This Week in Ontario Edublogs


It’s another Friday, a sad one for education and society, but still a chance to get inspired by some writing from Ontario Edubloggers. So, here goes.


Prom Project Hamilton

This is an interesting and wonderful project. Not everyone has the resources to be able to go out and buy something brand new to wear to the school prom. That shouldn’t be a reason for people not to go.

Kelly shares her work for this project gathering lightly used clothes, sorting by size, and making them available to students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the outfit. Not only does it give them the clothes but it would raise their esteem and allow them to celebrate the end of a school career with classmates.

I had to ask my wife what we did for the prom. Her mother made her a fancy dress. Me, apparently, I wore my church clothes.

This initiative would be nice to see replicated in all school districts.


How do we develop students for democracy?

Paul’s post was my thinker for the week. He reflects on the writing of Westheimer and Kahne (What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy, 2004) where they identify two approaches to developing students. Of course, it’s all theory until you see it in action and then analysed. That’s where this post comes in.

Paul looks inwardly and recalls a field trip to the Dominican Republic and highlights the poverty and yet the attraction of the beaches to tourists.

He also talks about Police Officers coming in to the school to talk to students. At one point, he was a fan of the concept. Now that we’re looking at a contemporary approach to evaluating authorities in the country, he has changed his opinion. He’s not alone – a lot of schools districts are rethinking things as well.

This is a great post that he me thinking and that’s a good thing.


If a student asks for poetry…

I knew the answer before I clicked.

Teacher goes out and buys it.

As teachers, we’ve all done that. The school district support for curriculum only goes so far and the rest is either ignored or researched/funded by teachers. Been there, done that.

That’s not the best part of this post though. Amanda didn’t know this poet and so did some research to bring herself up to speed. Student teaching the teacher. What a golden moment!

Have you ever wondered though – should students have a voice at the purchasing table to help made education richer? It happened in this case.


Day Late, Dollar Short (again)

Lisa weaves a nice story and observation as per usual although as she notes, a day late. But the wait was worth it.

She shares with us an observation about things not being accomplished on time this year. I suspect that so many teachers will have the same observation from their classroom. Lisa shares how she coped with her students with an interesting classroom activity.

I love the part when a student noted how much they’d improved in the work over the course of the year and got to show her progress with the school administration. Success!

And, “nobody cried in art”. Success? ! Maybe the ? goes away when it’s done again.

Lisa wishes this success had happened in November but the key is that it did happen. No matter when, there really is a high when things all come together.


Virtual Presentations

You know that something ain’t right when a teacher makes this statement.

On my bucket list of things to do as an educator, one of my wishes has been to have students attend a live concert.

Understandably, it’s been impossible the past couple of years. Heck, many adults can’t get out to a live concert.

In my high school years, I remember going to Stratford on a field trip to take in a concert and a play. There’s nothing like being there in person.

So, Stephanie, things will get better and you’ll be able to scratch that from your bucket list. Soon, I hope.

In the meantime, traditional places offer virtual experiences and Stephanie outlines some of them. To that, I’d add https://www.stahome.org/2016. Not a concert but a good example of a good organization doing good.


I’m Getting Used To This

We’ve established expectations this year just like how we established expectations in past years. We stand up for the national anthem, ask for permission before leaving the classroom, stay quiet while taking tests. I’m used to that. Again. And that’s where I think my problem truly is.

I’ve mentioned this before. With all the COVID teaching, maybe there would be a great deal of thought about it and education would come out better as a result. Did we have it perfect in the past. Was there no room for improvement?

Matthew notes that what so many have wanted – “a return to normal” just doesn’t feel right to him.

If the school system isn’t making massive changes, then maybe the answer lies in those little steps. Close the classroom door and change what needs to be changed there.


An Interview with Shyama Sunderaswara

When I started this blog oh so many years ago, I had no idea what I would do. I think I was probably considerably more geeky back then and wrote about computer things. Over the years, I’d done some experimentation and one that I’ve come to love, although it’s a lot more work than a regular post, is to interview what I call “interesting people”. All the interviews can be directly found here.

I had the chance to interview Shyama and it came back powerfully. She pulls no punches about being a Planning Time Teacher, or her use of the phrase “all lives matter”, or her vision of getting Ontario educators together. It’s one of the longer interviews that I’ve done but I think well worth the read.


Hopefully, this weekend you can find the time to click through and read all these posts.

Then, follow these people on Twitter.

  • Paul McGuire – @mcguirp
  • Amanda Potts – @Ahpotts 
  • Lisa Corbett – @LisaCorbett0261
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Shyama Sunderaswara – @ssunderaswara

This voicEd Radio show can be found here.

An Interview with Shyama Sunderaswara


I’ve never actually met Shyama face to face although we have considerable interaction on Twitter when she tags me in messages.  She does claim to have a passion for teaching and it comes through loudly and clearly as she shares her philosophy, opinions, and pictures of learning in action from her school regularly on Social Media.

I invited her to be interviewed and, voila, here she is.

Doug:  So, my first question is always the same – how did you ever find me and decide that our paths needed to cross?

