Ramona Meharg is a Special Education teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board. Our paths have crossed in many places over the past couple of years and she’s a regular blogger. I’m a fan of her writing and have included her posts on This Week in Ontario Edublogs many times. It’s time that we get an interview to find out more about what makes this educator tick.
Doug: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Ramona. I appreciate it and I just know that I’m going to learn more about you. My first question is always – do you recall when our paths first crossed?
Ramona: Well, I first heard tell of you in 2016 when I was taking the IICTI AQ. Our instructor, Rodd Lucier, was encouraging us to start blogging and to add our blog to your Live Binder of Ontario Edubloggers. I was such an EdTech newbie at the time, I had no idea Edu Blogging was a thing. I started checking out the other blogs in the Live Binder, hoping to get some ideas for my own. I was blogging semi regularly, mostly about EdTech stuff. When VoicEdRadio started up, Rodd shared that with all of us in the course too – I think at that point I was working on my Specialist. One of the first programs I started listening to was This Week in Ontario Edublogs. I listen every week, usually on Demand, but in the summer, I like to try to catch it live on Wednesday mornings. One Wednesday morning in August, I was working on some things in my classroom, listening to your show, and oh my goodness, you and Stephen Hurley started talking about my blog! Not only had someone read my blog, but they were sharing it…on live radio. You know what they say about blogging…at first you’re afraid someone will read it and then you’re afraid no one will. It was quite a thrill. I’ve been mentioned on the show and in your #twioe blog a few times since then, and it is always a thrill to be a part of. I presented at the OSSTF technology conference last Spring and saw you at the back of the room. It was my very first time presenting – anywhere – and I was pretty nervous. Then to see a celebrity in the back of the room! I was too shy to come up and talk to you afterwards, but I did reach out to you via Twitter to give me some constructive feedback on my presentation. You were very supportive and generous to me. So I submitted a few more proposals to present other places. Last November you contacted me about participating in a live version of #twioe at the BIT’17 conference in Niagara Falls, which I was presenting at. That was really our first true meeting in real life – I actually spoke to you this time. The recording didn’t end up working – I guess it will become the legendary “Lost Episode of This Week in Ontario Edublogs”. I really enjoyed the experience, it was great to meet yourself, Stephen and some of the other EduBloggers there that day, and it was fun answering your questions about the blogs.
Doug: It really would have been epic had the recording worked. I bring it up to Stephen occasionally. I do enjoy reading your posts. I’ve got to ask a question that has long been in my mind. There has to be a reason behind your choice of blog name.
Ramona: Picking a name for a blog is hard! I like the one I finally settled on though. It was sort of a response to the “Not my job”, “Not my problem”, “Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys” comments I had been hearing from folks for years. There is certainly a time to mind your own business, but often these comments would be made in situations where people had the ability and power to make a difference, or make a change that would help someone, but wouldn’t. I often bristle inside when I hear that – if it’s not your job, whose is it? Aren’t we a team? So, My Circus, My Monkeys is in reference to my belief that, certainly in my classroom and school, it is my circus and they are my monkeys and I’m going to do everything I can to make it the best it can be. So, it was chosen for a sort of serious reason, but I like the sense of whimsy it gives as well. Monkeys are funny. Sometimes I will be a bit silly or whimsical in my blog, because who doesn’t love to laugh?
Doug: With a title like that, have you ever been questioned about it? (I mean before this!)
Ramona: Oddly enough, no. I had also considered “Meharg’s Musings”, but no one is ever sure how to pronounce my last name, so I’m glad I went with the Monkeys.
Doug: That brings back a memory. I remember in Niagara Falls asking you if I was pronouncing it properly. Meharg was new to me. I thought your name might have been Graham and Meharg was your stage name!
Do you have your students blog? What do you see as the benefit?
Ramona: EVERY DAY! They either blog or vlog (video blog using FlipGrid). In the old days, we called it Journalling. It’s important for their communication skills to be able to share an opinion, or show what they have learned or reflect on an experience. Student Voice is the big buzzword right now, so I guess Blogging and Vlogging certainly is a way to do that in a more EdTech way. It’s also helpful because they are thinking more about the audience as they write or record. We generally make our posts public and when we don’t, we still share with each other, so they are much more aware of using punctuation, checking for errors before they hit post, and thinking about the words they use, because I, the Teacher, am not the only one who will see it Some of my students really struggle with fine motor tasks, or don’t have written language abilities. For them, Vlogging has been amazing. They don’t need to ask for someone to scribe for them, or hope that the voice to text gets what they said correct. They hit record, and off they go.
Doug: How do you use other technologies in your special education class? Could you imagine teaching without it?
Ramona: Well, when I started, I didn’t have a lot of Technology in the room. An overhead projector and a TV/VCR. We had one desktop computer that was shared with another class and lots of floppy discs. One non verbal student had a voice output device (it was huge and heavy and not that easy to record on). I had to really push and fund raise for computers and all kinds of assistive devices in the room. Now I have a SMARTBoard, desktops, a few Chromebooks, some ozobots and each student has their own SEA iPad. I would not like to teach without it anymore. Technology is helping level the playing field for Special Education Students. Students with no written language can use voice to text, Students with speech problems can use text to speech programs, the ease of apps like iMovie and G-Suite allow these students to produce high quality work – something they have always been capable of, but never had a way to show it before. There is probably not a part of our day that doesn’t involve technology anymore. That is not to say that it is all tech all the time, because it isn’t. We still use manipulatives, we still create with paper and pencil crayons, there is a big bucket of old time lego (not the programmable kind), we still write on paper and use pens and pencils. We just leverage the tech to make things that were not possible for students to do independently in the past, possible. My hope is that technology and universal design force me out of the Special Education field because they won’t need me anymore – they’ll be able to access curriculum with their peers.
