First of all I have to apologize for the tardiness of this post. I have been struggling with ideas, worthiness and time. I need a blogging buddy to keep me accountable!

I have always loved a good story, no matter the medium: told by an animated friend, played out on the big screen or found on the pages of a book. Stories felt like an escape, an adventure, a pause. So as ADE2015 (Apple Distinguished Educator Institute) kicked off a few weeks back and we were presented with the theme of STORY, I was excited for the learning ahead. The conference didn’t disappoint as we explored the elements of a good story through film, explored how story appears in our design, in the composition of our images as well as an overflowing list of inspiring stories on stage.


For me though, the real learning about STORY didn’t happen under the spotlights. It was in the one on one (or one on few moments) of conversation at the beach, during breakfast, around the table. See I have always loved telling stories. If you read this blog regularly, stories seem to be how I share my world (maybe it is my constant attempt to avoid big words). I don’t know though if I always appreciated the value that stories could bring to our learning community or worse if I was taking the time to listen closely to the stories of those around me.

There were so many stories that helped me learn and connect but I think that is what we expect from a story exchange at a conference. A give and get of ideas. The luxury of having 4-5 days together allowed me to learning a few more surprising powers of a story.

As we sat around the table in a small pizzeria after some crazy science experiment ice cream and a sweet inducing but inspiring art walk, we sat back and moaned a slight sigh of relief. The water came and the food waiting began so we started sharing our stories of adventure; stories of rediscovering family history; stories of families back home and landscapes out our window; stories of adventures we were hoping to have in the future. In that moment I realized how much of ourselves we give in stories. Stories have the power to make us human, to remind us that we are more similar than different.

I often see stories as something that is shared with us, passed down from one to another, exchanged like currency in a store but out with the guys one night I realized that co-writing our stories together forms community. The institute was full of long days packed with great learning but we needed an escape so we headed down to South Beach to observe the scene. An interesting ride in a taxi van and uber back, a late night toe dip in the ocean and some crazy loud music later we found ourselves laughing, chatting and sharing about life. Education wasn’t a banned topic at the table but it wasn’t everything. I realized how our shared story helped us form community. Our shared story brought the individual pieces together to be one. 

I had met the ladies from Brazil at breakfast in the morning. With limited language (my Portguese needs much work) we were able to exchange some information and then reconnect later in our learning communities. They had this feel good positive vibe going on that no matter the language barrier you wanted to be around them. It came time to share what we do and as C. began, despite the translator, I found myself focusing on her words. With every word I could see her passion for her kids, her passion for wanting to make a difference, her belief in change. There may have been a tear or two. Stories have the power to inspire you. Sometimes it is a call to change, sometimes a call to explore but best of all sometimes they reconnect you with the belief that this job is as powerful as we believe.

I don’t think anyone would argue the power of a great story (the film and book industry would agree I’m sure). For me I leave challenged to take the time: take the time to just sit with no agenda, no plan, just listen to the story shared. Maybe it will be a typical educational story exchange but hopefully it will be a chance to connect, to understand and to be inspired. 

What do stories mean to you?

A Little Bit of Awesome: Avoiding the Could Have-Should Have-Would Have moments

SunnySide ParkEver go for a walk and get distracted by the little bits of awesome all around you? It could just be that I am a master procrastinator but it’s amazing when you allow yourself to be distracted what will catch your eye and force you to look a little more closely. It could be the shimmer on the lake or the plover you have never spotted before, a kids’ giggle or a dog’s eagerness to explore. It’s amazing how those very small moments can reset your day.

I always go into the school year with BIG plans and then June comes. The moment of crisis hits and I start thinking of all the things I should have, could have, would have done. (I will leave the conversation of measuring success to another post). Now this year seemed to be a year full of detours, maybe even derailments at times, that when I looked back I kept fixating on the should have/could have/would have moments. Leave it to a kid to remind me there are little bits of awesome if I just looked closely (listened closely).

I was at a school I have had the pleasure of visiting often. I hadn’t been there in a few months, but standing by the elevator waiting to bring the iPads up, a class walked by eagerly saying hello. I don’t think they were a class I worked with more than a handful of times so as a student asked who I was, the girl responded she’s the app queen. I promise I do more than apps but in that moment it just made me smile.

It made me think, despite the detours and derailments there were a lot of those little bits of awesome this year.

