As a human geographer, I have always gravitated towards issues related to the human experience.  The impacts of geography on people. A multiple perspectives lens is firmly part of my practice. I have always been curious about perspective and how it can be represented and interpreted through literature, art, music and film.  In my practice I have sought to educate students on the myriad of ways they can cultivate perspective and strive for interdisciplinary understanding whenever possible.  If you had asked me a year ago if I taught through a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, I probably would have said “yes”.  What I have learned, (and am still learning, for I know that I will never be done…) since the death of George Floyd, a American Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 is that I need to go deeper.  WAY deeper. Working to understand and learn through a multiple perspectives approach is one thing.  But working to learn and understand through, and about experience, is quite another.

Perspective: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view. - Oxford Dictionary

Experience: direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge - Merriam Webster Dictionary

When the call went out to our faculty late last spring for volunteers to lead a book club discussion of one of five books that were curated for us to read, I volunteered. That simple act raised many questions for me.  The book I chose was ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Subconsciously, (though I couldn’t have articulated it this way at the time) I knew I wanted to read about the experience of being Black. This book is a letter from Ta-Nehisi to his son, an intimate family conversation that the reader has been invited into. The events detail the Black experience in a way that is personal, familial and familiar to many, if not all Black families. It provides, for the reader, a chance to see the architecture of how we have come to this place, this moment of reckoning in our history through a detailed documentation and reflection on one man’s experience.  It was this that I was after, although other titles were more historic in nature and could have filled some of the gaps in my own ‘Eurocentric’ history education of the 1980s.  I wondered about the use of reading anything remotely resembling a history text on this topic as a place to begin.  Who’s experience would be included?  Whose would not? 

Having decided on this book, I then wondered about what I would do once I had read the book.  I was simultaneously aware of what a stereotype I had the potential to become. Tre Johnson’s June 12, 2020 article for The Washington Post was entitled “When Black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs.”  

I take to heart Johnson’s words:

“The right acknowledgement of Black justice, humanity, freedom and happiness won’t be found in your book clubs, protest signs, chalk talks or organizational statements.  It will be found in your earnest willingness to dismantle systems that stand in our way - be they at your job, in your social network, your neighbourhood associations, your family or your home.  It’s not just about amplifying our voices, it’s about investing in them and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art.”  

Something else that gave me pause as I signed up to facilitate this book club was the idea that I should even be a facilitator.  I certainly didn’t / don’t feel qualified to take on such a role, and I was afraid someone would call me out.  Through that fear though, I learned about the difference between calling out and calling in.  

Call-ins are agreements between people who work together to consciously help each other expand their perspectives. They encourage us to recognize our requirements for growth, to admit our mistakes and to commit to doing better.” 

This is something I felt on board with as a facilitator who is still learning.  I recognize now in hindsight,  that perhaps at this entry point into the conversation, having a non-expert facilitator (and I was upfront about this) may have made it more palatable to own our clumsiness and to make meaningful commitments to accountability.  View our book club’s Padlet of ‘Actionable Shifts in Practice’ HERE.   I would say that from our 4 month (5 meeting) book club, there was a noticeable development in our comfort with using the language of diversity, equity and inclusion and that having a space for us to practice these conversations before bringing them to our students served to enhance our confidence.  At a certain point though, I feel that we should move to hire Black facilitators for the work of deepening our understanding and contexts of the texts we read.  This should not become a voluntary expectation of our Black colleagues.

“ A book club can provide a richer experience than just reading a book - a setting in which to practice having those tough conversations, other people to call you on your errors, and solidarity to strengthen your dedication.  And, temptingly, it can mingle the tough intellectual work with social connection.  This balance of joyful togetherness and political engagement can be valuable.”  (Fallon, 2020)

I certainly found this to be true of our collegial book club; it became a learning space that reflected one of our highest values as an institution; the creation of community.  This is where I feel the collegial book club challenges Johnson’s notion of book clubs as a”‘comfortable gathering of friends”.  In this context, we have to be intentional about not just creating groups that satisfy our comfort levels, we need to ensure that there is room for discomfort, deep learning and accountability.

And so, circling back to the beginning of this post … what will I do after I read the book?  

The focus of professional work within my sphere of influence is naturally curriculum review.  I am interested in learning more about the respectful design of curriculum that includes  decolonizing approaches to learning. There is a lot for me to learn there.  If I can get back to perspectives vs experience for a moment, I think about how I want to do this work.  This is where the Design educator in me comes back to the book club - and selecting reads that will heighten my empathy for the BlPOC experience. I feel this is an important first step because while it may often be true that “ clubs are comfortable gatherings of friends who are unlikely to nudge one another to the places of discomfort that these books, at their best, demand.”  (Johnson, 2020)  my experience in facilitating our book club was exactly the opposite, and more.  It did serve as a nudge, and an invitation to be vulnerable and uncomfortable, but also to be brave. See HERE for an ‘invitation’ to a brave space.  I think this was largely the result of having established some group Essential Agreements ahead of time that we reviewed each meeting and adjusted as need be.  

To consider a redesign of my curriculum that centers the experience of ALL my students, I must marinate first, in empathy for the BIPOC experience.  I feel comfortable talking and teaching about perspectives, as that can be siloed in a rather intellectual way.  To learn to empathize with the BIPOC experience, is the first step required of me as an educator now.   

As Claire Fallon says,

“Buying a book isn’t revolutionary; it’s easy, even a bit indulgent.  In one sense, it’s a consumerist response to a crisis that calls for something deeper: putting bodies on the line.”

For me, starting this work in my sphere began amongst my colleagues, in a book club.  I see this work as a continuum, it starts with developing empathy and rooting my understanding of the BIPOC experience in our shared humanity.  As my empathy grows, my knowledge expands, my choices change, and my confidence propels me to act and invest in ways that dismantle systemic racism. 

