An Interview with Neerja Punjabi


Neerja Punjabi is currently seconded to TVOntario as Director, Educational Partnerships K-12.  Previously, she was a principal in both the Peel District and Toronto District School Boards.  During this very different time, she took the time to have a discussion with me. 

Doug:  My first question is always this – do you recall when we first met?

Neerja: I have been active on Twitter since 2011, which was my first year as a new elementary school principal. I wanted to learn and connect with educators who were sharing ideas in an open forum. I started following you on Twitter during that time because you posted amazing professional learning resources, which I was interested in reading and learning from. You have always modelled the #NeverStopLearning philosophy.

Doug:  You seem to be a regular on #FollowFridays which is always an indicator that you’re actively sharing content.  I’m guessing that our connector in common would have been Urs who I worked with in OSAPAC days.  Would that be your guess, or was it someone else?

Neerja: I met Urs Bill when I joined TVO last year. But you Doug have been a big part of my professional learning network for a very long time, even though we had never formally met. The #FollowFridays feed was another reason for the connection to meet like-minded educators who added value to my professional growth.

Doug:  I’m always in awe with people that manage to converse in multiple languages.  You would certainly be in that category.  Can you share your level of fluency and your languages spoken?

Neerja: I was born and brought up in Hyderabad, India, and we had to learn at least three languages in school. Attending a convent school where English was the medium of instruction, we also learnt Hindi and Telugu as second and third languages. I am very fluent in speaking these languages. In addition, Punjabi is my mother tongue, and I learned it at home. Urdu is very similar to Hindi, and because of that, I can speak it very fluently.

This article from @npr resonated with me. It specifically mentions a research study done in Hyderabad, which highlights my upbringing and exposure to several languages:

https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2013/11/14/244813470/new-study-shows-brain-benefits-of-bilingualism.

Doug:  Wow, that is so impressive. As a former principal, how was your fluency in these languages an asset?

Neerja: Being fluent in all these languages was a definite asset for me as a principal in Peel District School Board. It helped me to build meaningful relationships with parents and grandparents in the community. I could share my experiences and stories of resilience as a new immigrant with new families immigrating to Canada, particularly from South Asia, giving them a message of hope and a sense of optimism. Speaking in one’s native tongue helps build trust and creates a sense of mutual respect.

Doug:  Now, you’ve been seconded to TVOntario, one of the real education gems in the province.  Your role involves Educational Partnerships.  What does this involve?

Neerja: I would like to give you a little bit of background first about why I decided to take up a secondment with TVO, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary – ‘50 and Never Stop Learning’ this year. TVO has held a very special place in my heart. As a new immigrant coming to Canada 31 years ago, I was fascinated by the broadcast programs which were offered by TVO. When we decided to immigrate to Canada, we knew we had no friends and family here, and the one TV channel we relied on was TVO. Saturday Night at the Movies was a weekly television series on TVO, the public educational television network in Ontario with Elwy Yost and my husband and I watched the two back-to-back Movies. We have many fond memories. Also, my children were avid watchers of the Polka Dot Door (with Polkaroo) and Arthur which were very popular programs. They learned so much through these two shows. TVO played a big role in supporting our immigrant family’s successfully acclimatization to the Canadian values and culture.

My secondment to TVO has been a wonderful learning journey. As Director, Educational Partnerships, I have developed and led TVO’s strategy to coordinate partnerships and outreach activities across the K-12 educational community, including communication and liaising with school districts, federations, affiliations and employee group partners, EDU, and Faculties of Education. We have promoted awareness and adoption of TVO and TVO’s digital products and services in targeted professional learning sessions across the province.

Doug:  You and your team had a big presence at the Bring IT, Together Conference in Niagara Falls last November.  Who is on your team and what are their roles?

Neerja: Our ‘small but mighty’ team comprises both TVO employees and educators who have been seconded from either a Board of Education or from the Ministry.

Here is a list of our phenomenal team members:

  • Urs Bill, Manager of TVO Mathify and Educational Outreach (seconded from the Ministry of Education)
  • Natalie Perez, Outreach Support Officer
  • Jenny Cadena and Tony Yeung, Resource Coordinators for TVO Mathify
  • Albert Wisco, Community Manager for TVO Teach Ontario
  • Kyle McCreight, Digital Media Producer
  • Jennifer Montgomery, Education Officer (Seconded from YRDSB)
  • Leah Kearney, Pedagogue/Instructional Liaison (seconded from TDSB)
  • Maureen Asselin, Instructional Liaison (seconded from HCDSB)

Doug:  In advance of the conference, you and your team submitted a guest blog post here: https://dougpete.wordpress.com/2019/10/26/bring-tvo-into-your-classroom-2/

I’ve been an exhibitor at that conference, and I have a not-so-fond memory of exhaustion from standing so long and repeating the same message over and over.  What is your memory from the event?  Was this your first time at this conference?

Neerja: First, let me thank you for sharing our blog on your WordPress and Twitter. Your support has meant a lot with expanding our outreach efforts across the province.

In 2019, I attended the BIT conference for the very first time. My team members who had participated in the conference before were very enthusiastic about this opportunity for networking and connecting with so many like-minded educators who were the early adopters of digital learning. There were so many teacher-leaders who participated in drop-in sessions to learn more about TVO resources. Many explored the TVO carousal and registered for TVO mPower and TVO Mathify. Many educators were inspired to join our TVO outreach team as TVO Ambassadors to continue to spread the word.

Doug:  TVOntario hosts so many wonderful resources for education.  Can you share a link to where they are and a quick overview?

Neerja: Here is a link where you will find copies of one-page support guides (toolkits) for TVO mPower and TVO Mathify, as well as a one-page overview of all TVO resources:

bit.ly/TVOVirtualLearning

Doug:  I’ve always been a fan and supporter, in particular, of the Mathematics support that TVO offers.  Can you give an overview of those specifically?  I think that, in these times, they are even more important.

Neerja: I will talk about two TVO resources in particular that offer support in Mathematics.

