Monday, October 16, 2017

Media Monsters: Harvey, Boycotts, Intersectionality and Slacktivism

I'm taking my Additional Qualification course in Media. We've had two classes so far and both have been intellectually stimulating/challenging. Media literacy, according to the slides from the first day, is the "knowledge and skills necessary to understand and use the codes and conventions of a wide variety of media forms and genres appropriately, effectively, and ethically". There are eight key concepts we'll examine in the course.

1. The media construct reality.
2. The media construct versions of reality.
3. Audiences negotiate meaning.
4. Media messages have economic implications.
5. Media texts communicate value messages.
6. Media texts communicate political and social messages.
7. Form and content are closely related in each medium.
8. Each medium has a unique esthetic form.

My observations about the media around me have sharpened as I take this course. For instance, last Tuesday (the day after Thanksgiving), I was at the University Avenue courthouse because I had been summoned to a jury duty pool. After going through a security search at the front doors and having my papers checked, one of the first things the entire group of assembled citizens did was watch a video about what an honour and privilege it was to be called to jury duty. ("Propaganda", my husband said when I returned home.) People in the captive audience chuckled in self-recognition when someone in a hard hat told the camera "I was unhappy when I got called for duty. I didn't want to go."  I sat processing a 17 page article about Marshall McLuhan's ideas about media and used my waiting time to read and comprehend McLuhan's sometimes complex and convoluted thoughts. Despite hearing how important our presence was to a democratic society and to the justice system, the entire room cheered when we learned that we were dismissed after only half a day. Typical jury duty pools take four days.

Neil, Carol, and Michelle (our course leaders) opened the second class with something they took turns calling "Old Business" and "Classroom Connections" (correct me if I used the wrong terminology, folks). We discussed some of the current events of the past week, such as Eminem's "lyrical tirade" against President Trump, the outrage over Dove's recent advertisement, the TDSB's decision to remove the term "chief" from job titles, and of course, the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and assault scandal. The great thing was watching how Neil, Carol and Michelle deftly facilitated the discussion and helped the class extract media learnings from the conversation. Neil encouraged us to be careful when taking very clear positions about contentious issues in class discussions because of our power relation as the teacher - rather, by positioning it as "I've read X" or "Some say...", it gives students a chance to offer their own opinions so that students are not just agreeing or disagreeing with you because of who you are. There were some interesting points made about the Weinstein controversy. Would the condemnation be the same if he were more liked? Or more attractive? Who is to blame for the continuation of these offensive practices? What role should actors / actresses who were "in the know" have played in speaking out? Why might victims not come forward? Is the "court of public opinion" trying him too quickly?

Similar conversations about the Weinstein affair were happening on Twitter, one of my favourite social media platforms. Actor Rose McGowan, in particular, was quite vocal, and then was reportedly suspended from the microblogging site for violating standards. At some point, someone started the hashtag #WomenBoycottTwitter and suggested that to protest the unfair treatment of women in general and Rose McGowan in particular, women should refrain from using Twitter on Friday, October 13, 2017. This was all happening at a pretty rapid pace, and I thought I'd join in.
I avoided Twitter all day on Friday, despite the urge to share things like an audio recording of the students choosing to practice a song in the library, or my library recess visit statistics for September and half of October, or my son's Scratch-made video game (all examples of media texts). When I returned to Twitter on Saturday, I saw people complaining about #WomenBoycottTwitter because by female absences, men who did not want to hear "feminist complaints" were happy, and that wasn't what they wanted to have happen. In this alternative opinion, women should have been louder on that day instead of absent. Then, there were these two tweets.

They had a point. Why did I choose to participate in this movement but not in issues relating to Jemele Hill from ESPN? I've made a conscientious effort to follow more educators of colour on Twitter, and I read #EduColor Twitter chats, but obviously the effect of being a better ally has not been sinking in as deeply.

Or does it actually matter? What did my absence for a single day do on Twitter? The Oxford Dictionary defines slacktivism as:
The practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.
Was I just jumping on a bandwagon? What difference did it truly make? What did I hope to accomplish?

Let me look back on those media concepts. "Media texts communicate political and social messages." "Media texts communicate value messages." Maybe I had hoped by my lack of tweets that I was communicating my values about the politico-social situation of sexual harassment. I don't want people to be preyed upon by sexual predators, especially those who wield power and appear to "get away with it". I want my world to be fair. Yet, my own point of view means I miss things. "Audiences negotiate meaning."  I'm grateful for a more diverse audience so I can hear about these different viewpoints. As an educator, I'm uniquely positioned to deal with these "scary monsters": harassment, protests, civil unrest, bias, and more.

Then there's McLuhan himself, who said that his work "is designed for the pragmatic purpose of trying to understand our technological environment and its psychic and social consequences" (page 2). We are deluded at times that "it is how a medium is used that counts, rather than what is does to us and with us" (page 3). That's why my husband says he focuses more on the local news; it feels more grounded and less infuriating to him. National or international news "angers up the blood" and he feels like he is impotent about doing anything about the feelings invoked. (He also says that Huxley was more right than Orwell when it came to predicting the future, but I digress.) Celebrity news, as it is distilled on social media, does things to us and with us. We become outraged; we want to act, and act quickly. We have to think critically before we act impulsively. McLuhan says "education... should be helping youth to understand and adapt to their revolutionary new environment" (page 8) - that can be hard to do in a timely fashion when events occur and media texts are produced in response at such a rapid pace. McLuhan describes the world as "a global theater in which the entire world is a Happening. Our whole cultural container of people is being transformed by these media and by space satellites into a living organism, itself contained within a new macrocosm of a super-terrestrial nature" (page 12). It really does feel like "the media" is a many tentacled creature, not a monster per se, but alive and active. An issue or event comes to the forefront and it's approached in many different ways by many participants and spectators; how long it is at the center depends on many factors. McLuhan says "the global village makes maximum disagreement and creative dialog inevitable. Uniformity and tranquility are not hallmarks of the global village; far more likely are conflict and discord as well as love and harmony" (page 13). That's certainly true in the Weinstein case, especially when similar situations are examined (e.g. what about Woody Allen? Bill Cosby? Donald Trump? Bill Clinton?)  He elaborates that "electric media open up totally new means of registering popular opinion" (page 14) (now, he also says that political democracy is finished, but I won't get into that). There are definitely a plethora of popular or unpopular opinions.

