Twitter is replacing my feed reader

Luc Latulippe's twitter birdsThese twitter birds were created by Luc Latulippe and are available as a free download on his site. Click the image to go there.

Really. I am afraid to hit my feed reader. In the past if I missed a day or two I’d be overwhelmed with the amount of information that fed into my system once I clicked update. And now it’s been ages since I’ve checked my feed reader. I see the link to it right now on my desktop panel and I consistently, consciously, studiously ignore it.

I now read blog posts as I see them announced on twitter, either by the authors themselves – ‘New blog post tweet, tweet, tweet…’ or, more emphatically (not quite the word I am looking for but it will do until I find it), by others referring those in their network to ‘Read a great post about … tweet, tweet, tweet’.

I trust this process way more than the feed reading process. I trust Marcy and Miss Teacha and Linda and Mike and Jacques and Jose and Kevin and John and…. there are so many people who refer me to good posts all the time.

The point is I trust this process over the arbitrary new post count next to the blog title in my reader. I trust this process to point me towards cutting edge, or sometimes just plain amusing, blog posts by people both in and on the edges of my learning network. The post has been read and subsequently reviewed (via the existence of the tweet) by someone I trust to have discriminating judgement or taste or however you want to dice it on subjects educational, or musical, or artistic, or doggy. It is a people centered process. I trust the process because I trust the people who keep it going.

So bye bye feed reader – and the overwhelming nature of it for me, how unnecessary. As long as twitter remains relevant as a space for communication that is how I will get updates on what to read. It suits me just fine.

Being together

Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life. Isaac Bashevis Singer (via nezua)

Sea Lions live in colonies. These ones are hanging out together in San Francisco. They can also spend weeks at a time hunting in the open sea. Click image for source.

Sea Lions live in colonies. These ones are hanging out together in San Francisco. They can also spend weeks at a time hunting in the open sea. Click image for source.

Yesterday I commented on Kelly Hines’ post Core Beliefs about my own core belief that learning happens in community.

Today I found this beautiful sentence in  Michael Doyle’s post Puddles:

When one wanders away from one’s usual world, it’s good to have company.

I remember how Meg Wheatley’s words created a shift in me when I first read them a few years ago, that conversation is the natural way we humans think together (from the book Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope for the Future).

So what does this all have to do with my job as a teacher?

Learning can be about wandering away from one’s usual world, I think that good learning must. When we are learning new ideas we are changing our cognitive framework.

Imagine, we have the innate ability to change our thinking processes, biologically.

While this is happening, especially if it is with a paradigmatic shift in our thinking and beliefs, it is not only good to have company, I think it is necessary.

There are certain states that people need to feel they are in for learning (or change) to be able to happen – a sense of belonging, of safety, of worth. As teachers, we don’t always know if our students experience those states outside of our classroom (though we can sometimes guess based on the behaviours that we see in it!). A big part of my job is to create an environment that encourages these states to be. Not only for students in my classroom but for my colleagues in theirs as well.

Sometimes we need to tell it like it is. Photograph by Joel Sartore, click to view source at National Geographic.

Sometimes we need to tell it like it is. Photograph by Joel Sartore, click to view source at National Geographic.

I’m not talking lovey-dovey group hug, you are so special all the time kind of support. I just mean good solid, I know you are here for me and I am here for you and we will be honest kind of support. The kind of support that allows for conflict – the best learning often happens through it.

The support that we as teachers and that our students as co-learners can give each other is vital for learning (change) to happen.

I think of the hard-as-nails student who, in June, wrote a personal reflection on how she had changed over the year. She sobbed openly throughout the hour or so she took to write, shaking her head no when I asked if she wanted to write somewhere else.

Sometimes it can be as basic as just being together that allows us to take the risks we need to take to change how and what we learn.

Honouring their commitment to change

I found out today that the teacher I am replacing for the year has handed in her official resignation. This means that I can possibly stay in my position permanently. HOT. For real! Why is this? Because I feel that I am doing real work here. Real work with kids that shows I am we are making a difference.

The change is significant. It's my duty to honour it. It's as beautiful and natural as seeds becoming flower. (click image for source)

The change is significant. It's my duty to honour it. It's as beautiful and natural as seeds becoming flower. (click image for source)

We are the 50 students and 4 teachers in our alternative program for Grade 10 and 11 students. It’s long, hard work – today I arrived in my classroom at 7:30am and left it at 7:15 pm. We are in the middle of an exam week and I saw kids who were tired and frustrated sticking it out, staying late to make sure they get it – whether ‘it’ be math, English, History, whatever. These are kids who are in our program because up until they were accepted into it this or last year they spent more time skipping class then attending it. These are kids who used to walk away when things got tough. They’d still like to, I know it because they tell me, but they don’t. They don’t.

