10 years later – Takeaways from Learning in Online Spaces

Doubt always creeps in, doesn’t it? I wasn’t sure I should share. Yes I have 10+ years of experience teaching educators in online spaces both in formal, informal settings. I’ve also had the awesome opportunity to explore blended spaces with K-12 over that time. But these are unprecedented times bringing a unique learning experience with a unique relationship with the online space we haven’t seen before.

So, even if it’s just a small nugget, here are my big takeaways from the last ten years that may be helpful now. I go into more detail below if you want more!

The Learner is still the centre

You know when you have one of those realizations, one of those moments when the ideas click. We were at a session and it hit me: “The curriculum is in service to the child, not the other way around.” Simple words but it helps me reframe my planning when I get off track. All we do comes back to the child and the advantage in our current situation is YOU KNOW YOUR LEARNERS REALLY WELL! You know their interests, passions, curiosities. Build on that!

It may seem this is more a thing for the little learners but I think it’s essential when working with learners of all ages. Listen & respond in your own way. I remember in one junior AQ I was facilitating, a colleague who was exploring an inquiry in light and sound. She found this amazing festival where they used lights in their puppet parade through town. I had just seen Moment Factories creations and that was the spark into a discussion we both learned from. It’s an experience I’ll never forget for both of us.

The Environment is still the 3rd Teacher

I know it feels weird not to have your learners in front of you. In August/September we spend so much time creating an inviting environment to welcome our learners, its hard to imagine learning in this unknown space.

To say I’ve figured this one out would be a lie but I have learned a few things.

  1. To feel like a community, they need to know you are real, that you are on the other side of their screen. Teaching online certainly has made me more comfortable with recording myself but it isn’t the only way to bring my presence to the space. I would create little weekly clips for my AQ courses (you can check a collection out on Flipgrid here) so I could ground the learning of the week and they knew I was listening. I know we will probably come up with so many great solutions to foster community as we are apart.
  2. Choose your space wisely. You know your learners and your learning goals. Choose the best fit for you! Sometimes your choices are limited (sometimes even prescribed 😂) but you often still have the option to control the tools and simplify the experience.
  3. Full disclosure, I was one of those teachers with way too many things on the wall and piles on my desk. We often talk about the impact of clutter in a physical classroom. I’d argue that digital clutter is a thing too. Purposeful design helps communicate a message that we may not be able to capture with words.

Start Slow – Less is More

I know it sounds cliche, everyone is saying it, but I do think this was a big takeaway for me. All those strategies we would use in September – getting to know our space, our learners, establishing routines, will be needed again in this blended transitional space. It’s hard when you have the friend that finished everything you posted the first day and another friend you haven’t been able to connect with yet. But slowing down, starting small lets, everyone find their rhythm in this space.

There are many great digital tools out there. I love them all. Over time I realized not everyone shared my love for all things tech. I learned that as much as I could use different tools to share my notes, learning, ideas I couldn’t demand that of others. We had 2 or 3 go to tools we focused on as a community. Started with our home environment and then slowly added others like the Google Suite [docs, slides, forms], Mentimeter and Padlet (I’d do Jamboard now). I also shared items as unlisted links so they didn’t have to log in. Those that were ready, would play with the additional tools I was sharing. Those that weren’t still felt they could be active participants. Some groups were ready for more but it was more the exception than the norm.

As we explore what distance learning looks like for ALL our learners, starting small and simple will be key.


There are so so so many amazing resources out there. You want to grab them all and share them. I know when I enter a digital space and see 50 possible links for a task, I’m overwhelmed. If I’m being completely honest, I tune out around link 10.

Over time in the AQ courses I realized the importance of curated choice. If I wanted to act as a provocateur, and knew the richness of learning came through the interaction, I needed to design accordingly. Instead of 10 links, I would provide 3. Instead of a long list, I would group the collections to make it more manageable.

Along with curating the choices I made, I also tried to ensure a diversity of text forms. I have my own formula that I revert back to when I’m stuck: Something to read, something to view, something to explore (image/interactive/podcast). As we discuss equity the text forms we privilege communicate a message to our learners. Over time I’ve also added another reflective question to my practice to ensure I check for my own biases: Which voices am I privileging? Which voices are missing?

