April 8

Roll Out The Red Carpet

SPECIAL NOTE: This blog post is unique from all other posts.  I am writing it for my Teaching English Language Learners – Part 1 additional qualification course. The assignment is to, create a mock blog post entry that supports educators with creating a classroom environment that welcomes and supports newcomer ELLs. 

I have always been deeply invested in building a learning space where I feel confident that every student who walks into my classroom feels it is a warm, welcoming and supportive space.   One year, I even left all of the classroom set-up and design to my students to design. You can see how that all went down on this post here. Every year I seem to set-up my classroom with a bit of a different approach, but I hold on to the same intention…empower students to be their best selves, and be able to put forth their best effort while in our classroom.

The course, Teaching English Language Learners- Part 1,  has “refurbished” how I will go about setting-up my classroom, moving forward.  I will continue to provide a student-centred approach, and will provide choice and flexibility in the learning space, but I think I will always have a few things visible and ready right from the start. I am aware now, that I need to be mindful of students who arrive from other countries and cultures and will benefit from my room incorporating specific visuals, organization and furniture arrangement. That being said, with students having choice and input into the design and layout of the space, perhaps newcomers and ELLs will even be able to impart some of their preferences during the process.

There elements of the learning environment which I will “reserve” space for, to ensure that specific instructional constructs are provided for on the walls and around the room to support ELL students. I can see it is important to plan ahead when considering how we might best welcome newcomers and English Language Learners into our classroom whether it be on the first day of school, or on any given day in the school year.

The learning environment really can be the “third” teacher for all students, and with some intentional planning, we can amplify the power of the learning space for our English Language Learners using some of the ideas below.

Roll Out The Red Carpet

One of the best ways to welcome newcomers and ELL’s is to have a trained Welcoming Committee, or reception team (Ministry of Education, 2005) . Ideally this team would be prepared at the school-level, but if it’s not, perhaps you (the teacher) would consider being the the one to start this up. I know I would be willing to head-up the reception team for our school, or at least have a Welcoming Committee for my own classroom. The first impression is so important and you want new families to feel comfortable and at ease with kindness and preparedness being at the heart of their first visit. When you are expecting a new family to arrive, try to schedule an interpreter to be there if you need to go through paperwork and other important policies and procedures. Perhaps the family has already been to the reception centre for your district, so some things might already be in place. You might even consider having a student whom you know speaks the same language as the arriving family, to be a part of your reception team.  Having trained and enthusiastic student ambassadors for your classroom and school are excellent ways to showcase the caring nature of your school community. Student ambassadors are the best people to leave in charge of a school tour, and school orientation of how things operate and where things are located.  Be sure to have a one-page information sheet for families and caretakers to take with them, which include all of the essential school information and names of relevant staff members who will be working with their children.  Try to gather any information you can, while also ascertaining if they are already aware of the supports available to them if they are newcomers to Canada (e.g. Settlement Workers in Schools, SWIS).

Start With the Basics:

Something that makes all the difference in the world is to practice saying your students’ names in advance.  One way I have done this in the past is to have my students introduce themselves, giving their full name, along with a description of what they like to do in their spare time, then post it to FlipGrid. FlipGrid is a mobile app which students can use to post a fun video recording of them reporting on anything you prompt them to do.  So, using it for introductions is a great way to learn how to say student names correctly, and to learn about what your students are interested in. You can invite classmates to watch all of the videos on the grid, or you can keep it to yourself.

Other basics you may want to help your ELL students with include:

  • teaching the student basic phrases, such as hello, goodbye , and I don’t understand.
  • helping the student learn to express important personal information in English –  name, address, phone number and family members’ names.
  • providing the student with some basic language learning materials, such as a picture dictionary, wordless books, or audio books.
  • labeling common objects and bins around the room in both English and the first languages of ELLs in your room.

(Ministry of Education, 2005)

Classroom Space


There are some simple things we can do to help English Language Learners feel welcome and at ease when they arrive in our classroom.  Be sure to have multilingual visuals posted on the walls. Post a Welcome poster which reflects a variety of languages, ensuring the languages of the students in your room are represented.  As well, try to seat new ELL students in the best possible place for them to see the instructional supports, while also sitting next to your classroom ambassador, or someone who might speak the same first language as the new ELL student.

All students would appreciate seeing images and posters around the classroom which reflect many cultures participating in a variety of activities, be it dance, sports, art, or science and technology activities. Posters which showcase all cultures and interests are a great way to affirm everyone’s identity and builds self confidence. Something else many students would appreciate is co-constructing a chart which includes phrases or messages communicated in all of the languages which are spoken by the families in the classroom.  This might even extend to the spoken languages of grandparents, if parents are 1st generation, English-speaking Canadians.  Celebrating culture and diversity is always something we want to do for our young students, since they will one day be a part of our global economy and community too (ETFO Voice, Fall 2016).