Shyama: @WillGourley was my “Host Teacher” during my practicum at Niagara University. I had seen his “Retweets” of your weekly “#FollowFriday – Active Ontario Educators” in which his name had been mentioned many times. From that, I started following your tweets and blogs.  Also when I tweet I tag people whom I think are relevant to that tweet. So I started tagging you whenever I tweeted anything related to education. The first time when I saw my Twitter handle (@ssunderaswara) tagged in the same “#FollowFriday – Active Ontario Educators”, I literally freaked out! I have made many entries on the same list since then, but it still gives me a big sugar rush, every Friday when my name makes “the cut”!  😊

Doug:  You were paired with one of the best, that’s for sure.  I find it interesting when I’m tagged and debate whether it’s an FYI or if you are looking for a response!  As for Fridays, it’s just my attempt to try to make connections.

You have a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Pondicherry University.  I’d never heard of this university so it took me down a bit of a rabbit hole exploring its website.  It was easy as it presents in English and I was impressed with the large number of study offerings for students.  Can you tell us what was the appeal of Pondicherry for you and a bit about the campus?

Shyama: It brought a smile to my face to know that you did some digging about my academic background. Pondicherry itself is a very small coastal city that a lot of people in Canada are not familiar with. Believe it or not, when India was “ruled” by British people, Pondicherry was a French colony and to date, one can see a lot of French influence in Pondicherry. 

If you ever visit India, keep Pondicherry on your itinerary. Or if you are an armchair traveler, then check out these 2 videos: The first one (25 minutes) gives you a good historic overview of Pondicherry and the second one (5 minutes) is a bird’s eye view.  Pondicherry is a very unique eclectic destination that is very different from the rest of India.

I was born in Pondicherry and did all my schooling, college, and university there. So it is not like I chose it out of many options that were available.  Also in those years, my parents would not allow me to go “out of state” to pursue my higher studies. It was just a default option for me.    

Doug:  I confess that I did not know of Pondicherry until we did this interview.  I was more of a Mumbai, New Delhi type of person when I think of India. Already, you’ve made me smarter. I enjoyed the videos and I love the idea of closing the promenade in the evening. Our town did that last summer and it transformed it. It was so popular that they’re going to do it again this summer.

The past couple of years hasn’t been kind to anyone.  How has COVID affected your personal and professional life?

Shyama: I don’t want to offend anybody since I know many people around the world were negatively affected by COVID. At the same time, I have to portray a different side of the story because it is MY story and it is true. 

I went through a very dark phase in the first 10+ years of my project management career in GTA. I was very innocent and did not know how to swim with the sharks. I was academically and technically qualified but did a very poor job in playing corporate politics. Discriminatory treatments, Unfair business practices, and profit (not consumer) driven products/services all started having a toll on my mental health. I still carry a lot of trauma from those years and am trying my best to heal. 

Changing careers to become a teacher is the second-best thing that ever happened to me (the first one, being a mother). Thank God for that. Yes, there have been a lot of changes in the education space during covid times… but as far as my personal and professional lives are concerned I am having the best of both worlds for the past 4 years, (covid or no covid) and I am grateful about it almost every day. My students, my friends, and family see me being happy and positive (irrespective of all the external turbulence) and it is contagious.  Having gone through a lot of bad times in my personal and professional life, especially in Canada, I am finally in a better spot and I am cherishing every moment of it. At the same time, all those experiences have shaped me to become a mature, open-minded, humble, flexible, empathetic person with a lot of clarity and purpose. In retrospect, I am grateful for those hardships and lessons learned. 

Doug:  I don’t think you have to worry about offending anyone.  I appreciate the fact that you were so honest about it.  I’ve never been in that position so can only nod my head sadly.  I’m delighted to see that you landed in education and you’re so positive about it.

Now that students and staff are back in school, how has the regular routine changed?  

Shyama: The major change/challenges during covid used to be huge uncertainties around communication from various directions last-minute pivoting,  and social distancing protocols. But now that things are almost trying to get back to the “pre-covid” times, it looks like we are getting back to some type of normalcy. 

If there was one thing I hated during Covid times, it was the mask. Not being able to smile at my students and not being able to see their smiles or facial expressions was a big “turn off” for me. I am a French language/Music/Drama teacher. Mask was a big punishment on a daily basis. I know it is still a controversial topic. So please note that this is just my personal view. We are not discussing what is right or wrong. I am not disputing or devaluing the rationality of masks, but just saying that it was really hard to go through that phase.

Doug:  I’ve actually talked to some elementary school students who hate the mask as well.  As only a child can, the comment “I think they hate me” comes through because it’s tough to read facial emotions.  

Using your crystal ball, will it be better in the fall?

Shyama: I am an optimist. I hope and pray that things get a lot better for everyone around the world!

Doug:  You’re relatively new to the teaching profession.  What lured you to the classroom?  Any regrets?

Shyama: As a licensed teacher, I am comparatively new to this profession in Ontario. I was a lecturer in a community college (affiliated with Pondicherry University) when I was 24 years old. My mother is a retired teacher and my dad was an extension educator in the health department in Pondicherry. Many of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and sisters are teachers, college professors, and lecturers in India and internationally. So it is not an exaggeration if I say “it runs in our family”. I have been tutoring French and English for the past 10+ years and most of my students are through parents’ word of mouth referrals. My daughter was born in Canada and did all her schooling here. I was a very involved parent who never missed a parents council meeting or volunteering opportunity at school. Education has always been part of me, it is just that I never took it seriously and was chasing a career in Project Management. My biggest regret is not choosing this path as my career when I came to Canada in 1998. My whole story would have been entirely different. 

