Mentorship Part 1

I have been thinking quite a bit over the last 6 months about mentorship – that process whereby individuals, usually well experienced in a job or a profession, choose to come alongside someone with significantly less experience.  The purpose of mentorship seems to be to share the “tricks of the trade” with the “rookie” and help them navigate the intricate aspects of the job.

I prefer to think of mentorship as an investment of time, energy and a certain amount of personal sacrifice to share life lessons with another individual, with the ultimate purpose of not only helping someone become more proficient in their job but to enhance the profession as a whole – to build individual expertise which enriches the vocation…

I have been blessed enough to have a few adult mentors in my life who have had significant impacts in a professional capacity.  Each of these individuals have helped to guide me into the educator I am today.  I’d like to take a few moments to acknowledge each of them publicly.

My very first mentor would have to be my mom.  She was an incredible teacher who never had a Bachelor of Education degree but who would have made an outstanding professional educator.  She achieved a Grade 10 education – quite an accomplishment for someone of her generation as she was born in 1915!   My earliest “professional” memories of my mom come from her involvement as a Sunday School teacher and Bible Club leader.  Her classroom management skills were second to none.  Even the most difficult child would settle down with a “look” from my mom.  That “look” was not would you think.  With one look, my mom had the ability to let any individual know that they mattered – that they were important- that they were significant to her – that they were loved.  She differentiated instruction long before that term became popular.  My mom’s greatest teaching tool was love – love of the individual, love of their individuality, love of their ideas, love of their creativity….  People mattered.  Individuals mattered.  My mom, as my mentor, taught me that learning is all about positive relationships.  Every person mattered and my mom lived that up to her last breath.

My mom passed away at the beginning of August, 2016 at the age of one hundred and one.  Her decline was sudden and came at us like a lightning bolt.   One day she was fine.  The next, the doctor was recommending that the family be called to her bedside for the final vigil.  While it was excruciating for us as a family to watch her linger for eight days, I am convinced that she held on so everyone who needed time to say goodbye would have that opportunity.  For eight days, we watched as individual after individual came to visit – to share with the family how my mom, the teacher, had impacted their lives.   Each and every one talked about how my mom made them feel loved, wanted, accepted.  She cared for anyone and everyone, regardless of their job, their financial status, their bouts of mental challenges, their addictions…. In short, she convinced everyone that they mattered.  I learned that from her and I took on that challenge myself.  I want every individual with whom I work to know that their opinions matter, that their learning matters…. that THEY matter as a human being first, an educator second.

The second individual who had such a profound impact on me professionally is Janet Rubas.  Janet is currently retired and our paths cross occasionally.  I first met Janet “on paper”, rather than face to face.  When I came back into teaching after having taken some time away from the profession to spend time with my young children, I had the privilege of supply teaching in Janet’s classroom.  I loved getting the call to go to Ms. Rubas’ class.  I would walk in, read the supply plans and learn so much just from the instructions she left.  I loved seeing how her students accepted personal responsibility for their own learning.  I knew that when I went into Janet’s class, I would be privileged to truly see learning taking place.  I felt immersed in the conversations, felt a partner in the learning.  Janet always put her students first and I often gained more insight into student needs by reading the little side notes that she wrote to help a supply teacher like myself understand the student.  Those tidbits of information shared enough to let me know what the student needed me to do to help him/her succeed that day.  Janet taught me to listen to student voice, to listen, to take the time to truly learn and understand the individual.  Janet taught me that teaching was about relationships, individuality, co-learning.

Janet also took the time to learn about me.  Our paths crossed more frequently, once I became a contract teacher and she became a Junior Consultant.  Janet saw something that I didn’t.  Janet recognized that I had a passion for curriculum.  As I gained more experience in the Junior Division, Janet often contacted me to help her with curriculum writing and project teams at the Board level.  Janet encouraged my spark that was beginning to ignite my passion for technology integration by recommending me to sit on a pilot project for the Ontario Curriculum Planner – the precursor to the Ontario Educator Resource Bank that we have today.  Janet chose me to participate in a curriculum review when the Common Curriculum came into being.  She had me on the team for a Board project called “Kids Creating Curriculum” where I gained valuable experience and insight into co-planning with students.

