An Interview with Helen DeWaard

Helen

Helen DeWaard follows nicely after the last interview with Sarah Lalonde. Sarah is a student at a Faculty of Education and Helen teaches at one! To steal a quote from Joni Mitchell, it’s time to look at “both sides now”.

Doug:  Before we start, a public apology for misspelling your name a couple of weeks ago. I was close, but one “a” short of a DeWaard.

Helen:  Doug, no offence taken. The name has its challenges and doesn’t even follow the usual Dutch naming protocols – no space between the De and Waard.

Doug: It’s always the first question in my interviews. Do you recall when you first connected with me?

Helen: I’ve connected with you a few times over the years at the annual ECOO conferences. In the early 90’s I was attending to stay informed to new technologies and then I started presenting. I was a bit of a Filemaker Pro fanatic back then, designing databases to use in classroom and school contexts. I stopped attending for a while, but ‘rebooted’ my annual trek to ECOO when I started the Masters in Ed Tech program at UBC. As I was gaining confidence and building my PLN, ECOO became a place for networking and connecting. I remember a session we attended together presented by Sylvia Duckworth where someone sketched your profile. That session sticks with me still – for the power that one image can make. I continue to dabble in doodling thanks to Sylvia’s session. When you posted that image to your Twitter account, I sensed the power it had on you. So, yes, we’ve met ‘in-real-life’ but more like passing in the conference hallways. Our online, digital connections have been similar to that. We’ve passed along slipstreams of conversations about digital topics but we’ve never really connected until this fall with the Creative Commons conversation. I have to say, I admire and appreciate the work you do to bring Ontario educators the recognition and attention they deserve. I love finding new voices from your ‘This Week in EduBlogs’ posts.

Doug: If you click through to Helen’s website, you’ll see that she has indeed been a regular presenter at the Bring IT, Together and before that, ECOO Conference.

I know that you read my interview with Sarah because you made reference to it on your Five Flames for Learning blog in a post titled The Web We Weave – Curation in Action.

In the post, you make reference to many curation tools. Certainly, a perspective teacher can’t be expected to use them all immediately.

Helen: Absolutely not. But awareness of the available digital resources is part of the challenge. There are tools that are big in Europe or Australia that I’ve never tried. Just because my digital tool set includes many different curation applications doesn’t mean I use them all the same way or for the same purpose, or that you or any new teacher should use them. Building your digital tool collection takes purpose and time.

Doug:  Where would you recommend they start?

Helen:  Teachers who are new to curation, that goes for teacher candidates and those in the field, need to start with one or two to figure out what they do and how they work. They need to see how others are using those tools in their professional practice. In my work as an educator, I’ve picked up different digital tools only to drop them eventually because they don’t fit my needs. Often, as teachers, we look for the ‘shiny, new’ tech tools and tend to forget the ‘tried and true’ tools but every teacher should have a toolbox with more than just a hammer, screwdriver and wrench in it.

Doug:  What sort of thing should a potential educator bookmark?

Helen:  Most teacher candidates start with Pinterest as a curation tool. Some of the best lesson plan ideas come from Pinterest! But there’s a world of resources that can’t be pinned! Most new teachers don’t find time to blog let alone read blogs because it takes time to find the ‘right ones’ so RSS is a little known secret. Using an RSS reader can curate blogs that you’re interested in following but there’s lots that won’t hit your reading list. The best curation tools are the ones that you can use seamlessly across devices and platforms, ones that allow annotation or tagging, ones that have purpose for what you do. Diigo and Evernote are two of my go-to curation places – I can seamlessly add and annotate from Twitter or blogs.

I have to mention Cube for Teachers since it’s one of those little known secrets for teachers new to the profession here in Ontario. Because the resource bank is ‘crowd sourced’ by teachers for teachers for teaching, it’s a great place to start a search for lesson ideas, links, and resources. I know the OERB (Ontario Education Resource Bank) is one place where resources have been curated for teachers – it’s not a tool that’s taken out of the box too often when you’re new to teaching, but worth a look. I also have to mention Twitter to build and manage a PLN (personal learning network). I was showing one teacher candidate the power of using lists in Twitter to curate groups of people you want to remember around a particular purpose or passion. Your Twitter list for Ontario educators is a great place for new teachers to start building their own professional network.

Doug: Your blog post certainly looks academic with the references quoted at the bottom. You don’t see that everywhere. Have we taken license with quotation in the world of blogging and curation?

