Jan 3 2018

my #OneWord

Watching the #OneWord Twitter posts from afar with interest: me, every December for the past few years. I consider, I have several, I can’t decide, I bail on the commitment. Not this year.

I had a rough go last year; burned myself out. Couldn’t do all I needed to do to care enough for others. Everything I did just wasn’t enough in my eyes. I skipped lunches to run clubs or to spend time with someone who needed it. I led a team through a substantial TLLP grant, spending many hours planning, purchasing and tracking expenditures. I shared my learning. A lot.

Burning out isn’t fun, but in our profession there are many ways back. I chose to start fresh at another school. It was just what the doctor ordered and I’m beginning to feel refreshed.

My first #OneWord thought was Wellness. When I was a new mother, my own mom used to say “if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of the kids”. This is so true in education as well. If I am exhausted, stressed, depleted, how can I offer my students 100% of me? Putting limits on what I do gives an outcome that is more beneficial to my students and my colleagues.

Reading this today solidified my thought of Wellness. I know that I’ve been guilty of being the kind of teacher portrayed in this piece: one who puts her students before her own needs, one who will be on the receiving end of aggressive behaviour yet won’t do what often needs to be done because of mitigating circumstances. I know many a student with severe anger issues but have awful things going on in their lives;  I just can’t add to it. Part of Wellness is doing what is right for myself, along with doing what’s right for others.

So, Wellness. But I wasn’t sure that was enough. I’m already making choices to be Well, and for my students to be Well. I wanted to go deeper, to push myself beyond this. So, my #OneWord is…….. Intention. I want to go beyond self-care and really think about my practice. Throwing away the filler, the crap, and not worrying so much about stuff that doesn’t matter. Making sure that what I’m spending my time on is worth it–to my students’ engagement, to assessment, to curriculum. I want to plan my practice with Intention. Everything for a reason, a good strong reason, or it’s out. I want to spend extra time (before and after school and nutrition breaks) doing things that will make a difference, will be impactful.

Practice with Intention will be a lot of work. A lot of reflection and critical thinking, but I believe it will affect my Wellness, as I do away with much of the frills.

Thanks to Julie Balen for sustaining the #OneWordOnt movement!

Dec 17 2017

Yeah, I’ve been blogging…..

….over here. Had been working on a grant implementing a makerspace and design thinking into the classroom. It’s been quite consuming, leaving little room for other blogging. I’ll get back there, I’m sure, but in the meantime, feel free to check out the makerspace blog!


Apr 22 2015


The Bloggin’ Blues

Fell off the blogging horse. Fell off it bad.

Used all the energy that I ever had

on other things that mattered, though I forget what.

The creative part of my brain remained tightly shut.

Then along came Kristi (along came Kristi)!

Yeah, along came Kristi (along came Kristi)!

She knew how to get me out of my lazy funk

with a challenge to get me full of mental spunk.

She wants to hear me share so here it goes.

She asked me a question and this is what arose.


Those that can’t write music, teach, I suppose.


Kristi Keery-Bishop was challenged, and she in turn challenged me, with the statement below:

“Please join us.  When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending?  Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag.”

Here’s her blog post.

I’m Irish, stubborn Irish, and therefore, challenge was easily accepted.

Here goes…..

When it comes to education, we must stop pretending that wherever we are in our professional journey, it’s good enough to stay there. Note that I didn’t say “it’s good enough to be there”. Whether it be dipping our toes in the inquiry pool, wrapping our heads around 3 (or 4) act math or using iMovie like a ninja, it’s okay to be at that point. What’s not okay, is to stay at that point. As educators, we owe it to our students and ourselves to be lifelong learners. Moving forward, getting better, improving. We expect that of our charges, and we should expect that of ourselves.

When it comes to education, we must stop pretending that we can do it all. Educators are great at feeling guilty about not doing enough. If you’ve got a comprehensive PLN, then you’ve probably had this feeling before. You see and hear about fantastic things going on in other classrooms and you start feeling inadequate. I feel this all the time! But I do know this: it’s better to do few things well than lots of things passably. Your students don’t know what’s going on in other classrooms, but they are fully aware what’s going on in theirs, and if it’s just adequate…… But you do one thing really well, your students will remember it forever.

When it comes to education, we must stop pretending that the words “I can’t use technology” are okay. Avoiding technology by saying things like “I’m too old to learn about it”, “students need less screen time” or other excuses, are just that….excuses. When used responsibly, creatively and thoughtfully, technology can break down classroom walls and expose students to things we never could otherwise. It is their future. You are doing them an injustice by NOT incorporating technology into your program.

