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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!



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: https://katielmartin.com/author/31katie/  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.



Source: Michel Bednarek, Dreamstime.com

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  https://www.ideou.com/products/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.  https://thecubeschool.ca/wordpress-workshops/   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:  https://medium.com/@sandeeteach/8-ways-to-lead-a-mindset-shift-for-teachers-327dc0544f39


  • 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.


Hi there Cohorters!

I hope everyone has had a great break from their routines these past couple of weeks.  I have just returned refreshed from rural Cuba, tech-free, advertising free and utterly in slo-mo for the last week. Bliss.

I have found in my Cohort experience that many little side-bar projects have crept into what i am now classifying as 'Cohort Plans' ... action plan yes, still working, but in talking with so many amazing educators there have also been so many other things I want to try out.  So today I tackled one of them.  @mbrims inspired me to try out Parlay with my IB diploma Geography students as a great way of recording observations and conversations.  After Bobby's talk at the last F2F I was determined to add Parlay to my tookbox.

Today I went online and a chat box popped up from Katryn at Parlay ... she connected with me immediately and through video conference was able to help me set up my first online round table as a conclusion to a unit on hazards and risk assessment ... I recognized upon walking through the program that this would be an incredible way for me to do two things:  1.  Really use discussion as a way to measure student ability to synthesize and evaluate concepts and 2.  Get some metrics on social / emotional learning in terms of student interaction.  Amazing!  I am trying this first day back (Tuesday for me)  I will report back on my attempt ...


I have spent a lot of time in 'thinking mode' since the last F2F. I had been worried about the fact that my action plan had not advanced to a great degree, yet I was still interested in my topic and so I took the advice I often give my students: keep reading, keep mulling things over, stay conscious and open minded, observe, listen, talk to others … and it worked.  My 'pivot' may have brought me to a more complex place, but I am ok with that; we are lifelong learners after all, and I am a great believer in the power of patience and perseverance.  I have been avoiding the blog, because in truth while I can get up every day in front of my students, I fret about putting my ideas out there into the ether unless they seem fully formed and coherent and able to contribute to advancing a conversation / process.  What I am learning is, it doesn't matter.  I should know by now that there is no learning without risk.

So, after an inspiring 'Google Meet' conversation last night with @ddoucet and @lmustard (thanks both!) Here is what I've been thinking about …

My initial question came from an article I read in the Harvard Business Reviewhttps://hbr.org/2017/06/in-the-ai-age-being-smart-will-mean-something-completely-different I was curious about what kind of skills would help our students to be 'future ready'.  The articles talks about how advancements in Artificial Intelligence will make traditional definitions of 'smart' obsolete since machines will be smarter than any human ever could be.  What will be required in the future, are people who possess the skills often associated with emotional intelligence; how one thinks, listens, relates and collaborates.  This launched a deep dive into the role of empathy and into the ways in which technology can be leveraged to infuse empathy into the curriculum in order to encourage action.  Now, the pivot.  As I read more I started to gravitate towards the idea that infusing empathy requires much more than a few one-off experiences, it cannot be an add-on; it would require a cultural shift in the approach to the set up of my classroom, the way I interact with my students and the teaching strategies I chose.  I realized that this is already happening in subtle ways, but that I would like to pursue this goal more explicitly / consciously.  Next, I was involved in a few conversations involving our school strategy in the areas of well-being, international mindedness and culturally responsive communities.  I started to really notice that empathy seemed to be a key point of intersection for all of this work.  I met with a couple colleagues involved with our strategic plan, and I intend to have a few additional discussions around these points of intersection in the next month.   I am still particularly interested to look at how the role of empathy can inform our strategy in the area of innovation.  In talking with colleague @sgupta and my Cohort coaches, I was encouraged to chase these ideas down the funnel into something manageable.  So, where am I going from here?  Well, I do have an interesting Design Challenge coming up with my Gr. 11's (DP1) .  Collaboratively, the students will work in design teams to create their vision of a sustainable urban future for Toronto in 2050.  We are thrilled to be supported by Maximum City http://www.maximumcity.ca in the development of this project and I feel that this project will provide an interesting opportunity for me to hone the development of empathy in a project-based way.  Design thinking will be applied and so the interesting 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.  Thank you dear blog readers for tuning in! Special thanks to Derek and Laura - I made my deadline! 🙂