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.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What does special education look like in international contexts?

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at the National Institute for Learning Development annual conference in Toronto. A few days later, I was in a session at University of Calgary where we discussed inclusive education in the islands of the Pacific. Although seemingly disparate topics, I found the two settings and discussions illuminating on how we perceive learning differences and the contexts within which we support students with special education needs.

At the NILD conference, I highlighted research that has been done over the past twenty years that explores the plasticity of the brain. Some of the books that have impacted my thinking in this area include Norman Doidge's The Brain that Changes Itself and Sally Shaywitz's Overcoming Dyslexia. There are many others who have contributed to this conversation including Barbara Arrowsmith Young, Robert Marzano, and David Sousa. As a result, therapeutic approaches to learning disabilities have emerged including NILD, Arrowsmith, art therapy, horse therapy, dolphin therapy, dog therapy, play therapy, music therapy, and nature therapy to name a few.

What is interesting to me is that school systems continue to rely on a traditional approach to students with special education needs which is largely focused on providing accommodations and developing coping strategies for the classroom. I think that NILD is on to something ... an individualized and therapeutic approach seems much more wholistic and life-impacting.

Which brings me to the Pacific islands.

Being able to support students with special education needs has been a focus of countries in the "developed world" for the past 30+ years. It has been a challenge in many other countries to allocate resources to do the same. An interesting framework is emerging from the Pacific where small island states are considering what inclusive education can look like. Researchers and government bodies have developed a framework for what inclusive education should look like (click here to learn more about the Pacific Indicators for Disability Inclusive Education - P-INDIE).

There is much to learn about education from different parts of the world. As we learn about individualized therapeutic and cognitive approaches, such as those developed by NILD, we also need to be mindful of how we can support students in inclusive settings where everyone is "differently-abled" and teachers work from a strengths-based approach to support every child in the classroom. 

This consideration of both the "individual" and the "system" needs to be the target for effective teaching and learning to take place globally.

Ethical Blogging: A version of this blog post has been sent to NILD and the principal investigator in the P-INDIE project.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Inclusion: Lived out in our moment by moment activities

The past few days I have been at the University of Calgary for the annual meeting of those involved in educational research in Canada. I have been fortunate to be able to present some of the research I have been engaged with and to learn from the work of others.

As part of the conference, there have been a variety of keynote speakers. Yesterday's speaker, the Honorable Beverley McLachlin, is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She spoke on the rule of law in a multicultural nation, that is, how can the legal system protect the rights of minority groups. However, many of her comments were prefaced on a non-legal obligation we have to support the inclusion of "the other."

I was struck by her illustrations and comments regarding the importance of relationships. Ms. McLachlin argued that we have to have a system (legal and otherwise) that supports individual rights but that this system must be accompanied (or even based on) individual "connectedness" ... relationships matter.

Inclusion is a contested term but the principle on which it exists - welcoming all people as equals - is accomplished in moment-by-moment  and day-by-day activities. Programs that support inclusion, such as those that are carried out in schools, are valuable. However, their value is exponentially increased when individuals carry out the golden rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you - in our regular interactions with each other. Fostering this culture of inclusion in schools provides a solid foundation to fostering inclusion in broader society.

May we remember this in our interactions today.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ethics and Research Completed in Developing Country Contexts: The Human Ethic

In a few weeks, a colleague and I will be presenting at the University of Waterloo on our experience in engaging in research in developing country contexts ... in my case, Haiti. We have been asked to present to the UW Research Ethics Board.

In Canada, researchers need to consider the various ethical aspects to their research. For example, if I am conducting research with children, I need to consider the kinds of questions I am asking, where I would be meeting with the children, and the position of power I may be perceived to have and how this may impact on their responses.

Before I conduct research in Canada, I have to submit a very thorough application to the research ethics board at my university. They review my application and determine items I need to address before they approve it. I am then obligated to conduct my research in alignment with what I have proposed. When the research is completed, I submit a report to indicate that I have completed the research in an ethically sound way and which mirrors my application.

Although not a perfect system, it certainly minimizes the potential of doing research "badly" and "unethically."

When I conduct research in Haiti (for example, I have interviewed principals for case studies on their school leadership experiences), I still complete a research ethics application at Laurier, the university at which I work in Canada. However, there is rarely a parallel ethics board within the Haitian context that would ensure I was completing the research in a manner that is suitable/ethical for the Haitian context. A Haitian ethics committee would want to know, for example, am I respecting the language of my participants? Their socio-cultural context? Am I viewed to be in a position of power that might effect the responses of the participants? How might the results of the research impact the participants directly or indirectly? Am I representing their viewpoints accurately?

These are really important questions that I am extremely sensitive to. Even if there is no ethics boards or established protocols, I am bound even more deeply to a human ethic that compels me to treat my research in Haiti as if it was being completed in my own backyard (the golden rule).

The following quote has provided me with a framework by which to engage in research in Haiti:

“One cannot expect positive results from an educational or political action program which fails to respect the particular view of the world held by the people. Such a program constitutes cultural invasion, good intentions notwithstanding.”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Friday, April 29, 2016

One student's journey to medical school: A beginning and not an end

Note added to original published blog: In the spirit of "ethical blogging", the following post was reviewed and approved by Samuel Charles, the focus of the post.

In the first year that we brought a Laurier team to Cap-Haitien, Haiti we met two young men who we have remained in close contact with since. Today, I am writing about the one young man (Samy) and I will share the story of the other (Doody) in a future blog post.
Steve, Doody, Samy - October, 2015
We met Samy when he was in his final year of secondary school. He attended a public high school and was later accepted into the state university. His family didn't have much money but Samy wanted to follow his dream to be a medical doctor. Lots of people have this dream but we recognized that Samy did indeed have the temperament and cognitive ability to pursue this.

Over the next two years, it became clear that studying at the local state university was not meeting Samy's needs. Classes were often cancelled when professors didn't show up or when the school was closed for a strike.

I encouraged Samy to consider applying to a university in Port au Prince with a reputable medical program. But how would he afford it? Samy lived in Cap-Haitien, a 5 hour trip from Port au Prince. Amazingly, I found out (through one of my Laurier students) about a scholarship that was provided by a Canadian organization to young people in Haiti who were pursuing medical studies. I contacted the organization and, after some materials were exchanged back-and-forth, they agreed to provide a scholarship that would cover his tuition IF he got into medical school.

This past January, Samy wrote his medical exams at Quisqueya University in Port au Prince. I have been to this university and know the vice-president and can attest that it is one of the best, if not the best, university in Haiti. Again, amazingly, Samy placed high on the medical examinations. He was accepted! The Canadian organization provided the scholarship and Samy began his rigorous, six days a week studies at the university.

A number of Canadians have been helping Samy pay the $200 Cdn he needs each month for accommodations and transportation in Port au Prince. He has to take multiple tap-taps (small buses) for about 1.5 hours to get from where he is staying to the university. And then back home again. Remember, this is 5 hours away from where his family lives and his family does not have the means to cover his living expenses.

Today, Samy told me that he had not been to school in two days because he doesn't have the funds for transportation. I was distressed by this. I know that this is not a situation of someone abusing "the system." He is a bright young man who could be a future doctor in a country in need of really good medical practitioners. He just doesn't have all the supports that a student typically would have in Canada or the US.

How do we ensure that Samy's entrance to medical school is not the end of the story? Your ideas are welcomed.

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.