So maybe staying off Twitter was a lazy or ill-advised method of registering my disapproval of sexual predators. I had my reasons, even though they missed the boat in certain ways. What should I have done instead? I hope other friends, especially those like Michelle Arbuckle, who also avoided Twitter on that day, may have some suggestions for me.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Thankful for the hard things

It's Canadian Thanksgiving. We had our family celebration at my house this year, for a change, and everything went well, except for the cheese straws I tried to make.

Cheese straws are supposed to look like this (image taken from

This is what my cheese straws looked like

I think the recipe I got has the wrong measurements *sigh*

I have a lot to be thankful for, but believe it or not, I'm quite thankful for my recent suffering.


I had a terrible migraine last week that could not be tamed with the usual methods of medication, dark rooms, and bed rest. It was so bad that I actually had to miss a day of work. Yet, after it was over, I was grateful for it. Why? Because I often take my health for granted. I am not thankful for my good health unless it's taken away from me. When wellness returns, I become appreciative of the ability to look around without visual disturbances (one of the characteristics of my occasional migraines) or that my head does not feel like it's full of knives.

My migraine and the subsequent recovery meant that I had to postpone the start of my Cross Fit Lite class. Around this time last year, I wrote about working with a personal trainer and a research assistant. My personal trainer closed her studio in 2017 and the self-directed exercises weren't creating the same results for me. My good friend and fellow teacher-librarian, Moyah Walker, recommended that I sign up for classes at Cross Fit Canuck. Zach is the class leader and he really put us through our paces, so much so that I couldn't walk properly for three days. My legs, behind, and arms hurt something fierce! I hobbled around like if I recovering from some sort of accident. I'm not a masochist - I didn't enjoy the agony itself. What I knew was that the pain had purpose. My muscles hadn't been challenged like that in a long time. If I keep trying, I'll get stronger and increase my stamina. Do I want to do 150 squats in 15 minutes again? No, not really; but if it helps me keep fit, that's a good thing.

My challenges this week were not all physical. Terry Soleas, my research assistant, and I, set a goal to write a research paper based on our work and to submit it to a peer-reviewed academic journal. Writing a real research paper has been a goal of mine ever since I finished my Masters of Education degree from the University of Alberta. Unlike my other writing projects (like writing this blog, or writing for The Teaching Librarian magazine), academic writing does not come easily to me. I tend to over-quote because I worry about plagiarizing. I wrote, and re-wrote, and revised, and edited multiple times. Thankfully, Terry is incredibly skilled and talented. We collaborated online on the writing and spent a good two hours on the phone going over the document sentence by sentence. We have some "critical friends" examining the paper right now and then it will be submitted. Keep your fingers crossed that it will be accepted!

I also attended my first class for my Media Part 1 Additional Qualification course this past Friday. I love teaching media and I'm excited about learning from the great minds in the course. Our first reading assignment, due this Thursday, is to read an article about Marshall McLuhan. No problem, right? Well, it's 16 pages long, with 3 columns per page, and it's actually pretty dense. Once again, I'm thankful. One, because it will provide me with something to read and do while I'm in the jury duty pool selection tomorrow. Two, because it's going to push me mentally in a way that I haven't since my last AQ course. It's not all "putting your nose to the grindstone" - the media walk we did at Yorkdale elicited some excellent conversations in class. (Here are a couple of photos I took of examples of the key concepts of media literacy.)

Clarifying time: of course I am thankful for the good things in my life, like my family, friends, health, job, opportunities, home, food, and more. Maybe this is a reflection of my faith practices - suffering can be an offering; if we are fat and happy, we are less likely to turn to God for supplication because we are content and don't need to request anything. I don't hope for more migraines or busted legs or difficult tasks, but I'm thankful that these challenges can help me to become a better, and more grateful, person.

Monday, October 2, 2017

STEAM and Skinny Pigs

The focus for our school's PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) this year is STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Math). Everyone is expected to help support the Engineering Design Process somehow through their program. It can be relatively easy to implement in the library, as the Library Learning Commons Maker Space at Agnes Macphail P.S. is still alive and kicking, and inquiry based learning is a hallmark of what happens in that space as well. An authentic opportunity arose, thanks to another element of my school library that my students love: the school skinny pigs.

(You can see how much my students dote on the skinny pigs based on some of the recent responses to the new OSLA initiative, "My School Library Rocks".)

The format I'm using for the STEAM inquiry is Ask/Imagine/Plan/Create/Improve. To be honest, I think we need to make it STREAM because I noticed that Research plays an important part.

Ernie and Bert are my two current skinny pigs. Since about mid-August, my family and I have noticed that the skinny pigs aren't getting along. I'm used to typical scuffles, but this was getting more serious. Ernie's back was covered in scratches, wounds, and bite marks! This level of aggression was worse than anything I had seen previously. My Ask was: How can I get the skinny pigs to stop fighting?

My husband conducted some preliminary research online and found this article: The article suggested extra hideouts, extra food, and possibly some sort of divider to temporarily separate them. I set up the cage in a new way with two copies of everything.

In the picture above, I put a dustpan up as to keep the two of them away from each other. The dust pan fell over almost immediately. I knew this wouldn't last. My Imagine was: How can I build a wall between the skinny pigs that will keep them both safe but also be temporary? (Permanent walls aren't always the answer to problems, a lesson I hope some powerful people will learn eventually.)

Ms. Keberer, the HSP/MART teacher, and I did our Plan informally and then we Created a simple wall with cardboard and pipe cleaners. 

Our wall lasted about a day. Both skinny pigs chewed right through the barrier and made a big enough gap for them both to squeeze through. We knew we needed to Improve our design.

