Monday, February 8, 2016

A Comfort Crew

On February 4, 2016, my beloved colleague Denise Colby and I presented a webinar for TVOntario's Teach Ontario site about Minecraft. I felt that it didn't go as well as I had hoped. My opinion was the minority but I couldn't shake the disappointment I had with myself or with how things progressed. I have a hard time "letting things go" when things bother me and one of my strategies for dealing with challenges is to talk about them, a lot. I spoke about my feelings with:

  • my husband, James
  • my co-presenter, Denise
  • the TVO director of Educational Partnerships, Katina
  • my principal, Bill
  • one of the participants and a fellow TVO webinar presenter, Diana
  • my parish priest, Father Hansoo
Everyone had very reassuring things to say. Some of the advice and words of comfort included ideas such as "if learning happened, that's the important thing" / "from other people's point of view, the session was good" / "the only one who noticed that anything was 'wrong' was you, because you are your own harshest critic" / "I can totally relate to how you feel right now". 

I really want to thank my "support team" for all their help. I needed those cheerleaders because even though the message might not have penetrated my stubborn soul, the emotions were certainly clear: "I hear you" / "I'm sorry you feel this way" / "I'm here for you". 

I hope every student who faces disappointment and setbacks have a similar amount of members of a "comfort crew" to assist with feeling better. They need it, like I do.

Monday, February 1, 2016

OLA SuperConference 2016 & Treasure Mountain Canada 4

This will be the first year that I will not write an official "SuperConference Reflection", complete with summaries, key points, and action items. The reason is that although I was there at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, I wasn't present for many workshops. I still learned a lot, but it's hard to capture the insights gleaned from an informal conversation in a way that respects the intimate nature of a small group talk. I'll try my best!

OLA SuperConference 2016

Highlights and Photos by Diana Maliszewski
(Tweets by assorted writers - see image attributions)

Thursday, January 28, 2016 - 5:30 p.m.

OSLA Awards Ceremony and AGM

I was at a TDSB Mentor Leaders meeting on Thursday afternoon, so I was only able to come to the evening event. The following awards were given. (This was originally part of a press release issued by the Ontario Library Association. I added the section about CSAE because this prize was presented at the AGM even though it is not an OLA award.)

L'Association des bibliothèques de l'Ontario-Franco (ABO-Franco) Le Prix Micheline Persaud     Joanne Plante, Conseil Des Écoles Catholiques Du Centre-Est
Canadian Society of Association Executives - Communication Awards of Excellence for Best Print / Electronic Publication
The Teaching Librarian magazine (OSLA)
Ontario Library Association Technical Services AwardLisa Radha Weaver, Library Learning Resources, Tippett Centre, Toronto District School Board

Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) Administrator of the Year AwardLynn Wisniewski, Halton District School Board
Ontario School Library Association (OSLA)Award for Special AchievementTreasure Mountain Canada
Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) Teacher Librarian of the YearDawn Telfer, Thames Valley District School Board 
James, Dawn, & Jeanne - TL of the Year Award

James, Joel, Lisa, Jeanne - Lib Tech Services Award

James, Lynn, Jeanne (sorry, forgot names!) - Admin Award

James, Diana, Jeanne - Best Print Publication

(Oops, another name lost) & Joanne - ABO-Franco Award

What did I learn?
I learned that Ontario school library professionals are the most encouraging and supportive people out there. My Twitter feed was swamped with well-wishes, even though I was only the representative for the magazine - aka the one who held the trophy and made the speech. 
I also learned that it's a good idea to hold the AGM before the awards ceremony, because about 2/3 of the attendees left immediately after the awards ended. 

I was also fortunate to go to dinner that evening after the OSLA meeting with Martha, Johanna, Alanna, and Sharon. Sharon Seslija is the head of libraries for the Greater Essex Country District School Board and she will be retiring this year. I publicly want to congratulate and thank Sharon for everything that she's done for her school board and for school libraries across Ontario.

