Reflective Practice
I am an educator with the Western Quebec School Board, a phd candidate and part-time professor in the education department at the University of Ottawa. This blog is a space for me to reflect on educational issues that interest me as an educator and parent. It is my hope that one day it will stimulate dialogue and be a place for educators to share ideas. Thank you for joining me on my reflective journey.

Spice up your pedagogy: CSSE 2016 Calgary

colorful composition with different spices and herbs

This post is the accompaniment to the presentation that will be shared today from 1:30-2:45 at CSSE at the University of Calgary.  As the final day of the conference, I am not sure how many participants will attend…I am not expecting many.

It has been an excellent conference- lots of thought-provoking discussion and some great opportunities to network and learn from experts in my field.  My rationale for this workshop was really to share some of the instructional strategies and tactics that I have used in my work as a middle school teacher, professional development facilitator and as a part-time professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. I believe strongly that many of these strategies and tactics are interesting captured in a book, but really need to be experienced by participants before they will gain traction in the classroom.

As in all my PD sessions, we will open with a community circle.  Participants will set the circle guidelines together and I will share those that I have developed  with my Teacher Ed students drawing on my learning from the restorative process & Tribes TLC (see here for a discussion for how they work together)


  • Respect the talking piece
  • Listen from the heart
  • Speak from the heart
  • Take the time you need knowing others need time
  • What is said of a personal nature stays in the circle
  • Stay present

community circle

Inside/Outside circles

Inside/outside circles are explained well here.  I love using inside/outside circles in my classrooms to have student respond to their assigned readings or to prepare them for where we are headed in the learning. Depending on the context, I usually prefer to ask a few ‘safe’ questions (less personal) and then move to the more probing or challenging questions.  If students do not do their homework, this is also a safe way for them to hear from at least a few other peers about what the readings were about and others’ responses to this reading.    Inside/outside circles can also be used during the lesson to process key concepts before students move to group or individual work or before an assessment to review information.

inside outside circlesIMG_8319 is a really useful tool to gather information and also get a sense of the classroom climate.

4 Corners:

This collaborative learning activity is explained well here and for a university setting here. In our session, we used pictures of animals (deer, lion, monkey and owl) and asked that participants move to the animal that best represented how they felt as an instructor in a university classroom.

Put Yourself on the Line:

This is a great strategy to get students moving and can lead to a great opportunity to practice attentive listening.  You can use any topic, but students must be able to place themselves relative to that topic on a line that stretches (you can put down tape/rope) from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree.’  The question we used today was, “Should there be a tenure teaching track separate from the research track in academia?”  Some other suggestions can be found here.

Fold the Line & a variation on Paraphrase Passport:

Once participants have placed themselves on the line, fold it so that those who strongly disagree are now facing those who strongly agree.  Using a partner paraphrase tactic, have person A share their point of view for 1 minute (or less).  Person B listens and then paraphrases back to person A what they heard.  Person A agrees or clarifies the paraphrasing.  Then person B shares their thoughts.  Person A listens and paraphrases back.  Finally, person B has the chance to agree or clarify the paraphrasing.  This is not a debate- it is about really listening to another’s perspective rather than formulating your own argument.  As a community, we share what we have learned from this learning experience and how it could be used in your own context.

An explanation in prezi form of Kagan’s Paraphrase Passport can be found here.


In groups of 3 or 4, participants will draw a placemat (see example here) and respond to the question “What are the key components of an effective University classroom?”  After everyone has done an initial brainstorm, we will do a round robin in the groups and capture the 3 key components- which we will share as a large group.


I love using graffiti in the classroom.  There are many ways to use it (see an option here) – groups can move together, individuals can move freely, or the graffiti paper moves while the group stays.  Graffiti is a great starting place to then do some inductive thinking activities (categorizing, etc).  We will explore the expertise in the room and spend some time discussing possibilities around online tools, small cooperative learning strategies, assessment/evaluation options, whole class discussion strategies, and lecture support tools.

There are many options for participants to share their graffiti work, such as ghost walk, gallery walk, etc.

An online option for graffiti is also found at

Spider Web- closing circle

In order to respond to the workshop’s success criteria (“You will know you understand when you can share one strategy/tactic that you plan to use in your context”), we will use the spider web collaborative strategy to share our reflections.  This is something I have done in a variety of contexts (see photos) and can be used as a team building strategy or a moment of reflection.



A great resource linking the Ontario curriculum with a variety of strategies found in the tribes TLC book is found here.

Posted: June 1st, 2016 in Creating Healthy, Instructional Intelligence, Professional Development Training, Restorative Practice, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, Tribes | No Comments »

January events

It has been a busy year- it turns out trying to juggle 3 different commitments (consultant, part-time prof and phd studies) means letting somethings slide- like blogging.  However, I did want to put up a quick post to link some of the work that I have been doing.

October 25-28 found me in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania participating in IIRP’s 19th world conference.  It was an amazing learning experience and an opportunity to engage with people interested in Restorative Justice and what that actually means for our own contexts.  I also enjoyed presenting with my colleague, Dr. Kristin Reimer and sharing how we are embedding Restorative Practice into Teacher Education at the University of Ottawa.  If interested, you can find the powerpoint and course syllabus that we shared at our session called “Embedding Restorative Practices and Circles into Teacher Education: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle” here.

In the teacher education world at the University of Ottawa, I have had the opportunity to participate in some amazing PD sessions focusing on Indigenous Rights & History- I highly recommend looking into  Kairos’s ‘the Blanket Exercise‘ and Indigenous Walks led by artist/writer Jaime Koebel.  Both opened my eyes and heart and sparked some great discourse in class.