The book club is just the catalyst for the work that needs to be done, it is not an end in itself.


Fallon, Claire.  “Can a Book Club Fight Racism?”  Huffington Post, 19 Aug. 2020.

Johnson, Tre.  “When Black People are in Pain, White People Just Join Book Clubs.”  The Washington Post, 12 June 2020.

Feature Photo Credit: Branksome Hall Senior Library


This blog has always been a professional reflection space for me, but as I look back on the last seven months one of the biggest changes I have had to adapt to is the closer integration of work and home life.  I know many of us are in this boat, or other similar boats … teaching with many other large life responsibilities on board.  I’d like to open up my blog a little to that dialogue.  I think the pandemic is shining a light on the costs of  our culture of productivity, and it’s asking some hard questions.  One of the things I have thought a lot about is that maybe a less siloed approach to life is exactly what I need, maybe I need a little HYFLEX! Early on in this pandemic, I read this somewhere:

“What are you learning from what you are going through?”

When things have felt challenging in these months, I have tried to focus on this question, here’s what I’ve noticed so far : 

  1.  There’s a lot of ‘noise’ in our lives … when the pandemic shut down our schools, our social lives, our consumer lives and even to an extent our extended family lives we were forced to focus only on what was essential.  We had to ask ourselves daily: ‘must have?’ or ‘nice to have?’ and we had to make decisions.  For me, the answer to ‘must have’ on the daily whether at home or at school was ‘Connection’.  We must have connection.  We must use our time to take care of and maintain, even amplify our connection to ourselves, our families and our students.  I have tried to make every decision with this in sharp focus. It is amazing to me how much noise has crept into our daily lives, so much of it is unnecessary and it distract us from connecting with ourselves and with one another.
  2. Despite the challenging juggling act of closer integration of work and home life, I have been able to be there for my kids in ways that I don’t think would have been possible were it not for this new reality we are living in.  My sons are 7 and 9.  Their teachers worked hard to build a bridge to online learning for them last spring, but at 7 and 9 it felt like they were being catapulted into a digital world that we had not anticipated them joining quite so soon.  Being available to my kids as this was happening in real time allowed for the necessary conversations of digital citizenship, online safety and parental oversight of their emerging digital footprint in a very thorough way, and I am grateful to be there for that in a way that I don’t think I could have been during ‘normal times’. 
  3. There have been some ‘happy accidents’ along the way too … one aspect of my practice that I have been working on is how to draw the outside world into my classroom, magnify the learning opportunities for my students so that they can embrace more perspectives on the issues and content we are working with. Last spring I found it was so much easier to get experts into the classroom over Zoom for a 30 minute talk than it ever was to coordinate an in-person visit! Moreover, I found their generosity was amplified; many providing their personal emails to students to follow up with them at a later date with any questions they might have. One of my favourite happy accidents was found in a Grade 8 Design students final reflection on her product design unit - sewing fabric masks … she mentioned that the best part of the process for her was getting to spend more time with her Grandmother who supported her in learning how to use her machine and of course, provided that very special comfort that only a Grandmother can bestow. Connection.  There it was again.

It seems to me that prioritizing connection during these times will sacrifice some level productivity, and it has proven again and again to bring me to a place I hadn’t necessarily intended to end up, but also that the dividends of the investment are worth it and not just for the short term.

I have so many more  questions for you, my education colleagues about the logistics of teaching during these times, but I will leave those for another post.  

I hope you are finding a connective thread in your professional / personal lives that is encouraging you along the path.  Please leave me a comment - I'd love to hear 'what you are learning from what you are going through'. 

I've been mulling over @ljensen's comment on my last blog about 'updating my worldview' as pertains to creative confidence:

"I am wondering what it is about creative confidence that you find compelling? Judging from your questions, it seems to be something around taking risks and learning/recovering from failure."

Thank you Lara for this thought provoking question! For me, like you, I see design thinking as a natural vehicle to improve creative confidence. My interest in this area was sparked by Sir Ken Robinson's infamous TED talk 'Do Schools Kill Creativity' ? My curiosity was sharpened when David Kelley mentioned in 'Creative Confidence' that there is a moment early on in their development when children begin to stop seeing themselves as artists, they start to judge them selves and feel judged. This really resonated with me personally and I wanted to get back to my own personal creative pursuits, and felt compelled to bring that into a classroom context in the form of encouraging more 'creative agency' in my students in a bid to eliminate whatever self-talk is taking place to diminish their confidence in their own creative/maker-ability. Also, I am so aware of the gadgetry presented to us in this modern world … we don't have to even get up off the couch to close the blinds, turn on the radio or start the coffee pot anymore … people seem to have machines to do everything and anything for them and I think this factors into our collective lack of creative confidence … "there's an app for that" … so, what I find compelling about building creative confidence is the idea that we can encourage students to believe that they can solve their own problems, design and build their own solutions and contribute something meaningful to the world. I think it is a way to combat the apathy and lack of agency that the modern world sets us up to wallow in at times. Why should we make something if we can buy it? We should make something because it encourages a sense of pride and agency and even well being. This is creative confidence to me.

Throughout the fall I have continued to work to build our new course through experimenting with some ATLs (approaches to learning for those not in the IB world) meeting with other design teachers, a portraiture artist and gathering inspiration from following (on social media) interesting folks who bring fresh perspectives to the field of design.

Our first unit was geared towards digital design and allowed students to develop agency with Tinkercad, a 3D software as well as Adobe Illustrator. This unit also served as an Interdisciplinary Unit with Grade 8 English. Our statement of inquiry for the IDU was:

Personal & cultural expression is crafted and  communicated through relevant forms.