L-R: Alanna, Johanna, Diana, Sharon, Martha

At the Multi-Vendor After-Party, I was fortunate to chat with Mary-Rose, a new OLA staff member, as well as one of my favourite board library leaders, Richard Reid from the Durham District School Board, who is also the OLA 2016 SuperConference Co-Planner. You make a difference, Richard - never forget that!

Friday, January 29, 2016 - 12:00 noon

OLA Open Shelf Editorial Board Meeting

This annual meeting brings together all the players involved with creating OLA's official magazine. 

What did I learn?
Every publication is different. I'm very familiar with how The Teaching Librarian operates, but Open Shelf is a unique creature. Kudos to Mike Ridley for his flexibility. We'll get that Terms of Reference document done by March 1, we hope!

I was tempted to squeeze in a workshop, like Monica Berra and Leona Prince's "Culturally Responsive Aboriginal Resources" or Sandra McLarnon and Sara Furnival's "Igniting your School Library with Maker and Spark Spaces". Instead, I chose to visit the Expo Hall and it was very relevant. I spoke with the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) about arranging a field trip and with the Centre of Equitable Library Access (CELA) about borrowing Braille and texture books for students at my school with vision impairments.

Friday, January 29, 2016 - 3:00 p.m.

OLA Closing Keynote - Wab Kinew

Wab Kinew was amusing and at the same time, he did not pull punches.

Francis, Alanna & me @ the 2016 OLA closing keynote

Wab on the big screen

Next steps for the audience

What did I learn?
I learned that I have a lot to learn. The library and school systems, not just in the past, but even today, have done wrong to FNMI communities and individuals. I was dismayed to hear the Libraries and Archives Canada made it difficult to obtain information requested by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Wab stated this in a room full of library professionals. Yet, it was not with resentment, but in the spirit of resilience and reconciliation. As my new friend Melanie (and new OSLA president Kate) tweeted ...

Friday, January 29, 2016 - 6:15 p.m.

Treasure Mountain Canada Opening Keynote - David Cameron

David Cameron is a researcher with People For Education. He spoke about the Measuring What Matters initiative.

What did I learn?
I learned that it's pretty difficult to listen to a speaker in a crowded, noisy restaurant. Despite the obstacles, David spoke eloquently and got participants excited about contributing to action research (past, present and future) for the areas identified by People for Education.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Treasure Mountain Canada

Activities were fast and furious at Treasure Mountain Canada - once I was able to get Internet access and catch my breath, I started capturing my discoveries and observations as the day progressed, via Twitter. I hope the hashtag search captures some of the energy and diversity. I presented on two separate topics based on two papers I wrote for this research symposium for four "table talks". Thankfully, I'm going to take the mentoring notion of "reciprocity" seriously, so I won't be regretful or disappointed that I didn't get to hear other table talks - I only saw the whole group ones by Diane Oberg and Monica Berra.

Just because the symposium is over doesn't mean the learning stops.

This link takes you to the papers offered:

This link takes you to the symposium activities, TED talk, polls, and slides that we used on Saturday:

This link is the Treasure Mountain Canada blog:

Thanks to the Treasure Mountain Canada 2016 Planning Committee: Carol Koechlin, Anita Brooks Kirkland, Liz Kerr, Jeanne Conte, Cindy van Wonderen, Jo-Anne Gibson, and David Loertscher and to everyone that contributed to this and to the OLA SuperConference. I'll be thinking about all the conversations now and in the near future.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Photos and Privacy

What is privacy?

I'm reading Danah Boyd's It's Complicated: The Social Life of Networked Teens as part of TVO's Teach Ontario online book club. We'll be discussing Chapter 2, on privacy, starting January 25. Some of the definitions of privacy, as mentioned in Boyd's book, are: the right to be left alone / a measure of access that others have to you through information, attention, and physical proximity / the claim of individuals, groups and institutions to determine when, how, and to what extent information can be communicated to others. (This is paraphrased from page 59.)