TVO Mathify is developed for Ontario students and educators, and this resource seamlessly supports the learning of grade 6-10 math. Mathify helps educators to boost math engagement, confidence and reduce math anxiety. It enables students to extend or support their own learning through live, individualized 1:1 math tutoring sessions with TVO Mathify tutors who are also Ontario Certified Math Teachers.

TVO Mathify addresses and accommodates the different scheduling needs of you, your students, and their families during this time. Teachers and students can engage in math lessons and learning at times that work for them and their schedule – over and above any pre-planned lesson times. 

TVO Mathify is also: 

  • Intuitive to use for teachers and students.  No big learning curve required. 
  • Safe and secure.  No ads, no pop-ups, no purchases, no downloads, and no one collecting data on you or your students for potential sale to for-profit organizations. 
  • FREE to Ontario teachers and students and available. 
  • 24/7 access to prepare, post or access questions  
  • Extended tutoring hours for students: 
  • Mon-Fri 9 am-9 pm ET
  • Sun 3:30-9 pm ET

TVO mPower: is a fun and innovative online game-based resource that builds problem-solving, critical thinking and math skills for students K-6. It is an award-winning, ad-free children’s content that supports the Ontario curriculum, developed with a commitment to diversity. Creative online math games support the development of foundational K-6 math & STEM skills in the classroom and at home.

We use a variety of resources to develop TVO mPower; these are foundational to our work: Curriculum Documents – The Kindergarten Program, The Ontario Mathematics, Science and Technology and Social Studies Curricula are used in the creation of the math games, STEM games, and TVO mPower narratives. This ensures the alignment with Ontario curriculum expectations and best practices. The game iterations are based on feedback from classroom teachers, ongoing playtesting and the ongoing research and development process at TVO.

In summary, TVO mPower has 65+ free, creative online games that support the development of foundational K-6 math and STEM skills while fostering positive attitudes towards math. TVO mPower is:

  • Learner-centred
  • Assessment-driven
  • Ontario curriculum-based
  • A safe, advertising-free play space
  • Free for all Ontarians
  • Available on laptop, desktop computers and tablets 

Doug:  Have TVOntario and your team ramped up your resources and support during these times of school closures?

Neerja: Educational partnerships team continues to be innovative in providing outreach virtually through webinars. We have conducted several online webinars for interested educators. Recently we have been asked to deliver two webinars to over 100 educators from a Board of Education to their educator community. Also, educators can access support by registering on TeachOntario

https://www.teachontario.ca/

-an online community for Ontario’s educators. We share our resources, and new content is posted regularly. We also share our resources through social media.

Doug:  Is it safe to say that you and your team are working from home these days? 

Neerja: Yes, you are right – we are currently working from home. We use digital collaboration platforms for our meetings within the organization, and we connect with educators across the province through scheduled synchronous and asynchronous webinars. TVO TeachOntario has been an incredible resource for connecting our team and connecting Ontario educators. In terms of the bigger picture, here is a Blog which highlights some of the ways TVO is conducting business as an organization:

https://www.tvo.org/about/tvo-announces-covid-19-response

Doug:  Have you noticed an increase in the number of students/teachers/parents taking advantage of all that you offer?

Neerja: TVO’s Digital Education Resources

https://www.tvo.org/education-tools

have been featured on the Ministry of Education’s Learn at Home site:

https://www.ontario.ca/page/learn-at-home.

Over the past few months, these FREE TVO resources have had a significant impact and benefit on our educators, students, parents, and guardians. Many students continue to actively use resources such as TVO Kids, TVO mPower, and TVO Mathify. We will continue to serve our communities during these difficult times and have our resources available for anyone who needs the support.

Doug:  During all this, you remain connected to your network on Twitter.  What value do you see in staying connected?

Neerja: Twitter is a platform where I am continually learning, sharing and connecting with educators. At TVO, we share a commitment to lifelong learning and the belief that learning has the power to ignite potential and change the world. My engagement and use of this platform truly align with this deep-rooted value to #NeverStopLearning, which I fully imbibe.

Doug:  I asked Superintendent Hazel Mason this when I interviewed her

https://dougpete.wordpress.com/2017/06/13/an-interview-with-hazel-mason/ 

– if you had to identify 10 “must follow” users on Twitter, who would they be?

Neerja: I was overwhelmed when I saw my name mentioned on this list from Hazel Mason (@Hmason36 on Twitter) in June 2017. Hazel was my Superintendent, a fantastic leader who had high expectations for all her team members, and I hold her in very high regard.

There are so many phenomenal educators and leaders that I continue to learn from regularly on Twitter. Here are the names of those who have helped me and continue to help me on my learning journey:

  • Rose Pillay, @RosePillay1
  • Bill Ferriter, @Plugusin
  • Jackie Gerstein, @jackiegerstein
  • David Culberhouse, @DCulberhouse
  • ONT Special Needs, @Ontspecialneeds
  • Zohrin Mawji, @ZohrinMawji
  • The Agenda/TVO, @TheAgenda
  • Edutopia – @Edutopia
  • Mindshift – @MindShiftKQED
  • NCTE – @ncte

Doug:  I know that you’re a very positive person.  When do you see us getting back to normal, or whatever “normal” will become?

Neerja: Thank you, Doug, that is very nice of you. Yes, I am a positive person, and from what I know is that this too shall pass. In the meantime, we need to focus on ensuring that all safety measures are in place and follow the Public Health advice diligently. By taking personal responsibility, we can collectively flatten the curve. In addition, we need to keep track of the regular updates on COVID-19 shared on the Ontario.ca website. It is an excellent idea to be mindful of what is being expected to keep us all safe.

Doug:  If you were returning to one of your former schools as principal, what sorts of changes do you see having to be made for everyone’s safety?

Neerja:  I understand that returning to school at this time would require a deep reflection and a call to action to support all learners, especially those who are underserved and who may have big gaps in their learning. Providing students with the best learning opportunities will be the highest priority for me as the lead learner in the school. In addition, my focus will be on building positive and trusting relationships with my staff, students, parents, guardians, and extended community partners​.

