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, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day: Poto Mitan

Poto Mitan is a Haitian Creole phrase to describe women as cornerstones in their communities.

I love this idea.

I have been fortunate to have had many strong women "cornerstones" in my life: mother (and mother-in-law), grandmother, wife, sister, daughters, friends, teachers, supervisors, colleagues.

Not everyone has the fortune of having a host of cornerstones.

But everyone needs at least one cornerstone, one poto mitan.

As I reflect today on the idea of poto mitan, I think of the many strong women cornerstones I have had the privilege of meeting in Haiti.

One picture that speaks to these poto mitan is the one below. I snapped the picture as I stood behind a principal as she sat beside a young student and watched as educators started entering a session we were hosting.

The picture speaks powerfully to the concept of poto mitan.

Today we celebrate International Women's Day but every day is an opportunity to be the poto mitan of our communities.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

International Educator Capacity-building: Educator and Leadership Institutes expand

The Educator and Leadership Institute framework continues to progress in various stages and iterations. When we launched ELI in Haiti, we believed that if it could succeed there, with the various geographic, political, and economic challenges of a fragile context, it could succeed elsewhere.

1. Haiti. The Educator and Leadership Institute is now "maturing" as we enter year three of our five year commitment to providing teacher and principal training in northern Haiti. We are anticipating 500-600 teachers in attendance with 40-50 Canadian educators involved as "lead learners". This is a critical year as we support the 20 Haitian educators who were identified last year to be future leaders of the institute. They will be working with Canadian educators over the next two years and gradually take on increased leadership and teaching responsibilities. This is our model of sustainability and transformative change.

2. Egypt. We are into the second year of a very different model of the Educator and Leadership Institute in Egypt. Not only is the context different, but the teachers involved are at a different stage of their professional learning. In February, four Canadian educators will be working with teachers in Cairo in areas of technology integration, critical literacy, and early learning. This builds on the work I did last year when I was there in February. I will return in May to complete the work I have started in November, 2017 on peer coaching. The model of peer coaching is a way to support the capacity of educators to be leaders themselves within the school and to support the professional learning of their peers. It is a different way to be sustainable but equally effective.

3. Nepal. Although faculty members from Laurier have been engaged with teacher professional development in Nepal for a number of years, we have recently provided a "made-for-Nepal" framework of the Educator and Leadership Institute. Instead of providing, as we have done in the past, one or two-day workshops, we will provide longer, more intensive courses similar to what we do in Haiti. A team of 10 Canadian educators will be in Nepal in May for three weeks to provide these learning opportunities in urban (Kathmandu) and rural settings. We are partnering with a number of organizations founded in Nepal and this will support the sustainability of the work there. Again, a different iteration of what we have done in Haiti but with equal potential for impact on teacher learning.

We continue to be asked to provide professional development for teachers in other contexts (Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, China, etc.) but we are ensuring that we are moving forward in a sustainable manner.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Teachers helping teachers: Lessons from Egypt

This week I have been working in Cairo, Egypt on a research and teaching project involving teachers teaching other teachers (that is a mouthful!). This is often referred to as "peer coaching" and involves teachers working in pairs to  provide input and feedback to each other about a focused area of improvement. For example, some of the teachers I am working with this week have asked for feedback on how they differentiate lessons to support students with special education needs and how they can better facilitate group work. I am working at a private school with about 1,000 middle-class Egyptian students.
Courtyard at the school.
I have provided two presentations to 60 teachers on how peer coaching can be done and how it can support their instructional effectiveness. The rest of my time is being spent on a "train the trainer" model involving a core group of teachers as they teach and provide feedback to each other. I am working specifically with four pairs of teachers (two in kindergarten, two in elementary school, two in middle school, and two in high school).
High school students and teacher who has a peer coach in the class observing the lesson.
I am also incorporating a research study into the work I am doing so that I can report on the experience. The research project will include collecting examples of the kinds of feedback that teachers provide to each other, identifying key aspects of teaching improvement, and interviewing teachers about their perceptions of the experience. I will return again in April to collect more data and to see what kinds of changes have occurred, both in the peer coaching approach and in their actual teaching methods.