The Pd sessions I have led since September for colleagues in different Cohorts have been: Classroom Environment (introducing students to the Bump classroom management system- see Classroom Management: A Thinking and Caring Approach by Barrie Bennett and Peter Smilanich), Using Circles in the classroom and An introduction to Restorative Practice.  I am considering offering a more advanced workshop around Framing questions and how to actually deal with providing students with Choice (Bump 3) and power struggles (Bump 5).  A short description of the bumps has been put together by faculty at Nippissing found at this link here.

January 6-9 found me in Glasgow, Scotland at the 29th ICSEI conference.  I really enjoyed presenting my paper “Mentoring and Coaching: Unpacking the Terminology” to a full house (I know they weren’t all there for me and it wasn’t a huge room!) and shaking things up with some circle activities during my ‘Innovate’ workshop called “Teachers Need Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments Too! Circling as a Pedagogical Tool to Build Community and Teachers’ Social Emotional Competencies.”  The programme in its entirety can be found here.  The biggest take-aways for me at this conference were the Keynote speakers- I loved seeing Pasi Sahlberg in action (I so want to be able to present like he does!) and having the opportunity to see educational giants in the flesh (Andy Hargreaves!).  I came away from this conference feeling pretty proud of the education system in Canada.  Of course there are so many areas that we can improve…but internationally (and according to Sahlberg) we have a great starting place in ‘Heaven.’ Ottawa is hosting the next ICSEI conference and I am excited to join the organizing committee and seeing how things work from that perspective.

So life keeps moving and now we are heading towards February…and I am excited & nervous to present at the Leadership Committee for English Education in Quebec (LCEEQ)’s annual conference featuring Russell Quaglia (Student Voice) on February 8-9.  My workshop is called “Circling Up: Building Community in the Diverse Classroom,” and I hope to use this blog/website as a place to compile resources for teachers interested in circle pedagogy, restorative practice and building community in their classroom.  I am thrilled that my session is in the first block because I will be able to relax once it is finished and soak up all the amazing workshops and keynotes that are on offer.  This has definitely always been one of my favourite conferences as a practitioner and I am thrilled to be part of it.  I only hope that I deliver the quality of workshop that people have come to expect from this conference.  Fingers crossed….

Posted: January 25th, 2016 in Professional Development Training | No Comments »

Back to School 2015!

Mandela quote

image courtesy of

I have no idea how ‘back to school’ always seems to sneak up on me.  This year we had an extra week of summer vacation with labour day coming so late in September- and still I was completely unprepared for the craziness of back to school for my kids and for me.  Luckily we have begun to fall into a bit of a routine…

This year, along with my continued phd studies (hello proposal & ethics!) I am fortunate enough to still be working with the WQSB as a part-time teacher leader supporting mentor-coaches and new teachers.  I will also be teaching one section (Intermediate/Senior) of the University of Ottawa’s teacher education course- Becoming a Teacher:  Inquiry into Practice.   I am very excited to be working as a team in the Urban cohort with inspiring educators and amazing schools.   In particular, I am thrilled to have spent 2 days of Orientation with the whole Urban Ed cohort (around 70 students).  I think we are off to a great start and I know I will learn so much from my colleagues and this new group of pre-service teachers.

Orientation Activities:

  1. Compass Points:  An Exercise in Understanding Preferences in Group Work

My colleagues brought this exercise back from their PD experience in Rhode Island at the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy.  After an introduction to the Urban Cohort, we had pre-service teachers move to the compass point (North/East/South/West) that most closely described their personal style (see directions).  This exercise is similar to the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory (I’m an ENFP) or the Colours personality assessment (I’m blue/orange).  What I found particularly interesting in this exercise was listening to the groups’ responses to the following questions:

  1. What are the strengths of your style? (4 adjectives)
  2. What are the limitations of your style? (4 adjectives)
  3. What style do you find most difficult to work with and why?
  4. What do people from other “directions” or styles need to know about you so you can work together effectively?

Once the response to question 4 was shared by each group, we had the pre-service teachers make new groups of 3 or 4 (trying to have a representative from each compass point if possible).  After briefly introducing themselves (inclusion activity), they were asked to complete the following activity:

2.  Build a Tower, Build a Team activity or the Marshmallow Challenge.

I have done many instant challenges (see and leadership games in the past, yet I have never seen this one in action.  It was a lot of fun to witness what the different groups came up with and how they worked together- knowing they all have different coordinates. As a team of educators, we felt this was an important place to start during orientation since in teacher ed. (and schools, classrooms, etc) there is a big emphasis on group work and cooperative learning.  That said, we all have different styles and the reality is that some of these styles might clash.  If it is important to build community in a cohort or classroom, then we need to find ways to work with and more importantly, value other styles.

Community Circle

Our final activity for the day was to divide into our small class sections and do a quick introductory community circle (name, subject and something about ourselves).  We ended our day with another go-round using the prompt I Wish…I Wonder…I Worry…  After a short time to reflect on these prompts, circle members shared as many or as few of these statements.

Orientation Day 2

We were lucky to be received at Rideau High School to spend the morning in an urban school.  Each year I am inspired by this visit.  This year we were treated to a powerful opening speech by Stephen Sliwa, Superintendent (OCDSB) of Instruction and Business & Learning Technologies.  I was thrilled to hear the emphasis he placed on relationships, caring and health/wellness in education.  Principal Geordie Walker also shared his vision of the importance of connecting with students and the role restorative practice and circles play in building community.  Of course, he is speaking my language so I was beyond thrilled.  We were also given a tour of the school by the administration and link leaders (see    It was so wonderful that the teachers and students opened their classrooms for us to see ‘learning in action’.  I always find the cultural learning lodge a special setting and look forward to learning even more about how to better support First Nations, Metis and Inuit students.  There are so many interesting things happening at Rideau High School (see @RideauSpeaks)…I definitely felt the pull to get back into the classroom and join these teachers and admin in their work to build a strong community as well as teach and learn in an urban school.  I can’t wait to hear what our pre-service teachers thought….