Doug:  Thank you so much for taking the time during all this to share some of your thoughts, wisdom, and insights. Stay safe.

You can follow Neerja on Twitter at @PNeerja

Make sure that you check out the TVOntario resources at the link above.

Thanks for reading.  Periodically, I interview interesting people like Neerja.  You can read them all here – https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews/

An Interview with David Garlick


David is a retired principal from the Greater Essex County District School Board serving at three different secondary schools.  In isolation like most of us, he took the time to tell us a little bit more about himself, his career, and his interests.

Doug:  First question, as always, do you recall when we first met?

David: To be honest, and I hope you won’t be offended, no I don’t.  I remember getting you confused with Superintendent Rod Peturson, and Consultant Bruce Dureno.  But I found, over time, that I liked all three of you. As you were in technology and computers, you were the one I had the most contact with.

Doug:  I think I “met” you on that 8.5 x 14 sheet of paper that our employer put out (and still does) listing all of the schools, Principals/Vice-Principals, Secretaries, phone numbers and fax numbers.  I remember seeing the name “Garlick” and thinking that had to be a typo. I’ve known a lot of people but no “Garlicks”.

What’s the history / story behind that name?

David:  I’ve done some research.  It’s a profession name, like Miller, or Smith.  It’s Norman French, my oldest named ancestor was a garlic seller who came to England after the conquest.  Actually, the name is more common than you’d think. There are several David Garlicks in Canada. I’ve never met one though.

Doug:  Did it pose any challenges as a child?

David: All the ones you can think of, yes…  Nicknames, that sort of thing. I got used to it, and took a great interest in people’s names and their meanings when I grew up.  It also made me very sensitive when pronouncing students’ names in class. I’m proud of the fact that many students told me, “You’re the first teacher to pronounce my name correctly!”

When I taught English as a Second Language, it was great when students laughed at my name.  It meant they had that much understanding to begin with.

Doug:  Two of the three schools that you were principal at are great historical locations.  (We’ll ignore Delisle’s Corners) Can you share a bit of the history from Walkerville Collegiate and Forster Secondary School?  How did this history impact the school culture?

David:  Both Walkerville and Forster were established in 1922 and are coming up on their centennials.  In Windsor, both are storied institutions. Walkerville is in a much more wealthy area of town, and of course, Walkerville wasn’t closed in 2014, like Forster was.

Forster was named after its first Principal.  John L. Forster, who ran the school from 1922 until he retired in 1954.  I knew Mr. Forster. He was a daily customer at the McDonald’s Restaurant I worked at in the 1970’s and early 80’s.  In what I now see as an odd karmic coincidence, my first day of paid teaching was at Forster, and was the day that Mr. Forster died, in April of 1983.  

Like many schools, Forster was justifiably proud of its sports teams over the years.  Our wrestling team won the city championship six years in a row in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  In its final years, Forster was a basketball powerhouse, winning the Provincial championship in its last year.  However, from my personal perspective, the thing that Forster was best known for was its music program. From the 1960’s on, Forster had a tremendous band, known as “The Travelling Redcoats.”  They travelled throughout North America, Japan and England, performing for the Queen. I was a member of that band, but started the fall after they went to England, so I didn’t meet the Queen.  

In 2000, Forster became the Board’s magnet school for English as a Second Language, educating students from around the world.

I don’t know as much about the history of Walkerville.  It has been the Board’s magnet program for the Arts since the mid 1980’s, and they put on some of the best performances and concerts and recitals in the province.  I was amazed at the talent I encountered at that school. One of my students had put out four albums of original music by the time she graduated. Several others have put out albums since, one has written and produced a musical, and much of our local drama scene is staffed by our grads.

I hope their reunions won’t be held on the same weekends, as they have in the past, so that I can attend both in two years.

Doug:  Of the three, I especially remember warm receptions by students at both Western and Forster.  Like many secondary schools, Forster was always a jigsaw puzzle for me to navigate and there always were students who seemed happy to point me in a particular direction.  Were they instructed to teach visitors like this or is it just the culture of the school? Western, in particular, was (and is) famous for its Hospitality program and it seemed to spill over.  It was much easier to navigate!

David: Forster was a jigsaw puzzle!  It started out as a  smallish grade school, and then, as time went on and the neighbourhood grew, they simply added additions higgledy-piggledy.  To make the building completely a ccessible, it would have needed something like seven elevators! But you’re right – at both Forster and Western, and I hope Walkerville as well, the students were all helpful with visitors. It’s just the way they were.  I like to think the adults in the building had something to do with it, but it just seemed to happen that way.

Doug:  Can you brag about a couple of school signature events and your involvement – The Pumpkinfest at Western and the Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts?

David:  I love Pumpkinfest!  I may have missed one or two over the last eighteen years, but I always try to get to it.  It’s the area’s largest free craft show and features exhibitors from as far away as Nova Scotia.  It’s the school’s main fundraiser each year. Exhibitors purchase table space, and the entire school, for one weekend each year, is turned into a massive craft mall.  The cooking program provides food to the thousands of visitors, the bake shop sells fresh bread and pies and cakes and (and I gain a lot of weight each year as a result!)  When I was Principal there, my wife and I called it ‘The Lost Weekend.’ After helping set up on Friday afternoon and evening, I had to be back for five a.m. to turn on all the lights, turn off the alarm system, let the vendors into the building, and then stay for the whole day.  I then repeated that on Sunday, and then stayed to help clean up and turn the building back into a school for Monday morning. It’s a lot less responsibility to just attend, as I do now.

The Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts is the arts program within Walkerville Collegiate.  It’s the magnet program for our Board for students with interests in music, dance, drama and visual art.  Think Fame, but without kids dancing on cars in the streets.  I had the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and driven students in our city.  The plays, musicals, concerts, recitals and art shows were and are always top notch. There is, quite literally, something happening for a Principal to attend and enjoy almost every week of the school year.  And then, if that’s not enough, the kids themselves asked me if they could hold an Open Mic Coffee House three or four Friday evenings each year. (Why would I say no?) These events were run as mini can drives for the area food bank.  I can’t say enough about these kids and this program!

