An interview with Michelle Cordy

I have known Michelle Cordy for a number of years now and admired her work with the Thames Valley District School Board.  We both served on the Board of Directors for the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario.  

For many, I suspect, Michelle has burst upon the scene with her closing keynote address at the 2016 ISTE Conference.  But, those of us who know her, know that she’s done some amazing things in her Thames Valley classrooms and in provincial leadership capacities long before this.

Michelle has agreed to sit down and share a bit about this experience and her day job as a Grade 3 teacher.

Doug:  Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Michelle.  I’m looking forward to learning a little more about you as an educational professional.

Michelle: Thank you! I appreciate all that you do for educators in Ontario and beyond. It’s a pleasure to be asked.

Doug:  Do you recall when we first met?

Michelle: I suspect that we may recall different first greetings! I was aware of you as early as my first BIT Conference back when it was ECOO. I remember feeling so honoured when I would get a #ff ‘Follow Friday’ as an Active Ontario Educator.  Then we eventually met face to face and for me I felt like I already knew you.

Doug:  I’ve so many questions to ask but will try to cut them back to enough not to write the great Canadian novel here.  You’ve been a teacher for about 15 years now and have taught grades 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8.  Are you trying to “run the table” or is this the reality of enrollment trends?

Michelle: I began as a grade 8 teacher and loved it. Young teenagers going through so many transitions is really interesting. However, I found it difficult to program effectively for a variety of needs, especially students that were many grade levels behind in math and reading. I had to co-author IEPs to reflect expectations for grade 3 and yet I really didn’t know what that meant. So, I thought I would teach grade 3, figure out how to teach reading and then head back to grade 7 and 8. Now, 8 years or more later, I’m still in love with teaching grade 2, 3, 4 and there is still so much to learn.  

Doug:  For the present, you’re working with “Grade 3 students in a 1:1 iPad environment”.  It sounds exciting; what does it really mean?

Michelle: The 1:1 iPad environment means that each student in my class has his or her own iPad assigned to them for use at school.  It’s been amazing, I wish it would continue forever.

Doug:  You call yourself an “Applied Researcher”.  What does this mean to you?

Michelle: I am an Applied Researcher which means that I actively engage in research projects with academics and industry partners.  I have been fortunate to work with researchers from Ontario universities and some companies as well to conduct field based research.  Over the past 10 years, I have been part of over 10 published peer-reviewed journal articles.  I love the classroom and I love research, being an Applied Researcher allows me to stay in the classroom but be part of research.  I hope to help bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Doug:  Shouldn’t every teacher call themselves that at some level?

Michelle: Yes, absolutely.  Teacher assessment is a form of research.  Also, much of the professional development we are doing in Ontario education has elements of action research.  The work I do is just a bit more formalized thanks to the researchers I have worked with who are able to add a layer of sophistication and rigor that would be difficult for me to achieve on my own.  

Doug:  How have the students treated the iPads?  Have there been any accidents?  I like how you’ve documented your thinking here – http://hacktheclassroom.ca/category/ipads-in-the-classroom/

Michelle: Accidents, sure. They are kids and accidents happen.  Overall, the kids know it’s special and treat the devices with care. It’s just when we are in the heat of a learning moment and they put a device down in the middle of the floor while they jump to something else that things get a little hairy. It makes me smile when they forget that the device is precious and the kids just use it as a robust learning tool. I actually kind of like it when they forget to be careful and just get lost in learning and creating. Until someone drops an iPad and then we start being vigilant again.  Thank goodness for good cases.

Doug:  Every technology has a life span.  When your iPads become obsolete, will they be replaced?

Michelle:  Probably they will not be replaced.  But, the good news is that the access to mobile technology is so much greater today than it was 5 years ago. I am confident that I could still do a lot of cool technology enabled learning by using technology carts that belong to the school.

Doug:  When your Grade 3 students move to Grade 4, is there a challenge for them to move to a non-1:1 setting?

Michelle: No, they don’t really experience a challenge moving to grade 4, but they certainly experience a wonderful leadership opportunity. My students become the technology experts as they move up the grades. They are the kids that help others, even the teachers sometimes!  They are proud of the skills they acquired in my class and those skills continue to develop as they teach others. I love hearing about how my “Cordys” are changing education with their knowledge, experience and desire to use digital tools to express their thinking.  It’s been a cool process to watch these kids move up and see the teachers embrace their expertise.

