Tag Archives: student voice

#WeLeadBy Student Digital Leadership at its best

In my book, Social LEADia I highlight a student Twitter chat (@AMDSBKidsChat) created by Leigh Cassell and Nicole Kaufmann. This idea has inspired a group of Ontario leaders (including myself) to organize a province-wide student-chat #ONedSsChat beginning in October. If we, as educators benefit from this format, then it might be a great way to show students how they might use Twitter productively and for learning?

Then a few days ago, I met Isaiah Sterling who is high school student from Missouri, who decided he would like to create and moderate his own Twitter chat: #weleadby. Isaiah sites Dave Burgess and Beth Houf as educators and leaders who took the time to share and support him.  It even inspired elementary principal, Lance McClard to write a blog post:

Will you be that caring adult who supports a student who demonstrates initiative in both online and offline spaces?

Give Isaiah a follow and check out his blog after you read his reflection below:

Reflection: Moderating my first Twitter chat as a student digital leader #weleadby

As a student, I love to share, inform, and grow in my student leadership efforts with the everyday use of social media. Over the years, I’ve done just that. Recently, I was wondering what my next big move in student leadership with the use of social media would be. Something extraordinary crossed my mind, Twitter chats. I always see HUGE Twitter users creating and moderating their owns chats, so I figured I could do the same even as a student. I knew it was time to show my true inner digital leader… Guess what? It worked. Just like Leigh Ragsdale (@leighmragsdale on Twitter) says, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Through all this, #weleadby was born. The chat focuses on leadership in any area of life be that personally, at work, educationally, etc.

It took me about an hour or two to gather the best questions for the chat and create graphics for each of them even though the chat only consisted of four questions! I wanted to make sure everything was perfect for my chat participants.

Scheduling and creating graphics wasn’t all it took. I knew I had to build my participant base! Therefore, I created a post announcing the upcoming chat and tagged well known and respected educators like Dave Burgess and Beth Houf. At first, I thought to myself…”Oh they are so busy!! They won’t see and share a tweet a student leader from southeast Missouri that was trying to share his chat time to a lot of people!” BUT, they were instrumental in helping me build my participant base! Dave, Beth, and a lot more educators helped me build that base by retweeting and telling their followers what was going to happen. Through this, leaders and educators from everywhere started replying saying that they’d join! All I could do at the time was thank them and hope they’d follow through. I’d like to say that this was in a two day time period! Just amazing! As a student digital leader, I knew I had to bring a sense of confidence and belief in this chat! Beth, Dave, and others were so amazing at helping me maintain just that.

There were lots of steps in preparing for this chat.  Before the chat, I knew I’d have to use something to schedule the guided questions that would be used for guests to interact upon. I had some background experience in HootSuite, so I decided that would have to do. HootSuite is yet another social media dashboard tool that allows users to schedule tweets for anytime of the day they’d like. I scheduled tweets with questions and took time to schedule tweets that prepared guests for the next question. It took me forever to decide how far apart I wanted these tweets to be, but in the end I decided five minutes was perfect.

Not only did I just schedule text, I also made graphics for each of the tweets. I used an app on my phone called Typorama. Typorama allows users to create beautiful graphics for anything they wish easily.

I’ll always remember sending out the tweet that mentioned the chat started in five minutes. At this point, I was extremely nervous hoping that people would participate. Five minutes later, my phone and computer would not stop beeping from the overwhelming response. My HootSuite dashboard froze several times due to all the activity coming through. I told myself I should interact with the guests that are participating. Most messages after the guests would reply would be just a quick thank you or happy you joined! If I saw something really appealing, I retweeted it and commented more on their tweet. This happened A LOT. I found myself retweeting and commenting on almost everything that came back in the #weleadby search. I was able to connect with so many great, enthusiastic, motivating, and encouraging leaders from all different locations! I do admit it was VERY overwhelming at first, but after awhile the fire for the why behind this chat kicked in. I want to connect with leaders and want leaders to connect with other leaders to promote, motivate, and engage leadership efforts anywhere in life. Here are some pictures from the chat:

I’ve always been a social media and leadership fanatic. I’m honored to be able to combine the two and show my student digital leadership! What an amazing experience I know’ll known I’ll never forget.

Do students think we should be using social media in school?

I noticed that I had a blog post in draft form from the summer. Do you do this as a blogger? I’m not sure why I didn’t post it then; maybe it didn’t feel complete or I wasn’t happy with it. Nonetheless, I pushed myself way too hard yesterday and have to be gentle with myself, so this is my 3/10 post.