Doug: When I think of Forster, I think of the great food in the West end of Windsor.  In particular, Hurricane’s Cajun Wings are my absolute favourite. Was it the same way with staff?  Staff meetings?

David:  We held two pot luck luncheons each year, and they were always wonderful.  Like most schools, we’d have pizza on Parent-Teacher Night. And my wife always baked for our School Council Meetings.  Just for fun, about four times each year, we would hold a “Completely Voluntary Off Site, Agenda Free, Staff Meeting,” usually at Rock Bottom Bar and Grill, which I think has the best wings in the city.  I loved making the announcement at the end of the school day.  “Staff are reminded of the non-mandatory off-site staff meeting.  We hope to see you there.” We still get together, as a staff, twice a year, for these meetings.

Doug:  Speaking of Forster, it’s no longer with us.  In that community, there are also so many houses that have been purchased for Ambassador Bridge expansion and sit there boarded up.  For those of us who drive by, they’re just boarded up houses. As a principal from that area, they have to represent former students.  How does that impact you?

David:  They don’t just represent former students.  They represent a former community. This was the neighbourhood I grew up in.  I went to Forster as a student, taught there, was Vice-Principal and then Principal.  When I was a kid, I’d hoped to one day be wealthy enough to live on Indian Road. When I returned to the neighbourhood as Principal, those houses were vacant and boarded up.  Now they’ve been torn down. Those boarded up homes represented more than a hundred families that could have attended my school. It’s a major reason I had to close my own high school.

Doug:  Principals know their community.  Although Forster is closed, many families still live in the neighbourhood, and of course, Windsor still has a large number of recently arrived Canadians.  How do you think those families are faring with the Learn at Home initiative?

David:  I’m certain those families are struggling.  Most English Language Learners come from families in which no one speaks English at home. Asking those parents to teach their children foreign curricula in a foreign language to them is almost nonsensical.  Plus many in the area do not have the financial means to acquire the access necessary to learn from home. The Board is doing what it can, loaning out the hardware necessary, but I’m concerned that these kids will not be able to take part over the coming weeks. 

Doug:  Both Walkerville and Forster are in historic sections of Windsor.  You’ve elected to get involved with the Forster neighbourhood, which includes the Duff-Baby Mansion.  What was your interest in this and what do you do to contribute to the history of the building?

David: As I mentioned, this is the neighbourhood I grew up in.  The Duff-Baby Mansion is a beautiful Georgian structure, named for the first two owners: Alexander Duff, a Scottish fur trader, and James Baby, one of the Province’s pre-eminent French Canadian politicians of the 19th century.  It was built in 1798 and is the oldest building in the city. It has the distinction of having been visited by Generals Brock and Proctor as well as native leader Tecumseh during the War of 1812. It was also the Canadian headquarters of American General William Henry Harrison, who would later become President of the United States.  How many homes can say all that? It’s owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust.

In 1990, the Trust held a meeting to announce their plans for the building.  My wife and I attended. They said they were going to take this almost two hundred year old building and make it look like it did in 1927. (Not 1827).  They were going to cover it in stucco and give it green awnings. They said they had done extensive historical research and the oldest they could restore it to, and be confident that’s the way it looked, was 1927.  I remember asking them what research they were referring to, because I had at least two published books at home with photographs of the house in the 1880’s. Their answer? “It’s our house, we’ll do with it what we want.” (Were we upset!)

That evening, we set up a group called Les Amis Duff-Baby.  We launched a letter writing campaign, a petition, and enlisted the aid of politicians at all levels of government.  Less than two months later the OHT returned to Windsor to tell us that they were, of course, going to restore the house to its original appearance from the 18th century.  They asked us, “Where did you get the idea we were going to restore it to 1927?”

I’ve been a member of Les Amis Duff-Baby for 30 years, and am currently Vice-President.

Our mandate is to assist in the physical restoration and preservation of the house and site and to promote public awareness, to educate and to assist in the interpretation of the building. 

Doug:  At your encouragement, my wife and I had a chance for a tour of Duff-Baby – twice.  I didn’t know that it was open to tours. You were our personal guide and you seem to know the place intimately.  How did you learn all this and from whom?

David:  You can learn a lot in thirty years, but it started even before that.  I was a history major at the University of Windsor, and took every local history course I could, learning from Dr. Larry Kulisek and museum curator Alan Douglas.  I was also a member of the Essex County Historical Society for almost forty years, and am a past President. Les Amis have published two editions of a book about the house, and for the last year my wife and I have been on a small committee researching and editing a third edition.  It’s kind of in my blood, I guess.

Doug:  The West end now also has an outdoor maritime museum and those historical images.  I can’t wait to get out of the house and explore them. To this date, I’ve just driven by and thought “I need to check these out some time.”  Do you have any priorities when we’re allowed out of our houses to explore?

David: Les Amis actually developed two of the panels in that museum.  It’s a great museum! And really, you don’t have to wait. If you drive by and see that it’s empty, or reasonably so, just park and go check it out!  Just don’t touch anything and be sure to maintain social distance!

When ‘all this ends’ I look forward to getting together with small groups of friends, inviting them into our home for dinner and going to their homes as well.  I miss that. Windsor has some wonderful little restaurants. I miss those too. I also look forward to seeing the Coffee House Combo, a young jazz group fronted by one of my former students from Walkerville (Man, she’s good!) at Phog.  That’s how my wife and I spent many of our Sunday evenings for the last four years.

Doug:  You now have a presence on Social Media via Twitter.  If I had to label what I see as your interests, it deals with social justice at many levels.  So many of us have our own Personal Learning Network. What does it take to get into @garlickd13’s network?

