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, May 23, 2017

Visualizing our research in Haiti

One of my favourite websites is Our World in Data (click here) which does an incredible job in helping us visualize data. Hans Rosling, who can be considered the father of this type of work, gave a great TED Talk which can be viewed here (click here). It has been watched nearly 12 million times and I include it as an activity that my students complete in one of my courses.

There is something powerful about being able to "see" data. Statistics (and statistical measures) can seem dry and boring. However, when we put statistics and other forms of data into picture form it can make them more accessible.

We are currently engaged in a number of research projects in Haiti. One of our tasks is to work at depicting what these projects "look like". We also need to mobilize the results of these studies so that the data does not just sit in research reports but is helpful for those who are engaged in the day-to-day work of improving classroom experiences for students.

To start with, here is a very early depiction of the on-going and emerging research projects we are engaged with in Haiti (as well as one project that is under consideration). It is important to have a research "pipeline" so that our work builds on previously completed projects and leads to new questions and ideas. I have already published multiple journal articles and book chapters on previous research projects (e.g., case studies of innovative school leadership, digital professional learning).

I will be curious as to how this visualization changes over the months ahead; another example of  the ways in which research is organic and living.




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Poverty and biology: The magnified challenge of breaking out of poverty

I recently read an article that made a persuasive case for how poverty is more than "simply" a socio-economic condition that can be changed if we just work hard enough.

Here is the author's supposition:

We’ve learned that the stresses associated with poverty have the potential to change our biology in ways we hadn’t imagined. It can reduce the surface area of your brain, shorten your telomeres and lifespan, increase your chances of obesity, and make you more likely to take outsized risks.

Now, new evidence is emerging suggesting the changes can go even deeper—to how our bodies assemble themselves, shifting the types of cells that they are made from, and maybe even how our genetic code is expressed, playing with it like a Rubik’s cube thrown into a running washing machine. If this science holds up, it means that poverty is more than just a socioeconomic condition. It is a collection of related symptoms that are preventable, treatable—and even inheritable. In other words, the effects of poverty begin to look very much like the symptoms of a disease.

If you have 15 minutes and the interest, I would encourage you to read the entire article: Why Poverty is Like a Disease by Christian Cooper (click here for the article).

Reading the article made me wonder about those who live in impoverished conditions around the world, whether in urban or rural communities in Canada or Haiti or elsewhere. There are people who make their way out of poverty - for many of the reasons that the author of the article attributes to his own movement out of poverty - yet, many more remain in poverty generation after generation.

Poverty might mean that a 10 year old child does not attend school. Or, if she does, that she only receives a minimal amount of food, thus, preventing her from concentrating on the work at school. Or wondering what will happen when his mother or father can't pay the bill for him to attend school the next month (remember that in much of the world, school tuition and fees are the norm). Or having to work every night to help provide some money for the family. Or questioning what the child will do upon graduating from elementary school when opportunities for secondary school are limited.

Worse, as the article suggests, poverty might actually influence the genetic make up of those impacted by it, even to two generations later. So, poverty has significant immediate, short-term, and long-term implications.

So, what is our response and our responsibility as educators and community leaders?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Too poor for loans: Fonkoze micro-finance in Haiti

I listened to a great podcast today on how a Haitian non-governmental organization is making a big difference for the very poorest people of Haiti.

To Fool the Rain: Haiti's Poor and Their Pathway to a Better Life (click on the link to access the one hour podcast)

The podcast highlights a Haitian micro-finance called Fonkoze (click on link to learn more).

One of their programs provides grants to "ultra poor" women in Haiti. The interviewee indicates that these women typically don't have the means to be able to even pay back a small loan. If they make $1.25/day, they are making too much to qualify for the program.

Although our Haiti Educator and Leadership Institute doesn't work directly with the ultra poor of Haiti, our premise is that by appropriately supporting and equipping teachers, we will positively impact the lives of their students who might grow up in incredibly impoverished households.

