Pulling Together in the Same Direction

16 mile creek heron.jpg

As a preamble to my upcoming keynote at TESL Durham next Saturday, I thought I’d resurrect this piece that I wrote for Sheridan’s Alchemy newsletter a while back on connecting with our Indigenous Centre for Learning and Support. Reading through my old post, it’s interesting to see how things have changed, and how they haven’t.

  • It’s no longer called the Aboriginal Initiatives Office.
  • The Wai Nui o Kanaka Canoeing Club is now located in Port Credit.
  • I’m still connecting my teaching to our Canadian context, with authentic indigenous content.
  • I now know a few educators in #ESL #ELT whose focus is making meaningful  connections for learners and teachers (Yes, @yvetteinmb and @tilbury_shauna, I am talking about you)
  • I’d still like to see more meaningful incorporation of indigenous connections from educators.

I’ll be linking to my new piece on incorporating indigenous content into our teaching practice soon, when the new Alchemy issue comes out. In the meantime, please have a look:



On Leaving

sanjeevan-satheeskumar-318143-unsplashPhoto by Sanjeevan SatheesKumar on Unsplash

The position was meant to be something new to try out, to add some freshness into my PD experience. Fast forward three years, and the job of Twitter Manager for TESL Ontario is much more than that and still interests me. Why am I leaving?

It has been a challenging couple of years, and the reason I need to leave was inspired by this position, interestingly. When I began tweeting for TESL Ontario, I had not yet  begun my Masters journey (for the second time). The interesting group of people I discovered online led me to explore a different kind of professional development. I’m becoming curiouser and curiouser about the seasoned language teacher and their professional development, centred on motivation and the use of technology, which has lead me to embark on a PhD. And I have recently noticed that I do not have the energy or the time to devote to this position anymore, not in the way I would like to.

The communication and interaction which take place on Twitter have rewarded me in ways face to face professional development and relationships never could. Teachers are on this platform because we want to be here to make connections and learn; we figured out how to use it despite the lack of intuitive threading, retweeting, subtweeting, citing, and hashtagging.

Some unexpected benefits of my having taken on this position include:

Meaningful connections: I have had the pleasure to work with fellow social media platform managers, past and present: @mrpottz @JessicaKWebster @Jess_icaBrown @teslchick @TamsinCobb @SumaBalagopal on the Social Content Committee. Their insight about TESL Ontario’s membership needs is impressive. Lynn Doherty and @AllieMama75 have been super chairs and members who have exhibited unrelenting support and encouraged the team’s ideas, work, concerns, and needs. Our virtual and face to face collaborations have resulted in some meaningful initiatives that were important to the membership, if not always visible.

I am now lucky to have people such as @jenartan @Francine_Bee and @NancyVanDorp as soundboards, collaborators, and friends as a direct result of this job. But that is just scratching the surface.

I had an idea of what this job would entail. Things I was prepared for:

  • Coming up with a strategy to gain more followers;
  • creating a list of TESL Ontario members on Twitter to promote;
  • focusing on issues that I believed were relevant for the TESL Ontario membership; and
  • sharing information with and from TESL affiliates.

I thought my job was to be invisible and represent TESL Ontario as their official voice. I wasn’t prepared to be challenged on my approach.

Tyson - light

So I came out:

IMG_0162Suddenly, my position changed. I was working for and with the membership, not the organization, to exchange ideas and posts that might be of interest to others. I purposely reached out to engage with individuals and have public exchanges under the @TESLOntario handle as me. What I accomplished  would not have been possible had I remained invisible:

  • Increased the number of followers – we are now at 2779 followers (YMMV depending on the day you read this post);
  • Participated in Twitter chats, especially #LINCchat;
  • Consciously overused GIFs to the annoyance of some because that’s who I am;
  • Brought my own brand of humour and enthusiasm to the position;
  • Connected and supported provincial associations in Canada;
  • Made a point of promoting open access journals, especially homegrown;
  • Tweeted about causes I think are important: equity in TEFL, mental health, UDL, technology, learner autonomy; and
  • Created and delivered a series of 3 webinars for TESL Ontario about how to use Twitter.