Posted: September 10th, 2015 in Inquiry into Practice, Reflective Practice, Restorative Practice | No Comments »

Reflection on the final class

All good things must come to an end.  I know what a cliche that saying is, but I am really sad about the end of this community.  Don’t get me wrong- I am so excited for the wonderful people I have met this semester to get out into the schools and share their positive and enthusiastic spirit with students, however I am a little sad for me.  This was my first ‘real’ university class and it was so much fun.  Among the many tasks of being a PhD student (hopefully a candidate soon!), this was not a task- it was a refreshing reminder of how much I love being in the classroom and working with students.  I really do miss working with youth, but I have found a renewed passion for working with adults.  I have learned so much from everyone in this class and was reminded once again about the power of community building and its influence on student learning.  Of course, as my first time teaching this class, there are many things I would like to change.  I am not sure how I feel about having such a firm syllabus at the start of a class that I have never actually taught- I prefer more flexibility- but there will certainly be changes.  I am grateful for the feedback from the class regarding the areas I need to work on in the future.  Here are some of the key points:

To keep (refine):

– the literature circles.  I had never tried this in a university setting and was pleasantly surprised with their success.  Assigning roles was key to accountability, but I think I will implement a check-in self-assessment with regards to the readings mid-way and maybe a discussion about the importance of the roles, readings, questions, etc.

– the feedback to the lit. circles, reflections and individual conversations.  I really tried to develop a conversation with each student through feedback.  This is a lot of work, but it was worth it.

– keeping the class in circles and having students facilitate in community co-creator groupings.  The ability to practice implementation was excellent.

– the refreshments being part of the process really helps us get through the long afternoon class.  Folding this into community co-creator responsibilities is great and takes the pressure and cost off me.

To improve:

– the readings and topics.  There was a little too much on a similar theme (bullying). There are so many angles to safe/supportive classrooms- it will be good to branch out into counselling skills, social-emotional learning (SEL), structuring a safe classroom (environmental approach).

– add more direct links to content/lesson plans that use circles and/or community building activities.

– the final project directions and expectations.  I have to still mull this one over, but it certainly would be better with exemplars and clearer expectations on the rubric.  Now that I have some great exemplars, I like the idea of introducing mind-mapping, website development, digital storytelling.  I want to introduce the project early and have it be something that is on-going so it isn’t left until the last minute.  How can I get this embedded earlier into the classroom or make it an ongoing project?  There are so many other assignments competing for their time/brain energy, but this project was worth a lot for my course and wasn’t always fully representative of the learning.

– further opportunities for other groups to work together & build different community connections.  This is difficult with so few classes- but something to consider.

– include more student voice in the presentations.  One of the best parts of the guest presentations was having students from Canterbury HS speak directly about their experiences. More opportunities like this would be beneficial.  It is about students, after all.

– School visits- to watch circles in action or classroom community building opportunities.  I need to make greater connections to the Ottawa area schools.

The class itself

Once again, the major circle work of the class was in the hands of a community co-creator group (a perfect ending!).

Opening Circle:  Warm Fuzzies

– In their literature circles, students wrote special messages to one another (warm fuzzies) and compiled them in labelled paper bags for later reading.  The focus of the fuzzies was on their individual contribution to the small group community.

Energizer:  Trust falls

In our small community co-creator groups, we had one person stand in the middle, close their eyes, hold their body stiff and fall back into the arms of the community.  They were then gently pushed from one side to the other and caught by their group.  This is a huge step from our first encounter as a group with trust activities in week 2- where we tried to lean back on the webbing circle with our eyes closed.

Know thy impact!!  Thanks to my learning with Visible Learning & Dr. John Hattie, I hold this motto close to my heart. I also saw this video by Humans of New York at the LCEEQ conference in February (Laval) with Ainsley Rose.  I love it.  We have so much to offer our future scholars.

Closing Circle: Community Connections and reflection

– After watching the video Love has no Boundaries we shared something we bring to our future class communities on small paper humans and formed a circle in the middle of our larger seated circle.  It was a great way to end our class and mark our special connection.  I am still hoping for a photo of this physical representation of our community.


Posted: March 27th, 2015 in Professional Development Training | No Comments »

The penultimate class- Bully Proof

I can’t believe we are so close to the end of this community.  I will honestly really miss what we have built together, but am so excited that so many youth/students will be working with these fine folk.  This past Monday’s class was focused around the leadership piece.  The required reading/viewing:

Chapter 3 of The Restorative Practice Handbook

CBC BullyProof:Classroom Confidential with Mark Kelley


Once again, I feel very lucky to have such wonderful mentors in my life and Terry Kharyati, principal of Hadley & Philemon Wright HS, generously offered to join our class and share his experiences with the filming of the documentary and also his views on building safe/supportive learning environments.  His no-holds barred approach was well received!

This week’s theme was around the arts, and music in particular.  It was a perfect time in our group building to take some risks!

Opening Circle:  Student-led

Creating SOUNDSCAPES:  In 2 groups, we were given the responsibility to create a soundscape for the other.  The 2 options were:  a zoo experience and a busy New York street.  With our eyes closed and listening to the soundscapes, these 2 places really came alive!


