About Me

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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Teachers helping teachers: Lessons from Egypt

This week I have been working in Cairo, Egypt on a research and teaching project involving teachers teaching other teachers (that is a mouthful!). This is often referred to as "peer coaching" and involves teachers working in pairs to  provide input and feedback to each other about a focused area of improvement. For example, some of the teachers I am working with this week have asked for feedback on how they differentiate lessons to support students with special education needs and how they can better facilitate group work. I am working at a private school with about 1,000 middle-class Egyptian students.
Courtyard at the school.
I have provided two presentations to 60 teachers on how peer coaching can be done and how it can support their instructional effectiveness. The rest of my time is being spent on a "train the trainer" model involving a core group of teachers as they teach and provide feedback to each other. I am working specifically with four pairs of teachers (two in kindergarten, two in elementary school, two in middle school, and two in high school).
High school students and teacher who has a peer coach in the class observing the lesson.
I am also incorporating a research study into the work I am doing so that I can report on the experience. The research project will include collecting examples of the kinds of feedback that teachers provide to each other, identifying key aspects of teaching improvement, and interviewing teachers about their perceptions of the experience. I will return again in April to collect more data and to see what kinds of changes have occurred, both in the peer coaching approach and in their actual teaching methods.

The final aspect of work I am doing is soliciting input into professional development sessions that I am facilitating (and which other Laurier faculty will provide) in February as part of our expanded Educator and Leadership Institute. The work that we have done in Haiti, and recently in Nepal, will inform what ELI looks like in Egypt. Obviously, each context is different but there are some foundational aspects to ELI that are the same wherever we work; one of these is that our professional development sessions are determined in cooperation with our on-the-ground partners. We have had some excellent discussions about what that means for our February training.
I thoroughly enjoy this type of research and teaching experience because it has a real impact on actual teaching practices. It also keeps me mindful of those things which connect teachers globally, primarily, making a difference in the lives of students.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Starting a new school year in Haiti and Canada: Contrasts

A few minutes ago, my son left to start Grade 11 at our local high school.

Then I read this short article on students starting school in Haiti (click here to read the article).

The contrast in my son's experience and those of similar-aged students in Haiti is remarkable. One small example: My son walked a few hundred feet to catch a bus that will take him to his school of 1, 500 students where he will likely have a maximum of 25 students in a class. In Haiti, it's rare to have a school bus and, as the article states, high schools often have as many as 4,000 students in total (two shifts) and 80 students in a class. In fact, a couple of years ago, I was in a large public school in Haiti where there were more than 100 students in a class.

The sentence that caught my attention was this:

"[In Haiti] Only three of every 100 elementary school students will graduate high school without having to repeat a year or dropping out."

The vast majority of my son's classmates will never repeat a year or drop out.

So, this morning as I think about the start of a new school year, I am reminded of the many benefits and blessings we enjoy in Canada. May we not take these for granted.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Concluding another successful Educator and Leadership Institute in Haiti

We have wrapped up another successful Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI) in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Here are five of the measurable outcomes:

  1. 400 teachers and principals completed courses and practicum (35 hours of instructional time).
  2. 150 children attended a science, arts, and English as a Second Language (ESL) camp.
  3. 40 university students attended an ESL program.
  4. Interviews with 14 ELI participants in which they discussed how the professional learning courses has impacted their teaching.
  5. Three workshops on technology and education with a combined attendance of 360 participants.

Participants gather for our graduation ceremony

One section of Math participants with their certificates

What is perhaps most significant and difficult to quantify is the massive impact that ELI is having on student learning outcomes. However, we heard testimony-after-testimony from teachers that their teaching practices were much more active, experiential, and inclusive. The principals discussed observing classrooms which were much more engaging for children. The Haitian coordinators of the program were astounded with the success of this year's ELI. The Canadian participants provided evidence of how their teaching skills and intercultural competencies have been enhanced.

Participants lining up for the day's session
It is difficult to know how much the Educator and Leadership Institute is directly impacting student motivation and academic achievement but we now have a  reliable and valid body of evidence to indicate that it is significant.

Each participant receives a USB memory key with LOTS of resources in French
We may not know the full impact of what we are doing along with our partners in Haiti but, without reservation, I am confident that it is shifting the educational landscape within Haiti.

Our goal is to impact the student learning outcomes of 100,000 students in Haiti. After this week of professional learning, it is clear that we are well on our way to accomplishing this goal.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How a question in a Haitian public school led to a massive, crazy idea

The very first Haitian high school student I met on an exploratory trip to Cap-Haitien in 2013 was Doody.