David:  I hadn’t thought of things in those terms before, but I guess that works, along with education, politics and history.  And dogs. Initially I got involved in Twitter to establish a connection with my school community and to advertise the events taking place at Walkerville.  Now that I’m retired I use it to maintain that connection. A large number of my followers are former students, staff members, colleagues and parents. To get into my network, all you really have to do is follow me, and then be sure to post or retweet something every once in a while. I’ll usually follow you back. Your Follow Fridays are a great way for me to expand my group!

Doug:  If you had to identify one or two significant learnings from your work online, what would they be?

David:  The single main thing is the commonalities of issues around the world, and just how small Twitter makes the world.  I have Twitter friends throughout Canada and the world, and we’re all dealing with the same sorts of things. And as interesting, or unusual, or sometimes upsetting as things can seem, here in Ontario, for example, there are colleagues throughout North America, and the rest of the world, that are dealing with far more.  Getting their viewpoint can change the way you view things happening at home.

Doug:  Do you have advice for principals that are wondering whether or not to go online and get connected with others?

David:  Absolutely!  Do it! I remember a colleague describing the internet to me in 1994.  “Dave,” he said, “It’s like the largest shopping mall in the world, but nobody has any idea what all is in it!”  That’s still true today, but Twitter has the ability to connect you with teachers, and educators, and entertainers, and politicians, and writers throughout the world! One minute you can be reading something by one of your own students or teachers, and then the next you can be interacting with J.K. Rowling or Michael Fullan!  It’s amazing! If you’re struggling with a particular problem at school, I can guarantee you that someone else, somewhere in the world, has dealt with it before. It’s also very satisfying when you can help a colleague out in New Zealand, for example, or South Africa. There is so much to gain by getting involved!

Doug:  Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts David.  

David:  No. Thank you, Doug!  And please, keep doing what you do.

You can follow David on Twitter here – @garlickd13 
(David: My profile picture will always be of Mitzy the Wonderdog.)

For more information about the Duff-Baby house, click here.


Periodically, I interview interesting people like David. All of the interviews are archived here.

10 Questions for Alfred Thompson


Ontario teachers are about to embark on a “Learn at Home” initiative with the extended closure of Ontario schools.  The situation will mean different things depending upon the school district that you work for and your subject area. 

At Bishop Guertin School, they moved their classes online three weeks ago and are trying their best to replicate what would normally happen in a regular classroom.  Alfred Thompson (@alfredtwo on Twitter) is a computer science teacher at Bishop Guertin and I asked him over the weekend to share his experiences and inspiration for Ontario teachers as they start this new adventure. 


The Decision – This had to be a big decision.  Who made the decision?  Is a school day scheduled the same way? 

Alfred: Our school administration made the decision. We draw from a wide range of cities and towns in two states. The area south of the city we are located in was starting to see a lot of COVID-19 cases and we decided that moving online was the best thing for our students, faculty, and staff. We moved online a week or two before most surrounding schools. 

We are having our morning homerooms (we call it advisory) meet online every morning. Being a Catholic school, we start the day with a prayer, morning announcements, and the Pledge of Allegiance.  We usually hang around for a few minutes of chit chat as well. 


The Students – At the heart of education are the students.  How are they handling being at home and handling the technology they’re using?   

Alfred: Our students all seem to have reasonable technology and connectivity at home. Our school is committed to helping students who don’t but for privacy reasons I would not necessarily know about that. Our usual tech support people are available via email and phone. Students have their contact information available to them. 

I think our students are really missing the personal contact with each other. In some of my classes I have just left the microphones open so they can chat among themselves for a while. 


Timetables – How important is having a regular timetable?  I know that you have a couple of students overseas.  How are they handling things? 

Alfred: I have two students who have returned to China. They are quarantined in hotel rooms. It’s lonely for them so I think they like “coming to class.” Being alone they are sort of still living on Eastern US time. They get up late and go to bed late. Their first class is 9PM local time and the last class is at their midnight. I don’t know how well that will work for them after quarantine. 

For my students who are still in the US I suspect that having a regular schedule helps. Though they do tell me that learning online is harder than learning face to face. 


The Tools – What are the tools that you and the students are using?  Are they working as they should? 

Alfred: Students need an internet connected device that can run Google Meet and Zoom which are the conferencing tools we are using. We have an integrated content management and student information system that we have been using for several years. It was developed by a company that Blackboard bought out some time ago. Students and teachers are used to using it for attendance, giving and returning assignments, and even creating and taking quizzes and tests. So that works out well. 

Discipline has been less of an issue if only because it is harder for students to distract each other. I did switch one class to Zoom because Google Meet didn’t do enough to let me keep in control of the microphones.  But other than that things have gone very well. Student seem to want to learn and make the most of the time. 


The Content – What courses are you teaching?  How have you had to modify things to accommodate the new reality? 

Alfred: I am teaching three courses. Our freshman Explorations in CS course, a Programming Honors course, and a section of Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles. We’ve dropped a few topics from the freshmen course but I feel good that we will cover enough to make it a solid course. I was running ahead of my schedule with Programming Honors and feel confident that we will cover all the material. Will we get as deep as I would like? I’m less sure about that. My AP CS course uses the curriculum from Code.ORG which is largely online anyway. We’ll cover that completely.  

One thing we have been able to do is give access for a virtual machine at school that students can connect to over the Internet. This gives them full access to all the software and tools they would have if they were physically in one of our computer labs. I cannot imagine teaching these courses without that. Not switching in the middle of the semester. 

So no asterisk next to anything. Full credit. 


Assessment – Since Bishop Guertin is a college preparatory school, you’ll need to provide a mark at the conclusion of the course.  How do you handle tests, quizzes, and later on exams?   

Alfred: Personally, I have been doing all my quizzes online for years so no change there. A decision about final exams has yet to be made. For most of my courses I evaluate a semester end project. That is still possible if we decide to have a final because of the virtual machine students can access. 


One-to-one – as any Computer Science teacher will attest, there are times when you need to sit down beside a student and work your way through an issue or two.  What does that look like online?  Do you use any group-work strategies that work effectively? 

