Glitter Pens & Pencils

Photo Credit: Ariel Grimm Flickr

Photo Credit: Ariel Grimm

When I was a grade one teacher and Early Literacy Coach I used to always bring in Glitter Gel pens. It seems silly but the concept of a shiny new tool to write with seemed to just be that spark to entice my learners to write. Eventually over time the glitter pen lost it’s shine and it just became another tool along with the not so shiny pencils and pens.

I wonder if we have gotten past the ‘shiny new glitter pen’ stage with technology. It’s exciting to see what is possible and how people all over the world are using technology to help kids learn. But I struggle with the fact that often I still have to sell it, prove why we should use this new technology.

Another story:

My grandmother has worked for Bosch for 30 years now in inventory. When they first moved over to a digital system ten or so years ago she refused to use it; she would retire before she would ever use a computer. This technology could never be better than her system. Why did she need it? It is funny to look back now as she sends emails and types away at 70. From being so resistant to a new tool, it now was just a part of her daily work. Like the shiny new glitter pens they have assimilated and become just a part of her environment.

That would be my hope for technology in the classroom. No more debates on if, when, how but rather just a tool in our environment that we intuitively pick up or put down based on the learning task. Maybe we are already there and I have missed it. Maybe we will never get there with the constant change of technology. And like my glitter pens the initial spark of something new is often beneficial to engage students in a deeper learning journey.

My worry: If we never move out of the ‘glitter pen stage’, our conversations won’t move past the digital in a digital learning experience. Just like my glitter pens in class they will continue to be seen as OPTIONAL.

I continue to think of Jesse Brown’s words from a few years back.

Am I off base? Where do you think we are at technology integration? Are we at the shiny glitter pen stage or just another tool stage?

The Goals of Education: Enaging the Whole Self


I have been trying and trying to share this blog post since we first discussed the goals of education In our first class for the Contemplative Practitioner in January. When the ideals of holistic education and timeless learning were shared I couldn’t agree more. I love the concept of a Thinking Heart: a blend of wisdom and compassion. As I looked a little closer in my daily travels to schools I could see the awe & wonder as well as joy & happiness. But I was left with many questions:

  • If I was to share these goals with others, what would I say?
  • How does it align with the curriculum demands many mention?
  • If I truly believed these goals what did I need to change in my practice?

Last night as I watched a colleague share her story along with her students, I think I got a glimpse of these exact goals in action. Airin, who teaches in a very diverse learning community in the downtown core, shared her learning journey with practitioner research and a special year long course she teaches. It is a sociology/philosophy course that also parallels a university sociology course the students participate in with a university professor that comes in (she explains it so much better-I’m not doing it justice). Instead of starting with the traditional backwards design and set plans, she follows what arises from the learners. Last night they shared the results of their exploration of identity. Their various representations from a sketch of an identity iceberg (what you see about me is just a tip of a much greater identity), to a student’s special stew recipe for himself (including a pinch of naughty) and dopamine molecules composed of the various elements that caused that reaction in a student took your breath away and more than once made me just slightly emotional. It was the epitome of differentiation but more than that you could see the pride students had in sharing their work, the depth of thought as they explained their choices like nesting layers of identity. Many mentioned the struggles they had to go through to answer the question posed, the discomfort with something so open ended, the need to pause and inquire into who they really are as individuals.

What brought me back to the goals of education was one passing statement. After sharing her long difficult journey from the Philippines to Canada, one student pointed out that identity and education are often two extremes that never interact in education and in this assignment she was able to go past just the academic. Her whole self was engaged.

Still addressing all the necessary curriculum expectations, I saw in Airin’s story a glimpse of what I would hope for: Learners whose whole self was engaged. You could see the sense of wonder, awe, joy and sense of purpose fall into place along with the skills being developed.

I know their stories yesterday have made me pause and reflect on how I am engaging the whole learner even with adults. I think I will start with listening more closely.

What do you feel are the goals of education? How are you engaging ALL of your learners?

Love to hear your thoughts!

Growth Mindset, Meditation and the Voices Inside my Head

As I sat in the first class of my final MEd course I felt a little out of place. The topic was completely outside my comfort zone: The Contemplative Practitioner and I hadn’t taken an in class course for several sessions now. As I saw a few familiar faces in the room, I was put at ease. We started through the syllabus with the goals and flow.

Then came the assignments. 

First on the list: meditate on a daily basis for 6 weeks. The panic set in immediately. I’m the person sitting at the back of the room annoyingly shaking the whole bench, the person pacing while waiting in line, the one who wakes up in the middle of the night with a to do list. How was I going to pause the thoughts in my head to meditate?

Then I remembered I’m an educator and I adamantly believe in a growth mindset (I should have known better right there). This would just be an opportunity to put my beliefs to the test and practice what I preach. I couldn’t meditate yet, but I was going to.