This notion of privacy is very relevant to me right now because of a discussion we're having at my son's school about the ability to take photographs at school events. I'm not going to mention the school or board or principal by name because I'd like to respect everyone's privacy - but I'm still writing about the issue online because my blog is a place for me to reflect on educational matters and gain other perspectives. It's a battle between "private space vs personal expression" (Boyd page 53). 

The administrator at my son's school has made it clear, both at the Curriculum Night Open House and Christmas Concert, that visitors are not permitted to take photographs during events such as these. This will also include school graduation ceremonies. At our recent Parent Council meeting, we were given a copy of the board's policy, which says "The recording and taking of photographic images of a person or persons, on school property, at school events, and during school activities and/or hours, is prohibited without the permission of the person or persons being photographed or the principal or designate". The principal is concerned, and justifiably so, with keeping students safe. Photos can be manipulated, distorted and distributed widely. Sensitive custody battles can be made more fraught with difficulties if adults discover the whereabouts of certain children. 

I understand the concerns of our principal but I cannot help but feel that this is very strict and by banning photographs of students entirely, some community goodwill and educational opportunities might be lost. Our Parent Council chairperson brought a FAQ document about access and privacy in the school system that states, "A school should develop a workable policy regarding the taking of photographs of its students on school property or at school events by non-board employees. Such a policy should be developed in consultation with parents/guardians and communicated to them." To be clear, this FAQ was written by a different school board and the Communications Department of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I really hope that some consensus can be found so that everyone's needs are met.

As a teacher, I am very careful with my students' privacy and our use of photos. I use photographs as part of my assessment practices - which is very handy when evaluating work in Drama and Dance. I've attended workshops and read articles written by my union that advise using caution when dealing with recordings (but still allows photography) - e.g. posting photos online only of work or the backs of students' heads, or using school equipment to take student photographs, etc. As the school yearbook coordinator, I've touched base with parents for clarification, who have signed "no" to the board's media release forms, and all of them have agreed to allow their child's photo in the yearbook as they pose for their class shot or as part of team and club group photos. As long as the photos are used positively and responsibly, they have no problem with pictures. Online arenas are what scare people. 

As a parent, I also try to be respectful of my own children's privacy. Intensive parents that constantly and intrusively monitor their teens' online activities are considered "good parents", but going overboard with surveillance is oppressive (Boyd, page 74) and indicates a lack of trust between parent and child. Sometimes, parents don't always practice what they preach in terms of online privacy. There are many parenting blogs out there that share too much, especially regarding children that have special needs. What digital footprint or online legacy are they creating for their own sons and daughters? Privacy is not just for adults. Teens also desire privacy, but research demonstrating this is often ignored by mass media in favor of the general stereotype of teens as chronic over sharers (Boyd page 56). I try to keep references to my own son and daughter positive, and I often ask their permission before mentioning them on my blog or taking a photo of them and posting it on social media. (I avoid sharing photos on Facebook because the privacy settings change so frequently.)  Here was a photo my daughter allowed me to post on Twitter - it demonstrates her passion for reading, something neither of us mind revealing to the world.

There are many other points that I want to reflect on after reading Chapter 2 of this book, but I'll save some of that discussion for the Teach Ontario book discussion group. Go to and use your board-designed email address to join.

Monday, January 18, 2016

That's What Friends Are For

This wasn't my original blog post scheduled for today.
I had written something on an entirely different topic, but it was a little "edgy" and I had some initial misgivings about publishing it.
I asked my husband to listen to me read it to him. He expressed some uncertainty around the intended audience and purpose, but recommended that I get a second opinion.

So it's Sunday evening. I like to ensure that I have a post ready for Monday. What do I do?

I turned to Twitter and asked a couple of teacher friends for help.

Melissa Jensen noticed my plea and offered her assistance as well.

Let me make note here that it's a weekend in mid-January. For teachers (and teacher-librarians) in Ontario, this is prime report-card-writing time as well as preparing-for-SuperConference time. Yet, three busy individuals took the time to read my draft and offer some constructive criticism. Some also recommended I get another view from someone closer to the source material. That person gave up part of her lunch hour to read it and offer her descriptive feedback. After much consultation and consideration, I decided not to publish what I wrote. The subject matter is worthy, but it needs a lot more editing and refining to make it appropriate for public consumption. That post may eventually be published, but not now, and not in its current form. I really appreciated how Denise Colby, Alanna King, and Melissa Jensen helped me out with this decision.