Replicate the Experience not the Task

I was so happy the first AQ course I taught was in person with an amazing crew. I was 27 at the time unsure of what I was walking in to, unsure of what I had to share with colleagues. I walked in to a room of eager, passionate educators and I was immediately put at ease. Many in the group had years of experience, some locally, some abroad, some even in primary itself. When I sat in front of my computer that first time I realized I wanted that sense of community I experienced, the learning that comes from relationship.

At first I focused on taking our discussions from class, the slides – my banter – and replicating it online but it didn’t work. I needed to act as a provocateur in online spaces more than ever. I needed a spark, great questions and then immerse myself in dialogue with learners. Sometimes there still is a need for some direct instruction (there’s a great video on the learning exchange about responsive direct instruction) but I found I had to rethink what that looked like. Often I use video. Over time I’ve realized I could say things much more succinctly. We interact with media differently on our devices and yes I know they sat through Endgame no problem but I know my production skills aren’t at that level yet so I try to keep videos to 1 to 5 minutes at the most. It’s an exercise in communication that’s for sure!

Sometimes Things Don’t Go as Planned

I was so excited. I had this brilliant plan that I would do office hours weekly on Google Hangouts. It was easy. They didn’t need to sign in (my go to with extra tools). I would just share the link. No one came. NO ONE! I was ok with being persistent the first 3 weeks. It takes time to get comfortable with different tools. Some people don’t want to see themselves online. Week 9 rolled in and I gave up. It didn’t work for the crew I was with. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of that great plan you thought would rock but just like in your physical classroom, it’s ok if it doesn’t work. It’s ok to change course. Hey it’s essential to change course and be responsive to your learners.

I know my takeaways aren’t really new or unique but maybe there is one new timbit you can take with you or maybe it’s just a reminder that you got this! You know your learners. You are a great teacher. You have the best knowledge you need to get started. And if you need some tech help, a design buddy, a listening ear, I’m always here. Feel free to connect any time!

4 – Service

I spent the last 5 hours with no WIFI. It was silly. I bumped into the modem and it just wouldn’t reconnect. NO SERVER. 4 calls later – questions that bruised my ego and a lecture on the difference between wifi and Internet – I remembered there was a new cable in the box and it’s back up. YEAH!

I kept thinking of the process:

A finite set of questions.

A random selection of solutions.

An assumption that I had no knowledge on the process or materials.

They didn’t want the information I collected or to hear the solutions I had tried. My questions didn’t fit the plan. There definitely was no acknowledgement that I contributed to the solution.

And then as it does, it hit me: Do we fall into a similar call service model in education? Have I made learners feel like me?

Did I listen just long enough to give solution a, b or c? Was I asking generic questions without asking what they tried or knew? Was I married to a script, process, protocol?

It reminded me of the vision of the learner, family and educator from the Kindergarten Program Document. Such a strong positive, asset based view of the each member of our community.

Kindergarten Program Document, Ontario Ministry of Education

I don’t think any educator would argue such a vision requires authentic reciprocal relationships built on active listening . But I know for myself it also becomes a tool for callibration, a check in, an assessment to ensure I don’t get stuck to a script.

3 – Pop Up

I don’t know whether it was a frantic google search after driving by a pop up store in the city or I read about the concept in a magazine but I was fascinated. Seeing these highly curated, visual, temporary spaces pop up all around had me wondering. What could it look like in education? What would a temporary, movable, creative learning experiences look like?

Popup events are temporary, unexpected events in unique spaces. They pop up and, after a few hours or days, they pop down. By definition, most events are temporary. It is the element of surprise in unexpected locations that distinguish popup events.


Love when questions collide and as questions came in about Makerspaces (this was 3/4 years ago now) it seemed an awesome time to PLAY. It was an organic process as we explored, played, and tweaked while we observed learners and educators interacting with the materials (You can check the hashtag out here) I had to pass on the pop up makerspaces as I moved to support a different area but the idea of pop ups continued to fester.