To begin, students learned the basics of Adobe Illustrator and designed a logo for a partner to capture their identity in a design focussed 'get-to-know-you'. At the outset there was excitement and trepidation, as we got into more of the tools of Illustrator some students really struggled with the program and I struggled with how to help them. It was challenging. One student in particular had a 'full tears' moment of frustration while trying to accomplish her vision in Illustrator, we had to slow down. I was able to empathize fully and we went back to basics until her confidence was restored. I felt this was a good time to do some explicit teaching of the value of positive self-talk to build student confidence and affective skills. I did some investigating and came up with a self-assessment based on the work of Lance King that provided me with some interesting insights into student mindset.

In order for students to demonstrate excellent technical skills when making the solution; they must practice managing self-talk by approaching new technology with a growth mindset.

I kept up with my class at 'The Cube' Technology School and benefited greatly from the knowledge and skill of our new Design Tech and the students kept learning … and eventually they started peer to peer support and I grew more confident in my ability to help. Yesterday I got an email from the parent of the student who had the 'full tears' moment earlier in the term. She was writing to say that her daughter is now quite interested in Design and would like to know how to further encourage her! I felt great! I am evolving with my students too, I notice it in the way I think about challenges both personally and professionally, I notice it when my reaction to something that is broken or not working properly is 'let's see if I can fix it myself' … there is different 'self talk' in my mindset too. Below is the logo that one of my students created for me, her design opportunity was:

How might we design a logo that reflects Ms Campbell-Rogers love of the environment while incorporating her love of family?

I love it!

I was also able to visit UCC design teachers @mhoel, @ljensen, @tjagdeo, @sbarclay, and @echarbonneau to gather insights around types of assignments, scope and sequence in the middle years design program, interdisciplinary opportunities, timetabling, tech applications and materials management . It was a special treat to have a tour of their beautiful new design spaces both in the lower and upper schools; excellent insights into space, materials storage and furniture as BH is currently designing our new innovation and design space so these conversations were particularly helpful!

The other angle I am approaching my learning from is tied to the values work we have been doing as a school community. One of the values we have identified is inclusiveness. I have been inspired by conversations with my sons Grade 2 Teacher & Portraiture Artist Gordon Shadrach. Gordon's portraiture work challenges stereotypes often projected upon Black men. Danielle Bryk, Owner / Curator at Gallery 181 encapsulates his approach this way: "Shadrach’s art brings much-needed representation to the cultural sphere of traditional “Western” portraiture that has long excluded the narratives of Black artists. Through exploring intersections of race, masculinity, class and sexuality, The Artist’s work reflects the complexities of Black experience." Conversations with Gordon as well as with friends and colleagues around the process of 'decolonizing art & curriculum' got me thinking about the intersection of all of these things … the value of inclusiveness, representation, and the idea of decolonizing design. Gordon introduced me to OCAD's Dean of Design, Elizabeth (@Dori_Danthro) Tunstall at an event and I began following her on social media - she was using a term I had never heard before … 'respectful design' Which in this article she defines as: "Respectful Design means valuing inclusivity, peoples’ cultures and ways of knowing through empathic and responsible creative methodologies. It means deepening our relationships to the lives of the materials that connect us to the craft of making. It means designing ourselves back into the environment. For example, adding Indigenous concepts of Seven Generations to inform sustainable design. It means celebrating need over want. Respectful design means acknowledging different values, different manners of production, and different ways of knowing."
As a design teacher with a humanities background, I am electrified by this concept! If I am starting at the beginning, teaching design to middle schoolers how might I pursue interpreting the design curriculum in a more intentionally inclusive, respectful way and thus deepen the meaning of what we are doing from the get-go?
My action plan this year was really just to learn about best practices in teaching design, developing creative confidence and failing well...  but when big ideas keep me up at night, I pay attention! I'll be starting some reading with this title, kindly recommended by Havergal's Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion @mmiller .


If you have thoughts on how to build a culturally inclusive design program, please reach out, I look forward to hearing from you!



Hello Bloggerverse!

My focus for action this school year is around the planning and design of MYP Design at my school. In recent years design has been integrated into the arts, but at long last we are now offering it as a stand-alone credit for Grades 7 & 8.

Now, I am not a design teacher by training, I am a design teacher by interest; and much like my ‘home subject’ of Geography, I am interested in the human realm of the subject, or in this case, ‘human centered design’. My interest came from the natural synergy between the ‘wicked problems’ faced by the world and the ability to apply design thinking to resolving them. That of course, is big picture. The reality I face now is how to bring those interests into a flow of content geared towards middle schoolers that will scaffold the skills they require to build their tool kit to the extent they can someday tackle the ‘wicked problems’ facing us all. In mentally prepping myself for this new adventure this summer, I was thinking about two things: 1. WHY do I want to do this and 2. HOW am I going to do this?

Let’s start with the WHY …

Last year on a quest to learn more about innovation in education and desiring to up my creative approach I read ‘Creative Confidence’ by Tom Kelley & David Kelley. It was a wonderful read, one quotation from the American writer Mark Twain really resonated, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t so.” Their advice – to “seek out opportunities to observe and update your worldview.” Having been a teacher for 20 years now, I realize that my approach to teaching in the 21st century needs to shift to remain viable. No longer do I need to be the person with all the answers, knowledge is everywhere, it’s accessing it, analyzing it and collaboratively using it in creative ways to solve problems and improve conditions for humans and the environment… THAT is where I need to focus my ‘levelling up’.

