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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Moving Trees: Social Change and Social Capital in Action

My research is largely focused on how social change happens in contexts such as Haiti. I have written extensively about how social change is often accomplished through the use of social capital, the ways in which humans form networks to accomplish a commonly beneficial goal.

Examples of this are all around us.

Someone sees a need in the community for a food program. They invite others to join them. Collectively, the group works to meet the need.

A person recognizes that children from the community have to travel a distance to get to a school. They establish a school. Parents and teachers join them to provide the financial capital and human resources to meet the need.

People recognize that others are being displaced from their homes due to a war. They join together to supply resources and means to meet the needs of the refugees.

A child thinks that a school could do a better job dealing with left-overs from student lunches. She talks with the principal, teachers, and students to organize a school organic waste program.

Teachers need training to more effectively meet student needs. Educators from Haiti, Canada, and the US join together to provide mentoring and resource-sharing (this last one may sound familiar).

Recently, I came across this video which provides a short (2+ minutes), but compelling, lesson on how change can happen when people join together to accomplish a task. Enjoy!

Lead India - The Tree (click here to watch the video - first 15 seconds will be an advertisement)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Building nests in Haiti: A simple way to conceptualize the idea of sustainability

I was part of a lunch meeting yesterday with colleagues from a number of different departments in the university. We wanted to spend some time talking about our international work (Turkey, Ghana, El Salvador, Jordan, Lebanon, Haiti) and the concept of sustainability. I found it a fascinating meeting as I listened to how others understood the idea of sustainability.

In my work in Haiti, I have equated sustainability with: living on after an initial investment was complete. We have tried to do this by designing initiatives in cooperation with local participants (reciprocity, resipwosite in Creole) and in a way that can be supported through local means and that make sense in the context. An example of this was the Digital Mentoring Project. We used tools that were already familiar (cellphones) but with a novel approach (connecting principals - across Haiti - in a professional learning community through their phones). The initiative was completed in 2014 but principals continue to use the framework to problem-solve and to share resources.

When I have talked about the concept of sustainability with partners in Canada, the US, and in Haiti, I have tended to use the words capacity-building instead of sustainability. What we are doing in Haiti is investing in social capital, the ability of people to achieve well-being through social interactions. We have done this specifically through supporting an improved educational environment. Thus, the work we have been doing in investing in teachers and principals, through workshops on school leadership, supporting special education services for children, building opportunities for girls in engineering, and supporting teachers' knowledge of science and mathematics, is building the social capital of educators in northern Haiti.

Is it sustainable? Yes, because it is building individual and collective capacity.

I often use a Haitian expression to describe the capacity-building work we are invested in - it probably provides a better description of sustainability than I can in just a few words:

Piti, piti, ti pay pay, zwazo fe niche.
Little by little, straw by straw, the bird builds its nest.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Intercultural Leadership: Shaping Organizational Culture

Laurier has a certificate program that has a focus on intercultural effectiveness. I struggle with the idea of getting a certificate to demonstrate intercultural competence but value the framework and examples provided in the training. Perhaps most importantly, the certificate provides an opportunity for dialogue about our background experiences and perceptions.

I think it's time for "intercultural effectiveness 2.0" or "how to lead an organization to be more inter-culturally effective." In other words, we need to do a better job in training individuals AND supporting those in organizational leadership positions so that they may shape the culture of the organization to be more inter-culturally effective.


We certainly live in a more globalized world. This is a reality no matter our philosophical perspective on the "why" or the "what" of our situation. Globalization means that we interact with other cultures on a daily (if not minute-by-minute) basis.

Effective leaders in organizations (businesses, schools, government, hospitals, universities, NGOs, etc) need to consider the inter-cultural workplace since they exert tremendous influence on the climate of an organization.


Many of us think we are sensitive to different cultures. Often, it's not the outlandish examples of stereotyping and discrimination that are an issue for most of us; it is, however, the micro-examples. For example, I might quickly pass over a suggestion from a person of another culture or may "tune out" because I don't think the idea is a valid one.

I'm not talking about sensitivity training. I'm thinking more about unpacking the hidden assumptions, stereotypes, and biases that we ALL have, often unconsciously. Leaders need to engage in this process as much, if not more, as those who work with them.