There are different ways for people to move out of poverty. Certainly, micro-loans can support the ability of individuals to become self-reliant. Education is another means and we must recognize that these are not in competition with each other but are, in fact, part of a holistic approach to development and capacity-building.


Monday, April 17, 2017

2017 Haiti Educator and Leadership Institute countdown

We are just about thee months from this year's Educator and Leadership Institute in Cap-Haitien, Haiti and there have been some exciting developments:

1. Instructional team doubles to accommodate a new cohort of Haitian participants. 
We will be taking 12 instructors with us this year to teach two cohorts of teachers (each cohort will include approximately 150 participants). We are offering the same six courses as last year (math, science, critical literacy, early learning, special education, and leadership) but these will be offered in two sections: "part 1" for those who are new participants and "part 2" for those who participated last year. One of the exciting requests that was made from one of our school partners in Haiti was to include some instruction and resources on ecological sustainability. This is a critical topic in Haiti and we are delighted that one of our new instructional leaders has a specialized background in this field.

2. New women's education, entrepreneurship, and empowerment network.
We will be completing a needs assessment as part of ELI 2017 to determine how we might be able to support female students and educators in the area of entrepreneurship and empowerment. We are excited about the potential this network might have for connecting emerging female leaders in Haiti with established female leaders in Haiti and Canada. A number of our Canadian participants will be meeting with groups of high school and university students, as well as young Haitian educators, to examine the feasibility, and scope, of this professional learning network.

3. New specialized workshops.
This year, in addition to the four hours of morning courses and the afternoon practicum, we will be offering a number of specialized workshops that participants can complete in the late afternoon. These will include topics such as online learning and technology in the classroom. These will be led by our participating members from Apple and Desire2Learn.

I am thankful that we have such tremendous partners in Haiti and Canada. The success of ELI is built on these partnerships!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Glocal and Fragile: Do all parts of the world have elements of "fragility"?

As I've been working on a section of a new book on educational leadership in fragile states, I've been compelled to re-consider what we mean by a "fragile state."

I've written elsewhere about the complexities of countries. Even within very impoverished or fragile states, there are pockets of wealth and stability. For example, parts of Petionville (part of Port au Prince) in Haiti are very wealthy. I recall counting the number of Porsche SUVs there a few years ago and counting five or six in a few minutes of time. So, despite the economic poverty of Haiti, there is significant wealth.

At the same time, Haiti is prone to risk (fragility). This risk may be due to natural disasters or political protests. Yet, for those with economic means in Haiti, this risk is minimal since they live in well-constructed homes (for natural disaster risk) and can easily leave the country (in the face of political upheavals).

Similarly, we could look at my own country, Canada, and see aspects of fragility. We certainly can see this in some First Nations communities where access to clean drinking water, health care, or education, is regularly at risk. Of course, as a country, we have the resources to minimize the risk (whether we choose to do so or not is another question) thus differentiating us from countries such as Haiti, South Sudan, or Yemen.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is changing its definition of fragility to reflect this nuanced understanding (click here to read more). For example, it is suggesting that fragility is heightened exposure to risk combined with a low capacity to mitigate or absorb these risks. This situation of vulnerability can lead to violence, conflict, chronic underdevelopment and protracted political crisis.

The focus on vulnerability is an appropriate and important distinction and I intend to incorporate this concept in my writing.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Book on school leadership in fragile and challenging contexts

I've been asked to edit a book on educational leadership in fragile and challenging contexts. As I've thought about the book, and have done a scan of the literature, I've been reminded of some key issues:

1. Why “education” and not "school"? The book will focus on what school leaders "do" in fragile contexts but will also examine beyond the school level to include regional and national efforts. For example, some colleague and I have been working on a book chapter that examines educational policy development in Haiti and Jamaica. Policy development at the national level can have a significant impact on localized practices.

2. Why “leadership”? To emphasize current practices and action which can lead to sustainable development. The focus will not be on what teachers are doing but how principals, superintendents/directors, and policy makers lead schools in these contexts.