I must add something interesting here. They always say the first three years are the hardest for a new teacher. This is the timeline of my first 4 years. (2022~2023 will be my 5th year with PDSB)

  • 1st year: Planning time teacher @ Ingleborough PS, Brampton. I went to 28 different classrooms in a 10 Day Cycle (teaching Core French, Drama, and Dance from KG to Grade 8). That year I had to write more than 500 report cards each term! I did not have my own classroom or a workstation to work on a daily basis. Trust me, my PMP background really helped me to survive that year.
  • 2nd year: Planning time teacher @ Silver Creek  (A school with 4 pods and no walls between classes). I did not have my own classroom or a workstation to work on a daily basis. This was the year we had Union Strike/Job action-related changes that impacted many of our regular school activities. We were walking on the streets with placards in our hands during the peak of the winter. I was thinking what did I get myself into! 😄 😆 😋
  • 3rd & 4th year: Covid. “Online”/”Back in school” chaos.  Still a planning time teacher with no own classroom. 

I have heard from many experienced veteran teachers that the last few years were the toughest for them in their careers and those were just my first few! You can imagine how it must have been. 

Irrespective of that I completed 2 FSL AQs, attended many PDs, and workshops, was active in PETL committees, did multiple events with my students, hosted a student-teacher from OISE, upgraded my skills, and still continue to be the best version of myself on a daily basis.  I am loving it. 

When I am in the classroom, It does not matter what I teach, I forget everything. I belong there and I know my kids love me. I don’t teach nor do my students learn. I inspire them and my students get passionate about the subjects. I am a gardener. I plant seeds, water them and nurture them. Students bloom. 

Not everyone who reads this is going to believe all this I have said. Also, as a planning time teacher, neither my admin nor my peers take me or my subjects seriously, but that is OK too. I am not doing anything to impress anyone or to get recognition. (But that might help too)  😋 😃 😆

Doug:  So, if those three years are the hardest, it should be smooth sailing from now on!

Where do you see yourself headed in education?  You work for a big district in Peel – are they appealing options for movement for you?

Shyama: I have been thinking a lot about it lately and I still don’t have a clear vision yet. I don’t want to think along the lines of “career” or “promotion” or things like that… Those types of titles and fancy words don’t appeal to me anymore. 

I feel very strongly that I have a lot of potential and have a lot to offer. Oftentimes I feel stifled and feel like a BIG FISH in a small pond. I want to evolve as a leader, a change-maker in education – globally. Sometimes my head is so full of ideas, thoughts bursting to explode and I just don’t know how to channel them. I am desperate for a mentor but don’t know how/where to find one. There is an old saying: “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”. I am waiting for my teacher! My expectations are very high, for myself and for others. 

I signed a contract with PDSB for being in the “French pool” for 5 years. That contract is ending next year. I have lived in Ontario for about 25 years. Had enough shares of winters too. Next Spring, I will start looking for international opportunities. I want to give back. I am a strong advocate of mental health, promoting children as well-rounded individuals with life skills, rather than academic/materialistic robots. I love the story of aboriginal people, and their history and feel very strongly about how we have been very unfair to them. You will be surprised to know how similar Native American / Indigenous peoples’ cultures/belief systems, practices, lifestyles, and of Indians from India are.  What we did to indigenous people, we are doing that to many countries in the world today. Uprooting cultures, habits, languages, and practices in the name of “globalization”. That is a separate topic for another day. I am digressing. 

My daily mantras are “One day at a time”, and “Que Sera, Sera”. I also have a lot of interest in Spirituality (Especially the topic of “Death” – a taboo topic in the modern world). So it may even happen that one day I decide to call it all quits, and simply retire! 

The best thing is, my canvas is blank and I am thrilled and ready with more clarity than ever to start painting!

Doug:  From your Twitter timeline, I’m going to quote you in your reference to Pav Wander and Chey Cheney’s book.

“Since I came to Canada, I always felt (still continue to feel to some extent) exactly how the 2 main characters of this story feel: Unheard! “

One of the things that you wanted to talk about was how “brown” is the new black.  That has a strong message in the United States but a different message here in Canada.  Can you elaborate from your perspective?  Why is this important?

You have the floor here – what do you want the world to hear from you?

Shyama: I don’t really know the reference to “brown is the new black” in the USA. When I googled that after reading your question, I only came across a title of sci-fi fiction. My understanding of this expression comes with a question. Now that we are taking care of the sentiments and rights of many groups that feel being treated poorly historically (black, indigenous, LGBTQ, Muslims, etc.) – Is it the turn for brown people yet? Because our experiences are quite similar.

