About Me

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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A World Championship and a Group from Haiti: Intersections and Pathways

I’ve spent part of the past two days in Louisville, Kentucky helping a team from College Regina Assumpta, an all-girls school we work with in northern Haiti. They are participating in the VEX Robotics World Championship. It is a competition involving more than 600 teams from 35 countries. I would guess that more than 10,000 people are in attendance. It is an amazing spectacle to observe.
The Regina team including (L-R) myself, Dr. Allyson Watson (Northeastern State U), Samson (coach), our two Regina student participants, Sr. Yanick (principal), and Jhonel Morvan (co-leader of Laurier Educator Institute)
What is particularly amazing is that a group of four from Haiti – two students, a coach, and a principal – were able to get US visas to attend. They each paid for their own flights – over $700 US each. They brought the robots and tools that we had worked with them on when the program was initiated in October, 2015 – just six months earlier!

As amazing as the fact that the team got visas and was able to get the money for flights is the support that they have received to even make this a possibility. Teams of individuals have supported them by finding funds to cover the registration fees, arranging hotel accommodations, mentoring them on the robotics and coding involved, providing meals and refreshments, and cheering them on in every aspect of the competition. Much of this has been the vision of Dr. Allyson Watson who began working with us in Haiti a year ago and who you can see in the first picture above.

Two nights ago, 20+ people gathered at a colleague’s house in Louisville as we celebrated the fruition of years of work. Our host was Dr. Gaetane Jean-Marie who had found me nearly ten years ago through a Google search when she was looking for people engaged with educational leadership work in Haiti. I happened to be in Port au Prince at the time and we actually Skyped that very evening. Dr. Jean-Marie is originally from Haiti and has held leadership positions at a number of US universities. But she has never forgotten her roots and her desire to support capacity-building in Haiti. Since that virtual meeting, we have published articles together, written book chapters, and co-edited a book. She is certainly an inspirational leader (see my previous blog post!).
Dr. Gaetane Jean-Marie on the far left
There are so many aspects to the work we have been doing in Haiti that are simply breath-taking. Being at a dinner with young girls who have the potential to be future leaders in Haiti as well as those who are supporting the structures and capacities to allow that to happen should remind us all of the importance of having a vision and working together to accomplish that vision.

All this makes me wonder if we will look back in 5 or 10 or 20 years and see these "intersections" as critical "pathways" in developing the educational capacity of Haiti? I am optimistic that it will be so.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Who inspires you?

I have a good friend who has taken a "personal sabbatical" this year. She is traveling, reflecting, and writing on "educators who inspire." She is interviewing innovative and inspirational educators and then providing a video snapshot of the interview.

Her name is Roopa Reddy and I love what she is doing!

Here's her first video with Aaron Eden from The Green School in Bali (click on the underlined text): Aaron Eden, The Green School

I first came across The Green School through a TED Talk featuring the founder, John Hardy (click on the underlined text): TED Talk of John Hardy

Her second video features Veronica Puech from Kalapa Learning Community in Bogota. I love Veronica's emphasis on holistic education! To watch this 6 minute video, click on the underlined text: Veronica Puech, Kalapa Learning Community

To find out more about Roopa, check out her website and blog:  http://www.edumodels.ca/

I am inspired by watching these videos and listening to these passionate and innovative educators. I'm also inspired by Roopa who has taken a risk by leaving academic life (at least temporarily) and who is searching for global insights into what education might look like going forward.

I'm also inspired by people who work at a local, and often un-noticed, level. I have a friend who has taught grade 7 and 8 for 25 years, often in really challenging school contexts. He is an amazing educator who draws little attention to himself but has significantly impacted many young people. I'm amazed by one of our Laurier grads of just two years ago who is working in Attawapiskat, a First Nations community in the far north of Ontario, which has been rocked by suicides and attempted suicides. I'm inspired by a young teacher I met in a very rural Haitian community who often teaches 80 or more students of all grades, often not receiving a pay cheque on a regular basis.

In both local and global contexts, we are surrounded by educators who inspire.

Roopa has reminded me to reflect and be thankful for the many educators who have inspired me.

Who has inspired you?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Supporting STEM for girls in Haiti ... involvement in a world championship

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

A year ago, Dr. Allyson Watson from Northeastern State University (Oklahoma) accompanied our Laurier team to Haiti as she explored ways to support girls and STEM in Haiti. She was an integral part of our team and came away with a vision for developing a robotics team at an all-girls school in Cap-Haitien.

Dr. Watson invited Miller Roberts III, the VP of Robotics Education and Competition Foundation, to share in her vision. He did in a very practical way by accompanying us to Cap a few months later and providing the resources and training that would support a team. I have posted pictures of that experience on this blog last October.

Miller returned to Cap a month later to ensure the team was well established. He also hired some young mentors to help facilitate the team's development.

Now the vision of Dr. Watson, Miller, and others of us who have supported this effort is taking a further amazing step. A Haitian team of two girls, a principal, and a mentor were able to receive visas to come to the robotics world championship in Louisville. A team of incredible people have stepped up to help this team with many aspects - from helping with hotel rooms to welcoming activities to printing t-shirts for them to wear.

The opportunity to participate in a competition like the world championship in Louisville is incredible. Although the team has only been together for 6 months, this opportunity could serve as a catalyst to really encourage girls to pursue classes and careers in engineering and technology. It is phenomenal that this has all come together in just a few months. But it's a testimony to the power of what happens when a "village" determines to make a difference.