I was lucky over my 10 years of facilitating professional learning to have had the opportunity to facilitate some unconventional formats: playgrounds, playdates and unconferences. No matter the years experience I continued to wonder if we can do it differently. What can learning look like? How can we ignite a sense of wonder in colleagues? How can we present the tools, ideas, in new ways, in new environments to form new connections?

So after the release of the #everyonecancreate resources and chatting with a great colleague, #enviroed champion and constant wonderer, Rob Ridley we designed 3 outdoor digital pop ups in our local outdoor areas.

Photography at Kariya Park

Sketchnoting at Rattray Marsh

Video at Our Britannia School House

After a quick spark and challenge we went out to play. We chatted as we snapped. We supported each other. Learned along the way debriefing at the end making the connections to our practice, leaving with resources to continue the learning if we wanted to.

As I watched a handful of colleagues in silence sketching the marsh in front of them. Birds chirping, the stream bubbling, technology just one piece of the picture. This was it! Our conversations naturally lead to our practice and were bettered by each of our contributions.

We continued exploring in the outdoors (different locations) and added some more this year looking at light photography and AR.

To be honest if you looked at the numbers, those first pop ups might not have been deemed a success but I couldn’t deny they were as I watched my colleagues in the marsh. We were able to offer unexpected learning in unexpected places. We didn’t just talk about the learning environment, our materials, the role of play but experienced it.

You may say it’s just a name. It’s just a word. It really is nothing special. And you are right. It’s a mainstream idea I twisted to suit my purposes but sometimes we need an unexpected name to prepare us for unexpected learning.

And now I’m left wondering what other unexpected events, tools, spaces lie ahead? What could pop ups look like in some of our community spaces? What could pop ups look like for our families? What could a virtual pop up look like? In what other unexpected ways can we spark learning?

Side Note: This wasn’t really a word I planned on blogging about but as we chatted about play, goals and structures after my last post and a tweet from a colleague I thought I would share my journey. I don’t think I ever realized how much the pop ups were my opportunity to play and wonder. Although I had a goal of encouraging creativity and mobility with digital tools (and in turn an inferred goal of empowering students to share in different ways), I didn’t have a distinct set of expectations each session. We let the group lead us often personalizing for individuals based on their experience and practice. It was terrifying at times. Will people come? Will they like it? Will they think it’s a waste of time? In the end it seemed that perhaps these pop ups had the greatest rate of implementation of any session format I had done in the past.

2 – Play

I opened the app, pressed the white dot on the screen and held it to draw each of the letters in Js name. As we walked through his name he immediately asked how to write mine. A few minutes later he was drawing his own obstacle course, bringing his sister and his mom into the creation. Obstacle courses, floor rolls, spiralling tunnels and very cool dance moves all followed.

I love an open-ended app and the play that follows. The learning that comes as we observe the interactions, conversations, creative uses of the technology tools. Sometimes you wonder if it’s a fluke. So I tired Just a Line with some other friends, a little older, and watched them giggle and move as they explored. It was fascinating to watch he freedom, the immediate creation and the shift in my role as a provocateur and documenter.

This summer I also read Austin Kleon’s Keep Going. When I stumbled on the importance of play in an early chapter my interest was peaked. And then I read…

The great artists are able to retain this sense of playfulness throughout their careers. Art and the artist both suffer most when the artist gets too heavy, too focused on results.

Austin Kleon – Keep Going

It made me think of the importance of play in learning, the role it plays in our classrooms, the role of play in our ongoing practice. Sitting here I realized some of my go to strategies all were born out of play: digital playgrounds, pop ups, tips in two. A moment I let go, let the creative freedom take reign and just played.

So I’m left with the question: How will we play this year? How do we keep a balance between open ended play as learners/educators without focusing too heavily on results?

P.S. Want to play with the AR drawing app Just a Line? I have a quick provocation up on digiartbox – Check it out Below

1 – CALM

Crashing waves

A toddler’s giggle

A tight hug

Camera in hand

Shortbread cookies

A chat with a friend

I think I thought with less emails, DMs, assignments to mark, conversations to moderate, calm would just appear. Like a surprise visit from a beloved far away family member or friend, it would knock on the door and after a big hug stay awhile bringing all the loving goodness with them.