The final aspect of work I am doing is soliciting input into professional development sessions that I am facilitating (and which other Laurier faculty will provide) in February as part of our expanded Educator and Leadership Institute. The work that we have done in Haiti, and recently in Nepal, will inform what ELI looks like in Egypt. Obviously, each context is different but there are some foundational aspects to ELI that are the same wherever we work; one of these is that our professional development sessions are determined in cooperation with our on-the-ground partners. We have had some excellent discussions about what that means for our February training.
I thoroughly enjoy this type of research and teaching experience because it has a real impact on actual teaching practices. It also keeps me mindful of those things which connect teachers globally, primarily, making a difference in the lives of students.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Starting a new school year in Haiti and Canada: Contrasts

A few minutes ago, my son left to start Grade 11 at our local high school.

Then I read this short article on students starting school in Haiti (click here to read the article).

The contrast in my son's experience and those of similar-aged students in Haiti is remarkable. One small example: My son walked a few hundred feet to catch a bus that will take him to his school of 1, 500 students where he will likely have a maximum of 25 students in a class. In Haiti, it's rare to have a school bus and, as the article states, high schools often have as many as 4,000 students in total (two shifts) and 80 students in a class. In fact, a couple of years ago, I was in a large public school in Haiti where there were more than 100 students in a class.

The sentence that caught my attention was this:

"[In Haiti] Only three of every 100 elementary school students will graduate high school without having to repeat a year or dropping out."

The vast majority of my son's classmates will never repeat a year or drop out.

So, this morning as I think about the start of a new school year, I am reminded of the many benefits and blessings we enjoy in Canada. May we not take these for granted.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Concluding another successful Educator and Leadership Institute in Haiti

We have wrapped up another successful Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI) in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Here are five of the measurable outcomes:

  1. 400 teachers and principals completed courses and practicum (35 hours of instructional time).
  2. 150 children attended a science, arts, and English as a Second Language (ESL) camp.
  3. 40 university students attended an ESL program.
  4. Interviews with 14 ELI participants in which they discussed how the professional learning courses has impacted their teaching.
  5. Three workshops on technology and education with a combined attendance of 360 participants.

Participants gather for our graduation ceremony

One section of Math participants with their certificates

What is perhaps most significant and difficult to quantify is the massive impact that ELI is having on student learning outcomes. However, we heard testimony-after-testimony from teachers that their teaching practices were much more active, experiential, and inclusive. The principals discussed observing classrooms which were much more engaging for children. The Haitian coordinators of the program were astounded with the success of this year's ELI. The Canadian participants provided evidence of how their teaching skills and intercultural competencies have been enhanced.

Participants lining up for the day's session
It is difficult to know how much the Educator and Leadership Institute is directly impacting student motivation and academic achievement but we now have a  reliable and valid body of evidence to indicate that it is significant.

Each participant receives a USB memory key with LOTS of resources in French
We may not know the full impact of what we are doing along with our partners in Haiti but, without reservation, I am confident that it is shifting the educational landscape within Haiti.

Our goal is to impact the student learning outcomes of 100,000 students in Haiti. After this week of professional learning, it is clear that we are well on our way to accomplishing this goal.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How a question in a Haitian public school led to a massive, crazy idea

The very first Haitian high school student I met on an exploratory trip to Cap-Haitien in 2013 was Doody.

I had just entered a large public high school, where 3,000 students went to school in the morning and another 3,000 students went to school in the afternoon. It was a chaotic scene as students milled through the hallways. I was the lone "blan" (Haitian Creole term for a foreigner, whether white or not). I guess I must have stood out.

One young man - Doody - approached me and somewhat shyly tried his English, “What are you doing here?” 