Helen: This is a challenge that I’ve had many conversations around in my work with teacher candidates. I’ve got a foot in two camps – academia and practical practice. In an essay or academic article, referencing rules. Sticky issues like plagiarism take precedence. In practice, my blog writing is about sharing a story or communicating ideas that may or may not be my own, but are certainly connected to the work of others. A general guideline I apply – if I can link it, then I’ll embed the hyperlink. If I quote or use any part of another person’s work, then I reference it. It’s not so much about taking license but acknowledging where our ideas have connected. I think we need to become more aware of how our writing, or any digital work, is connected, is sparked by or deeply resonates from the work of others. It’s a small way to honour the labour of others by referencing it in our blogs.

Doug: Curation means to gather and keep. One thing that is so important is also to cull the dated resources. That stops you from becoming a hoarder! Do you have a technique that you use and recommend? I need to get better at it myself.

Helen: Teachers are notorious hoarders. We’ve just transitioned from those filing cabinets in the basement full of worksheets and ditto masters to digital detritus scattered across the ethersphere. Just like with those filing cabinets, it takes a concentrated effort of time and honest critique to ‘shred’ and delete. This past month, several of my PLN have been working on doing just that – clearing out the digital paraphernalia that’s collected in a multitude of locations.

Sometimes, that is done for us. With the ‘death’ of Storify, there’s a whole file folder I won’t have to clean out, unless I move it all to another file in another drawer. Doug Belshaw, in the UK, wrote about why he deleted everything from Twitter. That took time and a brutally honest and critical stance to accomplish. I’ve recently revised and culled a pile of stuff from my domain site and my blog. It was hard but necessary. I kept asking myself WHY? Why do I need to keep this? What does it mean to me?

For my teaching, currency (how current the information is) is an important consideration. Refreshing my course sites happens as I teach. I delete and archive each time I prepare or design a lesson or offer a course. With my blog site, I delete and revise as I write. I don’t position the archive list prominently on my blog so I’ll link back when something connects.

I think we need to make it part of our annual ritual, like spring cleaning or January commitments to become a ‘new you’. Polishing off our digital persona is a good habit to have.

Doug: What are your thoughts about the two year certification program for educators? What more are you able to provide with the longer program?

Helen: What a tough question. You know the elephant story? It’s like that. You know, one person sees only the trunk so they describe the features they see. The other person has the leg, so it’s not the same description. I’ve got the ear, so what I describe isn’t going to give a full picture of the ‘elephant’. The other constraint is that the times I teach on campus and online and rarely the same as others, so I don’t see or talk to others. Getting connected and staying connected is a challenge.

What I’ve seen, in my limited capacity, is a shift in thinking that’s still filtering into a shift in practice. Taking two years to prepare teacher candidates certainly gives them time to find their ‘voice’ as a teacher and build connections to the profession. So, yes, in the two year program there’s more time in the field, more time to think about pedagogy, more time to explore strategies, more time to dig into curriculum, planning and assessment, and more time to shift persona from a student to a teacher role. But, in reality, it’ll never be enough time. I still hear phrases like “we didn’t learn that in ‘teachers college’” or “the faculties of education should prepare those teachers to do X, Y, Z”. You and I know, since we’ve been doing this work for as many years as we have, that it takes a lifetime to learn how to teach. Most teachers are still learning that after many years in the profession. Putting that expectation on a one year or two year program is unreasonable but also putting huge stress on our new teachers to know it all, be able to do it all, and have it all pulled together. Sarah’s sketchnote really brings this out into the open. Building a network to scaffold and support our new teachers is critical for the profession. It’s something I start with teacher candidates in my classes, but I don’t think it’s necessarily built into many course offerings in the faculties of education.

Doug: In her interview, Sarah lamented the lack of use of social media in her studies?

Helen: Sarah is such a great model for teacher candidates. She’s building bridges where there aren’t any. There aren’t any real ways to connect students in faculties of education across Ontario or Canada, other than through social media. At a foundational level, I use the media triangle (text, audience, production as it’s surrounded by context) to guide social media in my work. I use social media as an opportunity for choice and voice, to build connections, and encourage participation or build a digital presence as an educator.

Doug:  How should they use social media?

Helen:  I have teacher candidates start by setting up a professional blog site. There they can build a voice about topics for the course I teach, but also expand and use it as a place to create a professional portfolio and share their passions. I bring models from the field into the learning so they can see how teachers in the province are using blogs in their professional practice. We take time to contribute comments to blogs in the hope that they’ll extend this beyond their classmates’ or my blog posts.

I introduce Twitter to them, but don’t require them to have an account or be active in Twitter as part of the course work. There’s a twitter account for both courses I teach and a hashtag so we can see how these work differently. I was excited to have a colleague use Twitter to engage students in course content in a strategic way since all my students also took that other course. Deeper conversations about Twitter as a tool for teaching happened as a result of that.

