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.

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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.

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  • 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.

Coming back to THIS IS IT moments

I’ve shared some of my THIS IS IT moments when I think of Empowered Modern Learners in the past. It’s funny when it will hit you. When the glossy pages of a vision document seem to come to life in front of you. It happened last week as I was sitting beside my friend J at Briarwood.

After a bit of a flop on my part the last time together (lesson learned – these friends weren’t into recording their voice) we wanted to tackle CoSpaces EDU. In conversations together with the educator and learners the last session we knew there was a big interest in games and game design. I love when the pieces all fall together. Together the class was exploring a variety of early societies and their interactions. A perfect fit to explore and apply their learning while creating virtual worlds.

We started giving a few pointers to get started. J couldn’t wait to suggest Ancient China. In a bit of a panic, I took a few other options from the crowd, reassuring her that I’d love to see her creation. As we started she almost chose a different topic and I felt terrible. Had I inadvertently given a message it wasn’t as good? With a gentle reminder, she got started. One of the reasons I love introducing learning communities to new tools is we have this amazing opportunity to model our role as provocateurs. I am not the expert just someone who has played a bit more so we immediately are in this co-learning stance together. So often learners take the experience way further than we could imagine.

I went back to check in with J. She already had her wall started with a guard pacing and a speech bubble to explain his role. A little later she would tap into her personal knowledge and build temples and palaces with shapes and textures that best suited the period. I watched in awe as I wouldn’t have thought to manipulate the shapes the same way. There was a conversation around the difference of an emperor and empire. Jim Cummins writings on academic language kept flashing across my mind as she and I talked through the difference between the two.

For me the best was sitting side by side as she found the music button, looking across the web for some creative commons music that fit the tone she wanted. She knew exactly what she wanted. There was no rush to just pick any song.

As I drove away to a meeting I couldn’t help but think of our belief statements and in particular reflecting on our belief of the learner.


Each learner is curious, competent and able to take an active role in their own learning.

Empowering Modern Learners – Peel Vision Document

Suddenly all the beliefs about our learner, the role of the educator, the environment and the community were interwoven in front of me as I watched J creating in the bean bag chair. All it took was a bit of listening to see how curious, competent and capable J was. I wondered if I would have missed it if she didn’t suggest Ancient China in the group. As I left I couldn’t help but reflect on how to provoke and invite J to deepen her learning.  I guess it’s a natural by-product of #listeningclosely.

Time to #listenclosely this week so I don’t miss any of those THIS IS IT moments.

What has been your THIS IS IT moment?

When Doubt Moves In

It’s been awhile since I blogged. Although I have a long list of ideas to blog about, doubt settled in. So this isn’t really a blog post about education but maybe you have doubt has settled in on you too.

I always felt a little doubt did me well. A bit like in the movies when the small voice in your head or cartoon character on your shoulder helped lead you away from harm or doing something REALLY stupid.

A pinch of doubt before a big presentation reminded me I was human and that I cared enough to be nervous. Then there’s the voice of doubt as you start a new project that makes you pause for a second to ensure you are doing it for the right reason.

A little doubt kept me in check, kept me humble but it always passed.

Sometimes though doubt moves in and settles down. Doubt follows you like a grey rain cloud you can’t shake. You doubt your work, your impact, your path. Doubt has you questioning whether you are the educational ‘non-teacher’ leader you read about in tweets. It has you questioning whether you are doing deep enough, rich enough, innovative work. Worse of all it has you questioning if you are leading at all.

It’s weird how doubt can twist you up, turn you around and hold you hostage.

But then it hit me, doubt is only able to settle down when my ego gets in the way; when I start comparing what I do to how others do it; when I loose my sense of who I am. So time to send doubt it’s eviction notice and refocus on what I do.


Before every event I have a chance to design there is always this moment of panic worrying if it will completely bomb. The voices in my head start playing on repeat whether it is a good idea, what could mess up, will anyone talk. With an event like #TableTalkED where I had been thinking about it for a few years, the emotions were just off the charts.

The idea came from a SoulPancakce Series: That’s What She Said. The very first time I watched the group of women flowing through authentic conversations I knew I needed that for my journey in education. I had had moments of it in conferences and Edcamps over the years, but never an event where the sole purpose was to engage in authentic, honest conversations with colleagues. After some weird ups and downs lately I decided it was time. Put together a quick PASTE presentation, sent it out to a bunch of folks and hoped someone would be up for the crazy idea. There were mess ups – I got no pictures or video, forgot a friend in Vegas completely (sorry Mike), but as I sat around the table with fourteen passionate colleagues, some old friends, other new acquaintances, and we chatted about professional learning it was everything I imagined and more.

The take aways from our conversation were many and I think it will take me awhile to really realize all of the lessons learned. The big ideas?

  • Through out the afternoon it was interesting to see how our conversations kept coming back to relationships. The relationships we foster through professional learning, the trust and challenge that can come with ongoing relationships, how to foster relationships when you don’t have the luxury of time, plant relationship between colleagues that have shared passions. No matter how we look at it, learning is a human endeavour grounded in relationships. We know it is true for our classroom communities. Maybe even more so for educators as we try to do this education thing differently.
  • Another idea that popped up was an idea of balance, a balance of meeting colleagues where they are on that day, in that moment and challenging colleagues to look beyond their current experience. The million dollar questions seemed to be when do you push and when do you support? There is no secret answer but see relationships above.
  • As with any group of educators that would give up a Saturday afternoon to sit and chat, you can imagine the passion in the room and IDEAS. Lots of ideas. As we chatted about tackling different approaches to professional learning a big question that remained was how do we invite colleagues in to empowering learning opportunities that look different to what they are used to. Sometimes we are so trained to believe professional learning needs to look, sound, feel a certain way. It is unfamiliar when we attend experiences that don’t match our view of learning. How do we invite colleagues into experiences that may be different? How do we empower them through our learning experiences?

There was some dreaming as well with crazy app suggestions and amazing timetable possibilities. We probably are left with just as many questions as answers after the discussion. More than anything I leave with a reminder of how reinvigorating it is to spend time with a passionate group of educators.

Thank you to SopaboxHQ for hosting us and sharing their space so freely. Thank you to those that took the earlier frantic DMs wondering if this idea could be anything but a crazy idea. Thank you to @natsschneider  for making the time on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to chat.

Join in on the conversation! What was your best professional learning experience? What made it a great experience? What would you like to see in professional learning? What can you do? 

Interested in future #tabletalked sessions? Let me know HERE.

Exploring Intentional Design

As I get ready for a day of learning with OCT around course design, it’s funny to see how the learning really trickles down into all of our design as leaders. I feel like over the years I’ve become a bit of a learning design junky always looking for new tools, strategies and formats. Then it hit me I may have always had a fascination with creating that just right experience, an experience that provokes, challenges and nudges just a little more growth.

In Primary Basic we use the quote from How Learning Happens as our guide. As I sketched it out I couldn’t shake the feeling that it is true for LEARNERS OF ALL AGES (and maybe why we snuck it into our Empowering Modern Learners document). Are we designing learning experiences that see educators as competent, capable of complex thinking, curious, rich in potential? Do we recognize the diverse social, cultural and linguistic perspectives they each bring? Especially in an online environment, do they feel they belong and are contributing to our collective learning journey? Do they see themselves and their passions in the discussions and resources?

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If we want educators to embody the statement above, they need to experience it. If we want to inspire experiences that empower learners to be globally compassionate citizens, then even our learning as educators must be rooted in our understanding and belief of the competent, capable, curious and rich in potential learner.

Can’t wait for the learning ahead today!