Permission in the pandemic

This pandemic has given me moments to pause and reflect – and almost more importantly, permission to try new things, new strategies and new ways of thinking. In reflection, I have given myself permission to go with teaching big, learning big and taking different types of risks in my classroom. I am so incredibly grateful to be joining #cohort21 season 9 as a coach. With this level of support, it’s so exciting to be dreaming big, pivoting and creating change.

What would you wish?

If I had some wishes I could grant to each student leaving grade 8, I would want my students to leave middle school being confident that they are able to learn, it might look different from someone else, but they can learn. I want them to leave being an advocate for themselves. I want them to trust that their ideas have value and should be shared with others, that their contributions to our class, and society at large, make a difference. I want my students to believe they have a right to take up space, to question in a respectful way and to be confident in knowing that they are able to change their minds as they learn and grow. I want my students to respect differences in opinions, ideas and cultures and be open to learning why someone might do something differently. I want my students to spread kindness.  It would be nice if they remembered a thing or two about rearranging algebraic formulae too.

What would you wish for your students?

Building Community

How might we build community amongst grade 7 students as a way to create spaces where these students can take academic and social risks in any classroom space?

These past few weeks have been exciting with the end of the year (2019, not the academic year) wrap up. We committed to a few events as a class and found success with them. One event was supporting a family in our community through a Christmas basket program. As a class, we donated towards a larger school goal and created cards for our families.

We also held a hot chocolate and candy cane party where students were able to bring in their favourite mugs and tell stories about these mugs as we filled them with hot chocolate and chatted about anticipated plans for the holidays.

Today, we returned and in the spirit of building community we spent a lot of time listening to each other describe highlights, and memorable moments. Fear not, those of you reading who are worried about kids who did not have a great holiday. I sent emails, checked in with kids over the break, and before returning and knew what safe questions we could ask in our space without making it uncomfortable for anyone, but in a way that let everyone share something and be involved.

We then took some time to complete a “more of….less of….. in 2020” and we spent some time independently looking at what we want more of in 2020 and what we want less of in 2020. We then collated the lists and created a class list of 6 “more of….less of” ideas to focus on this year.

When this was done, we spent some time reviewing our agreements from September that hang on our wall regarding class norms and discussed/reviewed what each norm might look like over the next few weeks.

The curriculum can wait a day or two, routines need to be established and students need to know that I’ve missed them and am cheering for their next success.

Project31 and Community

I work at a school that prides itself on community. We do an awesome job investing in our kids. Last year my #cohort21 project took a very academic route. I looked at peer to peer feedback last year. This year I want to take a more social look based on the conversations I’ve had with my students and the survey feedback they have given me. I want to help my homeroom create a cohesive community by offering them a wide variety of learning experiences that help them both grow as individuals, but also as a community.

We’ve started with a few small team-building challenges that looks both at the communication of words and communication without words. Early in October we started planning for “Project 31”, a Halloween event and each and every one of my 19 students dressed up like a chocolate bar for Halloween and we passed out chocolate bars to the whole school.

We’ve got plans to volunteer with BINGO at a seniors complex, and we are going to go watch some basketball games in the coming months to cheer on our classmates who are on the teams (basically, all but 2 students in our class).

I’m not sure if after out meeting this will be the direction of my project this year, or if this will be just something I do to strengthen the community feel in my own homeroom class. Either way, I’m excited to see where we go from here. After all, this is just the beginning.


The cohort21 experience was amazing today. I am always blown away by the experiences and expertise of the people in the room.  There are people there who have done some AMAZING things and everyone is so excited to share their knowledge to help others, but in a really genuine way (read: not in a bragging way).

As I sit in the airport, I’m sort of struck by how the people here are like teachers at school. Everyone is busy, everyone has a destination in mind, there are timelines and sometimes time crunches. Sometimes you have time to eat, sometimes you eat on the run. Occasionally you have time to go to the bathroom and everyone is carrying around way too many bags.

As we look to build our action plans in the next week – don’t be afraid to sit on the airport floor by the nearest charger and just watch.  What the people, their struggles, their successes and ask yourself: What are the issues you see arising? What are the current solutions? Is this something in your sphere of influence? Is there someone in your school working on this issue? Is there someone in #cohort21 alum directory who has looked at this issue?

Once you think you have a handle on what you see, ask! People love to tell their stories, ask them and listen.


All the feelings

As I sit on the plane heading to #cohort21 I was struck by many of the same feelings I had last year when I really just had no idea what to expect other than to expect something awesome.

I know that the day is almost here and so many of you are excited and nervous about so much of the #cohort21 journey. I wanted to let you know that the feelings of excited and nervous are exactly the ones you need to get the most out of this journey.

You might be feeling excited because you are seeing this as an opportunity to make a change in teaching routine, or perhaps it is school culture that you want to change. Perhaps you have an inkling of an idea that will help students or teachers in your school, and this is the push to get it started. Whatever your action plan ends up being, know that we all want you to be successful, we want to help you and we are excited to see just how far you can take your action plan.

I hope that you can find a refreshing excitement that can come from being around so many genuine and caring professionals. Personally, I always return to school feeling like a first-year teacher – all shiny and full of bright ideas that are going to change my corner of the school.

You might be feeling nervous about thinking deeply about your own classroom practices and all of the things you might find once you really let yourself reflect on areas of improvement. I know this is how I was feeling before my first “onboarding”. I am well aware of my shortcomings (there are many) and as an educator and am constantly reflecting, reading, observing and working to change my practice to really become the teacher that I aspire to be for my students.

