Tag Archives: hope

How Will You Make Your Own Mess? “Creating a Culture Not of Mimics But of Masters”

We have problems.  Big problems.

Our world is warming up at an alarming rate.  Child poverty is still a reality in spite of “promises” to end it.

Who will solve these problems?

What are we doing every day to move toward solutions?

Commander Hadfield asked this question recently as host of the CBC Radio program “The Current”.

Listen to the short clip here:

“It takes individual action…

What can I do to understand this better, and then based on that understanding, what can action can I take to then help improve things for myself, for Canadians and beyond our borders.”

Commander Hadfield wonders what we are doing wrong in teaching science to our children.  Why does their curiosity disappear as they move through the school system?


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Shared under a Creative Commons Licence by timuiuc


This short clip might shed some light on the issues.



We can ask the very same questions about math.

This short clip addresses part of the problem, but the full video below is well worth your time.



How will you help our students to make their own mess?

How are you making your own mess?

What strategies take us away from the path to a society of mimics, and down the road to a society of masters, poised to solve our big problems?


A Child’s Best Hope

She hated me.

I didn’t know a lot about her, but I knew this for sure.

She hated me with every stare down as I walked through the halls, with every glare when I entered one of her classes, and with every silent meeting in my office – me talking, and her projecting her hatred  without saying a word, without cooperating in any way.

Once she stood up and punched at my face, expertly grazing my cheekbone so it didn’t cause damage, but it sent the clearest possible message.

I asked the school counselor what I had done wrong, what I had done to deserve such hatred.  She said, “Oh, don’t worry about her.  She hates everyone”.

Don’t worry?  If a 14-year-old hates everyone with that intensity, it is a huge cause for worry.


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Recently, while waiting to board a flight, I opened a free copy of the local paper – and there was her face, older but unmistakeable.  It was a selfie she had taken in happier times, her devilish smile betraying the torment that was under the surface.

The words below the photo did not mention suicide, but they didn’t have to. The two babies she adored were now without a mother.

As any educator would, I began to wonder if I could have done more.


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Mary Jean Gallagher often says that our job is to teach.  We are not social workers.  Our job is to ensure that children learn.

Catherine Montreuil emphasizes that no child in our classrooms can be stuck.  It is our responsibility to ensure that every child learns.  We don’t have to do it alone, we can get the supports we need to ensure learning happens.

Some of our kids need more than we can give.  It doesn’t mean we stop trying.  The structure of our schools makes it so difficult for some of our children to be successful.


I can no longer do anything for her, but I can keep working to make sure her babies enter an environment that embraces all cultures, respects and encourages all learning, and provides all the supports that all children need to be successful.

I owe her that.


Image credit:

mgaloseau via Compfight cc

A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario

Not all the numbers are in yet, but it looks like it could be a majority Liberal government in Ontario.

For me, it means we can return to the work that the people of Ontario have asked us to do, as outlined in this video.


I’m excited to get back on track for Ontario students.

And What About High School?

That  “stop smoking” commercial, the one where the woman is at an almost empty high school, talking about how this is where she started smoking, and this is where she is going to quit, shakes me up.

Why in the world do kids start a life-threatening habit in a place of learning? Shouldn’t we expect high schools to be places that promote healthy living and embrace the wonder of learning?

This tweet from Grant Wiggins (@grantwiggins) made me pause and take a look this week.

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As it turns out, Grant Wiggins is working on a series called Fixing the High School (by listening to students). Some of the student responses can be found here. The consistency of the responses is sobering.
But are we listening?

Earlier this month, Ontario Secondary School Principal David Jaremy (@davidjaremy) posted a thoughtful piece on dealing with late students, the endless problem normally tackled by vice principals (where there is a vp), which is never solved through a code of behaviour and a series of discipline measures, even though that is still the “solution” of choice in most high schools.

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So, then, how do we effect change and make our high schools places where our youth can thrive?

Stephen Hurley (@Stephen_Hurley) challenges us to ask not only what needs to be changed in our schools, but what needs to stay.

What do we currently value in our system?

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Earlier this week, a conversation on Twitter swirled around the ideas of what school is for, and what we aspire to in our school system.

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Let’s do our best to continue this conversation.

EdCampWR (part 2) – Everyone Has Something IMPORTANT to Share

This past week, I have been explaining the concept of “EdCamp” to a lot of people.  It’s on a Saturday, it’s free, it’s open to anyone wanting to learn, and “everyone has something to share”.  The program is driven by the learning needs of the people in attendance, and the smartest person in the room is the room.

What I love most is the “hunger to learn”.