I’m using Slack as part of my online course for the second year as a way to break out of the learning management system mentality of discussion posts as the only way to communicate or ‘talk’ to others in online learning.

As part of the digital storytelling and critical digital literacy connect to video, I bring YouTube and Vimeo into the conversation. Teacher candidates may be great consumers of video but many are reluctant producers and creators in those social media spaces.

Doug; One of the conference presentations that are in your portfolio is “Lessons from the Campfire”. I immediately thought of a David Thornburg keynote (we enjoyed him twice at the Western RCAC Symposium in London) and his book “Campfires in Cyberspace”. Have you ever heard David speak? Were you inspired by his topic or was this just happenstance.

Helen: I am hooked by the Campfires in Cyberspace work from David Thornburg. It’s not happenstance. It’s been inspirational and I keep coming back to Thornburg’s work when I need some ‘cave’ time. I was thrilled when I was able to attend a session at the ECOO conference when he and his wife presented. I was happy to share that with Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen since they were there too. One of my ‘star-struck’ moments.

I try to honour the cave, campfire and watering hole analogies in the way I teach. The piece that I add to this is the ‘stage’ since, as digitally literate and connected educators, we need to go beyond talking around a topic or contemplating an issue, we need to have that performance event, with all the anxieties and uncertainties that are part of that experience. For me, it was my first video production for A Kid’s Guide to Canada that was a performance event. My first ‘Ignite talk’ at the PUSH conference in Barrie was a performance event. My first podcast with Terry Greene was a performance event. I watched the TedX Kitchener production and recognized those as performance events. We need to provide those same places for our students, teachers and school/system leaders – cave, watering hole, campfire and stage – to their learning in digital spaces.

Doug: What’s your inspiration to blog? How often do you blog? Do you have a schedule or do you write when inspired by something?

Helen: I tend to blog when inspired but try to blog at least once or twice a month. I’ll also draft and leave it if it’s not really working out the way I want it to. The post I wrote about Sitting Down Side By Side was one I’d started in 2015, revisited in 2016 and finally revised and published in 2018. I’m working on one now that my students have inspired from conversation in the classroom this past week. Often it’s a something I’m reading or work I’m doing that becomes the catalyst or spark. I read extensively when not deep into course design or teaching. I’ve always been an avid reader. Sometimes, when sitting by the campfire, the connections happen. Being able to take a break or move away from the everyday provides time for ideas to connect in unusual ways. Sometimes it’s the long drive to Windsor that prompts a blog post 😉 !

Doug: I can understand that.  Over the summer, I thought I should be blogging about he construction work around Chatham.

Back to the Faculty, what would be your top five recommendations for blogs for your students to read and educators to follow on Twitter?

Helen: I’m going to hedge my answer by not answering. I’m not a fan of those types of lists. They inevitably leave someone out or don’t provide what a ‘reader’ is really looking for. With teacher candidates who are just starting out in the profession, I provide a spiral of connections rather than a ‘go to’ list. You’re at the top of the spirals since teacher candidates can find great education bloggers through your work. My recommendation for teacher candidates, or even those currently looking to get connected, is to start local. Find people in the context for your teaching practice, be it Windsor, Toronto, Barrie, Thunder Bay, Ottawa or anywhere in between. Look at school and board sites to find teachers who may be actively using digital spaces to share with parents or professionals. Then, reach out to Ontario educators from those connections. Build it outward to Canadian educators since there’s so much happening across this country. It’s easy to find educators in the US but look beyond that to the European, Australia/New Zealand, and Asian contexts to expand your blogger list. Some of my favourite bloggers are in Egypt, Belgium, Japan and Australia. They wouldn’t make it to a list, but they make me think.

I’ll switch my top five bloggers list frequently since my interests or focus shifts. My list wouldn’t suit anyone else. Everyone needs to build their own top 5 list for themselves and keep it current to their needs.

So my short answer is …. No Doug, I can’t do that!

Doug: And I thought that was going to be a good question!

Big issues of the day in education include “Fake News”, “Open Education”, “Mental Health”, “Professional Learning”, among others. How are these addressed at a Faculty of Education?

Helen: I can respond to how I address these in my work, but couldn’t necessary pinpoint how the faculty as a whole accomplishes this. It’s back to that elephant analogy. Every instructor, under the umbrella of academic freedom, will address it in their own course context. Just as K-12 teachers do, it’s often found in the ‘teachable moment’ that isn’t written in the course outline or syllabus. Part of the serendipity of teaching.

I openly advocate about being an open educator so that’s part of the ongoing conversation as students transition from private lives to public scrutiny as an educator. Since one of the courses I teach is media and digital literacy, the current topics of media conversation percolates into the discussions. The mental health conversations are certainly forefront since teacher candidates face enormous pressures to perform at optimal levels, face failures as lessons collapse around them, are challenged by expectations of others and confront self doubts as they shift their persona from student to professional.