When I was researching for my Social Media in Education course, I put out an informal survey on Twitter. It was by no means a scientific survey: I didn’t have a control group and the fact is, because I used Twitter to administer the survey, many of the kids who responded had teachers who already use social media in their classrooms. So though so this is not hard data by any means, it is interesting.

The respondents were from grade 6-8 (so ages 11-14 years old) and this what they said when I asked whether or not social media should be used in school:

And here’s the interesting thing I noticed when students responded to the question, “Why” or “Why not”.  Students who had used social media in their classroom for the purposes of learning (three times or more) had a positive attitude towards the potential of social media verses the students who never did.

Look at these extremes:

Here are the responses from kids who said yes. Most of these students had indicated that they had had the opportunity to use social media in their classes:

  • because it is a good way to share how you are learning with people around the world
  • because you will learn about thing all the time and the world is coming to the point where you will need to use social media
  • because it can be educational and fun.
  • because it helps with learning and it gives us an experience.
  • Yes, because it is a great resource for learning, if you go on certain accounts, it can actually help you learn something, all the major companies use social media.
  • it can help you get comfortable with talking to people

And there was a group of students who did not actually use social media in school, but indicated that wished they could be:

  • some social media can help you learn about whats going on in the world right now. Also, some kids enjoy using social media, so maybe kids would be more interested in learning if they could use social media to learn and connect with and about the world
  • I think it should because it could potentially be a resource, and it could help with the understanding of the online life
  • Social media should be used in school as it helps children learn something that they are used to using. Today, almost all children use social media.

There were many students (32 out of 102 respondents) who were not sure, but could not exactly articulate why. There were many, “I don’t know” responses and “I’m not sure” and one student articulated it this way: I’m not sure because I don’t really understand how using social media would help students learn in class.

Of the students who said no (13 out of 102 respondents) to using social media in school, it seemed to focus on hypotheticals and the fear narrative:

  • Because too much social media is bad and could strain our eyes if we’re on it to long.
  • If students were allowed to use social media at school today it would have been a problem because there could be a cyberbully.
  • We shouldn’t because the kids might not be using it appropriately

What stood out most to me from the survey results was the stark difference between the attitudes of the students who used social media daily and were given the opportunity to use social media in the classroom more than 5 times in a school year, versus what students who use social media daily, but who had never been given the opportunity to use it in class had to say.  You see, those students only look that their own social use, their tendency to be distracted by their friends’ posts. They are also likely the students who have been taught nothing about social media beyond how bad it is, so it is no wonder that they could not see any educational value.

And yet, I continue to talk to teachers from across the globe who cannot use social media in their classrooms because it is blocked or banned.

Do we invite students to District-level tables? Do we have a student school advisory team at the school level?

Will anything ever change if we don’t change the path we are currently taking when it comes to using social media in the classroom?

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Here is a link to the questionnaire and here is a link to all of responses if you are interested.

Instagram Live!

When you have a teenage daughter and she knows you are interested in what she is doing with social media, she will likely keep you very up to date. So just in time for my 2/10 blog, my daughter showed me the Live video on Instagram Stories feature.

Of course, I had to try it! I updated my version of Instagram and created my own.

When someone is broadcasting live, the word LIVE will appear in pink on their Instagram story.

And this is what I saw during the LIVE recording:

People viewing live can comment but if you click on the … you can turn the comment feature off.  Click End when you are done.


A great conversation with kids

This provided a great opportunity for me to ask my daughter lots of questions about what she would broadcast and why. What she should do if negative comments come in, and remind her about blocking.

As an interesting sidebar, if you are a parent, and you follow your child on Instagram, you may want to keep your notifications on so that if your daughter is with her friends and starts a LIVE story, you can pop in and say Hi ;0

Implications for Education

So, yes, Instagram seems to be trying to compete with Snapchat with its stickers and disappearing stories and now Facebook Live, Youtube Live, and Periscope with its LIVE feature.

The question is, will this impact how and why you use it?

Does the fact that there is no option to save limit its usefulness in Education or in fact make it more desirable?

Will there be implications for Districts who may have open/unblocked access to Instagram?

This is another good reminder that as adults, we will never be able to keep up with changes in apps and technology, but if we ask a tween or a teen, they are often a fountain of knowledge.

Please join me on Sunday at 6 pm ET when I moderate a panel discussion on Instagram for Edumatch Tweet & Talk 74 and follow the hashtag #Edumatch on Twitter.

Have a question you would like the panelists to cover? Please add it to the comments and I will try to include it!



Digital Citizenship, Learning, and Student Voice

“Just as schools have played a role in preparing students to be citizens in the traditional sense, educators must now ensure that our children are ready to be active and responsible participants in our increasingly digital society”

(Couros & Katia, 2015, pg 6).