If you are a leader in an organization of any size, how are you doing with supporting the inter-cultural effectiveness of your organization?
  • Do you (and your staff) have an understanding of different approaches to "transactions" (whether financial or relational)? 
  • How do you practice reciprocity in your relationships? 
  • What new strategies might you be able to employ if you consider the marketplace (of products, ideas, etc) from different cultural perspectives? 
  • Do you engage in deep listening and cultural humility?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Supporting girls in engineering and science: Robotics program continues to build momentum in Cap-Haitien

In October, I was delighted to be part of a team that launched a program (VEX Robotics) in an all-girls school in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The program was led by two colleagues at Northeastern State University (Oklahoma) and the Vice-President of the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation. Our goal was to use the robotics program, and related competitions, as a way to engage girls in science and engineering. We had an incredible launch - you will find pictures and updates earlier in my blog.

The VP of REC (Miller Roberts III) returned to Cap-Haitien last week to lead the second part of the training. I am so impressed with his vision and commitment to this opportunity. At the initial training in October, six "mentor" girls were trained along with about 25 teachers. At the November training, Miller reports that 32 girls were present for 7 hours of training.

He also notes that the principals of the school, both highly respected female leaders (one can be seen in the second picture, to the left), were engaged throughout. What great modeling! Miller reported that the one principal said:

They [the girls] would  need to attend practice every Friday and every day that the school has a holiday. A few of the girls were surprised but without skipping a beat, she told them, “If you are going to be an engineer, then you will be a true engineer and you will attend.” It was pretty amazing.

We will be studying the impact of the robotics program on both the engagement that the program provides for girls and the long-term education and career choices that they make. I am confident that a few, if not many, girls will trace their career trajectory back to the Fall, 2015 when they were introduced to robotics!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Supporting entrepreneurs through social networks in Cap-Haitien, Haiti

I have always been impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit in Haiti.

Some of the people I've worked with would be considered social entrepreneurs: They have developed an enterprise to respond to a social need. I have published a number of "case studies" that have examined some of the innovative approaches these social entrepreneurs have taken.

I've also worked with those who we might consider more traditional entrepreneurs (an oxymoron?). These are individuals who are not necessarily trying to build a social venture (although their work often has a social benefit) but who are trying to develop an innovative business for financial benefit.

Two young men that we've worked with in Haiti are building a business to support tourists and business people come to Cap-Haitien. They have recognized a need (navigating the local area ... finding hotels, accessing historic sites, translating, etc) and are developing a plan to meet that need. I am excited that their first client is arriving this week. That client was connected to them through a social network, another entrepreneurial way to tap into potential customers.

These are powerful opportunities for young Haitian entrepreneurs. I am anticipating the growth of these types of "micro-businesses" and believe that they will fuel a growing middle class in Haiti.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Laurier Educator Institutes: Leveraging Expertise to Build Capacity

Our October trip to Haiti solidified plans for our first Laurier summer teaching and leadership conference there. It was exciting to see our lead partners in northern Haiti work collaboratively to develop the framework for the conference. We have confirmed:
  • dates: Aug. 1-5, 2016
  • location: College Notre Dame (Cap-Haitien)
    View of Cap-Haitien from College Notre Dame
  • strands: science, math, early childhood, special education, critical literacy, and leadership
  • format: morning workshops, afternoon teaching "practicum" during a summer camp that will run parallel to the conference
  • participants: 200+ Haitian educators 
The leaders of the workshops will be Canadian educators from Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario school boards, and the Ontario Ministry of Education. We are anticipating that other Canadian and US colleagues will join us as plans unfold.

The model that we are using is to leverage the expertise of the Canadian participants, with a healthy dose of cultural humility and engagement, to support the capacity of the Haitian participants. Two key aspects differentiate this model from more traditional models of teacher professional development::
  1.  Formation of a professional learning community of Haitian and Canadian educators that will "live" after the end of the week of training. In this on-line community, the participants can share resources and ideas after the training has been completed.
  2. The afternoon practicum will give Haitian educators an opportunity to implement and practice some of the ideas that they learned about in the morning. This active, experiential learning with real-time feedback will solidify the morning learning and will minimize the potential of "learned it, forgot it".
The Haiti summer conference will be a pilot for what I am hoping will be further Laurier Educator Institutes in other contexts such as China, India, and Colombia. Developing a "franchise" such as this, which partners educators from Canada with those in other contexts, provides a means to leverage expertise to build capacity.

I should be clear: I don't see this expertise-sharing as a one way street. Canadian educators may have expertise in areas such as special education and science education but they will also be the beneficiaries of expertise that their colleagues in other contexts have. Ultimately I am hoping that this collaborative expertise-sharing in specific domain areas (e.g. mathematics, critical literacy) will have a broader outcome: greater sensitivity and awareness of education in the global context.  