Doug: I note that you have registered your own domain for blog and website. Do you think that the potential educators you reach should register their own domain while at the Faculty and then carry it to their professional practice?

Helen: In my dream world, every teacher would enter the profession with their own domain. That’s not going to happen, but I can model what this can look like for them to have a professional persona to call their own. I’ve been looking at the Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) and Reclaim Hosting, that comes from Jim Groom’s work. It could certainly serve as a model for teachers as they build a professional practice. Some faculties require teacher candidates to come into the program with laptops or tablet technologies. I’d love to be able to gift this to teacher candidates and then critically focus their two year program on supporting and developing their ‘passion project’ around their digital presence. Part of that is weaving those critical digital literacies into the ‘work’ as they build their domain. I’d rather have parents or outside organizations search for me on the web and find my carefully crafted professional presence rather than some random ‘other’ who isn’t me or something that was me in a former iteration on the web.

Doug: Do you warn students of the dangers of social media to their reputation and possibilities of being hired? What’s your advice?

Helen: This question follows from the question before…. Absolutely, we talk about the dangers but also the possibilities that lie in the use of social media. Rather than taking a BEWARE OF THE WEB (capital letters intended as echo chamber warning sound) stance, I encourage teacher candidates to take an informed, critical and decisive approach. They can’t do that from only one side of the equation. If you’ve never used Twitter for example, how can you categorically say it’s a waste to time or of no use to you. If you’ve only ‘lurked’ on Twitter, can you emphatically say you’ve given it a try and it doesn’t work? So my advice to them is to try something, talk to others about it, read widely about how it can or shouldn’t be applied to teaching and/or learning, then make a decision. I encourage them to craft with care and build their reputation over time. This doesn’t happen quickly for those who are less comfortable or overly cautious, but it can still happen. That’s why I ask former students for permission to share their blogs as models for those who will come next. That’s why Sarah Lalonde is a model for others.She’s intentionally creating her digital presence as a passionate educator.

In terms of employability and professional reputation, I think it’s advantageous for teacher candidates to demonstrate that they’ve created a positive presence crafted from informed choices about using social media as a professional. School principals and system leaders are looking for teachers who can move forward in the profession by modelling global competencies (see the six outlined by Ontario recently), which can be evident in the artifacts teacher candidates bring to the table from their social media spaces – blogs, tweets, images, podcasts, videos, etc. I had a conversation about this with several educators across the province in a recorded Google Hangout for my students. It’s an conversation we all should be having so I was happy to have Angela de Palma from the Ontario College of Teachers as part of this discussion.

And, it’s not just about reputation. It’s about being connected in today’s educational environments. One student told me about a response someone made at the end of an interview – “I want you to know that if you hire me, you also hire my PLN”! That’s the teacher candidate I’d like to have on my school team!

Doug: Here’s a chance to give your thoughts about your involvement with voicEd Radio.

Helen: VoiceEd Radio is an amazing curation of voices and topics within the educational landscape and I’m so thankful for all the work Stephen Hurley’s doing to make this happen. The statement that the world needs more Canada comes to mind – and voicED radio delivers! No cost! Free to listen! As voiceEd Radio comes up to a one year anniversary, I know it will continue to gain audiences as it grows exponentially out to the world. My involvement is minimal but I’ve been a cheerleader and advocate over the years even in it’s previous iteration.

Recent podcasts with Terry Greene on Getting Air and with Sarah Lalonde on Que Sera Sarah were highlights for me. But the real gift was the opportunity to have teacher candidates participate in visible and not-so-visible ways. I’m hoping they will continue to participate beyond the time they spend with me in the courses I teach. Like any proud teacher, I hope their experiences will lead them to do great things with students in their own classrooms, and voicEd Radio can help them do that!

Doug: Thank you so much, Helen. This has been an interesting comparison to Sarah’s interview and will give your followers more insight into who you are. I appreciate your time.

Helen: Thanks Doug for the opportunity to stop and think – interestingly enough, I’m sitting beside the fire in my living room while doing this reflection!

Follow Helen:
Twitter: @hj_dewaard (and don’t forget to double the a)
Website and Portfolio: https://www.hjdewaard.com/
Blog: https://fiveflames4learning.com/

This post is part of a continuing series of interviews that are posted to this blog.  You can visit them all at this link.

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2 comments

  1. Thanks so much for this opportunity, Doug. Enjoyed the process! I’ve been reading these interviews you’ve been doing and never dreamed I’d be one of those getting interviewed. Appreciate the chance to share my story!
    Helen DeWaard

    Like

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