Lessons and Activities

When it comes down to learning, we want our English Language Learners to feel as though they see themselves, their culture, and their language reflected in the curriculum.  We can achieve this in a variety of ways, so long as we intentionally plan and orchestrate these opportunities. In order to foster language development we need to ensure that the delivery of the curriculum content is comprehensible. One of the most widely respected ELL Educators, Tan Huynh, has posted a fantastic blog titled, Comprehensible Input: Making Instruction EL-Friendly. In the post, Huynh emphasizes that teachers need to make “instruction more understandable for ELLs by focusing on comprehensible input” (Huynh, 2018).  The way in which we can make content clear for ELLs (and others) is through scaffolding. To make content more comprehensible we could use demonstrations, build on prior knowledge or experiences of students (bring in cultural connections); we could also post pictures, diagrams, outlines and organizers to illustrate concepts which will be covered. These visuals around the room will really support the student with content area learning.  Huynh (2018) outlines three forms of scaffolding for ELLs, including:

  • sensory scaffolds (ie: models, manipulatives, visuals)
  • interactive scaffolds (ie: discussions, partner work, dramatizations) and
  • graphic scaffolds (ie: tables, charts, timelines, infographics)

By providing these sorts of supports, we are providing opportunity for ELL students to not only develop the English language, but to also access and engage in the curriculum, while building their academic language simultaneously.

The best thing we can do for all students every day, is to display and deliver culturally responsive learning experiences.  In art, we can be sure to sequence through a wide variety of art activities which showcase many cultures, including the cultures that are present in our classrooms.  As well, there are many beautiful books which celebrate culture, while also delivering some hard truths about the struggles and injustices that have, and do exist in our world. Show your students that you care about our world, and that you are open minded to all aspects culture, language, and origin.  When we choreograph learning opportunities which are culturally responsive and take steps to ensure our instruction is comprehensible, we are well on our way to ensuring our classroom is a warm, inclusive and exciting place to be.

What kinds of things do you (or will you) strive to do to make your classroom welcome for English Language Learners?

Works Cited

Huynh, Tan (2018, April 12). Comprensible Input: Making Instruction EL-Friendly (Blog Post). Retrievied from https://www.empoweringells.com/el-friendly-instruction/ 

Ministry of Ontario (2005). Many Roots, Many Voices: Supporting English Language Learners In Every Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/manyroots/ELL_LPS.pdf

ETFO Voice (Fall 2016). Using First Language (L1) as a Resource: Benefits of Students’ Home Languages. Retrieved from http://etfovoice.ca/file/1170/download?token=X4yfZhcs


October 26

Missing my village…

The energy and excitement that comes with classroom teaching just cannot be matched…trust me.  There are few other occupations in the workforce that match the same level of excitement, drive, joy…along with that guaranteed dose of  anxiety along the way (LOL).

The 2018 school year is well underway, and I am not going to lie…I am feeling a bit of a hole in my identity being out of a school community.  Even though I oh-so love going to work every single day…I miss my village…my school.  Now, lucky for me, the trade-off is the privilege of being immersed in, all-things-literacy in my current role as a system Literacy Coordinator for kindergarten to grade 8. But there is a different kind of energy and excitement in my current day-to-day that just doesn’t feel the same as the work we as educators do inside those school walls.

The work we do with kids, cannot be underestimated or taken for granted. Elementary schools are like Enchanted Wonderlands where ‘villagers’ team-up and work tirelessly to provide for, and engage kids in learning each day. The work we do as educators goes beyond the curriculum, beyond the projects and assessments, beyond the lessons, and beyond the posters and border trim on the walls. The schools we work in each day come with a built-in community where unconditional collaboration ignites a camaraderie among staff which fuels the motivation and investment in the signature learning experiences we craft. We create a village that sings songs, presents concerts, assembles to celebrate, plays games, cheers on teams, hosts people for tea, and so much more! Where else on earth will you find that kind of experience while at work?

My friends, the effort you put-in each day IS key. Your commitment IS appreciated. Your creativity is at the HEART of it all. So continue to give it your all, day-in and day-out!  Be not only proud of what you do, but grateful for the opportunity to do it. Afterall, there are few occupations in the workforce where you will:

  • see a child’s physical reaction to wonder and curiosity
  • engage in the buzz and hum of a colony of students working together to solve a problem or devise a plan
  • provide opportunity to kids to practice stewardship and leadership
  • giggle when a colleague bursts into your space to share something wondrous, or to nab an idea for next class

But most of all, there are few other occupations in the workplace where you will feel like you belong, and that you are a vital member. You know what they say, 

Be proud of the village in which you reside.  It is unlike any other. Trust me.

What makes you proud to be a member of your village?

P.S. Not to worry. I am completely in love with my new role

                          and simply need to find the way in which I will express it.  

August 20

Getting ConnectEd With People “Out there”

As hard working educators we strive to push the frontiers of our practice and pedagogy, looking for tools and connections we can bring to our students, our colleagues, and/or our staff.  In order to amplify the content and learning experiences for all, we strive for ways to make the experience real and relevant. What we sometimes don’t realize, is that amplifying these experiences can be a lot easier than we might think.

Connecting with the world to amplify learning experiences.

How many of you would love to have a real-life expert visit your classroom, workshop, or staff meeting?

Imagine how inspired your students or audience might be if an author was able to speak directly to you!

Think about the power that comes from being able to access the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of other people in different places.

As an elementary teacher (grade 7 and 8 most recently), the most exhilarating experiences in the classroom have come when we have been able to go beyond our classroom walls to meet other students, educators, authors, and experts in the virtual world. Building a #ConnectEd classroom is just one way of extending the learning experience for our students as we find others, “out there” who broaden the scope of ideas, opinions, and reactions we rally together to discuss.

