Wednesday, 30 August 2017

My Top 5 Defining Moments in teaching.

I read some great blogs this week from @mrsoclassroom and @cashjim that were also discussed by Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley (@dougpete and @Stephen_Hurley) on the Radio-athon today on This week in Ontario EduBlogs.  They were talking about what they felt were their top 5 defining moments in their teaching career.  They got me thinking about what my Top 5 Defining Moments in my 23 year career have been so far.  Certainly, there would be more than 5 - narrowing it down is the tough part.  Here are my thoughts.

4 Years of Supply Teaching
After becoming certified to teach, I spent 4 years as an Occasional Teacher in the four boards which would eventually be amalgamated into the Thames Valley District School Board.  I would take any assignment offered.  A school would call (sometimes incredibly early in the morning after a late night at my part-time job) and I would go.  At the time, you could supply at any grade range or specialty, so although I had done my teacher training in Intermediate/Senior History and English, I was working at every grade level and just about every subject. Young and eager to start my teaching career, I was yearning for some Principal, somewhere, to give me my own classroom and a chance to show what I could do.  I was so green, I just had no idea about all the things I didn't know that I didn't know!  I look back at those years of traveling as a valuable apprenticeship that taught me so much about what kind of teacher I wanted to be, what I really wanted to teach and the importance of the relationships I would one day build with my colleagues and students.

Moving Full Time into the Realm of Special Education
Those years of Supply teaching resulted in my investing in several AQ courses to learn some of the things I needed to know more about.  More importantly, they exposed me to some of the various teaching jobs that related to Special Education and how taking the Special Education AQs through to my Specialist would improve my practice and be beneficial to my Students.  When I moved into full time Special Education work, I found my home.  It wasn't just that it was a good fit for me, it was as if I had received my calling.  I would have been an OK History and English Teacher, but I have a passion for Special Education that makes me push myself harder and be better every day.

Switching Schools
After my first six years as a full time teacher, I decided to switch schools.  At the time, the move was mainly motivated by a desire to shorten my daily commute from 40 minutes to 15.  What I didn't realize was that I was becoming complacent and a little too comfortable in my first school.   By switching locations and the type of classroom I had been working in, I was forced to change so much about what and how I was teaching.  It was just the shake up I needed to re-invigorate my practice and my passion for education.  Change is always hard, but it is also a huge opportunity for learning and growing.  I'm much more open to change and now when I am facing a tough decision, I remind myself about this first big change I made and how it had such a profoundly positive effect on my career and life.

Deeper Thinking and Learning about Educational Technology
About a Year and a half ago, I decided to take another AQ.  The Ontario Teachers Federation was offering subsidies for taking Math and Educational Technology Courses.  I have always enjoyed taking an AQ every so often, but not the cost.   At first, my motivation was mainly financial - I though, "Hey, great!  I can take another AQ at a third of the normal cost."  I was always open to computers and technology in the classroom.  Heck, I was an early adopter of the SmartBoard in our school, so I signed up to take an AQ course through Western University: Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction with Instructor Rodd Lucier (@thecleversheep).  Talk about a mind blowing experience!  By the end of the course my brain was so full of new ideas and new understandings about how to integrate technology more effectively in my pedagogy. I felt electrified and as eager as I was the day I graduated from the Bachelor of Education program.  I loved it so much I went on to take Part II and the Specialist Course.  I have improved my practice by 500% or more by doing this - just understanding the SAMR model alone made a huge difference in my classroom.

Getting Twitterpated
I've always enjoyed PD, and getting together with colleagues to discuss best practices, but until I learned how to leverage Twitter for my Professional Learning Network, I had a pretty limited professional circle - mostly teachers in my school and board.  Through the previously mentioned AQ course, I noticed that I was not using Twitter in any meaningful way.  By getting Twitterpated and following so many amazing teachers world wide, I have opened myself and my classroom up to so many opportunities that I would not even have known existed prior to that, from all the various Google apps to the Global Read Along, and so much more.  And the beauty of it is, it never has to stop!  The connections you make just keep taking you further.  While this can, on occasion, become a trip down the rabbit hole, it is always a fascinating trip!

So, take a minute to read the blogs that inspired this post, listen to VoicEd Radio (, think back on your time in the classroom - and share the Top 5 Defining Moments in your Teaching Career.

Sunday, 13 August 2017


As promised... here are some more great reads 
I'd like to share from my Summer Reading pile!