I am grateful for the opportunities this volunteer position has provided me and it is my genuine wish that my successor has as many achievements as I have, and makes this position uniquely theirs. Thank you for having me for three years.


Technology in Education and the Divide – Who has Concerns?

Technology chalkboard

Image source: TES wikispace, CC License

My blog has had a hiatus, and it is time to dust off the year which has passed to begin reflecting, once again, on ideas which continue to engage me beyond my studies. I find my constant companion in reflection is the importance of using technology when teaching.

A key word search on Google Scholar with the words “faculty resistance to online learning” yields 368 000 results.

Google Scholar search results

The other autocomplete searches using the regular Google search engine for “faculty resistance” include the words “change” and “higher education”. The widespread use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) and distance, blended, online learning options that exist (e.g. Athabasca University, University of Manitoba, University of Guelph, the Open University, eCampus Ontario, OntarioLearns), giving learners in remote areas access to higher education, means that faculty are increasingly faced with adapting and delivering face-to-face content in online or blended learning settings. Compounded with this challenge is the misconception among some administrators that a face to face course can be slightly modified and used for online delivery, and that teaching online is not as impactful, or interactive, as classroom teaching.

Many institutes of higher learning are in the process of adopting technology as an innovation model, or should be. Technology in learning, as well as teaching, is most effective when it is meaningful, measured, and interactive. This applies to technology which faculty use to teach, but it also addresses how faculty adopt technology in their virtual asynchronous environments as well as real time classrooms. As with any innovation, concern about technology and its connection to teaching and learning has various levels of adaptation and resistance. There are several frameworks which have been used in research to address this, most notably the Concerns based Adoption Model, or CBAM, but this model does not specifically address adoption of technology.

Sherry’s Learning/Adoption Trajectory model of technology focuses on five stages of adaptation of technology (Sherry et al, 2000). My interest at the moment is the first three stages, Teacher as Learner, Teacher as Adopter and Teacher as Co-Learner, because I believe these stages can be iterative. In a study I recently read, the Learning/Adoption Trajectory model is used for the theoretical structure because of its dynamic nature connected to the adoption of technology (Sahin & Thompson, 2007) but the study only examines the level of faculty adoption of technology, and is not a longitudinal study.

Addressing faculty concerns and providing support for technology implementation is important in order to empower faculty in delivering online distance education (Lampkin, 2010). Somewhere between the Teacher as Learner and the second stage is where I often encounter teachers in my workshops and webinars on technology, but there is no place in this model for the Teacher as a Non-User, which would be Stage 0, and an examination of what comes between that and Stage 1. How do we engage teachers to want to learn about technology in learning?

Which brings me back to “meaningful”. I think faculty need to be convinced of the impact of technology on students’ learning before they themselves become learners. Does the etool make engagement with the learner more effective, like Nearpod? Can informal assessment be made easier with an app like Socrative? If I ask my students to create a screencast of themselves reading in a think-aloud, will I know more about their processing of information? How can I engage with my students beyond the classroom in settings such as Twitter?

I don’t have the resources or the time to conduct studies examining the impact of these elearning tools, but I do have time to reach out to colleagues and learn about what makes them tick. Professional development in all forms aside, the connections we have with fellow educators may be the best way to lessen the divide and build a footbridge to Stage 1.


Chapter 12 Technologies, Digital Media, and Reading Instruction (n.d.) [wikispace]. Retrieved from  http://deterding740.wikispaces.com/Chapter+12+Technologies,+Digital+Media,+and+Reading+Instruction

Lampkin, A. (2010). Faculty use of technology in postsecondary education (Doctoral dissertation, Clark Atlanta University, 2010).

