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.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Professional learning in Egypt

The past two days, I have been busy facilitating workshops on special education for teachers in Egypt.

This has given me further opportunity to learn myself as I interact with teachers and consider the challenges they face. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the challenges that teachers in Egypt face with supporting students with special education needs are not that different than those we face in Canada. How so?

First, teachers in Egypt are seeing increasing numbers of students with special education needs in their classrooms. This is likely due to a couple of issues but certainly because there is increasing pressure within society to integrate students with special education needs into the "regular" classroom, This is similar to the focus on inclusion that started in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s.

Second, there is greater awareness of the spectrum of needs that students present. Schools in Egypt (and in Canada) used to exclude students with needs such as autism or Down Syndrome (to name just two specific types of conditions). Now, the legal (and moral) expectation is that all students be provided with the opportunity to learn in a setting with their peers.

Third, as a result of the above two reasons, schools are trying to respond to provide educational supports that are effective for all students. This is a massive challenge for teachers who may have grown up in a very different system of education. It is also a challenge when there are limited revenues to support specialized teaching and leadership roles and professional learning for regular classroom teachers.

Thus, providing professional learning opportunities for teachers on topics such as special education is a major need, both in Canada where we continue to struggle with how to best support all students in the regular class, and globally where the expectations of parents, schools, and governments are increasingly expecting inclusion.

Once again, we see a "glocal" issue that reminds us of the interconnectedness of the world. Yes, Canada has made incredible progress in supporting students with special needs. But we have a long way still to go. Schools in Egypt have more recently developed similar expectation. And have a long way to go. We are more similar than we sometimes think.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Educational opportunities and gender equity for girls in Haiti

I have been working on a book chapter on gender equity for girls in Haiti. Along with university colleagues who have been working with me in Haiti - Dr. Charlene Desir, Dr. Gaetane Jean-Marie, Dr. Allyson Watson - we are hoping to stir further action on this important topic.

Here is the context:

  • girls only stay in school an average of seven years in Haiti (Save the Children, 2015)
  • approximately 77% of children attend primary schools and less than 30% attend secondary school in Haiti (UNICEF, 2013)
  • girls have lower school enrollment rates and continue to have lower literacy rates than boys in Haiti (Padgett & Warnecke, 2011; UNICEF, 2013; USAID, 2016).
The context is pretty sobering but why does education for girls matter?

Our premise aligns with Ghanaian scholar Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey: “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

This graphic illustrates the importance of providing educational opportunities for girls:

Source noted in image: Global Partnership for Education www.globalpartnership.org
Through our work in Haiti, we have come to know many of these nation-builders. They are powerful women who are leading schools, some of which have as their mission to empower generations of girls to be change-agents.

Yet, they are often islands in a sea of norms and beliefs which don't value the equitable opportunity that girls should have.  Attitudes and norms can be difficult to break.

But, it is not impossible to change them. We are still in this struggle in Canada, so why should it be a surprise that change still needs to happen elsewhere?

So how does change happen? Through education. That is why we must continue to support professional learning for teachers and specialized opportunities for girls in Canada and in Haiti (and beyond).

Here is a video (click here) we completed in 2015 when we interviewed Haitian and Canadian students (both female and male) about their dreams for the future. Listen carefully to the dreams of the Canadian and Haitian students. There is tremendous potential for ALL these young people. Their hopes and dreams are what compels me to continue the work we have been engaged in.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Can we scale the Educator and Leadership Institute model we are developing in Haiti? Four key ingredients

Recently, I was asked if we could scale the initiative we have started in Haiti. In other words, can we take this model - face-to-face and online professional learning for teachers in one region - and implement it in diverse contexts? Can the model be multiplied? For some interesting research and projects that examine this question, consider the MIT Scaling Development Ventures website.

Our premise since initiating the Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI) has been: Pilot it in Haiti and, if it can be successful there with the various barriers which exist, it can be successful elsewhere.

As I've thought about how we would do this, it seems like the technical issues are not the largest challenge. We have the knowledge and human resources needed to develop face-to-face and online courses and the administrative ability to effectively deliver these in a cohesive fashion for a period of up to five years in any single context. That is exactly what we have done in Haiti.

