Bear with me!

Come with me to my backyard. 

A once unloved, unused space of my home was under transformation. I had a vision for a peaceful oasis for me and my children to “just be” ~ reflect, talk or listen, to feel. Wildflower seeds beginning to sprout where grass once struggled, patio lights strung across the old fence, and an added bird feeder attracting new sounds and visitors, my daily needs began to include at least a few quiet moments in my new, affectionately named swing, Eggy.

One June evening between the chaos of graduations, report card writing, and sports banquets, I was taking my few moments with Eggy, when I was taken by surprise by an unexpected visitor. Mkwa (a bear) appeared from behind the neighbour’s fence. As I laid eyes on him and jumped out of my swing, hurrying for the patio door, he left as peacefully and quietly as he came. Mkwa turned around and sauntered out of sight before I could even get in the house. 

As June returns and my nightly routine with Eggy extends in time, I am reminded of my visitor and continue to reflect on his message. Mkwa represents courage. And he reminded me of this courage. The courage to use my voice, to be vulnerable to share my story and also to inspire and help others find and use their voice. As I shared in my first few posts, writer is not an identity I held.

A few days after Mkwa’s appearance I received an email from ETFO which included a Call for Writer’s to write for Heart and Art. I knew it was time for me to step out of my comfort and respond to Mkwa’s nudge. 

It was very clear to me that my next step required courage; To put some of my energy into sharing my experiences, my knowledge and my passion with educators to foster positive change within our system. And this blog was a great forum, allowing me to share this with you, my valued reader. I hope you have found and continue to find some of my posts helpful to you professionally and/or personally, and you find your outlet to amplify your voice and use your experiences and knowledge to continue strengthening our public education. 

Summer Students, Get Ready!

Ahhh Summer… A much anticipated, well-deserved time to rest, relax and recuperate for both educators and students. And a time when many educators can put their teaching hat to the side and take a seat on the other side of the classroom, as a student. 


In my last post I reflected on an ETFO program I participated in this school year and mentioned I would highlight another amazing program that I love, Summer Academy. In Arianna Lambert’s recent post ETFO’s Summer Academy Is Coming Soon, she shares her experiences with Summer Academy and an overview of one of over 40 amazing upcoming in-person and virtual 3-day courses planned this summer. 


From Math and Literacy programs, to Mental Health, Technology, Assessment and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, there is something from everyone.  Working with locals across the province, ETFO is offering a number of in person sessions as well as virtual. Take a look and find one that suits your needs! 


Check out if there’s one happening locally for you, or maybe one of the many virtual sessions planned is more accessible. Or, try one of my favourite ways to narrow my own search, by finding a cool place to explore. What I mean is,  if you’ve always wanted to check out the capital, head to Ottawa for some learning during the day and city exploring in the evening! Or maybe Stratford is just the place for some Outdoor Exploration with Jacquline Whelan and Joanne Burbridge during the day and an evening play. Or Niagara-on-the-Lake might be for you with evening shopping and wineries after a day of learning how to better integrate and utilize technology in your classroom. Kingston is a beautiful old city with lots to see! Barry’s Bay, London, Brantford, Waterloo, Burlington, Barrie, and Toronto are all on this year’s Summer Academy in person locations! 


And I can’t miss this opportunity to give a shout out to my hometown, Sudbury, where the Rainbow Local is hosting what is expected to be an incredible learning opportunity titled The Art of Teaching Kindergarten. This will be led by ETFO member and Toronto Teacher, Marcia Bumbury. Just another reason why I love Summer Academy: The programs are facilitated by fellow educators and ETFO members. How great is that? To meet, learn and network with our educators from across the province. 


And finally, I would love to meet you in Toronto at Mindfulness in Education scheduled in mid-July!  This is my first year back facilitating since 2020 and am looking forward to offering this in person once again. Designed for educators at all levels who are looking for new or creative ways to bring mindfulness into their classroom and/or personal life, you will leave this three-day workshop with accessible, hands-on activities, read-alouds to introduce mindfulness concepts to students and practices to help you and your students.


While there is much to say about the individual programs, there is more to just giving one a go. For a nominal fee (some locals offer PD reimbursements), lunch and snacks included and incredible professional development from talented educators, I hope you find one that suits your needs this summer! 

Honour and Celebrate

June is Indigenous History Month and on June 21, Indigenous Peoples Day. Many Indigenous groups celebrate their culture during this time and it is a wonderful time to honour and celebrate the contributions of Indigenous Peoples. 

If you are looking for ways to learn about and include Indigenous ways of knowing and being with your students, you are in the right place. 