Wherever possible I have provided you a link to the Author's Twitter account...just click on their names to get there!

The Google Infused Classroom By Holly Clark & Tanya Avrith

If you are using G Suite in your classroom - this is the book for you.  No matter if you are new to the apps or a seasoned Ed Tech veteran, this book will have you thinking more deeply about how you integrate technology in a meaningful way so that students can show their learning in an authentic way.  The authors explain the well researched pedagogy behind their book and then go over the many tools you can use and how you can apply them for various learning goals.  I love the way this book is organised and written.  It is easy to access and quickly find the specific learning objective or tool you need.  I especially like the section near the end that takes "old school" activities and gives you options to try that will be more in line with the skills students need in the future.  LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book!

The Google Apps Guidebook by Kern Kelley with Austin Taylor and the Tech Sherpas

Pretty much as the cover promises, this book is all kinds of activities that use the Apps in G Suite, created by students for Teachers to use.  Kern sets up how this book came to be and how the Tech Sherpas came to be, but after that - it's the kids showing you step by step how to use the Apps in a way kids will want to use them.  I found it hard to describe this just gotta read it.  It's pretty fantastic what these kids are doing in their school and creating to share with us.

Innovate with iPad by Karen Lirenman & Kristen Wideen

While this is very much geared to Primary classrooms, this book does show some great ways to use the iPad with students across the curriculum.  It would also be great to use in Special Education applications.  I loved what they were doing with Numeracy and Literacy with Poplet, Explain Everything and a basketful of iPad apps.  It's well organised and the lessons are easy to access and use.

The HyperDoc Handbook by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis

I'm still pretty new to HyperDocs - so this book was a godsend to me!  HyperDocs are digital lessons put together to link students to various online resources, platforms and apps to engage them in inquiry learning.  This book is very good at differentiating between a digital worksheet (not great) to a HyperDoc (very great) in their pedagogical worth.  They go over the tools you can link to and how to use them, how to create an awesome HyperDoc (and why you would want to as well) and give some great ideas of how to use them.  This is also a two thumbs up book and on the Meharg Must Read List!

The Google Cardboard Book By Holly Clark, Sylvia Duckworth, Jeffery Heil, David Hotler, Donnie Piercey, & Lisa Thumann

If you are planning to do some Virtual Reality with your class, Google Cardboard is a great place to start and this book gives you all the ins and outs of how to use it, additional resources and even gives you directions on how to construct your own Google Cardboard viewer out of...of course...cardboard.  There are ideas and lessons you can apply across the curriculum, and I loved the section about taking 360 degree pictures and videos.

Bridges Out of Poverty by Ruby K Payne & Phillip E DeVol, 

A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K Payne

Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin' By World by Philip E. DeVol

All three of these books will help you understand the divides that create differences between the wealthy, the middle class and those living in poverty.  The second book is written specifically with Teachers in Mind and is in a workbook format with resources to use with students living in poverty and with Staff who work with students living in poverty.  The goal is to understand where they are coming from and to help them reach their own goals.  The Third book is a workbook, but is designed as a workshop to use with those living in poverty to help them understand the unwritten rules of the different classes and how to navigate them.  All three were great reads to help teachers understand the economic and social backgrounds we see in all classrooms.

Saturday, 12 August 2017


So, I've been doing a lot of reading this summer and thought I would share my thoughts on some great resources with you.  This will be a two part post.  My reading pile seems to be growing faster than I can read the books on it.  Darn you Twitter for showing me all these great things to read!

First up:


This book is all about ENGAGEMENT.  He gives great tips and tricks for teachers to get Students engaged in learning, and how to build positive relationships with them.  No learning can take place if a student doesn't feel that you care about them and are willing to get to know them.  Dave tells you how you can do this.

He also talks about the importance of good pedagogy and that this is not a natural takes work.  This really resonated with me.  Great teachers are great because they work hard at it!  They put in the time, they do the PD and they are not afraid to take risks, fail and learn from their mistakes.  I think my favourite line from the book is, "If you are afraid of looking silly in front of your students...GET OVER IT!"

He writes in a very easy to read style that I found super engaging as well.  I read this in a day - I couldn't put it down.  He is very active on Twitter @burgessdave.  In fact, he responded to my tweet about his book in literally minutes from my posting! 