I had just entered a large public high school, where 3,000 students went to school in the morning and another 3,000 students went to school in the afternoon. It was a chaotic scene as students milled through the hallways. I was the lone "blan" (Haitian Creole term for a foreigner, whether white or not). I guess I must have stood out.

One young man - Doody - approached me and somewhat shyly tried his English, “What are you doing here?” 

He didn't know it but that was actually an incredibly profound question. And it was the beginning of our English as a Second Language program which led to our teacher education program which has led to our multi-pronged, multi-generational model of teaching and learning in Haiti. 

Doody was in our first ESL class that year and has remained highly connected with our program. His own capacity to be a change-maker in Haiti has been highly impacted by his involvement in our work. And we have been much more aware of the challenges of those marginalized in this country as a result of his participation. Doody's parents live about two hours away in a rural community and he has lived in Cap-Haitien raising his younger brother and sister so they can go to school. Despite these challenging circumstances Doody has continued to pursue his goal to attend university.

Doody is now finishing his major research project in his final year at the public university in Cap-Haitien. Doody wants to be a psychologist and make a difference for the young people of his community. He is working hard to make this a reality.
Doody is on the far left of this picture, helping our Laurier students in the summer camp.

Our goal for the Educator and Leadership Institute? Train 1,000 teachers and 100 principals to impact 100,000 students in Haiti.

All as a result of a question in a hallway asked by an inquisitive and passionate young man.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Lessons in Leadership: People with crazy ideas are like a breath of fresh air to the normality of the routine

Today we wrapped up the Educator and Leadership Institute, our week of professional learning, camps, and ESL programs in Haiti. There are two leaders who have amazed me this week and this blog is dedicated to describing them and what I have learned about leadership from them.

Sr. Vierginat

I took an exploratory trip to Cap-Haitien in 2012 to see if we could develop some partnerships here. One of the first people I was introduced to was Sr. [Sister] Vierginat. She is the director of an all-girls school called College Regina Assumpta. The motto of the school is to empower women in Haiti.

The motto of the school is lived out in the “everyday” through Sr. Vierginat. She is a powerhouse. When I asked others to describe her, they said: Lively, respected, loves her job, engaged, confident, gets things done, compassionate, LOVES children, commands your attention in a non-threatening manner, eloquent, visionary, she can play drums (!), and she can bring down the house with her singing and dancing. Oh, did I mention that she is likely in her late 60s or early 70s?

Last night, we attended a talent show that the girls from her school were holding to raise funds to support tree planting in Haiti. Sr. Vierginat explained that when the girls approached her about the idea, she thought they were crazy but then she thought, “People with crazy ideas are like a breath of fresh air to the normality of the routine.” And with that, she gave her full support and was highly engaged. She was at the event, not just as a powerful person greeting people and telling others what to do but she joined the girls in their singing, drumming, serving, and speeches. She clearly is loved by the girls and has set an amazing example of what it means to be a TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADER.

Pere Bernard

An engineer by training, Pere [Father] Bernard has been an incredible partner. He is the director of College Notre Dame where the Educator and Leadership Institute is hosted. Although Pere Bernard was not part of our initial meetings, after the first Laurier group came to Cap-Haitien and demonstrated that we could be trusted, he was eager to work with us. He is equal in personality and temperament to Sr. Vierginat!

Pere Bernard has serious personality! Yesterday, we were finishing our lunch (imagine 400 people in a covered courtyard … lunch yesterday was fried goat!) when Pere Bernard got up to the microphone and started a game of Krik Krak … it was amazing! Krik Krak is a game of riddles. Pere Bernard would say “Krik” and the audience would respond “Krak” and then he would say a riddle. Within minutes, 100s of people were yelling, dancing, and having a great time. Pere Bernard was dancing, singing, and laughing. One of our Haitian-Canadian leaders said that he had never seen anything like it in 60 years.

This week, Pere Bernard told us that he is leaving for a new position in Montreal at St. Joseph’s Oratory. We are certainly sad to see him leave, not only because he has been our host, but because of his leadership disposition. He is ALWAYS helping photocopy materials, setting up chairs, making sure the sound system is working, talking one-on-one with the participants, and setting out meals. He is the perfect example of a SERVANT LEADER.

I have learned so much about leadership again this trip. Inter-cultural learning is definitely happening.

