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, January 5, 2016

A More Beautiful Question (Or, how to lead a 3 hour class with one question and a map)

One of the books I read over the holidays was A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.
 Image result for a more beautiful question

The book provoked some ideas and led to a re-write of a course I am teaching this winter term. In fact, my first 3-hour class yesterday was developed a after reading this book. The entire class was based on one question and one map. Yes, a 3 hour class.

I was nervous.

At the end, I asked the students if the class had been a success or failure. The answer: We're doing something similar next week.

Teaser: You'll have to contact me if you want to know the question or the map!

The second chapter of the book was particularly helpful for me as it focused significantly on schooling: What are schools for and what kind of schools do we want?

Here are some of the key quotes, questions, and comments from this section that resonated with me:

A good question is like “a lever used to pry open the stuck lid on a paint can.”
               Frances Peavey

“I know more about my ignorance than you know about yours.”
               Richard Saul Wurman (founder of TED)

Children are like …
… scientists because they turn over rocks and mash things together.
… anthropologists because they don’t just conduct experiments, they ask the people around them questions
               Berger, 2014, p. 42

Should we abandon the failed experiment of teaching facts?
               Seth Godin

We’re moving from an industrial society to an entrepreneurial society … trade in the factory model of schooling for a questioning model.
               Berger, 2014, p. 48

What if our schools could help students be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change? How might we create such a school?
               Berger, 2014, p. 49

What would it look and sound like in the average classroom if we wanted to make “being wrong” less threatening?
               Deborah Meier

If not now, then when? If not me, then who?
               Mick Ebling

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Moving Trees: Social Change and Social Capital in Action

My research is largely focused on how social change happens in contexts such as Haiti. I have written extensively about how social change is often accomplished through the use of social capital, the ways in which humans form networks to accomplish a commonly beneficial goal.

Examples of this are all around us.

Someone sees a need in the community for a food program. They invite others to join them. Collectively, the group works to meet the need.

A person recognizes that children from the community have to travel a distance to get to a school. They establish a school. Parents and teachers join them to provide the financial capital and human resources to meet the need.

People recognize that others are being displaced from their homes due to a war. They join together to supply resources and means to meet the needs of the refugees.

A child thinks that a school could do a better job dealing with left-overs from student lunches. She talks with the principal, teachers, and students to organize a school organic waste program.

Teachers need training to more effectively meet student needs. Educators from Haiti, Canada, and the US join together to provide mentoring and resource-sharing (this last one may sound familiar).

Recently, I came across this video which provides a short (2+ minutes), but compelling, lesson on how change can happen when people join together to accomplish a task. Enjoy!

Lead India - The Tree (click here to watch the video - first 15 seconds will be an advertisement)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Building nests in Haiti: A simple way to conceptualize the idea of sustainability

I was part of a lunch meeting yesterday with colleagues from a number of different departments in the university. We wanted to spend some time talking about our international work (Turkey, Ghana, El Salvador, Jordan, Lebanon, Haiti) and the concept of sustainability. I found it a fascinating meeting as I listened to how others understood the idea of sustainability.

In my work in Haiti, I have equated sustainability with: living on after an initial investment was complete. We have tried to do this by designing initiatives in cooperation with local participants (reciprocity, resipwosite in Creole) and in a way that can be supported through local means and that make sense in the context. An example of this was the Digital Mentoring Project. We used tools that were already familiar (cellphones) but with a novel approach (connecting principals - across Haiti - in a professional learning community through their phones). The initiative was completed in 2014 but principals continue to use the framework to problem-solve and to share resources.

When I have talked about the concept of sustainability with partners in Canada, the US, and in Haiti, I have tended to use the words capacity-building instead of sustainability. What we are doing in Haiti is investing in social capital, the ability of people to achieve well-being through social interactions. We have done this specifically through supporting an improved educational environment. Thus, the work we have been doing in investing in teachers and principals, through workshops on school leadership, supporting special education services for children, building opportunities for girls in engineering, and supporting teachers' knowledge of science and mathematics, is building the social capital of educators in northern Haiti.

Is it sustainable? Yes, because it is building individual and collective capacity.

I often use a Haitian expression to describe the capacity-building work we are invested in - it probably provides a better description of sustainability than I can in just a few words:

Piti, piti, ti pay pay, zwazo fe niche.
Little by little, straw by straw, the bird builds its nest.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Intercultural Leadership: Shaping Organizational Culture

Laurier has a certificate program that has a focus on intercultural effectiveness. I struggle with the idea of getting a certificate to demonstrate intercultural competence but value the framework and examples provided in the training. Perhaps most importantly, the certificate provides an opportunity for dialogue about our background experiences and perceptions.

I think it's time for "intercultural effectiveness 2.0" or "how to lead an organization to be more inter-culturally effective." In other words, we need to do a better job in training individuals AND supporting those in organizational leadership positions so that they may shape the culture of the organization to be more inter-culturally effective.


We certainly live in a more globalized world. This is a reality no matter our philosophical perspective on the "why" or the "what" of our situation. Globalization means that we interact with other cultures on a daily (if not minute-by-minute) basis.

Effective leaders in organizations (businesses, schools, government, hospitals, universities, NGOs, etc) need to consider the inter-cultural workplace since they exert tremendous influence on the climate of an organization.