As you may or may not know, ETFO has a plethora of resources that can be found at With links to ETFO publications including posters, resources and webinars as well as links to great bookstores, relevant and appropriate Truth and Reconciliation and residential school resources, ministry documents, and many other Indigenous organizations, is a great resource to check out when you have some time to devote to exploring this site!

Another great resource I want to share is published by the Indigenous Family Literacy Circle of the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Children and Youth Services planning Committee. The resource titled Come Walk in my Moccasins Newsletter is published once a month. I have absolutely love the consistent format and ease of use of this newsletter. Each issue includes the following categories Books, Our Music, Our Words, Our Stories, Our Traditions, and Recipe. Our Arts, and other categories are sometimes included as well.  

In the Books section there are always at least a few books recommendations, each with a brief description, image of the book cover and the age/grade level the book is geared towards. Our Music highlights a song, often with many Indigenous words or phrases and teachings. For example, this month’s song is “Wichita” ~ the water song. The newsletter provides a link to the a short (under 3 minutes) video from the Ontario Native Women’s Association’s Virtual Drum Book. In the Our Words section, you will learn some Indigenous vocabulary. I have noticed that much of the language lessons are Mohawk, however, some also include other Indigenous languages such as Ojibwe. In the April Newsletter, for example, Animal names are introduced in Mohawk and Ojibwe languages through the use of puppets, and in under 2 minutes. Our Stories, again with links to other sites, will provide you with stories that will help you understand the worldview of many Indigenous People as stories are always connected to the land, animals, plants, and the natural world around us. Want to learn more about traditions and ceremonies? Our Traditions is the section to go to. With teachings including Sunrise Ceremonies, Berry Fasts, Star Blanket Making and Baby’s First Moccasins you’re sure to deepen your understanding of Indigenous ways of being and knowing.  Recipes and Indigenous Infusion offers just that: An Indigenous infused recipe. March’s Issue shared Pork Chops with Pears and Sweet Onions from the Indigenous Diabetes Health Circle Recipe Collection.  Additional information is often found at the bottom of the newsletter, which may include upcoming courses, community events (local to the Kingston area), other relevant resources. 

What I really appreciate about this newsletter is the accessibility of each issue. It is geared toward anyone interested in learning, regardless of entry point. The content is well organized, and with relevant, up to date and short videos, busy educators can quickly find inspiration for a short lesson or additional information for a lesson already planned. If you’re interested, subscribe using the link below and each month you will have access to curated Indigenous content.

I hope you find opportunities to recognize, honour and celebrate Indigenous ways of knowing and being with your students as we continue to work towards Reconciliation, throughout the month of June and beyond!

What is Soft is Strong

This blog post was inspired by the 2022-2023 Leaders for Tomorrow Group Members and Facilitators and by Brenda MacNaughton’s recent blog “Refresh and Ignite”. I hope through this month’s posts to share with you some of the opportunities offered by ETFO and highlight ways you may get involved. 


In Brenda’s post she discussed the women’s retreat she was attending in Rice Lake and highlighted the importance of women’s programs. If you are interested in learning more about the rationale for and impact of these specific programs, please refer to the 2022 Equity and Women’s Programs Annual Meeting Report as referenced in Brenda’s blog. 


Leaders for Tomorrow is a year long program for women from designated groups. Over the course of four sessions we learned about the history of our union, ways to increase our involvement in the union, and the importance and impact of taking on leadership roles. Our facilitators encouraged and supported us as we explored our identities and worldviews and what it means to be a leader. 


In our final reflection we were encouraged to represent our journey throughout the Leaders for Tomorrow in a meaningful way. Songs, dances, objects, art pieces, were shared by the women to symbolize thoughts, feelings and personal and professional growth throughout the year.  


Below I will share a small part of my reflection describing my view of leadership that evolved throughout the program. 


Water. It is what connects us, to one another, to our Mother’s, to the Earth. 

It is not only all around us, and within us; It is the source of all life. 

It is a powerful force and symbolizes my journey in Leaders. 

When a quote by Lau Tzu (Lawoh Tu) I recently heard resonated with me, I knew water would play a part in my self-reflection of this program and of leadership.

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. 

But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.

As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.

This last line “What is soft is strong” really struck me. 

In this, I was reminded of the different ways leaders show up. Water although a powerful force, doesn’t fight; It flows. My vision or understanding of leadership has changed to incorporate the strength that comes with softness, surrender and flow; and how leaders don’t have to swim upstream or struggle against the tide, but can navigate these challenges quietly transforming and flowing as needed and find their way in and around systems and barriers, and lead from places of softness. 


