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?