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, October 21, 2013

Outcomes and next steps for Laurier's educational work in Haiti

Our M.Ed. course in Fermathe wrapped up successfully on Friday and we arrived back in Canada early Saturday morning. By all accounts, it was a successful trip. Here are five key outcomes:

1. Arrangements made with schools Regina Assumpta (Cap Haitien), Go On (Delmas, Port au Prince), and the state university (UEH, Port au Prince) to support conversational English language programs for a Laurier service-learning team in May, 2014.

2. Agreement with Projects for Haiti to support Canadian teachers who want to be involved in teacher training in Haiti in July.

3. Proposal details discussed with the rector and dean of education at the Public University of the North at Cap-Haitien to establish an English Language Institute.

4. Extension of the Digital Mentoring Project to include groups of teachers and principals throughout the country.

5. Extensive training (through workshops and Master of Education sessions) completed on ways smartphones can support educational capacity-building and leadership in education.

There were many, many conversations and meetings which supported each of the above outcomes and I am indebted to those who participated on this networking and training trip. It is clear that Laurier's name is becoming more well-known in Haiti and that our work is being viewed as contributing to the sustainable development of the country, particularly in the north.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

BlackBerry, Courageous Conversations, and Emotional Intelligence: All in a days work in Haiti

Today was our final full day in Haiti. Tomorrow, we teach the final block of our M.Ed. course and then we head to the airport to return home.

It's been, yet again, a fulfilling trip. We have had excellent partnership meetings and it is clear that Laurier's name in Haiti is becoming more widely known. We have been part of some highly engaging discussions with educational leaders from across Haiti. We have made new friends and experienced hospitality beyond what we deserve.

This country amazes me. I know that I'll never have a complete grasp of the "reality" of Haiti. It is certainly a country of surprises. The complexities of life here can be touched on in long conversations and in snapshot images. I'm challenged and stretched every time I'm on the ground here.

Today's experiences provide a glimpse into the diversity of experiences we have had. This morning, we drove down to Delmas 33 (down the mountain from where we are and approaching downtown Port au Prince) to meet with Jhonel's brother, Jimmy, about his English school. What impressed me during the time we were together were three conversations with three different people. All of these people have been (or are in the midst of) experiencing economic improvement as a result of a belief that Jimmy had in their ability. It takes courage, both on Jimmy's end and on the receiver's end, to take a chance on someone. Yet, these three individuals represent the hope for Haiti ... people can move out of poverty when given hope and a concrete opportunity.

When we returned to Fermathe, we ate lunch with the students. It appears that not many profs eat with the students. I suspect it's because they feel that the food (which is prepared in a large kitchen) may be unsanitary. I've had four meals there this week and feel great; I prefer the Haitian food to the western food we receive at dinner :). I think there's something valuable about demonstrating to our students that we are not above them in any way but that, by enjoying a simple meal together, we are engaging in a hospitable act. In a way, this emotional connection is a powerful learning opportunity.

After our afternoon class discussion on curriculum leadership, a couple of students met up with us for a relaxed time of dialogue this evening. It was great to hear their questions and to have an "off-the-record" conversation. As we were wrapping up, they were curious about BlackBerry and how they might be part of the work we are doing in Haiti with BlackBerry. It's exciting to have this kind of up-take on something I've been working on for a couple of years.

It's been a day of contrasts ... much like Haiti itself.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

diri kole avec ak poul ... and courageous conversations in Haiti

Today was World Food Day. I haven't done research on this but I'm guessing that this day was set aside as such to celebrate the delicious and diverse foods found around the world. I also suspect that the day was established to help us remember that we each have an individual and collective responsibility to be good stewards of the food we enjoy.

Now, I'll admit, I love food. I am fortunate to live in a country, and with the economic means, to satisfy this love.

Being in Haiti on a day like this raises new issues for me. The lunch served at our M.Ed. class today was diri kole avec ak poul (rice and beans with chicken) which is one of the more common meals you will get in Haiti.

I love this dish.

But I also recognize that many in this country were hungry at lunch today ... and again this evening ... and likely tomorrow morning as well.

The students came into our M.Ed. class at 1 pm having had a great meal. They were ready to have 4.5 hours of class and that lunch helped ensure they were focused on the course materials. Ironically, a focus of the afternoon was on having courageous conversations. Communication, and particularly dealing with conflict and confrontation, is a critical skill for school leaders.

In Haiti, and certainly in pockets within my own community in Canada, there are people who are hungry. Not just on World Food Day but regularly through the year. As school leaders, we need to have more courageous conversations around what we're doing about this and to take action to ensure that every child in our schools is not learning on an empty stomach.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Haitian and Canadian Master of Education Students: More Similar Than Different

Tonight we were able to connect a group of my M.Ed. students at Laurier and two recent M.Ed. grads from a program I teach in Haiti. Using Skype video (a first for me in Haiti to have a pretty good connection) we had a great time of discussion about roles and responsibilities.

It was interesting to hear some differences in their experiences. For example, it's very uncommon for students to live in residence in university in Haiti (mainly, because not many residences exist!) whereas this is a common experience for Canadian students.