And now the HOW…

Would it sound strange to say that in planning and designing this course, I am also learning how to be a more relevant / effective 21st practitioner? When I look at the ‘most urgent needs’ that I identified (with my students in mind) back in October, I cited: perseverance, failing well & creative confidence as my top three. I’ve sat on this homework for several weeks now, and in this time I’ve noticed that in fact their needs are tied to mine. I have been lucky to have a tech specialist support my design classes as the tech world is not my natural habitat (though I appreciate and respect its role in innovation). I have been learning from her and from the evening classes I’ve been taking to learn Adobe Illustrator; but I have depended on her to lead the tech portions of each lesson. The other day, she didn’t. I was at the front, working in Adobe and I just kept going with the project we were working on … I was making mistakes left and right. In front of my students. I wanted to call her over; I was massively uncomfortable. But I didn’t, and she didn’t. It felt like the moment where the parent releases their grip from the banana seat (in my case) bicycle. I realized then, that I was modelling ‘perseverance’ and my mindset / internal dialogue changed immediately. There have been other moments where I have totally messed up some things in Google Classroom – also a new experiment for me this year, and thought; am I ‘failing well’ in front of my students? I think the ‘creative confidence’ piece will come naturally for my students; the nature of their projects is inherently collaborative and this generally enhances creativity. In an unexpected twist, I think my students have already begun to build my creative confidence – they are as patient with me, if not more so as I hope to be with them.

In terms of the power of three … I intend to flip these questions to my students but also to other design teachers.

For students, I’d like to ask:
1. Tell me about a time when you demonstrated perseverance? What were you doing? What did it feel like?
2. Tell me about a time when you ‘failed’ something? What were you doing? What did it feel like? What were your next steps?
3. What does creative confidence look like to you? Can you describe a time when you felt confident in your creativity?
I am designing the Grade 8 course around these ATL skills, and will use this feedback to help build those evaluations.

For teachers of design I’d like to ask: (I’m looking at you @mhoel and @ljensen !)
1. How do you support your students when they become frustrated? How do you encourage them to persevere?
2. How do you work ‘failure’ into the design process so that it is re-enforced as a part of the process?
3. What activities have you had success with in building student’s creative confidence?


The journey this year in the role of innovation support staff has taught me much about myself as an educator.  I’ve thought constantly about what the term ‘innovation’ means, I’ve paid attention to who is using it, when and in what context. This is my twentieth year of teaching, and I am sensitive to buzzwords. I am conscious that many teachers continue to equate it with tech integration, some see it as a buzzword that will get thrown around until the next one arrives and a few see it as the essential to the metamorphosis of teaching and learning.  The Oxford dictionary defines innovation as “the introduction of new things, ideas or ways of doing something.”  In my own practice and in talking with many of my colleagues this year, I feel comfortable defining innovation as Oxford does, with the emphasis being on ‘ways of doing something’ … it is, as George Couros reminds us, more about a mindset, or a way of thinking than the tools we may (or may not) use to get there.   It is also about approaching our work as educators in a way that encourages us to explore familiar ideas in new ways.  To this end, I think educators are some of the most innovative people on the planet! Our charges demand that we be so; it isn’t possible to engage our students unless we commit to understanding the forces which shape their lives, and use those insights to guide the evolution of how we innovate our approaches to curriculum.

At the outset of action planning this year, I wanted to understand how I could best be of service to my colleagues in the role of innovation support; I got stuck into the idea that I had to have an awareness of all the tools / approaches to the idea of innovating curriculum.  I muddled around in this area of my action plan for a good part of the year; I really appreciated the visit with @jmedved who helped me to gain some clarity on what it means to lead in this area; Justin, the positive approach you shared with me that day was instrumental in the development of my ‘innovators mindset’ and I think my peers will recognize in your words the approach which is responsible for the success of Cohort21:

“Understanding, honouring and respecting what people have already done and then helping them to come together around ideas that will take their work forward.”

To me, this idea is pivotal in the mindset and approach needed to support teachers in their innovation journeys.

Towards the second half of the year, I started to feel that I had gone too big in terms of my ‘sphere of influence’, this work of mine was 20% of my part-time timetable, and I wanted to feel like I was going to have some success around my own understanding of what an innovative classroom could look like. So, I started to focus more on my own classroom. I had been inspired through my PD workshop at The Nueva School in San Francisco to morph my Grade 10 independent study project into a design thinking experience that would run every Day 7 throughout the year and would get at some 21st century skills I was looking to learn more about and develop in my students.  I read ‘The 20Time Project’ by Kevin Brookhouser, I used the insights I gained from The Nueva School, my teacher mentor role in the Global Ideas Institute and the idea that I could model my professional learning experience of Cohort21 in the classroom … and I basically mashed those all up to create a new approach to independent study.  I had been following experienced educator/coach/mentor Katie Martin’s blog:  and came across this question which really got under my skin as I was thinking about my action plan this year: I’m using this image straight off her blog because I love it – credit to Katie Martin


I turned that question back on myself to consider: am I designing curriculum for students to comply or innovate?  Wow.  That is such a good, sticky question.  Immediately my brain goes to – what about the MOE / IB standards that I have to meet within a limited time frame?  At this point, the train had left the station, my students and I were already moving through this evolving project.  I had students choose the direction their project would take by selecting a course theme (curricular relevance) and encouraged them to investigating it in a local context; I wanted them to 'root' their project in a curricular context, but then determine for themselves how to explore the theme.  I have been (messily) scaffolding the skills of design thinking, project management, research, reading and notetaking, expert/empathy interviewing, behavioural economics and reflection through a blog in the hopes that these skills will provide a base for authentic exploration of a real world issue that is meaningful to them.