As I said earlier, I have lived in Canada for more than 25 years with active involvement in lots of personal, social, and professional networks (Toastmasters, PMI chapters, Tamil associations, etc.) and this is a strong feeling that the majority of people from India feel. Especially the Indian women. I am not talking about the very few individuals who have made it big or become successful in any given field. I am referring to the massive number of Indian women whose voices are never heard in staff meetings, whose ideas are never appreciated publicly, and those who just hide or do not use their actual talent or potential because they were never given that opportunity or already know that it is going to be of no use. I don’t remember if it was @PavWander in one of her podcasts or somebody else who once said, “I would give ideas, solutions – but the entire room would go silent or move on – as if I never spoke/existed”. It has happened to me many times in Canada. Guess what, I have stopped sharing my ideas/solutions. 

Indian women are smart (mostly educated), creative, reliable, sincere, hard-working, and also by nature humble and passive. We don’t wear high heels (because we are practical and do not want to end up with back problems in the long run) nor mini-skirts “to appear professional”. It is very cultural. The irony is women in India these days are much more aggressive, and assertive and are breaking traditional barriers in many different ways. But when it comes to the older generation (like me) who have been living in Canada for decades, our stories are the same. We are discriminated against and have never been treated the same way. In my past interactions with ETFO and ACENET I know it is just not Indian women, all minorities feel exactly the same way. In your personal or professional life, if you feel you are a misfit – and live your daily lives feeling excluded, disrespected, not valued, or appreciated – it will affect your mental health. Why is mental health such a huge problem in today’s world? Think about it!

Yes, for the past few years a lot is changing due to all kinds of social changes happening around the world. Lots of buzz words like inclusiveness, anti-racism, etc..etc… The theory, awareness, and noise are everywhere but in reality, not a lot has changed. Media, News channels, politicians – they all play us. I can give you specific examples of things that need a big shake-up. But I am sure I will not be the first person to list them. In Canada, you have to sugarcoat everything. It is all about numbers, the majority, and the number of votes. 

That is why personally whenever I hear expressions that divide people my only response/slogan is “All lives matter” – Does not matter if you are black, white, brown, green, or blue, irrespective of religious background, gender identity, etc. Identities are important. But they are not the only things. A true leader of any country must unite everyone, not divide them based on their identity. I am not sure if I am communicating my thoughts clearly or not. I am a puritan in heart and anything that is not fair – bothers me a great deal! 

I hope OCT does not come after me for saying all this.

Doug:  In case you didn’t mention it above, I’ll have a separate question here – you have definite opinions about “planning time teachers”.  What are your concerns?  How would you fix it?

Shyama: I don’t even know how to start answering this question. It is a big topic. I have enough material to write a stand-up comedy on this topic. Thank God you did not give me a “word limit” for my answers. I will really try my best to keep it brief.  😆

Most of the planning time teachers teach “à la carte”. In other words, we do not have any designated classrooms and have to teach from class to class. Teaching in another teacher’s classroom is not conducive to effective pedagogy.  

The following are some of the struggles that Planning Time Teachers (PTT) go through on a daily basis go to many different classrooms to cover other teachers’ planning time:

  1. If a PTT teaches dance or drama in a regular “homeroom”, it is very impractical to move the desks and chairs to create a space to move around every single time for a 40 minute period
  2. Every homeroom teacher has his/her own computer that they want to use during their planning time since all their resources are housed in “that computer” in their own folders etc (and not centrally so that they can access them from anywhere). So most of the time they want to use their computers which restricts the use of technology for the PTT. As you know, there is usually one teacher’s computer that is connected to a projector et al per classroom. 
  3. I am not going to include the minor convenience of logging in/logging out, and security/privacy-related issues here. (Case in point: a lot of homeroom teachers usually don’t even log off when they leave their classes – which is a security risk, but PTTs are nice people, so we usually cause no harm)
  4. Core French teachers would love to have our own rooms with beautiful visuals, provocations, mini library corner, word wall lists, students’ work displays, etc. to give that “Ambiance Française” every time the students come for their French classes, rather than looking like a “Homeless Hobo” wheeling around a candy cart!
  5. Mandated to follow the homeroom teachers’ routines, rules, seating plan, etc.
  6. There is also a lack of respect for PTTs in many different ways: 
    • No place to put our own resources anywhere in the classes we go to 
    • Coats, Jackets, overflowing personal stuff on homeroom teachers’ desks, chairs, etc. that will prevent PTTs from having thier own teaching space in those workstations!
    • Homeroom teachers walk in and out of the class randomly while the PTTs are teaching
    • Homeroom teachers walk in and talk to students (without seeking permission, even as a courtesy) randomly – while the PTTs and the students are 100% engaged in teaching a lesson
    • Homeroom teacher working in the same classroom while the PTT is teaching – homeroom teacher’s buddy walks in and they start having a “party” filled with loud giggles and gossip – completely discarding the fact that there is another teacher (as qualified as they are) trying to teach a lesson
    • PTTs are referred to as “Floaters” by homeroom teachers

One of the reasons PTTs have put up with this type of treatment (and no one has ever done anything about it) is because 99% of PTTs are brand new teachers. They are still learning their ropes and do not want to rock the boat or create conflicts with their peers or admin. Also, they know that there are other bigger challenges/problems that exist in our education system (that this particular issue is like “collateral damage”) that they simply put up with!

If I get a proper workstation next year @ Silver Creek, I will consider myself to be very lucky! 😊

Doug:  You’re right; there is no word limit as it’s important to share your message.