All three educators gave me permission to mention them here. I asked for their help in the first place because I respect their opinions; they are thoughtful, reflective, and knowledgeable.  They are aware of the impact that social media has on education. (I guess that book club discussion group on TVO's TeachOntario site must be making an impact on me - we are discussing It's Complicated: the Social Life of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd and I'm paying close attention to the chapter on how online identities are crafted.) They understand the right to be expressive and transparent in my teaching practices with the responsibility to be respectful and private with information. They understand the complicated social nuances of school politics. What I loved about their advice was they never said "Publish it" or "Don't publish it". They made comments. They described their own feelings and observations. They asked if it was possible for A or B to be re-framed or a section to be re-worked.

What are the school implications for this experience? I think that teachers should find and use "critical friends" to help them when they are struggling, be it with a challenging student, a teaching approach to a lesson or unit, or any difficulty they encounter as part of the job. It means it takes a bit longer, but getting a second (or fifth) opinion meant that I was less likely to rush ahead and possibly make a rather unfortunate faux-pas. Bringing in other points of view can help make situations clearer and decisions easier. Find someone you are comfortable with, that you can be vulnerable with, that can see you uncertain, unsure, and less-than-perfect. They don't think less of me, but they help make a better me. Thank you Melissa, Alanna, and Denise!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Growth Mindset and Facilitating Board TL Networks

On Thursday, January 7, 2016, I attended a meeting for teacher-librarians who volunteered to be regional facilitators. It's always a wonderful experience to meet with fellow teacher-librarians from across the school board, because it doesn't happen as often as we might like. The goal of the meeting was 1) to collaboratively establish an understanding of facilitation and 2) to develop a plan of facilitation for your teacher-librarian network. One of the tools that was used to help develop some of the foundations for this facilitator role was a TED talk about growth mindset. You can see the video here: 

I really liked how questions were used to extend our thinking. After watching this video, we had to reflect on "How does growth mindset relate to our goals?" and this is what the group said.

  • make it safe for people to take risks
  • insist that people bring a problem AND a solution to the table (just complaining about the problem leads to more of a fixed mindset)
  • pay attention to the tone of your meetings 
  • be tolerant of people (new TLs and even administrators) who aren't where you are - YET
  • reject a deficit model of thinking
  • establish group norms that incorporate a growth mindset
  • keep conversation positive - make it about what was learned instead of challenges
  • celebrate responses that suggest "I don't know" - YET
  • ask "what's the worst that can happen?" to trying strategies and make it a safe environment
  • be purposeful with your intentions and how to invite discussion
  • praise the process, not the intelligence
I am also really excited about the three key areas of focus for the Library and Learning Resources Department and our Regional Network Meetings:
  1. Inquiry Based Learning
  2. The Library Learning Commons Approach and Mentoring
  3. Digital Learning
Last year, I took a Mentorship AQ course (which I wrote about here) and I really enjoyed it. Mentoring and teacher-librarianship fit perfectly together. In fact, I even wrote a paper about it for Treasure Mountain Canada 4 (a school library symposium that will take place this year in Toronto on Saturday, January 30, 2016). I am beyond delighted that mentoring was specifically mentioned as an area of focus for TDSB TL facilitators. There are over 60 new teacher-librarians in just the east end of TDSB alone. By assisting the Instructional Leaders just a little bit by reaching out to these teachers new to the role, we can help grow the profession. This chart closely resembles the "consult / collaborate / coach" stances from the pivotal book Mentoring Matters: A Practical Guide to Learning-Focused Relationships by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman (thank you Andrea Payne for bringing this version to last year's TDSB TL Facilitator Team, and to Fran Potvin-Schaefer and Cindy vanWonderen for bringing it to the forefront for this year's team.) I am optimistic (dare I say, I'm using a growth mindset when considering the future) for this year's Regional Teacher-Librarian Network meetings. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Participating in AND Rebelling against One Word


It's very current (or popular / trendy / fashionable / "in", depending on what tone or attitude you'd like to take towards the practice) to select one word that is your focus for the year.