As my students work evolves, I am encouraged to see some of them attending conferences to learn more from expert speakers, persistently requesting interviews from experts, following blogs and Instagram feeds of those that are doing the work that they are interested in and using the design cycle to leverage the evolution of their project as they learn more.  But some are also really stuck. They are uncomfortable about the approach, I feel like they don’t trust themselves to lead their own inquiry in this way, and I wonder if they have grown accustomed to assignments designed for ‘compliance’, and perhaps that is why this is so hard.  It’s hard for me too if I am honest.  I was trained to have the answers, to lead the learning, to be in control of my classroom.  I worry when they are feeling stuck and I don’t have the answers.  I worry that when I can’t immediately get them unstuck, that I’m not doing my job.  This is a learning process for me too, I am trying to dwell in uncertainty with more grace and confidence.

As I continue to explore approaches to curriculum development I want to keep this question of compliance vs innovation close.  I'm conscious of not wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I have worked a long time in education and I confidently feel that there are some things about my current and past practice that work really well.  When I evaluate what gets taught; skills vs content I think solid skill building around how to read, take notes, research ... maybe that is something I need my students to comply with; these skills can then launch a more innovative inquiry.  Maybe that is the shift I feel prepared to make; to honor and respect what I have done, and continue experimenting with how I can move my practice forward.  Thank you Cohort21 for another year of meaningful connections, learning and a safe space to be professionally vulnerable.



I want to start where I left off; responding to a comment from @jmedved on my last post:

"I'm happy to share with you how I approach "wayfinding" and the tools I use to ensure that whatever I am pushing is linked to a larger school strategy and is always aligned with current initiatives and being sustained by other people and energy in the school. It really helps the long term sustainability of the innovation but also your own energy and mindset."

With the first term now solidly in the rear view mirror, as I look back I feel as if I was feasting at an 'innovation smorgasbord' for the last 4 months!  I had an amazing opportunity to participate in a Harvard Graduate School of Ed. Course 'Teaching & Learning in the Maker Centered Classroom' with a wonderful team of colleagues, with much encouragement & support from @nblair I launched a '20Time' program in my Grade 10 Geography class, I continued to build on experience with design thinking through partnering with a drama teacher to assist in building a unit that embeds the principles of design, I brought home a 'Makerbot' to learn a bit about robotics with my sons, I learned about circuits through making light up Christmas cards, I sat in on our Gr. 10 computer science class lessons as they prepared to undertake the 'Astro-Pi' challenge, greatly supported by a colleague and mentor I used the new 'Carvey' to make loot-bag favours for my sons birthday … I tried to say "YES!" - A lot.

And now I wish I had paid more attention to Justin's sanguine advice … link to strategy & current initiatives, consider long-term sustainability of your own energy and mindset.  I was way outside my comfort-zone in many of my efforts to evolve my skills for the role of 'innovation support' … or at least what I started the year perceiving my role to be: learn everything!  Reflecting back now, this was not a great approach. As I write, my energy is low, my mindset - still curious, still determined but foggy, if that makes any sense?

The end result is that I'm not sure I'm as far ahead as I had hoped to be at this point; I tried to do too much, spread myself too thin.

So, for the last couple of days, I've focussed on taking a step back, re-grouping.  I reviewed my Cohort placemats - hey, those crowd-sourced ideas were great! I did some good thinking in the last F2F! I should do that! I reviewed my notes from the HGSE maker centered classroom course and 'The Innovators Mindset' that I read over the summer, and I thought deeply about Justin's comments.

One thing that really stood out to me from the first lesson in our HGSE course was the introductory video - it was our instructor explaining / demonstrating how to make pesto sauce.  Initially, I wondered how this could possibly connect to our course? What the instructor was doing, was demonstrating the definition of a 'maker'.  The media seems to emphasize a certain type of maker: hackers, people with skills in robotics, IT, electronics and those working with tools / technologies like 3D printers. This of course, puts constraints on the type of people who identify as makers.  A maker, by definition is anyone who engages in the act of making; professionally or as a hobby.  It had never occurred to me that as someone who LOVES to cook, I fit the definition of a 'maker'.  I had never viewed myself like this before, and it changed my perspective and approach to the rest of the course.

I wonder if the same could be said of 'innovators'?  Are we unconsciously emphasizing a certain (similar to the above) type of 'innovator' in education?  Do teachers see themselves as innovators? How might we help teachers to see themselves as innovators, the way I saw myself as a maker for the very first time?

Innovation is one of our key school strategic directions, building a sense of community is a key values initiative we are looking to embed and I have a hunch that a plan to build community through our approach to innovation could be some really exciting work  … and as @gnichols said in the second F2F: the question is "how might WE" … not "how might I".






I've been thinking about the session 1 F2F homework and the direction for my action plan this past month, but I haven't felt that I was in a place to really articulate a 'blog worthy' plan just yet.   I am in my second year of  Cohort 21 however, and the 'Cohort Effect' messaging is getting through... "that's ok"!  That I am thinking about it, showing up and collecting ideas and insights in my daily practice and in conversation with my peers.

Twice in the last week I have been moved in the direction of my action plan ideas by a prompt.  I habitually collect prompts that resonate with my personal / professional thinking and mood; they could be pictures, pieces of writing, artworks or quotations.  I have found the use of a prompt to be helpful in the classroom for nudging students in the right direction, so why not for myself?

I know a number of us receive Seth Godin's daily blog in our inboxes - that was an excellent piece of advice I picked up from @gnichols & @jmedved last year.  Recently a couple of entries have really struck a chord - today his piece on 'two kinds of careening' (  ) focusses on the the ideas of  being out on a limb trying new things and what is possible when we act 'as if' before we are sure.  I feel like that is me presently.  I am immersed in an ocean of 'new things' in my new work as 'innovation support'.  There is an army of new digital tools to explore, new hardware to learn how to use  and the potential of unlimited idea generation around how to take old projects in new directions ... how to 'innovate'.   And that word is so far, my direction.  What does it mean?  How does it apply to education.  I am after the explicit ... how do teachers embody this mindset, how do students?  I am a Geographer and so I am looking for a 'map' for this journey.  And that is what I don't presently have; that fuels some anxiety, but also excitement.  Without a map, you have to reach out to others, make connections, find landmarks, be a 'wayfinder'.  This approach virtually ensures adventure and exploration and - FUN.