ETFO offers educators a variety of programs and learning opportunities through the school year and continuing throughout the summer. Summer Academy is another wonderful program I will share more about in my next post. Stay tuned!

Embracing Change

I couldn’t believe it when I got the call. Although, hopeful and eager, I knew the odds of getting my dream job right out of Teachers’ College was not likely. So, when that call came in for a homeroom class of Grade 1 students in a school close to home, I was ecstatic. That first year was full of learning, not only for my students, but for myself as well. As I settled in, my classroom became my second home. As we know, educators often spend more waking hours at school than at home. And, I loved my job, my students, co-workers and community; I landed my dream job and I wasn’t going ANYWHERE. 

Or was I…

I still remember going home so upset that dreadful day in early spring when I received a letter from my school board indicating that I was redundant.  What does this mean? Redundant? How did this happen? I thought. I was confused with the process and what it all meant. The staffing process can be overwhelming, confusing and a little bit scary for new and even experienced teachers. Gratefully, my Local was there to support me through the process. If you’re working through the staffing process of your board right now and unsure of anything, remember to reach out to your Local and ask questions. 

Since that first year, I experienced many other unplanned changes to my job assignment depending on the needs of the school. One year, as a result of being surplus, I took a junior homeroom teacher position with the hopes of getting back into the primary division, preferring Grade 1. Although initially unwelcomed, that change, among others, opened my eyes to the variety of teaching roles within my board. 

Intermediate Student Success Teacher, Music, Physical Education, and Dance teacher, and recently providing preparation coverage/planning time to our Special Education, Self-Contained Classrooms are not roles I ever thought I’d do. Truthfully if some of those initially unwelcomed changes early in my career didn’t happen, who knows if I would have taken those opportunities as they came up. When I started my career I had little interest in teaching anything other than primary homeroom. I certainly didn’t want to work outside a traditional classroom setting. 

Experience in different teaching roles throughout my career has allowed me to truly grow and learn as an educator. While the changes, especially early in my career, were hard to accept, I am glad I did and now embrace these changes and challenge myself in learning new roles. In fact, in September I will take on yet a different role within my school and look forward to learning and growing with my students. 

If you are new to teaching or have been doing the same thing for years, I encourage you to explore other teaching roles and see what is out there  – You might surprise yourself!

The Beauty in the Tangles

As we head into the last few months of the school year, I am reflecting on how messy education can be. From staff changes throughout the year, families moving in (or out); holidays or assemblies interrupting the flow of a unit, I’m often feeling as though things are messy, and a little chaotic. 

I’m reminded of the fairy lights: 

I had this really long string of fairy lights at my trailer that I took down and brought home to repurpose. As careful as I was removing them and transporting them, they inevitably, quickly became a big tangled mess. As I turned them on to ensure they still worked, I contemplated throwing the tangled bunch into a vase or clear glass bowl. 

Tangled Beauty

But I could use a lesson in patience and untangling them certainly provided an opportunity for me to practice patience. So I set to work on them one Friday evening and over the course of five hours, these lights, once tangled, yet bright, were quite the opposite ~ untangled but dull. The pulling and hours of manipulating damaged the delicate wires and they no longer worked.  As I chuckled at the irony, I thought to myself, “I guess that’s the lesson here”. I saw the learning was maybe not in patience after all, but in the beauty of a tangled mess.

 Sometimes we are in a rush to get it all untangled and figured out or maybe we only see the chaos and messiness of the situations we are in – personally and professionally. I’m sharing this story because it serves as a reminder for me that sometimes I’m not where I want to be, maybe I feel a little tangled; and maybe you feel that way sometimes too. And it’s that’s ok. Learning to let some things untangle on their own or maybe just appreciate them as they are is ok too.  

As we head into the final two months of our school year, remember that everything won’t be untangled and neat in education or in life. I hope you see and appreciate the beauty in the tangles.

Arts-Based Learning: Part 2

In my previous article I mentioned that the use of arts in non-artistic disciplines are accessible and adaptable; thus can be used for different purposes and throughout the curriculum. Therefore, I will be providing you with three examples, each from different content areas and different grades/divisions which can also be used at different points in learning. I will also include some considerations when employing these methods. 


Example 1: 

Students use found and recycled materials and drawing materials to create 2-Dimensional and/or 3-Dimensional art pieces to demonstrate their understanding of 2-Dimensional shapes and 3-Dimensional solids. An activity such as this will yield vastly differing results while allowing students with varying levels of understanding to engage in the activity. By examining the art pieces produced teachers would gain insight into students’ understanding of two- and three-dimensional geometry. The use of vocabulary during discussions with students would provide teachers with further information about the entry points for students. 