Little Bits of Awesome this Year:IMG_0077

  • Watching a 5 year old write 18 lines of code to get Dash through the obstacle
  • Standing back and watching the murmurs of on task children problem solving in Scratch Jr.
  • Listening in to the chatter of Kindergartners around Osmo.
  • Having a colleague come back and share how they have used ____________(insert tool here) after we chatted
  • A colleague and her class that were willing to take a crazy risk with me (Thanks @BrantsLaura)
  • Looking back each week with the Storify recap and seeing the growth in conversation and individual joining the conversation
  • Having friends join in with #the100dayproject, challenging and sharing along the way
  • The eager “What is the name of that app/tool?” after we try something new with big and small learners
  • A note of thanks from a student whether an 5 or 55

Just like looking closely at the lake reset my day, I’ve realized how my Little Bit of Awesome moments can reset my perspective on the year. I still have big plans and the could have, should have, would have moments are still present but my Little Bit of Awesome moments remind me that each of those detours were worth it.

What have been your Little Bit of Awesome moments this year?

Think I’m going to create a hashtag for next year to keep better track and remind myself to reset.

Stuck on Leadership: Reminders for Myself

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in a conversation around teacher leadership. Our hope was to define and explore the many facets as we move in to a new learning opportunity on just that topic. I had left thinking I would blog that night. The conversation was so rich from servant leadership to the leader as artist then on to management versus leadership. So I was a bit perplexed when I sat down to write and nothing came. Maybe it was just too big of an idea to capture in one post.

Last night as we were chatting after hours I realized perhaps I needed to take a different approach. What if I looked to the leaders I admire and reflect on what I would hope to emulate. What were the reminders for myself I needed to have front and centre moving forward?  (This is a good time to sneak in I think we all  have the opportunity to lead and be led whether it is in your job description or not).

So here we go.

Dear self, please remember…

  • To walk the talk I have to remember that this does not necessarily mean being the expert but rather leading by example. If I want to see honesty, I have to model honesty. If I want to inspire risk taking, then I need to take risks myself. I remember watching a leader take that one step of trying something new in front of us all. It wasn’t the flashiest, newest tech, but the impact that moment of risk taking had was immense. That one simple act gave me the go ahead to take risks as well.
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN  It’s so easy to get carried away looking immediately for something smart to say or a way to help. I need to remember to truly listen, no judgement. I’m lucky to have amazing leaders/mentors that take the time to listen both in person and virtually. There is something powerful in the simple act of someone who doesn’t have to listen to you, taking the time to do so. The best listeners though are those that hear what isn’t said. They know you well enough to read what lies beneath it all. A skill I need to work on.
  • Build relationships & then push We often speak of relationships. Listening really helps here to build trust and care (and homemade shortbread cookies of course). I’m lucky to have a lot of great cheerleaders in my life but have come to realize we also need that coach that pushes us to be more, to try something new, to think of something from a new perspective. Without the relationship it seems like criticism. With a caring relationship I know it is meant to help me grow.  I may be writing this blog post because I got a gentle push last night. 
  • Self regulate like a Kindergartner. We often equate self-regulation with Kindergarten but oh how we need it as adults. I know this is where I fall short. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness, the busy work, the system and blame others for the place we are in. I have a bad habit of getting lost in the work, consumed by a project to the point that I can’t find a path out. What’s worse is I know what can balance it all out again whether playing with some Kindergartenersor catching a few minutes of fresh air. So why don’t I? I think sometimes it is ego thinking that I am needed, other times it is a fear that my passion for the project may be lessened if I take that moment of pause. Overall I am slowly starting to realize (only took 30+ years) that those moments of balance make all of it possible.

What are your reminders for yourself whether leading 8 year olds or administrators?

#makeschooldifferent: My Five (or close to it)

I’ve started this blog post a few times and I don’t know why I’m struggling. Hopefully you forgive the rambling.