Alfred: This is tough. What I do when I can is ask a student to share their screen by taking over as a presenter. This is not ideal but it works and it also lets me model problem solving for the whole class.  When that doesn’t work I can open the student’s project directly from the shared network drive and look at it that way.  

I really need to figure out some group work. On the other hand, I have had students ask me a question and another student will give the answer faster than I do. That’s pretty cool. 


On-going feedback – Every teacher knows of this question – particularly for those mark hungry students.  “Did you mark our tests/assignments/quizzes yet?”  Since you don’t have commute time carved out of your day, do you have more time for this and return things prompter than you might otherwise? 

Alfred: I have been getting to some things faster than I used to. Losing that close to an hour drive each day does give me some extra time. Students are being very patient with teachers and each other. There is a sense that we are all in this together. 


No screen Wednesdays – I remember you sharing that teachers (and students?) were to stay away from electronic things like this one day a week.  How’s that working out? 

Alfred: We did that as an experiment this past week. The feedback is that it went well.  We will have a four-day week this week because of Good Friday as well. There is some thought to keeping a Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday schedule after that. I managed to spend a lot less time on the screen Wednesday. It was a good break even for a computer addict like me. 


Personal Workspace – Can you describe your own personal workspace that gets you through this?  Is there anything other than a computer, microphone, and camera that is needed to be successful?  In a previous profession, you used to travel far and wide helping teachers so you may have seen it all.  What advice could you give everyone at this time? 

Alfred: I have two laptops set up on my dining room table. I find that two screens are very helpful. I might even say essential. Both of my laptops have cameras, but I only use one camera at a time. I have a headset with a microphone that I wear constantly while “at school.” It has noise canceling features which is helpful to avoid distractions. I highly recommend a good headset for teachers. Less echo, better hearing, and sends a message to everyone else in the house that you are working. 

My wife retired in January, so she is not teaching. She does have her own setup in the family room which she uses. You know me well enough to know that there is no shortage of computers in my house. 

A second screen and a headset are two hardware recommendations. Setting out outside the main traffic area in your house is a second recommendation. Ideally you should have a place where you can leave your computer set up and not have to constantly set it up and break it down.  Our dining room is mostly for when we have guests so that works for me. It might not for everyone. 

Mostly, I would tell teachers to do what they can and not expect to be able to do all that they would in a normal classroom. These are not normal times. All you can do is the best you can do. 


Thanks so much, Alfred.  I know that your insights are comforting and insightful for educators. 

During this time, Alfred has picked up his blogging pace.  You can read his ongoing thoughts and observations here – http://blog.acthompson.net 

An Interview with Sophia Mavridi


 

Sophia Mavridi is a lecturer and a teacher trainer specialising in the field of Digital Learning. She is currently teaching in UK higher education and is based in Leicester, United Kingdom.  I was happy that she took the opportunity to tell us a little bit more about herself.

 

Doug:  My first question is normally – where did we first meet but that doesn’t apply in this case.  We haven’t met in real life but certainly have interacted online. Do you remember when our paths first crossed and why you decided to follow me?

Sophia: I remember it very vividly. You took part in a research project of mine as an interview participant back in 2013. I found your insights fascinating and since then we’ve been connected on Facebook and Twitter. 

Doug:  You are part of the faculty at De Montfort University in Leicester. What courses are you currently teaching?

Sophia: I’m currently teaching Academic English and Research Skills, mainly to postgraduate students. It is very interesting. The vast majority are international students who need to acclimatise themselves to the UK higher education and learn how to do research but I may also teach British students who need to improve their writing, presentation skills, academic vocabulary etc. It depends on the semester and the institution. In the past, at a different institution, I taught educational technology to TESOL & Applied Linguistics postgraduate students, something that I also thoroughly enjoyed. 

Doug:  Recently, you announced that you will be giving a keynote address at a conference in Mexico.  That’s a long way from home! What takes you there and what will be the topic of your address?  In what language will you deliver your message?  

Sophia: I’ve been invited by the British Council to give a plenary session at BBELT 2020, which is one of the biggest conferences for English language educators in Latin America. I talked about the transformative potential of technology in education and more specifically language learning. The talk challenged the current educational paradigms that present technology as the silver bullet and talked about the dilemmas but also the pedagogical criteria that should inform our decisions. I delivered it in English as I sadly don’t speak Spanish but as I said the conference was for English language educators and all of them are fluent in English. 

You can watch it here if you want but mind you, it’s a 1-hour long talk so perhaps grab a coffee or tea 🙂 

Doug:  Thanks for sharing the link.  Nice use of the tambourine!  I thought your topic was timely as many teachers are rethinking/rationalizing approaches to their use of technology in education.  By the way, Sophia’s introduction starts at about 4:00 into the video if you wish to skip directly to it.

How did you feel that the presentation went? 

Sophia: It was a fascinating experience. I was impressed by how lively, receptive and enthusiastic Mexican teachers are. This goes for teacher trainers too as before the conference I also delivered training to about 50 British Council teacher trainers. They are so eager to learn and so positive in so many ways. I wish I could have stayed longer. The organisation of the event was excellent and it is not by accident it was attended by 1,100 delegates and sold out in November. 

Doug:  On your website, you offer a large listing of the topics that you’ve talked about.  It’s very impressive. I have a superstition I go through before I speak in front of an audience.  Do you have any superstitions?

Sophia: Really? What is it? I don’t have a superstition but I always eat chocolate. It makes me sharper and brighter. I think as educators and trainers we are used to having an audience so it’s not extremely intimidating. That said, it depends on the audience, the topic and so many other things 🙂

Doug:  My superstition?  Well, my first superintendent noted that I had a great deal of arm action when I talked to an audience.  I corrected this but still walk around for about 10-15 minutes before a presentation with my hands in my pockets just to remind me…

Recently, you announced that you will be releasing a book “Digital Innovations and Research in Language Learning”.  Congratulations. Can you tell us a bit about the book and who your target audience would be?

book1Sophia: I’m really proud of this publication. It is a collection of 12 research chapters that explore the pedagogical potential of new learning technologies in language education contexts. Topics include technology-mediated task-based learning, virtual schooling, game-based learning, digital responsibility & ethics and many more. The research studies are from a range of different places from around the world – from the UK, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece and Israel to Japan, Australia, Chile, Thailand, and Uruguay – and thus it gives voice to different contexts and diverse perspectives.  It is for any educator interested in approaching technology from an informed pedagogical perspective, ideally for language practitioners, teacher educators, researchers and administrators.