There isn’t a single educator who would argue with the fact that we need to teach kids how to navigate online spaces safely and critically.  What I have noticed however is that there is an extremely huge variance in what educators think this should look like.  In my research this week I am overwhelmed by the number of different definitions of digital citizenship as well as the different components.  If you google, “digital citizenship defined,” there are 506,000 results.  It seems like every District and every organization is trying to come up with their own unique framework.  This makes sense to me on some level as every school District, every school even has its own culture.

But are we creating these frameworks on a grand scale which then become stagnant?  Are they simply units that need to be “covered” and checked off?  Even in my own practice, I curated this resource in 2011 which I now look at and would (and will when I have time) completely revamp because my own stance and the kind of choices I would make today are radically different.  Is it a decent resource that teachers, especially those who are not comfortable utilizing in online spaces would find supportive? Absolutely.  But, I know that personally I would need the resources I use to match the group of students I had in front of me and the learning context in my class.

To me, it is an absolute necessity, to teach kids how to navigate online spaces in creative, critical healthy and ethical ways (my own definition of digital citizenship) positively, in context rather than isolation.

This is supported by research about situated cognition (Brown, Collins, Duguid, 1989) around reading, writing, and mathematics, which has stood the test of time and which I believe is completely relevant to this conversation.  Consider these quotations about student learning:

  • learning methods that are embedded in authentic situations are not merely useful; they are essential and knowledge must be applied in context in order to be used and made explicit (Brown et al, 1989).
  • Research around using vocabulary words from a dictionary to teach reading show learning to be ineffective because “learning from dictionaries, like any method that tries to teach abstract concepts independently of authentic situations, overlooks the way understanding is developed through continued, situated use. (Brown et al., page 33).  
  • People who use tools actively rather than just acquire them, appear to build an increasingly rich implicit understanding of the world in which they use the tools and of the tools themselves. (Brown et all, 1989, pg 33).
  • given the chance to observe and practice in situ the behavior of members of a culture, people pick up relevant jargon, imitate behavior, and gradually start to act in accordance with its norms  and that despite the fact that cultural practices are often extremely complex, students, when given the opportunity to observe and practice them, students adopt them with great success.  (Brown et al., 1989, page 34)

And now apply this analogy to using technology tools and social media in context.  It makes complete sense!

Any yet…

We continue to treat Digital Citizenship as discrete units in school.  

We rarely explore social media within the context of the classroom in order to support the nuanced understanding of etiquette, usage, etc…that can only come with using tools in authentic and meaningful ways.

We also tend to block sites that may be problematic which makes a guided and contextual approach to digital citizenship problematic at best or worse yet, becomes about teaching kids how to circumvent firewalls.  This passage from Participatory Cultures in a Networked World reinforces my own feelings about this:

“[B]locking sites perpetuates risk as it ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own. Many young people lack opportunities to learn how to use new media tools effectively and appropriately. Not just that, but a reliance on blocking sends the message that sites and tools important to students have little to nothing to contribute to intellectual pursuits. (Jenkins, Ito, boyd, 2016, pg 16)

As much as the thought of encountering an inappropriate image in front of an entire class instils dread in me, I know that at least a safe classroom environment is less problematic that that child encountering that image on their own device…a fact we definitely need to address with parents!

Can kids learn about self-regulation and what a healthy balance of online and offline looks like if we ask students to leave electronic devices in their lockers?

Do kids really understand what appropriate commenting looks like without extending and practicing this skill with explicit instruction and practice with an authentic audience?

Can kids really understand intellectual property if we don’t have them explore Creative Commons licencing for their own creations which they post for a widespread audience?

If we only focus on the fear narrative, will students recognize the positive potential of connecting online?

It is true that many teachers don’t feel comfortable enough to be the “expert” when it comes to modelling the use of social media, but teachers know their curriculum well and most importantly know how to pose the right questions, which is arguably a more important skill than answering questions anyway.

Teaching kids about the online world needs to be an organic and contextual process guided by an adult who can ask the right questions.

Student Voice and Digital Citizenship

Students need to part of the Digital Citizenship conversation.  In as much as we talk about student voice, I often find it missing when it comes to practice.  Whatever table I am sitting at, I always invite students to it to give their thoughts and opinions.  Check out how students contributed to the solution during our Yik Yak episode here.

That’s why I am so excited about  @Digcitkids,  Digital Citizenship for kids by kids. It is created by  a 4th grader  with the help of his mom Marialice  who is as passionate about bringing student voice and student digital leadership into our schools as I am.

