About Me

My photo
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.
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.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Inter-cultural teaching: How Laurier students are fostering their skills

Our Laurier students and assistants have developed an amazing camp for children aged 5-15 in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. The camp includes different stations such as science, cooperative games, music, and English as a Second Language. It is being hosted at the same school that the Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI) is being housed at. The camp is held in the mornings and then the children participate in a practicum with the teachers from ELI in the afternoon. This practicum is a unique aspect of our professional learning model and is only able to be facilitated by the morning camp.

There are five Laurier teacher candidates as well as four Canadian high school students involved this year. These students are serving as assistants to the Laurier teacher candidates. There are also Haitian student leaders and assistants who are all university and high school students. It is indeed a team effort!

Two of the Canadian students are twins and were asked the following questions in the “Ask the Canadian teenager” ESL session:

  • Do you feel each other’s emotional brain?
  • Do you like Haiti?
  • Do you have a boyfriend? Are you married (the twins are 15 years old!)?
  • Who is your parents’ favourite twin?
  • How are twins made?
  • Do you have the same habits and mannerisms?

I thought that these questions provided some interesting insight into the kinds of issues that Haitian young people might be curious about. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if these questions would mirror the kinds of questions that Canadian children might ask of twins!

I have been SO PROUD of our Laurier teacher candidates. They have been preparing for the camp for a long time and have developed amazing activities. The kids are clearly loving it! From what I have observed, the Laurier students are going to be fantastic teachers. This experience has also provided lots of inter-cultural experiences such as communicating in a second language (French – for both the Laurier and Haiti participants) and developing understanding of cultural nuances (time has very different meanings for Canadians and Haitians!). The opportunity to develop these inter-cultural skills in Haiti will only serve to further solidify their teaching strengths.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One strong voice for women educators in Haiti : Haiti Educator and Leadership Institute Day 1

We have spent 24 hours in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. What an incredible 24 hours it has been!

There were 29 who traveled from Toronto and Montreal yesterday. We met six who had traveled separately to Cap and today the last four participants arrived bringing our team to a total of 39.

Some spent the morning going to Catholic mass while others shopped at a local market. This afternoon the different groups worked on final preparation for the Educator and Leadership Institute.

This included four groups:

  • Teacher and Principal professional training (18)
  • Children's science camp and university student ESL program (13)
  • Technology and teaching (4)
  • Research and administrative support (4)
In tonight's debrief session we were asked to consider one word to describe the first 24 hours in Haiti. People chose words like:
  • Overwhelming
  • Friendly
  • Hot (!)
  • Welcoming
  • Contentment
  • Happy
We have been joined by a number of key Haitian partners. Central to our efforts in Haiti is a partnership with College Regina Assumpta. This was a school I was first introduced to when I made my first exploratory trip to Cap-Haitien six years ago. It has been an incredible partnership primarily because of two very strong female leaders: Sr. Vierginat and Sr. Yannick. The motto of their school is based on empowering young Haitian women. And they live this out every day.

An illustration ... when we arrived at the airport yesterday, we were held up at Haitian Customs for a long time because of the computer equipment that we brought with us. We were getting nowhere in our "negotiations" that these resources were being used for professional learning and were NOT being given (or sold) to Haitians.

The doors to the airport were closed. Then Sr. Vierginat demanded to come in. The officers quickly complied. Sr. Vierginat is not one to take lightly! She soon was in control of the situation in a very dignified, and forceful, manner. This morning we received all of our materials with no further issues!

We are delighted to be working with strong partners like Sr. Vierginat. Our goal is to build the capacity of another generation of empowered Haitian leaders through education. Why education? This infographic tells a compelling story:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Educator and Leadership Institute: Haiti 2017 Begins!

This morning, 29 of our Educator and Leadership Institute participants are leaving from Toronto and Montreal to go to Haiti. A team of six is already in Cap-Haitien and four more will join us tomorrow. As of tomorrow night, our total team of 39 will be ready to engage with our Haitian partners in a great week of professional learning!