I've been looking for some resources to do a Genius Hour with my class this year and this one is fantastic.  Very easy to read, full of great ideas and activities.  It has lots of online links to resources, videos and additional reading and help for setting up Passion Projects in your classroom.

Andi is writing from the perspective of a Gifted classroom, but her ideas are easily adaptable to any classroom situation and she gives additional resources that can help with this as well.  If you are thinking of starting Passion Projects in your room, this is a great starting point and a must read!

She is also on Twitter @mcnairan3 and is great about responding to your questions.


If you've watched his TED talk - this is an expansion of his research and work on how to change and improve schools that make kids want to go to them and prepare them for a future that is in no way like the Industrial model most of our schools were designed on in the last century.

He has lots of real world examples and his section on Teacher Professional Development and Training was very enlightened.  You can follow Sir Ken @SirKenRobinson

SocialLEADia By Jennifer Casa-Todd

 AMAZING read!  If you liked George Curous' The Innovators Mindset you will love this one too.  He even writes the forward.

Jennifer delves into all the issues, concerns, pros and cons of having students learn about Social Media and Teachers leading the charge to make them Digital Citizens.  If you haven't started your own or a classroom Twitter Account by the time you've read the first chapter, you are clearly not interested in Educational Technology or preparing your students for the future.   

She give lots of tricks and tips, explains how to use the various platforms and spotlights teachers and students who are true exemplars of the kind of 21st Century learners and teachers we want to support.  There are lots of additional resources and her work is very well researched and supported.  She's an Ontario gal and she is super approachable.  Follow her @JCasaTodd

THE GROWTH MINDSET COACH: A Teacher's Month-By-Month Handbook for Empowering Students to Achieve by Annie Brock 

Annie's book is, as promised, a great handbook for someone wanting a month by month guide to teaching students the power of a Growth Mindset.  She talks about Carol Dweck's research into Fixed and Growth Mindsets and embeds this in lessons and ideas that you can easily adapt to any classroom.

She sets the book up into an Introduction to Growth Mindset and then takes you on a month by month journey with lesson plans, ideas, resources and online help to get your students thinking "I can't do that...yet," instead of quiting or saying "I can't."

If you have read Carol Dweck's work, this is the perfect companion book to help teachers apply the research to the classroom.  Find her on Twitter @MsAnnieBrock

READY-TO-USE RESOURCES FOR MINDSETS IN THE CLASSROOM: Everything Educators Need for Building Growth Mindset Learning Communitiesby Mary Cay Ricci

Need more Growth Mindset resources?  Try this one.  Links, resources, activities, lesson plans, letters to parents - all ready to use, just like the cover promises.
She gives tips to get administrators on board and how to get students engaged in growing their brains.  
She has authored a few books on this, so check her out.  Follow her @MaryCayR

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I read this because it is the book I have chosen to share with my class as a part of Pernille Ripp's Global Read Along Program this October.

Patrick Ness does a great job of telling the story of a young man who is dealing with his mother's fight with cancer.  He is dealing with monsters that are very real in his daily life and those that visit him at night.  I refuse to be a spoiler, so I can tell you no more, other than it is a very moving story that will open so many avenues of dialogue with your students.  And, if you join the Global Read Along, you can share these ideas and thoughts with classrooms around the world (including mine!).  I've already linked you to the Global Read Along Program, but you can also follow Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp and Patrick Ness @Patrick_Ness

That's all for now, but watch for my next post where I share some Google-y books, books on bridging poverty in the classroom, Inquiry Learning and more.  

Wow - I hope I get all these read before school starts in a few weeks!  Gotta run...I got some reading to do!

Friday, 11 August 2017

I've got that "Back to School" Feeling

It's {insert audible sigh here} mid August, and like many teachers, I'm thinking and planning for the new school year.  "Where has the summer gone?" I ask myself as the days on the calendar seem to speed by like transport trucks on the highway.

In July, the wheat is a shimmering gold ocean that waves at you in the soft breezes of a hot summer day.  It's a symbol of the freedom of summer and it seems to be whispering to me..."No rush.   Summer is here.  Relax.  Recharge.  Ride the wind of freedom, my girl."  

August arrives.  The wheat is fully ripened and at the peak of it's beauty, and it's harvested.  Now the field is full of bales of straw, and the wheat goes to be milled into my future sandwich bread.  The crickets start looking for mates and I hear them sing at night.  The days are not quite as hot, and the evenings start to cool down a bit.   The days are even starting to be noticeably shorter and the sun sets a bit earlier every evening that passes.  