How creating a soundscape contributes to a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment:

  • This activity helps to build an environment of inclusivity because each student is able to contribute and participate, no matter their comfort or ability level
  • This activity helps the class to become very grounded and rooted in their environment- by being aware of their surroundings students become cognizant of each other and the things that make them feel safe and comfortable (or unsafe or and uncomfortable)
  • As future teachers, we need to be hyper aware of our environments in order to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that include all students
  • An essential part of a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment includes listening to one another- to students, fellow staff, administration- and this activity promotes the importance of sound and attentive listening

Literature Circles:  

This was our last one!  They were short and sweet and focused around Mr. K’s documentary and also the leadership chapter.  Many questions surfaced that were then addressed by our guest presenter.  Here are some of the key comments/questions:

  • Bully booth- the impact- students shared the feelings. If that was there all the time- would it have the same impact?
  • The process of the bully proof- was there any restorative work- people hurt, etc? By keeping some students in the school are we hurting others?
  • How can we reach students in denial- how do we create the dialogue?
  • Resilience- we need to be talking about it in the schools-As teachers we need to use the proper vocab and can’t brush off what students tell us?
  • What happened to the students after the documentary? Sharing bullying stories from past and how this plays out after- some empowerment but for others- did situation change or make some students more vulnerable?
  • Personal relationships- if all teachers have relationships would this decrease the bullying..rather than putting it on other students?
  • Role of families as support systems- provide parents with tips, support groups. Hard to overstep this line.
  • How do we as professionals handle when students open up with difficult situations- when to point to guidance/outside sources?
  • Do these documentaries rely too heavy on the actual incidents rather than issues underneath- shows empathy… focus on emotional responses- tears on camera/pain..good and media frenzy approach.
  • Why are bullies those closest to us at one point in time? Fact of life to deal with it- cyberbullying’s reach– teenage antics vs bullying. Lack of support. Can you ever have too much support?
  • Pink shirt day- falling short? Is this a forced initiative- promote idea behind it- support each other- symbolic gesture. Each student write a personal contract for shirt?
  • Look for our own traits in students- impede ability to be objective- unbiased. Every student should have one adult connection.
  • Effect of bullying on mental health- important to talk about this and have strategies- do this in every class. Arts/history and language…high suicide rates- mindfulness/relationship
  • Music therapy- role of teacher as professional and when to share our stories and keep some of the limits- boundaries
  • Second chances- students are growing and not fixed in who they are and how they learn.
  • What did TK think of the documentary after it was aired?
  • How do we get proper statistics on bullying?
  • How does the system work against you as an administrator– the journey and handcuffs.

Energizer:  Name & adjective with Who’s missing?

We did a quick circle go-round where we shared our name and a defining adjective.  We then played a game that had us move around the class- one person blind in the middle of the circle.  When the music stopped, they would have to name the 3 people who were removed from the class.  This was so much harder than it looked and our 2 volunteers were INCREDIBLE!!

Guest presentation:

Mr. K shared a bunch of excellent resources and his own experience with building a safe and supportive learning environment.  I will add his resources at a later date.

Closing circle:  CAMP FIRE and sing-along.

Who knew??  It is quite startling to think that we have made it to this point as a class.  If I had let people know that we would be doing a sing-along in a University classroom, I think I would have had a lot of resistance. But it was chosen by members of our community and brilliantly facilitated by students.  We wrote down something we bring to our future classes as people (to build safe/supportive classrooms) on a popsicle stick and then added that to our ‘fake’ fire…metaphorically stoking it.  We then did a communal sing along– guitars and fiddles and many musical instruments.  So much fun and a wonderful experience that shows how far we came as a group.


Posted: March 12th, 2015 in Safe and Supportive Learning Environments | No Comments »

Week 8- Cyberbullying

This Monday’s class was focused on cyberbullying and cyber safety.  Although it feels as though we have been digging into the issue of bullying quite heavily for the past 3 weeks, the focus really was on the role of social media/internet on the bullying issue.

Cyber or electronic bullying: “broadly defined as bullying performed via electronic means such as mobile/cell phones or the internet”- (Olweus, 2012)

“Punishments may make us feel better or safer, but other options can yield actual results.”(Bauman)

Here are the resources that we assigned:

  • Holladay, J. (2011). Cyberbullying. Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, 76(5), 4-9.
  • Olweus, D. (2012). Cyberbullying: An overrated phenomenon?. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(5), 520-538.

Supplemental Resources:

Once again, I am amazed about the level of community that has been developed in this class- which speaks to the community building process that we are working on!  I really love watching how engaged students are in their discussions and the level of questions that have been brought to the literature circles each week.  I also am enjoying participating in the activities that are chosen by the community co-creator groups each week– it is a real joy to be in a facilitating position now.

Here are the activities:

Opening Circle:  Norming & Animal selection

We needed to review circle norms this week as there has been an increase in side conversations (a symptom of comfort as a group?).  I felt it really had an impact on the listening and circle go-round that focused on the question:  If you were an animal, what would you be?  This was such a fun question and the variety among the class and the reasons for the selection were so interesting.  There is a lot of potential to expand on this question- to group animals, discuss differences and how that may play out in a collaborative setting, etc.

Literature Circles:  cyberbullying

It is clear that students are getting to the point where they are comfortable debating with each other.  Since this is such a short course (10 weeks) I decided I would assign groups early, do a lot of inclusion activities and keep the groups together throughout the course rather than make other groups.  Of course, in a classroom I would alternate between different groupings and individual work- but we need to make choices.

Here are some of the key issues that were raised:

  • What language do students use- site- actionable option- power of words.
  • How do we relate to students?- difference in social media and is this gender specific? Different formats?
  • Should we ban cyberbullying? How do we police online? How is this possible?
  • Is safety and security greater than freedom of speech?
  • Is cyberbullying as detrimental as physical bullying?
  • How can we teach parents to use social media properly (counter-intuitive)?
  • Are parents accountable- cyberbullying and accessibility?
  • Can we use restorative practices work online?- foundation in culture
  • Need to make anti-bullying efforts related to students (not related to their actions)
  • Digital tattoos vs right to be forgotten?
  • Do teachers have the responsibility of monitoring cyber action outside the classroom?
  • Who is bullied? Multiple means for same person?
  • Is poor self-esteem a result rather than cause of bullying?
  • How do we involve community (parents)?
  • In what ways can we use technology to address the issue of cyberbullying and cyber safety?

