Jennifer Casa-Todd is currently the Literacy Consultant at the York Catholic District School Board. I had the opportunity to get her thoughts on a number of things.
Read on and enjoy!
Doug: Jennifer is one person that I have met both in person and online. Can you tell us where we first met face to face?
Jennifer: It’s hard to believe that we had our first real face-to-face coffee together this past November at the Bring It Together conference. This is probably because we have had coffee asynchronously together several mornings together while we chatted on Twitter’s DM. When I did finally meet you, I felt like I had known you forever! 🙂
Doug: I think the concept of Student Ed Tech teams is fantastic. How did it start?
Jennifer: Because we have engaged teacher teams for two years now, and we recognize that despite the release time we’ve given for support, support at the school level (beyond what we could provide) might be given by student teams. Many schools already had AV teams of sorts, but we wanted the teams to know about the tools in our ecosystem (ipads, Chromebooks, Interactive Whiteboards, as well as GAFE and Desire to Learn) Rather than having teachers submit a ticket to a technician for a problem which might have a very quick & simple solution, they could get help as needed. We also really want student leaders to model Digital Discipleship and leadership in their schools and thought that having these teams learn about what that means would go a long way to helping us to do that.
Doug: Where does the project stand now? Is it still ongoing?
Jennifer: We held a Student Ed Tech day organized on February 29th and this time each student team may be accompanied by a 21C team member, We are going to incorporate time for student teams to work together with the teacher teams to brainstorm how to best facilitate and support technology-enabled learning at their respective schools. A strong emphasis will be on Digital Citizenship/leadership again as well as our 6Cs and the technology in our ecosystem.
Doug: We’ve had a nice chat back and forth about CoffeeEDU. What does that look like to you?
Jennifer: I was fortunate enough to attend ISTE in Philadelphia last summer and attended a Coffee Edu hosted by Alice Keeler (who created coffeedu.org). She basically set a date and time and provided the opportunity for educators to gather and talk about what we wanted. She then had everyone share their contact information and tweeted that out. I thought it was fantastic, so I emulated the model here, first at a Starbucks, then at a local coffee house. It is just an hour and basically is like an informal Edcamp. I am hoping to host another one in the Spring.
Doug: Your co-terminous board has a big splashy professional learning event every year. This year, your board did something a little more low key. Can you tell us about it and how it went?
Jennifer: We have actually hosted a professional learning opportunity every year for the past two years (March 5th will be our 3rd): Ed Tech Saturday.
The low-key event to which you are referring happened in November, when we hosted an Edcamp model for the first time. It was a great opportunity for teachers to determine the direction for their own learning, but we have so many teachers at various places on the spectrum in terms of skill with the tools in our technology ecosystem, that we offered a blended model which worked very well for us. My reflection on this is here.
We find both are cost-effective ways to invite teachers, who normally don’t have an opportunity to attend conference to engage in professional learning, that meets their needs and interests.
Doug: One of the challenges that a person in your position has is of balancing job and home life. You even mention it in your Twitter bio. How do you manage this?
Jennifer: I am very fortunate to have an extremely supportive family and I try to set boundaries for myself. I spend a few minutes on Twitter in the morning, at lunch and then in the evening. I am on Voxer when I am driving and I try to blog on Saturday and Sunday mornings before my family wakes up. I’ve never really been a tv person, so it works out in that way. My family is the most important thing in my life so there are times when everything else just has to wait so I can be present for them and there are other times when they have to look me in the eye and say, “Mommy, put your phone away.”
Doug: A while back, you had a chance to attend the FETC conference. I’m not too jealous about that. If you had to name three takeaways from the conference, what would they be?
Jennifer: Yes, I applied to the Executive Leadership Summit on a whim and when I got accepted, my husband and I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up. It did come as a personal sacrifice, but I think the benefits were worth it. My three takeaways:
- everyone in every State in every country with whom I spoke is undergoing similar issues (pockets of excellence, reluctance to embrace change, perceived testing and curriculum restraints, etc..). There is something very comforting about this.
- I loved the idea of the Future Ready movement especially its attempt to bring technology access to places where there is none and the many partnerships with business and communities to do this. I also like that it’s a federal movement; I feel that each province in Canada is doing its own thing and that a federal connection might be beneficial.
- When you meet people in real life that you have only known via social media, it is sometimes of greater value to forgo an official conference session to sit and chat with that person instead (normally I am compelled to go to as many sessions as possible, but because I was not there on behalf of my Board, I felt the personal freedom to do that and it was awesome!).
Doug: Little known useless fact – I was born in Newmarket. I hear that it’s changed a bit. You even have a four lane highway there now. What’s significant about technology in that city?
Jennifer: I remember you telling me when we met that you were born in Newmarket. As for what’s significant about technology, I’m not really sure! I know that I can have wifi access in almost every shop or restaurant and that in terms of access at home for students there are few issues. I may have to go learn more about this and get back to you. A big sign at the Town office says we are one of the top 10 cities according to Google.