Stay tuned to this blog for daily details. If you are a Twitter user, use #LaurierHaiti to get frequent updates. We are also taking over the Wilfrid Laurier University Snapchat "story" for a few days this week and that will provide another way to see what we are doing in Haiti.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A country, a university, and a person: How community builds capacity

Fiver years ago we met Samuel Charles, a young man studying in his final year of high school in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Samy joined Laurier's week-long ESL program and made a significant impression as a young man with a deep desire to change his community.

Samy continued to be involved with the Laurier University ESL programs in Haiti over the next few years. We followed Samy's education, now in the local state university hoping to study medicine, with interest. We also observed the challenges of attending a university that seemed to lack the capacity to provide a solid education to its students.

Three years ago, Samy and I had a discussion about what it would take to attend a university with a bona fide medical program. Samy indicated that there were a few universities in Port au Prince, five hours away by car, that did have good reputations. I asked Samy to explore the programs while I returned to Canada to see how we could fund his move to a private university.

I came to find out that one of my Laurier students had a personal connection to Haiti: Her mother-in-law, Yvonne Martin, was a nurse from our community who had been killed in the 2010 earthquake (click here to read the story at the time). A scholarship fund had been set up in memory of  Yvonne to support young medical students in Haiti. I was soon in touch with the person who coordinated the program and not long after this we had a commitment to support Samy if he got into medical school.

Samy did indeed get into medical school (placing 7th out of 1,500 on the entrance exam) which was a significant accomplishment for someone who had been in some challenging school contexts (I visited Samy's high school and counted 110 students in senior classes). The scholarship paid his tuition and Laurier students and friends paid for his monthly room-and-board. An incredible story of how members of diverse communities supported one person's capacity for a better life.

But that's not the end of the story.

Samy worked hard in his first two years of medical studies. As a result, he was short-listed for a special one month program that would allow him to study at McGill University in Montreal, all-expenses paid. He passed multiples sets of interviews. In early June, he found out that he had been one of three Haitian students selected for the program.

Now the story comes full circle. 

Samy spent July at McGill and then came to the Waterloo Region this past weekend to connect with some of the Laurier students and friends who have sponsored him over the years. He was able to meet with deans from Laurier who have enabled the Laurier program in Haiti. He also met with business and tech leaders who have supported the program.

And, last night at our house, he met two of Yvonne Martin's sons (and family  members), as well as Marilyn McIlroy, the Canadian nurse who coordinates the medical scholarship.

An incredible story of community and capacity. 

Why do we do what we do in Haiti? To support the capacity of a whole generation of Samy's to build a better future for themselves AND for their community. 

There is a reciprocal benefit to this work: It also builds the capacity of those of us in Canada to be more globally-minded, compassionate, and caring. It builds a better future for ourselves and for our community.

This blog is entitled "glocal perspective building." Likewise, the story of Samy is a story of glocal perspective building.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Exciting developments for teacher and principal professional learning in Haiti

We are less than two weeks away from this year's Educator and Leadership Institute in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. In today's blog, I will share four exciting developments.
1. Registrations: Preliminary registrations indicate that this year's ELI will be double the size of last year's professional learning (from 200 to 400). We are also seeing an increase in the variety of schools being represented and the geographic spread of these schools. ELI is indeed impacting educators from across the country.

2. Program: We are doubling the number of courses offered at this year's ELI (from 6 to 12). We are also adding specialized workshops in technology. The summer camp that accompanies the ELI is also expanding (from 100 to 200 children). Our ESL program for university students will also be expanding.

3. Research: Last year, we started a research project that examined how ELI supported the Haitian participants' sense of teaching efficacy (confidence in their teaching to lead to improved student outcomes). This year, we have a research team that is accompanying ELI and will be examining how teaching practices have changed for participants, opportunities for fostering women's empowerment, and how we can use basic access to technology to support teachers and school leaders.