Energizer:  Balloon Activity

Each person has a balloon tied around their ankle and must walk around to pop someone else’s balloon by stomping on it. A variation could be that there are 4 teams (4 different coloured balloons) and once only one colour of balloons are left, that team wins.

Fishbowl Activity:  Problem-Solving

I have discussed this in another post- see here.  I really like the fishbowl for problem-solving or generating ideas/modelling group discussions.  I am not sure i would use this for serious issues…. Know your class and it is all about relationships.

FISHBOWL- a great strategy to do decision making.  While in a full circle, we had a participant share a concern to the group.  There was a seat opposite the student where participants from the outside circle could jump in, sit and share a suggestion and then return to the outer circle.  There are many variations- check out Student Fishbowl or Teaching Strategy

Closing Circle:  Red/Yellow/Green- Traffic lights

I really liked this reflection!  Students were each given 3 different colour circles and reflected on the question:  How comfortable are you with dealing with bullying issues in our next practicum?  We did a stand up and declare yourself (random times stand and share response).  This allowed students to pass if they wanted and also to make a public declaration.  There was a great variety to the answers and I can see this as very effective in the classroom setting.

Check for understanding- post on desks and have students move erasers to where they feel they are while working through problems; post by door and have students touch colour on way out

Self-regulation- identify where they are in emotion & strategies to improve

2 more weeks…..


Posted: March 5th, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments | 1 Comment »

Week 7- Shape of a Girl and Homophobia

No easy themes this week!

We had an incredible opportunity to witness Megan Carty‘s (Cart Before the Horse Theatre) presentation of Joan McLeod’s Shape of a Girl.  See our article in the University of Ottawa Gazette.  The Shape of a Girl is a powerful one-woman show that was inspired by the Reena Virk story.  Megan brought along 3 of her chorus members, all students at Canterbury High School and this brought an excellent dimension to the story- especially making for such an insightful talk-back session.  It really reminded me how important it is to have students share their experiences with future educators- they provide such an important dimension.

Here is a great link to a Shape of a Girl unit plan for teachers working with this production from Theatre for Young People (Green Thumb theatre).

We had a lot to digest after this production in our literature circles and I, of course, through in another challenging theme- the role of race and homophobia in bullying.  I can’t believe how it always feels like I just don’t have enough time in these classes.  So much to unpack.

The readings that anchored the class were the following:

  • MacLeod, J. (2002). The shape of a girl. Talonbooks.
  • Byers, M. (2010). The Stuff of Legend: T/Selling the Story of Reena Virk. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 41(3), 27-48.
  • Jiwani, Y. (1999). Erasing race: the story of Reena Virk. Canadian Woman Studies, 19(3), 178-184.
  • Walton, G. (2004). Bullying and homophobia in Canadian schools: The politics of policies, programs, and educational leadership. Journal of gay & lesbian issues in education, 1(4), 23-36.
  • “Homophobia: It’s getting better” (Mar. 3, 2012) The Economist.
  • Supplemental Resources:

The class activities were the following:

Opening Circle- Student led

SPIDER WEB.  Using the biggest ball of yarn I have ever seen, we made a circle outline and then tossed the ball across the circle after answering the question “Who did you connect/reconnect with over the long weekend?”  It was a great way to check in with each other after 2 weeks with no class.  It was really nice to see where people were at and the headspace we were in.

I like using this in class to embed content- vocabulary, story building, what do you remember about this unit, etc.

Inclusion Activity:  2 Truths and a Lie

One of my favourites.  Each student comes up with 2 true statements and a lie and shares with the group (or small groups in our case).  As a group we are to try to guess the ‘lie’.  Once again, although it is important to reconnect as a large community- we also needed to take some time to reconnect in our small groups before we dove into these thorny issues.

Literature Circles:  Week 4

It is so amazing to see people so engaged.  I really wish I was able to jump into the conversations- and normally would in my classroom- but want to respect the discussion as I know I have a tendency to take over discussions.  This happened in the feedback session as I really wanted to share my own opinions.  This is probably where I am having the most difficulty in the facilitation role– how to balance my own input and highlighting of key issues.  I find it so interesting to see the level of engagement in the small groups and how quickly I lose people when we start the class discussions.  Working from the social-constructivist framework (or at least that is where my head is at during these comps exams) I know my goal is learning and I am struggling to see how I can enhance my delivery to have that conversation.  I am certainly enjoying the use of the reflection journal as a main source.

Discussion around the themes

Many excellent points were raised in the lit circles- here are a few of the points:

  • How can some of these difficult issues be brought into the curriculum/content- sexuality, gender, race, cultural norms?
  • The power of language and the use of homophobic slurs- how can we address this as teachers?
  • What is happening in the Catholic schools?  How are they responding to Bill 13 and the new sex.ed curriculum?
  • How do we handle parent complaints- topics addressed in class, school or curriculum?
  • What if your beliefs do not match with your school culture?
  • Should there be a law to make bullying illegal? What is the effectiveness?  What does it teach?
  • What is the role of the media in bullying?- thinking about the Reena Virk case
  • How do we unpack bullying as a relationship problem and a social behaviour?  How do we teach/model healthy social interactions?
  • How do we teach beyond the binary- race, culture, sexuality, gender?  What is the role of heteronormativity, etc?
  • Is homophobia really getting better (see required reading)- are students really beyond this issue as they sometimes say or are we making assumptions?

Energizer- The Human Knot

This is such a fun activity, and we really did a great job of knotting that there was no getting out.  This was a first for me.  We suspect it was because we all crossed hands- but really there was no way of movement.  Our group also had the difficulty of not talking.  In the end, we had to surrender to defeat- but it certainly made us more comfortable in each others’ space.  The debrief was around the issue of communication and the ‘knotty’ situation of bullying.