Recently I attended #Educon in Philadelphia.  While sessions are determined in advance, it does rest on the principle that “everyone has something IMPORTANT to share”.  This is captured very clearly in this video.

A few of my favourite quotes that capture some of the thinking from #Educon:

David Jakes: “The first step in redesigning a classroom is discarding the notion that it has to be a classroom.” (2:36)

Chris Lehman: “What schools can become, are the places where we come together to learn…” (4:14)

Jose Vilson: “Trying to get education to be more about what kids can do instead of what they can’t do…” (5:30)

Ayla Gavins: “..I would eliminate ACCESS as the reason for not choosing to use technology.” (6:23)

Diana Laufenberg: “The one thing that teachers can do proactively is to share, everywhere possible, the positive things that are happening with our kids…” (7:14)

What is #Educon?  It’s a global tribe of support – 24/7.

It’s what EdCamps can be too.  Passion, learning, sharing, bringing hope for positive change to make our schools places where we support communities of learning.

What is the Purpose of School? Nova Scotia Considers Its Future

It’s perplexing to me that as Canadians we can unite at ungodly early morning hours to cheer on our hockey team as a country, yet when it comes to education we live on seemingly unconnected islands.

In my province, Ontario, we have just completed a “visioning” exercise, looking at how to move our public education system from “great to excellent“.  In the meantime, in what feels like a different country (because we rarely connect and share what we know), the province of Nova Scotia is about to embark on an education review.

Last week, the Province of Nova Scotia launched its urgent call for change.

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The report states that a crisis exists that threatens the standard of living of Nova Scotians.  It outlines 19 goals and 12 long-term strategies that are needed to turn the economy around and stop the current decline.

Robert Sutton, in his recent publication “Scaling Up Excellence” demonstrates that using logical arguments to spread the need for change are often not effective, and we need an emotional attachment to an idea to really move change forward.  The Ivany Report, with the focus on Urgency and Mobilizing Strengths, has created this “hot cause” to “stoke the engine”.

However, critics say that the report, while strong on ideas, lacks concrete policy.

As an educator, I read the report looking for how the education system would be redesigned to meet the goals of “One Nova Scotia: Shaping our Economy Together”.  With a quarter of the population under the age of 19, it would seem that transforming an economy would certainly require a transformation in how young people were educated.  But there is very little in the report to suggest how this might occur.

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A small section entitled “Excellence in Education and Training” (combining those terms is concerning) suggests that a “rigorous curriculum review” and “setting the bar high” will hold Nova Scotians accountable for reaching their goals.

There is essentially no conversation on how a system of schooling, created with an industrial mindset, could now produce young adults who thought like entrepreneurs rather than obedient assembly line employees.

So what, then, should be the purpose of Nova Scotia’s upcoming comprehensive review of the education system?

In Ontario, we have learned that public support of public education is critical.  In our three priorities, raising the bar, lowering the gap and securing accountability, we have focused on how, as a province, we can believe in what we are doing as being the best for our students.

At the same time, research must be central to learning.  So what, then, is the role of public consultation?

Perhaps the real question Nova Scotians need to answer is “What is School for?” How can we possibly determine what is working, and what needs improvement, if we aren’t in agreement on why we have schools in the first place?

Once we know what schools are there to accomplish, there is a world of research available to help move those goals forward.  High yield strategies like assessment for learning, and student-work-study teacher initiatives are well-documented.

The citizens of Nova Scotia,  faced with the findings of the Ivany Report,  now need to deeply consider their expectations, their beliefs, and their understanding of the purpose of the school buildings in their communities, and the reasons for the hours that young people spend there every day.

What kind of person emerges from the years in the school system, and what kind of province results from that education system?

As Canadians, what do we see as the purpose of school?

Further reading:

The Future of Schooling: Are Students Being Prepared to “Dance with Robots”?


Stop Stealing Dreams – Seth Godin


What should a school be?


When Learning Has Nothing To Do With It

Screen Shot 2014-02-17 at 1.38.53 PMLast week, Jan Wong, currently an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communications at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, wrote an article for the Chronicle Herald outlining her concern about her Journalism students cheating on quizzes.

The sentences from her post that most resonated with me are below.

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It should be no surprise at all that some students at a university are “conditioned to work for marks and only marks”.

The only criterion for acceptance to the university is “high marks”.

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When universities filter applicants based on marks, so that only students with really great marks can enter the institution, the students who arrive and attend class there will include those who have learned to play a game very well, and who will continue to play that game when they arrive.

Any senior high school teacher can attest to the fact that learning is not the priority for many grade 11 and 12 students.  The priority is getting the highest two-digit number possible through whatever means are necessary so that he/she can get access to a university program.

