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:

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:

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:

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

-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:

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

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

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 

– 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 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 –

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.

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.


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

This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It would be hard to start this post and not talk about snow. It’s been a heavy week around, especially for a November. Buses were even cancelled one day and, in typical Essex County fashion, the main roads were dry by noon.

It’s time to share some of the great posts I read recently from Ontario Edubloggers. And, by the way, if you’re in Ontario and blogging or know of someone who is, please add it to the form that’s there to collect for the purpose of growing the list. Or, directly here.

Did you get your flu shot yet?

Your public service notice this fall from the Heart and Art Blog and Deb Weston. It’s personal for her.

In 2009, my students invited their classmates to a birthday party. One of the students had the H1N1 flu virus. In a class of 24 students, 18 students missed a week of class due to this flu. Their teacher, me, was then hit with the flu. I missed 4 days of work. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Upon hearing I was diagnosed with H1N1, my partner got his flu shot and slept in another room until I was well. The flu compromised my immune system and months later I contracted Whooping Cough.

It’s hard to believe that, despite the facts, we have this conversation every year.

Since you can get it at a pharmacy now, there’s no “waiting for a doctor” excuse any more. Just do it.

I’ve got mine.

He talks about me at home

There was a time when student-led conferencing was solely an elementary school thing it seems. So, it was with real interest to read that Amanda Potts had mom and a family of three show up for parent/teacher interview – two students that she taught.

From a reading perspective, I found myself bouncing back and forth with empathy from teacher to student who had just been outed that “he talks about me at home”.

From an education perspective, I thought that it was a real winner that this parents wanted to talk about the choice of reading that was selected for this class. I don’t imagine that happens a lot.

The timing of reading this post and an invitation to listed to a new podcast from Amanda and Melanie White made it full circle here. I enjoyed both.

You can read more about this podcast on Amanda’s blog as well.

A Stitch in Time

I knew about much of this from Colleen Rose through private conversations. She wasn’t going to be going back to the classroom to start the fall semester after having had a great summer.

Colleen goes very public with details, including a TMI warning in this post.

I think that it’s cool that she’s turning the whole thing into a learning event – how much more “teacher” can you get than that. In this case, it’s teaching herself to knit. Kudos for doing that.

What impressed me about this post is that there’s a common thread running through it – yes, it’s pure Colleen, but there’s technology everywhere. Mapping a trail, taking pictures (lots of them), medical technology, Dr. Google, listening to podcasts, and YouTube tutorials for learning her new skills. Way to go, Colleen.

The post even includes a shoutout to her union for taking care of things for her.

Parlons Minecraft BIT2019

Jennifer Aston delivers an interesting post about a session that she and her daughter delivered at the recent Bring IT, Together Conference about how Minecraft has found its way into her French classroom.

Her slidedeck, which she freely shares is here:

Unlike many of the sessions that I attended where the slides were filled with text and drawings, etc., so that the speaker becomes redundant, Jennifer recognizes that she’s very visual in presentation and that the slides, by themselves, doesn’t really tell you what’s happening.

So, she clumps her slides together with speaking notes so that we can follow and understand the message.

Nicely done and it’s great to know that the practice of ensuring that presentations in both Ontario’s official languages are still offered.


Matthew Morris doesn’t give detentions. That’s interesting. Maybe he doesn’t need to? Or maybe he’s got another way of handling the things that detentions would claim to solve?

What I found interesting was his note that he’s asked by students “do you give detentions?”. Even that question speaks volumes that the students are coming from a school culture that includes them.

I can’t recall giving them out. In fact, we were specifically told not to since most of our students were bused to school and after school detaining would open a can of worms. I remember noting that there were still lots of after school sports, clubs, and activities. But, as a new teacher, I wanted to follow the rules.

This ran through my mind after reading Matthew’s post

beatings will continue until morale improves

If the goal of detentions is to improve things, maybe there’s a better way to reach that goal.

Secret Truths of Empathy While Learning to Advocate

Hmmm. Thanks to this post from Ruthie Sloan, the secrets are now revealed!

The big takeaway, if you need it is that

empathy is not sympathy

It certainly isn’t accumulating the number of check boxes on a student IEP either.

What might happen if we began our meetings and our journey with deep and genuine curiosity (beyond check boxes on IEPs but about the ‘whole-child’ and those who are also learning how to support)? How might this affect our capacity to cultivate empathy? What might it do to our filters and translations?

If we truly believe in working with the “whole-child”, then a more global approach is essential. Ruthie uses the term “moral imperative”.

I can’t help but think that the suggested approach would be deemed to be too inefficient and not cost worthy in the eye of the bean counters. Plus, with cutbacks in support…

I think you can fill in the details.