Example 2: 

Students utilize various art materials such as paint, plaster, newspaper plastercine, glue, to create 3-Dimensional components of the solar system.  Exploring with and utilizing texture, colour, shape and size would allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of physical characteristics and differences between space objects. Perhaps an art gallery could conclude the unit allowing students to share their new knowledge and justifications for utilizing various materials.


Example 3:

Students will paint, draw or sketch an image of a significant historical event in Canada. In this final example, students would create their art piece throughout a unit of study. This would allow them to add details as they learn more about significant elements and people involved in the historical event. By fostering discussions throughout the creation of the art piece, teachers could gain insight into student understanding of significant people, events and developments in Canada and address misconceptions and/or omissions in student learning. 


When utilizing arts in non-artistic disciplines, it is important to focus on the learning and expression of their understanding rather than the outcome or the esthetics of the art product. Avoiding language that places judgement on the art (or artist) will create a sense of safety, fostering trust between educators and students. Remember to use open-ended questions to foster follow-up discussions. Here are some sample conversation starters for your consideration: 

Tell us about your art piece.

Tell us about the content area.

I noticed you used clay and sand, can you tell me why you chose those materials for this project?

How did your understanding change throughout the project?

How might you use this new knowledge in the future?


Of course there are unlimited ways of including arts in non-artistic disciplines, I hope these posts help you consider some of the ways you may include these methods in your own classroom and teaching practice. 

Arts-based Learning in Education: Part 1

Moving, creating, responding, expressing… not just for Arts classes. 

In this post I will be explaining the benefits of arts in education and why you should consider utilizing arts-based learning in your teaching across all content areas. 

Because arts-based methods and learning can be interpreted in different ways, I will begin by defining arts-based learning for the purpose of this article. In this post I refer to arts-based methods or learning when referring to the approach used in which students demonstrate their thinking using art (e.g., visual, music, movement). By demonstrating and expressing their thinking before, during and after a lesson or unit of study utilizing various forms of art, students are engaging in arts-based learning. This may include a drawing or painting, a sculpture, an expressive dance, or even a song. I’m also referring to the use of arts as a way to learn and share thinking with others. For clarity, arts-based learning is distinct from instruction and assessment of the Ontario Curriculum – The Arts. 

In our classrooms we can use arts-based methods as a means to motivate and engage students. Painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing, singing and any type of creative activity allows students to talk, listen, create and learn together. Let’s face it, after the primary grades, the academic pressures our students face increase and the time and space given for arts-based and creative activities lessens. We can make use of the playful and fun nature of arts-based activities to authentically engage learners. 

Because art can be a medium for bringing people together, the arts naturally create opportunities for community building within our classrooms. Additionally, specific arts-based activities can be utilized to capitalize on community building opportunities by encouraging and supporting students to work collaboratively on art pieces. 

Furthermore, utilizing the arts in non-artistic disciplines reduces barriers for diverse learners to engage with the curriculum. For example, English Language Learners may appreciate the opportunity to express their thoughts creatively through drawing, singing, movement, and other forms of art rather than through text based activities. Arts-based activities are also flexible in that students can experiment using various materials including free or low-cost, found and reuseable/recyclable, and natural materials such as rocks, sticks, or empty food containers. 

Finally, arts-based learning is inherently strengths-based focusing on what students can do. Students can express their understanding of complex concepts before, during and after units of study in unique and creative ways. This builds confidence amongst learners, especially those who typically struggle with other forms of expression. 

By understanding the benefits of utilizing arts-based approaches in the classroom, it is my hope that you will consider exploring this approach across various content areas. In my next article I will be providing some practical ways of doing so – Stay tuned!

Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy (CRRP) is becoming more and more spoken and written about within teaching and learning communities. In a fast-changing world, educators are challenged to question their own beliefs, values, practices, and pedagogy while remaining in a system that supports and fosters a specific worldview. 

In an effort to connect with like-minded educators who wanted to explore these ideas, I joined an equity, diversity and inclusion focused book club. The book club offered an opportunity for any 20 staff members from the board to receive a copy of the book and engage in monthly discussions of the text. Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond is written for educators who want to understand the science and research behind culturally responsive teaching, reflect on their thinking about why we do what we do and challenge the status quo.