The ramifications of this selection process are numerous, and often do not relate to learning at all.  Some are, in fact, very negative.

  • Parents may bully the teachers who don’t give the needed or expected grades.
  • Students may select courses based on who they know will give them the marks they want.
  • Parents will track down a Principal in the summer and demand that their child’s marks be changed.
  • Students tell teachers that the mark they have received for their assignment is “unacceptable” and that they will need something higher.
  • “Cheating” is rampant on tests, exams and assignments.
  • Students learn to seek out exams from previous years, tests and student notes from previous years.
  • They learn how best to get as many marks as possible on every test and exam.
  • They will do almost anything for “bonus marks”, and they learn to manipulate a teacher to offer those “bonus marks”.

Students and parents figure out how to play the game.

Alfie Kohn has been writing about the problem with grades for many years.  One of his best articles is “From Degrading to De-Grading”  (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm), where he explores, among other things, the observations that grades reduce a student’s preference for challenging tasks, the quality of their thinking, and their interest in learning.

The lack of interest in learning by students who have been told that marks are what matters is well-documented, as in the observation below from Janice Fiamengo:

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Those who do well are called “good students”.  Some schools give out awards to students with the highest marks, encouraging competition instead of collaborative learning, and reinforcing that marks are what is really important at that school.

While there is a large and growing movement to put learning at the centre of the what school is about, as long as that final mark is the only requirement for university entrance, marks will remain the focus.

And universities will get what they have selected for.  When students don’t get the marks they want at university, they will react exactly as they have learned to react.

Once again, Janice Fiamengo:

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Fortunately, even the straight-A students are questioning  their school experience and why “marks” are seen as so important. Afraj Gill from “An A+ Student Regrets His Grades“:

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Learning to manipulate teachers to get good grades becomes an art form in itself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8s13_yOLeE

We need to deeply question a system with these values.  Is this the best way to graduate innovators and entrepreneurs?

I believe that we are rethinking what schools are for, how to nurture natural curiosity, and how to use focused innovation in our teaching in the K-12 sector.  I also see evidence that some post-secondary schools are beginning to understand that marks are not the best predictor of learning.

But as long as marks are the sole filter for entrance to university, we will be challenged to put learning, not grades, at the centre of what schools are for.

*Add-On -> A favourite post from @KarlFisch: http://thefischbowl.blogspot.ca/2013/10/your-gda-is-more-important-than-your-gpa.html

@sethgodinblog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/02/doing-what-gets-rewarded.html

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My Definition of Good Pedagogy Includes Technology

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Last night during the Learning 2030 rebroadcast, one of the tweets that came across my screen was a statement that said, “Technology does not replace good pedagogy”.

I see this quote quite frequently in my work, and I worry about it a bit.

I worry because in the same way that “good” standardized test scores can be used to keep technology out of classrooms, I think that this quote can be used by educators to justify avoiding change.

Let me explain…

It might surprise people to realize that there are classrooms, and in fact entire schools, where technology is not being used in learning.


Night Owl City via Compfight cc

How to help those teachers, schools and school boards embrace technology-enhanced learning is the topic of much discussion and much interest.

I have said many times, that I don’t believe in 2014, that our kids can possibly go to school and not have access to technology.  I won’t go into the arguments why right here – that is another blog post – but technology needs to be there.

When a teacher who is not using technology in his or her class sees this quote, they can use it to justify what they are doing.

“Oh yes, I am a great teacher, so I don’t need technology in my classroom.”

It’s the same as seeing entire schools misuse standardized  test scores to justify avoiding change.  “We have great test scores so we are doing everything right, we don’t need to change.”

Quotes like this are dangerous.

I would ask the question, “In 2014, can good pedagogy exist without technology?”

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I would also ask the question, “Does technology replace poor pedagogy?”

I think we need to be very careful about our choice of words.

When we look at the SAMR model, we see that technology-enhanced learning can be so much more enriching.

If we are not allowing our learners to connect and build learning networks, what exactly is our excuse?

#etMOOC +1: The Power of People

As we celebrate the first anniversary of #etMOOC*, I am overwhelmed with the stories of growth and sharing and learning.

* For those who hear about how MOOCs are a trend, a fad, a failure or a passing phase, here is the kind of MOOC I am referring to:

#etMOOC connected people.

It wasn’t about content.  It wasn’t about assignments.  It was about experiencing the world of people out there who care about learners, who advocate for change, who take risks, who share their learning every single day.

It was about creating together, playing together, learning together.

I am fascinated by how the experience blurred our professional and personal lives.