I like the other suggestion that you wanted to talk about “an annual gala celebration idea to bring all the best educators of Ontario irrespective caste, color, or creed – totally unrelated to boards or unions or political flavors!”  

What do you have in mind?  How would it play out?  Who would take the lead on it?

Shyama: As a first step, if we can bring together some like-minded individuals and brainstorm some ideas, I am sure we can come up with a fantastic event that will truly celebrate education/educators. It is not about promoting one’s “personal agenda” but collaborating that would result in an achievement that is larger than life. 

Few ideas: 

  • Panel discussions to point out the things that need to be “fixed” in our education system (provincially / federally)
  • Recommendations to eliminate outdated practices and policies
  • A “to-do list” to the Education Minister
  • Revisions to existing curricula to make them meaningful, relevant, and contemporary
  • Shake-up OCT to be more “educators-friendly” than alienating itself from the grassroots voices
  • Role of Admin in schools 
  • Burnt out/rusty/bitter (but well-paid) teachers and the unspoken problems they pose

Doug:  As we do this interview, the school year is winding down.  For most teachers, this will indeed be a summer like no other where recharging and taking care of oneself becomes so important.  Can you share your plans?

Shyama: I am leaving for India on Jul 3rd, and returning on Aug 15th. It is a trip that got delayed for the last 2 years so I am really looking forward to it. 😊

Doug:  Now that’s quite a trip.  I hope that you have your chance to recharge abroad and that it’s as exciting as doing the EdgeWalk.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview.  I know that times are incredibly busy and time is at a real premium.

Shyama: Doug, you have no idea how appreciative I am of this opportunity. Whatever I shared with you today, the intention was not to make myself look superior, boastful, or overconfident nor to offend anyone. I truly wanted to share my personal views and be honest/genuine about it. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in fear. I sincerely hope those who read this interview take me for who I am and do not judge me or try to put me in a box! Thanks once again. I look forward to our next interaction. 💝

You can connect with Shyama on Twitter at:  @ssunderaswara

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Shyama.  You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


Is it really a Friday the 13th?

What a great weather week it’s been. Also a great week for reading blog posts. Check them out.


It’s Never Just a Bike Seat

Sue has been on fire recently on her blog. I had originally pulled a post from her about assessment but this one caught my fancy.

If you’ve been to EdCamp London, you’ll have been to Sir Arthur Currie Public School. It’s really new and is in the middle of a community that is building houses as quickly as they can. Consequently, there are 17 portable classrooms onsite and the school appears to be desirable for transfers. They had 22 candidates apply to move there and Sue takes us through the process she uses. I can’t do it justice but Sue certainly does in the post. Teaser – it involves a bicycle seat.

I think we all have interview stories. One of my favourites was a school board trustee who tries to distract interviewees by wearing one shoe and one boot. I don’t know for sure whether it’s one of those legends but I still wonder how I would have reacted.


Post-Covid Educational Reform

As ever, Marie’s writing will have you thinking.

In this case, she has a cautionary message about the desire to return to “normal”. Was it always that good? She gives us her thoughts on the writings from Jonathan Kurtz. Could we make school systems better by learning from the pandemic?

She shares her thoughts about

  • TIME
  • EMPOWERMENT
  • ACCESSIBILITY
  • SCHOOLS, NOT PRISONS

I found it interesting reading and I wonder if all teachers and administrators shouldn’t take a reflective look at these things in the manner that Marie did. Also, don’t forget to read the comments; the discussion continues there.


Survive and Advance

Matthew’s post took me well back with his reference to Jim Valvano.

Interestingly, most professional sports have playoffs that are series. Best 3 of 5, 4 of 7, etc. Baseball, Hockey, Basketball…

It’s only professional Football and, as Matthew notes, NCAA basketball where your ability to move to the next level is based on the results of a single game. It does make for an exciting experience and “do or die” is the way it’s done.

Or, as Matthew notes, Valvano called it “Survive and Advance”. He then applies it to his personal situation in education. I think that many will nod their heads while reading it but it’s particularly disturbing how Matthew now answers the question “How are you doing?”


the eyes tell our stories

The best and most powerful part of education comes from discussions with a student and you do your best to see them “eye to eye”. What happens when the eyes that you’re looking at have been clearly crying?

That’s the message from Will’s post where he describes an interaction with a student who would normally be described as “bright and optimistic”.

With a lack of mental health support in schools, teachers are supposed to pick up the slack. But they’re feeling it too – Will makes reference to 9 teachers away at his school on a particular day.

Will has made a commitment to check-in more frequently with the student but it begs the question – who is checking in on the teachers?


SOS: TACKLING MID-CAREER MALAISE

On the TESL blog, Heather sends out a reminder that mid-career, which she describes as someone in their 40s, can be a difficult time. Have you made the right career decision? Is your career indeed plateauing? Are you feeling overwhelmed and lethargic?

She identifies five areas that you can look at and some suggestions about what to do.

  • Discover the root cause of your discontent
  • Consider the mindset you adopt at work
  • Consider the ways you can have your microenvironment altered
  • Consider how your motivations have changed
  • Consider what non-work-related activities give you self-worth

I know that, personally, taking or leading professional learning activities was always a good pick-me-up. For a while at least.