This summer, a Laurier team of 30 educators will be building on this work as we support the professional development of teachers in Cap-Haitien. A key focus area is STEM. We need Haitian teachers who are passionate about science and engineering to support students who have interest in this area. We particularly need female teachers to encourage and empower female students. We are already seeing the fruit of this effort and I look forward to seeing it multiplied.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

International Women's Day: One Day I Will ... in Haiti

If you used Google today, you probably saw the short accompanying video celebrating International Women's Day with the open-ended statement "One day I will..."

The video reminded me of a video we captured in Haiti last year - with both female and male Haitian and Canadian students - in which they talked about their aspirations for the future.

You can watch the video by clicking here.

It also reminded me of the powerful female educators I have worked with in Haiti. The following are pictures of three of them: one Haitian, one American, and one Canadian. The work we are doing to support programs and opportunities for young girls in Haiti, particularly in science and engineering, is largely due to people such as these. Today I celebrate and honor them!

Sr. Vierginat, Director of College Regina Assumpta, a school dedicated to female empowerment in Haiti.
Dr. Allyson Watson, professor from Northeastern State University, who is committed to female empowerment, both in Haiti and urban US.
Judy Halpern, a colleague from Laurier, who epitomizes integrity and creativity in teaching, whether in Haiti, Nepal, or Canada.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Laurier Educator Institute Haiti update

Our plans for the August summer institute in northern Haiti continue to develop nicely.

Our core leadership team is now in place and we have confirmed with our school partners in Haiti the core subject areas that will be the focus of the educator workshops: math, science, critical literacy, special education, school leadership, and early learning. The core leadership team includes people from Ontario's French language school boards, public school boards, the Ministry of Education, and faculty from Laurier.

Recently, Laurier sent out a notice to alumni inviting them to consider participating. To read this announcement, please click here.

We are anticipating 300 Haitian educators and a team of up to 30 Canadian and US educators will be involved. Over the 5 year period that we have committed to the summer institute, we are expecting to engage 1,000 Haitian teachers and principals. The team will also include a group of Laurier teacher candidates who will participate as part of an "alternative placement". This provides an amazing opportunity for our emerging teachers to gain a greater global perspective and to interact with educators from diverse regions of the world.

I am also really excited about a summer camp that will run parallel to the summer institute. We are expecting a number of school-aged students from Canada and the US to be part of the camp and to play and learn with their Haitian counterparts. Again, this provides an amazing opportunity for young people - whether Haitian, Canadian, or American - to learn from and with each other. A group from the US will be leading a special science and technology component of the camp with a focus on robotics.

I am delighted that the videographer who accompanied the Laurier team last May and developed the following video will be joining us again to capture the key learning experiences of the Laurier Educator Institute:

Click here to watch a 5 minute video on Laurier's work in northern Haiti

One last exciting note: We are now in the midst of looking to see about Laurier Educator Institutes being developed for other parts of the world!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A More Beautiful Question (Or, how to lead a 3 hour class with one question and a map)

One of the books I read over the holidays was A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.
 Image result for a more beautiful question

The book provoked some ideas and led to a re-write of a course I am teaching this winter term. In fact, my first 3-hour class yesterday was developed a after reading this book. The entire class was based on one question and one map. Yes, a 3 hour class.

I was nervous.

At the end, I asked the students if the class had been a success or failure. The answer: We're doing something similar next week.

Teaser: You'll have to contact me if you want to know the question or the map!

The second chapter of the book was particularly helpful for me as it focused significantly on schooling: What are schools for and what kind of schools do we want?

Here are some of the key quotes, questions, and comments from this section that resonated with me:

A good question is like “a lever used to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can.”
               Frances Peavey

“I know more about my ignorance than you know about yours.”
               Richard Saul Wurman (founder of TED)

Children are like …
… scientists because they turn over rocks and mash things together.
… anthropologists because they don’t just conduct experiments, they ask the people around them questions
               Berger, 2014, p. 42

Should we abandon the failed experiment of teaching facts?
               Seth Godin

We’re moving from an industrial society to an entrepreneurial society … trade in the factory model of schooling for a questioning model.
               Berger, 2014, p. 48

What if our schools could help students be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change? How might we create such a school?
               Berger, 2014, p. 49

What would it look and sound like in the average classroom if we wanted to make “being wrong” less threatening?
               Deborah Meier

If not now, then when? If not me, then who?
               Mick Ebling

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Moving Trees: Social Change and Social Capital in Action

My research is largely focused on how social change happens in contexts such as Haiti. I have written extensively about how social change is often accomplished through the use of social capital, the ways in which humans form networks to accomplish a commonly beneficial goal.

Examples of this are all around us.

Someone sees a need in the community for a food program. They invite others to join them. Collectively, the group works to meet the need.

A person recognizes that children from the community have to travel a distance to get to a school. They establish a school. Parents and teachers join them to provide the financial capital and human resources to meet the need.

People recognize that others are being displaced from their homes due to a war. They join together to supply resources and means to meet the needs of the refugees.

A child thinks that a school could do a better job dealing with left-overs from student lunches. She talks with the principal, teachers, and students to organize a school organic waste program.

Teachers need training to more effectively meet student needs. Educators from Haiti, Canada, and the US join together to provide mentoring and resource-sharing (this last one may sound familiar).

Recently, I came across this video which provides a short (2+ minutes), but compelling, lesson on how change can happen when people join together to accomplish a task. Enjoy!

Lead India - The Tree (click here to watch the video - first 15 seconds will be an advertisement)