While reading this book, I really appreciated the inclusion of an in-depth explanation of the structural functions of the brain involved in learning and the background knowledge required in order to foster a deep understanding of the role culture plays in learning. Being a reflective teacher, I loved that the author challenged the reader to explore their personal worldviews, core beliefs, and group values and that she described the necessity to go beyond surface (i.e., observable elements such as food and music) and shallow (i.e., social norms such as unspoken rules around personal space or eye contact) levels of culture. This is a concept that resonates with me because many people think of the surface and shallow levels of culture, but to effectively engage in CRRP we need to go beyond that and focus on the roots of culture. As members of an organizational structure I believe it is all of our responsibility to reflect on dominant cultural practices and the explicit and implicit messages these practices convey.    

This book assists educators who are ready to dig deep and reflect on their own beliefs and values. In order to understand the worldviews of others, we must first have self-understanding, knowing our own worldview, beliefs and values as well as their origins.  Hammond fosters the development of self-understanding by including a set of inquiry questions following each chapter summary. Furthermore, additional resources for further exploration are also included at the end of each chapter. While I did not access these resources yet, they may be useful for additional supportive information as I revisit the text.

Additionally, our book club included educators with different backgrounds and in varying roles and members expressed that some of the concepts were helpful and being utilized in their professional practice. The ideas presented are adaptable for varying grades and the contents of the book suitable for all classroom and school settings. This book would be appealing for any educator ready to rethink traditional teaching practices. 

Although some readers may feel the book fails to provide specific examples or lessons, Hammond does a thorough job of creating opportunities for educators to reflect on and shift their mindset about students’ capacities, especially in regards to working with dependent learners. A change in our thinking or expanding our worldview is more valuable to me than a specific lesson plan, and a mindshift fosters CRRP becoming embedded in our practice. Our ever changing classrooms require educators to not only understand the necessity of CRRP within education, but to question the origin of the views, values and beliefs on which our current practices are built. If you are looking for a resource to support your own professional development or that of a group of educators, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain may be just what you are looking for!

Hammond, Z. L. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain. Corwin Press.

Rethinking Celebrations

Winter Solstice is a time of reflection as we appreciate what darkness brings and celebrate the return of the light, through longer days. After years of not being able to gather together and celebrate the changing seasons and other holidays, the opportunity to do so this year sparked a greater appreciation in doing so. It also allowed me to reflect deeply on what is truly important and what I will choose to focus on during 2023. 

In reflecting on celebrations, I thought of June, the end of the school year for us here in Ontario. What a joyous, transitional time for us to celebrate our school year, our students’ success and ready ourselves for a time of rest and relaxation as we anticipate summer break. 

The past three “Junes” were not quite the same as what we’re used to. Although this year, we will not likely endure drive-by graduations, individual photo-ops, social distanced chairs or other modified year end celebrations keeping us more than just physically apart; It is hoped we will finally be able to celebrate the successes of our students, together, in ways we have in the past. 

This opportunity to gather and celebrate student resilience and growth should be a celebration in and of itself. Perhaps though, the pause button during the peaks of the pandemic combined with the COVID-19 restrictions we were following, may also provide us with the opportunity to consider the past celebrations and rethink how we view student success and what we choose to highlight, honour and celebrate.

Last June, as the music teacher, I was asked to select one grade six student to acknowledge for their individual music achievement. To many, it seemed a simple enough task. Selecting the student who obtained the highest achievement or grade, showed the greatest improvement, was determined most valuable, or was the hardest worker were some suggestions to narrow down the recipient. 

But still I struggled. And in the end because I could not choose just one student, a music award was not given. 

Like many good teachers, I had spent the better part of the school year encouraging cooperation, interdependence and group success; I promoted group interaction and dialogue. And by the end of the year, my students, for the most part, became a unit. A group. A community. They were a community of learners: Where everyone tried their best; Where each student improved in some way; Where every single student felt valuable; And many attained high grades. 

Students supported and helped one another. In my eyes that was the success. What else could I want from a heterogeneous group of eleven and twelve year olds from varying backgrounds, strengths, challenges, and capacities? A community of learners. Could our year end celebrations recognize the collective success of students rather than honour only those whose individual achievements stand out? What message do we want to send our learners as they move into the world and become our future leaders? That of individualistic achievement and getting ahead of another or do we want to emphasize the sense of community, collaboration, collective growth, and group wisdom? 

As we move into 2023, and old traditions reemerge, I will continue to reflect on and challenge our traditions, their origins, and the messages they send by asking myself:

Whose philosophies are these practices built upon?  Whose worldview do they highlight? Do my current practices and past traditions align with my teaching philosophy, classroom makeup and community values?  I urge you to pause and ask yourself the same.