However, there were lots of similarities in the conversations. Tony, a person responsible for curriculum development in schools in western Haiti appreciated what Jenni (elementary teacher in Kitchener) said regarding integrating subjects. He made a connection with what he is trying to do with integrating subject material (natural disaster preparation) across subjects.

I was most struck by the similarities in areas we didn't discuss. For example, the two Haitian teachers came to my guest apartment on their own time (after a long day of classes) and the four Canadian teachers came to the university on their own time (after a long day of work). Why? So they could develop a better understanding of each other. That shows commitment and interest. I love that!

I have seen lots of fancy and expensive pieces of equipment meant to help with video-conferencing and supporting distance education (yes, even in Haiti I have seen video-conferencing rooms and SmartBoards)...

...In a one hour conversation using free software, I think we were able to support some valuable connections which are worth more than the fancy equipment.

Monday, October 14, 2013

BlackBerry and "leadership educationnel en Haiti"

I just finished a great meeting with Rob (BlackBerry) and Jhonel (Ontario Ministry of Education). Rob leaves tomorrow to start the process of heading back to Canada so we wanted to debrief the week we have spent together engaged in BlackBerry and educational leadership training in Haiti.

It is clear that the three of us are committed to this partnership. Now that we're getting BlackBerry devices in people's hands, and providing training around their use, we have to start doing some research on how people are using the devices. I have some preliminary data on the first handful of people who engaged in the Digital Mentoring Project and have an article just about ready to go out to be reviewed for a journal on that project. However, we need to go beyond this early data and really look at their use and effectiveness in supporting leadership capacity-building.

After this morning's training, we now have people in four regions of Haiti who have completed the training and who have a BlackBerry. We also have a database of who these people are. In the coming months I will be following up with them to see how the training and devices are being used.

Rob and BlackBerry have been incredibly generous in their time and in the donation of BlackBerry phones. This project would not have been nearly as successful without the company and Rob's personal involvement. BlackBerry has gotten a lot of negative attention recently but this trip has impacted dozens of principals in Haiti in very positive ways. Rob has provided them with a new tool which can significantly impact their communication, organization, and accessing of resources. Everyone he has interacted with has been delighted with his help and with the capability of the smartphone.

I'm thrilled that CBC KW contacted me today and I suggested that they needed to talk with Rob about his passion for Haiti and for how he is making a difference here through BlackBerry. So stay tuned and I will provide the details for when his interview will air!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

How to travel from Cap-Haitien to Port au Prince to Arcahaie to Petionville to Fermathe (and arrive before 3 pm)

Today was a huge transition day. We got up at 5 am to leave the Stella Maris guest house, but not before Ser Solange made sure we had breakfast! We then drove to the Cap airport only to find it completely dark and with one lonely employee outside. So much for needing to be at the domestic flight at least an hour in advance! Piti piti the other employees showed up (and eventually the pilots).

After arriving in Port au Prince, we were picked up by Jhonel's brother Jimmy who drove us to their father's church in Arcahaie, about an hour from PAP. Jhonel preached at the morning service; it was great to be part of this small church in a fairly disadvantaged part of town. The singing was incredible and it was wonderful to be so warmly greeted by the parishioners.

After we enjoyed a lovely Haitian lunch together, we were off back to PAP. The contrasts in Haiti are incredible. We went from poor neighbourhoods and beautiful ocean views to the upscale part of PAP known as Petionville. Here you can buy designer clothes and western groceries (and see people in Porsches and 5 star hotels). We dropped Rob off at a church he used to be part of and we then continued up to Fermathe where the Baptist Mission is located.

The road up the mountain from PAP to Fermathe is amazing with hairpin turns and gorgeous homes with incredible vistas. Fermathe is located at about 1500 metres above sea level so the temperature got progressively cooler the higher up we got. We pulled into the beautiful grounds of the Baptist Mission, complete with lovely children's playground and Haiti's only zoo (!). All this done by 3 pm!

The week ahead includes a BlackBerry training session in the morning and discussion on how principals might use them to engage in the Digital Mentoring Project. Each day, in the afternoon, I will teach a Master of Education course with Jhonel for approximately 35 students. It promises to be a great week!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sweet Kasav ... another humbling leadership lesson from Haiti

Highlight of the day ... after six hours of BlackBerry and leadership training for 40 principals and lead teachers, I had gone outside to wait for our group to be ready to go. A student who had been part of the Laurier ESL program in May (Doody) came through the gates of the school where the training had taken place, greeted me, and shared with me a very special Haitian tradition.

He had a bag in his hand and proceeded to take out a piece of sweet Kasav (a type of flat bread). He broke it and then started eating it. I thought this was strange (you're giving me some bread and you have the nerve to take a piece and start eating it?!) until Jhonel explained that this tradition is one demonstrating trust: Doody had taken the bread and started eating it to demonstrate that I could trust it. If I trusted the bread he was serving me, I could trust him. What a powerful illustration of trust and relationship-building.

There were lots of other successes during the day and many relationships and partnerships were nurtured. But to have a young person illustrate his hospitality in such a tangible way was a great lesson and one by which I was humbled.