What is this all about you ask? Well, this month, I had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with Ramona Meharg (@RamonaMeharg) as we co-facilitated a 3-day Summer Institute titled, Connecting Your Classroom With the World. I am truly grateful to Ramona for entrusting me as her co-facilitator on this project.  You see, Ramona and I

Humpty the hippo and her friend Sala the kudu are orphans who became friends at a wildlife sanctuary in Kenya. (Photo: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust)

are the kind of “unlikely friends” (see image on the left) you might see flitter across your Facebook news feed.  There is very little we have in common when it comes to curriculum content, or expectations. Ramona is a secondary (high school) special education teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board. And I/Heidi, am an elementary school teacher in the role of Learning Coordinator, Literacy K to 8 with the Thames Valley District School Board. So, how did we, as cross-panel educators, wind-up collaborating on a 3-day professional learning institute? Well, we met on Twitter, and we ConnectEd our classrooms virtually during, Global Read Aloud 2017.  From there our shared vision and ideas for connecting our classrooms with the world only strengthened and grew. I think Ramona felt compelled to share the power of being ConnectEd, with as many other educators as she could. So, Ramona sent in her Summer Institute proposal to the Ontario Teacher’s Federation (OTF), tapped me to come along for the ride, and away we went!

There was plenty of blood, sweat and tears that went into the planning and delivery of these sessions (okay…well maybe “blood” is an exaggeration). However, I am sure many of you would agree, work never feels like work, when we are collaborating with fellow educators who are equally passionate. Planning was both work and pleasure across all of the days Ramona and I spent together.  We spent days planning at Ramona’s house, which I loved as she spoiled me with her fresh, from-scratch zucchini bread. Other days we spent in my office, when we felt there was a serious push to get to the finished product. All-in-all, we put together a huge three days for our participants.  We were ambitious from the outset, yes.  But, we were equally responsive and open to the needs of our colleagues, just like we would be to our students.

I could give you a complete rundown on the 3-days, but Ramona has done a beautiful job of that in her blog post here.

What I think I would like to share instead, is this.  I want to invite you to find one-way to go beyond the walls of your learning space this year. Connecting your people, whoever they might be, with someone else or others “out there”, is a wonderfully powerful, inspiring, and motivating experience.  Ramona and I firmly believe that we must only ask our audience to do things that we are willing to do ourselves.  We believe in modeling a willingness to take risks (big ones even), managing the emotions that come with that, and being at ease with the prospect of outcomes being either a success, or a struggle…potentially even a failure (in that moment). Connecting “out there” is easy, all you have to do is ask.

Playing in the “virtual sandbox” is risky business!  There are so many variables to consider and account for. There’s video, audio, time zones, platforms, and well…humans to negotiate with.  In my classroom, there were a few times my students and I had to problem solve together through Skype calls and Google Hangouts where we had no video, bad mic feedback, no audio…or no recipient (one time we hadn’t taken a different time zone into account).  During this OTF Summer Institute, Ramona and I shared our experiences of what it’s like to connect to people online in order to amplify learning experiences and to lift-up our spirits as educators. Along with all of that, we demonstrated and supported our colleagues as they tested and played-with Google applications, online tools, and smart phone applications (Ramona has covered this in her blog extensively).

Our first virtual visitor for Connecting Your Classroom With the World,  was the incredibly flexible and adaptable, Jennifer Casa Todd. Jennifer is the author of Social LEADia, and Teacher Librarian at a high school in Aurora, Ontario. This was a moment in time educator-folks, where taking

Jennifer Casa Todd, author of Social LEADia.

risks during a lesson, come and hit you square in the nose! Right out of the starting blocks, one hour into our professional learning, Ramona and I were in the throws of trouble shooting and problem solving as we had video, but no audio on Jennifer.  Well, the three of us handled it like any risk-taking educator would. We bailed on on the Google Hangout, went to FaceTime on our iPhone…and projected Jennifer’s face via…the Dongle (VGA Adapter) onto the white board (insert fist pump here).  You can never be too prepared. Ramona and I decided to run two projectors throughout the institute. Screen one, would feature our slideshow presentation. Screen two, would feature our Twitter feed, our social media tool demos…and now, our video call with Jennifer Casa Todd (LOL). If Jennifer was not the compassionate, patient and experienced ConnectEd educator that she is, we might have felt a whole different level of panic.

Jennifer Nielsen, New York Times best selling author.

Next up, we had one of my favourite youth fiction authors, Jennifer Nielsen.  My first virtual encounter with Jennifer Nielsen came two years ago when she agreed to talk to my students through Google Hangouts. While reading Nielsen’s brilliant historical fiction novel, A Night Divided, students in my grade 7/ 8 class were tweeting-out their reactions, questions, and predictions live during the read aloud (Twitter thread #SolwayLit).  Eventually (I was a Twitter rookie at the time), I remembered to tag, @nielsenwriter and that changed everything. Jennifer Nielsen replied to my tweet. I won’t soon forget the rush I felt in knowing something amazing was about to start happening in my classroom. My students LIT-UP! Seeing a tweet come directly from the author of this brilliant story, was akin to them meeting their favourite rock star, or movie star.  For the next few days, we continued to tweet during read aloud time…and Jennifer Nielsen took the time (a lot of time) to tweet right along with my students.  Students tweeted, she replied, pulling back the curtain on these characters and the dangerous quest they were on as Gerta and and her brother Fritz, tried to find a way to go from East Berlin, through to West Berlin in an effort to reunite with their father and brother. Twitter changed the entire read aloud experience.