Sahin, I., & Thompson, A. (2007). Analysis of predictive factors that influence faculty members’ technology adoption level. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education15(2), 167.

Sherry, L., Billig, S., Tavalin, F. & Gibson, D. (2000). New insights on technology adoption in communities of learners. SITE (Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education) International Conference, 1, 2044-2049

Give me land, lots of land


A sad fact of living in a large country such as Canada is it’s cheaper, and takes less time, to fly to other countries than across this one. As a result, many Canadians are more familiar with Punta Cana beaches than the shores of the Canadian Atlantic.

My opportunity to visit Saskatchewan was fortuitous; I was invited to the SK TEAL/ TESL SASK Conference as a speaker, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the province for the first time.
Flying in and out of Regina, I chose the view rather than the in-flight entertainment, provided for me by Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.  The myriad of lakes across the landscape create a paisley fabric, and each square has been branded by a tractor/combine: some patterned, some striped, some plain, some with no discernible pattern, but captivating as a foil for the careful checkerboard surrounding it. I won’t tell you anything new when I say the prairies are flat, so flat. Coming from YYZ, the open stretches of graphic farmed land are in sharp contrast to the developed suburbs I live in. How we tame the land to make it work for us, not against us, defines us regionally, I think. However, the 4-patch quilt that is Saskatchewan evoked what’s bred in the bone; a farmer’s daughter feels a connection to the land wherever she is.

The people I met were friendly, open, generous, and happy. My cab driver humoured me and took me on a scenic tour of the city, no extra charge. A volunteer, Anna Edoo, ferried me from the conference and back, insisting on taking me to Shoppers Drug Mart so that I could purchase some necessities to feel comfortable in my hotel. And she kept me company both days, ensuring I wouldn’t sit alone. My time with the TESL Saskers/SK TEALers ended with a lovely dinner at Rock Creek Grill. The conference organizers made me feel part of their conference – I did not have to try to fit in, because I found my place. The other presenters, the keynotes, touched on topics that may not be the issues which face Ontario language teachers, but gave me a history lesson of English language teaching in Saskatchewan within the framework of national language policies.

Ontario’s heritage language program, now called the International Languages Elementary Program, still receives funds for families to educate children in their mother tongues. Ontario is home to 6 out of 36 communities which have “an existing Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP) Service Provider Organization (or Quebec equivalent) in place to provide immediate and essential specialized services for refugees.” (Government of Canada, Map of destination communities and service provider organizations).
Saskatoon and Regina are also two of these 36 chosen communities, yet this year, the government of Saskatchewan pulled funding for their heritage language program, a total of $225 000. This on the heels of 200 Government Assisted Refugees from Syria arriving in the school district of Regina where I visited, in a city of just over 100 000.

Teachers are concerned with supporting these new families without the necessary support workers in place. They are ready for the task, but the task is great. Dr. Jaswant Guzder, who spoke about the importance of creating cultural safety, acknowledged the stress of hearing stories of trauma, but encouraged educators to play the role of a mother …”You are not trauma workers, and you shouldn’t be. Look at your role as that of a mother: when they come to you with your stories, you do what a mother does and you must hold that story for them, close to your heart.”

What could Ontario learn from Saskatchewan? The Ministry of Education, the Honourable Liz Sandals, ought to take a few pages from the policies and hearts of Saskatchewanian educators and start putting solid policies in place which recognize the history, the rights, the challenges First Nations Métis Indigenous peoples face in Ontario. The conference began by acknowledging that the site of our professional development sat on Treaty 4 land. Each classroom contained posters and art featuring Cree and FNMI symbols. Sessions included how to deal with the influx of refugees as well as how to incorporate FNMI into 21st century classroom practices. Every conversation I had touched on the importance of acknowledging and supporting indigenous students in schools.  The Attawapiskat community reels from its tragedies, but their needs were in our periphery for a just few days, then forgotten again.