Sunday, October 18, 2015

What is the most important need for a nation? It's not robotics but...

Apr├Ęs le pain, l'├ęducation est le premier besoin du peuple.
After bread, education is the first need of the people.
     Georges Danton

We have wrapped up a good week of planning and training in Cap-Haitien.As always I have been blessed to have wonderful colleagues in Jhonel Morvan and Gabriel Osson who help navigate and nurture our partnerships. I am very grateful to our new friends and partners at Northeastern State University and Robotics Education and Competition Foundation for leading the robotics training.

The week has surpassed my expectations (and they were already high!).

Next steps?

Return in the summer to lead a major teaching and leadership institute.

Return to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics opportunities for Haitian youth, particularly girls, in a summer camp.


1,000s of students, teachers, and principals who have more capacity and opportunity to pursue their dreams!

What is the most important need of a nation? Bread and education. We are supporting the one so that people can ensure the other.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Robotics training is off to a great start in Cap-Haitien, Haiti!

Our partnering teams from Northeastern State University and Robotics Education and Competition (REC) arrived Thursday and began their robotics training program yesterday. It is off to an amazing start!!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Which is more important ... having connections or money?

As a researcher interested in international and comparative education, I am intrigued with how young people in countries like Haiti and Canada pursue career options.

Last night, I was talking with Doody and Samy, two young Haitian men who are pursuing a university education. Doody (centre) is interested in psychology and Samy (right) wants to be a medical doctor.
Samy has received a scholarship from a Canadian organization to support his medical studies. However, he wasn't able to gain entrance to one of the top medical programs in Haiti despite performing well on the medical exam. This raised the question - why?

As we talked, it became clear that they felt that it was because he didn't have a connection at the university to which he applied. Samy believe that, because he was perceived as coming from a poorer background and without the university's knowledge of the scholarship, he was not able to gain a spot on the med school roster. Samy indicated that if he had a connection at the university, someone who would speak up for him, he would have been accepted because his med school exam results were strong. He also felt that some med school candidates had received entrance offers, not because they performed well on the test, but because they were well connected.

This raises lots of challenging ethical and social justice questions. It also made me question whether similar practices (nepotism?) occur in Canada? Certainly, I don't see it happening in the university contexts in which I have worked but I do hear about it in work places.

The reality is that, whether in Haiti or Canada, having both connections and money helps in pursuing careers. The challenge, whether in Haiti or Canada, is what happens if you only have connections or money? What happens if you have neither?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Trust + TIme = Authentic Partnerships and Resipwosite

We have amazing partners in Haiti! What makes a partnership amazing? When it involves reciprocity (resipwosite in Creole). Resipwosite means that a partnership is two-way ... both sides contribute and benefit. For this to occur, you have to establish trust and invest time.

Yesterday we met with five of the key educational leaders we work with in Cap-Haitien. With each, an authentic partnership, one of resipwosite, has evolved.

First, we met with Yanick and Vierginat who are Catholic Sisters and who lead the College Regina Assumpta. This is a Catholic, all-girls school that we have worked with for the past four years. The motto of the school reflects a commitment to support empowerment for girls in Haiti.
picture from May, 2015

We then went to College Notre Dame where we met with the head of that school, Father Bernard. This Catholic, all-boys school has had a remarkable tradition of supporting the education of the young men of Cap-Haitien for over 100 years.
picture from October, 2014

In the afternoon, we met with Andre who is the director for the Center for the Education of Women and Children, a Haitian NGO. Andre was one of the first people I met with when I first started working in Cap nearly five years ago. The Center he runs provides training for women to support life skills and micro-business. There is also a nutrition center to help very young children.

Finally, in the evening, we met with Thelus Wilson. I have known Thelus the longest; probably for nearly 10 years. We first met when he was a student in a Master of Education course I taught near Port-au-Prince. He has established a school in the Cap-Haitien region that supports a very marginalized community.
Authentic partnerships are not always easy to develop or maintain. I feel fortunate and blessed to know that we have many of these types of partnerships in Cap-Haitien ... ones that clearly involve resipwosite.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Teacher training, robotics, STEM for girls: Building on Laurier's work in northern Haiti

This week we are in Cap-Haitien, Haiti planning for the summer Laurier Teaching and Leadership Institute and helping facilitate a robotics program for girls at one of our partner schools in Haiti.

The first part of the week will focus on preparing for the summer institute. My colleagues, Jhonel Morvan and Gabriel Osson, both who work at the Ontario Ministry of Education and who have worked with me in Cap-Haitien for the past three years, are central to the institute. We are meeting with our school partners in Cap to determine what types of workshops will be delivered, the format of the workshops, and the location. This is the culmination of three years of preparation so I am delighted to see us at this stage.

