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.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Haiti Educator and Leadership Institute 2017: 4 week countdown

Yesterday, our Haiti group met for an afternoon of planning and cultural learning. This was the first time that the various participants met as a group and, with four weeks remaining until we embark, there was a lot of information to be covered. I am always amazed at the various strengths of the groups that have engaged in our initiatives in Haiti and this year's group is no different.

The core of what we do in Haiti is represented by the instructors and assistants who instruct professional learning courses in the Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI). This year we have 16 instructors and assistants who will be teaching 12 courses. It is quite the logistical challenge to coordinate the courses, activities, and resources but our instructors seem up to the challenge once again. They are already discussing and planning for how to model experiential and active learning in their classrooms in Haiti.

Our Laurier teacher candidates and recent graduates are also key to a successful ELI. They have been working on developing activities in science, engineering, ecology, and the arts for a camp involving 100-150 Haitian children. With assistance from Canadian and Haitian high school students, this group includes three Laurier alumni who participated last year and who are providing leadership for the camp. They also will be involved in an English as a Second Language program for Haitian university students each afternoon which is always a highlight.

A number of other key individuals and organizations are represented in this year's ELI. First, Desire2Learn is supporting three employees will be leading workshops on online learning and assisting in various parts of ELI. Second, a long-term participant in our work in Haiti, who was instrumental in our BlackBerry leadership group, is coming with his family. He is now an executive with Apple and will be leading workshops on leadership and technology. Third, a group including university faculty members and a government researcher will be leading a number of research projects that are exploring the effectiveness of what we do in Haiti. Finally, coordinating the entire effort are a number of people with significant administrative skills.

There are 42 Canadians involved in ELI but we will be seen as ONE team. It takes a team to make ELI effective!

We are fortunate to have such a strong and diverse group. But what gives me confidence in the potential success of this group is the clear commitment to cultural humility and reciprocity, two fundamental values that we hold tightly to.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Imagining "roads under rivers": Reflecting on glocal perspective building

Years ago, I remember arriving at the Port au Prince airport in Haiti and having a great conversation with Jimmy, the person who picked me up. As a young person who had never been out of Haiti, he wanted to know about life in Canada. I'll never forget two questions that Jimmy asked:

"Dr. Sider, is it true that in Canada you have roads that go under rivers?"

It took me a few seconds to understand what I was being asked... tunnels!

After I tried to explain the utility and purpose of tunnels, he asked me another road question:

"And is it also true that you have roads that go over top of other roads?"

Again, it took me a few seconds to figure out that he was referring to highway overpasses.

We had a great conversation that day about perspectives. I took tunnels and overpasses for granted but for Jimmy, they were outside of his lived experience. He could only imagine what it must be like to drive under a body of water or for one highway to cross over top of another one.

Over the years, I've remembered that conversation with clarity. It has kept me mindful of the assumptions we make and the importance of engaging in dialogue. Too often, we are silent when we don't understand why someone acts or talks like they do. We are hasty in our judgement. We distance ourselves from "the other."

Jimmy's questions led to a great discussion about similarities and differences between Haitian and Canadian roads. On a deeper level, the discussion helped us both realize that despite our differences, we had much in common.

This is a lesson that I wish for the world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Visualizing our research in Haiti

One of my favourite websites is Our World in Data (click here) which does an incredible job in helping us visualize data. Hans Rosling, who can be considered the father of this type of work, gave a great TED Talk which can be viewed here (click here). It has been watched nearly 12 million times and I include it as an activity that my students complete in one of my courses.

There is something powerful about being able to "see" data. Statistics (and statistical measures) can seem dry and boring. However, when we put statistics and other forms of data into picture form it can make them more accessible.

We are currently engaged in a number of research projects in Haiti. One of our tasks is to work at depicting what these projects "look like". We also need to mobilize the results of these studies so that the data does not just sit in research reports but is helpful for those who are engaged in the day-to-day work of improving classroom experiences for students.

To start with, here is a very early depiction of the on-going and emerging research projects we are engaged with in Haiti (as well as one project that is under consideration). It is important to have a research "pipeline" so that our work builds on previously completed projects and leads to new questions and ideas. I have already published multiple journal articles and book chapters on previous research projects (e.g., case studies of innovative school leadership, digital professional learning).

I will be curious as to how this visualization changes over the months ahead; another example of  the ways in which research is organic and living.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Poverty and biology: The magnified challenge of breaking out of poverty

I recently read an article that made a persuasive case for how poverty is more than "simply" a socio-economic condition that can be changed if we just work hard enough.

Here is the author's supposition:

We’ve learned that the stresses associated with poverty have the potential to change our biology in ways we hadn’t imagined. It can reduce the surface area of your brain, shorten your telomeres and lifespan, increase your chances of obesity, and make you more likely to take outsized risks.

Now, new evidence is emerging suggesting the changes can go even deeper—to how our bodies assemble themselves, shifting the types of cells that they are made from, and maybe even how our genetic code is expressed, playing with it like a Rubik’s cube thrown into a running washing machine. If this science holds up, it means that poverty is more than just a socioeconomic condition. It is a collection of related symptoms that are preventable, treatable—and even inheritable. In other words, the effects of poverty begin to look very much like the symptoms of a disease.