While this is posted to the TESL blog, the message is applicable to everyone.


LearningInTheLoo: Curating Instructional Videos for Interactivity

It doesn’t happen often but sometimes you know that someone is reading your blog because they write about it, a reference is made, and you get a ping back. That was the case with Laura. It wasn’t something that I had written but a reference that I had made to the EduGals about curating educational videos.

They had listed 10 and Laura zeroed in on three more that she thought would be applicable in her situation. Between the two sources, there definitely is a leading towards using Google products and that’s probably just a result of their board’s decision making. It’s frustrating when you recommend something that can’t be used for one reason or another.

I love it when a conversation is started and then a followup which makes it deeper and more valuable.


The 500 – #318 – Back Stabbers – The O’Jays

Marc is actively keeping up with his posting about the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. This post took me to an album with music that I hadn’t heard for far too long. I would have gone with this song.

Instead, he chose this one.

That’s an equally good suggestion. I think I’ll take his suggestion and use it for the TWIOE voicEd show next week.

Thanks, Marc. That took me back.


I hope that you can find the time to read and reflect on these great posts.

Then, follow these folks on Twitter.

  • Sue Bruyns – @sbruyns
  • Marie Snyder – @MarieSnyder27
  • Matthew Morris – @callmemrmorris
  • Will Gourley – @WillGourley
  • Heather Donnelly – @TESLOntario
  • Laura Wheeler – @wheeler_laura
  • Marc Hodgkinson – @Mr_H_Teacher

This Week in Ontario Edublogs on voicEd Radio

Old skill; new use


I hope that you enjoyed reading the interview about Nilmini from yesterday’s blog post. I get so much from doing those interviews. We go back and forth in a Google document and then I move it to WordPress for formatting and publication. In the process, I got a little more than just finding out about this incredible educator.

One of the things that I ask interviewees to do is to choose a colour for their responses so that they stand out from my questions. In Nilmini’s case, it was what I would call Cyan. She called it “Turquoise” and I made the connection immediately. I’ve purchased jewellery in Turquoise many times before. It’s not quite Blue; it’s not quite Green; and as I was to learn, it’s not quite Cyan.

Photo by Joeyy Lee on Unsplash

I had to smile at my nerdy definition of the colour and her artistic one. No problem; we all work in WYSIWYG editors these days. I’ll just highlight her text and select Turquoise.

The problem is that WordPress is designed by programmers and use programming names. So, I had my choice between Light green cyan and Pale cyan blue. No turquoise. It certainly wasn’t one of the colours of the theme that I’m using. Fortunately, there is a colour picker …

I could have my pick of shades of green, blue, cyan, er, turquoise. Nobody would know but I’m now on a mission. She said turquoise.

I went back to the original document where we’d been working back and forth to see what Google called it. I wasn’t terribly surprised that it was actually a custom colour that she had chosen.

Sure, it’s close to Blue 11 but the actual colour is #1cb1cb. It clicked in. There must be a way to tell WordPress to use that specific colour. I started navigating my cursor around the colour picker and tried to zero in on #1cb1cb. Maybe it was the coffee but it was harder than it should be. I finally got it and coloured her first paragraph.

When I went to the next paragraph, the colour choice was gone. So, I started the hunting process again and then my nerdy background kicked in. There must be a way to specifically tell WordPress how to use it and, in fact, the bottom of the colour picker allowed for direct input of the colour, if you knew the Hex codes. And, I did. Realizing that black would be a whole lot easier to find, I highlighted the entire interview and turned it all to turquoise and then went in and easily edited my parts to boring old black.

By now, I’m feeling a bit foolish. This took way longer than it should. It was the final understanding that I’ve become a victim of point and shoot easiness. Years ago, if I was coding this from scratch, it would have been a piece of cake since we didn’t have these tools. If we wanted a particular colour, we’d just code the hexadecimal code into things. Now, we’ve become accustomed to the tools that we have in front of us to make it quick and easy. Just point at the colour you want, click, and away you go. And, if the one that you want isn’t there, pick something close. Remember that old saying about being close only applies to horseshoes?

I’m not naive enough to think that I could have been off in the colour by a little bit and nobody would notice. In fact, the calibration of your monitor may be a bit different from mine and you’re seeing something slightly different anyway.

It was a rabbit hole that I fell into and I recognize that. I’m starting to think of the bigger picture of our students who may move on to work in a business where product identity is incredibly important, including the colour. Are we teaching them the finer points of colour, editing, etc? We know that they get pretty good at slapping emojis on or applying a funny filter to their phone images but are they learning it all?

An interview with Nilmini Ratwatte-Henstridge


I’ve never met Nilmini in person but our paths have crossed on social media, particularly her writing on the ETFO Heart and Art Blog.  It’s been part of the discussion on voicEd Radio and on my Friday blog post This Week in Ontario Edublogs.

She is an elementary school teacher with the Peel District School Board.  Her passions include Equity, Social Justice and Human Rights.  On social media, you’ll find her well connected and writing in these areas.


Doug:  At this point, we haven’t actually met in person but certainly through social media.  I also like to start these interviews by asking if you remember when we first met and did you wonder what made our connection?