David Fife's word is mindful.
Heather Theijsmeijer's word is reflection. (Last year, it was jump.)
Julie Balen's word is discipline. (Last year, it was innovation. The year before, it was equity.)
Aviva Dunsiger's word is hear. (Last year, it was listen, and uncomfortable.)
Kristi Keery Bishop's word is stretch.

I only mentioned the ones with blog posts attached, because I really like hearing about the process in deciding a word, or the rationale behind the word. It's not easy, as Rusul's recent tongue-in-cheek tweet indicates.
I even noticed that my sister-in-law, a teacher with the Baltimore County Public School system, selected and "Instagrammed" her One Word: "balance".

This sounds like a good idea. Goals are good, right?
And yet, there were some aspects that made me, to borrow Aviva's word, uncomfortable.

What if I'm bandwagoning?
Why declare it now? (Others did it at the beginning of the school year, instead of the calendar year.)
What will the true impact of this public declaration be for me? What will it do?

That's why my word is both supporting and challenging the OneWord concept.


I've already set some decent goals. There's no need to abandon them. Keep going.

1) In August, my husband and I decided to try and take better care of ourselves, by exercising more, and paying closer attention to what we eat. I'm pleased with our progress - when we last checked before the holiday gluttony, James lost 23 pounds and I lost 8 pounds. I want to continue my work on maintaining a healthy body. I'll continue to do it with:
a) daily walks with my colleagues in the community,
b) using Wii Fit,
c) avoiding snacks and eating after 9:00 p.m.
d) reducing portion sizes (and keeping to my weekday yogurt/granola lunches)

2) I altered my Annual Learning Plan to reflect my last performance appraisal, which was in May 2015. All of the goals my administrator wrote began with the word "continue".
a) to work on [my] literacy research project examining the impact of student choice reading awards programs
b) to explore collaborative / research opportunities with staff and outside professional organizations
c) to examine ways to modify / differentiate and support ELL and exceptional learners within [my] program planning
d) to develop and expand [my] assessment strategies / descriptive feedback to better support student achievement and accountability of parents of students taught

3) I went to confession just before Christmas to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, a very Catholic thing to do. I won't list my sins or penance here - after all, I received absolution, and what happens in the confessional stays in the confessional. However, my goal is to continue to address the flaws I see in myself spiritually by:
a) praying (especially at the beginning of the day and the end of the night)
b) reflecting on Scriptures (thank goodness I get a daily email with it, no excuses)
c) matching my actions to my beliefs
(And Pope Francis declared this a global jubilee year, the Year of Mercy. It's not exactly like #oneword, but it's pretty close!)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Contemplating Sexism and Racism During the Holidays

Part 1 - Instead of Fighting 

I don't write nearly enough about equity issues. This is a problem because ignoring situations don't solve problems. Then again, often I'm unsure about how to deal with them appropriately. This is why I'm in an informal book club reading The Dream Keepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children by Gloria Ladson- Billings. This is why I follow some people I respect on Twitter, because they make me think about things that make me uncomfortable.
  • @RafranzDavis
  • @RusulAlrubail
  • @TheJLV
  • @Veronikellymars
Recently, I saw this brilliant tweet that made me feel less timid and less helpless about dealing with some issues of stereotypes, equity and "isms".

 Instead of fighting with people (especially little girls) who love princesses, work with the concept and turn it around. Instead of denying the appeal of Disney heroines, critically examine it and expand on it. I worried about my students' obsession with royal blonde beauties and this approach is pretty neat. When our kindergarteners sing our "Hello, How Do You Do?" circle song for library time, we ask "What else can we do?" and the answer is frequently a noun instead of a verb: "be a princess" / "be Spiderman". Lately, we've been probing with clarification questions: "What does a princess do?" / "What does Spiderman do?" The answers are fascinating, with suggestions such as "brush their hair". I'm on the lookout for a book describing real jobs of royalty, or maybe in a new Dramatic Role Play, we can deal with what royalty does.