Janet taught me to know my audience, that it was essential to take the time to truly listen to students and to learn alongside them.  These principles continue to guide my work today.  Janet instilled confidence in me and encouraged me to take risks, to meet challenges head on, and help me build the solid knowledge of curriculum and curriculum integration.  Not a week goes by that I don’t think of her as I continue to develop my skills with technology and curriculum integration.

The third and final mentor whom I would like to recognize publicly through this blog is a woman from Hamilton Wentworth named Lynn.  She was my team leader the summer I went to Ottawa to mark the Grade 3 Math EQAO.

ASIDE:   Now, I am not going to get into the debate as to the pros and cons of large scale standardized testing.  That is not the point of this blog.  I will say, however, that I applied to the marking team because I wanted to learn more about teaching Math.  It wasn’t about the marking.  It was more about learning what the students needed to know so I could support them better.  I have to say that I did truly learn so much more than what I had expected and for that I feel blessed to have had that experience.

Lynn was amazing.  I don’t remember her last name but I can vividly remember the woman who stood in front of us for 10 days.  She was vibrant, positive, encouraging, approachable.  She was “in charge” but did not abuse the power of that position.  Lynn mentored me in ways that, I’m certain, she never even realized.

Lynn taught me about professional judgment and trust.  Lynn taught me about the delicate balance between the demands of the job and personal well-being.  Lynn was an advocate for self-care, long before the present emphasis on personal wellness.  We had an enormous responsibility and an incredible amount of work to do.  We all knew it.  Lynn allowed us to be ourselves.  She demanded excellence and very clearly laid out our responsibilities as a marking team.  BUT…. she also recognized that our group was made up of very creative people who would not do well sitting for hours on end, staring at student booklets.  She allowed us to self-regulate – to maintain the integrity of the task but advocated for our needs.  Our break times were when WE needed them.  We were spontaneous.  We were driven.  Lynn recognized this and maintained the structure necessary for us to do our best.  When all was literally said and done, we achieved excellence individually and corporately.

From Lynn, I learned the value of a leadership style that allows a group of people to share a common vision, but acknowledges that individuals may have their own ways of getting to the end goal.  Tacit knowledge….true collaboration…. respect for individuality…. the power of a shared vision…

So…. as the world took time yesterday to acknowledge International Woman’s Day, I take this time to acknowledge a few of the women who were, and continue to be, powerful women in my life.  I thank them, I remember them, I recognize their impact.

To my colleagues:  I challenge you to remember and publicly acknowledge your mentors.  I also challenge you to BE a positive mentor – make a positive difference, mentor someone else…make the world a better place for having you in it.






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Mentorship Prologue

It’s been quite some time since I have blogged here.  There are many reasons for that, both personal and professional. Suffice it to say, that although I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions or set off on new monthly challenges, I am determined to re-activate my writing skills, dust off my computer keyboard, and make a determined effort to begin to blog again.

Today will mark the first of a series of posts that have been building for many, many months now.  I would encourage you to post your comments and share your further “wonderings” if my writing challenges your thinking.  I’m listening.  I’m hoping you will be too.

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Mantra for 2015 and beyond?

I found this quote and thought it appropriate to use for my first entry of 2015. I think I will remind myself of it daily this year. As a friend and I were discussing yesterday, the definition of “fail” is …. first attempt in learning. May we all “fail” often this year.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, challenging yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you are doing something. So that’s my wish for you, and for all of us, and my wish for myself. Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make your mistakes, next year and forever!”

Neil Gaiman

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Cursive: The Debate Thickens…

Last fall I had occasion to sit at a table with some key players in the Ministry of Education.  I happened to have a conversation with an individual who quickly let me know her feelings about the current trends in Education.  She prefaced her remarks by saying that she was “speaking as a parent” and complained to me about the lack of time her child spends in the classroom learning the basics of cursive writing.  She also complained about the lack of use of textbooks.  I have pondered those comments for a number of months now, wondering if there were many other parents who shared her sentiments. I wondered if we had somehow failed to communicate the importance of 21st century skills to parents such as this. At the same time, I wondered if she was right. Have we disregarded elements of a traditional classroom that really should be preserved within our current educational environment?  

Flash forward to April 2014 and May 2014.  I was privileged to meet a wonderful individual, Heather Victoria Held, ( who makes a living as a calligrapher and teaches handwriting to interested individuals – individuals like me.  I have always been drawn to calligraphy and, on occasion, have been lucky enough to add to my own personal collection of fountain pens and inks.  It was through the local pen store, Phidon Pens, that I learned about Heather’s classes and eventually signed up for Handwriting Parts 1 and 2.  