Be sure to watch the Digcitkids website (which literally just went live in time for this post!!) as it develops and grows. The idea around Digcitkids is to provide an opportunity to amplify student voice and to promote students as digital leaders  k-12. The student and/or classroom ambassador program provides an opportunity for students from around the world to get involved in creating and sharing content and will allow students to participate in monthly challenges.

Curran wanted to start digcitkids as a way to address the conversation about digital access & connected learning opportunities for all students.  Plus, after his Ted talk he didn’t understand why he was the only elementary aged student talking about the topic and still doesn’t understand why educators wait until students are in high school to highlight student voice.   More about Curran and his quest here.

He presented the idea during Edcamp Global on July 30 at 7 am.

Other resources for teachers and leaders

Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools

Created by Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt in collaboration with a larger working group, this is perhaps my favourite resource.  It aligns with my thinking about situating learning of using social media in context and is a comprehensive, thoughtful and thorough approach. It is framed around Mike Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship  I also really appreciate the guides found within the document.


The OSAPAC Digital Citizenship resource is an excellent and comprehensive resource created for Ontario teachers and leaders but which is useful to any educator.  Our District used it as one of the key resources for its Digital Discipleship framework.  The resource is grounded in research and has practical and positive lesson plans.  It is divided up into both elementary and secondary around the following themes:


Common Sense Media

Common Sense media offers a continuum of skills offered by topic beginning from kindergarten to grade 12. Lessons are available as PDF downloads, as well as Nearpod lessons, and iBooks (for purchase) for an agnostic experience for students. They are organized in the following way:

Common Sense Media


Media Smarts is a Canadian resource for digital and media literacy and is grounded on ongoing national research on Canadian children and teens and their experiences with networked technologies.  The resources are relevant to any educator.  They use the following framework:

Media Smarts 1


IKeepSafe is a non-profit organization which adopts a global citizen approach. ” It contends that modern technologies like telephones, television, and most of all, the Internet, allow for a global society where individuals can access information from around the world—in real time—despite being thousands of miles from the source of the content (Searson et al, 2015).  This is how they organize their topics.

iKeepSafe Digital Citizenship

ISTE Standards for Students

In the newly revised standards put out by the International Society. It is useful as a point of reference for educators.

Digital Citizenship ISTE


Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, S. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Couros, A., & Hildebrandt, K. (2015). Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools. Retrieved from http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/11/83322-DC%20Guide%20-%20ENGLISH%202.pdf

Jenkins, H., Itō, M., & boyd, d. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. Wiley.

Searson, M., Hancock, M., Soheil, N., & Shepherd, G. (2015). Digital citizenship within global contexts. Education and Information Technologies, 20(4), 729-741. doi:10.1007/s10639-015-9426-0

When it’s time for a change

I currently have perhaps the best job in the world. I work with an amazing team of professionals, I get to engage in learning and thinking about topics in education which most people don’t often get to delve into because they have three classes of 30 to prepare for.  I get to go into classes to co-plan, co-teach, co-learn, and debrief with teachers of every subject area. Teachers trust me enough to take my suggestions and try them, knowing I will support them.  I get to lead professional learning around the meaningful integration of technology in school.  I have met and worked with hundreds of amazing educators in my District. This is no different than what other system leaders do.

And yet, I have been at a crossroads lately.  I miss being in a school.  I knew it was time for a change. The question became…go into administration? go back into a classroom?  or something else?

For my Sicilian parents who have been ever supportive of me, the choice was clear (little known fact my mom didn’t speak to me for a week when I told her that I wanted to be a teacher rather than a lawyer–she thought I was wasting my talents).  My mom said to me, “Why aren’t you a principal? You are smart enough! Can’t you be the Director?”  Having never gone beyond grade 5 in Italy and never studied here, she has no real concept of the whole Vice-principal, Principal, Superintendent, Director trajectory–but what a blessing to have a mom that believes in me so much.

For my husband and teen daughters, who listen to me celebrate and complain at the dinner table (when I make it home on time for dinner)  and who love and support me unconditionally, their advice was to reflect upon what makes me happy.  This has been the advice of my dear friends as well.  But how does one really know what makes them happy?  Isnt’ happiness a relative term?   I am happy when I am doing work that I’m passionate about. I am happy when I work with kids, I am happy when I feel like I am making a difference. I am happy when I am learning new things.  When I taught English (or Special Education or Coop or ESL or Italian) I was happy. When I am leading professional learning, I am happy.  But in each of those instances I was disappointed, frustrated, and longing for more as well because I am always reflecting on how I can be better.

George Couros, who has been an incredible mentor and friend to me over the past year offered this advice:

George Advice

So there was that happiness question again!!  But in discerning the answers to #2 & #3 were where I now set my mind.

The first step in answering question 2 is understanding my strengths.  We ask our students to do this, don’t we?  I think big picture, I try things and then reflect on their success/failure and try again. If I hear a good idea, I move that idea to action. I am happy when I  push the boundaries of what Literacy, Curriculum, and assessment look like (geeky but true). I am effective leader.  I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t have the freedom to be a leader. And so the question of impact…

What is impact? Isn’t this as relative a term as happiness?  If I can have a deep impact on 30 students, isn’t that more meaningful that having little impact on hundreds of teachers? How might I measure impact? A thank you vs a test score vs a thoughtful question that has come out of learning something new?  Does a principal have more impact in education than a classroom teacher? How about a Department Head? A Teacher-Librarian? An education officer at the Ministry of Education? A Superintendent? I would argue that this depends more on the person than the title.

George’s questions helped clarify my thinking and my answers gave me direction.

I applied to be a Teacher-Librarian at a high school and was successful.  In that role, I will have the privilege of working with an administrative team, with a collaborative group of Teacher-Librarians, with teachers, and with students.

I will miss working with the amazing people at the CEC and beyond, but in my new role I will have impact, I will be able to use my gifts and talents, and I think I will be happy! Best of all, I will be able to work with students again; why I became a teacher to begin with.

I can run a coding club, create a makerspace, run a book club, facilitate connections with students and the world. I can not just talk about student voice, but I can empower students to use their voices and be there to support them when they think they are voiceless or powerless.

It’s an IB school so I have a lot of learning to do: which I am so excited about and there are so many incredible Teacher-Librarian role models in Ontario and in North America from whom I continue to learn.

Did I make the right decision? Who knows? But change is good…Change is an opportunity to do something amazing!



Rethinking Student (Digital) Leadership and Digital Citizenship

In our increasingly digital and connected world, it is imperative that we teach our children to be responsible citizens–both online and face to face.  Online*, this means that they share appropriate stories and ideas with friends and family, give credit where credit is due, treat others with respect and report inappropriate behaviour.  All of these things contribute to having a positive digital online presence.  But while Digital Citizenship is about being a good citizen online Digital Leadership goes beyond this.  Here is the post in which I clarify this thinking.


When I first thought about this idea, defined here by George Couros , and then Sylvia Duckworth and I collaborated to visualized this idea, I looked at them as somewhat distinct from one another. Yet the more I meet some of these amazing student leaders who use technology to share learning, promote important causes, etc*… , and the more I see students engaged in some powerful connected learning, I recognize that perhaps it isn’t a linear list afterall.  This is what I’m now thinking (perhaps I’ll see if Sylvia has a better way to visualize this!).

Rethinking Digital Leadership

And perhaps Digital Citizenship envelops or circles the whole thing??

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Digital Citizenship really needs to come first ? When I consider of some of some of the fear-mongering lessons and messages we give students without a balanced positive slant,  I really believe that these lessons should  (or need to) coincide with opportunities for digital leadership rather than be separated from them. We are kind of doing it wrong if we have a Digital Citizenship continuum in isolation from building in opportunities to learn in the space via connected experiences.  Check out this post by Andrew Campbell which also reinforces this idea.

I am thinking of this exciting project,  initiated by Calliope (founders Jennifer Williams & Fran Siracusa) of which I am honoured to be a part.

Inspire Passion via Online Collaboration

Students are inspired by Kharishma Baghani, a young Kenyan student who invented an inexpensive water filtration system and connect with her via Google Hangouts on Air (Stay tuned for lots more opportunities to do this live). Here is the GHOA with St. Cecilia School in Florida:

Students contribute their ideas to the collaborative Padlet.

Both of these activities provide opportunities for students to learn about ethical and courteous ways to communicate online (which should be an extension of how to cooperate and communicate face to face in the classroom).  Also, an explicit connection can be made to show how effectively Karishma is marketing the project, Matone de Chiwit (Drops of Life), and how well she is using social media Twitter and Facebook to promote awareness about her cause.

Teach Digital Citizenship with a Call to Action

As students learn more about this topic (through research), get to know and be inspired by Karishma, they are then encouraged to brainstorm ways in which they can use social media, and their own creativity to share their learning and promote awareness about water scarcity.

They will CREATE posters, podcasts, public service announcements, etc… And in this creation and sharing, there is the opportunity to talk about creation and credit of sources, of ways to communicate a message powerfully, of what information is private, how a message might be misconstrued on social media, how to use tone and persuasive techniques effectively. Any tool that is used for creation or sharing can be explicitly talked about (privacy settings, terms of use, audience, etc…) These lessons become authentic and in-the moment.

If students are under 13, the ability to share via a class Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook account can provide a powerful opportunity to recognize the power social media holds, while ensuring that students are not only in a guided environment, but that you are not breaching terms of service age restrictions.  If students are over 13, they should be using their own names and developing their own online presence, with continued guidance and support from the teacher.

AND when communicating this process with parents, they will be able to see their children inspired to help others and using social media ethically and responsibly to do this!

This is my current thinking.

You may argue that this is what a student leader (remove digital) looks like and I would say, absolutely EXCEPT today any leader needs to know how to make use of the digital realm.  You may also consider that not every student needs to or has to feel like they need to change the world, as Dean Shareski suggests here.  I would say that students should be given lots and varied opportunities to be inspired by others and to know that they can if they choose to.

What am I missing?  I would LOVE to have you challenge my thinking or present alternative points of view as I continue to flesh out my ideas about this important topic!

And of course, if you are interested in joining the Our Blue Earth project, please contact me, Fran Siracusa, or Jennifer Williams!

*The italicized statements were added after reading Stepan’s comment below.


What if…

What if

What if we believed that everything that we had to make great schools was already within our organization, and we just needed to develop and share it? (Couros 117).

This is the first What If, in George Couro’s list in the Innovator’s Mindset and is the one that keeps me up at night, because believing this is true and actually moving to action are two very different things.

Primarily, I think that a completely under-utilized resource; that which could move our schools from good to great and which can easily begin tomorrow is the inclusion of student voice.  And I’m not talking about exit surveys or the occasional opportunity for students to contribute to the school community in clubs or assemblies.  I’m talking about providing students with opportunities for autonomy and self-direction; to provide them with leadership in their learning.

What if…Student voice meant that students co-learned with teachers?

What if this was embedded in professional learning?  Christy Cate, a member of our Innovator’s Mindset Voxer group shared how kids got involved in a professional learning opportunity completely by accident, but because it was such a powerful learning experience they repeated it the following year.  In my own District,  we’ve seen a school organize a Student Ed Tech Day in which each class in the school came down and learned from students in grades 3-8.

We have also made a point of including student ignites at our Ed Tech Event and Ed Camp.  The teachers are often amazed by the passion, poise, and depth of the student presentations.  In the case of our EdCamp, one of our students, Aidan Aird even led a learning session about incorporating STEM.

And just yesterday, the 21C team in my District hosted a Student Ed Tech day in which students and teachers learned and planned together for an entire day, with the opportunity to continue conversations via a virtual class.  Students from the neighbouring high school came and led student teams, but also helped to plan and facilitate some of the sessions.  Everywhere you turned, students and teachers were learning from each other.  It was incredibly powerful and inspiring!

What if including students in professional learning was the norm, not the exception?  If we know that such experiences can be so powerful, what is stopping us from doing this tomorrow?

What if…Student voice also meant

that students could take the curriculum expectations, direct the way in which they learned those expectations, and “grade” their own abilities with the constant feedback of their teacher?   This weekend I spoke to Jonathan So about how grade 6 students in his class are doing just that as he explained how his class has gone gradeless.

We know that grades shut down learning? We have the means to change this?

Why don’t we?

As George Couros suggests, “In a place where every learner is encouraged to reach his or her dreams, these “what ifs” can become reality.”  What are we afraid of?

As always, I love reading the other posts in our blog hop!  Add your What Ifs to the comments, on Twitter, or submit your own blog post or read others on the OSSEMOOC site. We’ve got 16 of them so far! Check a few of them out below.

Katie Martin

Mark Carbone

Peter Cameron

Stacey Wallwin

Donna Fry

Tina Zita

Lisa Noble

Darren Lukenbil

Patrick Miller

Leigh Cassell

Reimagining School


A few years ago I was invited into a classroom where students were asked to reimagine school for a project in their Business class.  They had some interesting ideas including a portfolio that would accompany them from year to year, student ed-tech teams to support teachers and students to integrate technology effectively, and a committee to bring student ideas to the forefront.  That was then and I can happily report that all of these things are happening in some shape or form at my District today.  But what I found interesting, was that their suggestions were not as radical a re-imagining as I had expected.

In fact when, for the purposes of this blog-hop post for our Innovator’s Mindset Book Club,  I asked my daughters and my nephew what they thought, they didn’t really have much to contribute either.  Could it be that they are so fixed on their reality of what “school” is that they can’t even imagine anything different?

Tools of the Future

Here is my moonshot thinking as of this moment in time around what I would do if I was creating a school from scratch.

Physical Learning Spaces

When I was at the FETC summit, Tom Murray spoke to the Cemetary effect.  I hadn’t really thought of that before, but since then, I can’t help but get the image of the cemetary out of my head.  In my school reimagining physical learning spaces would be a priority.  The building itself would have tall windows so lots of light could get in.  The atrium would have real plants, flowers, and a garden maintained by classes.  Classrooms would have moveable furniture that would allow a teacher to configure the classroom differently based on what was happening in the class.  Chairs would be comfortable.  Each classroom would have a reading nook with bean bag chairs as well as a lab with a sink for hands on experiments,  an area for Chromebooks or laptops and a “recording studio” with green screen off to the side for classes to sign out when needed.  There would be study carols for indivdual work and work pods with whiteboard desks for collaborating.

Structures & Timetable

We typically have elementary and secondary schools.  I would love to have a K-12 school where authentic mentorship opportunities could arise for older students, and younger students could benefit from the time and modelling of the older students.  And if a 7 year old wants to join a class that is technically not at “grade level”, I would encourage that to happen.

We also know that teens do better with a later start-time, so the start times would be earlier for the young children and later for the teens.

Collaborative Culture

Working with your peers is essential to the sharing of good ideas.  Currently teachers workrooms are distinct rooms and so opportunities to have cross-discipline conversations are minimal.  In some schools, teachers even eat lunch in their Departments.  I would have a great big open space for teachers to work and plan.

We would creatively timetable so that there was at least two hours a week within the school day for teachers to come together to learn together, ask questions together, and plan together.

Essential Questions, Inquiry, Design Thinking

Because information is so readily available today, instruction would be centered around essential questions and big ideas in the curriculum in a very student-centered classroom.  Students would engage in inquiry-based learning and design thinking pursuing areas of interest  Rich learning tasks will give students the opportunity to pose their own problems and have choice and voice.  Students in this school environment don’t just aspire to be leaders, they are BEING leaders by solving real authentic problems in the context of school.  STEAM & Makerspaces would be a part of every child’s experience.

Technology Enabled

My ideal school would be 1:1 (this after some very convincing conversations via our Innovator’s Mindset Voxer group).  Equity of access should not be an issue.  This is not to say that there won’t be opportunities for collaboration and creativity that do not centre in any way around technology, just that if students need to use it, they can.

A Culture of Yes

I really agree with Couro’s point in Chapter 4 of the Innovator’s Mindset that saying yes when it comes to the best interests of our learners creates a culture of of trust. Along this vein, I heard Pam Moran  at FETC speak about how she said yes to creating a Treehouse in the cafeteria; she listened to the kids and helped to make it happen.   They use a YELP framework which I really like:

Get to YES

Engage Team  

Leverage Resources  


When I look at this list, I wonder how many of these things are actually possible to do right now, with very little additional resources?

Check out what these other Ontario Educators have to say about what their school would look like:

Paul McGuire

Amit Mehrotra

Patrick Miller

Donna Miller Fry

Leigh Cassell

Stacey Wallwin

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

And feel free to add your own post here!


Promoting Student & Teacher Voice using Dotstorming tool

I don’t very often write a post about a tech tool, but I have to say, I LOVE Dotstorming as a tool for learner voice that was shared by the awesome, Richard Byrne.  I have been searching for a tool similar to Google Moderator (which no longer exists) which would enable participants to suggest a topic or idea and then vote on the idea which they like best.  Not only does this promote a participatory culture, but it also promotes critical thinking.

Enter Dotstorming! It has a similar interface and user-friendliness that I love about Padlet (though much more simplistic), but the added feature is that you can give participants voting privileges!

Teacher Voice: Professional Learning

This week, we had schools come in for our 21C District-wide initiative.  Teams of 10 teachers per school come out for the first session as a team, and then subsequently, we differentiate their professional learning opportunities based on interest and tech ability (novice, intermediate, advanced).  The struggle has always been, how to do this.  We have used Google Forms in the past and that works well, but it then becomes difficult to sort the responses and share these so that everyone feels that they are part of the process.

So we tried the tool to see how it would work for our purpose: we asked participants to suggest a Break Out session idea based on their own learning need and vote on 3 they would like to participate in.  Teachers brand new to the 21C teams were able to do this with relative ease and the outliers completed theirs, helped others, and had already clicked on the tutorial thinking about how they might use this.

We will do this each time our teams come out (10 X 100 teachers), and will use this to plan our sessions and because the tool indicates the name of the person who suggested the topic, we already know which teacher-leader facilitators might want to help lead the session.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 7.39.40 AM

Other ideas:


I love the look of the post-it notes and the Edcamp board, but I really want to try using this tool the next time we run our EdCamp.  It would be far easier for participants to see the choices and ultimately for us to create a schedule!