Two weeks later, Jennifer Nielsen agreed to a virtual visit with my class.  We met in Google Hangouts, and again my students were awestruck. What I must say about Jennifer Nielsen, is that she is remarkably transparent about her writing process.  She consistently pulls back the curtain on her characters, plot ideas research process, and plot development. I noticed this two years ago, and it was no different during our OTF Summer Institute. At one point in the call, I thought I might be nosy if I were to ask her about the boards of historic thumbnail photographic portraits hung up behind her. However, as though she had read my mind, she went into detail on how those boards were the real life profiles and character sketches of the characters in her, about-to-be released historical fiction novel, Resistance.

Needless to say, the connections with the author of our read aloud book on Twitter, and the visit in Google Hangouts amplified the learning experience.

Well, Ramona and I continued to connect our colleagues with other authors. Emil Sher, author of, Young Man With Camera talked to us about the power and necessity that comes when we write. We enjoyed his storytelling nature as he shared family memories and his own memories as a young reader. Emil is gracious with his time, and humble about his process and talent as a writer.  He is also a huge cheerleader for us teachers and educators. His sort of candid nature is sure to inspire students, reminding them that things can be tough and uncomfortable, but as Emil shared, they can only get better with opportunity, practice, and experience.

Another virtual visit came from the author of so many fabulous books, John David Anderson (e.g. Miss. Bixby’s Last Day, Posted, etc). In this virtual meeting, we would learn, J.D.A. goes by the preferred name, Dave. Dave’s Skype call was packed with humour and witty storytelling.  My goodness, what an amazing experience it was to talk to an author, only to witness his real-life personality is just like the “voice” that exudes in his writing.  Imagine if we were an audience of student readers? Witnessing the John David Anderson narrative to come to life through Dave’s real-life voice as seen on Skype, would be remarkable for kids to see.

Sheesh Heidi…at this rate, the blog will be a 1-hour read, so speed this up.

Tara Martin, creator of #BookSnaps and author of, Be Real.

Perhaps the most inspiring connection we made over the three days was with, Tara Martin (@TaraMartinEDU, founder of #BookSnaps). Tara, author of Be Real, talked about the challenges all educators face today, as well as the huge rewards that come being an educator in today’s world.  Tara’s message of “keeping it real”, and “canonballing-in” resonated deeply with all of us. Tara made us realize at an even deeper level, that although we travel along the highway of technology integration in the classroom, she reminds us that students need for us to keep it real and “educate from the heart”.  Kids need us to connect with them, to take interest in who they are as people, exand to make a commitment to being true to who we are along the way.

Well, those few years ago during my debut experience of using Twitter and Google Hangouts in the classroom hooked me in! From that moment on, I knew connecting my students to the world would have a game-changing impact on our learning experience.  The depth to which students would learn content, skills and strategies would expand. With that, came a new-found level of motivation to participate and engage with the lessons and discussions. Students were putting forth more careful thought and effort a into their work.

Connecting with people “out there” for our OTF Summer Institute was determined by the willingness we had to stick-our-neck-out, and ask others to join us for discussions, and interviews in our learning space. Ramona and I do this in our classrooms, and we will continue to do this as facilitators of professional learning. Once ConnectEd, you will immediately want to share the experiences, and bring others along for the ride. That’s what Ramona and I love to do.

When Ramona asked me to work with her on, Connecting Your Classroom With The World, I just knew I had to share the power and passion of going beyond the classroom walls.  This post only scratches the surface of what can be accomplished.  Nowadays, as a workshop facilitator, I continue to see the value and power of going beyond the immediate learning space, to connect with experts and those that might inspire educators in our work.  I hope many of you reading will “cannonball-in” and take a risk, as Tara Martin says. Connecting your audience with someone “out there” is easy.  All you have to do…is ask.  What’s the worst thing that could happen?

How are you going to try to connect with people “out there” this year?

May 8

What defines you?

Answering this question at first, seems difficult. There are so many directions I could go…so many ingredients in my personal identity recipe. However, it doesn’t take long at all, before I land on the answer with ease.

I am a teacher.

 The beating of my heart,

            breathing in the air,

                     touching every fibre,

                                is my soul as a teacher.


Yes. Yes, I am a teacher.

For me (like many of you), there are very few normal, mundane circumstances in daily life that I view in the same sort of way as my non-teacher counterparts.  Egg cartons are pieces of art, newspapers are tablecloths, toothpicks are the edges on a 3D-solid, and grandma’s purse is a prop for the school play.

I am a teacher.

As a teacher, it seems I am incapable of just watching a television commercial.

As a teacher, it seems I cannot simply read the daily news and stay abreast of the world’s events.

As a teacher, I cannot simply look at the American Eagle table sign, to read the description of the cut & style of jeans.

Oh no! These are the very mundane circumstances in daily life that I choreograph into the larger-than-life, signature learning experiences for students.