Many of us think we are sensitive to different cultures. Often, it's not the outlandish examples of stereotyping and discrimination that are an issue for most of us; it is, however, the micro-examples. For example, I might quickly pass over a suggestion from a person of another culture or may "tune out" because I don't think the idea is a valid one.

I'm not talking about sensitivity training. I'm thinking more about unpacking the hidden assumptions, stereotypes, and biases that we ALL have, often unconsciously. Leaders need to engage in this process as much, if not more, as those who work with them.

If you are a leader in an organization of any size, how are you doing with supporting the inter-cultural effectiveness of your organization?
  • Do you (and your staff) have an understanding of different approaches to "transactions" (whether financial or relational)? 
  • How do you practice reciprocity in your relationships? 
  • What new strategies might you be able to employ if you consider the marketplace (of products, ideas, etc) from different cultural perspectives? 
  • Do you engage in deep listening and cultural humility?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Supporting girls in engineering and science: Robotics program continues to build momentum in Cap-Haitien

In October, I was delighted to be part of a team that launched a program (VEX Robotics) in an all-girls school in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The program was led by two colleagues at Northeastern State University (Oklahoma) and the Vice-President of the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation. Our goal was to use the robotics program, and related competitions, as a way to engage girls in science and engineering. We had an incredible launch - you will find pictures and updates earlier in my blog.

The VP of REC (Miller Roberts III) returned to Cap-Haitien last week to lead the second part of the training. I am so impressed with his vision and commitment to this opportunity. At the initial training in October, six "mentor" girls were trained along with about 25 teachers. At the November training, Miller reports that 32 girls were present for 7 hours of training.

He also notes that the principals of the school, both highly respected female leaders (one can be seen in the second picture, to the left), were engaged throughout. What great modeling! Miller reported that the one principal said:

They [the girls] would  need to attend practice every Friday and every day that the school has a holiday. A few of the girls were surprised but without skipping a beat, she told them, “If you are going to be an engineer, then you will be a true engineer and you will attend.” It was pretty amazing.

We will be studying the impact of the robotics program on both the engagement that the program provides for girls and the long-term education and career choices that they make. I am confident that a few, if not many, girls will trace their career trajectory back to the Fall, 2015 when they were introduced to robotics!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Supporting entrepreneurs through social networks in Cap-Haitien, Haiti

I have always been impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit in Haiti.

Some of the people I've worked with would be considered social entrepreneurs: They have developed an enterprise to respond to a social need. I have published a number of "case studies" that have examined some of the innovative approaches these social entrepreneurs have taken.

I've also worked with those who we might consider more traditional entrepreneurs (an oxymoron?). These are individuals who are not necessarily trying to build a social venture (although their work often has a social benefit) but who are trying to develop an innovative business for financial benefit.

Two young men that we've worked with in Haiti are building a business to support tourists and business people come to Cap-Haitien. They have recognized a need (navigating the local area ... finding hotels, accessing historic sites, translating, etc) and are developing a plan to meet that need. I am excited that their first client is arriving this week. That client was connected to them through a social network, another entrepreneurial way to tap into potential customers.

These are powerful opportunities for young Haitian entrepreneurs. I am anticipating the growth of these types of "micro-businesses" and believe that they will fuel a growing middle class in Haiti.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Laurier Educator Institutes: Leveraging Expertise to Build Capacity

Our October trip to Haiti solidified plans for our first Laurier summer teaching and leadership conference there. It was exciting to see our lead partners in northern Haiti work collaboratively to develop the framework for the conference. We have confirmed:
  • dates: Aug. 1-5, 2016
  • location: College Notre Dame (Cap-Haitien)
    View of Cap-Haitien from College Notre Dame
  • strands: science, math, early childhood, special education, critical literacy, and leadership
  • format: morning workshops, afternoon teaching "practicum" during a summer camp that will run parallel to the conference
  • participants: 200+ Haitian educators 
The leaders of the workshops will be Canadian educators from Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario school boards, and the Ontario Ministry of Education. We are anticipating that other Canadian and US colleagues will join us as plans unfold.

The model that we are using is to leverage the expertise of the Canadian participants, with a healthy dose of cultural humility and engagement, to support the capacity of the Haitian participants. Two key aspects differentiate this model from more traditional models of teacher professional development::
  1.  Formation of a professional learning community of Haitian and Canadian educators that will "live" after the end of the week of training. In this on-line community, the participants can share resources and ideas after the training has been completed.
  2. The afternoon practicum will give Haitian educators an opportunity to implement and practice some of the ideas that they learned about in the morning. This active, experiential learning with real-time feedback will solidify the morning learning and will minimize the potential of "learned it, forgot it".
The Haiti summer conference will be a pilot for what I am hoping will be further Laurier Educator Institutes in other contexts such as China, India, and Colombia. Developing a "franchise" such as this, which partners educators from Canada with those in other contexts, provides a means to leverage expertise to build capacity.

I should be clear: I don't see this expertise-sharing as a one way street. Canadian educators may have expertise in areas such as special education and science education but they will also be the beneficiaries of expertise that their colleagues in other contexts have. Ultimately I am hoping that this collaborative expertise-sharing in specific domain areas (e.g. mathematics, critical literacy) will have a broader outcome: greater sensitivity and awareness of education in the global context.