I left Regina with a bigger heart and an open mind. That open prairie sky, so big, can make you feel small, insignificant. But small people can accomplish great things.

References: Government of Canada, Map of destination communities and service provider organizations. Retrieved from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/welcome/map.asp

Bringing it (All) Together

Sometimes it takes a small thing, or a series of small things, to make connections for us.

A random post by someone in a chat yesterday inspired today’s blog. The comment in the chat was about profiles on Twitter, and how this individual didn’t see the importance of having one. The reasoning behind it was: she uses Twitter for professional, not personal, reasons, so doesn’t want to share anything on Twitter that’s about her.

Last week, I responded to a personal post from our Ontario maestro, Doug Peterson. The reason: someone was eating pączki on the “wrong day” and I noticed that the Polish translation of Tłusty Czwartek in a newspaper article had been incorrectly presented as Fat Tuesday. A conversation ensued with the end result: my posting the recipe for Polish pickle soup on his FB page. I didn’t think non-Poles knew of it or would even like it, but he does.

What is the connection?

I follow Doug because of all the things he shares about technology, education, and his support of Ontario educators in all our shapes and sizes, but the only times I’ve engaged him on social media is when something non-educational that he shared has captured my eye: flying turkeys, Toronto millionaires’ mansions for sale, or children enjoying Polish donuts on the wrong day. Does Doug know I appreciate him for his expertise if I reply only to the sidebars?

Julie Szyj co-moderates the New Teachers to Twitter chat on Saturdays #NT2T. I never thought to connect with her directly outside of the chat until she posted a photo last year that felt so familiar, yet unfamiliar, to me. Turns out, her father comes from the same part of Poland my father was from, and they would have been approximately the same age the year her photo was taken. I noticed the word “gardener” on her profile and we exchanged some tips and information about that as well.

Yesterday, Naomi Epstein’s blog caught my eye. I connected with Naomi originally through #ELTchat. She has been posting about family photos and letters she has received about relatives in Poland (Belarus by today’s boundaries) and she’s trying to piece the story together from the 1930s to 1940. Her request to decipher Polish handwriting inspired me to chat with her about our families’ wartime experiences. She said something that stuck with me.

I set aside some time today in my busy life and have pulled out all my father’s old documents he kept from the war onwards. Julie is exploring her roots; my father only shared his experience with me once before he died, but left me all his documents. Naomi hasn’t finished telling her family’s story, but has hinted at unhappy times. My father’s unhappy times are recorded in the old attaché case where I keep these:

I took photos of these three documents because they tell my father’s story starkly: his identity card for ex Prisoners of War, the proof that he was kept in a concentration camp, and his landed immigration card, stamped by Canadian Immigration in Halifax, N.S., on May 28, 1950.

Doug issued a challenge to Ontario educators: challenge others within our education circles to submit “Bringing IT Together 2016” proposals, to be held in Niagara this November. I challenged a friend, she challenged me back, and I’ve seen other challenges come up in my feed ever since. I am connected to Doug, to Julie, to Naomi because I use Twitter for professional reasons, but the connections I have are personal, and it’s because they’ve all shared a piece of themselves that made me want to connect with them more. And they brought this all together for me.




iPad Project – Week 2

The second week with iPads has ended with my students and I think everything has gone well.

I enjoyed seeing the absorption in tasks – everyone has their heads down and is working on task – this is great to see.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the engagement with students.  What I mean by that is reaching out to me and telling me how much they’re enjoying themselves:

Arantxa iPad


And their social media photos:

Finally! iPads

I’m also impressed that the iPads are not ruling the classroom.  I try to go half and half, but sometimes, especially when annotating or peer editing, students are opting to use pen and paper, and others are interested in using inote for annotation, but then deciding to go the pen/paper route. Not sure if it’s the adult aspect, but we are definitely selecting the appropriate tool for the task, and not choosing tech for the task.