Closing Circle- Values we hold dear

We were asked to write 5 values that we hold dear in ourselves onto 5 cue cards.  Once completed, we paired up and labelled ourselves A and B.  From here, we made inside/outside circles and had to choose one value to discard (prioritizing).  We would then share our rationale with our partner.  Once done, the circles would move (different circles moved each time)  We went through this process until we were left with one final quality that we held most dear.  These words and the rationale for why this is important as an educator was shared in a final community circle.  It was powerful to see these qualities and something to keep in mind as we travel through the school system as teachers.  In the interest of full disclosure, I chose integrity…something I struggle to enact daily.  Luckily, I have a lot of role models to keep me in line.

Until next time…off to continue my studies.




Posted: February 24th, 2015 in Creating Healthy, Safe and Supportive Learning Environments | No Comments »

Visible Learning- LCEEQ conference in Laval, Quebec

“Where are we going?  How are we going? Where to next?”

Instead of teaching my Monday class, I had an opportunity to join many of my colleagues from the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB) as we invaded Laval, Quebec.  There was quite a number of us heading to the Visible Learning Plus Conference (Dr. John Hattie) hosted by the LCEEQ (Leadership Committee for English Education in Quebec).  The description we were given was: “Visible Learningplus is a professional development program for teachers that explores how evidence can be used to create innovation in the learning environment. Their work is focused on John Hattie’s research and the principles of Visible Learning and visible teaching. This outstanding research involved millions of students and represents the largest ever evidence-based research into what actually works best in schools to improve learning…”  I couldn’t wait.

visible-learning-for-teachers-by-john-hattie-book-covervisible learning

I have had the privilege to attend (and even present at) a few of the LCEEQ’s earlier conferences- back when it was called IDC (Implementation Design Committee)- and have always been so impressed by the high quality of the presentations and the engagement of those in attendance.  This year our numbers reached almost 1000- it felt a bit like being at a rock concert as I know I wasn’t the only one who was eager to see the ‘real’ John Hattie in action.  It was an amazing experience and I loved how I was able to connect with a bunch of colleagues from various parts of my life (Accompaniment with Dr. Avril Aitken, English Language Arts Committee, Ministry initiatives, school board, mentors and teachers).  After feeling a bit like a fish out of water in the PhD world, this felt a bit like coming home to so many friendly faces.

Our school board has been playing with Visible Learning for the past few years- in particular, the staff at D’Arcy McGee and Symmes JHS, under the direction of George Singfield and his team, have been doing some really interesting work.  I have heard staff saying they are inspired by this initiative and excited about the work they are doing.  They also are seeing results.  Having once taught and been V-P at those schools, I was invited to join the school’s PD training on Visible Learning this year brilliantly facilitated by my mentor Ainsley Rose.  It blew my mind.  The potential impact is so incredible on student learning and this conference was a fabulous way for me to get a different perspective and dig a little deeper.

Dr. John Hattie delivered the key note presentation titled Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn.  He did not disappoint.  I loved hearing about his vision and how he is thinking about education today.  It can be summed up in the guiding principle of Visible Learning- when teachers see learning through the eyes of their students and students see themselves as their own teachers.

There were so many things that stood out for me, but I will target a few of the gems:

Can we identify the excellence around us?  This is really at the heart of visible learning- and developing assessment capable learners.  It is about examining what we are doing well and building on it.  The motto of the conference and Hattie’s work is “Know thy impact“- we need to really understand what we are doing as teachers and how this impacts student learning.  We need to build trust and understand where excellence is.  We need to ask impact questions:

  1. What does it mean to be good at _________?
  2. What is the magnitude of that impact?
  3. How pervasive is this impact? Is everyone getting it in the class????

Kids come to school to watch teachers work.  As Hattie points out, much (he says 45%- but I don’t know where that number comes from) of what we are teaching students, they already know.  We need to move past surface learning to deep learning.  This conference gave us many ways to engage in this area.

The importance of student-teacher & peer-peer relationships for effective feedback.  “The purpose of trust is to wallow in errors”.  I believe so much in the affective domain- the relationships and trust; Hattie’s work really seems to reinforce this.

– The pit is not something to be afraid of- we need to encourage students to embrace feeling like they don’t know what to do and own the various learning strategies that will help them get out of the pit.

Kids need to set expectations for themselves that exceed their expectations- and ours.  We need to be clear about our learning intentions for EVERY lesson and use success criteria as a means for students to gauge their own learning.  It is about helping students see themselves as their own teachers and knowing what to do when they don’t know what to do.

The best teachers turn you onto their passion for the subject and see something in us that we didn’t see in ourselves.  We have an enormous impact on students and can truly make a difference in their lives.

Teacher observations– this is clearly an area of interest for me and Hattie is very critical of teacher evaluations and observations.  He said a lot that I am still chewing on, but a couple of things stood out:  1) observations only highlight how you should teach like me- the focus is not on the learning.  2) accountability has a downside.  We need to identify the excellence- this should be our focus.

– introduction of the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collins, 1982) which stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome and “is a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they got right.”  Check out Biggs’s website on SOLO Taxonomy.

SOLO taxonomy

In terms of taxonomies, Hattie also gave a pretty damning account of Bloom’s (even the revised version!)…something that I will have to look into further.

Bloom's revised

At the start of his presentation, Hattie addressed and dismissed some of the criticism he has received.  This is an area I want to look more into, but to my (novice) understanding, he has been questioned on the numbers & effect size work and for not delving into the impact on pupils of social factors such as home life and poverty.  As Hattie points out, there has been a lot of misreading of his work and there is danger of an oversimplified view of the research leading used to push policy initiatives that are not in the best interest of students, teachers and communities.  I also wonder about the theoretical framework that Hattie works from (and the research studies he uses) and how that may be a source of tension with some critics.  I know there is no magic bullet and this isn’t the holy grail (as it has been called), but I find this has been a great place to start important professional discussions.  I also am pretty impressed by what is happening in some of these schools- it may be time for a visit to New Zealand to Stonesfield School.