But the surest sign of all that summer is nearly over...the "Back to School" ads start airing on t.v., radio and in the advertising fliers that arrive each week at my door.  And I know, it's time to start planning.

I got to thinking about how I felt about "Back to School" time when I was a student.  Those were exciting days.  What had my friends done all summer?  Remember, that these were the days before smartphones and Facebook and Twitter, so I hadn't seen pictures of my friends trips or summer camp or days spent at the beach.  I lived in the country (as my love of wheat fields may have revealed), so I hadn't seen many of my classmates all summer. I could hardly wait to see them and exchange my summer news with theirs.  

Of course, there was "Back to School" shopping.  I had grown or the fashion had changed and I needed new clothes, or shoes or school supplies.  Ahhhh, the smell of a book that had never been cracked.  The feel of a pen that had never been used in my hand, just waiting for me to write my annual epic "What I did this summer" Journal entry.  Shoes that were so white and clean that I didn't want to wear them outside.  Shoes that sat waiting in my bedroom for the first day of school - that almost glowed in the dark with their newness.  Planning out that first day back outfit.  It had to be just right.  Fashionable, yet scholarly...but not too scholarly.  Maybe my new jeans would be saved for that first day, so that the crease in them was crisp and they would rustle a bit as I walked in them because they weren't worn in yet.  It would be hot that first day back, and I would melt wearing those jeans in the humidity and body heat of a classroom in September, but I couldn't let that deter me.

The excitement would build from early August, into the dog days of summer and at last, the long Labour Day weekend.  Labour Day I would have my school bag packed with those new, and a few old but still cherished, school supplies.  My lunch would be made.  I'd have flip-flopped a few times on what outfit I would wear.  But, by about eight p.m. I'd have made a final decision and had my choice laid out and ready to go.  I'd set my alarm and go to bed early.  I wanted to be up bright and early, so as not to miss the school bus!  But, I'd be so excited I could hardly sleep.  Not quite as wired as I'd be on Christmas Eve, or even my birthday, but a very close third place to those yearly highlights on the calendar of my youth.  I'd finally drift off in the wee hours of the morning, dreaming of a year of academic triumph and social success...ready for the First Day of the new school year.

Twenty-three years into my teaching career and I still get a thrill from the First Day of School.  It's August and I'm thinking about ideas for my lessons.  I'm putting my classroom back together and creating awesome bulletin boards.  I'm ordering classroom supplies.  I still love the smell of a brand new book and the feel of a pen that's never been used in my hand, waiting for me to write that lesson plan that will engage every student in the room.  I'm working on integrating technology in my lessons and finding new ways to teach concepts.  I'm thinking about my students and what new adventures we can go on together this year, and how I can share my love for learning and growing with them.  I don't spend much time worrying about what I will wear that first day anymore.  In my advanced age, I really only care that the clothes are professional looking, clean and that I won't melt like an ice cream cone on the summer pavement wearing them in a hot, sticky, September classroom.

But, I still have trouble sleeping the night before each school year starts.  I'm ready as ready can be.  The plans are done, my goals are set, the room is spotless (thanks to our custodians who put in a summer of hard labour), the notes are ready to go home, my classroom website is set up, the supplies have arrived.  I can do no more.  Why can't I sleep?

Because I'm excited!  The kids are excited!  I'm sure that every parent out there is just as excited, if not more.  It's that "Back to School" feeling.  If only I could bottle that feeling and spray it on every student each day, so that they were THAT EXCITED to come back to school every day.  What a school year that would be.

So that's my goal.  I might not reach the heights of the first day back each and every day, but I'm going to do my best to share a little of that "Back to School" feeling throughout the year.

Bloggers note:  Thanks to Stephen Hurley at VoicEdRadio "Changing the way you talk about education," for inspiring this blog with his call out for "Back to School" Memories to share on air.     You can share yours on his flipgrid topic,  by following him on Twitter @Stephen_Hurley or by following VoicEdRadio @voicEdCanada.  Better yet, listen to the broadcasts live at  There's lots of great topics to learn about and if you miss it live, they are archived on the site.
A shout out also to @kraekerc who got me thinking again about my blog and encouraged me to get cracking!  Thanks, Cliff!

I also welcome your comments.  Please share them and any ideas you have for keeping that "Back to School" feeling alive all year!