So, there are times at the moment as I 'wayfind' and try things in my classroom and in collaboration with other teachers  that I am 'acting as if'. But I relish the exhilaration of being in this place and creating this map as I go.


... after my year as a 'Cohorter'.  I began to see myself differently.  I began to believe that I could do things.  Crazy, RIDICULOUS things.   I began Cohort21 last fall with a sense of trepidation; I did not consider myself tech-savvy, I didn't know what a 'tweet deck' was or how to use Google Forms ... but I was curious.  A little encouragement from @lmcbeth and I decided to take the plunge - into a community that as @gvogt recently posited (and I agree) is "the gold standard of a supporting culture".  My journey of the last year is documented in this blog up to the end of last spring; and that's when a funny thing happened.  I was asked if I would join a team of tech-integrators to provide innovation support for teachers at my school.  "But I don't know how to code!" I exclaimed!  Hmmm.  I went home.  I told my husband.  He laughed. I thought about it.

I thought about it some more.  I asked questions. I wanted to do it.  I REALLY wanted to do it and I wasn't even scared!  That is what I believe the leaders of this experience would call 'The Cohort Effect'.  I have read much about Carol Dweck's 'Growth Mindset' and have challenged myself to ensure that I helped my students develop this type of approach to their learning; but until I became part of Cohort 21, I'm not sure that I consciously challenged myself to adopt this mindset.  So, I said yes.  And now, I am as some unknown person once told me: "building the plane in the air". This is a very foreign way to approach teaching for me, but I am learning that 'just-in-time' knowledge and skills delivery may be a good approach to teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Over the summer I undertook training in Design Thinking at the Nueva School in San Mateo California, with a great group of educators - many of who were Computer Science teachers.  It was in Palo Alto that I snapped the feature image for this post at the 'Institute for the Future' 

It did seem ridculous to me at first that I should be asked join a team of tech-savvy teachers in a support role.  But the more I thought about it, the less ridiculous it seemed.  Strategically, we are moving towards a more 'innovative' teaching and learning environment at Branksome Hall, and when I think about how George Couros (Educator, author and consultant) defines innovation as “a way of thinking that creates something new and better"   and the idea that it is borne out of “invention" (something totally new) or “iteration” ( a change of something that already exists) I have come to realize that innovation is a multi-faceted approach to teaching and learning, and furthermore something that under this definition, I am actually extremely passionate about.  Much of my action plan this year will center around exploring the application of this definition to my work in the classroom and as a member of our newly minted 'Innovation Support Team'.

I am beyond excited about continuing my Cohort 21 adventure this year in the role of Coach; but I also value my simultaneous role of learner and look forward to the many conversations ahead and the destinations that are as yet blissfully unknown.  Onwards!


Source: Michel Bednarek,

Before the excitement starts to settle and give way to culminating task immersion, marking and reporting, I am taking a moment to distill the mess of ideas buzzing around my mind after my year as a Cohort 21 participant.  These conversations began at the final F2F last Friday, but as I have discovered about myself this year; I am a slow thinker, I like to mull.  On my bike into and home from school this week (which is where most of my good mulling occurs),  I had so many more thoughts about the experience; in an effort to invest more time in documenting & acting on my professional growth I'm going to share them here:

  • Finding your voice.  We often talked about the value of 'finding your voice'; both students' and teachers'.  The skill of story telling emerges in design thinking, PBL (project based learning) and effective instruction.  In talking to my own children's teachers this year, I had the good fortune to have insight into how this evolves from an elementary teacher's perspective.  As I reflect on my own journey, I feel that somewhere along the path I have lost a bit of my own voice; and I see it happening to my students in their ability to confidently express their own opinions in a big-data world.  I would like to work on this both personally and professionally as a way of enhancing 'creative confidence'.  From what has become a much-used reference guide; Tom & David Kelley's 'Creative Confidence':

"If the scribbling, singing, dancing kindergartner symbolizes unfettered creative expression, the  awkward teenager represents the opposite: someone who cares—deeply—about what other people think. It takes only a few years to develop that fear of judgment, but it stays with us throughout our adult lives, often constraining our careers."

Two steps I intend to take are to register for IDEO U's online course in Storytelling for Influence  and also to register with a local neighbourhood technology & design school 'The Cube'  for a workshop on how to improve my WordPress blog.   Blogging may also become something I work into my students process. The idea of a '20%' project that continues throughout the year in my MYP Geography class and ends as the culminating task is something that @mbrims and I talked about at the final F2F and I think blogging could be a great way of enhancing student voice.

  • The power of active listening.  I learned so much about this from watching my incredibly talented facilitator @ddoucet as he listened actively to each member of our team as we shared ideas, successes and failures; he always picked up on the positive and then reflected that back with encouragement and ideas for building on and pushing our learning. This served as excellent modelling of the value of PLCs (Professional Learning Communities).  In the final F2F, Cohort alumni @MrsGanley emphasized the value of connection in PLCs like Cohort21 with this quote from Brene Brown:

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship."