My students are often crowded around the skinny pigs' cage, observing them intently. Some immediately noticed the damage to Ernie's back. I mentioned to my Grade 1-3 library and media students about the problem with Bert bullying Ernie. (This misbehaviour led to the "cancellation" of the skinny pigs' first birthday party on September 18, but I caught some students quietly singing Happy Birthday to Ernie and Bert that day.) The students heard me read them the wonderful book by Ashley Spires, The Most Magnificent Thing. When they saw the chewed remains of the first prototype, they had many suggestions on how to improve it. I asked for their help, and they jumped right in. They drew plans. I asked them to list what materials they'd need and they wrote all sorts of things. When I asked how much of these materials they'd need, one pair realized they needed to measure the cage.

I've only just begun this STEAM inquiry but it looks like it will be engaging and hopefully will solve my skinny pig problem. I'll share some of the designs and prototypes as they develop.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Conferences Long Ago and Coming Up as Practical PD

When I was cleaning up the garage this summer, I found written summaries I provided to my administrators at the time about my learning from OLA Super Conference in 1998, 1999, and 2000.
(You can see the scanned pages at the end of this blog post - I love how I explained that I couldn't attend a session because of my newborn daughter - she was just weeks old and I was on maternity leave when I went to Super Conference that year!
I've attended Super Conference for most of my career in education. as a participant and presenter. It is THE conference for library professionals in Ontario.

In recent years, there's been a trend towards school-based, job-embedded professional learning. "Parachute presentations" - where an expert arrives from elsewhere, gives a talk, then leaves the learners to fumble with the ideas on their own - are out of favour. Professional learning such as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are supposed to give more "bang for your buck" - and this is true ... for regular classroom teachers. For specialist teachers, such as teacher-librarians, they do not always have the chance to be part of a PLC. The specialist teachers in my school this year will have a PLC together this year, for which I am extremely grateful. However, as the only person with my type of job in the building, it is helpful and necessary to gather with other teacher-librarians to share best practices and new concepts in the field. This is where a conference is particularly useful. I like learning from those near to me, but it is exciting to meet other school library professionals from far away to discover new ideas and perspectives that I may not have encountered locally. My virtual Professional Learning Network (PLN) does a good job of sharing, but nothing compares to meeting people in the flesh.

The difficulty with conferences is that they cost quite a bit of money. This is why I decided that for this school year (2017-2018) the American Association of School Libraries (AASL) conference in Phoenix would be my only big library conference. I am paying all the expenses associated with attending AASL myself (flight, registration in ALA, registration for the conference, accommodations, and food). That's a lot of money, especially considering that my daughter will be accompanying me as a co-presenter! I was willing to sacrifice other conferences so that I could go to AASL just this once. Like going to Jamaica for the International Association of School Libraries (IASL) confeerence way back in 2011, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; I won't be able to afford to do this regularly!

It's funny how the best-laid plans can go on different tangents. Membership has its privileges and being a volunteer pays off in unexpected ways. I was at the Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) Council meeting on Saturday and it turns out that neither our president nor our vice-president would be able to attend the Treasure Mountain Canada 5 (TMC5) library symposium in Winnipeg. As the temporary past-president (a long story), I was asked if I'd be willing to attend as the OSLA representative. I also wrote a paper for TMC5 but just didn't expect that I'd be able to share it in person. Thankfully, OSLA provides funding for representation at a couple of these library conferences and TMC5 is one of them.

So, this fall looks like it will be a busy one, with TMC5 in October, AASL in November, and my Media Part 1 AQ course from October to December. As part of my regular practice, I'll share what I learned from these conferences here on my blog so that the learning isn't fleeting, but long-lasting.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cross-Country Virtual Presentation Inspires

I've been checking in with the teachers that are new to my school this week, as well as those with new assignments, to make sure that they are doing okay. One of the questions I've asked has been "What was your biggest success this week?" My colleague turned the question back to me and wanted to know what my biggest success was this past week. It was easy to answer, thanks to Robyn Lau.

Who is Robyn Lau? You can read her brief biography here ( My daughter met her in Artists Alley at Fan Expo Canada this year. Mary and all of her friends commissioned drawings of their Dungeons & Dragons characters from her and raved about the quality of her artwork. I sent her an email asking her if she'd be willing to speak for twenty minutes or so to a group of Grade 3-7 students about tips for drawing faces of actual people for a small honorarium, and she agreed.

The group of students are members of my Kids Guide to Canada Portrait Club. As I mentioned in my beginning of summer post, I'm working on a project that has been continually evolving about the Canadian Prime Ministers. I've written a paper about it for Treasure Mountain Canada; the research symposium and think tank will take place October 20-21, 2017 in Winnipeg. The due date and focus of the paper did not allow me to share details on this portion of the process - our first Portrait Club meeting and Robyn's presentation. This blog post will address that omission.

The presentation would not have been as rewarding and productive as it was without the help of Natalie Colaiacovo and the TDSB Library and Learning Resources department. Robyn wanted to share her screen to do a drawing demonstration and I was a bit concerned that Google Hangouts might not be up to the task. The TDSB Library department lent me an Adobe Connect account for the day and Natalie (@lilstairz on Twitter) helped me with technological support.

Robyn was down-to-earth, yet captivating. She has given me permission to share the photos and video we took during the event. The students were impressed with her skills and talent and it was remarkable how she turned simple shapes into our current prime minister.

Begin with head shape and measuring distances in features

More shapes, lightly drawn

Shadowing and light vs dark

Don't draw every strand of hair - instead ...
The finished product!
Robyn also provided some great "life lessons" while she talked. The students asked (via the chat feature, since Robyn was unable to hear us) how Robyn "got so good". Robyn explained that practice and a good attitude were more important than raw talent or where she went to school. She went to an art college in British Columbia but she said that she knew many successful artists who did not attend such post-secondary institutions yet make a good living - she also knew many people who went to the "best schools" but were floundering in their art careers. Her message of perseverance and growth mindset fit well with our school goals.