A few weeks later we tried the 8 different forms of meditation in class. Panic washed over me again and it was hard to catch my breath. How was I going to survive this? I found an app that would walk me through, a cheat sheet of sorts to help me get settled into the practice. I would start with 5 minutes a day hoping that I could eventually make it to 20 or 30 minutes. 6 weeks later, I never made it past 10 minutes. At times the scene must have been straight from a cartoon: flailing about, talking to myself. Despite the frustrations through out the experience I leave with several take aways: understanding the need to be more mindful and present, not let the voices inside my head take over and never throw the word YET around again.

For access to my complete journal, CLICK HERE.

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Professional Learning: A Road Trip Adventure

IMG_3115.PNG-1A few summers ago I had the brilliant idea of taking my nephews on a road trip to Newfoundland. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t so brilliant to take two kids who had never left the province or stayed in a hotel on a 14 day road trip but I promise we ended up having a good time. Thank goodness for my mother’s willingness to tag along. I started planning right away; looking for different stops, activities, landmarks to visit on and off the beaten track. Despite all my planning I found some of our most memorable moments were not planned: spending an hour sorting through fossil imprinted rocks, having a moose cross our path at dusk, having paper airplanes be destroyed by the strong coastal winds, standing in the reeds behind my great grandmother’s cottage.

I wonder if professional learning isn’t a little like our crazy east coast road trip. Could what makes a good road trip make a good professional learning journey?

  • A good road trip is filled with a variety of memorable moments. When I think of our east coast road trip I think what made it great was the variety of activities from the planned, the quasi-planned and the completely spontaneous. In the same way our professional learning journeys require a variety of moments from the inspirational keynotes, to the practical after school workshops, the ongoing inquiries with our colleagues or a critical friend that we trust asking the hard questions, along with the tweets and Instagram posts. The depth of our professional learning journey lies in the variety of experiences.
  • It’s not about the destination but the journey. A road trip like ours had many amazing moments, but it was great because those moments happened in between sing alongs in the car and crazy I spy games. I think earlier on in my career I equated professional learning with the moments that were offered to me instead of understanding that professional learning is what comes from my reflection and application of those moments along the way.
  • No two road trips are the same. Someone else could have followed the same path that we took, stopped at the same stops and yet have had a completely different trip. In the same way our professional learning journeys are personal. We bring our past experiences, our passions, our learning moments along the way.

What do you think? Is professional learning a moment or a journey? Is there one form that is better than others or is it in the variety that we truly grow?

Love to hear your thoughts!

10 Good Things

I was challenged by my pal @jrichea to share my ten good things from the past year two weeks ago now and am finally sitting down to reflect. My memory plays tricks on me some times so I’ve decided to use some photographs as triggers.


To read the complete list, click here to access the STELLER story.

The Year Behind – The Year Ahead


2014 had some pretty amazing bookends. It started off on the cobblestone streets of Rome at midnight with my little brother and ended (almost) on the beaches of the North Cape of PEI exploring my parents new home province. Seems pretty spectacular looking back now. There were great moments of learning, a new appreciation for Papert and A LOT of change.

Despite all the good this year has felt a little off. I could never put my finger on it. On paper I am doing exactly the same things I’ve done before. I’ve always been a dreamer. It has never gotten in the way YET. Slowly but surely as the year progressed the busy seemed to take over. I was forgetting more, sleeping less. And with a record number of missed emails and double bookings in the fall for me, the guilt creeped in. I got bogged down in the changes. A new year seemed like the perfect time for me to learn that lesson about balance I have avoided for my first 35 years.

As I was reading Seth Godin’s new book What To Do When It’s Your Turn (many lessons learned from the book, more to come) a page stuck out to me: Setting the mood when you’re not in the mood .

Here’s the real question: if all it takes to turn a lousy day into a great one is a little dinner party and a phone call, why would you ever choose to have a lousy day? Even better, why would you let someone else have a lousy one?

The people who need you need you to fix their mood, even when you don’t feel like it. And we need you to learn to fix your own mood so you can be the one who fixes the rest of us. The mood fixer is a precious resource, and you can learn how to be that resource.

Do what you should do. Your mood will follow.  

Quite the challenge after a year of feeling off. Did I get lost in a lousy mood forgetting that I had the choice to change it for myself and others?

My 2015 Bucket List (1)So while standing at the oceans edge after a weekend of reflecting, observing, listening, capturing I realized perhaps more than resolutions for this year I needed a bucket list. Small items I know would reset my mood when the off feeling crept back in. None are unrealistic (like giving up coca cola), expensive (gym membership) or big time commitments (turning off my phone each day). Small moments of creating and connecting I know will recharge and inspire me.

My 2015 Bucket List (1)

So I’m printing off my bucketlist for my fridge as a daily reminder to create, connect and try something new. Here’s to hoping I needed a second list this year!

How do you reset your mood? Do you agree with Seth Godin’s quote? Have a bucket list for this year? Love to hear your thoughts!

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.