At the beginning of the first class, Heather provided some rather strong arguments to advocate for the continued use of the actual physical writing process as a way of organizing one’s thoughts and ideas. She spoke eloquently about the meditative quality of cursive writing and pointed out that our brains actually process thoughts differently when the physical act of handwriting is involved.  I chatted with her for a while after class.  She found it curious that my job involved teaching others how to imbed technology into daily learning yet here I was, taking the handwriting class.

It was late that day as I reflected on her ideas and was doing some research (on the computer)  that I stumbled upon the following blog post:

  As I read, I compared the ideas listed with my earlier conversation with Heather.  I was reminded once again of my belief that we must have a strong pedagogical foundation for 21st century learning. We must continue to build upon what we know are effective teaching strategies.   As I have stated before, technology integration is not an “add on”.  It is designed to be woven throughout daily learning both inside and outside of school hours.  In present day learning, the choice of an appropriate tool for the task may very well include the use of pen, ink and paper … or a computer.  Each is not mutually exclusive of the other. Maybe this is a different example of a blended classroom – blended with traditional learning within the context of 21st century skills. Maybe using cursive writing is just the tool that a struggling writer might use to challenge the brain to process thoughts in a different way. Maybe I need to challenge my own brain in this way too?   

 Hmm… I just may decide to take a fountain pen to work from now on.  What about you?

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When you least expect it….

I was catching a bit of the early morning news recently and found myself drawn to the TV screen.  It wasn’t a good fascination.  It was more like one of those scenes in a movie when you know something is going horribly wrong but you can’t tear yourself away.  It wasn’t anything horrible by most people’s standards.  It was simply another popular feature of the station where listeners enter a contest and the lucky winner experiences a make-over – hair, nails, wardrobe, make-up – the whole thing.  Those who enter always have a story to tell and out of all the stories submitted, the winner is the one deemed by the TV station to be the most deserving of a chance to become someone else – in appearance, anyway.

What drew me to the TV screen was that month’s winner – a 12 year old girl.  TWELVE!!!  Apparently she wanted a makeover so she could learn how to put on her make-up properly and have time to practise before her Grade 8 graduation.  Physically, she was already beautiful.  Why was a makeover needed in the first place????

Now I have to admit that my thoughts began to swirl and I started to seethe as I pondered this scenario.   I asked myself…

      …Was this whole process truly the young girl’s choice?  Did she somehow believe that she wasn’t good enough and entered the contest in order to fulfill someone else’s standard for personal beauty?  Is it possible that she submitted her entry for fun and was totally secure in who she was as an individual?  What role did advertising play in all of this?

Questions, questions, questions….  The more I wondered about why the decision was made to have a 12 year old on the program, the more angry I became.

Within a few moments, when that particular live segment was finished, the camera shifted back to the morning announcers. One proudly indicated that the young lady was a beautiful girl and expressed her belief that the young lady would look even better with proper hair, make-up and clothing.  “Better??? By whose standards???”  I thought to myself.

Then I heard the following:  “And now something for the boys – Monster Trucks are coming to town!!!!”…  I was stunned.  Is this the best we can do in our society?  Makeovers for 12 year old girls and Monster trucks for boys????  Seriously??? Gender bias at its proudest moment???  My anger was immediately replaced by overwhelming sadness.  I was appalled by the whole segment.

Off and on during the day,  I reflected on the morning’s events and wondered why I was so upset as a result of the broadcast.  I began to wonder if I had ever given such negative messages unconsciously to my students. I know that we need to encourage our students to be the best that they each can be and give them constant positive messages in order to counteract the negatives presented to them in every day life. But do I always do that?

How do we, as educators, do that? How do we keep ourselves from perpetuating the same kinds of biases?  Similar messages are everywhere.  We hardly recognize them ourselves.

How many times in education are we guilty of the same kind of preconceived ideas or assumptions?

How many times have we given silent agreement when we stay silent instead of offering a  challenge to statements such as these:

….. “His parents can’t read.  I’m not surprised that he is having trouble”  (Really? Because a parent had issues with academics, does that really mean their children will struggle as well?)

or ….

” She comes from a poor family.  She’ll never amount to anything” (Really? Since when did an annual income govern one’s ability to learn?)

or even….