The activity that went very well was my New York Times lesson on plagiarism in a digital age. Even though the activity is meant for teachers as a lesson plan, I thought it would be beneficial for the students to address the text from the perspective of: who is the intended audience, what is the message, who are the authors, and why did they write this. It’s a task we do with all our reading texts. After the activity, many commented on the fact that they enjoyed seeing how lesson plans are developed for teachers and how teachers approach topics for classroom content. I want to devote tomorrow’s blog post to the whole activity.

The NYT plagiarism activity was a success for me as a teacher, and an even larger success for the students. I polled them informally about the process and asked them what worked/didn’t work. One interesting, recurring comment was the annoyance a group member might have toward another member because he/she didn’t do her part. “I was relying on that information, it’s not fair that it wasn’t included,” she stated. Accountability for an unassessed in-class activity, and I’m not the one making the point. I couldn’t ask for more.

Another positive comment from the students: “I didn’t think I would spend this much time reading and preparing for the next day; I know people would rely on me, and I was interested in the types of research I found.” Perhaps the technology was the reason for the motivation amongst students. I’m interested in exploring this notion more in the coming weeks.

All in all, an excellent two weeks. I am looking forward to our vocabulary apps and collaborative space in Edmodo for our next task of comparison essay writing. Tomorrow, I’ll post about the New York Times plagiarism activity.

Creative Problem Solving: What’s the Point?

“Barriers” 1st day warm up activity Photo credit: Anna Bartosik, 2015

The new year brings resolutions, or at least the intent to make them. In January, gyms are full, people are chewing gum furiously at their desks, a proliferation of kale salads permeates the formerly brassica-free work place, and everyone is still on target.

What we never achieve, however, is changing how we approach our resolutions.

How many of us were at this very same place this time last year, resolving to quit the various habits we wished to break? And how many of us were successful?

Sorry to be a downer.

That attitude is what limits us. The “what is the point” approach to our work situations. “What can you do? Nothing.” is the question/answer I grew up hearing. Accepting limits because we’ve never been able to move past them is the most paralyzing attitude anyone can have. It is often not the real barriers, but the perceived ones, which prevent us from progressing.

At this time last year, I was in the process of conducting information interviews to help me focus on a direction. I approached many individuals, but I made sure to only ask for 10 minutes and limit the meeting to 5 questions. These answers stayed with me:

  1. Assume you can do it until someone tells you that you can’t. At least then you’ll know where the real barriers are.
  2. Look for passive opportunities. They are everywhere, but no one is taking advantage of them.
  3. I only accepted this meeting because I have been waiting for a faculty member to approach me with this type of request, and you’re the first one who’s done it.

These pieces of advice helped shape 2015 for me. To begin 2016, I enrolled in a creative problem solving workshop. It was 3 days out of my down time before classes begin this week. Precious time wasted, someone observed. Why would you go back to work before you have to?


  • It was the first time this workshop was open to part-time faculty
  • I needed to ease myself back into work without actually “working”
  • I like networking with individuals from other disciplines at the college; we don’t have these opportunities often
  • The school slogan is “Get Creative”
  • I thought this workshop would provide a different perspective
  • It will look good on my CV

All honest reasons, but the last one is the most honest. I wasn’t prepared for the results, however. This is what I got out of it:

  • New connections at the college
  • A better understanding of how I approach problems and where my strengths lie
  • I don’t like being pigeon-holed so I work extra hard to demonstrate different abilities
  • I don’t agree with how others perceive me, and this was a common theme amongst many at the workshop
  • My problems are the same as everyone else’s
  • Perceived barriers are just that
  • Vulnerability is not a bad thing; it’s real
  • The language we use creates barriers as well

And the unexpected benefits:

  • A possible opportunity to make use of my skills
  • A “real” chance to work a client through the creative problem solving process less than 48 hours after I completed the workshop
  • The generation of ideas for one of my own problems
  • A determination to plan for 2016 on paper, so I can see it and refer to it

Creative problem solving. There is no point to it. There are many.