We didn’t draw a line between the two.

We allowed, and continue to allow, our best traits, our life experiences, our travels and our learning to inform our time together, be it online or f2f.

We learn together whether we are “on the clock” or “on the road”.

We model what learning can be: self-directed, shared, always available.  Supported, stretched, generous and courageous.

#etMOOC brought out the best in us.  #etMOOC brings out the best in us.

Happy #etMOOC anniversary.  Keep learning and sharing.

Every Single Day is Special

It’s December 19th.

For years, this has been one of the most difficult days of the entire year.  Last year it got even harder.

On December 19, 1999, my friend, Patricia Fry Anderson (who became my sister-in-law when I married her younger brother), was killed in a car accident on the way home from watching her sons play hockey.  She went to the game because she had spent the previous years so focused on becoming a nurse practitioner, that she missed many of the boys’ hockey games.  So even though the van was in the shop, and there weren’t enough seat belts in the front seat of the truck, all four people in the family crowded into the front seat to go just a few miles down the road to the Mindemoya Arena.  On the way home, they were in a horrible accident.  Patricia died at the scene.  Her husband and two sons were critically injured.

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Pat Anderson with her husband, Ian, and my nephews, Ryan and Erik. From the book “Game Wardens”.

My husband (her brother) was the Provincial Lead for the Ontario Public Service Peer Support Program at the time.  Whenever there was a critical incident involving an employee of specific ministries, my husband was called to send out a peer support team to the family.  I was beside him on December 19, 1999 when the dispatcher called our house.  How could she have known that the person she was calling was the brother of the victim?

Patricia was a very special person whose life was cut far too short.

She had just accepted a position with the  First Nations on Manitoulin Island as the primary health care worker.  She believed so strongly in promoting health, but at the same time she worked tirelessly to be an exceptional mother, a gardener, and master cook.  She was all about quality of life, and every day was full of activity – gathering berries, gardening, picking flowers, catching fish.  She lived.  Every single day.

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Patricia was “aunt Pat” to my children. She loved them like her own, and they knew it.

We still miss her desperately, and I wonder how much good she would have done on this earth had she survived that night*.

Last year, early in the morning of December 19, we received the call we were dreading.  Our 2013 12 19 Lesley and Darrendear friend Lesley was calling to say that her husband, our nephew, 52-year-old Darren Smith, had succumbed to ALS after a 2-year battle with this horrible, horrible disease.

Darren was a true leader in the Metro Toronto Police Force.  He was incredibly knowledgeable about learning, and a pioneer in e-learning in the province.  I have written about him here.

Darren was a “go big or go home” kind of person.  Everything he took on, he did with full out effort and an eye for excellence.  There was no half effort for Darren, ever.

Even while ALS took away his ability to breathe, to write, to feed himself, to drive, to walk, to sit, to sleep, he kept on, reminding us that life is precious.  Reminding us that we don’t have a minute to waste.

At Darren’s funeral, we were treated to a video that he had made when he was still able to speak, a message to all of us to remember to treasure life and love, and to live large.  Each member of the family received a personalized cookbook, written by Darren as he struggled with his health.2013 12 19 Darren rib sauce

Whenever I have a “bad day”, I think about Darren and Patricia, because at least I am having a day.  

I often think about all of the good they could have done if their lives had not been cut short.  Sometimes I feel like I need to do the good of three people to make up for the loss of these exceptional people.

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Opening page in “Smith’s Kitchen Sink”, by F. Darren Smith.

But what I do know is that life is far too short to waste a second of it.  Why wait to stand up for what is right?  Why wait for “the right time”?

We have no idea how long we are here for.  Every single day is special.

Make the most of it.



Featured Image: Bridal Veil Falls, Kagawong, shared by http://www.flickr.com/photos/13613374@N00/3899561215/


  • Name: (Wanda) Patricia FRY
  • Given Name: (Wanda) Patricia
  • Surname: FRY
  • Sex: F
  • Birth: 4 Sep 1953 in Campbellford, Ontario, Canada
  • Death: 19 Dec 1999
  • Burial: 19 Feb 2000 Kagawong Cedars Cemetery, Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada
  • Change Date: 21 Jul 2013 at 12:34
  • Note:

    Obituary, uncited
    Wanda Patricia Anderson
    In loving memory of Wanda Patricia Anderson, September 4, 1953-December 19, 1999
    Pat Anderson a resident of Kagawong, died on Sunday, December 19, 1999 at the age of 46 years.
    Pat was born in Campbellford, daughter of the late Fred and Maudie (Hay) Fry. She worked in many capacities as a registered nurse and was known far and wide for her love and dedication to her profession and the people she worked with, both colleagues and patients. She spent countless hours in her job, working and learning for the benefit of health care. Her contributions to her profession will improve the quality of care for people not only on the Island, but in the health field throughout the province. Although Pat was very involved in her work, she took time to enjoy hobbies such as gardening, and growing flowers and plants, and she loved to cook for family and friends. One of her greatest joys was spending time with family and friends at their cottage on Cockburn Island. Pat was a loving and caring wife, mother, sister and friend. Many wonderful times and memories will be shared by family and friends, and the many people whose lives she touched.
    Dearly loved wife and best friend of Ian Anderson. Proud, loving and loved mother of Ryan and Erik. Dear sister of Jim Fry and his wife Donna of Minden; Connie Richardson (husband Ross, predeceased) of Port Hope; Sharon Soenen (husband Luke, predeceased) of Port Hope and Bonnie Lee Preston of Belleville. Also survived by nieces and nephews Kyle, Kira, Darren, Dale, Steven, Tracy, Scott and Leanne and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
    The funeral service and celebration of Pat’s life will be conducted at the M’Chigeeng First Nation Complex on Saturday, February 19, 2000 at 1:00 p.m. with Reverend Iain Macdonald officiating. Spring interment in Kagawong Cedars Cemetery. In remembrance, bursaries are being established and may be arranged through the Culgin Funeral Home.

    Pat Anderson Cherished by all
    By Toby Clarke
    Manitoulin-The life of Patricia Anderson was remembered and celebrated on Saturday, February 19, 2000 at the M’Chigeeng First Nation Complex.
    Pat Anderson was born on September 4, 1953 in Campbellford, Ontario. She joined her husband Ian, a Conservation Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources on Manitoulin in 1974. She began her career here as a Regisered Nurse at the Manitoulin Health Centre in Little Current and soon thereafter took on the responsibility of Evening Supervisor. When Pat was there, you just knew things were going to go better, said Dr. Jack Bailey.
    After 17 years working at the hospital, Mrs. Anderosn left that position in 1991 to broaden her nursing experience. As a visiting nurse for Home Care for aobut seven years, she entered the life of seniors. “Never in my 93 years can I say that I have met a couple, or a person, as kind as Pat,” says Don Lanktree. “She was wonderful, kind and compassionate,” adds Jean Lanktree. The couple clearly appreciated the care Mrs. Anderson took in both her work and in them personality.
    “She treasured her contracts with so many patients over the years and often said that she had learned so much just by listening particularly to the elderly,” explains husband Ian Anderson.
    Patricia was so special to so many. She had such a gift of making everyone she came into contact with, feel good about themselves. Her smile was sincere and endless and her patience for others equally so.
    Pat Anderson’s home and garden was a constant source of quality time. Preparing fine meals and entertaining friends were another cherished interest. The family cottage on Cockburn Island was a special retreat” Heaven on Earth.
    With the full support of her family, Mrs. Anderson decided to pursue her education in the Health field while still working. She balanced the demands of earning her degree in nursing while maintaining her trademark devotion to her on-going nursing career, family and friends. Then came her personal triumph. Pat Anderson graduated with Highest Academic standing from Laurentian University in November 1999 as a Nurse Practitioner.
    It was the realization of this dream that gave Patricia her wings. She was like a butterfly unfolding.
    In as much as this career pinnacle gave Pat Anderson joy and personal satisfaction, her family was clearly the jewel she cherished most. It seems impossible to mention the boys without someone adding how proud she was of them. Pat was just about the epitome of a mother. She brought her sons to young adulthood with solid values in place.
    It is clear, upon reflecting on the life of Pat Anderson that Quality of Life what she gave each day to every encounter, every task, every relationship and every dream was heartfelt and genuine. Pat Anderson was truly blessed in the life she chose to lead.
    Pat Anderson died on December 19, 1999 in an automobile accident. Her husband and sons are physically mending from injuries sustained in the same accident.
    In remembrance, bursaries have been established for the Manitoulin student Aid Fund, for a student becoming a nurse, or the Pat Anderson Memorial Fund at Laurentian University school of Nursing for a student becoming a nurse Practitioner, and may be arranged through the Culgin Funeral Home.
    The late Pat Anderson BScN, NP proudly displays her name plate indicating her successful completion last fall of the Bachelor of Science program in Nursing and her Nurse Practitioner’s program.

    Memoriam, Manitoulin Expositor, December 18, 2002
    ANDERSON–In memory of Pat Anderson, December 19, 1999. “A truly remarkable human being who exemplified what we all should strive to be.”