After the keynote, we had 4 break-out sessions delivered by excellent facilitators that gave us greater insight into some of the key areas of Visible Learning.

1) Instructional Strategies for Metacognition- Jenni Donohoo

“Increasing teachers’ own metacognitive awareness of their cognitive processes is an important first step in preparing them to increase student awareness” (Linda Baker, p.421 in the International Guide of Student Achievement)

2) Student Voice- Julie Smith–

“No one has a bigger stake in teaching effectiveness than students.  Nor are there any better experts on how teaching is experienced by its intended beneficiaries.  But only recently have many policymakers and practitioners come to recognize that-when asked th right questions, in the right ways-students can be an important source of information on the quality of teaching and the learning environment in individual classrooms”

3) Using Data to Make Learning Visible- Ainsley Rose

Teachers and leaders believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students’ learning and achievement.  By seeking evidence to inform their teaching and practice, teachers and leaders are also asking, “Where am I going?” “How am I doing?” and “Where to next?”

4) Feedback That Makes Learning Visible- Peter DeWitt

“The art is to provide the right form of feedback at, or just above, the level where the student is working…”

Some other standouts for me:

–  “When you put the child together first, the rest of the world follows”

– We are working in a DRIP state- Data-Rich, Information-Poor.

– It is not about the data, but the story (conversation) around the data

Finally, Ainsley Rose did the closer and, as usual, he was incredible.  I felt inspired, I felt lucky to have chosen this profession and I felt like we were on the right path.  We can make a difference; it is all about “Gentle pressure- persistently applied”.

This is where I am wallowing now and really liked Ainsley’s Questions to consider

  1. How do you currently make the learning goals clear for your students?
  2. How do you now they are clear?
  3. What might you now do differently?

Future reading:

What Really Works in Special and Inclusive Education– David Mitchell

Flipped Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel–  Peter M. DeWitt

The Hidden Lives of Learners– Graham Nuthall

Collaborative Inquiry for Educators: A Facilitator’s Guide to School Improvement– Jenni Donohoo

Habits of mind: Arthur L. Costa

Start with Why: Simon Sinek: Check out his website and TedTalk


Collaborative Inquiry DeWitt Nuthall Start with Why What really works (Mitchell) Habits of Mind

Posted: February 13th, 2015 in Professional Development Training, Visible Learning | No Comments »

Writing…keeping me honest

I am in my second week of a newly formed writing group.  My supervisor (Dr. Ruth Kane) is incredible and has asked me to join a group of inspiring women to focus on our professional writing.  This is a major area of weakness for me.  It is not that I don’t enjoy writing; I just haven’t published much (yet!) outside of my professional life as an educator.  There really is a big difference between academic writing and the type of writing I have been doing.  This writing group is a great opportunity for me to focus more on the academic side and learn some of the tricks of the trade.  It is also a great place for me to connect with recent PhD graduates and outstanding professors. Most of these women have also managed to balance this academic life with children and thus, serve as great role models.

The book that Dr. Kane has chosen to focus our work is Wendy Laura Belcher’s “Writing your Journal Article in 12 Weeks- A Guide to Academic Publishing Success”.  Guiding me along this journey is the book “Learn to Write Badly” by Michael Billig (a required text for Dr. Richard Barwell’s course), which I found to be a great read that highlighted some of my concerns (frustrations) about academic writing.

25435_Belcher_Writing_your_Journal_Article_in_12_Weeks_72ppiRGB_150pixw                                                                                              learn to write badly

We are currently working on Week 2- and this post will summarize what struck me from these 2 weeks.

Week 1Designing Your Plan for Writing

This week really was about getting underneath your feelings about writing and in particular, academic writing.  Some of the negative feelings from Belcher’s classes really spoke to me:

  • I enjoy revising, but I hate getting that first draft down (for me it feels so permanent and somehow I am always hoping that it would be better- it just doesn’t sound as good as I thought it was in my head).
  • I feel like procrastinating whenever I think of how much writing I have to do and how little I have done (I am a massive procrastinator- maybe it is because it delays my disappointment of seeing what I actually put in print- see above).

I also am really feeling the imposter syndrome in this academic world when it comes to academic writing.  I want my writing to be useful to educators and, in general, I don’t see that happening with many published articles.  This view is echoed by Billig in his discussion of academic language- “One thing has not altered: if students and their teachers try to use simple, clear language, rather than big specialized concepts and phrases, then they will risk appearing as if they were inadequate, untrained and, most importantly, as if they did not belong”(p.63).  I want my writing to be clear and simple; I find the most impressive writers are those who convey complex ideas in ways that I can easily understand them.  This is one of my goals and luckily I have some great models in this writing group. This will be a great process for me.