Community Archives and Identity

This is actually a very short message informing us about a presentation that Krista McCracken is delivering to an Algoma sociology class.

Slides are available here.

Unlike Jennifer’s approach of not including speaker notes, Krista does have speaking notes to go along with each slide.

Of course, looking through a slidedeck isn’t the same as being there but this was intriguingly interesting and I used a search engine to find out more about the Archives talked about in the slideshow.

Please take the time to click through and enjoy the original blog posts. As always, there’s some great sharing going on.

Then, make sure that you’re following these leaders on Twitter.

  • @dr_weston_Phd
  • @Ahpotts
  • @ColleenKR
  • @mme_aston
  • @callmemrmorris
  • @Roosloan
  • @kristamccracken

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

An Interview with Michelle Lagos De Javier

Doug:  Through my association with the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA), I’ve had the opportunity to meet Michelle Lagos.  Michelle is a Computer Science teacher at the American School of Tegucigalpa (AST) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We last caught up at the CSTA Conference in Omaha last summer and I made a mental note at the time – I’ve got to interview Michelle for the blog.  She’d be great!

Here goes…

Doug:  My first question, as always, can you remember when we first met?

Michelle: I think we met for the first time at the CSTA conference in Irvine, California in 2012 if I am not mistaken.

Doug:  OK, I’ve got to know.  Going from Tegucigalpa to a CSTA Conference in the United States has to be a major undertaking, no matter who you are.  Why do you do it?

Michelle: I love teaching Computer Science (CS), but in my country it can become a lonely endeavor. There are not many organizations that I can belong to that are for CS teachers. Plus working at an American School we teach based on US standards and curriculum so it matches my work. CSTA has developed into my community throughout the years.

Doug:  For me, getting to Omaha as an international traveller was actually fairly easy.  I crossed into the USA at the Ambassador Bridge into Detroit, cleared Customs, and then drove along I-94 to Detroit Metro Airport and took a direct flight on Delta to Omaha.  How does one get from Honduras to Omaha? Where did you clear US Customs?

Michelle: Well, in Tegucigalpa (my home town), we don’t have an abundant number of flights so the choices are quite limited. For the Omaha trip in particular I flew into the US and cleared customs in Miami, FL and came back home through an overnight connection through Houston, TX. Getting anywhere besides Miami, Houston or Atlanta requires at least one connection, usually arriving around midnight to my final destination, and coming back I usually have to sleep in one of these cities.

Doug:  How do you feel about flying alone?

Michelle: I have been getting used to it although I prefer flying with company, especially my husband. But now I know that if I travel anywhere for CSTA I will get to see good friends wherever I go so that makes it exciting.

Doug:  Tell us about your school.  The pictures from the website look outstanding. (AST)

Michelle: My school is amazing!! It was founded 72 years ago. We are an American School accredited to grant a US high school diploma by AdvancEd; we are an IB school granting an IB diploma and granting a Honduran baccalaureate secondary school degree. We are a Nursery – 12 school. The working environment is great and we are always looking for ways to innovate and prepare our students in the best possible way for college.

Doug:  On Wikipedia, AST lists three former Honduran Presidents as alumni.  That’s impressive. Did they take Computer Science?

Michelle: Yes, we have alumni that have been very successful in different areas including being President of the country. I assume they had a computer application course or an elective advanced computer class.

Doug:  Obviously, the tie that binds us is Computer Science.  You have a wonderful insight into the profession here.
Can you tell us about your computer and Computer Science program at the school?

Michelle: Our Computer Science program starts in Pre-K and goes all the way to 12th grade. Our Ministry of Education has made CS mandatory for graduation which means that all Seniors must take a CS course. We use a progression of using ISTE standards for Pre-School and evolving into CSTA standards.

Doug:  Are you the online Computer Science teacher at AST as well?

Michelle: We do not have online courses. All our courses are on site. My school counts 4 Computer labs equipped with PCs and a CS class room plus we are a one-on-one High School.

Doug:  When students graduate from High School at AST, where do they go?  University, College, Work?

Michelle: We have a 99 to 100% college going rate. A few stay here in Honduras for college especially if they are interested in Medicine or law school; others go to the States, Canada and now more commonly to Europe for college. We also have a Senior year internship program where students can get a short experience in the workforce of their career interest to be able to make a more informed decision before leaving for college.

Doug:  What were the big takeaways from this year’s CSTA Conference that you took back home?

Michelle: There were so many great workshops and conferences that every year it becomes harder to choose which ones to attend, but the keynotes got us great messages. I especially loved the one by Andy Gonzalez one of the authors of “Girl code”. The new launch of CSTA+ was a success and as part of the board of directors it makes me happy to see my association grow and makes me proud to work and serve the CS teachers globally.