Nilmini: You were absolutely a social media connection, I remember “meeting you” on Twitter Doug when you first connected me to my PLN in education.

I loved seeing your “Friday Motivation” tweets in my words which = the “Follow Friday Ontario Educator” Tweets! 

Then I started reading your WordPress blog and later on I started to listen to your educational podcasts as the years passed by on social media. It would be good to see each other in real life one day!  

I would say for me the connection we have is that you understood me on social media: my positive energy, how I saw situations in a positive light always and took situations that happened in the world with positive intent when I tweet or share!

Doug:  Teaching is difficult at the best of times.  We’re certainly not living in the best of times with all the extra restrictions that have been placed on classroom teachers.  Let me put you on the spot – forget the rest of the world, what is the most frustrating thing happening in education for you personally these days?

Nilmini: I really do have this way of searching to see the positive outcomes in the most frustrating thing that can possibly happen. So here is the deal! I would say it has been challenging teaching everyone about a deeply sensitive topic that I kind of kept quiet in my own space and now it has become public knowledge. With the new topic of a civil armed conflict coming to light; that I was born into. This conflict separated so many generations because of individuals not being able to accept differences. It is something I never thought that I would ever have to actually manage teaching about in my career as a teacher or in my personal life to my friends and colleagues but with the best interest of my students at heart, I am teaching how to stay together as a community while dealing with my personal emotions all colliding together in one roller coaster ride of a lifetime in this career. I do believe in our generation that we are the generation that will stand side by side, and work together so that we show that peace is maintained by building lasting understandings. 

P.S: I love teaching…it has been a wonderful journey of growth, understanding and lifelong learning. These past years my students have been my shield that has protected me while I reflected.

Doug:  I know from your writing and your internet presence that you are generally a very positive person so I’m betting that you see a silver lining in everything that’s happening these days.  Please share it with us.  We all need inspiration.

Nilmini: I think in life you really do have to take the opportunity to reflect on situations that are challenging, possibly foreshadow emotions we feel, embrace those situations that make you have those intuitive reactions of survival: freeze, flight, or fight and embrace ourselves as having human qualities. When we accept ourselves then we see each situation clearly and what we as individuals can bring to the table to ensure that we can find successful resolutions and problem solve. 

When I saw this question Doug: I smiled which means you really do understand that I look at every situation in a positive light: I do believe with all my heart that “Silver Linings” are everywhere. Sometimes, I am misunderstood on social media for this quality by others but if they really do look at a situation then they will see that I have positive intent.

We really do have to look for them and hold on to them to aspire to have a growth mindset. In my opinion, I would hold on to the silver lining in the most challenging times so that I can overcome obstacles and aspire to do my best. 

Doug:  You have an extensive presence in social media – I’m thinking The Heart and Art Blog and your work on the Teach Better site.  What’s your goal?  Are you trying to change the world, inspire others, affirm your beliefs to yourself, or maybe something completely different?

Nilmini: To be honest, working from home the past year and continuing to teach online this year helped me have more time to reflect on education and be a reflective practitioner.  I would say maintain peace and unity in my community since lots of reconciliation and conflict resolution skills are needed to heal the generations of hurt and conflicts that we have overcome. I am just being me when I write and that’s who I can be.

I would never consider myself a writer, but starting out blogging with the Teach Better Team was inspirational since I really heard my voice come out! I am usually a quiet problem solver in any given situation. I know how to strategically and invisibly find resolutions to get the best outcomes while ensuring that life continues business as usual…this could be my Superpower perhaps!

“The Equity and Inclusion” Blog series with the Teach Better Team: I would say the purpose behind it was to teach others and pass the knowledge so that I can give back to my profession. It gave me “wings behind my back” during the most challenging of times in education that I have faced as an educator. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to get my voice out and have others read my blog and reflect upon the topics. 

Coming home to Canada and blogging and starting the  “Mentorship Matters” Blog series in The Heart of Art Blog felt welcoming since I didn’t get that opportunity before. This series was more to inspire, teach and challenge thinking to aspire to change in the education community as an educator. Motivation to create systemic change for the greater good of the education system.

Doug:  One of my favourite blog posts of yours was this one Mentoring Moments: Importance of Our NamesYears ago, a friend of mine who works in Business said that you can mess up everything else but if you get the name right, people will respect you.  I’ve had a lot of teachers over the years who have called my name and I still remember being called “Dogless” instead of “Douglas”.  So, you nailed it!  What advice do you have for educators to help them ensure that they’re getting names right?

Nilmini: I honestly can’t tell you that I do this every day: there are names that are hard since I have an accent and I aspire to get each name right each day by building trusting relationships and explaining accents and pronunciations. I aspire daily to not make mistakes with names! Sometimes we have to accept we are trying our best by giving value to names since they are meaningful and important in the world they connect us. With me, I find the more comfortable I am ..my accent comes out and I sometimes make mistakes in nailing those NAMES!

Doug:  I have fond memories of reaching out to you before talking about your blog post on voicEd Radio. It’s one thing to write a name in a blog and quite another to pronounce it correctly on radio. I think you told me that it was pronounced the way it looks!