I was wrong. Instead of calm I found an endless list of worries:

What will…

What if…

Am I…

Restlessness settled in and I filled it with busyness. Typical me. I hate the quiet, the pause, the solitude and yet…

But by the water’s edge I can sit wander for hours. For a moment the brain slows down. I EXHALE.

At 40, I thought I would have learned this lesson already but sometimes you need a 2 hour flight and 4 weeks with changing cell/wifi access as a reminder. Seek out the calm not to eliminate the BIG FEELINGS but to avoid them taking over. To find a moment to reset.

I wonder how others are finding their clam? Is it swinging on the monkey bars, painting, building, dancing in the neighbourhood, gardening, singing at the top of their lungs, playing a game?

Am I giving my learners (big and small) space to find their calm? Am I letting go of my bias and misconception that calm must be solitary quiet and still?

P.S. This post is part of a 5 posts in 5 days series. I am so far behind but trying to stick with it. Hoping to write quick thoughts at the beach before I head back to the busy city.


P.P.S. If the water’s edge is where you find calm as well, going to be printing some postcards with a twist when I return. Drop me a comment and I’ll send one your way.

Walk through the Open Doors

Some people are great planners, mapping out their career paths. Others like myself, take the scenic route and I think that’s ok.

A friend and I were chatting about job changes, career paths and open doors. She challenged me to share my story so here it goes, the messy vulnerable story.

I once was told I planned my career out perfectly. Little did they know I couldn’t take credit for any of it. Coming in to education, my goal was to be a grade 1 teacher. I was lucky to enter the profession at the height of a teacher shortage in Ontario. All I had to do was wait a few months and I would have had a full time position but my eagerness (or maybe anxiety) pushed me to accept the first offer. An opportunity came up for a half time planning time teacher gig in Brampton. A pretty awesome musical booklet [Where’s the sarcasm emoji when you need it?] sealed the deal and that August I was completely panicked as I stood in the middle of a dismantled computer lab wondering where to start. It may seem like a crazy choice to others as I drove daily between two schools but that first open door led me to have double the learning opportunities, double the mentors and a chance to be nudged out of my comfort zone as I facilitated tech lunch and learns for colleagues that very first year.

That wasn’t the only OPEN DOOR moment in my career. I think every career marker came with a nudge, a crazy choice, a step into the unknown.

  • A nudge towards a literacy coach role in my school when I was in my dream gig in grade 1. I knew I wasn’t the first choice. If I am completely honest I took it because I could teach computers half time but what an amazing way to start a leadership journey with the support of you friends.
  • Another nudge came to step outside the school. ‘You should try facilitating AQ courses Tina?’ Somehow we went from ‘We will not need you’ to a 10 year run facilitating AQs
  • The ITRT/MLRT role was a big push. If you believe in signs, this one was like a neon arrow highlighting the path with different friends from different roles suggesting it be my next step
  • My MED adventure started as a simple chat and ended with me leaving to write my application
  • After a few closed doors, taking a chance and applying to a team because they embodied an active learning stance

Don’t get me wrong, not every nudge/suggestion panned out. Sometimes you can think of the PERFECT fit and the door just never opens. Sometimes it opens for a second and slams back shut.

The Secret:

If you ever asked, looking back although every day wasn’t the best day I would have told you every job was the BEST job. Of course there were moments in each stage where I questioned whether I made the right choice, panicked if I was having any impact what so ever. Looking back I can see how each piece fell in place like a toy train track nudging me along. Perhaps it was the BEST job because each role had me bringing a piece of me to it, I found my place to contribute and nudge the work forward.

Whether you are a planner or a more ‘off the beaten path’ person like myself, I hope the story is a reminder in these unsettling times in education to trust the journey no matter where you end up.

You never know where the door may lead.

Saying Goodbye – A Consistent Journey

When I tell people I have the best job, I really do. Who else gets to play with robots, design and challenge, innovate as a rule and watch kids amaze you every day? So I knew it would be hard to say goodbye this year when my term was up, but suddenly the day is here and a small part of me just wants to scream ‘NOOOOOO, I’m not ready!’ 🤣

Endings always have me reflecting on the journey and then my brain starts thinking: What did you really do?