  • Leading from the middle.  I had never heard this phrase before Cohort21; @adamcaplan brilliantly facilitated a conversation at the final F2F highlighting the importance of shifting teachers' mindset from "my" students to "our" students. From this perspective, teachers are multifaceted leaders taking intentional steps to bring everyone forward together.  This article summarized this mindset beautifully:


  • Diversity of Thought & the Innovation Agenda.  In the final weeks of Cohort21 Season 6, the 'next steps' on my learning journey have become more clear.  Prior to starting Cohort, I was unsure if it was aimed at a humanities educator like me.  I felt somewhat ill-equipped to be part of such an 'innovative' conversation.  What I now recognize, is that the future of education requires diversity of thought.  Two talented students at my school just organized a panel discussion last night focussing on 'AI: The future or now?"  I was encouraged to hear from a panel that was both gender diverse and discipline diverse; the recognition that the humanities have a vital role to play in the evolution of education from an ethical, moral, thinking and questioning perspective gives me a fresh take on my purpose in the classroom.  Going forward, my professional goals for the 2018-2019 school year will include participating in conversations around our school's innovation agenda; I would like to determine and work on areas of intersection with the humanities.


The phrase 'the end of the beginning' resonates as I sit down to gather my 'placemats', notes, piles of reading, and thoughts on this incredible Cohort experience.  It is hard to know where to begin because of this nagging feeling …"but I'm not DONE yet !!!!!" I understand of course, that I will never be done.  In an article that @gnichols shared with me, George Couros, in discussing the shift in education from product to process laments (paraphrased) "when the pace of change is so fast, the only way to retain a lifelong working capacity is to engage in lifelong learning. "   I am still in that 'Spaghetti Junction' that I spoke about in my first post back in the fall… I have pursued a few 'noodles', but ultimately, exploring my original idea led to new ideas, and the conversations with Cohort members and strategy leaders at our school led me in new directions.

 For me, this has been a year of process work.  I do not have a final product, and because there has been no pressure to do so, I was able to think  more deeply about where I will go with what I have learned.

The Cohort approach to personalized learning through deep design process work and connection with others has also highlighted for me the type of learner I am;  I am not comfortable jumping into action without an enormous amount of knowledge and understanding behind me. In a quick skim of 'Empower' by AJ Juliani and John Spencer (2017) I strongly identified with their visual of the necessity of critical consumption that leads to inspiration and creative/innovative work.

Juliani & Spencer, 2017

Thus, developing a culture of empathy became a deeper dive than I anticipated at the outset.  This realization started from the beginning when I set out to determine a suitable definition of empathy.  In the social sciences (my background discipline), it is often referred to as 'compassionate empathy', which moves a person to respond to another's emotional state with some kind of action, as compared with 'cognitive empathy', also known as perspective taking, which is simply understanding another person's mental state." (Ugolik, 2017)


For my initial question,  'How might we integrate empathy into the curriculum to encourage action? ' I incorporated the former definition as it  was the most relevant to what I was trying to accomplish.  Our school strategy incorporates innovation as a key component and as I am trying to become more proficient with the use of technology in the classroom, I decided to investigate the use of Virtual Reality (VR)  in integrating empathy into the curriculum.

My students viewing Clouds Over Sidra with Google Cardboard

At the outset, I had a couple of ideas for what I hoped would be positive outcomes.  As a parent and a teacher, I had been reading about the concerns around youth and excessive use of technology correlating with the decline in social connections.  I felt that perhaps we could take these same tools that are responsible for students looking inward, and flip the outcome to use them so that students might look more outward.  Part of the core of the IB diploma program, CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) is woven into the curriculum.  I took this opportunity to pose the following question:  How can VR build empathy and encourage action?  

After showing the documentary, many of the girls quickly identified their prior perceptions of refugees as stereotypes; many of the people living in Za’atari fled white collar jobs, middle/upper class homes and their country, Syria was once stable and considered to be a middle income country.  My students were mesmerized by the power of the VR experience to draw them into the scene – the middle of the world’s largest refugee camp, Za’atari in Jordan.  The film tours the camp through the eyes of a 12 year old girl. One student commented:

"At times it’s as if people are pointing at you, talking to you, looking at you straight in the eye – expecting you to engage, to say or do something … but you can’t. "  

Chris Milk, an American entrepreneur, innovator and presenter of the widely viewed TED Talk where he characterizes the use of VR as an  'empathy machine' describes the power of using VR  this way: "What we care about are the people who are local to us, and virtual reality can take anyone in any place and make them feel local to you." (Milk, 2015)

In terms of outcomes, the experience was able to build ‘cognitive empathy’ rather than ‘compassionate empathy’ as I had hoped.  The students saw many of the quiet aspects of their day to day lives reflected in the youth of the film.  The children go to school, have aspirations to join a profession, worry about fitting in, struggle to understand the opposite gender, play sports & prioritize a family meal at the end of the day. They were surprised to see that community could exist in such dire circumstances.  They were able to make the connection that really, anyone could become a refugee, that the designation is indiscriminate.  Through seeing the commonalities in their shared experiences with the youth in the film they were able to empathize - to an extent, with the youth. In this way, I felt I had had some success. After reading @gnichols response to my blog post where he articulated the evolution of ‘technology-integration’ to ‘innovative teaching and learning’ I recognized why. The notion that innovative teaching and learning should keep the focus on the type of learning you want to happen (in this case I wanted my students to identify with the students in the video) and apply the relevant technology later rather than focussing on the tool you want to use. “Learning should always lead the conversation.”  

