Tag Archives: hope

My Definition of Good Pedagogy Includes Technology

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 10.14.38 PM

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?”

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 10.10.25 PM

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.

2013 12 19 Patricia
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.

2013 12 19 Carrot Salad

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.

2013 12 19 Darren front of cookbook
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.”

Should Kids Hate School?

I don’t know anyone who would answer “yes” to this question.  So why is the myth that “kids hate school” so pervasive?

Last week, buses were cancelled in Muskoka (yes, there is only one Muskoka!), and the television announcers made a huge deal out of how happy kids would be because they didn’t have to go to school.

If kids shouldn’t hate school, why would they be so happy to miss it?

We need to shift away from the norm of “hating school”.  There are probably reasons why people hated school in the past (perhaps being in the “Bluebird” reading group?).

Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 10.24.25 PM

Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 10.25.21 PM

But why joke about this with kids today?  It’s outdated thinking.  Kids should never hate going to school.

Let Me Play

School is a place where students go to learn, to collaborate, to be healthy. It should be an optimum environment to promote growth, not something that they hate.


Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 9.58.14 PM

And if they can’t get to the building, there is no reason* why kids (in Ontario) can’t be learning at home.  Blended learning and e-Learning are available in all publicly funded Ontario schools.  A cancelled school bus means kids connect with their classroom digitally and there is no interruption in learning.

“If we took seriously the need for kids to feel known and cared about, our discussions about the distinguishing features of a “good school” would sound very different. Likewise, our view of discipline and classroom management would be turned inside-out, seeing as how the primary goals of most such strategies are obedience and order, often with the result that kids feel less cared about — or even bullied — by adults.”


As adults, we sometimes forget to question “norms” from times gone by.

Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 7.36.41 PM Screen shot 2013-12-14 at 7.37.02 PM

Let’s be mindful of our sphere of influence.  Showing that we hated school can have a powerful influence on those hearing the message.  And if a child doesn’t want to go to school, it’s not okay.  Find out why.



Further reading:

“That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a “feel-good” education.”


Why do we need to write papers in every course? http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2013/12/college_papers_students_hate_writing_them_professors_hate_grading_them_let.html

*We are not doing an adequate job of ensuring internet access to all learners.  Many remote and not-so-remote areas have sub-standard or no access to the internet (or public libraries).



Learning is Not a Competition

Greenwich Photography via Compfight cc

The revelation earlier this week that Canadian Cycling hero Ryder Hesjedal had been a doper and a cheater came as no surprise to those of us who have spent good chunks of our lives involved in the world of elite cycling.  Road racers claim the culture of doping gives them no choice but to cross the line into dishonesty to survive in their sport. Clean cyclists are robbed of their funding and their ability to make a living when cheaters hog the podium, and some of the best athelete role models never get to compete for their country.

Cheaters also “hog the podium” in school.

In a culture of learning, there should not be a “podium”, but we all know that there is.  It’s called “Recognizing Excellence” or “Academic Awards”, or some other such thing that allows us to celebrate the “winners” of the competition called school.

Ryder Hesjedal chose to race on a bicycle and he chose to cheat to win.  Jesse Jakomait continues to choose to race on a bicycle and chose NOT to cheat to become an Olympian.  Choosing to compete can be healthy and fun and push you to stretch your personal limits if it works for you, but it is a choice.


But children do not choose to come to school.  They have to.

They come to school to learn, not to compete for marks.  We know that learning works best in an environment of collaboration.  Competition for the highest mark, and practices like bell-curving, work against collaboration, and against best learning.

We know that feedback from teachers is a powerful way to move learning forward, and we know that when that feedback is accompanied by a number, a grade, students look at the grade and ignore the feedback.

This recent article/interview on CBC Radio Day 6 outlines the problem of awards and extrinsic awards for learning:

“[But] you don’t just get rid of awards assemblies because they make the kids that don’t get rewards feel bad. You get rid of awards assemblies because they’re not useful for any kids. Everyone loses in a race to win.”

Changing the rules of the game is hardest for those who are winning at the game, as demonstrated by the interviews of “furious parents” at the beginning of the audio interview.

And when learning is a competition, just like elite cyclists, students cheat.

As a Principal, I spent more than a few hours dealing with students who “cheated” on tests, exams and assignments.

But why do kids feel they need to cheat? If kids are supposed to be learning in school, how does cheating enter the picture?

It comes down to how performance differs from learning.  Comparing yourself with others, fighting for the highest mark, competing for a spot in a university program or trying to meet parent demands for high marks sets students up to find the easy way out, which can be cheating.

This math major says it well.  Math is hard, but you can do it. “Stop comparing yourself to that other student!”

Schools need to be a place where children and young adults feel valued, are encouraged to reach their full potential, and learn to work with others to achieve excellence.  There is no room for the message that winning is the only thing we value.

Save that for the cyclists.

Note: Thanks to Louise Robitaille (@Robitaille2011) for sharing this thoughtful post by @terryainge: https://deltalearns.ca/terryainge/2013/10/28/understanding-assessment-how-i-fell-out-of-love-with-the-grading-program/

Please also see this collection by Chris Wejr (@chriswejr): http://chriswejr.com/thoughts-on-awards-ceremonies/

Find the Right Inch

It’s that time of year when almost any outdoor activity during the work week requires an additional accessory – a headlamp.

Last night, when I paused for my beagle to grab a drink at the water’s edge, we could see a ribbon of light on the horizon as the sun faded for the day.