  • The television commercial for the Winter Olympic Games is not just a feel good story about moms raising athletes. It is so much more than that, and I want kids to think critically about the underlying messages in such ads.
  • A news and tragedies such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis, North and South Korea relations, and the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy…are not just events I read about to stay informed about the world.  They are real events and tragedies that real people must face,  live through, and overcome.  They are also events which can make way, for people to step-up and demonstrate the very best there is in human spirit.  I want children to see things that happen in our world so they can process events, analyse situations, propose solutions to problems, and develop empathy and a soft heart.  With students, I want to start a discussion, invite them in, and support them all through their thoughts, emotions, and desire to take action.
  • While at American Eagle, I am disturbed by the description on the table signs for jeans, as they narrate how a style of jeans make a person’s butt, look and feel. I see this reference not just at one table of jeans, but two…then three.  I think critically.  Why describe jeans in this manner? Most customers in here are teens! Could it be…these descriptions are only included on jeans for women?  I look. Men’s jeans are described as comfortable, relaxing.  Immediately…I go into teacher mode. Brainstorming the ways in which I can exploit such marketing and have students react and respond to such tactics. After far too much time and energy is spent on all these considerations. I realize nobody else will walk into American Eagle today, analyze the jeans table signs, then walk around taking photos of all of the table signs.

Yes, yes. I am a teacher.

I eat, sleep, and breathe teaching. It is true.

But so many of us do.  I know who you are. You know who you are.

Some will judge me. Some will judge you. Is this healthy? Who in your life suffers?

Well, the simple answer is this. I don’t know.  Maybe it’s not perfectly healthy. And there could very well be people in my life that suffer at times.

But the truth of the matter is…I can’t change who I am.

I am a teacher. At the very core.

And like the many teachers I had, who committed so much of who they are to students like me…I love what I do.

The lenses I wear are teacher-lenses.  Everything I see has the potential to be a lesson in my classroom. These are lessons waiting to be planned and choreographed for a classroom of students, who will dance through the material and create something magnificent.

I am a teacher. At the very core.

If anyone were to steal this part away from me. I would be an empty vessel, and a lost soul.

Your turn. What defines you?

POST SCRIPT: As I prepared for a session presentation, I had to model a lesson where I would record my thoughts in response to, “What defines you?”  As I got to brainstorming the options available, I felt this call to write! I just had to write.  And although that wave hit me at midnight, here I am at 1:06, ready to hit publish. Thank you to colleague, Tracy Chisholm, who developed such a meaningful lesson, and for allowing me to reflect on, what defines me.



December 31

One Word for 2018 – We are in this together! #OneWordOnt

Those who know me, truly know that choosing ONE word, to express anything, is fantastically difficult for me. I have to say, I have given my one word a great deal of thought.

As the wave of #OneWord for 2018 builds momentum among educators, it is a perfect opportunity for us to do what we do best…share. This #OneWord campaign will light-up on Twitter and wave across the blogosphere, curating the shared ideas of educators everywhere.

My one word aims to capture how I have shaped the type of teacher I am today…and how I plan to carry on, in the year to come.  Like so many of you reading this post, I owe much of my growth, effectiveness, and passion as a teacher; to my collaboration with others. Upon much reflection, my one word of  2018 is, collaborate.

Sometimes I laugh at how easy it has been to build, foster, and extend the Professional Learning Network (PLN) I have developed …on Twitter!  Yes! Crazy, I know. Now, by easy…I don’t mean simple.  By easy…I mean the easy accessibility to great educators.  It certainly requires a great deal of time and effort to build relationships and connections with the educator community on Twitter. The magnitude of sharing and networking on Twitter is immense and can be overwhelming. But the unconditional respect and appreciation for the work you share, and the comments you leave is quite amazing. These relationships and networds build off of our willingness to share and collaborate.

Having this opportunity to collaborate, has built strength and confidence in the things I do in the classroom.  By wildly brainstorming ideas, talking through approaches, and smoothing out project plans…the opportunity to collaborate shaves-off the risk of fearing BIG errors, it enhances the quality of  ideas and plans, while also amplifying the passion to take all of this work to the students.

This connected approach to teaching and learning has engineered some of the strongest bonds I’ve got, with teachers I NEVER would have met otherwise.  To be honest, It would have been enough to network and connect professionally online, as Twitter and blogs provide a perfect window into colleagues’ classrooms, and access to their ideas. But, this networking has led to some huge collaborations and mega opportunities, for me!

In connecting with colleagues in my own district (Thames Valley District School Board, TVDSB) I have been able to gain the confidence to try things like, Global Read Aloud, using Google Hangouts, reaching out to authors on Twitter, jumping into Hour of Code…and building from that, participating in the professional learning for a TLLP (Teacher Learning and Leadership Program) for math, attending a Fair Chance Learning seminar (making more connections), and finding my way onto task force projects for Safe Schools and the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP).

When we collaborate we grow, we stretch, and we reach higher. When we’re “in-it-together” fear wanes and we soldier-on, doing things we may not have known how to do, or may not have had the confidence to risk and try.

In the span of about eighteen months, I have gone from a passionate, student-centred, classroom teaching, techno-integrating junkie – to a workshop presenting, presenter-collaborator, conference attending, passionate, classroom teaching, techno-integrating junkie. Landing opportunities to present at our district’s TVLitCon, TVDSBiCon, and most recently at an EdTechTeam Google Summit were NEVER opportunities I would have considered a short time ago. But, having had the opportunity to collaborate with innovative teachers, I have built a giant tool chest of instructional skills, tools, and strategies.

After all of the connecting, collaborating and learning from others I have arrived at a place where I am now able to lead and invite others along to collaborate with me.  Giving back is something I feel strongly about. I have invited colleagues I appreciate and admire, along for the presenting ride.  I pulled my division partner Jason Bakker (@jasonbakker) and best friend Julie De Vree (@juliedevree) out of their comfort zone when I invited them to collaborate with me and present a conference.  In another instance, I was able to collaborate and present with Twitter-colleague, Sarah Sanders (@sarahsanders33) turned friend, to share our passion for blogging and developing a PLN on Twitter. In learning from some of the best and brightest in my PLN, I have developed skills and strategies I never would have conjured-up unless given endless hours to watch great teachers, or dig DEEEEEEEEEP into a lot of professional reading.