Tomorrow we leave Cap-Haitien to return to the Port au Prince area but this is a lesson which will stay with me long after I leave.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What does the international "day of the girl" look like in Cap-Haitien, Haiti?

I was struck today by a number of interactions with female leaders in Cap-Haitien. Perhaps the international day of the girl raised my consciousness but I am left quite astounded by female leadership (and potential) I observed today.

Example 1 Ser Danick - principal of secondary school of Regina Assumpta. As we walked the various floors of the school today, I saw Ser Danick interact with students in a caring, yet firm, fashion. Although she has been principal for many years, she is also quite astute and engaged with the students. We had a great conversation about technology and she was very informed. This is a woman who is providing exemplary school leadership.

Example 2 Diana - a 16 year old student at the same school. Diana hosted my own daughter 6 months ago when she experienced "a day in the life of a Canadian girl in Cap-Haitien" (read an earlier blog post about this experience). Diana made a point to greet me and ask me about my own daughter. She demonstrated courage and clarity in that conversation. Diana represents to me the potential of this community - a courageous young woman who has a determination for a better life.

Example 3 Bertrhude and Priscilla - a grad student from University of Florida and a teacher from Gainseville, FL. These two young women have started a NGO called Projects for Haiti (again, read earlier posts about our emerging partnership) and have a deep passion for Haiti and supporting the improvement of the education system. They are in Cap this weekend to meet with some lead teachers, to support the training we are doing tomorrow, and to talk about how we can work together.

Spending the international day of the girl in Haiti has given me some great insight into how women are transforming this society. I look forward to meeting many more of these "young revolutionaries!"

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What does inclusion of students with special needs look like in Haiti?

There were lots of excellent meetings today from those including the director of the Ministry of Education to the dean of the Faculty of Education at Regina Assumpta. Regina Assumpta is one of the most highly respected schools in Haiti and includes a primary and secondary school division as well as a Faculty of Education. We continue to move forward in these partnerships as we look to future endeavours.

However, a key conversation which was not part of our official meetings was what really captured my attention today. After we had met with the dean at Regina Assumpta, a principal at the school wanted to talk with us about students with special needs. She explained that if a student did not perform well academically, the student would not be allowed to re-enroll the following year. She described how she had observed students, likely with learning disabilities, having to leave the school not because they didn't work hard hard but because of their disability.

We talked about this at length and it was clear that she was passionate about developing a way to support these students. In a city of close to a million people, there are no educational psychologists or clinics to help in the assessment of learning disabilities. Regina Assumpta is one of the best schools in the country and has a solid facility and teaching record. If a school such as this cannot provide support for students with special needs, what further challenges would other schools face?

I teach a course at Laurier which has a focus on special education. In many ways, what she is describing is frighteningly similar to the context in Canada 50 years ago. We have made huge strides in Ontario but at a significant price. Is it possible to transfer some of the lessons we have learned and witnessed in one of the wealthiest parts of the world to one of the poorest?

I would love to be part of her vision for developing programs and supports for students with special needs in Haiti. So what do we do next?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Safely in Cap-Haitien (minus our BlackBerries and most of our luggage)

We had excellent flights today with every flight on time. We arrived in Port au Prince at 1:30. Unfortunately, the BlackBerries that Rob McBride (from BlackBerry) brought with him for our training were taken from him as we went through Haiti Customs. Fortunately, we have some contacts working on getting those back so we can use them for our training. It was fascinating to watch the "negotiation" go on over a 2 hour period before we gracefully exited so that we didn't miss our last flight of the day up to Cap-Haitien.

However, when we got off the little plane that I normally take to Cap-Haitien, we realized that none of our luggage made it on the plane! Likely the plane was going to be a little heavy with all our luggage so they probably decided just to leave the luggage off (without telling us of course). So tonight we are enjoying being in Cap-Haitien but with some stinky clothes.

None of that really matters in the grand scheme of our time here. Tonight we met with Thelus Wilson, a key contact in Cap-Haitien, and mapped out the next three days. Over the next two days, we will be meeting with a university president (Dr. Fenol Metellus of the Public University of the North at Cap-Haitien), a dean from a faculty of education (Regina Assumpta), the director of the Ministry of Education for the north (Justin Metelus), and others as we work through some practical ways in which our partnerships "make sense" for both Wilfrid Laurier University and the partnering organizations. I am really excited about some of the areas we have discussed, particularly the potential of developing an open-learning website for Haitian teachers and leaders (see an earlier blog post about this). It's all about sustainable capacity-building and this will be a key part of that focus.

Saturday is going to be an exciting day as we host three training sessions on how technology can be used in responsible (and responsive to Haiti) ways. Rob, Jhonel Morvan (from Ontario Ministry of Education and WLU), and I will be leading these sessions. I am really excited about two grad students from University of Florida joining us for this training with a team of teachers they have been working with in the north. There will be school leaders coming from as far away as Pignon (about 2 hours away).

So with about two hours of sleep over the past 48 hours I am now heading to bed, tired but with building excitement for the next few days in Cap-Haitien. Obviously luggage isn't all that important after all!