I'm unsure if gender stereotypes play out in the same way that racial or cultural stereotypes do. I don't think little girls "grow out of them" like they do with princess obsessions. (My own daughter is turning 16 in a few weeks. When she was 3, she wore mouse ears and a tail everywhere and loved being a fairy mouse princess. Now she is a independent-minded, confident young woman who thinks most boys of her generation are cocky and self-centered.) Is there a way to take biased assumptions about other groups of people and turn them around to make them work, instead of battling them?

Part 2 - Can You Love Something Flawed?

I was originally going to make this a separate post, but I realized as I composed it in my head that thematically, it fit with Part 1.

A long, long time ago, when I first began my blog, I used to write a lot about Twilight the book series by Stephenie Meyer. I really enjoyed those books. I read Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn six times each. I joined fan sites. I attended conventions. I wrote chapter summaries for major websites devoted to the books. I saw the film adaptations on opening night.

Years passed, and something changed. I still had fond memories of the books, but there was something "not as perfect" about the novels. I had heard for years about the complaints that Twilight played into harmful gender stereotypes and that it normalized stalking behavior. I witnessed a Canadian YA author made a very public rant about it to several audiences; people encouraged me to have a verbal debate on the topic with that author, but I didn't think it was worth it. I still had fond memories of the series, but there was a valid point in the tirade. (I didn't agree with bad-mouthing another author's work in a public forum, but this was beside the point.) Even Stephenie Meyer was aware of the criticisms leveled at her work, which is partly why I believe she a) why she had a long interview published in The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide and b) why for the tenth anniversary, she wrote a gender-swapping version of Twilight called Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined with Edythe replacing Edward and Beau replacing Bella.

Meyer said she was motivated to make the switch because of questions she received at signings about Bella being a "damsel in distress."
"It's always bothered me a little bit, because anyone surrounded by superheroes is going to be in distress," Meyers explained. "I thought, 'What if we switched it around a bit and see how a boy does,' and, you know, it's about the same."

(Cynical me says that it also was a way to make new sales on an old property.) I didn't read the new version, because now, the book series doesn't have the same allure for me as it used to. I still think the original does a wonderful job of describing what it feels like to be in love for the first time and how magical even holding hands can be, but the flaws are becoming more prominent.   This web article, written by actor Tyson Houseman, which discusses the portrayal of Native Americans in mainstream Hollywood movies, made the point quite well that the portrayal of First Nations people in the Twilight series was "problematic", to use his term.

So this is my question: can you love something that is flawed? I'm not talking about people here, because we are all flawed or less-than-perfect. I'm wondering if you can still be a fan of a book or an organization (like our current school system) that you can see is problematic, that might show or can do bad things to other people. I hope the answer, like I say Tyson suggested indirectly in his article, is that you can be aware of the difficulties but still be involved with it.

Part 3 - Holiday Tune POV

A short reflection here, on a couple of articles that I've come across this holiday season about the song "Baby It's Cold Outside" and the various interpretations, both liberating and sinister. I find it fascinating that a song could be, as time evolves, at first positive and now so negative.

I know that at our school holiday sing-a-longs that occur the last week of school (a practice that I've internally debated for quite some time, but never been bold enough to challenge or question), that there has been an effort to explain words or terms from popular classics so students understand the context - "don we now our gay apparel" from "Deck the Halls" is a common example. I'm unsure how effective the explanations are, be it because the students are too excited about the event or upcoming vacation to listen, or because addressing a gym-full of students ages 4-13 can be challenging as a teaching moment. What are the curriculum ties that make it relevant to carol in the gym? My school does not sing any obviously religious tunes during these sing-a-longs - what impact does that have? How can we approach this activity in the gym and afterwards in a way that helps students understand how language evolves and that respects both Canadian culture and our diverse traditions?