On Friday and Saturday, we will be working with another Canadian colleague, Peggy Scott, and a team from the United States to deliver training to teachers on a specialized robotics program. The school, College Regina Assumpta, is one that we have worked with for a number of years and I am excited about this next step in our relationship. The school is for girls only and the program will support these girls in considering STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) as future career options. This program is the vision of Dr. Allyson Watson, a colleague from Northeastern State University, Oklahoma who accompanied our Laurier team in May.

Stay tuned to the blog for updates as the week progresses.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Social innovation: Concept map

I am part of the "change team" at Wilfrid Laurier University as we apply to be an "Ashoka Changemaker Campus". This is a designation for select universities that meet high-level criteria related to fostering social innovation on campus. Read more at Ashoka U (click here).

In preparation for a presentation I will be doing today, I completed the following concept map. The various bubbles represent the different programs (yellow bubbles), research projects (blue bubbles), and ways that the information is mobilized (green bubbles).

Monday, September 28, 2015

Laurier in Haiti October 2015 Trip: Preparing for a summer institute and science program

In two weeks, I'll be in Haiti again. I am anticipating an excellent trip with two focus areas:

1. Preparing for our 2016 summer Laurier Educator Institute in Cap-Haitien.
2. Developing a program that will support girls and teachers in science and engineering.

The Laurier Educator Institute will provide an opportunity for Canadian and Haitian teachers to learn together in a one week professional development setting. We are anticipating an environment including 10-15 Canadian educators and up to 200 Haitian educators with learning strands in special education, school leadership, critical literacy, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). An early goal is that the Canadian educators will be paired up with leading Haitian educators to co-lead the workshops. Another unique aspect of the summer institute will be a parallel summer camp with a science focus. I am tremendously excited about the summer institute and camp; we have been working toward this opportunity for three years.

In October, our seven person team will also be training a group of Haitian teachers to support a science and engineering program. Many North American elementary and secondary school students have the opportunity to participate in FIRST Lego and FIRST Robotics competitions. My son has participated in the FIRST Lego program for the past two years and I have had a nephew who was heavily involved in FIRST Robotics. Both are superb programs to engage young people in developing a science and engineering mindset in a very accessible and friendly fashion. At the end of the training, our partner school in Haiti is anticipating having a club at the school that will get young girls involved in the programs.

We are passionate about supporting the capacity of Haitian educators. The summer institute and science/engineering program have the potential to dramatically impact the educational outcomes of hundreds of Haitian students. We have developed a research program to track the outcomes of these initiatives. Stay tuned for more details!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Minding the Gap Between Traditional and On-line Learning: Considering Escalators in Haiti

For the last number of years, we have been talking about developing on-line learning modules with our Haitian colleagues. There is tremendous potential to scale up the professional development that can be done in face-to-face settings through on-line learning. However, one of the challenges we have identified has been the issue of accessibility: Many Haitian students, teachers, and university faculty members do not have laptops or tablet computers with reliable Internet access. This obstacle is being quickly overcome as inexpensive tablets with wi-fi and integrated data plans (click here to read about Surtabs) are being built in Haiti.

I've been thinking about another obstacle recently that has to do with cognitive accessibility. I'm not talking about intelligence here but rather the development gap that occurs when a new tool is made available in a context that skips some of the steps that leads to the development of the tool.

Here's an example from one of my trips to Haiti after the new airport was built in Port au Prince following the 2010 earthquake... An escalator was now in the airport and clearly many people had never been on an escalator before. In fact, the airport had to have a person on the bottom of the escalator and one at the top to assist people getting on and off. It was an "aha" moment for me: Some of the people had never used an escalator before so they required an intermediary to help them access the tool. It had everything to do with familiarity and support.

A theoretical connection would be Lev Vygotsky's concept of the Zone of Proximal Development: We need a coach, teacher, parent, mentor, etc. to help us accomplish what we cannot do without one.

Once that person has helped us attain new knowledge or skills (familiarity), we can then perform the task and prepare ourselves for accessing new knowledge/skills.

Which brings me back to on-line learning in Haiti. I'm wondering if we need to continue to move toward on-line learning opportunities but within a learning framework that includes guidance and mentoring so that people become familiar with the tool? In other words, we need people at the "top and bottom of the escalator" who can help us through the initial stages of the new learning paradigm. Once the technology has become embedded and part of the natural environment, the support is no longer needed (or becomes minimized or is focused on a new area of learning). This could mean that we introduce, support, and model on-line learning through workshops and camps where traditional (i.e. face-to-face) methods are also used.