What excited and delighted me was that on the very next day after Robyn's talk, one of the members of the Portrait Club came to me to show me his completed drawing of his assigned Prime Minister, Paul Martin. I forgot to take a photo of his artwork, but it blew me away! I never knew he could draw so realistically!

Thank you Robyn for launching our Prime Minister project so effectively! You've inspired us to do our best and we look forward to sharing the final project with you and the rest of Canada.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Less can be more in learning environments

The first week of the 2017-2018 school year is over. Prior to the first day of school, social media was awash in photos of educators' classroom set ups. The regularly scheduled #tdsbEd chat on Twitter had us dig deeper into these images with questions reflecting on "Your Learning Environment". The archived chat can be found here - - and it's clear that this grassroots online professional learning opportunity has legitimacy and staying power, as both the TDSB director and associate director added a tweet or two themselves to the discussion.

Arianna Lambert and Larissa Aradj, the Twitter chat moderators, asked participants to add photos of their classrooms / learning environments to the chat. I forgot to take photos beforehand so here are some of my pictures.

View from when you first walk in the library

Looking towards the fiction/non-fiction section

Something new-leather couches! (Note bare walls)

Another comfy couch area with Sir Bob the Knight

More couches (w/ bean bag chair) - was going to replace w/ leather ones but kept -kids love it

Zelia Capitao Tavares mentioned in her answer to the second question (What does your learning environment look like?) that she got feedback from her previous year's students and the class has less furniture and more seating choice with space to move about. I love that Zelia had the wherewithal to ask her students before the first day. I know my colleague Diana Hong has solicited advice from her new students; they have already rearranged the room she prepared, out of data projector necessity, and they plan on doing at least one other reorganization of the space during the year.
In 2013, I wrote a blog post about revamping my library layout with deliberate intent. (It's here - It's fascinating to see the differences from four years ago. I mentioned in the 2017 Twitter chat that I "went a bit Reggio" in removing some of the old Blue Spruce posters that had been hanging since before I was the teacher-librarian. It feels cleaner, bigger, and brighter now. (Those who are familiar with actual Reggio Emilia approach will realize that I'm only scratching the surface of the approach with regards to the environment.)

This "less is more" also applies to my book shelves. I try to choose one section per year to weed and I've started early on my fiction section. I didn't have enough space to properly shelve my chapter books and they were sitting forlornly on my shelving cart waiting for a space that didn't exist or even lying on top of the books in their usual place. It's a great chance for me to get reacquainted with my novel collection, get rid of some books that are out-of-date or in poor condition, and make space on the shelves for even newer books!

How has this "bare-er space" worked out so far? Well, I was going to title today's post "sometimes I'm the solution, sometimes I'm the problem". My Grade 1-8 students have been non-plussed by the changes. My new kindergarten students had mixed reactions to the library. I tried to keep some things out of sight so they wouldn't be overwhelmed with choice and too many tempting toys, but one little one made a beeline for the back and pitched a fit when I had to redirect her because I couldn't properly supervise her in that area or allow her to take down all the hidden toys. I wasn't proud of some of the ways I handled a few of our assertive / defiant / stressed new junior kindergarten students this week, although I was pleased by one incident, where I removed a student from another prep teacher's classroom to calm him down (because he was throwing chairs and endangering himself and others) and he settled down so well that he fell asleep on me in the library and stayed unconscious for forty-five minutes. Thankfully, the Grade 6-7 class I had at the time were extremely accommodating and let me co-teach part of the class on the floor with a sleeping child on my lap and shoulder. (The wheeled chair meant I was able eventually to scoot up and be a bit more visible.) I think it's easier to stay calm and provide valuable assistance when you aren't the one in charge of the class - maybe this is why Kerri Commisso kept such a level head and stepped in to help care for the other students when I was faced with a youngster with a massive nose bleed in a kindergarten class with no ECE. (Thanks Kerri!)

The #tdsbEd chat site can be found at - the schedule of chat themes and dates can be found there.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Diana's Defining Teacher Moments

Aviva Dunsiger always gets me thinking. She posted her "My Five-ish Defining Moments", her personal response to Jonathan So's original blog post, "Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments". Jonathan's definition?
"The moments that redefine your direction and make you really reflect on why you teach and how."
 This is a really hard question, because it comes to the heart of who we perceive ourselves to be as educators and what we value most in teaching and learning. I suspect that I might answer this differently at various times throughout the year or throughout my career. As I reflect on what I might pick as my defining moments, I notice they have to do with choice. Or maybe not. This is what comes to my mind at this point in time, just before I begin the 2017-2018 school year (my twenty-first in teaching as a permanent teacher).

1) Taking my Library AQ Part 1 course > defined my identity as a "teacher-librarian"

In the late 1990s, I was a newly minted Faculty of Education graduate. At first, I had no job, but I was fortunate enough to get on the supply teacher call list for the City of York. Eventually, I was accepted as a potential supply teacher for several other boards (the Metropolitan Separate School Board, East York Board of Education, and Scarborough Board of Education) but I realized that I needed to take some more courses to continue learning and increase my chances at getting a permanent position. My first three AQ courses were in Special Education, English as a Second Language, and Librarianship. My father advised me against taking the Librarianship AQ, because he said there was no future in being a school librarian. I still took the course, for two reasons: I had done some supply work covering for teacher-librarians, which I found enjoyable AND the location of the course was conveniently close to my house! Taking that AQ made me realize that I didn't have to be a classroom teacher - being a specialist teacher was a viable option and a possibly rewarding one. As this story I shared before showed, it was due to my Library AQ course that led me to my permanent position. It also introduced me to some fabulous people (like Carol Koechlin) who still influence me to this day. There is a slight negative side to this - by identifying so strongly as a TL, I may have passed over opportunities because it wasn't "who I was", but I've enjoyed my years so much in the library that I can't complain too strongly.