Doug:  Now, effective use of technology doesn’t happen overnight.  How did you learn the skills and prepare yourself for the 1:1 experience?

Michelle: I had been pretty engaged in technology integration prior to going 1:1 with iPad. I had been very invested in Smart technology with Smartboards, student response systems (clickers) and even palm pilots ages ago.  I had already had the experience of being confronted with new technology and finding ways to make it enhance learning in the classroom.  So, I could draw on this experience of playing and “groking” my way forward.  Also, I looked for every opportunity to attend conferences to mix and mingle with people in the know.  Eventually I applied to become an Apple Distinguished Educator and that has been tremendous.  Being able to have a closer relationship with Apple and other ADEs has kept me informed and moving forward.  Sometimes it’s better to look for people to help you solve a problem before you try to look for a solution. Often, in my experience, it’s been my friends who have solved my problems and challenges with me. Both the Apple and Google educator programs were important to me and I am proud to be part of them.  I think it would be easier now to figure out how to use Apple and Google products than it was 5 years ago.  While these programs have meant a lot to me, I think many people get the same benefit of community and knowledge sharing from communities they create on their own.  We all learn in different ways that suit who we are and where we are in our lives and careers. For me, I had the jump-in-and-figure-it-out mindset paired with company and community support.

Doug:  Mental note – look up “groking”.

In this context, your website “Hack the Classroom” is named appropriately.  Wouldn’t it have been a great deal easier to just go with the status quo?

Michelle:  If I had gone with the status quo I would have missed the opportunity to have this awesome 1:1 classroom and to collaborate with educators from all over the world.  I’m so grateful that I have taken a journey that felt right to me.  I think I have been able to make a contribution to my students’ lives and to other educators by trying to do something different. We all contribute in our own way. I think many good teachers can make outstanding contributions from inside the status quo.  For me, I needed  to march to a slightly different beat. The great news is that now this stuff is all becoming so much more mainstream. I’m practically status quo now!

Doug:  I think all your Ontario friends were excited when you were announced as the closing keynote for the ISTE Conference.  In fact, my comment was …

So, here’s the million dollar question – how did they find you?

Michelle:  I find this question difficult to answer. I wish I could answer it so others could have the opportunity I had.  I wish I could answer to make it seem like I was the natural choice and it was my good work that made me the right candidate.  It’s hard to answer this question.  The fact is that people from ISTE called me in December 2015 and asked me to apply. They liked the ideas I suggested and offered me the spot.  I didn’t go looking for this, it came to me. I can’t take any credit for being selected. Someone at ISTE had seen some of my talks and decided to take a chance on me.  They could have chosen 1000 other educators, but they decided on me.  I am deeply grateful to the person who believed I was the right choice. Making that person proud was incredibly important to me.

Doug:  I think it speaks volumes to you, as a connected educator, that you reached out to so many of your connections for advice in preparation.  Did you find it helpful?

Michelle: I could not have been successful without my friends and colleagues.  Countless individuals gave me feedback at all stages and on all aspects of the talk.  Prior to the big day, I had 4 full on rehearsals including a “Keynote party” where I invited friends and academics from the faculty of psychology at Western University.  I had so much help.  I’m so grateful for the support.

Doug:  Your talk was titled “Show up and refuse to leave”.  That’s a great title and I wrote a blog post showing some of the audience feedback and a Periscope of your presentation.  https://dougpete.wordpress.com/2016/07/02/show-up-and-refuse-to-leave/  

One thing that stood out to me was acknowledging that you were missing the last day of class with your students.  How hard was that?

Michelle: It was so hard!  My third slide included pictures of all my students. As I told the audience that there was only one other place I would rather be at that moment, the audience made a collective sigh. They made this sweet “awe” sound.  I choked up and told the audience they weren’t allowed to get sentimental yet!  Everyone laughed.  It was a great moment when I was totally unified with the audience. I was totally authentic.  From that moment onwards, the keynote just, well, happened in such a beautiful way beyond what I could have hoped for.  Then, when I closed by saying goodbye to my students I could feel my heart breaking a little.  I almost forgot I was speaking to an audience, I was just with them. It was very affirming for me that I have made the right decision to stay in the classroom.  

Doug:  You certainly didn’t come across as nervous but you had to be just a wee bit.  Am I right?  At what point did the nerves go away?