Doug: I first met you in person at the OSSTF Conference last year; you were doing a session on the Internet of Things. Do you have a special interest in this?
Ramona: That presentation came out of a project that Marjan Macanovik (a Computer Science Teacher in the Windsor area) and I did together for our Specialist IICTI course. You can still see it at: ThingLink: I of T and the Future of Education. We were looking at IofT and how it would change schools in the future. It was a really fascinating topic and I really got into it. I think I was most interested in how it will change Special Education – but really, the future school experience for everyone, including teachers.
Doug: You also led an #ECOOchat on the same topic and engaged a group on Twitter. You had indicated that, while you participate in a number of chats, you’d never led one yourself. What did you think of the experience?
Ramona: I enjoyed the experience, and will likely do it again if the occasion arises. I love Twitter chats – the hour goes so fast and you really pick up a lot of incredible information in a hurry. Leading them goes even faster. You are watching the clock, the responses, trying to respond and get the questions out. It’s like SpeedPD.
Doug: And you use Twitter in your regular professional life. If you were trying to convince someone of the value of being a teacher on Twitter, what would you focus on?
Ramona: It’s amazing how often a colleague will see something we are doing in class or posting on our class website or class Twitter feed and ask where I got the idea, and I tell them, “I saw it on Twitter.” I no longer have to wait for a PD session on a PD day to learn something new, I have great PD 24-7 and get immediate ideas, answers, and input from other educators worldwide. I’m really not that amazing or creative a Teacher, I’m just really good at finding and adapting what others are doing to my classroom and the needs of my students. I don’t need to be re-inventing the wheel everyday and I’m not waiting for someone else to decide what PD is best for me – I can reach out through Twitter and get what I need, when I need it. Things like the Global Read Aloud and the Digital Human Library and so many more great programs that work on global connections and empathy are all just a part of what you can learn about when you start using Twitter.
Doug: Recently, your social media involvement has turned into a regular show on voicEd Radio “I Wish I Knew EDU”. https://voiced.ca/i-wish-i-knew-edu-with-ramona-meharg/ Can you tell us about the show’s format and who you’ve interviewed?
Ramona: Thanks for bringing that up. That’s still a fairly new endeavor that I’m really proud of. I started in February and the idea behind the podcast is all the things we wish we knew when we started teaching. There were tonnes of things I didn’t know when I started teaching, all those things you learn on the job, in the thick of it all. The mistakes we make, the lessons we learn, the joy of teaching. It’s a chance to share the collective knowledge of the Educators who are gracious enough to join me, and a chance to see some of the great things they are doing, that we might not hear about otherwise. There is great conversation about the teaching life and we share some funny stories too. I’m still learning some of the ins and outs of podcasting – audio drift has been my nemesis, but I am learning! I’ve recorded 14 Episodes so far and been able to talk to some fabulous teachers working in all areas of Education from Vice Principal Heather Jakobi, to Outdoor Education Co-ordinator Erin Mutch, Educational Technologist David Carruthers, Coding specialist Derek Tangredi, Technology coach T. Scott, Health and physical Education Co-ordinator Andrea Hansen, Kindergarten Specialist Aviva Dunsinger, Teacher-Librarian/Tech Co-ordinator Dawn Telfer, Helen DeWaard of the Faculty of Ed, High School Math teacher Agi Orban, English Teachers Eva Thompson and Julie Balen, Leanne Hansen in Australia who works with at risk students and of course, Mr. Doug Peterson, himself (who was a great person to chat with, by the way!). That’s teachers from 8 different school boards, 1 Faculty of Ed, 1 retired and 1 Aussie. I really want to show the diversity of what teachers do, while celebrating those things that we all share in the profession. I’ve got some great guests lined up for the near future too – Literacy Specialists, Tech gurus, Teacher-Librarians, Teacher/authors, maybe a few folks outside of Ontario and Canada…watch for those to be promoted on Twitter.
Doug: Well, let’s not get too carried away. If I remember correctly, I was a fill-in for someone else.
Have you ever considered interviewing yourself or having someone interview you with your format:
Ramona: David Carruthers asked me that too! I have. I think I’m saving those ideas for the landmark episodes – like maybe for #25 I’ll get a Teacher Candidate or new Teacher to interview me and at the 1 year mark, perhaps I’ll do a episode on my own. We’ll see! I’ve got to make it there first – but it’s good to have goals!
Doug: You recently shared with me that your proposal for an OTF Summer Institute has been accepted. Congratulations. Can you share the details in case any of the readers here are interested in attending?
Ramona: Thanks! It is called Connecting your Classroom to the World and it will be at UWO August 8-10. It’s designed to help EdTech beginners/novices learn the tools and programs needed to collaborate with classrooms next door or around the world. Along with tools like Google Hangouts, padlet, FlipGrid, and others, we’ll be looking at The Global Read Aloud, the Digital Human Library, the UN Sustainability Goals and lots more.
Doug: I wish you all the success with the institute and your continued involvement with other educators on social media.
Ramona: Thanks Doug
Doug: Where can people find Ramona Meharg on social media?
- Follow me on Twitter @Ramona Meharg
- My Classroom Twitter is @MehargsVikings
- Our classroom Website is https://sites.google.com/gotvdsb.ca/mehargsvikings
- My blog is: http://mycircus-mymonkeys-mo.blogspot.ca/
Doug: Why would you think you would be a good person for others to follow?
Ramona: I’m into Ed tech, Special Education, great PD, new learning opportunities and all things G-Suite – if this sounds like your cup of tea, then give me a follow.
This interview is part of a series of interview with interesting people like Ramona. You can see them all here. https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews