Gotta Celebrate

Spring Legs by Christopher DeWolf on Flickr

Spring Legs by Christopher DeWolf on Flickr

Yesterday was one of those amazing, magical Montreal springtime days that remind us all why we suffer the cold and snow for 4-6 months of the year. The sun was shining and warm, people were on the streets in short sleeves, some even in shorts. The light stayed with us until almost 8 in the evening. Open, relaxed faces quick to smile were all over the place.

If you don’t think that’s enough cause for celebration I’m going to give you a few more reasons right here and if you don’t think that I had the most celebrationist kinda day then I give up. For real.

In no particular order:

Escape to the Country…

Escaping to the Country :)

Escaping to the Country :)

I moved one step closer to buying a house in the country as I received news that my financing has been approved! It’s a cute little place on about 27 000 sq ft of land, partially forested. There is even an insulated cabin that I’ll be able to use as a studio for art.

Jacques Demers and the Stanley Cup from USA Today

Jacques Demers and the Stanley Cup from USA Today

He shoots, He scores…
Jacques Demers came to speak to some of the students at our school yesterday. His style was loud, brash, and abrupt reminding us all that he was once an NHL hockey coach. He told us of his difficult childhood with father who was either abusive or absent, of his illiteracy, and of making choices. At one point he stopped his speech to dress down some kids who were being disruptive and making immature comments. Some of my students actually applauded when he was done with them.

But that wasn’t the big score. The big score came later, when we returned to class. I feel the emotion rising even now as I remember it. We started to talk about his speech in general when one of my students said she had to get something off of her chest. She started to talk about her own difficult relationship with her father. She continued to talk as tears rolled down her face and mine as well as a few of the other students in our class. She talked about the complex range of emotions that she has been carrying inside herself for so many years and she decided then and there that she needs to speak with him and let him know about what she has been holding on to for so long. Then she took a big breath and said she was done talking. One of the other students gave her a hug and told her she loved her. I was totally bowled over with the sense of community and hope in the room.

Forgiveness and Validation…
Yesterday evening I met with someone I hadn’t seen in, we determined, 6 or 7 years, maybe even longer. We worked together over 15 years ago and the last time we saw each other we went on a few dates. At one point I just didn’t hear from him. These things happen. I’ve met a few people in my life who, from one day to the next, I just don’t hear from again. They disappear. But last night I received an apology for that and it made me feel good about people in general. That we do care about each other and sometimes we even show it when it is least expected. Major props to him for that!

To PhD or not to PhD…

Jose being all direct on me

Jose being all direct on me

I totally ignored this tweet when I first saw it, up until now even when I am finally responding to it :) When Jose asked it, I was still in limbo but I’ve since decided not to continue with it and with that decision came so much relief. My life was school (teaching) and school (studying). I love both of them, but I wasn’t doing anything well. It was like a diet of pure protein, with no other nutrients. Eventually my system shut down. To be good I need to have time to paint, knit, make jewelry, hang out with students after school, run with the dog, be with friends, read, watch movies, go for dinner on a moment’s notice. Last year one of my students figured out that I was in Grade 22, based on all of my years of schooling. It’s time for me graduate :)

And if all THAT isn’t enough to cause some celebration…how’s about these fabulous (published) poems/songs by one of my students. Enjoy.

I am Human by Cody Oserakete Thomas

I am Human by Cody Oserakete Thomas

If You Could See Me Now by Cody Oserakete Thomas

If You Could See Me Now by Cody Oserakete Thomas

Some People by Cody Oserakete Thomas

Some People by Cody Oserakete Thomas

When You Said You Loved Me by Cody Oserakete Thomas

When You Said You Loved Me by Cody Oserakete Thomas

Mine Forever by Cody Oserakete Thomas

Mine Forever by Cody Oserakete Thomas

What are you celebrating?

Reflections on a PhD

Dave Sherman recently posted an interesting reflection on higher education called PhDo or PhDon’t? He considers pursuing a PhD but questions his motivations.

Convincing ourselves it is a good idea! Cartoon by Matthew Henry Hall. Click to view source.

Convincing ourselves it is a good idea! Cartoon by Matthew Henry Hall. Click to view source.

It stirred up some of my own stuff that has been lying under the surface lately around my own education. I went back to school 11 months ago, and I am questioning that decision. For real. Here is the comment I wrote in response.

Very timely post for me. I am in the first year of a PhD program and am re-evaluating if it is really what I want to do. Am I doing it because I like the idea of it? or because it is right for me? Not sure.

I do know that I work full time, with challenging students (which ones aren’t, really?) at a high school from 7 to 5 most days, and study part-time. Between those 2 things I do not have much time for anything else. Luckily I do love teaching and learning! But there is little balance with other activities (exercise, painting, personal reading, family…).

Also, I am finding the whole methodological approach of the PhD program I am in to be …. ugh. I am not interested in stats. Really. I am not interested in isolating variables, in considering things in isolation from anything else. I am interested in uncovering stories and relationships and I do not think that can be done in isolation. So maybe what I need to do is look for another program, one where I will feel more at home.

So…those are my 2 cents. Consider work/life balance, and consider the program that is the right fit. That’s where I am now. Luckily I go to school in Canada, where the fees are not outrageous, so I can afford to spend some time figuring out where I fit.

Whatever choice you make, make it right for you.

So. How do I take my own advice? Where do I go from here? These are questions that I am left with. Jon Becker wrote about the difference between the Ed.D and the PhD in his comment to Dave. Perhaps an Ed.D is where I need to look. Or perhaps I need to look outside of Education.

Things I know.

Oddly, though I am working in a new program and in the first year of a PhD, I feel stagnant. What the heck is up with that?


One common feature in a lot of tree architecture, and the starting point for Halle’s starting discovery, is reiteration. That’s when there are several copies of one of the architectural models within a single tree, as when a branch looks like a seedling, but growing out of the tree rather than the ground. Click for source.

One common feature in a lot of tree architecture, and the starting point for Halle’s starting discovery, is reiteration. That’s when there are several copies of one of the architectural models within a single tree, as when a branch looks like a seedling, but growing out of the tree rather than the ground. Click for source.

That tree is rife with reiteration. Reminds me of this process of knocking out a solid dissertation proposal. I presented my ideas tonight – I’m grateful for the process my university offers me, of receiving feedback from my peers and doctoral seminar professor as I go through the development stage of this proposal. I’m also grateful for, and I mentioned it this morning but I’ll say it again, Chris Parson‘s feedback. He’s been instrumental in helping me to refine my thoughts after v.1 and into v.2.

My presentation is done, for now :) I presented this evening and have a lot to think about now. Lots of good feedback, that I’ll add in another post tomorrow. Most of it was about continuing to refine what exactly I’m looking for.

Not sure if refining what I’m looking for is what I need to be doing… but I’ll return to that idea in the next iteration. There is something that does not sit right with me about deciding too much in advance. Again, I need to come back to it.

Initial impressions? I’m slightly more overwhelmed than I was before I presented. What seemed to almost be coming into focus exploded with the different possibilities offered to me during the seminar. I am also rather exhausted, which is why I’m going to return to this after a sleep or two. And see what new iteration will grow from my trunk.

Here’s the visual presentation that illustrated my little chat.

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by TracyRosen

The video that belongs on slide 5, under the heading Music and Life can be viewed at the bottom of this post –> How is this Normal?

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,