“Why should I spend my time with _______?  He/She will never learn anyway.”….  (Really?  Can we really believe that another human being is so lacking in value that even an investment of time is wasteful?)

I’m certain that the news broadcast had no idea about the message I received that day.  I didn’t even realize it myself until I took the time to think about what I had seen and heard.

What was your message to your students today?  What were you modelling?


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Enduring Impact

I’ve been missing my dad lately.  When I least expect it, something will trigger a memory and an image from my youth will pop up.  My dad has been gone for quite some time now.  He passed away somewhat unexpectedly at the beginning of a school year – that in itself is another story, not for this forum.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The “missing” part is not the “I-wish-I-could-spend-just-one-more-day-with-you” kind of “missing”.  It’s more the “If-I-could-only-have-an-adult-conversation-with-you,knowing-what-I-know-now” kind of missing.

Allow me to explain.

The more I become a reflective practitioner in my professional life, the more I realize how much I still have to learn as human being, which includes trying to understand someone else.  It includes having brave conversations, about a variety of topics.   Among those conversations, you hope to arrive at an understanding of both yourself and the other individual(s).

I realize now that I missed many opportunities to have those kinds of conversations with my dad.  When I think of him, I remember that he was a very strong-willed individual who worked hard every day of his life.  His motto was: If a job is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well.  I learned my strong work ethic from him.

He valued education, having had limited opportunity to spend time in formalized learning.  I also appreciate the intrinsic value of learning and consider myself to be a life-long learner.   Dad was inventive and a creative problem-solver.  He often referred to himself as a “fabricator” – a builder – when he spoke about his trade as a welder.  I like to consider myself to be like him in that I am constantly working to unravel the puzzle of technology integration within the educational system.  As for creative…. well, anyone who knows me can attest to that…

What I didn’t know was WHY my father was the way he was.  I really didn’t understand the man behind the actions.  I wish I did.  I wish I could…. some day I hope to get the chance to ask him.

In our classrooms, we have opportunities each day to have conversations with our students, our colleagues and individuals within our larger school community.  Do we take the time to really talk to someone?  Do we take the time to listen, to engage in those conversations which lead to greater understandings of each other?  I believe it was John Hattie who said “Know thy impact”….

What is our impact?  What will our students remember about us?  What will be their enduring understandings of the time we spend together?

Let’s talk….





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Trust the Process

Recently I was asked to support a group of learners with whom I have never had a lot of prior contact.  Having never worked with these individuals before, I was not totally sure of their needs as far as technology integration was concerned.  I was told they were a tough crowd. I only had one brief opportunity to begin to build the relationships I have found to be key when I work with educators and technology.   I admit it……..  I was stressed……. extremely stressed….

Don’t misunderstand me.

I have never backed away from a challenge and the parameters of the day were hardly a challenge.  I welcomed the chance to work with these educators!  I had no doubts about my ability as a presenter.  I knew I was more than capable of delivering an effective presentation.  It certainly wasn’t about the numbers of attendees or having to provide more than one session or even about the length of the presentation.

It was about “control”.  I was out of my comfort zone.

There were too many unknowns.  I was in venue where typically I do not work.  I had limited details about the framework of the day.  I was using a technology tool which I normally use in one-to-one situations.  As the day approached, I found out there were things going on behind the scenes that made me extremely uncomfortable.  I was thrilled to be offered the support of one of my colleagues who works in the Spec Ed department who gave me some excellent advice.  She told me to keep things simple.  She told me to trust myself.  She reminded me that the most important part of the workshop would be the time we could give to let the participants play and learn by doing.

So….. I did not prepare a powerpoint or Notebook presentation or Prezi…. in fact, there was no slick, scripted presentation with carefully rehearsed words at all.  Instead, I created a general, one page outline for myself of important information I believed these educators would need to be effective with technology use in their roles.  I looked at the resources available to them and made particular notes for myself as reminders of their whereabouts.  Within the session, I built in time for the participants to actually use the technology and play.  At the end, I built in time for participants to share their learning with each other.

I thought more about my audience and about each learner which is what I should have focused on from the out from the outset.

I believe the presentations went well.  Individuals were appreciative of having the time to work things through for themselves.  There wasn’t much sharing at the end.  That’s ok.  Before the second group left, I made a point of asking if there was anyone who still had a question or personal learning goal that I hadn’t met.  There was a moment of silence, then one participant indicated that the two questions she originally had were answered.  My “aha” moment came when asked what she wanted to learn, one participant said ” I just wanted to know how to turn it (the device) on”.