2) Being obnoxious at a workshop > introduced me to presenting and to Tribes

I'm not proud to admit it, but sometimes I'm a pain in the butt. I've told this story before on this blog, but for a quick summary - at a training session, I was an irritating participant, constantly questioning or complaining about the defects I felt existed in the program we were there to learn how to implement. The workshop leader recommended that I take Tribes, because it would answer some of the questions I had. Not only did it do that, but it opened me to a way of working in schools that felt safer, more enjoyable, "stickier", and productive. The definition that Tribes facilitators memorized to explain it to people who have never encountered it is: "Tribes is a process that creates a culture that maximizes learning and human development". It was the start of developing my comfort in sharing and facilitating learning for fellow educators. Now I run workshops in places all over North America, which connects me to incredible educators, which introduces me to new perspectives and great ideas. My involvement with Tribes has not been without its flaws. Because of things that have occurred during Tribes trainings, I've been stressed, lost friends / damaged friendships, and experienced my most shameful moment as a teacher, that I wish I could go back in time and fix. (I've debated about blogging about my biggest shame, but it's still difficult to discuss, even though many years have passed.)

3) Writing for Library Network Group > embedded blogging and regular reflection in my practice

My very first blog post was March 30, 2009. The portal no longer exists - I merged my old posts onto Blogger in 2010. I first wrote as a favour to the library folks in charge of that online space. Now, I can't imagine not writing every week. Aviva mentioned in her comment section to her blog post that:
The “old me,” [Aviva] likely would have commented on blogging as being about sharing ideas and writing for an audience, where the “new me,” would comment on blogging as a way to reflect.
 I never expected that anyone would read my blog, and I was often surprised when people did. The tone of my blogging posts changed, and the blog posts repurposed themselves into being for me, as a way to process my thinking, as a method of preserving moments and memories. I have serious holes in my memory - I cannot remember a lot of my childhood and teen years and I don't know why - so journaling like this is a way to preserve my thoughts and help me know myself better.

4) Taking a Comics Course as part of my Masters of Education > opening my mind to different forms of literacy

I have to tell the truth - it was my husband that suggested this point as a possibility, and my reaction was "Of course! How could I have forgotten?" The course was called "Comics and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries", run by the wonderful Gail de Vos at the University of Alberta. That course was the reason I wanted to take my M.Ed. in the first place. I learned so much and found a medium that I became passionate about. My school libraries became filled with graphic novels; I wrote graphic novel reviews; I joined clubs and participated in TCAF. I even recently ran a course on Teach Ontario all about graphic novels. I met my comics mentor at the Canadian Children's Book Centre awards gala and got a chance to tell her how pivotal she was to my development.

5) Getting lost in a pixelated hole > discovering Minecraft and Games Based Learning

Another husband-recommended moment in my educational evolution. I could have tied this with comics, as I met Liam O'Donnell at TCAF and he introduced me to Minecraft. I wrote about my beginning experiences with this game on the predecessor to (a wiki) and transferred all of my journals to another blog of mine (see for the very first time I went on Minecraft in 2011). I had toyed with the concept of Games Based Learning long before this, but it was my collaboration with Liam and Denise Colby that truly got me using it less randomly as part of my teaching repertoire. We had a TLLP that explored the benefits of using it and it also led me to present all over the place and meet some fabulous people. I've "divorced" myself from Minecraft, now that it has a new corporate overlord, (and this article on branded educators also helps to explain the purposeful disconnect) and I vowed not to present any more about Minecraft after 2016. I still use it in my teaching and learning, and I suspect that students would stage a full-scale rebellion if I chose not to run Minecraft Club. It's also taught me about giving students choice.

6) Learning to finger knit and sew > opening and expanding my school library makerspace

I got a little concerned as I wrote my list - isn't there anything more recent that has altered my teaching philosophy? Am I old and stale? Calm down, Diana - it's not that dire! (See why I'm hoping self-regulation will be my next defining moment?) I combined sewing and finger knitting because I wasn't sure which one truly re-launched my Makerspace (I got into finger knitting in a serious way in July 2016 thanks to Melanie Mulcaster, and learned how to sew in August 2016 after a conversation with Jennifer Brown). Ray Mercer's advice encouraged me to persevere with my makerspace and I'm really excited about how it's altering the library and the possibilities. In fact, all three of the workshops that I'll be presenting at the American Association of School Libraries conference in Phoenix this coming November have something to do with makerspaces! I spend way too much of my own money on supplies (and I just bought my own sewing machine, which will probably travel back and forth from school and home) but this is another area that is still expanding for me.

7) Something else - might it be self-regulation? Equity education? Something I'm not even aware of yet?

I love how Aviva ended with keeping the possibilities open. I noticed many people who did this mentioned Dr. Stuart Shanker's work on self-regulation. I hope my exploration of self-regulation and executive functioning is as positive for me as it has been for others.

Speaking of positive - I noticed that for many of the defining moments, I've added less-than-positive after-effects. I think it's because a) learning sometimes comes at a cost, b) that progress isn't always linear - otherwise the worst teacher would be a beginning teacher and the best teacher would be one that has taught the longest and we all have examples that prove otherwise, and c) sometimes I didn't realize that the action would take me where it did or change me as it had - it's complex.

I was very tempted to organize my list via people (like Salma Nakhuda, my friend who was my first official mentored relationship, and who has taught me so much) but I feared I would forget some wonderful people. I was also tempted to include my children and how their school experiences impacted the way I "do business", but it wasn't so much defining as it was reaffirming. Plus, I didn't want to look like I was copying anyone!

Sorry the list is so dense (and without images to break things up! tsk tsk!). I hope to see some other people's lists. Happy Labour Day - and happy 40th birthday to my "baby" brother!

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Beginnings

TDSB held its Beginning Teacher Summer Institute on August 22, 2017 and the Library Department offered a New and Experienced Teacher Librarian Open House on August 23, 2017. Zelia Capitao Tavares wrote a great summary of #bt_tdsb, which you can find here.