He didn't know it but that was actually an incredibly profound question. And it was the beginning of our English as a Second Language program which led to our teacher education program which has led to our multi-pronged, multi-generational model of teaching and learning in Haiti. 

Doody was in our first ESL class that year and has remained highly connected with our program. His own capacity to be a change-maker in Haiti has been highly impacted by his involvement in our work. And we have been much more aware of the challenges of those marginalized in this country as a result of his participation. Doody's parents live about two hours away in a rural community and he has lived in Cap-Haitien raising his younger brother and sister so they can go to school. Despite these challenging circumstances Doody has continued to pursue his goal to attend university.

Doody is now finishing his major research project in his final year at the public university in Cap-Haitien. Doody wants to be a psychologist and make a difference for the young people of his community. He is working hard to make this a reality.
Doody is on the far left of this picture, helping our Laurier students in the summer camp.

Our goal for the Educator and Leadership Institute? Train 1,000 teachers and 100 principals to impact 100,000 students in Haiti.

All as a result of a question in a hallway asked by an inquisitive and passionate young man.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lessons in Leadership: People with crazy ideas are like a breath of fresh air to the normality of the routine

Today we wrapped up the Educator and Leadership Institute, our week of professional learning, camps, and ESL programs in Haiti. There are two leaders who have amazed me this week and this blog is dedicated to describing them and what I have learned about leadership from them.

Sr. Vierginat

I took an exploratory trip to Cap-Haitien in 2012 to see if we could develop some partnerships here. One of the first people I was introduced to was Sr. [Sister] Vierginat. She is the director of an all-girls school called College Regina Assumpta. The motto of the school is to empower women in Haiti.

The motto of the school is lived out in the “everyday” through Sr. Vierginat. She is a powerhouse. When I asked others to describe her, they said: Lively, respected, loves her job, engaged, confident, gets things done, compassionate, LOVES children, commands your attention in a non-threatening manner, eloquent, visionary, she can play drums (!), and she can bring down the house with her singing and dancing. Oh, did I mention that she is likely in her late 60s or early 70s?

Last night, we attended a talent show that the girls from her school were holding to raise funds to support tree planting in Haiti. Sr. Vierginat explained that when the girls approached her about the idea, she thought they were crazy but then she thought, “People with crazy ideas are like a breath of fresh air to the normality of the routine.” And with that, she gave her full support and was highly engaged. She was at the event, not just as a powerful person greeting people and telling others what to do but she joined the girls in their singing, drumming, serving, and speeches. She clearly is loved by the girls and has set an amazing example of what it means to be a TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADER.

Pere Bernard

An engineer by training, Pere [Father] Bernard has been an incredible partner. He is the director of College Notre Dame where the Educator and Leadership Institute is hosted. Although Pere Bernard was not part of our initial meetings, after the first Laurier group came to Cap-Haitien and demonstrated that we could be trusted, he was eager to work with us. He is equal in personality and temperament to Sr. Vierginat!

Pere Bernard has serious personality! Yesterday, we were finishing our lunch (imagine 400 people in a covered courtyard … lunch yesterday was fried goat!) when Pere Bernard got up to the microphone and started a game of Krik Krak … it was amazing! Krik Krak is a game of riddles. Pere Bernard would say “Krik” and the audience would respond “Krak” and then he would say a riddle. Within minutes, 100s of people were yelling, dancing, and having a great time. Pere Bernard was dancing, singing, and laughing. One of our Haitian-Canadian leaders said that he had never seen anything like it in 60 years.

This week, Pere Bernard told us that he is leaving for a new position in Montreal at St. Joseph’s Oratory. We are certainly sad to see him leave, not only because he has been our host, but because of his leadership disposition. He is ALWAYS helping photocopy materials, setting up chairs, making sure the sound system is working, talking one-on-one with the participants, and setting out meals. He is the perfect example of a SERVANT LEADER.

I have learned so much about leadership again this trip. Inter-cultural learning is definitely happening.

And it begins with me.