2013 10 29 sliver of light

I live in a part of northern Ontario where every day, something grabs my attention and makes me just stop and gaze in awe at its beauty. As I stared at this sliver of light,  the interplay of colour along it was so complex as the sun set, it captivated me.

My focus on such a tiny, intriguing part of the sky reminded me of the work by Stephen Katz on “finding the right inch”.  He reminds us that thinking ‘big’,  and creating blanket, one-size-fits-all, mile-wide inch-deep school improvement goals is not  the right approach.  Finding the real problem, and going deep with a meaningful solution, is far more effective.  But first you have to find the real problem, the urgent learning need.

Last year I had the opportunity to work with Robert Dunn and Stephen Katz on a Case Management Project.

Student attendance at our school was a huge concern, and school-wide efforts had not been effective.  Instead of trying to solve the problem for everyone at once, we focussed on learning deeply about three truant students, then addressed the reasons why they were not attending.

We learned that the reasons for non-attendance were vastly different for each student.  No blanket school effort would ever work for these adolescents.  It was only by digging deep into individual situations that allowed us to begin to fully understand their needs and respond accordingly.  It helped us to deepen our understanding of the complexities of the issue of non-attendance.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to work with educators who were looking at how we teach math in our schools.  They worked on solving a problem, posed by the presenter, that students in grade 9 might encounter in a math course.  The thinking and reflections were very revealing.

One teacher reverted immediately to the “formula” he memorized when he was in high school.  When that didn’t work well (because the numbers were not “friendly” for calculations without a calculator), he really didn’t have any other strategies to go to – except to hunt for a calculator.

Others in the room used a variety of strategies – proportion tables, lowest term fractions, sharing ideas and working with a partner.  When we debriefed the exercise, I was surprised by how many different strategies people had used, and how sharing their thinking helped us to consider many approaches to the same problem.  Our understanding grew as we spent more time listening to each other.

The teacher who used the formula told me that he was always “good” in math in school, and he continued to believe he was “good at math”.  In reality, he suggested that he was actually good at memorizing formulas and at knowing what numbers to plug into them.

How often do we give people a false sense of competence when we just scratch the surface of topics, and then make them write a test?

How many people get left behind in this system that focuses on teaching (rather than learning) and the length of the semester (to achieve a credit)?

Math is not a performance activity. Focusing on performance (test scores) takes the focus away from what it really is, an opportunity for learning.

Instead, when we take the time to go deep, to focus, to slow down, and to observe carefully, we create the conditions that allow for real learning to happen.

2013 02 28 sunrise in red rock

Changing the Trajectory

What assumptions do we make about the life trajectories of the students in our classrooms?

Over the past three days I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to share in learning with the Northern Ontario Education Leaders at their fall conference #NOELONLINE.

Screen shot 2013-10-05 at 10.52.18 PM

The pre-conference address was given by the Director of the Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board, Catherine Montreuil. I learned so much from her presentation that I went home that night, tossed mine in the virtual garbage, and began again, this time aligning my message for the next day with her very powerful approach to educating all children.

Below are my reworked and reorganized notes from the first hour of her presentation.  The idea that really stuck with me was the thinking around how to change the trajectory of the lives of the students in your classroom.

It is unacceptable for any child to be stuck and not learning in our schools.  

(Think, for a moment, about any grade nine or ten applied class, or about any child who is not reading.)

It is also unacceptable to respond to this  with “oh but …” statements, like “Oh, but that child is LD”, or “Oh, but that child came to us in grade 4 and couldn’t read”.

Every child can learn. If the child is not learning, our JOB is to figure it out and fix it.

Learning is HappeningPhoto Credit: Krissy.Venosdale via Compfight cc

We do not do this alone though.  We solve problems of student learning as a team.  We invite in outside professionals who view data differently. We take a collaborative inquiry stance and continue to try until we solve the issue.

Working in isolation as educators is inconsistent with professionalism.  We can’t solve all the learning problems in the room on our own.

We measure, very carefully, the impact of our actions on student learning, and there must be a positive impact on student learning.

We honour the fact that teachers work very hard and care deeply, but it is not about how hard teachers work, it is about the impact of their work on student achievement.   Working hard and spinning your wheels helps nobody. We need to do it differently.

kid in classroom

Photo Credit: Renato Ganoza via Compfight cc

We need to focus on building the capacity of the classroom teacher.   The triple P approach is a place to start: Precision teaching to student needs, Personalization of learning, and Professional learning around how to effectively use assessment data to inform practice.

All students deserve and need a trained, talented teacher who is doing precision work.  There is no evidence that working with an Educational Assistant strengthens academic outcomes for students.  Our students with the highest learning needs require professionals who can do the precision instruction that will impact learning.

When we step back and closely examine Student Success initiatives, we see that in Ontario they are primarily structural. Necessary, but structural.  It does not, however, result in sustained improvement in instruction. If we work on engaging reluctant students, and we can increase their productivity, and then we have something we can work with to move their learning forward.

Every student needs a personalized learning plan. If you we’re to walk into a classroom and “freeze” the room, for every child we should be able to ask, “What is she/he doing?”, and “Why is he/she doing it?”.  The answers to those questions must be to meet the individual learning needs of the student, based on observation, conversation, or other assessment information.

technology in classroom Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

Assessment data + Thinking, collaborating teacher + Technology

Accurate assessment data, in the hands of a thinking, networked, collaborative teacher, using technology to personalize learning  and engage students can change the life trajectory for a child.