We are all beginners at some point. For teachers and teacher-librarians, September is the start of a new school year, which often brings new challenges. This is going to be my 21st year teaching and even though I've teaching in the library for over two decades, and at my current school since 2004, I'm going to be tackling something I'm not used to doing in a particular way. I'm back to being a n00b, to use a gaming term.

What do you do when you are learning something new? For me, I like to talk with other people. Thankfully, while at the TL Open House at Tippett, I found out that Keri Declute-Ball has experience doing what I'll be attempting. She promised to email me some tips.

I'm also excited about beginning to implement self-regulation skills more deliberately. When I saw that the MEHRIT Centre will be offering seminars and workshops in Toronto, I asked around and Tina Voltsinis, a primary division teacher at my school (and former special education teacher) responded positively.

I'm grateful to have a person right in my building that I can turn to when thinking about how to help students self-regulate. This, in addition to the work I'm tinkering with for my Kids Guide to Canada project (and accompanying paper for Treasure Mountain Canada) and hopefully enrolling in a Media Studies Additional Qualification course, will mean that the start of the 2017-18 school year will be a busy one!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Calm, Alert and Learning on the Beach

My husband knows me too well.

I asked my daughter to take this photo of me with this book and he exclaimed "That's for your blog, isn't it? You're planning a post!"

I've finally gotten around to reading Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning, about self-regulation in school. Aviva Dunsiger recommended I read it and I'm glad she did. There were many posts I've written where Aviva has pointed out that it's partly about self-regulation - and this even happened to Aviva herself thanks to another friend of mine, Lisa Noble (see

I appreciated how Dr. Shanker backs up all his positions with references to current and classic research (the reference list goes on for 14 pages), yet the points made aren't complex or hard to understand. In this book, self-regulation can be understood through five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial. The most poignant portion of the book for me is the case study of RJ beginning on page 146 - it resonates strongly and rings true. I also like the connections made to special education, mental health, and self-regulation for teachers.

I found it interesting that I read this book mostly while at the beach and on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. I saw a link on Facebook (which I've subsequently lost, but Brenda Sherry or Jennifer Apgar might know about, since they refer to something similar to it) about how hearing the sand and the waves on a beach is very relaxing and soothing - perfect for attaining a calm and alert state, right?

It's not so simple. At first, reading the book on the beach was a pleasure and I was taking in the information with ease. Then, a family came and set up near our chairs on the beach. They had a dog (and dogs aren't allowed on the beach during the summer season) so I was distracted by that; then they started to play loud music on speakers they had brought. I couldn't concentrate anymore. I was hyper-aroused and needed to down-regulate (if I have the terminology correct). I gave up reading and took it up later while on the porch of our apartment, by myself, a block away from the boardwalk. The change in the environment worked and I was able to finish my chapters. I liked reading on the beach but it wasn't the only way to be and stay calm and alert.

I spoke to others with me on my holiday who said they actually have a hard time reading on the beach and find it too overwhelming with the various stimuli (the texture of the sand, the sound of the waves, the heat of the sun, the amount of people, etc.) - or, even the opposite, too "boring" and so hypnotic that it made it hard to be energized enough to read and think. This reinforced the message from the book that it takes quite a bit of experimentation to discover what strategies work for different individuals.

This is just another step on my self-regulation learning journey. While away on vacation, I also read The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control  by Leah Kuypers. I haven't finished it yet but it makes for a great complementary read. These books got me thinking, even when I was "just chilling".
We were on a Disney movie re-watch binge and it was obvious that Lilo was struggling to make friends and play in appropriate ways. Her stressful home situation caused her to "move to the red zone" quickly and at the slightest provocation. During the opening scene when we first see her, Lilo was too up-regulated (because she was late to her dance class and was upset with her sister for not having peanut butter) so when another dancer said Lilo was weird, Lilo pounced on the other child, hitting, kicking and biting her. It took meeting someone even more dys-regulated than her (Stitch, an alien designed only for destruction) for Lilo to try and change. If you haven't seen the movie, Lilo tries to teach Stitch some skills - unfortunately, they weren't from the Kuypers or Shanker books, so they didn't work as well. Sorry for any spoilers, but Lilo shows Stitch how to model his behaviour on Elvis Presley; this was a decent start but Stitch missed the nuances required and just when it looked like he got the hang of "being good", the flashing camera bulbs set him off and he caused a riot on the beach. The lesson? Even if we teach these coping mechanisms, something might make it difficult for those struggling to use the skills. There will be set-backs. We won't be able to practice these skills on a beach, but we must persevere, all year long.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Underdog on top - or when a C trumps an A

This post will be simultaneously published on Monday Molly Musings and on the GamingEdus website. This post will also be unique in that my son will co-write it. (His words will be in bold.)

I like video games, but to be honest, I'm not particularly good at them. I play because it's fun and it's an enjoyable activity for the whole family.

This summer, my son bought the Nintendo Switch game console system.
This is a brief overview (by him) of the new hardware:

Well thank you Mother of mine! Yes the Switch has made it into our household with 3 games that broke me, but let's get back to the system. The Nintendo Switch (or Swish Cheese if you want to be funny) is the newest console, with the idea of it having multiple ways to play. The three main ways are: Tabletop/TV Screen, Handheld, and (as I call it) Mini-Screen. The Switch looks similar to the Wii U a previous console by Nintendo, but the side controllers can come off the sides, with also three ways to use them: One, Two or Joycon Grip. With multiple ways to play, you could take it on the go or settle down and play around.

However one thing I'd like to point out is how gosh dang tiny the little cartridges are! I'm glad I have all these casings for said cartridges or they'd be gone in an hour! Also, sadly the Switch is not backward compatible like the Wii and Wii U. But basking in glorious FPS (frames per second) in Legend of Zelda, or Beautiful Motion Controls in ARMS makes it pretty worth it. Speaking of games...

One of the new games that we purchased for the Switch was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
I've played Mario Kart in various forms for ages - but I'm terrible at it. (I think this is somewhat ironic considering that I'm the only one in the family legally able to drive in real life.) Usually when the family plays, the others take the top three spots and I'm in 12th place. (12th is last place.) I don't mind - I'm not very competitive and it's more about the family connection.