The four major challenges I would foresee of scaling the ELI are partnerships, sustainability, funding, and research to inform practice. To successfully replicate and multiply the ELI which we have initiated in Haiti will require:

1. Authentic, Trusting, and Fully-committed Partnerships
ELI cannot just be "parachuted" into a context. There must be on-the-ground partners who deeply desire the initiative. They must be full partners, invested financially, in human resources, and reputationally. There must be reciprocity between the "external" and "internal" partners. Partnerships take time to develop so it's important to find what local partners need as foundational aspects within the ELI and to differentiate for each context.

2. Sustainable Design
A "franchise" model of ELI should be sustainable if it includes local "buy-in" and differentiation (see #1) and a funding formula to support the ELI after an initial seed investment (see #3 below). The ELI does not need to continue in perpetuity. Once it has accomplished its target then it can either move to another context, evolve into another manifestation, or simply indicate "mission accomplished" and shut down. In Haiti, our goal is to provide professional learning for 1,000 teachers and 100 principals ... once that goal has been met then there is no need to continue in that context UNLESS a new and needed goal is identified.

3. Funding
One of the underlying aspects of ELI that lends itself to trust-building and reciprocity is that no one is making money off the initiative. If "education for all" is truly for all, then there must be a commitment to ensuring that everyone can have access. However, initiatives such as ELI require funding for costs associated with travel, educational resources, and conference venues. The funding "formula" needs to include a plan for how the ELI will become sustainable after an initial investment. We have done this in Haiti and this must be a key ingredient in any efforts to scale our initial work.

4. Research
To understand if and how the ELI is being effective in changing teaching practices, and eventually improving student learning outcomes, research must accompany each ELI. Research can be driven by the ELI leadership team but local partners must be involved. Why? For an ELI to be sustainable, local partners must be committed to the concept of "continuous improvement," Once the initial ELI leadership group has completed its task, local leadership will take over and ensure that research to inform practice is maintained and extended.

I am quite pleased with the ELI initiative as it stands in Haiti. We have designed it so that it can be considered for other contexts. There is significant work yet to be done in ensuring that the framework works well but I see great potential for it to serve as a model for implementation in other contexts.

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Questions the World Bank would ask (about our work in Haiti)

As we begin preparations for our second annual Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI) in Haiti, I've been thinking about how a major international organization, such as the World Bank, would view the work we are doing.

What kinds of questions would be asked of us if we went to the World Bank to tell the story of ELI and to talk about next steps?

These are five questions that I think we would be asked:

Why Haiti?
There are a number of factors that contribute to why we have launched the ELI in Haiti. These include the challenging economic and political climate, the fact that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, and the significant urban-rural divide in Haiti. At the end of the day, if our framework can improve educational outcomes for students in Haiti, it will most likely work in other fragile contexts.

What differentiates your approach?
The Educator and Leadership Institute incorporates a number of significant differentiating aspects including: face-to-face professional development (not so unique), online supports to that training (increasingly common), a focus on critical thinking, gender equity, and science/math (fairly unique in the developing world), accompanying research studies (again, fairly unique in the developing world), and a plan for sustainability (very unique). Foundational to the capacity-building focus of the ELI is a high value on reciprocity, partnership, and shared learning. The other aspects are all technical; this last item is relational and holistic. It is key to our approach.

Is it effective and efficient?
We have evidence that indicates that the participants find the ELI effective in helping them become better teachers. However, the best evidence will be if the teachers' students have improved school experiences and learning outcomes. A research study is accompanying the ELI to measure this effectiveness. As well, the ELI is very efficient. Over a five year period, we will directly impact 1,000 teachers, 100 principals, and 100,000 students. Every Canadian who is involved is a volunteer and the budget covers the very basic operating costs of providing the training.

Is it sustainable?
We are committed to working in Cap-Haitien, Haiti over a five year period. Our model involves Haitian participants completing the program over a three year period. In the first two years of participation, we identify strong Haitian candidates who may serve as instructional leaders in years 3-5. In these years, Canadian instructors serve as instructional coaches and mentors. The administrative details, including facilities and registrations, are all cared for by our Haitian partners thus ensuring a strong capability to oversee the entire ELI by year 5.

Is it transferable?
Our goal is to scale ELI so that it can be a model that is used across Haiti and in other fragile contexts. It does not rely on significant financial means to ensure program delivery. The online component ensures that, as long as some limited internet access is available, the courses and resources are available for participants to continue to engage in learning. The leadership team of the program is invested, experienced, thoughtful, and nimble.