I stumbled upon Scott McLeod’s post: We have to stop pretending via Greg Pearson (@vptechnodork) twitter feed. Of course I asked him what his 5 were and he blogged right away, returning the question. I’ve been stumped. Not for a lack of passion on the topic but rather because one or two keep swirling in my head. The format also feels direct. I usually mask my thoughts in cute stories. This format feels a little revealing. I could say a lot of things that everyone would nod along to but I’m not sure that’s the point of the exercise. This is a bit more challenging, hope you forgive me. Here we go:

We need to stop pretending…

1. That technology is an option. This may seem a little weird but it is an idea I’ve struggled with a lot (wrote about it here). We often say we want to use technology meaningfully, move into the deeper waters of SAMR, maximize the tool. It is about it’s purposeful use. I completely agree! At some point though we have to stop pretending it’s an optional tool, a tool that needs to be justified, measured and advocated every time it’s used. A tool that the ‘techy’ or ‘comfortable’ or ‘cool’ teachers use. When will it become our paper and pencil, textbook, camera? Computers have been in schools since I went to school. How would our conversations change if we just saw it as part of our toolbox? Do we really have an option to say no to the technology when the world has moved on?

2. That we don’t have enough access. #1 seems to lead to # 2. Another point that seems a little silly. More access is always better for planning and implementation. The more we have in the building, the more I will be able to engage my learners. I don’t disagree, but the number of devices shouldn’t be a reason to stop using the tools. We are a resourceful profession, making a few hundred dollars in school supplies last a whole year, finding five new uses for used paper (Primary teachers, you know what I’m talking about). We have access to more technology than ever before. I am sure we can apply our resourcefulness to any devices we can get our hands on. I have seen amazing lessons that have maximized 2 or 3 school devices available and/or a few BYOD tools.

3. That change waits for someone else. This is the idea that keeps gnawing away at me. Primarily because it is one I often fall victim to personally. It’s easy to point out what needs to change in a system, to find the cracks, to point out what or who is holding us back. It’s harder to acknowledge what I am choosing not to change. Am I living my beliefs or building my defense for why it isn’t possible? If I believe we need a new definition for school than I need to start with myself. This does not mean we will not be frustrated, not experience roadblocks, not feel defeated at times but it does empower us to take an active role to #makeschooldifferent

I debated adding the wonderful ideas of others posts I’ve read that I completely agree with but I feel these are the three I would like to add to the conversation. What are your thoughts? What are your top 5 to #makeschooldifferent?

#peel21st Blog Hop: A Minecraft-ish Moment

This is our third blog hop this year where educators all post to their blog the same night at the same time. The theme for this blog hop: Share a digital learning moment in mathematics or with ties to mathematics and numeracy. Please check out the links below my post to hop on over to their blogs and read their stories. We would love to hear your comments too!

It was hard to choose one moment: from creating our data stories in Haiku Deck at Mount Royal, or capturing our understanding of numbers in Shadow Puppet to creating our own surveys in Kahoot there have been so many wonderful moments this year where the #peel21st and #engagemath worlds have collided.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.35.37 PMI think the experience that stands out to me the most was a learning activity at Hilldale P.S. where we were exploring perimeter and area. I had just started playing with Minecraft the weekend before. I was doing terrible (I guess you aren’t supposed to have cows randomly end up in your house). Eventually I booted the cows out and was so proud of myself I took a picture. When the wonderful Shannon Beach, Student Work Study Teacher, and myself were first chatting about a possible rich question we had toyed with the idea of designing a swimming pool. I had had enough of winter. As we got closer to the time, we realized perhaps Minecraft was a better idea. I could use my image from the weekend as a spark and clear an area of land that they could build on. We were going to take the risk of leaving it open ended and see where the kids would take it.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.35.22 PMThe minute the kids walked in and saw Minecraft they were engaged. They didn’t need to know the question or that they would not be touching Minecraft at all. Just a powerful image and a rich question could spark their interest. As I posed the question one of my friends tapped his fingers in excitement. I was trying to explain that our designs in Doceri would have to be  a bird’s eye view and he pipes up, you mean map view. We all left with new learning that day.

We used Doceri’s grid paper to help us with our building designs. Wow did we have some interesting creations with gardens, beaches, towers and unusual shapes.

There was definitely lots of learning to take away: don’t mix perimeter and area, a return to Doceri to explain how we can capture the process of our thinking, not just the end. But as we collected their final videos to our padlet page I realized how sometimes the simplest digital tools can have the most impact in enriching our mathematical explorations.

Check out the rest of our blog hop posts below:

Innovation = Bending the RUles

I am very grateful for nephews that let me drag them around the city over March Break. This spring we returned to TIFF’s #digiplayspace (one of my favourite outings of the year) and the ROM for their futurology exhibit. There was no shortage of cool, wonderful innovations but two caught my eye.