Not all of the students I have this year are showing this same commitment, and some may not make it until the end of the year because of this lack of commitment. But those that do, they are going places. Because if they can make such deep and significant personal change as choosing to succeed rather than fail, choosing to tough it out rather than give up, in such a short time, then they can do anything. For Real. And imagine, these are only the seeds.

hmm. It’s time for change all over, isn’t it?

Reporting out and Following up

I slept a lot yesterday. We shut down our section of the school where I work because 3 of the 4 teachers are sick (including me) as well as a number of the students. I had planned to spend the day correcting at home, but I’m one of the sickies and ended up spending most of the day asleep. Just being. Not a bad thing.

Its good to just be sometimes. Image posted by me on flickr. Click it to view source.

It's good to just be sometimes. Image posted by me on flickr. Click it to view source.

But now I’m up early, so I have time to think while I post about some things I’ve been meaning to post about and follow up on some others.

Blogher Boston

Last Friday I got in my little car after work and sped drove down the 132, then the 30, then the 15, I-97, 11, 2, 78, I-89, I-93, I-95…. to Burlington, Massachusetts, 20 minutes away from Boston. I arrived at 10 to a big comfy bed, room service, and a remote control. Nice. (I have no tv at home, so it was a treat :) )

I had no idea what to expect from BlogHer Boston as I walked into the conference hall the following morning. A few months ago I had signed up for it, thinking it would be nice to connect with other bloggers. I had a great day. For real. It was hot.

Unfortunately the Internet connection was slightly wonky at the hotel, very slow. So instead of using Dabbleboard, my latest favourite note-taking tool, or live-blogging, I used labyrinth, a mind-mapping software that I have on my computer, to take notes during the day. (This is unfortunate because, since then, I have both upgraded my system to ubuntu 8.10 (beta) and reinstalled 8.04 (the beta is still buggy, big-time). Before re-installing I archived my home folder and saved it on the LG pen/memory stick/lazer pointer I got at the conference. All good, right? The unfortunate part is that the ‘create archive’ function seems to be one of the buggy features. It won’t open. Hence – all is lost.) Luckily my mind is still somewhat intact, so here are my personal memories of the day:

1 – Great food and stuff – I ate like un puerco, un porc, a pig. And I got all kinds of fun stuff – comfy slippers from Shine,  a retractable mouse from LG,  baby thermometers from Playtex, chocolate from Megan at A Girl Must Shop… and more…

2 – Hanging out with Liz Henry in the morning and trying to crack the problem code in my blog. I’m going to quote her since she already wrote about it and I’m starting to feel lazy,

Hacked with a long time on her wordpress recent posts plugin. We modified the plugin code that she’d already modified. We broke it, she re-installed it, then we ignored the plugin and went for fixing the styles of the stuff that the plugin spits out:

li, h3, ul, and a

. The mysterious space before the recent posts turned out to be a top margin on


that was 3em, not 3px. Whoops! I showed her how, if you view source on someone else’s blog, you can search on “css” and find the link to their style sheet, and then paste it into the address bar to see their whole style sheet in the browser. So, for example, I used my spying skills to find her stylesheet: . Anyway, she’s a good hacker and has an amazing, amazing blog about teaching high school. Give it a read.

It was so much fun to take some time to just examine code with someone else. Something I’d like to do more of.

3- Attending some great sessions around making the most of our blogs, being part of a community of women who blog, and dealing with information overload. Beth Kanter’s talk on the last subject was fantastic. I wish I had my notes, but luckily she created a wiki-page … so go to it –> Managing Information Overload and Building Your Blog Community. The slide-show is great.

4 – Meeting some fabulous people. Lizbdavis and JessieNYC were the only two edubloggers I met at the shindig. They rock. Jessie blogs with her students at university as well as for Racism Review and Liz blogs at The Power of Educational Technology. Sherrypardy is another hot blogger I met in Boston. She writes at as well as for a living, and she also happens to be the mother of 3-year old twins named Sara and Max. I happen to be the aunt of 2-year old twins named….Sarah and Max! I met many inspirational people throughout the day, though these three, along with Liz Henry, are sticking in my mind past the event.

5 – The closing session. The day was such a rich exploration of community and conversation. I was quite disappointed to discover that there was no formal closure. The final session was an information session, not a community closure. The fact that it was a full community session, with no other option beside leaving, took away from the value it had as a session as well as from the day. We had begun the day by starting conversations (we had taken about 30 minutes to line up 2-by-2 and introduce each other for 2 minutes, then move on down the line), a meaningful end of the day could have been to put some closure to the conversations that had occurred during the day in a way that set up how to continue them in the future.