So as I reflected on the journey of course my brain went to the BIG MOMENTS with the community – from Pop Up Makerspaces to Transformational Practices 2.0, our Peel Spark event, the Empowering Modern Learners document to E3 Animation. These are the ones that are easy to measure. I have proof, an artifact, a number I can point to. P.S. How lucky have I been to be a part of so many great opportunities with amazing colleagues?

Then there are the ongoing pieces: the Twitter chats, online book talks, Tips in Two, #peel21st Pop Ups, monthly or weekly round ups, the yearly events like #peeleyc. Not as grand but still measurable I guess.

Something was missing. I stumbled on Simon Sinek’s clip below on Intensity versus Consistency when it hit me.  Maybe impact – change – innovation (whatever you want to call it) has just as much to do with the small interactions as the big events. So I started thinking of the great THIS IS IT moments: working through digital provocations with a grade team, the grade 5 friend enthralled in sharing their photographs asking for feedback, the learner that finally shines as we code a makey makey, the primary friend that so innocently shows me up with an app and reminds me to stay humble.

As much as I have loved all the big and not so big moments in this last decade, I hope most of all that I have been consistent. That the message over the nine years has stayed the same:

  • Kids are amazing competent, capable modern learners who with the right tool, spark, question, task will be empowered and exceed all your expectations 
  • When as educators we take that small step out of our comfort zone and jump in to the learning we show how amazing, competent and capable we are

This amazing learning journey couldn’t have happened with out the #peel21st family. Thank you to everyone I’ve had the pleasure to chat, collaborate, co-teach, co-design, co-present with. I couldn’t have done it without you. I can never thank you enough for giving of your time so freely, your willingness to learn and share. I have learned so much.

So off to a new learning adventure on Monday. I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn from colleagues at OCT and across the province. Thank you to Peel for lending me out. I’ll be back with the #peelfam before you know it. Grateful that with social media and all our online tools this isn’t really a goodbye, just a sign post in the journey.

For me it’s time though to step out of my comfort zone and jump in to the new learning ahead.



A Modern ‘Who Came First’ Debate

When modern learning is in your job title it’s bound to come up as a topic of discussion. It’s interesting in my travels to see how we each interpret the wording slightly differently. Is modern learning technology? Can you have modern learning without technology? What is the relationship?

I sat down to try to sketch out the relationship with some colleagues and it suddenly came to me.

Modern learning is not about technology BUT you can’t have modern learning without technology.

Modern learning is not about the tool. It is about a set of global competencies that is needed to be successful in an ever changing workforce. I struggle even writing workforce because I think it’s so much more. The global competencies are about us finding our place in our communities and contributing. It’s about ‘arc of life learning’ as John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas mentioned a few years back. It’s about creativity, innovation, problem solving, collaboration, self-directed learning skills and so much more.

BUT (and it’s a big one), I find it hard to believe you can have modern learning without capitalizing on the digital tools we have at our disposal. I think our idea of learning through technology is stuck in the computer lab phase with each learner staring blankly, typing away on their keyboards. These digital tools have evolved to seep into every part of our lives (evidence: digital fridges and self replenishing shopping lists). Not capitalizing on their power to help us access content in new ways as well as find avenues to better communicate and connect would be a disservice to our modern learners.

Maybe unlike tools of the past it can play different roles at different times.

  • Sometimes it’s the lead, front and centre. We see the robots, coding games, filming.
  • Other times it’s a supporting player, helping us capture our observations as educators; connecting us to a provocation that sparks learners’ curiosity.
  • At then again sometimes it’s behind the scenes. We think we are doing it alone but the idea came to us via a tweet, curated on a Pinterest board or even just a chain reaction from a colleague that was in one of those spaces.

Paper.Fall 2018.37 2

So yes modern learning is not about technology but accepting that technology is a necessary, ever present tool for modern learning may help us push forward to explore  how best to leverage the tools to empower modern learners.

What do you feel is the relationship between modern learning and technology? Love to hear your thoughts.