Feltro: Felt building pieces for all ages

IMG_3700My nephews would have spent the whole day here if I let them. The creator, an OCAD grad, designed these trapezoid building pieces from felt that have magnets along the equilateral triangles within them. I know I am not doing it justice but if you check out their site it will all make sense. What happens is the pieces can then become an art piece on a magnetic wall, a bowling ball, a structure or as my nephews preferred: body armour. I loved the idea of creating a building material that kids of all ages (that means big kids like myself too) could play and create with. There were no end to the possibilities and the two facilitators where great at helping those that needed a push to start and challenging others like my nephews to think of something new. Definitely a new spin on our traditional concept of building blocks.

Pillo: Changing the rules of gaming

IMG_3753Often when I mention games to educators or parents they think isolated kids staring at screens with controllers or iPads in their hands never looking up. They ask themselves if they will ever know how to interact with others? Will they have huge thumbs?

It is one of the reasons I was so drawn to Pillo at digiplayspace. The object of the game: reach the highlighted circles by squeezing your pillow. The catch: one player controls left to right, the other up and down which meant you had to communicate and collaborate to win the game.

Both innovations left me with questions and implications for education. 

Sitting in these beds of innovation, with cool gadgets and creations everywhere, I was reflecting on why Feltro and Pillo stood out to me. I think at it’s core I could see how both innovations played with the original definition of the category. It wasn’t just tech for techs sake. It wasn’t creating another version of the same thing. They both redefined my definition and preconceived idea of what a building material or video game could be.

We hear a lot about innovation in education: the need for it, individuals who succeed at it, the lack of it at times. Sometimes I wonder if we equate innovation with breaking the rules. Feltro and Pillo reminded me that perhaps innovation is more bending the rules. We often celebrate those who stand out and break the rules because they are taking risks. Definitely not easy but probably still the easier path. Bending the rules is much harder; taking what you know are rules and transforming them into something new. It has constraints. It challenges beliefs. It requires acceptance from the community and accepting where you are at the moment.

You may say “What’s the big deal: Break the rules, bend the rules, just change.” I feel often in education we equate innovation with the newest toy, the cool tool at the time or company of choice. That gives us excuses of why we can’t innovate. I don’t have this, I need that, you don’t give me this. Bending the rules requires nothing but creativity. We don’t have to wait for permission. Just like Feltro and PIllo it can start with our current definition and evolve as we innovate. Curriculum, structures, beliefs don’t become walls, just hurdles we use in our journey.

#the100dayproject: You may think I’m crazy

So as I was browsing through my Instagram feed on Tuesday at lunch I stumbled upon @elenastreehouse instagram post about #the100dayproject. Of course I immediately went to the blog post to read more. This was exactly what I was looking for!

Now you may be saying: “Tina, why would you want to take on a 100 day project two days after completing your Masters of Education (or at least I hope I didn’t miscount my courses)?”. As much as I can’t say my meditation experience was the picture of success, I did appreciate the daily learning journey and the focus that came from committing to a task. As I mentioned in my last post, the need to be more mindful in my day to day life has been blaring at me. To me I find creating is one of those places where I can escape. You couldn’t have a better fit!

So what is the challenge?

  • In short for 100 days choose an action (art, paint, cooking, knitting) and make/create something daily.
  • Share on Instagram with #the100dayproject hashtag as well as one unique to you.

You can read more here at the Great Discontent.

Knowing that I may sway along the way I sent a quick tweet out to some friends in my PLN asking for a creating buddy. I was ecstatic to see that Natalie, Debbie and Jason were in with more perhaps jumping in. I know with a support group this is not impossible. So imagine my surprise as I left a family night presentation and found two group members had already created and posted. Now to catch up to you Debbie!

So now I sit here trying to decide between cooking, sketch noting and photography. I realized looking through my Instagram feed that I have a lot of pictures of my family, food and work. Perhaps it was time to branch out and learn those manual settings on my Canon camera.

So for my challenge, I commit to #100daystomaketzaphotographer

My rules:

  • I will use my Cannon DSLR not my iPhone
  • Every day the subject of the photo will change

So here we go jumping into the unknown, moving out of our comfort zone, honing those observational and digital skills we feel are so important in a digital age.

Will you join us?