Final reflections on CONT-702

As I wrap up the final module of my summer AQ, Integration of Information and Computer Technology in Instruction, Part 2, I am prompted to reflect on my learning. And what better place than a blog for doing that? 

Module 1: A Vision of 21st Century Learning

Module 1 focused on setting the stage for technology integration by emphasizing the philosophical and pedagogical basis for integration technology in the classroom. For me, this was really valuable, as one of my primary goals in the course was to develop my understanding of what it really means to integrate technology in a meaningful way, and not just as a fun add-on or an excuse to try out new tools (because, let’s face it, I really like trying out new tools!). Using technology can help to shift the classroom environment from the traditional, factory model of churning out clones to one that values innovation, creativity, problem-solving and collaboration. As the technology integration specialist at my school, I have a particularly important responsibility of vetting technology tools before introducing them to my colleagues, and so it is key that I ensure that I have this framework in mind at all times.

The suggestions of my fellow candidates of a couple of specific technologies piqued my interest as well. Anchor FM, a tool for creating and distributing podcasts, got me thinking about how easily podcasting would fit into my Comm Tech curriculum, and further discussions and modules really solidified for me the value of podcasting for developing student skills of communication and critical thinking. 

Module 2: The 21st Century Classroom

Module 2 focused on exploring inquiry-based, flipped, and blended learning. In this module, I was able to solidify my belief that going fully “flipped” in my classroom is not the way to go, but at the same time, I recognized that there are so many more ways of blending learning than simply using screencast videos to teach concepts. The value of blended learning was made more apparent, not just in its ability to support more personalized learning for students, but also in the way it takes advantage of existing resources and tech tools to free up the teacher to do impactful work beyond direct instruction, like providing more feedback and personalized support to students.  

The major assessment for this module was the creation of an inquiry-based lesson plan, and I was so excited to be able to take a couple of loose ideas that had been rolling around my brain for a while and fashion them into a coherent project plan that I will actually be able to use come September. 

Module 3: Instructional Strategies

The third module brought with it two more tasks that had immediately practical implications for the upcoming academic year. I got to explore augmented reality as a new instructional strategy and developed a project for my work with the grade 7 guidance classes next year. I also was tasked with creating a teacher workshop using one of several instructional strategies, and so I was able to create a complete resource for a Tech Breakfast for teachers in the fall, a practice I started this past spring and plan to continue. Two birds, one stone! 

Module 4: Connect!

This was another valuable module that focused on various ways of connecting – to students, to other teachers, to parents, and connecting our students to the wider world. I had two major takeaways from this unit. First, I want to be more proactive with my communication with parents to ensure that positive communication sets the tone for the year. Rather than communicating with parents only when something is going wrong, I want to share good news stories and successes from our class. Second, reflecting on the PLN that I have, between Twitter, blogging, reading blogs, and using Google Hangouts, I realized what a huge impact that my PLN has on my professional learning on a daily basis. I feel gratitude for having the opportunity to participate in these forums and learn from others who are far wiser and more experienced than I am. As a result, I want to share my experience with the faculty at my school, so I plan to run a Tech Breakfast all about dipping your toes into the PLN water in order to start taking charge of your own professional development. I got some great feedback from fellow candidates about making sure that this is done in a low-pressure way that is not intimidating.

Module 5: Skills for a Digital Age

Finally, module 5 focused on digital citizenship and 21st century skills. I got to explore new resources to support digital citizenship in the classroom, and I uncovered several ideas (from course readings and other candidates’ posts) for embedding these lessons as a regular part of my Comm Tech class. My work with the grade 7s on digital citizenship as part of their Guidance classes will benefit from the variety of resources, especially those from Common Sense education, that I discovered. 

Final reflection

At the start of this course, I made a commitment to myself not to use any existing projects or activities as a basis for my coursework. Instead, I would create something new for each task, and try to use new-to-me technologies, or tech tools that I wasn’t very comfortable with yet, in order to stretch myself. Although it meant that several of the tasks and assignments took me longer than perhaps they could have, I feel as though upon completion, I now have a whole new set of classroom activities that I can implement next year. Because I’ll be teaching a new course, doing this also helped me to get more familiar with my new curriculum and set up several activities and projects that I will be able to use in my planning. Going beyond what I already knew and did in my class forced me to think creatively and try new things, and I’m grateful for having done that. 