If you worked for the World Bank or another large international organization, would these responses satisfy you? What other questions would you have?

Monday, December 12, 2016

School leadership in Haiti: Reflections and predictions

What a location for a course!
Last week, I taught a Master of Education course in Fermathe, Haiti in the mountains above Port au Prince. This is the fifth Masters course I have taught in Haiti and I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the 41 students in my course.

One item that struck me was the growth in the number of female participants in the Masters courses I have taught. There were only two females (out of 60) in the first course I taught ten years ago in Haiti. In last week's course, 11 of the participants were female. And they were very strong leaders within the course! This certainly gives me hope that many more women will pursue educational leadership in Haiti.
Marie Paule and Berline - two amazing leaders!
Rodia is dynamic and has a powerful vision!
Another issue that impressed me was the high level of engagement of the students. We covered a wide variety of topics, including transformational and transactional leadership, teacher evaluation, and teacher professional development. We did a lot of active learning in all of these areas and the course participants were always eager for more.

Characteristics of a leader
Inside-Outside activity was a big hit!
Finally, I tried to model effective teaching practices for the participants. We had readings that included chapters from both North American as well as Haitian scholars. Each day, we determined the criteria that would be used to assess their work for the day. We incorporated mini-lectures led by me with small group seminars that participants led. We completed activities that reflected different learning styles. I was really pleased to see that in the learning activities that the students led, they too did not simply rely on traditional teaching methods (i.e., lectures) but tried to utilize different means to communicate the key ideas they were focused on.

Individual vision statements
After teaching this Masters course, I am even more convinced that there is tremendous opportunity for the future of education in Haiti. These are strong and capable leaders whose vision is to lead effective schools and to impact educational outcomes across the country. Last week was only a snapshot into this potential but I am optimistic that over the next 20 years, these leaders will be some of the key change agents in Haiti.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Who has influenced you in your leadership abilities? Insights from Haitian principals

This week I am teaching a Masters-level course in school leadership in Haiti. There are 45 participants who are progressing toward a Master of Education degree.

In my work in different contexts, whether Canada, Haiti, Ghana, or Thailand, I have always been impressed with the dedication that principals have to leading effective schools. I have never met a school leader who said, "Oh, I really just want to lead a mediocre school." Even with limited resources, as is the case for many of the participants in the current course, principals often find innovative ways to address the needs of their students and teachers.

Yesterday, I gave each principal a picture of a tree and asked them to write onto the leaves all of the leadership qualities, skills, and dispositions that they think they have. I then asked them to consider the roots of the tree and to identify the various people, activities, or events that contributed to these qualities. Tonight, as I reviewed the products of this simple assignment, I have been amazed at the qualities these leaders have identified. I am even more impressed at what (or who) they have identified as having contributed to these abilities.

It reminds me that none of us become a leader by simply reading a book or following a specific formula. Most of my leadership abilities I can directly tie to people who have invested in me and mentored me. It is a good reminder for me to be deliberate and intentional in speaking into the lives of "emerging leaders" to encourage them, challenge them, and to model for them what it means to be an effective leader.

Who has influenced you as a leader? Who have you influenced?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Building school leadership capacity through Master of Education courses in Haiti

This week, I am returning to the Port au Prince area of Haiti to teach a Master of Education (M.Ed.) course in school leadership. I have taught a number of M.Ed. courses in school leadership in Haiti before, however, it has been three years since I last did so. There are 45 school leaders registered for this week's course.

I continue to teach Master of Education courses in Haiti because it provides a focused  opportunity to engage those in strategic positions of educational leadership in the country. Haiti will change through the leadership of those who know it best, not external people such as myself. I continue to see my role as a catalyst for change, fostering the capacity of those who already have a vision for change but perhaps who need some support.

The course I am teaching provides an overview of school leadership in countries around the world. It includes some significant opportunity to consider the "lessons learned" in other contexts and how these might (or might not) intersect with the Haitian context. I model the course after similar graduate courses I teach at Laurier. It is important for my Haitian colleagues to recognize that the same standards and expectations apply; they are not getting a "second class" graduate education. More updates to follow!