3. Why “fragile and challenging contexts”? The book focuses on those countries and regions that have challenging socio-political-economic contexts due to war, unrest, or natural disasters. Countries are noted as fragile and developing based on various risk factors such as demographic pressures, refugees and internally displaced individuals, uneven economic development, etc. I wrote a blog post on this a few months ago and for more information, see Fund for Peace Fragile Country Rankings 2016

There is very limited literature that examines school leadership in fragile and challenging contexts. I hope that the book will fill this gap and will be of value to not only those in such contexts but also to those who are in more stable settings. Developing global awareness AND leadership competencies go hand-in-hand in today's connected world.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Reflections on learning in Egypt: The "similarities" and "differences" of the world

Last week's experience of supporting the professional learning of educational colleagues in Egypt, and also travelling in the country, reminded me of how similar the world is ... and how different.

Here are three ways in which I observed how "small" and similar we are:

  1. Technology ... everywhere we went, we were asked to be part of "selfies" with Egyptians and to be "friends" on Facebook. Since returning to Canada, conversations continue using various social media.
  2. Relationships ... we quickly formed relationships with teachers, school directors, and tour guides. People genuinely desire to know and be known.
  3. English as a world language ... from Aswan to Luxor to Cairo, we had no difficulty communicating in English (although everyone also appreciated our feeble efforts at Arabic greetings!).

Yet it was also apparent that there are still significant gaps that limit our global connectivity. Here are three differences I observed:

1.  Massive slums ... I was struck by the "bigness" of Cairo and its many impoverished communities. I heard various estimates of its size - from 10 million to 27 million - but, whatever the actual size, it is clearly a massive, sprawling city with many people living in poverty. Of course, there is poverty in big cities of Europe and North America, but the scale of it was what struck me. I wonder: How many of the children who live in these slums are in school? What are the social and economic opportunities available to them?

Source: Dreamstime.com
2.  Divides between the "haves" and "have nots" ... those who are part of the tourist industry, or who service that industry, typically have means to support themselves. Our Egyptian hosts (at the school and while touring) had their own apartments and vehicles. However, many people that we observed were clearly lacking in the means to support themselves. Of course, there are haves and have nots in North America and Europe but, again, it was the scale of difference that struck me. I wonder: What kind of a social safety net is available? How does poverty impact the ability of families to move from being a "have not" to a "have"?
Our hotel for part of our stay definitely categorized us as "haves"
3.  Pervasiveness of the government and military ... in the vast majority of places we visited, there was a very strong military/security presence. Most Egyptians that we discussed this with were appreciative of this high level of security because they felt that it enhanced their ability to go to work, school, etc. Of course, there is a strong security presence in North America and Europe (maybe becoming less discrete and more apparent?) but the pervasiveness of it in Egypt was what struck me. It made me wonder: What degree of freedom of movement and speech would be tolerated? How does the pervasive armed presence effect one's psyche (i.e., in a non-conscious way)?

I could add many more "glocal" connections after this trip to Egypt and I'm gratified by the many reminders I had that "people are people" no matter where you go in the world. An endearing reminder of this will be the many people who offered assistance to us while travelling or who stopped us to exchange a few greetings and to take a "family portrait." 

Yet, it's important to recognize that our world is still a very big place with massive differences that define, distinguish, and divide us.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Professional learning in Egypt

The past two days, I have been busy facilitating workshops on special education for teachers in Egypt.

This has given me further opportunity to learn myself as I interact with teachers and consider the challenges they face. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the challenges that teachers in Egypt face with supporting students with special education needs are not that different than those we face in Canada. How so?

First, teachers in Egypt are seeing increasing numbers of students with special education needs in their classrooms. This is likely due to a couple of issues but certainly because there is increasing pressure within society to integrate students with special education needs into the "regular" classroom, This is similar to the focus on inclusion that started in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s.

Second, there is greater awareness of the spectrum of needs that students present. Schools in Egypt (and in Canada) used to exclude students with needs such as autism or Down Syndrome (to name just two specific types of conditions). Now, the legal (and moral) expectation is that all students be provided with the opportunity to learn in a setting with their peers.