Going forward, I still hope to explore many of the instructional strategies that I didn’t have a chance to explore in depth, and I still feel like I could continue to hone my criteria for selecting and using technology in order to ensure impactful and transformative learning for my students. But I’ve expanded my PLN, engaged in meaningful discussions with my fellow candidates, and used a significant portion of my summer to grow as an educator and renew my commitment to life-long learning. So I would call that a success. Thanks for everything, CONT-702!

Building the CIS community through sport

Like most coaches, I breathe a huge sigh of relief when the season comes to an end. I love coaching my team, but it is a huge commitment that can mean long days and time away from my family. The snowboard season is no exception. Although we don’t have late games that follow a long day at work, we do have very early morning bus rides and a lot of full days away from school, which means writing lots of coverage and missing important meetings and work time. But most of us would have it no other way.

Sometimes we might wonder if it’s worth it. Does the benefit of the athletics experience for the students outweigh the costs of the missed class time? In my personal experience, especially coming off the end of this particular snowboard season, I would answer that with a resounding yes.

The CISAA snowboard league is a league like few others, I believe. Somehow, and I’m not sure how it was created, there is a true sense of community that exists amongst the athletes and the coaches. It was there before I became a snowboard coach and it continues today.

There are few other sports that run in the same way as snowboarding does. Alpine and nordic skiing, swimming, and track and field are the few that come to mind. Most regular season athletic competitions at our CIS schools consist of two teams meeting for an individual game or match. Think hockey or basketball. Instead, with snowboarding, at each weekly event, all schools are present together. The coaches are together on a weekly basis to run the events, we have a coaches’ meeting the morning of every event, and we often eat lunch together. This provides us with the opportunity to get to know one another, and it is something that I value so much. I feel a huge sense of community amongst the snowboard coaches, and this extends even to the athletes, who, despite competing against one another, seem to really support one another. This season’s OFSAA experience underscored that to me, and I thought it was worth sharing.

The Snowboard Cross event, although not technically part of OFSAA yet, is a great first example. Because the sport is so new, the provincial championship event runs not with school-based teams, but association-based teams. Each athletic association is able to send two teams of four females and two teams of four males. While each association is free to select their representative athletes however they choose, CISAA offers the spots to the top 8 male and female GS racers, thus forming teams that are made up of a mix of schools. This year, CDS, GCS, and SMCS made up our combination of athletes. (Athletes from LCS and HSC, though some qualified, were not able to attend this particular event.) As a group, led by CDS coach Andrew, we warmed up, trained, and competed. Even the coaches got in on the action, forming a coaches’ team to compete against the coaches from the other associations! (I thought I was going to die on the Craigleith Bowie Cross Track that day, but happily I survived with no serious damage inflicted.) And the results were impressive: the first CISAA girls’ team took gold, while the first CISAA boys’ team took third place. It was a privilege and a moment of pride to watch these athletes from various schools come together, work together, strategize and compete as a group, all representing CISAA.

Athletes from CDS, GCS and SMCS warm up before training on the Bowie Cross Track at Craigleith on Feb. 27.

CISAA’s 1st Girls team, made up of athletes from CDS and GCS, prepares to race at the Ontario High School Boardercross Championships on February 27. This team ended up taking first place!


The impressive CISAA coaches’ team (who took second place among the coaches, with absolutely no help from yours truly!)

That evening, the CDS team gathered for a team dinner. Or, I should say, it was supposed to be a team dinner. But the Sward family – a former CDS family whose two children were instrumental in getting the CDS snowboard team started several years ago – opened their home to not just all of the CDS athletes and their parents, but to all of the CISAA athletes and coaches who were up in Collingwood for the night. The result: a beautiful evening of #CISAAfam celebrating the almost-end of another snowboard season together. Coaches, parents, athletes, and even an athletic director breaking bread together in the spirit of community. It was an unforgettable evening, and it really underscored the potential for athletic endeavours such as snowboarding to create community.