If you have 15 minutes and the interest, I would encourage you to read the entire article: Why Poverty is Like a Disease by Christian Cooper (click here for the article).

Reading the article made me wonder about those who live in impoverished conditions around the world, whether in urban or rural communities in Canada or Haiti or elsewhere. There are people who make their way out of poverty - for many of the reasons that the author of the article attributes to his own movement out of poverty - yet, many more remain in poverty generation after generation.

Poverty might mean that a 10 year old child does not attend school. Or, if she does, that she only receives a minimal amount of food, thus, preventing her from concentrating on the work at school. Or wondering what will happen when his mother or father can't pay the bill for him to attend school the next month (remember that in much of the world, school tuition and fees are the norm). Or having to work every night to help provide some money for the family. Or questioning what the child will do upon graduating from elementary school when opportunities for secondary school are limited.

Worse, as the article suggests, poverty might actually influence the genetic make up of those impacted by it, even to two generations later. So, poverty has significant immediate, short-term, and long-term implications.

So, what is our response and our responsibility as educators and community leaders?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Too poor for loans: Fonkoze micro-finance in Haiti

I listened to a great podcast today on how a Haitian non-governmental organization is making a big difference for the very poorest people of Haiti.

To Fool the Rain: Haiti's Poor and Their Pathway to a Better Life (click on the link to access the one hour podcast)

The podcast highlights a Haitian micro-finance called Fonkoze (click on link to learn more).

One of their programs provides grants to "ultra poor" women in Haiti. The interviewee indicates that these women typically don't have the means to be able to even pay back a small loan. If they make $1.25/day, they are making too much to qualify for the program.

Although our Haiti Educator and Leadership Institute doesn't work directly with the ultra poor of Haiti, our premise is that by appropriately supporting and equipping teachers, we will positively impact the lives of their students who might grow up in incredibly impoverished households.

There are different ways for people to move out of poverty. Certainly, micro-loans can support the ability of individuals to become self-reliant. Education is another means and we must recognize that these are not in competition with each other but are, in fact, part of a holistic approach to development and capacity-building.

Monday, April 17, 2017

2017 Haiti Educator and Leadership Institute countdown

We are just about thee months from this year's Educator and Leadership Institute in Cap-Haitien, Haiti and there have been some exciting developments:

1. Instructional team doubles to accommodate a new cohort of Haitian participants. 
We will be taking 12 instructors with us this year to teach two cohorts of teachers (each cohort will include approximately 150 participants). We are offering the same six courses as last year (math, science, critical literacy, early learning, special education, and leadership) but these will be offered in two sections: "part 1" for those who are new participants and "part 2" for those who participated last year. One of the exciting requests that was made from one of our school partners in Haiti was to include some instruction and resources on ecological sustainability. This is a critical topic in Haiti and we are delighted that one of our new instructional leaders has a specialized background in this field.

2. New women's education, entrepreneurship, and empowerment network.
We will be completing a needs assessment as part of ELI 2017 to determine how we might be able to support female students and educators in the area of entrepreneurship and empowerment. We are excited about the potential this network might have for connecting emerging female leaders in Haiti with established female leaders in Haiti and Canada. A number of our Canadian participants will be meeting with groups of high school and university students, as well as young Haitian educators, to examine the feasibility, and scope, of this professional learning network.

3. New specialized workshops.
This year, in addition to the four hours of morning courses and the afternoon practicum, we will be offering a number of specialized workshops that participants can complete in the late afternoon. These will include topics such as online learning and technology in the classroom. These will be led by our participating members from Apple and Desire2Learn.

I am thankful that we have such tremendous partners in Haiti and Canada. The success of ELI is built on these partnerships!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Glocal and Fragile: Do all parts of the world have elements of "fragility"?

As I've been working on a section of a new book on educational leadership in fragile states, I've been compelled to re-consider what we mean by a "fragile state."

I've written elsewhere about the complexities of countries. Even within very impoverished or fragile states, there are pockets of wealth and stability. For example, parts of Petionville (part of Port au Prince) in Haiti are very wealthy. I recall counting the number of Porsche SUVs there a few years ago and counting five or six in a few minutes of time. So, despite the economic poverty of Haiti, there is significant wealth.

At the same time, Haiti is prone to risk (fragility). This risk may be due to natural disasters or political protests. Yet, for those with economic means in Haiti, this risk is minimal since they live in well-constructed homes (for natural disaster risk) and can easily leave the country (in the face of political upheavals).

Similarly, we could look at my own country, Canada, and see aspects of fragility. We certainly can see this in some First Nations communities where access to clean drinking water, health care, or education, is regularly at risk. Of course, as a country, we have the resources to minimize the risk (whether we choose to do so or not is another question) thus differentiating us from countries such as Haiti, South Sudan, or Yemen.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is changing its definition of fragility to reflect this nuanced understanding (click here to read more). For example, it is suggesting that fragility is heightened exposure to risk combined with a low capacity to mitigate or absorb these risks. This situation of vulnerability can lead to violence, conflict, chronic underdevelopment and protracted political crisis.

The focus on vulnerability is an appropriate and important distinction and I intend to incorporate this concept in my writing.