Third, as a result of the above two reasons, schools are trying to respond to provide educational supports that are effective for all students. This is a massive challenge for teachers who may have grown up in a very different system of education. It is also a challenge when there are limited revenues to support specialized teaching and leadership roles and professional learning for regular classroom teachers.

Thus, providing professional learning opportunities for teachers on topics such as special education is a major need, both in Canada where we continue to struggle with how to best support all students in the regular class, and globally where the expectations of parents, schools, and governments are increasingly expecting inclusion.

Once again, we see a "glocal" issue that reminds us of the interconnectedness of the world. Yes, Canada has made incredible progress in supporting students with special needs. But we have a long way still to go. Schools in Egypt have more recently developed similar expectation. And have a long way to go. We are more similar than we sometimes think.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Educational opportunities and gender equity for girls in Haiti

I have been working on a book chapter on gender equity for girls in Haiti. Along with university colleagues who have been working with me in Haiti - Dr. Charlene Desir, Dr. Gaetane Jean-Marie, Dr. Allyson Watson - we are hoping to stir further action on this important topic.

Here is the context:

  • girls only stay in school an average of seven years in Haiti (Save the Children, 2015)
  • approximately 77% of children attend primary schools and less than 30% attend secondary school in Haiti (UNICEF, 2013)
  • girls have lower school enrollment rates and continue to have lower literacy rates than boys in Haiti (Padgett & Warnecke, 2011; UNICEF, 2013; USAID, 2016).
The context is pretty sobering but why does education for girls matter?

Our premise aligns with Ghanaian scholar Emmanuel Kwegyir-Aggrey: “If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

This graphic illustrates the importance of providing educational opportunities for girls:

Source noted in image: Global Partnership for Education www.globalpartnership.org
Through our work in Haiti, we have come to know many of these nation-builders. They are powerful women who are leading schools, some of which have as their mission to empower generations of girls to be change-agents.

Yet, they are often islands in a sea of norms and beliefs which don't value the equitable opportunity that girls should have.  Attitudes and norms can be difficult to break.

But, it is not impossible to change them. We are still in this struggle in Canada, so why should it be a surprise that change still needs to happen elsewhere?

So how does change happen? Through education. That is why we must continue to support professional learning for teachers and specialized opportunities for girls in Canada and in Haiti (and beyond).

Here is a video (click here) we completed in 2015 when we interviewed Haitian and Canadian students (both female and male) about their dreams for the future. Listen carefully to the dreams of the Canadian and Haitian students. There is tremendous potential for ALL these young people. Their hopes and dreams are what compels me to continue the work we have been engaged in.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Can we scale the Educator and Leadership Institute model we are developing in Haiti? Four key ingredients

Recently, I was asked if we could scale the initiative we have started in Haiti. In other words, can we take this model - face-to-face and online professional learning for teachers in one region - and implement it in diverse contexts? Can the model be multiplied? For some interesting research and projects that examine this question, consider the MIT Scaling Development Ventures website.

Our premise since initiating the Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI) has been: Pilot it in Haiti and, if it can be successful there with the various barriers which exist, it can be successful elsewhere.

As I've thought about how we would do this, it seems like the technical issues are not the largest challenge. We have the knowledge and human resources needed to develop face-to-face and online courses and the administrative ability to effectively deliver these in a cohesive fashion for a period of up to five years in any single context. That is exactly what we have done in Haiti.

The four major challenges I would foresee of scaling the ELI are partnerships, sustainability, funding, and research to inform practice. To successfully replicate and multiply the ELI which we have initiated in Haiti will require:

1. Authentic, Trusting, and Fully-committed Partnerships
ELI cannot just be "parachuted" into a context. There must be on-the-ground partners who deeply desire the initiative. They must be full partners, invested financially, in human resources, and reputationally. There must be reciprocity between the "external" and "internal" partners. Partnerships take time to develop so it's important to find what local partners need as foundational aspects within the ELI and to differentiate for each context.