Doug:  Another upcoming publication with your name is titled “English for 21st Century Skills”.  Can you tell us a bit about that book?

Sophia: This is another amazing project I’ve had the privilege of being involved in. The book is concerned with the development and integration of 21st centurBook2y skills which I think is a challenge for all educators, not just language teachers. Our students, more than ever before, need the competencies, skills and values to live and work in a globalised and interconnected world and be able to generate innovative ideas, solve problems and implement solutions. We believe that this can be achieved through pedagogies that explore how creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, inclusion, wellbeing, leadership and other key new literacies can be developed along with subject knowledge, which in our case, as language educators, is English. I believe, however, that any educator, who wants to keep up to date with this increasingly important field will find it interesting.

Doug:  If someone was interested in purchasing either of these resources, where would they go?  Amazon?

Sophia: Yes, the research publication is already available on Amazon and can be found here. The ‘English for 21st Century Skills’ will be available on the publisher’s website from April 2020 onwards and in bookshops of course.

Doug:  Through Vicky Loras, I’ve been exposed to a whole group of educators involved with language learning and you’re so often in the middle of things (and the pictures).  It wouldn’t be education if it wasn’t full of acronyms that are new to me. BETT, BBELT, NATESOL, IATEFL. I’d need a roadmap to follow all these. Can you name an organization or two that Canadian educators should stand up and pay attention to?

Sophia: That’s true haha, so many acronyms. For a Canadian, I would recommend  IATEFL which is the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The headquarters is based in the UK but the association is really international. BETT is not an association and is not solely for language educators. It stands for British Educational Training and Technology and it is an annual conference and exhibition organised every January in London. It is for any educator and policymaker interested in educational technology and it is a not-to-be-missed annual event. You can watch the #BETT2020 highlights here. I delivered a keynote at this year’s conference. Can you spot me in the video? 😉

Doug:  I did!  You’re at the 0:39 second mark!

A common thread to what you’ve been talking about recently seems to be Digital Distractions.  Do you have an answer for those who observe students suffering from this?  

Sophia: I feel passionate about this topic as I do about anything that falls under the umbrella of digital literacies, responsibilities and ethics. Technology has given us unparalleled opportunities but it is also chronically distracting us. We can’t afford to ignore this issue any longer as it interferes with learning, social life and wellbeing. We need to find ways to help students to manage their distractions and these ways need to be informed and systematic. Banning the devices is just a reactive approach. It is not a solution. I give guest lectures to students at the university where I work and I also speak about this when I train teachers and when I speak at conferences trying to raise awareness of the issue. My BETT keynote was on this and you can watch it here if interested. I don’t have all the answers but it is rewarding to know that students and teachers find my seminars useful. I’m currently involved in research projects on this so hopefully, I’ll be able to say much more soon.

Doug:  I really like your use of the term “Digital Resident”.  You seem to weave the concept nicely through all your talks.

When I look at your Facebook statistics, you and I have 91 mutual friends.  I find that pretty amazing since we live an ocean apart. Do you think that this speaks to the need for a connected reality for today’s educator?

Sophia: Yes, it does. We can learn so much from one another. On a personal level, being a connected educator has shaped my career and life in many ways. And I find that the benefits can extend beyond the teacher to the students as well. It often creates teacher inspiration and this can spread to students and make them feel more engaged. 

Doug:  Originally from Greece, you now work in the United Kingdom and are fluent in both the Greek and English languages.  Do you speak any other languages?

Sophia: I speak French as well but nowhere near my Greek or English. I would like to refresh my French and learn Spanish and Italian, hopefully soon, when I have more spare time available.

Doug:  I know, from our interactions, that you’re a dog lover.  That’s a good quality in any person! Can you tell us a bit about Hector?

hector1Sophia: Aww my little boy. I’ve had him since he was a two-month puppy. He’s smart, affectionate and absolutely adorable. He brings joy to my life and I love waking up to his smiley face and wagging tail. He always does silly and funny things that make me smile, even when I am troubled. That said, he’s not an easy dog. He has a strong personality and he can be stubborn and naughty. But he’s so charming that he always gets away with it.

Doug:  One of the things that strikes me about your group is how you travel widely in Europe.  Now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union, will this change things for you?

Sophia: I hope it won’t but the truth is nobody knows yet, we just have to wait and see. On a personal level, I still have a European passport so technically I will still be able to travel, work and live in other European countries. And I’m already settled in the UK so I don’t think things will change for me in this respect. That said, it may have an impact on my British and European colleagues who would like to live and work elsewhere in Europe or come here. That would be unfortunate. What I really love about the UK is how multicultural and diverse it is. If this changes then it may not be the place I love to call home.

hector2

Doug:  Can you tell us a couple of interesting things about Sophia Mavridi that we don’t know?

Sophia: You may already know that I travel quite a lot for work. What you may not know is that I always spend my holidays in Greece, preferably by the sea. Nothing relaxes my body and soul more than being next to the sea. Hector enjoys the sea breeze too but he is not so keen on the water 😉 Here we are on holiday in Naxos island.

Doug:  Thank you so much for taking the time from a very busy schedule to tell us a bit more about yourself.  

Sophia: It was lovely talking to you, Doug. Thank you so much for inviting me!

You can follow Sophia on social media:

Periodically, I interview interesting people like Sophia for this blog.  You can check out all of the interviews here https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews.

This Week in Ontario Edublogs


First…

ETFO

Happy Valentine’s Day to ETFO members who are striking in:

  • Kawartha Pine Ridge
  • Near North
  • Rainy River School Boards.

