Through Social Media, I’ve made connections with Lynn Thomas over the past few years. She seemed to be very interested in taking on a leadership role provincially and, when I asked her to take on a role on the ECOO Board of Directors, she was all in. She remains very active online and I was pleased when she said yes to this interview.
Lynn Thomas is a secondary school English teacher at Dunnville Secondary School in Dunnville, Ontario. Her complete digital bio is available here. https://wordsgrow.com/about/
Let’s learn more about Lynn.
Doug: My first question is always the same and helps to set the stage – do you recall the first we met – either face to face or online?
Lynn: Way back when I started writing my blog in 2017, I was pretty unaware of the broader EDUTwitter community. It wasn’t long before Doug messaged me asking to cover my blog on his podcast with Stephen Hurley, This Week In Ontario EDU Blogs. I was thrilled and am eternally grateful because it opened up a whole network of amazing educators, many of whom I count as good friends today. This initial ‘meeting’ has lead to Doug’s recurring visits to my blog series, The A, B, Cs (and X, Y, Zs) of the Class of 2030 and to finally meeting face to face at the BIT 2019 conference, after he had recruited me to join ECOO’s Board of Directors.
Doug: The only real job descriptor for the Past President of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario is to recruit people to serve on the Board of Directors. I was happy when I reached out to you and you agreed to take on a role and became the Treasurer. Since that time, you’ve moved into the President’s seat. Tell us about your couple of years in leadership in the organization.
Lynn: My initial reaction when you reached out to me was feeling honoured and then immediately scared to death. Never having served on any sort of Board of Directors, I was understandably feeling very out of my depth but I really wanted to learn and give it a go. The first few months on the Board were a whirlwind of learning more about the organization, the expectations surrounding being Treasurer, and meeting all the other people involved, their roles and how everything fit together. It was quite the learning curve.
A mere 4 months into my term the pandemic hit and everything was shut down. That really changed things. The annual conference, #BIT – a major focus of the organization – was cancelled and we were left trying to navigate teaching ourselves and what we could do. How could we help? What supports do teachers need right now? How can we accomplish these things? Essentially, we remade ourselves and learned a great deal along the way which has served us well moving forward in the continuing pandemic and disruptions in learning in education.
By this point, I knew I wanted to continue to serve on the Board and so accepted the President’s position. I’m very proud of the continual support we have been able to provide throughout last year and this year. ECOO has taken a position as a consistent supportive voice on the educational landscape and it is a good place to be.
Doug: The past couple of years have not been ideal to take on the leadership role but you did. What sorts of initiatives have been stamped with “Lynn Thomas”?
Lynn: The Initiatives we have taken on at ECOO have definitely been a collaborative effort. We have supported each other in learning how to and then putting together a virtual conference, ECOOCampON, last August and are hosting the event again this August and we undertook hosting a series of support sessions throughout the fall, winter and spring to continue to help teachers navigate education during a pandemic. But, the two things I feel that I have taken on a larger role in are in re-envisioning our membership and financial model and an in-depth exploration of our mission and vision statements to help guide us moving forward.
Doug: In these times, the get together annual conference is obviously not going to happen. Yet, ECOO is offering learning for Ontario Educators, albeit differently, including a session on wine tasting. What’s the thinking behind these efforts?
Lynn: Although meeting face-to-face has not been an option over the past year, educators have needed to network and learn from each other more than ever. The events of 2020 prompted a focus on Equity, Anti-Racism, Wellness, Remote Learning, and (with the Ministry’s implementation of the revised 1-8 Math curriculum for last September) Coding. These timely themes were emphasized at our summer ECOOcampON20 conference, and continued into the fall.
As the 2020-21 school year unfolded, with the continual back-and-forth between school and home, a significant toll has been exacted from educators, and by the time we reached the early months of 2021, it became clear that we wanted to focus our Spring Support Series on educator wellness. The Ministry’s postponement of the Spring break from March to April was a significant factor in our planning, such that social events for educators such as a garden tour, a tea break, a wine tasting, and a number of educators+family art events were scheduled for the week of the April break. Several of the events were framed as part of a virtual “road trip” to take the place of a more traditional spring break getaway.
Planning for ECOOcampON21 will similarly respond to the current, pending and emerging needs of Ontario educators, such as the Ministry’s move to destream Grade 9 this September.
Our efforts to focus on supporting educators with timely topics and useful resources has been well spent and appreciated by our members. An example comment:
‘… you folks have been a lifesaver for my sanity and ability to feel like I am part of the world this year…’ and I think that says it all.
Doug: What support has ECOO offered to its members during these bizarre on again, off again series of teaching online?
Lynn: When the pandemic’s effects began to directly impact schools beginning in March 2020, the ECOO Board undertook a number of initiatives to support ECOO members and Ontario educators:
a) We developed an 18-episode podcast series with Stephen Hurley to share authentic voices from Ontario educators and how they were responding to the issues of “emergency remote teaching.”
b) We collated a large collection of COVID-19 resources and tools from across the province to provide educators with a crowd-sourced set of supports.
c) We determined that our face-to-face planned ECOOcamps and Fall 2020 BIT conference would not go ahead, and instead hosted a 3-day summer virtual ECOOcampON conference in August to support educators before the September return, as well as hosting evening Support Series events through the Fall of 2020, and the Winter and Spring of 2021.
e) We supported the hosting of the ECOO-CS Programming Contest in virtual format, with over 600 students again registering for the May 1st event.
Doug: When you look at your Bio page on your blog, you have a large collection of certifications and badges. Are there one or two that are particularly helpful that you would recommend to others?