When we collaborate, we amplify our passion to learn, we build strength in our skills and strategies, and we open doors for others to get curious about what we are doing. I cannot adequately express how exciting the year of 2018 will before me.  There are humongous opportunities ahead.  My willingness and passion to collaborate with others will be at the forefront of what I do. I will continue to share and invite others to collaborate with me and, I will cheer-on others to give them the boost to stretch and reach past their comfort zone. I would like to thank the many colleagues who have collaborated with me, believing that what I can offer is valuable and that the work we create together can be shared.

I am about to stretch and reach lengths and heights I have never seen this year.  That is all I will say for now, but you will hear more from me in the near future.

How has the opportunity to collaborate impacted you?

What #OneWord might you choose to describe your journey through 2018?

Thank you to the following bloggers for inspiring me to get my #OneWord post underway:

Jen Aston – Coaching Thoughts

Sue Bruyns – Leadership, Learning, and Life 

Julie Balen – Connecting to Learn


November 18

LONDON GOOGLE SUMMIT: Presenting Google Classroom, Meet Entrepreneurship

It is a privilege to be presenting at the London EdTechTeam Google Summit on November 18th and 19th.  The EdTechTeam hosts learning conferences for educators, in partnership with Google Education. The Google Summit offers some of the best professional learning opportunities for educators in the area of educational technology.

If you are visiting my page, perhaps you attended my session, Google Classroom Meets Entrepreneurship.  Below you will find hyperlinks to a variety of resources used for the PBL (Project Based Learning) unit.


Ignite the passion in your classroom by developing your students into entrepreneurs through Project Based Learning (PBL). This project has students producing product, designing marketing, and handling sales at a Business Fair. We will share how to disseminate steps of the project via Google Classroom, having students manage their business in: Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Drawings, and Classroom. We will also touch on how students might create advertising pieces using tools such as Garage Band, green screen with DoInk and/or iMovie, Please bring a Chromebook or laptop.


Slide deck – http://bit.ly/EntrepreneurshipSummitDeck 

Hyperdoc handout

Samples and Models of student and teacher work


October 15

#IMMOOC Week 4: Innovation as treatment for Perfectionism

I bet you didn’t expect to see that as a title for an #IMMOOC blog, did you?

Well  I am here to share with you how my insatiable urge to adApt, adOpt, shift, and attempt things as a teacher…was born out of my desperation to keep the Perfectionism Boogie Man out of my closet. There is no doubt I have always walked the line of, “If you’re gonna do it, do it well”. As a young person, this was the kind of athlete I was.  I trained hard, pushed at practice, and consistently achieved great results. Obviously, being a student athlete wasn’t going to last forever. I eventually had to grow up, and become an adult (LOL).  As a young adult, there was at a bit of a loss as to what it was I was trying to “win” and much of my persona as an athlete, became lost.  My identity began to blur and I found myself over-thinking and over-working on strange, insignificant things.

Once my teaching career got rolling, a spark finally flickered.  I recognized how the cycle of teaching and learning, was comparable to my training as an athlete. I found unit planning and project designing was my training ground.  My wins and losses as a teacher were measured by the level of student engagement and achievement. The only problem was…teaching was not the sort of “game” anyone could perfect. I became trapped in the Herculean effort to get PERFECT results. Yet, despite countless hours of reading, researching, planning, staging, and facilitating learning…it never seemed like the the job was ever done.  Sometimes students were interested and successful, others times they were not.

Well, it didn’t take long for me to become an raging workaholic! I had turned teaching, into a sport!

This relentless pursuit of mine to find student engagement and success once seemed so elusive to me. But, I eventually connected on strategies that seemed to “work”. When I surrendered to “trying it all”, that’s when I became creative with instructional strategies, classroom spaces, and trusting my students to drive the process. Letting go of control, actually rendered better results, and relief from the relentless pursuit of perfect instruction.

One thing that served as a springboard to my more flexible creative journey was when our district brought on Dr. Barrie Bennett (Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, OISE), as a consultant to help teachers upgrade their pedagogy and to build a repertoire of instructional strategies to draw-out the learning of every student. His teaching was creative, active, and responsive in nature.  This responsiveness made me realize that over-planning the learning experience wasn’t doing anyone any favours. Well, this PD equipped me with an arsenal of instructional tools, and I began to think and design the learning experiences with the foundation that flexibility was not only good, but essential. I became more responsive and adaptable to students, and I developed more creative and innovative approaches to the teaching and learning process.

At first this creativity came in the form of UNPLUGGED strategies including: collaborative learning, graphic organizer use, student moderation, balanced literacy, media literacy, and project-based learning. I was beginning to feel like I was winning a lot of games! I was making it to the “Teaching and Learning Finals” an awful lot.

Finally, we arrived at the digital learning era! And the timing could not have been better, because even the Bennett strategies needed an upgrade. Students in our system were digital natives, and we could see our students being SCHOOLED at desks, with paper and pencil tasks was not working anymore.