Doug:  Last year, a mutual friend of ours, Stephanie, and her husband joined you for holidays in Tegucigalpa.  What kinds of things did you do?

Michelle: Stephanie and Brandon visited us for Thanksgiving. It was their first time in Honduras. We took a short 20 minute flight to an island called Roatan which is part of the Honduran Bay islands. We went snorkeling and got a nice tan in November. Our Bay islands are world famous and an amazing tourist attraction. Snorkeling and scuba diving are a must as they are part of the Mesoamerican coral reef which is the second biggest natural coral reef after Australia. Then we flew back to our coastal city of San Pedro Sula and made the road trip back to my hometown where we celebrated Thanksgiving with my family and visited a small colonial town called Valle de Angeles where we rode a motor taxi commonly known as Tuc Tucs here. Stephanie and Brandon learned how to make tortillas. My kids were teaching them Spanish. It was so much fun having them here.

Doug:  You indicate you speak English, Spanish, and Spanglish.  I’m curious – what does Spanglish mean to you?

Michelle:  For me there are two ways to define Spanglish.  Spanish is my first language, but as a fully bilingual person I learned English at the same time as Spanish. So Spanglish is when you incorporate a word in English into a Spanish sentence because you have no idea how to say that word in Spanish or vice versa. The other thing is (and you might notice this in the way I write or express myself) is that I usually think in Spanish so I use more words to express one thought in English. I speak English 8 or more hours a day as my school is an English spoken campus and my kids are also English/Spanish/Spanglish speaker.s A very funny anecdote is that my first born son who is currently in third grade his lowest grade is always the Spanish class. The reason for this is that my house is more English spoken, we watch TV and movies in English, we read more in English than Spanish and we even talk to each other in English. There is a belief that since English is our second language and we get Spanish everywhere we go, then we should practice our English more frequently.

Doug:  How about your children?  Is it important to you that they are bilingual?  

Michelle: For my husband and me, it is very important that they are at least bilingual and if they can learn a third language such as French, Mandarin etc. even better. We want them to be competitive everywhere and be able to understand and communicate in different ways to open doors. We also consider programming another language as it promotes logic and common sense which is not as common as it should be, so that can also be considered another language they can learn. They have mastered Spanglish by now so there is that too.

Doug:  Not far from your school, there’s this lovely looking green area called Eco Park Juana Lainez.  What can you tell us about that?

Michelle: Cerro Juana Lainez (Juana Lainez hill) is a national monument that has our flag permanently on display and can be seen from most places in town. In recent years a series of foundations have remodeled it and turn it into a nice eco park that involves several areas of our society including our school. Our Senior students have to do a community project as part of our Ministry of Education requirements and this year they are reforesting the areas around the monument. They have also built hiking and bike trails and playgrounds for kids. It is a very nice place inside the city to spend a family Saturday or Sunday. Every time there is a national holiday such as independence day, there is also a tradition that our Armed forces salute the nation 3 times a day, at 6 am, 12 m and 6 pm with 7 cannon blanks making 21 salutes in total.

Doug:  If someone was planning a trip to Tegucigalpa, what are some of the “must-see” places to visit?

Michelle: Definitely Cristo del Picacho, a Sculpture of Christ of 2,500 tons and 98 feet in total height (an image of 65 feet high on a pedestal of 33 feet). It is located in El Picacho, a special place in the strip occupied by the Park of the United Nations and bordering the same hill which is about 2 kms from our house. It is a wonderful sight especially at night. Right there in the same park we have the Rosa Walthers zoo which has been recently remodeled. If you keep going up the hill you find La Tigra National Park an ecological reserve which has great hiking trails where you can see great Honduran flora & fauna. There are many Catholic churches that were built in the colonial era and have great architectural interests and religious antiques and images. Then there is the newest Church which only took 62 years to build (from 1943-2005) and it is now the home of our country’s patron Virgen de Suyapa.

It is also nice to visit the different small museums that are around town such as Museo de Identidad Nacional or MIN as everyone knows it here. If you want to go to the near outsides of town, Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia are two small colonial towns located around 20 minutes away from downtown and have great Honduran typical food restaurants, sights and souvenir shops.

Doug:  If someone was interested in following you on social media, where could they find you?

They can follow me at:

  • Twitter: @mglagos
  • G+:
  • LinkedIn: Michelle Lagos
  • Facebook: Michelle Lagos de Javier
  • Snapchat: mglagos

Doug:  Thank you so much for the interview, Michelle.  I now have more things to chat about when we get together next summer in Phoenix.

Periodically, I interview interview interesting people like Michelle for this blog.  You can read them all here.

This post was made to:

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