I've been improving and I suspect some of the new features (e.g. auto acceleration, smart steering, and a different controller) have helped. For one brief and glorious moment during a four person race, I was in first place! I was squealing as if I had won the race, even thought it was only for about 30 seconds and others quickly overtook my lead. One of the new features on the "joy-con" is a camera and I was able to capture a screen shot of the short but sweet moment when I was on top. (I don't have the proper technology to transfer the image straight to the blog at this time, so I pulled up the image on the Switch from the saved picture files and took a photo of the screen after it was done to share the evidence.) I'm the bottom right quadrant. My son is the top left; my daughter is the bottom left and my husband is the top right.

Proof of my moment in the sun!
I originally titled this post "when a C trumps an A" because earning a mediocre grade in a subject I struggle with tends to mean more to me than getting a superior mark in a subject in which I regularly do well with ease. Same with video game performance and me. I think that it's no big deal for my son to get first place in Mario Kart because he expects that he'll do well - it's not a cause for celebration. I think what makes a bigger impact to him is when he temporarily falls from his throne, because it's not the norm. (I'll let him comment below on whether that's true or not.)

Well I mean yeah, don't get me wrong. Sitting on top in First place is rewarding, but when a small unusual event causes me to fall to another place. It actually kind of frustrates me, I'm used to being first or at least in the top 3. But when I fall under that, I feel like I've become rusty and I'm failing. But that's because I'm so used to being on top, if anything, failing... Is a good thing sometimes!

A few days later, most of the household decided to go see a movie at the local theater. My son and I decided not to attend so instead we chose some mother-son bonding by playing all 48 courses on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

That was a fun 3 hour gaming session! It was worth it too, so many customization options were unlocked!

I had no expectation of doing well. My son is a video game expert. He has logged countless hours in front of the screen and regularly beats other experienced players. And yet ... on the very first place, not only did I grab first place, I kept it and finished in first!

Peter (Toad) is on the left. Me as Yoshi is on the right
And I wasn't going easy on her! Wow, who would've thought...

The standings after the 2nd race - and I'm on top!
I asked him if he was just being nice to me by letting me win the first match, but he claims that he wasn't. It was a great victory, and believe it or not, it happened a couple more times during our marathon session. Naturally, I went a little camera crazy and took many digital photos - don't let the many pictures fool you. Peter won the majority of the games.

Mushroom Kingdom Circuit - ended in first!
2nd wasn't too bad here.

Dolphin Shoals - just for a brief time in the lead
She has a hard time with the pipe section.

The start of the race for Grumble Volcano
Classic stage, I LAVA it!

On Rainbow Road Game Cube version - it's a hard course!
I don't remember which version this one was for, my bad if it's false info!

In Wario's Gold Mine
Wario's got a lot of structures, is there more to this guy then we know?

Rainbow Road N64 Edition - a scary track!
Sharp turns and Rainbow Thwomps, oh my!

In Ice Ice Outpost
Gotta keep your cool here.

After all 48 races were through, I ended up in 5th place overall, which is fantastic for me. There's no real way to show how much of a triumph this is - even in the game, once you are below 6th place, your character shakes his head in shame and makes sad muttering sounds, even though for me my usual goal is to get higher than 10th place. Quantifying the achievement makes it both easy and unclear. This concept connects to some personal professional learning my friend Jennifer Brown has been doing over the summer - it complicates things but that's the cool thing about learning.

Let me swing it back from schooling back to gaming - and leave the final word to my co-writer:

Gaming is a great learning tool, I mean not in the sense that you can learn how to drive from Mario Kart or be able to kill mutant salmons from Splatoon 2. But these kind of moments have lessons to learn from it. And it mixes learning and enjoyment in small ways, and that makes it all the while. Thank you Mother, for having me on this Monday Molly Musings, and good night.
(It might actually be night when you read this, but whatever.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

I won't post that

My husband occasionally reads me things he finds of interest online. He shared this article with me  and a portion of it inspired me to reflect and write this post.

How much of my life should be public and how much should be private?

This blog is evidence that many aspects of my life are shared here:
- my thoughts
- my lessons and teaching units
- my volunteer jobs
- my opinions on books I've read
- my conferences I attend
- my colleagues and friends
- my interests outside education

People who know me, even from just online, know that
Do I overshare? Is it too much?

Careful examination of my blog and my tweets reveal that there are actually some areas that are absent from my online profile. There are deliberate omissions and particular rationales for those gaps.

1) Specific details about my children

There are parents who overshare online too much. This article refers to an entire blog focused on the practice and shared the "ten worst ways" but for me, it's less about being annoying and more about respecting my son and my daughter's privacy. This article from The Atlantic highlights the bigger issues of negatively impacting children's digital footprint / digital identity. Although I am extremely proud of my children, I try to refrain from posting photos and I ask their permission before I write anything about them. (This here is a rare photo of my son and daughter on a recent trip.) I googled my children's names and for both of them, the first legitimate link to them specifically are for things they have control over and chose to do.

These guidelines also extend to the children I teach. At one of the amazing ETFO Conference for ICT for Women sessions, there was an excellent presentation about respecting our students' privacy for their sake and for the sake of our safety. (ETFO has many articles that provide guidelines.) I block the names of students if/when I post an example of their work, and I avoid using photos of their faces. I found one picture that I didn't obscure the face in, and I'll need to fix that.

2) Complaints about specific people

Someone once told me that you should think carefully about to whom you complain about your spouse because you may forgive and forget, but the listener might not. The same goes for the Internet. There have been times that I've desperately wanted to vent about someone who was irritating me (this post and this one is the closest I've come to it, I think, and these were when I first starting writing my blog). However, feelings can change, but typed words online don't erase as easily. The deceptive anonymity of the Internet means that people can write some horrific and vitriolic things about people without considering how they would react. I don't want to contribute to the hateful content.