Tech integration has since become the game changer. I’m not so sure I would have called myself a techie, or computer-y kind of person.  I think I just stumbled upon how integrating technology just made sense and it worked.  Taking risks and just testing the interest of students and their success with tasks proved to be the new way of teaching. Strangely, even though a perfectionist, this cycle of trial-and-error always seemed to end with a winning feeling.

Teacher and students, learning together. At first we were just playing around with WebQuests and creating digital tasks using Microsoft Word and Publisher. We moved on to SMART Board technologies, creating using Web 2.0 tools, all the way to Bring Your Own Device classrooms, GAFE/GSuite, mobile technology use, and social media integration. Over the past 3 years, education has exploded with innovation and change.

I finally felt as though I had found the perfect recipe for teaching and all I needed to do was take risks, try new things, and show a willingness to learn alongside my students.  There was no need to master the things I would teach; or teach with.  As I began to take risks and pushed the frontier of my teaching with technology, I felt I was able to better meet the needs and interests of my students.  In the decision to go digital, my relationships and conversations with students ignited into these orchestrations of great work. Everyone got excited, and everyone was happy to work together on this journey towards success.

I guess what I wanted to share this week was that INNOVATION saved me from the pursuit of perfection. Teaching is not about getting the plan right, or the schedule right, or the project layed-out right.  Teachers just can’t expect to be able to grasp that kind of control, and expect to see student learning.  Instead, the mindset of the teacher needs to be one of “go-with-the-flow”, and “give-it-a-try”.

When I found a way to become adaptable, creative and responsive to student needs and interests; that is when the learning emerged and students were able to show me strong work ethic, stamina, focus, and a desire to be successful.

George Couros reminds us to imagine “what school would look like if we really focused on empowering learners” (Couros, page 102).  I am no longer frozen by the fear of not having the right plan or course of study.  As educators, we can give ourselves the permission to be…less prepared. Learning can take place alongside our students where everyone is creating, exploring, connecting, and challenging themselves.  It is this permission to not have to “know it all”, or “plan it with precision”, that has treated and helped me to recover from the grip of perfectionism.

(Of course, learning emerging technologies is slightly addictive and does result in hours of trial and error, lol)

Thanks goodness for that!

How has innovation helped you with some of your vices as a teacher?

October 12

WODB Math Puzzle

In math class today, we are looking at the site with puzzles called, Which One Doesn’t Belong. 

I have chosen the puzzle that uses the four playing cards on the left hand side here.  I think the card that “doesn’t belong” is the 10-of hearts.  The reason it doesn’t belong is because 10 is an even number and the rest of the numbers on the cards are odd numbers.

Another way to interpret this puzzle is, the 7-of diamonds doesn’t belong because the diamond has no rounded sides, whereas the rest of the cards have shapes with a rounded side.

The WODB site is certainly a great place to go to get your Minds-On math in a fun way.  You should go there and give it a try.

Why do you like the WODB Math site?

October 1

#IMMOOC Week 1: Why is Innovation so Crucial to Education?

Why is “innovation” so crucial in education? What impact do you see it having on our students and ourselves long term?

I come at this question with the widest lens possible.  Innovation in education is  the willingness to adapt, change, test, and evolve.  In essence, an innovative educator will try new methods, test new tools, and incorporate new styles and strategies for teaching. It is this flexibility and adaptability where innovation thrives and grows! Without the willingness to flex and bend, educators couldn’t possibly be innovative.

The number one thing I LOVE about being a classroom teacher, is the space I am given to feed my insatiable hunger for learning. I can’t imagine not teaching. Where else can you consistently research, network, collaborate, and share in an effort to, be on your best game?


To me, the very word itself insinuates “innovation”.  As a verb, LEARNING means pursuing new content, methods, tools and strategies.  Learning is the pursuit of fresh and relevant ways to practice your craft.  When we as educators are doing things that are fresh, we are on our way to innovation.

There are so many “points” in Innovator’s Mindset (Couros, 2015) that resonate with me.  My philosophy of education aligns with Couros’ notion that “students must be taught to think critically, to collaborate with others, and to develop solutions for problems (page 5)”. Students may not realize this need specifically, although what I have noticed is that my students are always most engaged, motivated, and invested in their work when I have staged learning that requires them to think critically, collaborate, and to solve a real problem.  Students see this kind of learning experience as relevant and worthwhile.


I was vibrating when I read the section in Innovator’s Mindset, about Blockbuster’s DEATH, and Starbuck’s RISE. This is the section of Innovator’s Mindset where I felt most validated and inspired to continue to walk the fine line of innovation, while maintaining that tippy-toe in the curriculum.


Image source: https://brandextenders.com/

To me, INNOVATE OR DIE is the blunt way of telling educators, if you aren’t ready to flex and bend…you will expire.  There are a whack load of ways that educators might expire, and here are a few:

  1. Students will disengage, withdraw and not care about the programming you have put forward for them.
  2. Students will misbehave and act out, when they feel they are being made to do work that is mundane, simple, and irrelevant.
  3. Students will be unprepared, because, “If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them.” (Couros, 2015, page 6).