  • Successful Academic Writers Write… “First and foremost, get writing!”- Samuel Eliot Morison.  If we want to get better, we need to get writing.  Makes sense…and Belcher encourages setting a plan for writing- daily.  It is not about having long chunks of writing time; it is about consistent and daily writing that will help improve our writing and increase those positive feelings.  By meeting as a writing group and making our writing social, we will have a better chance to be successful.  We have committed to 1 hour of writing for 5 days a week and a meeting once a week as a group.  In order to keep me on track, I will keep the following in mind when I feel crunched for time:  “those likely to describe themselves as very ‘busy’ or very ‘stressed’ did not produce as much as those who were writing steadily.  In other words, you are not too busy to write, you are busy because you do not write. Busy-ness is what you do to explain your not writing”(p.5).
  • Persist despite rejection- I think of J.K. Rowling here and many others!
  • Pursue your passion- write about what is meaningful to you…”Whatever your pump is, paint it”
  • Selecting a text for revision- What have you already written? I am thinking of 2 texts- one that would be very meaningful to me and something that I have been wanting to work on for a long time.  The other a research study that would need a lot of revising.
  • Choose a writing site- my home office is perfect now that we have rearranged it to have me looking outside rather than at the wall- who knew that was all it would take to get me comfortable!
  • Design a writing schedule- trickier- but I am committed to finding that one hour a day.
  • Anticipate writing obstacles- these are excellent!  A few stood out as most relevant to me- these were Number 5 “I’m going to make writing my number one goal in life” [demands for time and perfection encourage its avoidance], Number 7- “I have to read just one more book” [“Writers who learn to leave holes in manuscripts to be filled later master valuable skills in writing: they learn to proceed amid ambiguity and uncertainty” (Boice)] and Number 28 “I need big blocks of time to write, and my schedule doesn’t allow such blocks” [long stretches are elusive and “people who use only big blocks of time to write are less productive and more unhappy than those who write daily”].
  • In the end, I don’t have the luxury of long blocks of time (family and comprehensive exam time!) so I am going to do what I can and remember- “feeling too much guilt is counterproductive”(p.41).

Week 2- Starting Your Article

  • Types of academic articles are described as are the weight they each have on a hiring committee- very helpful for a graduate student.  Unfortunately, the article I have chosen to pursue doesn’t seem to be among this list.
  • Myths about publishable journal articles- what gets published and why.  Once again, this is very helpful for a student.
  • Ingredients of a good abstract- this is the assignment for the week and the book provides excellent tips and examples.  Not only is developing the abstract an important first step for the writer as it focuses your energy to the topic and argument, but according to APA (1994) “a well-prepared abstract can be the most important paragraph in your article”(qtd. on p.54).
  • Reread your paper & make a list of revision tasks- this is a big one for me.  Not only will I have to cut down the article, I will have to add in newer information and change the narrative focus.
  • Draft the abstract & then SHARE.  This is where I am right now.  I have to draft the abstract and then share it with my writing partner (coordinated by Dr. Kane).  This is what makes writing social and will keep me honest (and on track time-wise).
  • Read a model article- I have actually already done this and have targeted a journal where I would like to submit my work.  I am working backwards from this model to craft my abstract.
  • Revise the abstract- keeping my reviewer’s comments in mind.

OK- off to draft that abstract…no procrastination.

Posted: February 8th, 2015 in phd, Writing | No Comments »

Tribes TLC training (in review)

The Tribes TLC mission:“to assure the healthy development of every child in the school community so that each has the knowledge, skills & resiliency to be successful in our rapidly changing world.”

This year I had the opportunity to facilitate with my colleague, Julia Horner, a Tribes TLC training at the Western Quebec School Board (WQSB).  We first met in late November and again in late January.  It was an incredibly energizing experience and I probably learned more than I shared.  As a group, we were made up of mostly new teachers to the WQSB- but had a variety of teaching experience (first year to 25 years!).  It is so powerful to have such different perspectives and experiences together in one spot.  This post is an attempt to sum up some of what happened during these amazing days.

For more information on Tribes TLC, please go to their website:

I am also very grateful to my supervisor/mentor Dr. Ruth Kane and colleague/mentor Dr. Linda Radford for asking me some challenging questions regarding this training and pointing me to Dragonfly consulting’s aboriginal perspective on tribes- – which definitely resonated with me as I engaged in the training.

It is important to note that the Tribes TLC training is clearly designed and has a strict implementation process.  Fidelity to the process is critical and as certified trainers (TOT), we have agreed to follow the guidelines as we were taught.  I certainly believe that there is room for an update (the articles & videos would be a great start), yet understand the process is based on research and that there needs to be a protocol to keep it the same as it spreads internationally.  I know that there are real concerns about the fact that it is a program with financial ties.  As well, although it never claims to ‘own’ the activities/strategies that are used- people can be heard often talking about ‘tribes’ activities and processes that have been around for a long time in the educational, outdoor ed, leadership and NGO world.  That said, I am still a strong supporter of the process as it really does give some practical tools for teachers to help make their schools “safe, caring and motivational for all.”  We have to start somewhere!

It was a wonderful 4 days with wonderful educators.  I think we had the opportunity to make some great bonds that will stay with us throughout our careers.  I also hope that we will be making a difference for our students and their classroom experiences.  Isn’t what this what it is all about?  In the end, I had a blast and was so happy that I agreed to do the training; I hope my colleagues felt the same.  Here is a photo of our group (we are missing a few people!):

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It was mentioned that it would be so much fun to all work together in a school- a school that would be made up of these qualities:

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How great would that be??  At least we can take the first steps in our own classrooms.

I am also attaching the sheets of our strategies- unfortunately, we were unable to get a photo of the first 2 days of training with the page numbers…but I hope that this helps.  Thanks everyone!!

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As requested, here are a couple of the extras that we added to the training:

– The connection between restorative practices philosophy and the Tribes TLC process.  Interesting- they have also made this connection.  See the article on Tribes and Restorative Practice here.

– FISHBOWL- a great strategy to do decision making.  While in a full circle, we had a participant share a concern to the group.  There was a seat opposite the student where participants from the outside circle could jump in, sit and share a suggestion and then return to the outer circle.  There are many variations- check out Student Fishbowl or Teaching Strategy

– Dr. Angela Duckworth and Grit- see the TEDtalk here.  This led to an interesting discussion!

– To support the discussion around Brain Compatible Learning, we read sections from this book that I use with my own children often:

fantastic elastic brain

– On the final day, each group was asked to choose and lead an energizer- they were selected from the Energizer box and we had a lot of fun with all of them!

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– We shared some of our favourite reading to get us thinking/talking.  Here are some of the titles:

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Posted: February 4th, 2015 in Professional Development Training, Tribes | No Comments »