Michelle: The nerves went away when I was dancing back stage with my friend Cathy Hunt who did a 5 minute talk prior to my keynote. We laughed, we danced, we did our power poses.  We made an effort to not take ourselves too seriously, and I think it worked!

Doug:  I’m sure that you’ve been following the response online and I hope that you’re appreciating it.  Has this opened any additional opportunities for you?

Michelle: Yes and no.  There was a tremendous response and lots of people reached out after ISTE.  The reality is that I am a full time classroom teacher and I am not a professional speaker or consultant. It is very difficult for me to be away from the classroom.  So, I must be very selective about the work I choose to do in addition to my classroom responsibilities. You won’t see my face on too many conference flyers after ISTE.  I would love to speak more often, but, the truth is I have a full time job and a job I love. I am not ready to trade my classroom for other work.  My workshops and keynote come from the work I do inside the classroom, so for now, that’s where I belong.

Doug:  ISTE published an article with more details during their annual conference. “Michelle Cordy: When teachers connect, they change the world

I read somewhere that you’re off to Berlin this summer. What’s up with that?

Michelle: Berlin! So amazing. It’s such a gritty city with so much art and story woven in everywhere.  It’s a haunting place to be too. It’s a city that continues to bear witness to the atrocities of the past.  I was there for the global Apple Institute where I gathered with 480 Apple Distinguished Educators. Many Apple employees attend this event, including engineers and managers in charge of apps such as iMovie, FinalCut Pro, Keynote, GarageBand, Pages and much more.  It’s amazing to work directly with these engineers and product managers to better understand these products and imagine new ways to use them in the classroom. Plus, we got a sneak peak at Apple’s Swifts Playground, their new iOS app for teaching coding.

Doug:  Unfortunately, you were there at the time of the event in Munich.  Did that have an impact on you?

Michelle: Yes, the shooting in Munich made us more aware and vigilant when traveling off site.  I received many texts and messages from friends making sure I was okay.  The event organizers briefed us all on security and safety procedures, but this is now standard practice, I’m sad to say, at these events.  The security is very tight at ADE Institute. Apple hires security that is around full time and you must always wear your badge.  Safety is one of their top concerns, they take it very seriously.

Doug:  You seem to embrace this media nicely.  I recall all of the online interviews that you did going into the Bring IT, Together Conference a couple of years ago.  Is the future of the blog in danger with video?

Michelle: I don’t think that blogging is in danger of being replaced with video.  Text is amazing.  With video and podcasts it’s much harder to scrub and scan through the content.   Video has different affordances, but I think we still live in a world where text is king. Unless you make exceptional short videos. I think the internet loves videos that are 1 minute long. If you can make your point in a powerful 1 minute video, people will see it. But, and I know this from experience, the time to make those 1 minute videos is massive. So, text is still the thing.

Doug:  Nobody does all this alone.  If I had to ask you to name 3-5 people or blogs that have influenced you, what would your response be?

Michelle:  The 5 most important people to my #edtech and #teachingworld

  1. Dr. Donna Kotsopoulos.  Researcher at Wilfrid Laurier University and long time mentor and friend. I wouldn’t be where I am, nor would I be who I am, without her.

  2. Howard Rheingold.  Author of Net Smart and many other books. He’s one of the kindest and most enlightened humans I have ever talked to. His courses through Rheingold U changed me.

  3. Susan Bruyns.  Learning Supervisor at TVDSB and my former principal. She always said yes.

  4. danah boyd and researchers connected to Digital Media and Learning (DML). Especially the Spigot, my one stop shop for hot research in this area http://spigot.org/#practice

  5. All the people who make the TLLP program possible, especially Carol Campbell and Jim Strachan. The Teaching Learning and Leadership Program has been essential to my career.  This program paved the way for being a leader from inside the classroom.

 

Doug:  Thank you so much for the interview, Michelle. I know that it can be tough to talk about yourself but you did so nicely.  I really appreciate it and congratulate you for the success that you enjoyed in Denver.  I wish you all the best with what lies ahead.

I hope that, by the time you’ve reached here, that you have enjoyed the Periscope of Michelle’s presentation.  Make sure that you follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/cordym and her blog at http://hacktheclassroom.ca .

I’ve been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to interview great educators like Michelle. You can read all of the interviews posted to this blog here.

 

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