2. Sustainable Design
A "franchise" model of ELI should be sustainable if it includes local "buy-in" and differentiation (see #1) and a funding formula to support the ELI after an initial seed investment (see #3 below). The ELI does not need to continue in perpetuity. Once it has accomplished its target then it can either move to another context, evolve into another manifestation, or simply indicate "mission accomplished" and shut down. In Haiti, our goal is to provide professional learning for 1,000 teachers and 100 principals ... once that goal has been met then there is no need to continue in that context UNLESS a new and needed goal is identified.

3. Funding
One of the underlying aspects of ELI that lends itself to trust-building and reciprocity is that no one is making money off the initiative. If "education for all" is truly for all, then there must be a commitment to ensuring that everyone can have access. However, initiatives such as ELI require funding for costs associated with travel, educational resources, and conference venues. The funding "formula" needs to include a plan for how the ELI will become sustainable after an initial investment. We have done this in Haiti and this must be a key ingredient in any efforts to scale our initial work.

4. Research
To understand if and how the ELI is being effective in changing teaching practices, and eventually improving student learning outcomes, research must accompany each ELI. Research can be driven by the ELI leadership team but local partners must be involved. Why? For an ELI to be sustainable, local partners must be committed to the concept of "continuous improvement," Once the initial ELI leadership group has completed its task, local leadership will take over and ensure that research to inform practice is maintained and extended.

I am quite pleased with the ELI initiative as it stands in Haiti. We have designed it so that it can be considered for other contexts. There is significant work yet to be done in ensuring that the framework works well but I see great potential for it to serve as a model for implementation in other contexts.

Monday, January 9, 2017

5 Questions the World Bank would ask (about our work in Haiti)

As we begin preparations for our second annual Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI) in Haiti, I've been thinking about how a major international organization, such as the World Bank, would view the work we are doing.

What kinds of questions would be asked of us if we went to the World Bank to tell the story of ELI and to talk about next steps?

These are five questions that I think we would be asked:

Why Haiti?
There are a number of factors that contribute to why we have launched the ELI in Haiti. These include the challenging economic and political climate, the fact that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, and the significant urban-rural divide in Haiti. At the end of the day, if our framework can improve educational outcomes for students in Haiti, it will most likely work in other fragile contexts.

What differentiates your approach?
The Educator and Leadership Institute incorporates a number of significant differentiating aspects including: face-to-face professional development (not so unique), online supports to that training (increasingly common), a focus on critical thinking, gender equity, and science/math (fairly unique in the developing world), accompanying research studies (again, fairly unique in the developing world), and a plan for sustainability (very unique). Foundational to the capacity-building focus of the ELI is a high value on reciprocity, partnership, and shared learning. The other aspects are all technical; this last item is relational and holistic. It is key to our approach.

Is it effective and efficient?
We have evidence that indicates that the participants find the ELI effective in helping them become better teachers. However, the best evidence will be if the teachers' students have improved school experiences and learning outcomes. A research study is accompanying the ELI to measure this effectiveness. As well, the ELI is very efficient. Over a five year period, we will directly impact 1,000 teachers, 100 principals, and 100,000 students. Every Canadian who is involved is a volunteer and the budget covers the very basic operating costs of providing the training.

Is it sustainable?
We are committed to working in Cap-Haitien, Haiti over a five year period. Our model involves Haitian participants completing the program over a three year period. In the first two years of participation, we identify strong Haitian candidates who may serve as instructional leaders in years 3-5. In these years, Canadian instructors serve as instructional coaches and mentors. The administrative details, including facilities and registrations, are all cared for by our Haitian partners thus ensuring a strong capability to oversee the entire ELI by year 5.

Is it transferable?
Our goal is to scale ELI so that it can be a model that is used across Haiti and in other fragile contexts. It does not rely on significant financial means to ensure program delivery. The online component ensures that, as long as some limited internet access is available, the courses and resources are available for participants to continue to engage in learning. The leadership team of the program is invested, experienced, thoughtful, and nimble.

If you worked for the World Bank or another large international organization, would these responses satisfy you? What other questions would you have?