Teachers are supposed to follow a particular protocol when they have disagreements with their colleagues. It's onerous, but the procedures exists for a reason - to avoid libel and slander and a toxic work environment. Keep it positive, and if there's a problem, think twice if it's necessary to share it with the world.

3) Partying

I am not a teetotaller, but you won't read about any of my partying exploits here. The Ontario College of Teachers created a Professional Advisory in 2011 about the use of electronic communication and social media. In it (and you can see the document here), the college advocates caution with sharing inappropriate details of a teacher's private life.

There is a distinction between the professional and private life of a teacher. Practitioners are individuals with private lives, however, off-duty conduct matters. Sound judgment and due care should be exercised.
Teaching is a public profession. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that teachers’ off-duty conduct, even when not directly related to students, is relevant to their suitability to teach. Members should maintain a sense of professionalism at all times – in their personal and professional lives

4) Specific Politics

Supposedly, the saying goes that there are three areas to avoid in casual conversation to prevent conflict: politics, religion, and abortion. Teaching itself is a political act. If we are interested in addressing social justice issues, it cannot be done in a vacuum. Here are a couple of recent tweets I shared from my timeline.

Having said that, there are some issues I'll avoid debating online, because my opinions would be more divisive than necessary. I would not want a student to ever feel uncomfortable talking with me about a subject because they fear my opinions, if they differ from theirs, would cause me to treat them negatively or judge them harshly.

So, did I miss anything? Some are obvious (this is a nudity-free blog, for instance). Are there any other areas that I don't post about? Topics that I do but I should stop? Topics I should start writing about?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cleaning the garage and creating the garden

The second half of July has been consumed by two enormous tasks that took a lot longer than I anticipated: cleaning out our garage and creating a garden in our yard. Both experiences were hard work but quite rewarding.

1) The Garage

I am not a hoarder, but as an educator, I have a tendency to "save things" because I think they may be useful to me or my students or our learning later on. Opening some of these bins has been both a trip down memory lane and an eye-opener. Turns out that some things don't date well at all. Other things are classic.

I graduated from York University's Faculty of Education (Concurrent Program) in 1996. I boxed many things, including my application package, acceptance letter, and program guides. The one thing I did keep, even though I may never use it, is the unit plan(s) I developed when I was student teaching. I don't plan on using them as they are -  a lot has changed since the late 1990s - but I kept them because of the hours and days of blood, sweat, and tears I poured into those individual lesson plans. There are times where I feel I've channelled more effort into those "baby beginning teacher" plans than I do now (and I'm awed by the level and detail in the evaluation methods and records!)

There was method to the Faculty's "madness" in making us work hard on crafting decent lessons and solid assessments. The content may be old/expired but the methodology is sound. In fact, my first year in the Faculty of Education at York had a big anti-bias curriculum focus - equity doesn't go in and out of style and the more I learn about this area, the more I realize I need to learn.

Another artefact, another memory. I nearly forgot that I spent a lot of time during my university days working for the Office for Students with Disabilities. I was a notetaker, attending classes with students who were deaf or who had hearing impairments to document what the professor said during lectures. I also read course materials ... on audio tape! I lurked online to see how this service has changed with the advances in technology. On their website, now called Disability Services, York University has three areas of support: Learning Disability, Mental Health Disability, and Physical, Sensory, and Medical Disability Services. Digging a bit deeper, I see they still offer note-taking services but Kurzweil and Read and Write Gold were mentioned specifically as reading accommodations.

My husband and I reorganized the garage, as well as weeded through all the bins. We created specific areas for the different kinds of materials stored. Books dominate our bins. I wish there was a machine where we could pour our unwanted books into and get 1/10 of the money back. We are still keeping many of our books, but some have been recycled, some will go to my students at school (because they aren't bad - I just don't need or want those anymore) and some will go to Value Village. In the above photo, the yellow words indicate things that still need to be done. I can't get into my school right now to drop things off, and going to the dump is a healthy prick to my conscience and involves a vow to do more to reduce and reuse.

"Cleaning the garage" also works as a mind metaphor, I realized as I wrote this. Often, I'm surprised by the things I've "stored" and there comes a time where I need to declutter and purge, by thoroughly examining what I'm "keeping" in this space, why I'm holding on to it, and whether or not it does me any good. Some things are better to get rid of. If you collect too many old things, there may not be room for the new, so be selective. (This works for physical and mental teaching spaces as well - who knew?)

2) The Garden

My family is amazing. After discussing plans with my talented younger brother, he designed and built two garden boxes by the sides of my back yard deck. This is in addition to the incredible front garden he improved with stone blocks and another he created from scratch where our old tree used to be.

The circle garden in the front yard

The new garden wall

Another angle (and a view of the spot we changed from garden to grass)

Then, my parents agreed to come plant shopping with us to choose some annuals to brighten up the beds before we decide what will permanently reside in those spots. My parents took great pleasure in planting the begonias, petunias, marigolds, hibiscus, and other flowers. (Farah Wadia will be happy to hear that we finally got around to planting that eco-friendly decoration from Grade 8 graduation - it didn't die!)

Grandmother, grandfather and grandson collaborating

What I really loved about this project (and what can be tied back to teaching) is the multigenerational and multi-level involvement. Having specific skills helped a lot, but everyone, including me with no gardening or construction experience, could contribute somehow to the final product. (The part I played involved financing and driving.) This could be an example of Project Based Learning or an Inquiry Plan (e.g. "What can we do to improve the look of the outside of the house using the natural environment without breaking the bank?"). There were many STEM / STEAM elements involved (i.e. measuring how much wood, estimating the cost of materials, designing the size of the planters as well as ways to contain the soil without rotting the wood, selecting what plants would suit that location in the yard with the amount of sunlight it receives daily, colour variety of blooms, etc.) The great thing was how everyone could share in the success, regardless of what role they played or how long they worked.

The only downsize to all this garden and garage work? The triumphs encourage you to do more, try more, clean more ... and I have to be sure that my enthusiasm doesn't extend my reach, financially or time-wise! Thanks everyone for everything!