Lynn: Becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert was my first foray into any sort of certifications and badges outside AQs, so the Microsoft Educator’s Community is close to my heart. I have learned a great deal from the many colleagues and friends I have met and made through being part of that community – even being selected to travel to Paris, France for Microsoft’s global Educator’s Exchange (E2) in 2019. Another certification that I would definitely recommend to others because of the superior, in-depth learning offered is National Geographic’s Certified Educator program. I really enjoyed National Geographic’s program, particularly because it offered me a new way to approach topics in my English classes. Looking at themes or topics and including various lenses and viewpoints (i.e. historical, geographical, sociological, environmental, economical, etc and from the local to regional to global level) was transformative. Reframing topics in my class in this way led to far more in-depth discussion and learning and also engaged students far more because it gave students choice, engage with the topic on multiple levels and allowed them to use their voice in a myriad of ways. Finally, HP Teaching Fellows is an outstanding community to be part of. The Fellowship is guided by Digital Promise and offers phenomenal professional development opportunities in a range of formats that allow you to really foster a strong community of learners.
Doug: You describe yourself as a Digital Lead Learner with your district. Can you explain what this term means and how that fits into a full teaching schedule? What opportunities are necessary if someone wishes to follow your track and become a Digital Lead Learner themself?
Lynn: The Digital Lead Learner program with my board brought together teachers interested in educational technology from both the secondary and elementary panels. As a large group we met four times per year where we undertook professional development like guest speakers, workshops and edcamp style events to further our learning and pedagogy surrounding educational technology. We were then able to share that learning with colleagues in our buildings. We were also given opportunities to lead sessions on ed tech for the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) and Support staff professional development. Furthermore, we were given support to attend conferences like #BIT and CanConnectEd which is how I began attending these events and becoming involved in ECOO. The program has changed over the years but essentially, an interest in learning and furthering your practice in the realm of educational technology was the key to following that track.
Doug: Of interest to me is that you’re a Microsoft Fellow and a Microsoft in Education Master Trainer. Obviously, during these times, face to face events are impossible. But, are there other opportunities for you to use your abilities?
Lynn: There are definitely tons of opportunities to use my abilities related to being a Microsoft Fellow and Master Trainer. In fact, it has probably increased during the pandemic. The fact that webinars and virtual workshops are now normalized means that I have been able to support educators virtually – far easier to arrange than a large physical gathering and I am also not limited to my particular area geographically. Over the past year I have led sessions for audiences from not only in Canada but India, Ireland and globally. Some have been tied to larger events like Microsoft’s ConnectED conference or the Social-Emotional Learning Karanga while others have been singular events like a 2-day workshop I led in December fro teachers in India on using educational technology to support social-emotional learning.
Doug: You’re involved with the SINGLEVOICESGLOBALCHOICES project. Can you tell us details about this and how it applies to Ontario?
Lynn: The Single Voices, Global Choices project is a globally collaborative project for middle and high school students and teachers from all over the world who believe in the power of global connections and who want to bring the real world into their classrooms.This is done through focusing every month on one or more international events created by the United Nations and other organizations and by analyzing current events. The project’s focus on international events, like World Literacy Day for example, is universal and the fact that there is strong attention paid to current events makes it one where students from all walks of life and geographical areas can be engaged and participate. I particularly like projects like this because it offers real world issues for students to learn about and explore, engages them in taking on various viewpoints and allows them to problem solve solutions to some of the concerns raised.
Doug: As you know, I follow your blog “Wordsgrow” with interest and have talked about particular blog posts on my This Week in Ontario Edublogs posts. Can you tell me the inspiration behind the name “Wordsgrow” and what you use as motivation to continue to blog?
Lynn: I initially started a class blog as part of a class blogging project and used it as a mentor text for students while they blogged about Frankenstein. Near the same time I got involved in a MOOC/book study with George Couros focused on the Innovator’s Mindset where he strongly encouraged everyone to blog throughout the MOOC. I soon found out how much I got out of blogging and how much I enjoyed it so I created my blog site – Wordsgrow. I settled on the name because I have always loved words (go figure – English teacher here) and see the impact they can have. I also see how they can change myself and others so the idea of growth kept coming back to me which reminded me of the quote from Lucy Maud Montgomery – “words aren’t made…they grow” so Wordsgrow seemed completely fitting.
Doug: If you were to take a snapshot of your teaching in 2019 with your teaching in 2020/2021, what differences leap out at you?
Lynn: While I’m sure most people would say the pivot to online is the biggest difference between 2019 and 2020/21, for me I think stress actually surmounts it. I have long used blended learning in my classroom, so moving to online was not a big stretch for me. What affected my teaching far more was the stress caused by so much uncertainty, so much negative messaging to teachers, and so little real support. Don’t get me wrong, my colleagues and admin were staunch supporters. I’m talking about the wider context that we personally had little control of. The many times that unrealistic expectations were put on teachers to change teaching styles in an instant, be everything to everyone without the necessary training, adhere to teaching expectations that had little to no grounding in proven pedagogical principles, lack of financial support, and definitely a lack of the time to enact these changes and expectations. That stress definitely changed me and how I teach and it, I feel, is the starkest difference.
Doug: Lynn, thank you so much for the interview. I appreciate your thoughts and the opportunity to learn more about you. I wish you continued best wishes with all your endeavours.
You can follow Lynn on Social Media here:
Periodically I have the opportunity to interview interesting people like Lynn. All of the interviews are available here: https://dougpete.wordpress.com/interviews