I couldn’t bare to be any part of #1, 2, or 3.  So I choose to bend and flex and to work hard to make learning relevant and meaningful to students. ConnectEd, digital citizenship, and media literacy are my passions.  I love to empower and coach students through how to use social media to demonstrate their learning. I believe in teaching students to build a strong digital footprint, to develop their digital presence, long before their adult days. Through blogging, tweeting and posting, my students develop the confidence and the skills to engage online in ways that are constructive, creative, and purposeful. Whether my students are tweeting from the simulated profile, as a Father of Confederation (sorry, we’re Canadian), or blogging their open letters on a controversial issue.  Current events and media hook every class of students I have ever taught. But the part that helps me sleep better at night, is the number of times I’ve had grade 8 students come back to visit me to talk about how they are digital leaders in high school, coaching classmates on how to collaborate in Google, or tweet and surf Twitter to gain knowledge and build connections.

RELEVANCE…it’s everything in education.

There are so many different ways I have seen educators as INNOVATORS.  There are those who integrate technology in the classroom effortlessly, creating and designing masterpiece experiences through G-Suite and Google Classroom.  There are those who deliver signature learning experiences through coding and computational thinking. And then there are those who are masterminds of ConnectEd learning where their classrooms are open to the globe, and experts come to them, in a variety of ways.

When all is said and done, innovation is not only crucial to education…it is essential. Our students need us to stay- up on our game.  It is our responsibility to build learning experiences that they will enjoy, and will benefit them in the months and years to come.  To do this, George is exactly right… we need to teach students to think critically, to collaborate with others, and to develop solutions for problems. How we do this, is completely up to us.  There are so many entry points and pathways to take towards innovation.  I am thrilled to join the many of you, on this journey.

What does innovation in education mean to you?


Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2015.

September 28

Why do we need heroes?

At some point in everybody’s lifetime, we all feel the need for a hero to look up too. As we all live out our lives, we encounter a wide range of experiences where our personal heroes act as buffers in times of need. Our heroes also lift us up, inspire us, and motivate us to do things we never thought we’d be able to do. We instead find the courage to pursue our dreams.

This post is not fresh off the press. In fact, it is a revision of a post I wrote back in 2011 on my Life with Hiccups blog.  For me, heroes come under two major categories. I have heroes who I look to for the hope, courage, and drive. Then, I have other heroes, role models, who I look to in a mentor-like way.

Dreaming is important, and so key to lifting the human spirit. With dreams, comes heroes, and that is the topic of this blog post. Revising and editing formed the model for the FIRST blog post that my grade 7/ 8 students will write about this year.

In dreams, there are no limits, no obstacles, no prerequisites, no requirements. Our dreams are our own, and we get to build them. Life comes with hiccups, but the beauty of having a dream, is they give you hope and often offer a path.

Every year at my school, our Terry Fox Run organizing committee follows a mission and vision, to educate our students about Terry Fox. We believe kids need to see and learn about Terry’s heroic qualities of courage, determination, perseverance, and hope. Every year the kids get inspired, motivated…and touched by how Terry took the leap to run his Marathon of Hope, across Canada with a prosthetic leg and the impending doom of cancer’s return. Overlooking every possible obstacle, Terry soldiered on! He decided to take the risk and to risk possible failure.  And despite all that, his courage, spirit, and hope for all cancer fighters mobilized his every hopping-step.

I was in first grade when Terry Fox was running his Marathon of Hope in 1980. I clearly remember the spontaneous school assemblies we had, to watch video footage of Terry’s trek across Canada. At the age of six, I understood how miraculous this man was. I remember how star struck I felt each time I watched him on the news. Our teacher talked about Terry a lot and I remember feeling SO proud that he was Canadian!!

Terry became my first hero. I had never had a hero before. I remember the strength and power I felt, once I “got” my first hero. Terry Fox was the first person to show me that I can do anything, and overcome anything. I was alive, and I wanted to be a part of his journey. When Terry died, I remember the first rounds of the Terry Fox Run. I joined at school, and I also did the Terry Fox Run on my own.  It was important to me to continue Terry’s Marathon of Hope.

So, as the Terry Fox Run gears up at my school this week, I feel the strength and determination ramp up in my own life.

Long ago, I was inspired to write a poem for the 30th Anniversary of, The Terry Fox Run. Somehow, I have mustered up the courage to post my poem again, and I reflect on the greatness of the human spirit. Life is filled with lessons, challenges, victories, and defeats.  When we want to ensure we don’t get lost, we hang-on to a hero.
Who is you hero?

POST SCRIPT (A Terry Fox poem I wrote a few years ago)

His Time Was Ticking 
By: Heidi Solway

Back in the year of nineteen eighty,
Canada met a young man named Terry.
His Marathon of Hope was a dream he would carry,
But, his run across Canada would make him grow weary.

One dollar per Canadian was his dream donation,
The Marathon wore on, Canadians cheered with elation.
The money was flowing, to help the cancer foundation,
It was easy to see, Terry was the hero of our nation.

But as miles piled on Terry found it much harder,
Through all kinds of weather he pushed his body to go farther.
His drive and dedication showed he was a man of valor,
Canadians truly believed this would end, happily ever after.

Ontario now Terry hopped and gave us a wave,
Canadians lined the streets since Terry was the rave.
But his time was ticking, nobody would be able to save,
This heroic Canadian, who would soon meet his grave.

Time to stop the Marathon of Hope he had begun,
Our nation cried because the cancer had found a lung.
Terry plead for the Marathon of Hope to still be fun,
So 30 years and counting we continue The Terry Fox Run!

Well Terry Fox, as Canadians, we thank you,
For your commitment your drive and your valor.
Our hope for your Terry Fox foundation,
Is that it’s the one to find the cure for cancer.