No comment is necessary about the current situation in Ontario. If you’re a teacher in any publicly funded school, you know.

How about some great blogging from Ontario Edubloggers instead?


Payoff

Only an English teacher could be excited and motivated to use all caps.

THEY ALL HAVE PENS OR PENCILS. Every. Single. One.

What a great start to a new semester for Amanda Potts and her Grade 12 English students.

If you’re a secondary school teacher, you’ll absolutely appreciate Amanda’s observations about the difference between the enthusiasm of her Grade 12 students and those of her Grade 10s.

Her words speak to her professionalism. Only a teacher could immediately make observations about reluctant or even fake readers. The sooner this can be observed, the sooner something can be done about it.

From Day 1, she had them reading and she’s excited about that. She notes that the books are in “no discernible order”. Maybe that adds to the excitement of finding something interesting to read. You have to find it first.

Oh, and I was kidding about the pens and pencils. All teachers appreciate that. My method of encouragement to bring them was a box of golf pencils that I had on hand to lend those who forgot their own.


The Education Reform Most Needed for the New Decade

Before you click through and read this post from Anne-Marie Kee, think about what your personal answer would be to that statement.

Anne-Marie makes it clear that she is a supporter of technology and its use in her school but that wasn’t her answer.

Her answer came as a realization of the power of music and community that originated from a New Year’s concert celebration.

Her description of the service took me back to my youth at St. Paul’s Anglican Church and the big ol’ pipe organ. There’s just something special about being among the community with that one single instrument filling the church with music.


Why I Strike.

Zoe in 1980 from her blog

Teachers: Cuts hurt kids

Government: It’s all about money

If only it was that simple.

If you do nothing else, head to the bottom of Zoe Branigan-Pipe’s blog post where she gives a bit of a history of gains made by unions dealing with teacher working and student learning conditions.

Throughout the post, Zoe chronicles her various activities as a social activist.

I know that it’s easy to wax philosophy about the good ol’ days when we were in school. But, put yourself in the shoes of your old teachers and society as it was. The good ol’ days really weren’t that good. The job has evolved; society has evolved; the conditions under which teachers must work and students learn need to evolve as well.


Teacher Performance Appraisal: Advice for New Teachers

Speaking of the good ol’ days. Those of us who are long in the tooth can reflect back now about the process that we went through as we were being evaluated for the first time as really being a crap shoot. It truly was that and the TPA of today doesn’t come close to my experience.

I didn’t know what “they” would be looking for. I hoped that it was the teaching and learning that went on in the class. My Computer Science classroom was hardly a lecture hall. With limited resources, students were at various points of turning their inspiration into programs that worked. As it turned out, one of the superintendents wanted to actually see a lecture. Fortunately, I was able to turn a “history of computers” into a sit ‘n git instead of a research activity.

In this post, Laura Bottrell summarizes what is appraised during these sessions and clearly points out that it’s not a one shot, winner take all process.

Hopefully, new teachers are well schooled in the process before the it begins through their Faculty of Education, Program Departments, local administrators, and local federations.


Thank you

I really did some thinking about whether or not to include this post from Patti Henderson. Sadly, her mother passed away recently and this is a celebration of her life and the eulogy that she and her sister wrote and delivered.

Beyond their words, it’s the presentation in this blog post that is so powerful here.

Patti manages to weave a story in words and pictures of a life and story that is a tribute to her mother. It’s very well done and the collection of artifacts is amazing.

I find myself a little envious; my own mother didn’t like to have her picture taken so the few that we do have are so precious.

My condolences, Patti.


Here’s what I know about class sizes

I’m taking a lot of liberties with this one from Beth Lyons. It doesn’t appear on her blog. Rather, it’s more of an insight that she posted on Facebook. So, you’ll have to be a friend of Beth’s to read it.

I thought that, throughout this entry, she really showed some deep insights about what class numbers mean to good planning, good teaching, and good contacts. Keep in mind that Beth is a teacher-librarian so she reaches out and touches every student in the school. In the process of this post, she bounces between that and her previous life as a classroom teacher.

About determining reading level per child

Remember the class of 23 kids? Right. I’m only working with one of them. For 20 minutes. That means I need to have an interesting and compelling enough activity that the other 22 can do on their own. For 20 minutes.

A new student

Also, there’s a new student moving in on Monday. Better find a desk. And a chair. Don’t forget to buy supplies because your budget is already used up.

Concerns about well-being

Did that student you were keeping an eye on bring a lunch today? You haven’t seen them eat in a few days.

What about the other student that always wears their “favourite” sweater. Every day. And their pants are too short. And their toes are sticking out of their shoes. I wonder if they’ll have boots or mitts this winter.

And much more. Beth’s community really chimed in nicely with support and comments about this. Hopefully, we can convince her to move it to her blog so that more can enjoy and share it.


Friday Two Cents: I Fought The Good Fight

This post, from Paul Gauchi, is a little different than a story of a typical teacher striking for better working conditions in their classroom.

As readers know, Paul is an Occasional Teacher so he doesn’t have his own classroom or a permanent school. Potentially, he has every classroom in the district! Since he’s not assigned to one particular school, he has his choice as to where he would like to go and support colleagues. He makes an interesting and well-reasoned choice.

And yet, there was a nagging in his mind of another issue in another time and place where he wasn’t supported by colleagues.

It’s actually quite a sad story that he shares. Ever positive though, he recognizes that he can’t change the past but does have at least a partial say in his future.


Please take the time to click through and read all of these posts. They’ll inspire and give you some thoughts as you start your day.

And, follow them on Twitter.

  • Amanda Potts – @Ahpotts
  • Anne-Marie Kee – @AMKeeLCS
  • Zoe Branigan-Pipe – @zbpipe
  • Laurel Bottrell – @L_Bottrell
  • Patti Henderson – @GingerPatti
  • Beth Lyons – @mrslyonslibrary
  • Paul Gauchi – @PCMalteseFalcon

This post originates on:

https://dougpete.wordpress.com

If you read it anywhere else, it’s not the original.