Along side that, when it comes to education, we must stop pretending that we need to teach students technology. Students have been raised with much of what we are using. They are comfortable with it, often much more comfortable than us. Leave them alone to explore an app and they will be experts at it in no time. Teachers rarely need to teach students how to use an app; show them the basics and let them fly! They’ll surprise you, no doubt, and more often than not, they’ll be doing things you never dreamed possible. When a colleague asks me how to use an app, I send them to my students. They know much more than I do, and I’m okay with that. Of course, all this does not mean students don’t need to be guided through the maze of digital citizenship and footprint, which is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Finally, when it comes to education, we must stop pretending that we can work in isolation. Hopefully, you have a wealth of knowledge and support from teaching partners and other educators in your school, but within social media, you’ve now got the opportunity to collaborate, share or just chat with educators from all over the world. I can’t imagine planning, assessing, finding new ideas and learning on my own. It would be exhausting. My PLN is crucial, number one in my “Teacher Survival Kit”. Not only do I need them, but I hope they need me, too. It’s utterly mind boggling to me how teachers can do good things and not want to share that with others. Be loud! Be proud! Let others steal learn from you!

Now to nominate others for this challenge!

Brian @brianhwdsb

Michelle Fawcett @michellefawcett

Michelle Cordy @cordym

Aaron Puley @bloggucation

Heidi Siwak @heidisiwak




Jan 7 2015

daily 5 reconstructed

Two wonderful colleagues of mine, Irene McKenna and  BrianHWDSB introduced me to the idea of The Daily 5 a few years ago. After quickly browsing through the book by the same name (because *yawn* that’s how I read most pedagogical texts), I jumped on it. I needed some structure to my literacy block and this seemed an efficient and effective way for me to have students practice and improve their language skills while I work with small groups on more intensive reading and writing strategies.

It was good. Not great, but good. The book seemed geared to primary so I modified it to fit in with the more mature (*ahem*) and independent grade 4 and 5 students that I worked with. Over the years, I continue to modify it so that there is more accountability on the students’ part, and less dependency on me.

This year, I kind of blew it up and started from scratch. Yes, I wanted to maintain the basics of having 5 choices, having clear behaviour expectations and having goals to achieve, but with the injection of technology into our classroom and the evaluation of important literacies, I’ve made some changes.


For those not familiar with Daily 5 (and if you are, don’t be…it’s a comprehensive and highly structured literacy framework, and I recommend it, especially teachers new to the primary panel), there are 5 options: read to self, read to someone, listen to reading, word work and writing. Let me tell you how I’ve modified these:

1. Read to Self: Students have lots of options for independent reading. There are plenty of fiction and non-fiction books and magazines in the classroom, they can borrow books from our school library or bring a book from home. If they want to use their iPad, they can borrow an e-book from our Board’s library, or they can read their own personal e-magazine using an app called Flipboard. I don’t care what they read, as long as they are reading and it’s appropriate. I generally find that students at this age will choose books at a suitable reading level.

2. Read to Someone: Same tools as Read to Self. I did make a slight change to this; I call it Read WITH Someone. I want my students to understand it’s a two-person choice, with equal reading responsibility.

3. Listen to Reading: Grade fives are starting to be aware of what is cool and what isn’t. And a grown-up ten-year-old is NOT going to listen to someone else read to them. That’s soooo grade 3! I had tried many things (can you believe they didn’t even want to listen to my voice read to them?) but this was the one option they begrudgingly chose. So, this year, I ditched it completely.

I have been poking my nose into the computer programming realm, reading about it’s importance to the future rather than actually doing coding myself, and I believe that it’s a language in its own right. Take a look at this page if you need convincing. So Listening to Reading, became Computer Programming.

We use Tynker, Hopscotch and Codecademy apps (although the first two are most appealing to my guys).

4. Word Work is a work in progress. I know there is a place in education for good spelling, as long as it’s relevant to their work. So I’m going to give Spelling City a try (students create their own spelling lists and the website will read those words while students write them). We are also giving the Word Dynamo app a go, so students can independently learn new words. Mad Libs, Apples to Apples and Bananagrams round out the list.

5. Writing: Students can write in any genre and about any (appropriate) topic. At the start of the year we brainstormed a good list of possibilities for those that inevitably say “I don’t know what to write”. There are several methods to show writing: Google Docs/Presentations, Explain Everything, Notability, Notes, Blog, Book Creator, and Toontastic. Oh, and….pencil and paper.