4. Partnerships: We are seeing a significant increase in collaborative work in ELI. The Ontario College of Teachers has donated supplies, Wilfrid Laurier University has supported a "technology fund" to help teachers in Haiti, corporations and individual elementary schools have raised funds to support ELI, and Desire2Learn is sending a team of three top leaders to support ELI. In Haiti, new partnerships of schools are facilitating the growth in the number of registrants.

We are excited about what will happen at ELI. We are more excited about the 20 year effect that ELI will have on students in Haiti.

Our goal is to support the professional capacity of 1,000 teachers + 100 principals to impact 100,000 students.

We are well on the way to meeting this goal.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Haiti Educator and Leadership Institute 2017: 4 week countdown

Yesterday, our Haiti group met for an afternoon of planning and cultural learning. This was the first time that the various participants met as a group and, with four weeks remaining until we embark, there was a lot of information to be covered. I am always amazed at the various strengths of the groups that have engaged in our initiatives in Haiti and this year's group is no different.

The core of what we do in Haiti is represented by the instructors and assistants who instruct professional learning courses in the Educator and Leadership Institute (ELI). This year we have 16 instructors and assistants who will be teaching 12 courses. It is quite the logistical challenge to coordinate the courses, activities, and resources but our instructors seem up to the challenge once again. They are already discussing and planning for how to model experiential and active learning in their classrooms in Haiti.

Our Laurier teacher candidates and recent graduates are also key to a successful ELI. They have been working on developing activities in science, engineering, ecology, and the arts for a camp involving 100-150 Haitian children. With assistance from Canadian and Haitian high school students, this group includes three Laurier alumni who participated last year and who are providing leadership for the camp. They also will be involved in an English as a Second Language program for Haitian university students each afternoon which is always a highlight.

A number of other key individuals and organizations are represented in this year's ELI. First, Desire2Learn is supporting three employees will be leading workshops on online learning and assisting in various parts of ELI. Second, a long-term participant in our work in Haiti, who was instrumental in our BlackBerry leadership group, is coming with his family. He is now an executive with Apple and will be leading workshops on leadership and technology. Third, a group including university faculty members and a government researcher will be leading a number of research projects that are exploring the effectiveness of what we do in Haiti. Finally, coordinating the entire effort are a number of people with significant administrative skills.

There are 42 Canadians involved in ELI but we will be seen as ONE team. It takes a team to make ELI effective!

We are fortunate to have such a strong and diverse group. But what gives me confidence in the potential success of this group is the clear commitment to cultural humility and reciprocity, two fundamental values that we hold tightly to.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Imagining "roads under rivers": Reflecting on glocal perspective building

Years ago, I remember arriving at the Port au Prince airport in Haiti and having a great conversation with Jimmy, the person who picked me up. As a young person who had never been out of Haiti, he wanted to know about life in Canada. I'll never forget two questions that Jimmy asked:

"Dr. Sider, is it true that in Canada you have roads that go under rivers?"

It took me a few seconds to understand what I was being asked... tunnels!

After I tried to explain the utility and purpose of tunnels, he asked me another road question:

"And is it also true that you have roads that go over top of other roads?"

Again, it took me a few seconds to figure out that he was referring to highway overpasses.

We had a great conversation that day about perspectives. I took tunnels and overpasses for granted but for Jimmy, they were outside of his lived experience. He could only imagine what it must be like to drive under a body of water or for one highway to cross over top of another one.

Over the years, I've remembered that conversation with clarity. It has kept me mindful of the assumptions we make and the importance of engaging in dialogue. Too often, we are silent when we don't understand why someone acts or talks like they do. We are hasty in our judgement. We distance ourselves from "the other."

Jimmy's questions led to a great discussion about similarities and differences between Haitian and Canadian roads. On a deeper level, the discussion helped us both realize that despite our differences, we had much in common.

This is a lesson that I wish for the world.

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?