Staff Meetings and More

Can’t you just see how useful this might be in other areas of adult learning?  Teachers can suggest topics for staff meeting learning and school-wide decisions can be easily made in this forum.  Teachers want to be heard and this would be a perfect and fast way to do this!

Looking at innovative spaces?  There is a share image feature whereby participants can upload an image (say of an innovative space idea) and staff can vote on their preference.

Please suggest any other ideas for professional learning in the comments!

Student Voice: Student Learning

Once teachers experience the simplicity of the tool, it will be very easy to bring this tool into the classroom to encourage participation and student voice!

Minds On

Before a lesson or unit, use Dotstorming to have students contribute what they already know about the topic and vote on one peer’s idea with which they agree. At the end of the unit, they can re-visit to add new learning and cast another vote.


Applying Understanding & Critical Thinking: Why not have students upload an image that they think best describes the concept learned in the previous lesson.  This will provide a teacher with a very good sense of how much the students understood the concept and whether or not they could apply that concept.

Co-constructing Success Criteria:  One of the most effective techniques I use when having students create something new is to have them peruse several examples, rank them, and identify the strengths and weaknesses. (See this Careers lesson example).  Once students experience that process, I have them co-construct what an effective…..(blog post, infographic, poster, trailer, PSA, etc..) looks like and we collectively decide on the success criteria which can then be used to assess the final product. The next time I do this,  I would use Dotstorming for students to submit their ideas and vote on the most important ones.


We often say students can’t transfer their skills from one context/subject to another.  Research suggest that metacognitive reflection can help students to do this.  For example, I taught grade 9 students how to use Read and Write for Google and then asked them where else and how else they might use this tool.  I used Padlet and it worked effectively, but I think I would use the Dotstorming tool instead because though I asked students to read through the responses of their peers, not all students did this.  But they really would have to in order to vote.

This same question can be applied to any course material…How can you use _____in your everyday life?

Here is a guide to using Dotstorming including a how-to video via Richard Byrne’s site, Free Tech for Teachers.  

I’m sure there a hundred other ideas you might have for classroom use.  Please share them in the comments!

Parent ED Tech

I’ve been thinking lots about connecting home and school and the idea of Intergenerational Digital Literacy (a term I first heard Donna Fry use).

Intergenerational Digital Literacy

The idea of a Parent ED Tech Initiative was inspired by a successful Student ED Tech Day at St. Stephen’s and the fact that after our District-wide Student ED Tech day parents asked for their own!

So often, when parents are invited to the school it is for a presentation about cyber-bullying or safety online.  And though this is extremely important, I wonder about whether we can have these conversations without the typical fear narrative.

OR parents sometimes are opposed to technology in the classroom because they feel this generation is too dependent on it.  Just check out this article, Nature Valley Shames Modern Parents and the various comments on the Youtube video.

Nostalgia for the good old days seems to supersede any idea that technology can actually contribute to kids’ creativity and learning.  Do kids nowadays spend more time on their technology than we did on the telephone or watching tv?

Yes, parents are responsible for striking a balance between on and off screen time, but do parents really understand how technology can transform learning?  How it levels the playing field for some of our students who really need it? How students are using technology to connect in ways that we never could?  If we don’t show them and have conversations about this, will they ever know?

When I went to my PLN on Twitter, Silvia Tolisano  generously shared this Speed Geeking event which was extremely successful for the same reason our Ed Tech days had been: students love to share their tech-spertise!  I’ve also been thinking lots about the idea of building Digital Citizenship vs Digital Leadership.

Aviva Dunsiger has been actively involving parents as partners and has some great ideas how to build communication with parents in her class.

And schools are looking for ways to engage parents.

It’s a win/win!

We MUST include parents in conversations about Education Technology in school.  Not only that, I think we need to ensure that they can participate in using them as well.  Where access is an issue, can we provide opportunities to parents to use our connected schools?  Can we help direct them to community resources?

Toolkit ideas

I would like to create a toolkit for administrators & schools so that it is easy to put on variations of school What would be needed:

  • Student leaders could attend a Parent-Council Meeting and showcase Ed Tech tools there (or take time aside monthly for this to happen)
  • At Meet the Teacher night, one room could be a drop in center for parents to learn about Ed Tech Tools
  • Instead of bringing in a guest speaker, why not use the money for babysitting and have a Parent Ed Tech event instead?
  • Why not host an Hour of Code evening for parents (December)
  • Parents Making–have parents make something!

Here is a link to a Google Folder where I am putting together a variety of resources that might assist administrators to put on variations of Parent ED Tech initiatives on in collaboration with Parent Councils.   Are you an administrator?  What would you need to support you?  Are you a teacher or Consultant with ideas about what this could look like?

Please share your own best practices or ideas!