RESET – Back to the Water’s Edge

Sometimes you just don’t know what to do. You try every possible strategy. Nothing works so you go to your last resort:

  • find that small hidden reset button
  • go searching for the elusive Factory RESET

To say that this spring/summer kicked my butt is a bit of an understatement.  With a roller coaster of emotions, for ever climb of 2018 a steep dive seemed to follow. With two sudden losses in our family a month apart, my meticulously scheduled summer blew up. To make it through, I kept holding on to the promise of August 1st.

August 1st was the magic date when the jobs would be done, the nephews were going to come crash and we would head back to the water’s edge (aka PEI). I packed the car, left the laptop behind, and turned off cellular for most of my apps. This was going to be the first time in forever I didn’t work on special projects, classes, or readings. That first night we went back to the water’s edge. I don’t know why it still surprises me four years later, it’s like those rhythmic waves have magical powers. Each new crashing wave, pulling a worry back to it’s core.

Just like the slow tech boot ups, the two weeks by the ocean’s edge seemed to be a long RESET button. Every day had a moment at the water’s edge just being. I have to admit I’m not sure I was ready to come back. Of course it took less than 24 hours to fall back in to bad habits. I was already caught up in the busyness.

Maybe everyone needs a hard RESET once or twice. A chance to go back to our factory reset, to find that place of calm. And maybe in the search to avoid the massive system rebot,  finding the small moments through out the day.




The Beliefs

We sat around a table in a small room at CBO with stacks of data in front of us. Literally, the table was covered in piles of chart paper, sticky notes and Google form data. As we sifted through we were looking to weave a common thread, find the connections, beacons to guide the work ahead. Amazing ideas popped out from ‘Starbucks like’ classroom to design tasks before we knew what design tasks were. How could we make sense of it all? As we sat around the table we realized we needed something to ground us. Something that would stand the test of time 10 years, 20 years from now that wouldn’t change as educational jargon evolved or interests shifted.

What did we need to agree upon would stay true through all the innovations ahead? What were the beliefs that were driving us to innovate?

Click HERE for a quick animation of the belief statements.

4 beliefs nutshell slide.001

  • It is all about the learner – Seems simple really. It’s why we got into this job in the first place – a belief inspired by Mandela quotes that education can be the change. All we do comes back to one thing – the learner. This one came easy as the Kindergarten Program Document captured it so well. The choice of learner was deliberate as we saw ourselves as reflective practitioners moving between the role of learner and educator.
  • Open and responsive educators – So if our learners in all their beautiful diversity are curious, competent, capable to take an active role in their learning we needed to be flexible. It would be hard to accept that we could do the same thing more than once. Each year, grade, class, learner may need something slightly different as we foster a lifelong passion for learning. This is definitely not the easy way to do it but definitely the better way as we had each experienced ourselves by the great educators that modelled it.
  • The environment as the third teacher – Even without saying a word, we have a sense of what the lesson is. The environment is more than just an extension of our work, it is a teacher in and of itself. From our use of space to our use of time, materials. The feeling and safety we establish in the space. Who is valued, who is not?
  • We educate as a community – This one was a late addition and I can’t imagine it not being there. We were sharing the draft with the larger writing team when an administrator colleague made this vital point. We don’t educate in isolation. We educate as a community of stakeholders. Fancy language really but of course we are only one small part of a greater community that believes number 1 that children are curious, competent, capable to take an active role.

When I’ve introduced the belief statements people often nod. Sometimes you will get a statement of “of course, isn’t this obvious”. It definitely feels like it doesn’t it. When you pause though you realize how hard these are to live. How we constantly need to check back in and reflect on where we are and what we can do better. If I’m being completely honest, it’s much easier for me to believe 6-year-olds are competent and capable. A bit harder as you are arguing with a 36-year-old. Being open and responsive as an educator means often things will be harder, not easier. I will often be standing in a place of uncomfort as we stand in that active learner stance. How does our belief about community reframe my interactions with the family I’m struggling to connect with?

Although they may seem simple, these are our roots. They are the cornerstone we come back to when we need to evaluate our progress. All our pursuits for innovation are in service of these beliefs. We reflect, learn, innovate all so that we can empower a generation of globally compassionate citizens that may just make that Mandela quote a reality.