Your education includes going to Musaeus College.  Can you tell us how that was and compare it to later going to Meadowvale Secondary School?

Nilmini: Musaeus College was an all-girls private Buddhist school in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I loved that I built lasting friendships with some inspiring friends and classmates there. It gave me my foundation in education and helped me develop my leadership style and be more mindful. We had choices of electives such as cooking, dance, and home economics and had to wear uniforms- which I was very creative making mine unique to fit my personality by accessorizing! 

Meadowvale Secondary School offered me a window into public education in high school but from afar and for this I am thankful.  I was never with my group of friends since I was in English as a Second Language classes and soon I discovered that if I work I can be inspired so I had fun at school but really I was working in Daycare before and after school and learning at the same time. I did not understand so many things like the racial dynamics in the cafeteria…smiles who does right? But I did go sit at all the tables and talk because I simply wanted friends and it is hard making friends when everyone knows each other and you’re the new kid in the city. Overall, I went from being that quiet observant child to the teenager who planned social events in Student Council and took photographs to get to know the school for the yearbook! I missed my friendships and making new connections took all the time it took…

I would say this is the school life of an immigrant child…resilience is the word!

I did depend on my mom and dad to advocate for me when needed, which I am glad that they did: I remember in grade 10 being told to go to Basic level classes and I remember my parents standing up for me saying no she can do Advanced level. Imagine if they didn’t- I would not have been able to be a teacher; it would have cut all the options to go to University…and impacted my dream to be an educator! Those are the skills I required as a teacher in Peel. Skills to be strategic, have fun teaching (my students said we have a party every day in our class!!!) and advocate on behalf of my students while mentoring my teachers!

A delicate balance it has been.

Doug:  With all your experience in blogging and podcasting, you must have opinions on the role of social media in the classroom.  Can you share your thoughts on the power?

Are there any caveats that teachers need to keep in mind?

Nilmini: Honestly, I would say I follow this golden rule my grandmothers taught their way to me as a child: If you do not want something in the front pages of the newspaper then do not post it on social media! 

Social media is powerful for teaching and learning alike.

If you are going to get misunderstood then you will. People who have your back will always understand your position especially when it’s from a teacher’s point of view.

Doug:  Your Teaching Qualifications include Principal Certification.  Do you have aspirations for moving into administration?

Nilmini: I took my Principal Qualification courses and took a road less travelled …I worked in chairing committees with the teacher federation, and worked in learning from the Peel Regional Labour Council, Met some aspiring women leaders in community organizations. I would say I have explored so many different options. I would love to lead educational organizations and build relationships to aspire students to be at the center, with parents, community members, federations/unions and parents collaborating. However, I have not seen this yet…I find my resume would be intimidating to one side vs. the other since trusting relationships need to be established and I still have to do this yet, (the power of Yet!) know how to maneuver this… Looking for a Mentor or Fementor: anyone wants to teach I’m here because it is a delicate trusting balancing relationship to manage and I am learning…

Doug:  Suppose you were given the opportunity to be an administrator in a school.  What sorts of changes would you look to implement? 

Nilmini: As an administrator, I would say: aspire to teach your best every day, lead with your best qualities and be honest when you make a mistake so that our students are inspired to be leaders in their own way! High standards for all to be who they are going through life stages and being lifelong learners.

The only change would be to aspire to work on equity principles: teach and practise what you teach to the best of your ability when it comes to sustaining the best learning environment for the school climate with having core equity principles in mind.

Doug:  Your passions as listed above would come legitimately as a young lady coming to Canada.  

Nilmini: I think my passions come from being able to serve a community. I am super positive, friendly and motivated so taking time to understand the community and learn along since everyone is how I work best as a big picture thinker! Maintaining relationships I think is the most important while letting everyone do their best work in their interest! I love volunteering, I love fundraising and organizing those skills I think brought with me as a young adult and established me serving my community as an adult today.

Doug:  Computer geek that I am, I have to ask you the role of technology in your personal classroom.  What things are you good at and your students do well?  Where do you see room for improvement?

Nilmini: Omg, this learning curve this year- mindblowing! I have never seen students succeed this well in a given time frame- in learning while I learn at the same time! We are having so much fun learning together. I have collaborated with students and parents to narrow down options on what is successful and what can be changed! Technology has been inspirational in building collaboration with the technical team at the Central Board office and working with the team at the North field office in Brampton. I would say I go in each day with a growth mindset and listen, learn and ask for help when it comes to technology- Teamwork has really been what has made it successful!

Doug:  On your website, you indicated that you are available to speak to others.  What sorts of presentations are you prepared to present?

Nilmini: The most recent presentation is in combination with the Teach Better Blog series. It is titled “Advocating for Students”. I am willing to motivate staff to dive deeper into equity and inclusion principles by advocating for student voices as they work with me.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect Doug by answering these thoughtful questions. I enjoyed answering them as I typed I was smiling.

Doug:  Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.  I wish you all the best in your ventures.

You can follow Nilmini on social media.

Twitter:  @NRatwatte
Facebook:  Nilmini Ratwatte – Henstridge
Website:  http://ratwatte-henstridge.weebly.com/


Periodically, I interview interesting people like Nilmini.  You can check them all out on the Interview Page at https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/