Being part of the CISAA Snowboard group of coaches is such a highlight for me. It rivals Cohort 21 with regards to the supportive collegiality and the sense of belonging that I get from it. Here’s to another successful season behind us and, I hope, many more to come!


Coaches from CDS, SMCS, LS, GCS, and RLC celebrate at the CISAA Championship on February 20. (We missed HSC and half of RLC in this photo, unfortunately!)


Is this the new normal?

Day 8 of March Break. Despite a massive list of “to do’s” and goals for this much-needed mid-year respite, I’ve only just begun to scratch a few things off and am already feeling guilt about time misspent. Writing a blog post was certainly one thing on that list, in addition to renewing my Google L2 Certification, prepping my final units for the third term, and doing a video course on Adobe Premiere Pro. These are on top of the almost-too-many-to-list personal “to do’s” that have been waiting for months for me to tackle.

We keep reminding Cohort participants that there is no need to feel #cohortguilt, but then why do I feel it so constantly?

It’s not just #cohortguilt, either. I feel like I’m experiencing guilt in every area of my life these days, and I want to know: is this just par for the course now? Is this the new normal? Will I always now feel guilty if I send my daughter to daycare when I’m home from work? Will I ever have the chance to sit and read my book without feeling like I should be doing something more productive?

I’ve always valued my professional development so highly, so it’s really hard for me to admit that I don’t particularly want to spend my personal time to study for my recertification exam. I am not particularly keen on developing a rubric when it seems like everyone else is enjoying themselves on a tropical beach. I can’t bring myself to start that Premiere Pro course because I’m afraid it will end up being like every other online course I’ve started this year and didn’t finish.

Is this just how it’s going to be from now on?

Some thoughts on a snowy day

Today marks my fourth day in as many weeks working from home. The first day was due to extreme cold, the second due to a burst pipe and flooded Senior School, the third was due to freezing rain, and today’s is due to a “Colorado low” bringing a bunch of snow and freezing rain. But I’m starting to better understand the law of diminishing returns when it comes to snow days this year.

Don’t get me wrong: I love me a snow day like everyone else. The unexpected ones are the absolute best, when you’re dressed and about to walk out the door for work and you get the call to go back to bed. (Though I never go back to bed. A snow day is far too great a gift to be wasted with sleep!)

But this year, with four of these days already under our belt and no end of winter in sight, I’m starting to realize how much I must love my job when the thought of a snow day actually disappoints me a little bit!

I’m also starting to see the interconnectedness of what what we do, and how all of those moving parts that make up life in an independent school get a wrench thrown into them when the school is closed due to weather or other things. I ache for our drama department, who has had rehearsal after rehearsal cancelled due to these days. We’re too weeks from their winter production and they are desperate for rehearsal time. Tests and assignments have had to be cancelled and squeezed in on top of an already jam-packed academic schedule. Our poor athletic director has spent more time rescheduling cancelled games than he spent making the original schedule, I’m sure. As convenor of the CISAA snowboard league, I’ve spent hours on these “days off” writing emails trying to figure out what to do about our cancelled Championship event last week. I’m worried about whether our event tomorrow will be able to take place, and if it can’t, what it will mean for our now rescheduled event for next week. (Can you even imagine it – a snowboard league that wishes we didn’t have quite as much snow?!)

Our schools are filled with such a rich abundance of activities that everyone is now feeling the squeeze. It just makes me realize how valuable the work is that we do on a daily basis – not just our teaching but all of the other activities that we do: the trips that we chaperone, the plays that we direct, the parent phone calls that we make, the administrative forms that we fill out…. A snow day is a lovely break from all of that but in the end, it seems to create even more work for a lot of people.

So on this cold, blustery snow day, I’m very grateful not to have to drive back and forth to work (and I’m using my time to really try to get caught up on work!) but I am also cognizant of how will affect others. Be safe and warm today, friends!

On failure and taking risks

Just before the break, my Director of Academics asked me to speak in Monday’s academic-themed assembly – the first day back from the break. I’m not sure why he tapped me on the shoulder, and I immediately recoiled from the idea, but I knew that I had some ideas that were worth sharing with the student body. They were about taking risks and managing failure, so it only made sense that I lead by example and step out of my own comfort zone, take a risk, and write something to share with the school, no matter how difficult it might be for me. 

