work project last week, a comment stood out to me in Apple’s Classrooms of Tomorrow about gamers. They were speaking of the feedback loop of gamer, how it forces a pause before readjusting their practice.

 Failure simply provides her a quick break before she gets back into the game. 

I realized maybe I had leapt too far outside my comfort zone that I was letting the challenge overwhelm me. It is the only time this project I was 3 days behind at one point. So this was my pause, what was I going to shift to be more successful?

So as I finish up this set of 10 and move in to my next, I don’t want to lessen the challenge but eliminate the excuses. So perhaps it will be 10 self portraits (creatively using the term here). Giving me the chance to play while also lessening a few of my fears that were holding me back.

Funny how a hobby project can surface bigger lessons on the sweet spot of learning, a place with just enough challenge, inspiration and community.

I am still learning.