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, December 16, 2014

Concussions in hockey: A glocal issue?

This blog has a focus on glocal issues, usually framed in the context of education.

An article I read today, and personal experience with my son's hockey team, has got me thinking about concussions. Not exactly what I had in mind when I started this blog!

But I think we could make a good case that concussions are about education.

And, they are not just a "local" issue.

Here's the article that got me thinking:

Why are Canadian universities blocking concussion research?

Now, I think there may be problems with Dr. Echlin's methodology but the core of his research is intriguing and certainly addresses a troubling issue: Are we condoning an activity that we know increases the potential for injury and long-term negative consequences for our children?

Full disclosure: I have a son who plays Minor Bantam (13 year olds) hockey. He plays on a "select" team having moved from AA last year. One of our biggest concerns, and one of the motivations for him moving to a "lower" level of play, was body checking. He has not had a concussion (yet).

Throughout this year we have seen multiple hits from behind, boarding, and head hits ... not all of which led to injury but certainly all of which had significant potential for injury. Three of the players on his team are currently on long-term leave from hockey due to body checking.

Are we worried? You bet we are.

After all, why would we sacrifice his long-term potential for this?

Will he play again next year? Not likely.

Hockey officials wonder why registration numbers are decreasing. Certainly cost is a factor but I would argue that there is a significant number of young players who get to the age of body checking and say "Enough, I don't need this anymore."

Parents around the world are sacrificing finances to send their children to school so that they might meet their potential.

Why are we sacrificing our finances to send our children into an arena (somewhat like the Roman arenas? hmmm) so that they might lose their potential?

Ethical blogging note: my son has reviewed and approved this post :)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sustainability in the midst of change: Haiti after the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe

Change is a certainty in life.

Sustainability not so much.

This weekend, after much pressure, Haiti's Primer Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned. The opposition parties had been demanding his resignation in the midst of election delays. For more, see this Miami Herald story:

'We did all we could for...'

Over the past few years, my observation has been that Haiti has seen much positive change. In the educational sector, I have seen many new public schools. I have been in classrooms where the student:teacher ratio is clearly better than a few years earlier. A new teacher certification initiative has been started. These observations have been supported by reports such as one by the World Bank which indicates that extreme poverty has decreased.

Of course, much more needs to be done.
  • 100 students in a high school class is still far too many (five years ago, the same classroom had nearly 200 students)
  • The vast majority of students still do not graduate from high school
  • Adult literacy rates are still around 50%

However, the country is moving in the right direction. Early in my teaching career, I learned that we should "reward direction and not expect perfection." In other words, don't expect perfect student behaviour but reward it when it is moving in the desired direction.

Of course, this has me thinking about how to ensure the continued movement in the right direction in the midst of change in Haiti.

Haiti remains a fragile state. Despite significant accomplishments since the 2010 earthquake, the structures that support these accomplishments are precarious. Good governance, at both the macro level (e.g. national institutions such as the Ministry of National Education) and the micro level (e.g. local governments, NGOs, social entrepreneurs) is key now more than ever.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stoplights: How a set of stoplights in Haiti got me thinking about social innovation

Five or more years ago I was traveling through Port au Prince and came across the first set of stoplights that I had seen in Haiti.


In Port au Prince.

As I approached the stoplights, I quickly realized that there was no operational green, yellow, or red light. There was no electricity.

So, of course, drivers ignored them.

A week or so later, I was returning through the same intersection and recognized that the lights were working!

But no was obeying them.

I've used this story many times in talking about how well-intended ideas may not make sense for the context (click here to watch a TEDx Talk I did that uses this story).

It has also helped me wrestle with the idea of social innovation.

Traffic can be crazy in Haiti. First-time travelers flinch as they see trucks hurtling toward them on the wrong side of the road. Yet, amazingly, there seem to be rules for the road that are not easily evident. Drivers have developed innovative means to determine who goes first, how one passes, and how one navigates the road system.

Social innovation is a funny thing. Systems (like stoplights) can help support social innovation or they can get in the way. In my experience, I have learned that it is critical is to be a keen observer of human behaviour and to look for the ways in which innovation naturally "bubbles up" from our interactions with each other and with our environment.

Let's remember to not put stoplights up too quickly in the way of innovation.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Teacher candidates in Ayotzinapa, Mexico and Waterloo, Canada: Glocal solidarity?

Two months ago, 43 teacher candidates from a teacher's college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico disappeared during a political protest. Another 6 were killed. For an overview of the situation, please click below:

Globe and Mail "Thousands protest..."

Although separated by 1000s of kilometers, teacher candidates from our own Bachelor of Education program at Wilfrid Laurier University have tried to demonstrate solidarity with their colleagues in Mexico. One way we have done this is through spreading awareness. A group of our teacher candidates met last week to take a picture that they have distributed through social media to help their friends and family become aware of the situation.