Then the holidays hit, and along with them, a nasty bout of bronchitis and strep throat, which meant I completely lost my voice for almost a week and am just now getting it back. I’m not sure if I’ll be well enough to speak in tomorrow’s assembly. Nevertheless, I wrote the piece that I intended to share and figured I would share it here with you in case it doesn’t otherwise leave the Google Doc on my computer. 

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said this: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” He was talking about the multiple unexpected turns his life took, and the various failures along the way, like dropping out of university and being fired by Apple, and how they eventually, and surprisingly, ended up as being the things that led to his greatest successes. What he meant was that as much as he could have tried to plan the direction his life and his career were going to go, inevitably there are things that happen to derail that train. But in the end, those setbacks and those failures can end up being the milestones along a very successful journey.

So why am I talking about Steve Jobs? Because he embodied what the most successful people around us are all about: taking risks, making mistakes, and finding their way to success in spite and because of them.

Taking risks and failing at things that we try is something of particular interest to me recently, and so I wanted to share these thoughts with you today. As many of you know, I have a one and a half year old daughter. Although in teacher’s college I learned all about what is happening in the brain as we learn something new, my understanding about how learning happens has never been as clear as it is now. As I watch my daughter navigate this huge, unknown world, it’s almost like I can see the synapses forming in her brain, right before my eyes. Everything that she sees being done, whether it’s watching me put my shoes on or brush my teeth,  she immediately wants to try to replicate. And in doing so, she makes a LOT of mistakes. She fails. All the time.

Not too long ago, she was very interested in the cutlery that we were using to eat our dinner. So of course she wants to try it. Me, being the adult, of course, was worried about the mess that would surely ensue. And that is because the danger of failure is ingrained in me. But I handed her a spoon and a bowl of applesauce, and she missed her mouth more than she found it. And she turned the spoon upside down on the way and spilled applesauce all over herself. But as time went by, every time she got a bit more applesauce in her mouth. She got a bit better. She stayed a bit cleaner. And this is how we learn.

Children decide they want to do something and they try it. They don’t worry about looking silly, or what it will say about them and their worth as a person if they fail at it the first time (or the second time or the third time). They keep trying, over and over again until they get it. But as we grow up, we become more and more worried about failure. We worry what people will think of us. We worry what failing at something will mean for our future. And so we stop taking risks, and we start sticking with the “safe” route, to make sure that we’ll be successful. And I’m telling you all right now that doing this really takes the fun out of learning.

Let me ask you this: Have any of you ever had a choice on an assignment or project in school where you could decide to do the “safe” thing – the thing you already know you can do successfully – or you could choose to do something maybe a bit more creative? Or out there? Or something new to you that maybe you’ve always wanted to try doing? How many of you, when thinking about that scenario, would choose the “safe” route? Kudos to you if you would go the route of trying something new.

Your teachers aren’t immune from these fears either. Teachers, how many of you have tried an innovative new lesson only to have it blow up in your face and be a complete and utter disaster? Did you reflect, re-evaluate and try to tweak it to try it again? Or did you say “forget it” and toss out that idea and never return to it again?

The thing is, if we don’t take risks and we aren’t willing to try something new, we will never leave our comfort zone. And it is by leaving our comfort zone that the magic happens.

Term two is about to begin. Soon, the student services team will begin their sessions to introduce the course selection process. As you consider your options, think about signing up for that course that you’ve always been interested in but weren’t going to take because it wasn’t part of the “master plan” for your university and career plans. Think about checking out a course that maybe none of your friends are taking but you’re actually interested in the subject matter. And think about enrolling in the course that maybe you know you will struggle with a bit, that course where you know you won’t achieve 95% but it sounds fascinating. Because you know why? You’ll probably actually learn something along the way.

There is no shame in engaging in the struggle of learning. There is only shame in avoiding the challenges that will cause you to grow and stretch and change as a learner. I’ll leave you with this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech often referred to as “the Man in the Arena”:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

All images created in Canva. The design of the “Comfort zone” image was not an original idea – I’ve seen it many times in a similar format, but couldn’t find one that was labelled for re-use.