Doug: The successful use of technology within a district is largely dependent upon professional learning opportunities offered within the board. What does your board offer in terms of technology / pedagogy in teaching and learning.
Jennifer: The 21C initiative which I spoke of earlier provides teams of (now 10) teachers with professional learning both at the Central Office and at their schools. The Curriculum and IT Dept work very closely together to ensure that there is a balance between teachers understanding the “why” and “how” when integrating technology. We also provide dinner and learns to interested teachers. Teacher are invited to submit a proposal for release time around technology-enabled learning and part of the process requires that pedagogy/curriculum/learning skills/the 6 Cs are the primary areas of focus.
Doug: I saw recently, you talk about Ed Tech Saturday sessions. I’m intrigued about that. What does it mean? Is it open to people from other districts?
Jennifer: We invite all teachers in our Board and it is held at one of our local high schools. We had a keynote the first year, but then moved to IGNITE sessions delivered by myself, teachers, and in year 2 and again this year, a combination of teachers and students from our board. All of the sessions are also led by teachers in our Board (with the exception last year when we invited Gaming Edus (the first time I met Diana Maliszewski) to show Minecraft in the classroom. We really want to provide opportunities for our informal leaders to showcase the good work they are doing. In Year 1 the day was 85% centrally planned, whereas last year it was 85% led by teacher-leaders and this year it was even greater. We are extremely proud and excited about that.
Doug: I know that you’re very active on social media and I love the things that you share. Is social media and sharing big in your district? Are there people we should be following?
Jennifer: Thanks, Doug! We are trying to build a #ycdsb21c community on Twitter so teachers can celebrate each other’s accomplishments and share the good work they are doing, and so too learn from each other. Being connected on Twitter has changed my practice and I am excited for teachers and administrators in our board to experience that as well. It’s definitely a work in progress.
Everyone should follow you!…but I have created several lists which you can access on my profile. Depending on your interests, these lists provide a good starting point for who to follow. For example, I have been adding to the list called Ontario EDUs; I am amazed at the talent we have here.
Doug: Since you’re so active on social media, I’m sure that you’ve thought through this personally and at the district level. What are your thoughts about student information and privacy while they’re online?
Jennifer: This is always a tough and on-going conversation at every level and I think it needs to be. I think it’s impossible NOT to have an online presence today and so we need to be smart about what we are sharing, how we are sharing it, and at what age it is appropriate for us to move to the public domain. As educators we are compelled to protect students and keep them safe, but I also think we are obliged to help them develop a positive online persona and a critical lens with which to keep themselves safe as well.
Doug: You’re a pretty regular blogger. Where do you get the inspiration for your posts?
Jennifer: Honestly, I’ve always loved to write but never had a forum for it until George Couros pushed me to create a blog, and then my own domain. Now, I literally walk around with blog ideas swirling in my head. I might hear something or read something that triggers a post. Other times, when something goes very badly or very well, I feel like sharing that might help others who might struggling or celebrating the same thing. There are literally a hundred unfinished drafts sitting, waiting to be finished which got started because of a conversation or an experience. I am still struggling with my voice in my blog so sometimes I’ll write as a district leader, other times a mom, and sometimes as a wanna-be-back-in-the-classroom-teacher. Thanks to you and your, This Week in Ontario Edublogs series, I have been able to read other blogs from really talented writers and thinkers and this continues to inspire me as well.
Doug: Since you can’t be there 24/7 for teachers, you must have a repository of resources for your teacher to access. How do you handle that? Can you share?
Jennifer: I really use my blog to share resources and ideas and I share lots on Twitter. The very best feeling for me is when someone tells me that they actually used an idea I shared in their class and tell me how it went! When I run a learning series or inquiry, I take advantage of the collaborative power of Google Apps for Education and create a shared folder for everyone. I also create templates and upload them to our domain when I think a graphic organizer or template would be useful for anyone. Most importantly, I try to be there via email or phone if someone needs help as sometimes it’s just support teachers are looking for.
Doug: There is exciting news about your future, Jennifer. You’re leaving your current position to take another. Can you share where you’re headed, what you’ll be doing, and what your plans are for the new position?
Jennifer: I will be the Teacher-Librarian at Cardinal Carter CHS in Aurora (it’s literally across the street from the Board office). I am most excited about being able to implement all of the learning and experiences to which I’ve been blessed to have access into a school environment. I am excited to dabble into a Makerspace and how that might complement the school culture there. I am already planning a global collaborative EDU Amazing Race with Geography teachers (will share more as that unfolds) in collaboration with some amazing educators including the folks at Breakout EDU virtual, and I am starting a TED Ed Club for students. Overzealous? Typical! But, I am thrilled at the opportunity to not just talk about student digital leadership and student voice, but to actually work with students again. And because it’s an IB school, I am looking forward to lots of new learning!
You can check out all of the interviews I’ve conducted by clicking here.