6 – The reception! Luckily, I was able to do that a little bit for myself at the reception. Even more fabulous food and an open bar! I plopped myself down at a small table with a mountain of different cheeses and a glass or two of red wine and chatted with Sherry, Liz D., Liz H., and a few other people. I gleaned some stickers from the stack Liz H. pulled out of her bag and was teased by Liz D. about being Canadeean and using ;)

School Research

Some of you know I began the PhD program in educational technology at Concordia University in January of 08. I’ve got a long way to go before completing, however am starting to think about my research focus and will be submitting a proposal in the near future. My thoughts have been cloudy around this. I knew I wanted to explore learning in a systemic way – organizational learning, group learning, individual learning, and I know I want to look at what works already. There is so much reinventing the wheel in education and I definitely don’t want to do that. But I haven’t sat down and put it into words yet. Until this morning, when I read Jan Smith‘s post Leap and the Net will Appear


I have decided my action research question will focus on the circumstances and beliefs that lead to student engagement in learning. I really want to use blogging or digital storytelling as the lens through which to explore engagement. I also want to build my own skills in integrating technology so I can help my colleagues do the same.

And that led me to formulate a comment that rings true to my own passion about learning.

Your research focus is interesting. I plan on looking at something similar on a systemic level. (I’m a PhD student in educational technology) I’m interested in the circumstances and beliefs that lead to engagement in learning on an organizational level as well as in the classroom, and how each impact the other. And you know what? This is the first time I’ve been able to concisely put into words what I want to research. Thanks!

In other words – how does organizational learning/action impact teacher and student and how does teacher and student learning/action impact the organization? And this can be extended to the outer areas of the system as well –> school board, government… Obviously still needs to be pounded out some, but I have a start.

Following Up

My friend Jenn, from How do you still love teaching? has begun her own blog, Jennyjukebox, and in reading her posts I remember that it is not just because she is in her first few years as a teacher that teaching is hard. It is difficult and exhausting always because we do difficult, exhausting work with children.

I’m also realizing that, even though I’ve been teaching for about 12 years, it’s my first time in this particular program, with this team of teachers and with this group of kids. It’s a steep learning curve and it can be exhausting. On top of striving for excellence with these kids I’m also teaching new courses and getting used to a new school culture – it’s a lot of work! (my comment to her post Recharged).

It is the most meaningful work I can think of doing (for me – not the most meaningful for everyone). It my soul purpose.

I took my Jewish holidays, and will be making up the time on the weekend by attending different school events. I still do not feel comfortable with how the school board is dealing with religious observance. Though feel less queasy having found out that none of the holidays are paid days for anyone. The school board does, however, organize the 200 working days for teachers around the Christian holidays. Only non-Christians have to come in on the weekend or do extra work after school or emergency substitution to ‘pay’ for their holidays. Our collective agreement is up for renegotiation in 2 years. If I am still with this school board I will definitely be making my voice heard on this matter. To be honest, the school board’s track record with dealing with individual needs (not only mine in this case) makes me question whether I will still be there, but that is another post.

I’ve re-designed a bit. I’m liking this new design much better than the old one. It uses the DePo Clean theme, which is a JOY to modify. I have never had such ease in modifying a template. For real. I also created a blog for my Grade 11 class using the same theme. Lovely. Clean. Simple.

I have a few more things to follow up, but that will have to be in another post. This is one long story already and I need to start thinking about preparing food for someone I care about this evening so I’m going to say good bye for now.

Have a wonderful day,

24 hours in the life of me…Oh, and BlogHer 08

I’m off to Blogher o8 – The Reach Out Tour in Boston. I’ll be leaving after work – luckily it is a PED day today so I won’t be too exhausted for the 5+ hr drive once the day is done.

I’m a bit relieved to not have a Friday this week, after last Friday’s….activities :)

This is what 24hrs can look like sometimes:

Underwater dust storm. Thats what the day felt like. Image by Karen Glaser (click image for source)

Underwater 'dust storm'. That's what the day felt like. Image by Karen Glaser (click image for source)

2-4:30 – Thursday
Conversations with a student we suspect of being high. Denials. Silence. Caring. Silence. He runs out. Returns. Tells the truth – he gets high every single day. More conversation. He agrees to talk to Dad. He goes home. We decide that, even though he has made a breakthrough – we can not let him back into the program. He’s broken one of the absolute rules – no drugs or alcohol on you or in your system.