And it begins with me.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

On being nimble, efficient, and flexible: A model of professional learning for educators that our government could learn from

This year’s Educator and Leadership Institute has nearly doubled in size from last year’s. We have more than 350 teachers and principals in attendance from more than 50 schools from across Haiti.
Our location for the week: College Notre Dame
Lunch Line!
One of the foundational aspects of ELI is a commitment by the participants to attend for three years. Our goal is to provide deep learning over the three years and to be able to “check in” with the participants each year so we can assess the implementation of strategies and techniques they have learned in ELI. We have heard story-after-story this year of changed practices. Amazing! Having participants commit to three years also provides an opportunity for us to identify “champions” who will serve as the future instructors and assistants for ELI. Our goal is to “work ourselves out of a job” and these Haitian leaders will be mentored by the Canadian participants with the intent of taking over much of the instructional work of the program.
Active Learning
We are also conducting an in-depth research project with 14 participants to carefully examine their experiences. These case studies will provide us with rich data to inform our future professional development courses. As well, we anticipate that the case studies will illustrate the “impact on practice” that the ELI has had on the teachers.

We continue to offer courses in math, science, critical literacy, special education, early learning, and leadership. Those who attended last year are placed in a class with others who attended last year to build on the knowledge they developed. New participants are in separate classes so they can develop foundational knowledge. The class sizes range from 20 participants to the largest which has 60 (with two Canadian teachers).

Group Work
It has been an amazing week. Each year that I am in Haiti with a team, I think, “this is the best team I have ever had in Haiti” … and then the next year comes along and I’m once again of the belief that THIS team is the best ever. It is incredible to have had such strong teams over the years and again this year.
Engagement!
My one disappointment has been the lack of Canadian government interest in our work. We have had high level conversations with Canadian officials at the embassy in Port au Prince over the years and they always express strong interest but have yet to actually observe and participate in ELI. I am amazed that such a “high-benefit” for “low-cost” project is not a high priority for our government. I remember a wise Haitian-Canadian once telling me to not spend too much energy on nurturing government relations because they rarely materialize into partnerships. It’s a bit of a sad statement of the way governments and bureaucracies work … but also a good reminder of the real value of working “on-the-ground” in very nimble, efficient, and flexible ways.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Technology and Teaching in Haiti: Why?

As part of this year's Educator and Leadership Institute in Haiti, we have welcomed three staff members from Desire2Learn and an executive from Apple. These are two large companies that support education globally. However, the support for education from these companies often is done in what I call the "first 4 billion" ... that is, the richest half of the world. Having representatives from D2L and Apple in Haiti is helping us address the "next 4 billion" as we consider the poorest half of the world.

Our colleagues from D2L and Apple have been providing workshops on how technology can support teachers in the classroom. The workshops are an optional part of ELI so we were not sure how well they would be attended. Incredibly, yesterday's workshop had 150 participants and today's had 110. I was amazed not just by the number of people but by the high levels of interest and engagement. Clearly there is a desire to do something with technology ... but most teachers just don't know what or how.

This is a huge issue that we need to seriously consider: Why should we introduce ways to use technology in Haitian classrooms? After all, most teachers cannot afford high priced smartphones, tablets, or computers nor the data plans that are needed to access the Internet. Shouldn't we just focus on supporting teachers in the classroom and forget technology?

Here's the thing: Even in Haiti, young people are accessing the Internet. We come across high school and university students here who are on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. All the time. These young people are accessing the Internet to access the world.

So, if teachers don't have any insight into technology they are going to be moving in a very different direction than the students they teach.

As importantly, if teachers cannot access technology, it eliminates a massive resource opportunity. Teachers who have access to the Internet can show their students pictures of moose (not found in Haiti, in case you didn't know), can help them locate the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and multiply the number of books in the classroom by 1,000,000-fold (actually, much more than that). They can access lessons in Kreyol/Creole, the mother tongue of 95% of Haitians. They can provide math activities. They can show them images of the internal organs of our bodies. They can help a student with Autism to understand social situations.

Of course, technology is of limited value if it doesn't provide access to those who live in marginalized communities. In these cases, technology can contribute to widening the knowledge gap between the haves and have nots. That just makes for a more unjust and inequitable world.

But what if we could provide technology and access to the Internet throughout Haiti? Could we increase the number of children who have access to education? Could we increase literacy opportunities? And could we provide ways to increase student learning outcomes? Could we provide opportunities to post-secondary education and partnerships with universities around the world?

This to me is the "why" of why we need to strive for increasing access to technology in fragile contexts like Haiti. I haven't figured out the "how" but I am pleased to have companies like Desire2Learn and Apple who are wrestling with this part of the question.

I am deeply curious whether my hopes for technology "flattening" the world (i.e., providing greater opportunities for the most vulnerable) will indeed become a reality in my lifetime. I am fully confident that if we can figure out a way to do this in Haiti, one of the more challenging contexts in the world, we might be able to do it everywhere.