The piece that did not emerge, as I had anticipated, was the opportunity to develop a CAS project (action) as a result of seeing the film. Though we discussed opportunities for action within our local community, the bit that is missing for me as an educator is 'what comes after the VR experience'?  Unicef and other organizations have had positive results from the use of VR for fundraising, but they comment that it can be improved as a tool for action as the technology improves and incorporates artificial intelligence in order to leverage collaboration among diverse stakeholders. One Unicef representative puts it this way: "Then we can design activities that are really out there to ask people to use their brains and use their hands and their capacity to help us solve certain problems.  That's a very different thing than just saying, 'Hey, give money, this thing is really sad.'" (Watercutter, 2016)

Using VR as an 'empathy machine' has its detractors too.  For one, empathy is inherently biased; we must imagine that if empathy is employed through VR as a tool for pursuasion, then the emotion could be exploited for all sides of an argument.  In addition, if VR films are made to appeal to certain audiences by others like the audience members then the experiences run the risk of using a new medium to reinforce old forms of bigotry. Ethan Shaftel, creator of the Tribeca VR film Extravaganza believes that “VR is an immersion machine.  It can and does transport you. But in many ways, you bring your ‘you-ness’ with you.”  (Robertson, 2017)

Again, this idea put forth by 'The Innovators Mindset' author George Couros, that content knowledge is crucial in a time of innovation.  I would add that in addition to knowledge and context, training in SEL (social emotional learning) competencies would add value in achieving ‘compassionate empathy’.


 After a productive Google hangout with @Ddoucet and @lmustard, I started to realize that I didn't want to limit my investigation of empathy only to how we might leverage tech to integrate empathy into the curriculum.  The design thinking process was something investigated as a professional goal last year and wanted to learn more about this year. My action plan morphed a little here to encompass curriculum design structures / teaching strategies as a way of integrating empathy into the curriculum.

 There are two assessments I am creating / revising this year which incorporate the design thinking process into a summative design challenge. My Geography Diploma 1 (Grade 11) teaching partner and I are thrilled to be partnering with Maximum City not-for-profit working with schools, governments and communities to learn and live in better cities.  Our design challenge will involve students working in design teams to create their vision of a sustainable urban future for Toronto in 2050.   The challenge question for students will be  - what information do you need to know about city dwellers in 2050?  What will their needs be?  This will require the application of foresight to empathy, which is another whole area of interest to me.  This process will begin with an empathy mapping exercise on May 9th of this year.  

Last year, I created a design challenge (in partnership with  Maximum City) for my Grade 10 Geography students around the question: How might we design a more accessible transit system in Toronto?  What I learned from the experience was that I hadn't tested my assumptions quite thoroughly enough! I assumed that all students would be familiar with the TTC as regular riders.  I recognized immediately that this was not the case. As such, I am adjusting the beginning phase of the project to include a more structured empathy mapping exercise following a 'day out on the TTC'.  I hope to have students identify areas of need around the city and then go and 'ride the rocket' in these areas so that they might more critically empathize with issues of accessibility facing TTC riders.

Grade 10 Students: How might we design a more accessible transit system in Toronto?


Next, I took part in a few conversations involving our school strategy in the areas of well-being, international mindedness and innovation.  I started to notice that empathy seemed to be a key point of intersection. At this point, my interest crossed the zone of being something that was relevant in the classroom context to something more relevant to whole school culture. These conversations have been even more interesting for me because in exploring the Strategic Plan links I had the chance to speak to our IT Director, Head of Talent Management & Strategy & the Director of our Chandaria Research Centre. I found a multiple perspective conversation on this topic to be an excellent lens through which to view the intersections of strategy with the development of a "culture of empathy".  

It seems to me that our core strategic directions of academics and research are informed by the direction we take on wellbeing, international mindedness and innovation.  These priorities cannot exist in silos and, from my initial conversations with colleagues, affirms that empathy is more than a simple connector, it is the subterranean roots that hold our strategy together.  It is the thread throughout these priorities that reinforces our mission:  "Each day, we challenge and inspire girls to love learning and to shape a better world."

My third pivot was directed at strategy; how might we harness the power of our strategic plan to integrate empathy into our school culture?  This is the point at which I changed the wording of my action plan (visible in my slide deck) to "How might we integrate empathy into school culture to encourage action?"


Whether we approach the integration of empathy through technology, curriculum design, teaching strategies or strategic plans, it is clear to me that as The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley notes  "as children master their own emotions and understand the perspectives of others, they will also be able to control, develop, connect and motivate themselves more effectively."  Establishing a culture of empathy then, is likely to achieve the nurturing and development of positive institutional relationships, without which project based learning and collaboration exercises that rely on students' ability to empathize  and care about their learning are less likely to succeed.  In terms of the development of 21st century skills, the importance of fostering this 'soft skill' cannot be overemphasized.


  • I plan to pursue involvement in strategic plan discussions in the areas of innovation and international mindedness
  • In preliminary discussions with my Instructional Leader I am planning to lead a discussion within my  department around how we might harness compassionate empathy and profile our curricular and co-curricular offerings as necessary complements to STEM education and the innovation agenda.
  • I am going to miss the F2F sessions so much that I propose to get the ball rolling on a bi-monthy Cohort Alumni Pub night to keep the conversations going, stay tuned!

This has been the best PD that I have ever engaged in.  I really want to thank all the leaders, coaches, mentors and my peers for your hard work, insight, positivity, support and most of all for creating a space to evolve my practice in a way that was unique and incredibly meaningful for me. My gratitude to you all.

“When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things. I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly…”


Works Cited

Clouds Over Sidra.  Dir. Gabo Arora and Barry Pousman.  VRSE, 2015. YouTube. Web. 10                           September 2017.

“Educating for Empathy.” Greater Good Magazine. UC Berkeley, 18 July 2012.  Web. 10 January                2018.

Ugolik, Kaitlin.  “How virtual reality can make people more empathetic.” Narratively, 19                            November 2017. Web. 10 Jan. 2018.    

Juliani, A.J. & Spencer, John.  Empower. Canterbury: IMpress, 2017. Print

Milk, Chris. “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine.” TED. 22 April 2015.               Lecture.

Robertson, Adi. "VR was sold as an empathy machine - but some artists are getting sick of it."                The Verge, 03 May 2017. Web. 10 January 2018

Watercutter, Angela. “VR films work great for charity, what about changing minds?” WIRED, 03                  January 2016. Web. 10 January  2018