FYI: There are no longer people helping others on and off the escalator in Port au Prince. People know how to "mind the gap".
Photo credit on picture

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Social Innovation and Venture Creation in Haiti: Next Steps for Laurier

I was recently appointed as an inaugural Social Innovation and Venture Creation (SIVC) Fellow at Laurier. This appointment is largely due to the capacity-building work I have been doing in Haiti. It has also caused me to question: What are next steps in social innovation and venture creation for the work we want to do in Haiti?

1. Summer Teaching and Leadership Institute and Summer Camps
A traditional way to deliver workshops for teachers and principals is through face-to-face workshops that focus on teaching methods and content areas. We anticipate that the summer institute will begin in July, 2016. The innovative part of the institute will be the teaching methodology (Haitian and Canadian instructors, co-teaching) and having camps for young people associated with the summer institute. The camps will provide an opportunity for teachers to implement some of the ideas they have learned in the workshops. A small fee for Haitian participants in both the institute and camp will support sustainability of the project and venture creation. Canadian participants will pay a small "social venture fee" which will serve as a fund to support social entrepreneurship of Haitian participants.

2. On-line Learning Supports
The Digital Mentoring Project was certainly innovative (you can read more in earlier blog posts). I would like to build on the opportunity that on-line learning provides by developing resources and learning modules that teachers, principals, and students can access to supplement face-to-face learning. I anticipate that an on-line professional learning community could be available to anyone (open access) with some resources being available for a minimal fee (social venture).

3. STEM, Female Teachers and Students
We have noted that there are very few female secondary school teachers in Haiti. There are even fewer female teachers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) areas. As a result, it is not surprising that very female students consider post-secondary education and careers in these areas. We are implementing an innovative robotics program this fall in an all-girls school, with female coaches, to examine how girls can be encouraged to consider STEM fields. The social venture aspect of this project will evolve but will focus on supporting girls in creating and/or participating in STEM-related projects.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Education and Social Change: Release of Our New Book

Our new book that features international and comparative perspectives on social change in developing countries was released recently. The book is co-edited by two colleagues with whom I have worked in Haiti (Gaetane Jean-Marie and Charlene Desir) and is published by Information Age Publishing (North Carolina).


The book features two chapters which I contributed to, one on social change in Haiti and the other that looks at social entrepreneurship in Haiti and Kenya. I used the chapter on social entrepreneurship in a summer course I taught and was really appreciative of the insights of my students as they used the chapter to develop a critical perspective on the role of low-fee private schools in the developing world.

The other chapters of the book feature insights into education in contexts such as Ghana, India, China, Peru, and Thailand. A novel feature of the book is the comparisons that are made with educational programs amongst indigenous peoples in Canada, United States, and New Zealand.

I am pleased with the early reviews of the book and hope that it will provide further insights and ideas for educational capacity-building.

You can find more information on the book by clicking here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cultural humility: A framework for authentic, participatory engagement

I've been reading about the concept of "cultural humility" this week. It's an intriguing and attractive concept for those of us who engage in international (and inter-cultural) work.

Cultural humility emerged from the medical field to address power imbalances between patient-physician and non-paternalistic approaches to medicine (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998, p. 117). It certainly has relevance within education as well as we consider relationships that involve power over versus power with others. Essentially, cultural humility speaks to the importance of first developing relationships with those who we engage with, striving to learn about the other, and then working in true partnership to address identified areas.

A helpful book in this regard is Corbett and Fikkert's (2009) When helping hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself. The following chart is adapted from the book and provides an excellent framework to consider the work we do in global and local contexts:

Mode of Participation
Type of Involvement of Local People
Relationship of Outsiders to Local People
Local people submit to predetermined plans developed by outsiders
Local people are assigned to tasks, often with incentives, by outsiders; the outsiders decide the agenda and direct the process
Local people’s opinions are asked; local people analyze and decide on a course of action
Local people work together with outsiders to determine priorities; responsibility remains with outsiders for directing the process
Local people and outsiders share their knowledge to create appropriate goals and plans, to execute those plans, and to evaluate the results
Community Initiated
Local people set their own agenda and mobilize to carry it out without outside initiators and facilitators

Taken from Hockett, E., L. Samek, & S. Headley (2014). Cultural humility: A framework for local and global engagement. Faculty Publications – School of Education, Paper 13. http://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/soe_faculty/13