Our Bachelor of Education program at Laurier is small - approximately 125 students. If 1/3 of those students were to disappear it would be devastating. When we met for the picture above, there was no fear of reprisal or persecution. We understand that many teachers around the world go to work every day without that same sense of security. As a result, our students are supporting their colleagues in Ayotzinapa in an act of "glocal solidarity."

If you are reading this blog and want to support the family and friends of the students in Ayotzinapa, please consider taking action through Amnesty International (click on link below):

Amnesty International (Canada) petition for Ayotzinapa

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Educating for Peace: Meeting with Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala's father

Can we develop a curriculum for peace education?

That was the question today in our second meeting with Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafzai. In our spring, 2014 meeting we started the conversation; today we hoped to develop some concrete action steps to take us forward.

Ziauddin is well-known as a peace activist from Pakistan. His daughter, Malala, recently co-won the Nobel Peace Prize. The New York Times has an excellent documentary that tells their "back story" before she became famous. To watch the video click below:

The Making of Malala

Today's meeting brought together about a dozen educators and academics at University of Waterloo's Conrad Grebel College. As we talked about how we could work together to develop a peace curriculum for students in Pakistan, I kept coming back to two key questions:

1. How can we, as western educators, even begin to conceive of (or contribute to) such a curriculum? What could we offer?
2. How can a peace curriculum lead to peace? I'm a strong believer that a "living curriculum" (i.e. lessons learned from our interactions with each other) supersedes a written one. Yet, one without the other is problematic as well.

I don't have answers for the above questions.

What I was struck by was the suggestion of one of the other educators at the table, a gentleman from Congo who has been part of an African peace initiative sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee. Esau suggested that we should not worry about the specific details of a peace curriculum; that should be designed and developed locally. What we can all contribute to is a framework for what peace education should be in a global sense. That is, what are the universal aspects to peace education that parents, children, and teachers can work toward no matter where they live?

I learned a lot today.

Some I learned from Ziauddin and the other guests who were from Pakistan. But I also learned from a new friend from Congo who taught me (once again) that I have much to learn from my colleagues from other parts of the world.

I am intently looking forward to spending more time with Esau to discover what peace education can be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Virtual School Leadership: How Principals in Fragile States Can Use Technology to Support Professional Development

Last week, an article that I wrote on "virtual school leadership" was published in The Online Journal of Distance Education and e-Learning. In this article, I used data from a research project that engaged school administrators in Haiti and Canada over the past three years. The research project centered on how principals in fragile states such as Haiti can use on-line learning opportunities to improve their leadership practices.

What my research demonstrated was that Haitian school principals who engaged in an online professional learning community had significant experiences of collaboration, problem-solving, and engagement. Although the research project has concluded, I continue to interact with school leaders in Haiti who are improving their leadership practices as a result of their use of technology. When in Haiti last week, I was amazed at one administrator (from a Haitian NGO) who was using his smartphone to Skype with leaders in Canada, communicate with his assistant, and access resources from the Internet. This particular person had not been in the research project so his experience resonated with me in demonstrating that it wasn't just participants in the research project who were developing professional skills through access to technology.

This is not to say that technology is a panacea but it certainly provides a suitable tool by which to access and disseminate information. In countries such as Haiti, the ability to interact with others across the country, and internationally, can provide access to information that otherwise may not be easily available.

The conclusion of the article considered how these new possibilities for leadership development are further examples of glocalization.

The article can be accessed as a pdf from the TOJDEL website (click below):

 The Online Journal of Distance Education and e-Learning

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Disruptions: Growing by Moving Backwards

Early in my teaching career I thought that to be successful I had to do everything correctly. I soon realized that I was making plenty of mistakes ... and becoming a better teacher because of them.

I specifically recall a lesson from one of my high school courses that incorporated a social justice perspective. I responded to a question by one of my students by stating that she would not likely understand issues of poverty because she had led a fairly privileged life. She confronted me as she left class to say that I really didn't have a clue about her life. She was right. The next day I apologized to her and made a mental note never to make that kind of assumption again. I was/am a better teacher because of it.

Disruptions seem to work in a similar fashion. I have a lecture or activity or project (or ... fill in the blank) lined up. Everything looks to be in order. Then a disruption happens ... a challenging question arises ... a flat tire on the way to an appointment ... someone gets sick ... an unexpected visitor drops in. Often I get frustrated by these disruptions.

But I'm also learning that disruptions often cause me to re-think. To take stock. To re-imagine. Perhaps more importantly, to re-prioritize what is important and what is not.

It doesn't make sense in what we would like to see (or hope?) as a linear, cause-and-effect, formulaic world. Of course, life is messier and more chaotic than that. In this reality, moving backwards is often the best way to move forward.