So, with all this independent work, where is the student accountability? How do I encourage them to become responsible for their own learning? This was always the gap in me feeling confident in Daily 5. I didn’t want to use D5 as summative assessment–this was meant to be risk-taking, practice time. I knew I could use it as formative assessment–look at weaknesses in reading and writing and use that to form small groups for more intensive instruction–but how?

The technology piece has helped a lot with this. I’ve told the students that when they complete a task, whether it be creating a simple animation or writing a rough draft of a mystery or reading a chapter in a book, they had to find some way to tell me they had done so. We brainstormed ways of sharing their learning and came up with an extensive list.


We discussed the term accountability. Now they understand that, in Daily 5, they are responsible for their learning and for their sharing. They can share by:

  • blogging
  • airdropping
  • uploading to Google
  • airlplaying
  • emailing
  • handing in pencil and paper task

They must show their work by:

  • sharing completed tasks in writing and coding
  • writing a book review (alone or with a partner)
  • sharing details of a chapter (alone or with a partner)
  • sharing screen shots of a completed task

That’s my Daily 5 block in a nutshell. Always in a state of flux as I see things that might work better.

Any comments? Questions? Feedback?



Dec 8 2014

keeping perspective

Today I had a conversation with my teaching partner. Chatting about things we want to do with our students, what we want to do differently and what we want to improve on.

Self-reflection is crucial in education; I would go so far as to say it’s the most important skill an educator can have. There are always ways we can improve our practice. At BIT13 last year, there was a presentation with the perfect title: It’s alright to be where you are but it’s not alright to stay there. As educators, we are constantly trying to find more effective ways to do everything. Moving forward.

I’m wondering if constant reflection can be overwhelming. On Twitter, there’s a neverending feed of wonderful pedagogy. At school, just walking down the hallway and seeing others teach can be difficult. That critical little voice that says “I’m not doing that….am I a good teacher?”

Where is the line between self-reflection and self-judgment (and self-doubt)?  Will I ever measure up? Do I have to measure up? It’s such a huge responsibility I’ve been trusted with. How can “good enough” be good enough?

Through this conversation with my teaching partner, this came to light: we can’t be all things to all people, and as long as we have set some specific goals to improve, that’s good. If we try to change/improve too many things at once, the progress is watered down, and we don’t see the successes clearly, if at all.

The crucial lesson: keep perspective.  Do what you can, and don’t dwell on what you can’t.

Dec 5 2014

the crux of empathy and engagement

It’s been a full year so far.

Our school is part of HWDSB’s TLE initiative, and there is a steep learning curve for everyone involved. Lots of brain work: learning, analyzing, considering, problem-solving. Thinking critically about how to integrate technology and inquiry into our classroom effectively. Mentally challenging, and, at times, taxing.

New administrators and new expectations came this year as well. Not good or bad, just different. Of course, I also have a classroom full of students I’ve never taught before. And, a new teaching partner.

Change can be hard. It’s challenging. Although embracing change leads to growth, it can be exhausting.

Having all this change at once, one would not fault me if I took it easy this year. Maybe not spend as much time planning. Lower my expectations.  Give textbooks to work from. The thought does cross my mind….I’m tired.

But I can’t do it. There are many reasons why, based on professionalism, ethics and personality (ask all my teaching partners, I’m a hummingbird!). But they all revolve around one key question:

Would I want to be a student in my classroom?

I ask myself this every minute of the day. Most of the time, the answer is yes. I do admit that occasionally, the answer is no. It’s usually when I’m doing some sort of formal assessment I need to do that isn’t enjoyable for students (“Hey everyone…it’s time for DRA!!” “Yaaaaaay!!!”).

It’s such a valuable question to ask. And it’s why I try to make sure my students are engaged, challenged, respected, happy. I want to feel, at the end of the day, that I would love to be in my class.

Would you want to be a student in your class?


Nov 17 2014

here goes….

I’ve been blogging for a while now, over at Gamification. It’s been great being able to document the learning through our TLLP project….a process that continues even though the project is done. Much of what was learned has become practice–a tool in my toolbox. I’ll continue to blog there, as I explore game-based learning more deeply.

But, I’ve got lots more to say, beyond the limiting scope of game-based learning. And I need somewhere to get it all out, somewhere to store it all. I hope you will join me on this journey, drop in once in a while, share a thought or two, extend my thinking, push me further.