Maybe you are nervous because you just do not know what to expect, what kinds of questions we will ask and how you will find this mystery “action plan”. Know that this is OK too.  Know that even people coming with an idea will likely change parts of it. It’s OK if you do not decide what to focus on until long after Saturday once you have had time to digest the people and the sheer amount of collective knowledge at your disposal.

I want you to know however you walk into that room on Saturday, we are excited to have you all on board and know that we won’t make you skydive without a parachute.

Buzzing with Excitement

I wish that each of you could feel the vibe in the room today. Our grade 12’s are showing around students, parents are on campus and registration is happening as I write. There are welcome squeeeeeeles, delight and happiness along with the sound of families catching up, advisors talking to their students, and friends who have not seen each other all summer.

This year promises to be an exciting one filled with growth, both personally and professionally. I am so excited to start on my #cohort21 journey this fall as I know just how much the program gave me last year in time to reflect, permission to try new things and the grace with which to fail and try again knowing more.

I hope that those of you who are nervous embrace that feeling and use it to energize your own personal learning. Not everything will be perfect, in fact, most of it will be messy, but in the end, the learning for both you and your students will be beyond what you thought possible as you sit reading these words.

I am excited to meet each of you on this journey and hear about your ideas. I want to borrow your knowledge to expand my own understanding of teaching and I’m excited to be participating in #cohort21.

Mary-Ellen Wilcox

HMW and robots


I  found myself today starting a summer camp with a great group of excited students who want nothing more than to be THE ONE to build the robot, THE ONE to code the robot and THE ONE to make all the decisions about everything to do with their amazing robot. This is great until each student realized they had to share their robot with two other people who wanted to do exactly the same thing.

This got me thinking about sharing, group work, compassion, empathy, skill building and all of that lead me down a small rabbit hole where I was trying to work out what might be a week-long “how might we” question that I could focus on for the week that would lead to student growth not only in the areas around robotics but in the area of personal growth as well.

I think I am going to go without much more refinement than what I have now, which is “how might we use team building games to build community decision making”. I spent my non-computer troubleshooting time today coming up with that and seeing as how I only have these students for a week, I think this is what I am going to run with and see where I can get to with my littles.

When I think about team building games and community, I always think about TRIBES ( and one of my teachers from the BEd who was incredibly invested in the program. I have been known to use some of the team building games with my students at the start of the year,  or when we have a few minutes left of class but never before have I fully invested myself and my classroom into the whole process.

This has inspired me to try out investing myself for week-long intervals during the summer with successive camps and working out how some of the policies, community building and team ideas would work in my own classes this coming year.  I can see no fault with trying to create an increase in compassion, and community.

What are you doing this summer to ignite your passion for teaching and prepare yourself for 2019? Do you have a resource you want to invest your time in this summer to benefit your school year?



How do you keep momentum going into May?

hey pay attention


May in a boarding school is about as long as three minutes. There are activities, exams, trips, special functions, report cards, special one-day projects and drama and of course, a few days of classes between each of these things. Today, I gave an assignment and I want to spend the next class having the kids peer mark their assignments and this got me thinking about how my HMW question will fit into the 6 (!!eek!) classes I will have with my kids before exam reviews start since they are pulled in a bazillion directions for all kinds of really neat opportunities and experiences. I don’t want them to not take part in these special activities, but I am also aware of how little class time is left and how long peer evaluations take.

And this is the point I want to get to…when did me talking *to* the kids to cover that one last thing before exams become more important than letting the kids *do* the thing they need to learn skills that are completely necessary and super transferable between subjects and grade levels.

Really, who doesn’t need more time and space to practice becoming aware of their own shortcomings when completing assignments, and have the time and space they need to implement edits.  I have come to accept that understanding one more thing about tectonic plates probably won’t have that lasting impact I think it should have, but I do know that having the skills they need to think critically about their own work is going to have that impact.

This brings me to my HMW question and the fact that I need to write this blog to remind myself to be purposeful in allowing students the time they need to create, edit, reflect and implement. I need to be intentional in creating space in my last few lessons for students to continue on their learning journey.

How are you using those last few precious moments of class time?

A little video recap to kick off the celebration

It’s time to celebrate! It’s time to look at our own learning, look at our own growth and look at how this has positively impacted our students and possibly even other teachers in our buildings. It’s time to recognize the impact a year can have when we decide we want to make a change. It’s time to pat ourselves on the back, and it’s time to start reflecting on where this growth will lead us to next year. Some of us may choose to continue on the same path as we still have work to do with our HMW questions. Some of us may choose to tackle a question that came up this year, during our work with our 2018 HMW question. The best part – all of this celebrating is just the start of something great and you get to choose just how great it is going to be for HMW 2019.

I won’t be able to attend #cohort21’s final F2F as I am only a part-time attendee. That being said, I’ve created a video for you all so that you can see the journey we went on this year over in NB. The best part, for sure, is the student survey at the end of the video. Numbers don’t lie, and with numbers like these, I can’t wait to see where we go next with peer-to-peer feedback and resiliency. For those of you who want to see the feedback from our third lab a bit closer, I’ve posted the two photos below as they are either too blurry to read, or too far away to read in the video. I opted for too far away so you don’t think there is something wrong with your eyes.

The video link can be found by clicking these blue words.