Reflection:  Sometimes as educators, we get caught up in what we perceive are the expectations of the job.  We work so hard to do what we think needs to be done.  We listen to the countless number of voices who pull us in so many directions.  We forget to keep things simple.  We forget to trust our instincts.  We lose sight of our audience as individuals with unique needs.  We try to control each moment and bustle through our days and our lessons without taking the time to pause, reflect, evaluate, re-adjust.  We forget to let go and….

… the process.

I’m grateful to my friend and colleague for reminding me..

It was a good day…

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Interesting Blog

A friend of mine is taking a media course and sent a link to the blog listed above.  What are your thoughts regarding his statements?  Do you agree or disagree?  Have you seen some the same things in your classrooms or in other classrooms in your school?  I’d love to read your comments about this so please use the space below!!

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It’s a Tool…

More and more lately I’ve been hearing the following phrase in educational circles when the topic of technology integration emerges in conversation:

 “Technology integration is not an instructional strategy”.  

I agree- sort of….

Technology, by its very nature, is designed to be embedded into teaching and learning. When used effectively, technology is embedded in learning- is seamless, integrated, and does not draw attention to itself. Technology as a tool for instruction becomes an integral part of learning.

What bothers me about the phrase quoted above, though, is that the conversation often ends up evaluating examples of entry level technology integration (as presented in the Technology Matrix – ). These examples are often deemed to be “useless”, and therefore “ineffective for any long term change” and hence cannot be called an instructional strategy. I take exception to this lack of logical thought.

Every teacher needs a beginning point of entry with the embedding of technology into their learning and that of their students. Every one of us is unique. Every one of us brings our own experience into the classroom with every subject and with every learning activity. When it comes to using technology to enhance learning, we all have to start somewhere. I have witnessed so many entry points in my last few years as a technology coach. For some, the first step is simply having someone in their classroom to stand by if the wireless fails. For others, hooking up a projector is the first step along the pathway to tech integration. For others who are comfortable with technology, following another educator on Twitter might be the first step that will move them along the continuum of tech integration. Even something so small as a change in the physical configuration of a classroom can mirror a shift in thinking that ultimately changes the classroom climate forever where tech integration is concerned.

Allow me quote George Couros who recently wrote the following on his blog:

…if you want to innovate, you must disrupt your routine… if you want to change things in the classroom, you have to change the way we do things organizationally. People are more likely to embrace change when they experience it.

In my opinion, that’s what technology does. It disrupts. It changes a mindset. It provides the conduit for change. It needs to be experienced in order for the user to change. It might not be an instructional strategy in the truest sense of the phrase but changes in instruction can’t help but happen when educational technology is introduced.

Again, to quote George Couros, “With little changes in the way that we do the things we have always done, you can start a ripple that can lead to a big wave.”

Where can you begin to embed technology into what you have always done in your classroom? What can you change in your instructional practice? Where will you begin?

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Striving for Excellence

On Family Day, I had occasion to watch some of the Olympics (finally!!) with family.  As always, I was intrigued not by the events themselves, but by the stories behind them.  To me, the competitions pale in the light of the featured biographies of athletes – their thoughts about the competition, their training, their commitment to put their passion into practice.  I love the news features about the culture of the host countries.  I look for those tiny news blurbs when a broken ski is replaced by a coach so a competitor can finish, or the winner of a long distance event staying hours at the course to welcome the single competitor as he crosses the finish line when no one believed he could finish at all.

It is these moments of excellence of character that remind me of the challenges that we, as educators, face today.  Often we believe that we are not doing anything special, that our creativity in meeting the needs of our students is nothing spectacular.  We adapt our methods so specific learning styles can be addressed, We look for content that just might engage that one child who seems so disinterested in life (let alone learning).  We are committed to reaching those children who believe that nothing they do is of value because we want them to understand that we value them, not what they do. 

So…. as Olympians are recognized for their excellence in the field of athletics, let’s look for our own champions and give them the recognition they deserve.  Who among your staff can be acknowledged for excellence in teaching, in learning, in caring?  Who do you know that demonstrates their commitment to excellence?  Who are your leaders?  I challenge you to seek them out, acknowledge them, congratulate them and sing their praises to world.  Let’s celebrate together!

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