HPT – Human Performance Technology. I had a test. An hour and a half of application of knowledge to different situations and a bit of definition of terms. Test was conducted on a mac, which I (yeah, I know…) have never used before. I couldn’t right-click, I couldn’t format…frustrating. Test was followed by regular class time.

7:00 Friday morning
Back at school. Happy to know that it is a) Friday and b) Day 6, which means the students have Phys Ed first thing, so I can ease into the day. Kids come in at 7:45, they get changed and head off to gym. I walk around with my list of To-Dos….

We notice a girl sitting in the hallway looking morose. Collin asks why she isn’t at gym, she starts to cry. They go into the den to talk.

8:30 – 9:00
I hear loud crying. Go into the hallway, a 2nd girl is sitting cross-legged on the floor, weeping. The den is being used, so we go into the lunchroom, where we have a couch. Other girls were ganging up on her in dodge ball (man, I hate dodge ball). She then goes on to tell me her story – of girl drama, cliques, allegiances, friendships that come and go, how she doesn’t care that she is a loner sometimes (you sure about that?). We talk some more, she goes back to the gym.

The gym class comes back 15 mins early. Got one item on the long To-Do list done…

Morning break. The drama and tears between girls continues, accelerates. There are many discussions in the den that continue throughout the day. Some try to deal with things by themselves in the bathroom. Meanly. So I cough a lot outside of the bathroom door and send girls on their way.

History study hall. I set the kids to work on old history tests and try to get my presentation finished – the one I wanted to do during my morning prep period. I’m cranky because the kids are edgy after the morning’s activities and I need a silent room. Takes longer than usual to get them settled. I type up to the end of the period, but the other class still isn’t released. 5 minutes later I go to check.

10:45 – 11:30

A girl (different one) has passed out in Science class – that is why they were late. She is out for a good 10 minutes. She stood up and fell down, hitting her head. The nurse is called. She finally comes to and we find out she has taken too many Robaxicet for her back pain. We bring her to the hospital, Collin waits until her parents meet them there. I’m with both grade 11 classes in the lunchroom. (Good thing I finished that presentation, eh?) Students are a combination of worried for their classmate and worried that they will lose some of their lunch break. It’s like herding cats keeping them in there until Collin, the girl, and her boyfriend leave for the hospital. I run to the cafeteria to get some food, come back up and sit for a few moments.

I hear keening. Seriously. Loud peels of uncontrollable wailing. It’s yet another girl. One who gets very anxious. She is shaking, has a hard time catching her breath. Shaking, crying. I go to the den with her, ask the girls who are there discussing morning events to use my classroom. She keeps repeating ‘It’s so hard’. Shaking. Another girl comes in with me, they are cousins. I ask girl 1 to hold my hands, to squeeze them hard. Girl 2 is stroking her hair. She shakes even more. She asks for her mother. Wailing. 15 minutes of keening. I am close to tears myself. Girl 2 is holding her close. Has her arms wrapped around girl 1. Tears streaking mascara down her face. I am struck by her kindness, by her non-judgmental offer of solace. The room’s air is thick, full of tears. I leave to ask Walter to call her mother. He looks concerned about me. I grab a stress ball, go back in. Her mother refuses to come, says she needs to calm herself down. Meanwhile, yet another girl (girl 3, let’s call her) works her way through her own bout of panic. She manages to calm herself down with the help of Sharon, our technician for the day (Marie was out…). I leave girl 2 with girl 1. They are holding each other and rocking, getting calm. I go out and try to get some more food in. Girl 1 comes out, Walter offers her a hug. The wailing starts again. This time I send girl 3 in to the den with her. She knows about panic attacks. She brings a paper bag to help with the breathing.

We start afternoon classes a few minutes late. I have a math test planned and decide to give it. I figure the students have not had anything they expected yet that day and they needed something they expected. Girl 1 comes in to class 10 minutes later. Girl 3 has calmed her down. She writes the test. The room is quiet. Students are working diligently. I’m glad I decided to give the test.

2:15 – 3:30
The day is done. We find out that girl 1’s doctor was supposed to call us to let us know what to do in event of panic attack. Oh well. We also learn of a teacher, a friend of ours, who is upset, torn, because she is getting married at Christmas time and the school board has taken back their offer of an extra 3 days leave before the holidays. We plan our next week. We talk, de-brief. We go for a beer.

So, yeah. 24 hrs can seem much longer at times….

It’ll be good to re-charge at a conference. Meeting with people who share my interests and goals, being reminded of the power of community, always manages to energize me. Plus, 2 nights at a hotel can’t hurt. I think I’ll treat myself to some room service when I arrive this evening.