Book Reviews: Outdoor Learning

In my last post, I wrote about rethinking my own relationship with the outdoors. Here are two amazing books that have truly inspired me to take teaching outside. I think they are worth a read for any aspiring or experienced outdoor educator!

Literacy Moves Outdoors, by Valerie Bang-Jensen

In a moment when mental health and wellness are top of mind, there are fewer things more powerful than spending time outdoors. There are days when I spend more time on a screen than I want to admit, and I am always amazed at how much better I feel after disconnecting and walking in fresh air for an hour. With kids using tools like Brightspace or Google classroom to access resources routinely, it is important to bring learning outdoors as much as possible to counterbalance the screen time.

The question that remains is how: how do we take outdoor learning beyond exploring, being in an outdoor classroom, or focusing solely on science-related subjects? Valerie Bang-Jensen shares her solutions in her 2023 book, Literacy Moves Outdoors.

For me, Literacy Moves Outdoors was a refreshing read after a year of professional learning about reading instruction and phonemic awareness. Bang-Jensen’s resource is all about how educators can take literacy learning: vocabulary building, decoding, storytelling, and more into outdoor spaces like school yards and gardens. And you don’t need to be in a nature reserve or field centre!

For example, she explains how hopscotch can be used as Elkonin boxes, the ins and outs of creating a story walk using picture books and student created texts, and how signs might be used to help students to develop questions. As a teacher of English learners, I could visualize how all of these activities might be used to build vocabulary and literacy skills, even for emergent learners.

Literacy Moves Outdoors is extremely practical for teachers and a pleasure to read or listen to on audiobook. Unlike a lot of of other educator books, there is less focus on the theoretical underpinnings of the pedagogy, and more on actual activities educators can do with relative ease. In a school context where the mental health and well-being of students is an increasing priority, Bang-Jensen delivers a book that will get educators excited about taking students outdoors.

Dear Street, by Lindsay Zier-Vogel

The last few years have been tough on cities. In my social media scrolls, it is rare that I come across a post on Toronto without dozens of users either commenting negatively on the city or broadcasting how happy they are that they left. As a longtime resident of Toronto, I’m always surprised at the online vitriol: I think it’s a great place to live and yes, has problems just like anywhere else.

When I came across Zier-Vogel’s book on one of my Instagram scrolls, I was immediately drawn in. Here was a picture book that was both a story about writing, gratitude, and being in love with the city or place you live in. The story is about a child named Alice who hears the usual complaints about the city and community: “too crowded”, or “too warm!”

Alice responds by writing “love letters” to her city, leaving her notes on park benches, piles of leaves, and other places they can be found by her neighbours, future friends, and fellow community members. “Dear Park,” she writes, “You are the perfect place to picnic, especially in the summer.” Her notes put a smile on people’s faces, and remind us all to be thankful for the beauty in our everyday surroundings.

What I love about this book as an educator is how it centres the urban outdoors and the power of gratitude. The book is gorgeously illustrated with the colours of passing seasons. Diverse characters spring to life on every page. Perhaps most importantly, Zier-Vogel connects the acts of writing and reading to outdoor spaces, creating a wonderful prompt to get students of all ages penning a love letter to their environment. I could immediately see the book as part of a lesson for language arts and social studies.

Both Literacy Moves Outdoors and Dear Street are excellent additions to your school’s library. They will not fail to inspire you to take learning outdoors!

The Pitfalls of Rolling Out the Curriculum Too Quickly

And just like that, an entirely new and significantly changed Language curriculum was released near the end of June 2023, with the unrealistic expectation that teachers implement it in September of the same year. Similar to the roll-out of the Math curriculum in 2020, this sudden release of a critical curriculum document has left many educators anxious and wondering how they will implement an entirely new curriculum in such a short amount of time – with the same resources they have from the year before. As ETFO commented on June 20,  “ETFO members are not opposed to updates and improvements to the current Language curriculum; however, we need to call out a troubling pattern. This is the third major curricula that the government has rolled out since 2020 at the last minute, expecting educators to implement it in an unreasonably short timeframe and without adequate professional learning and supports.”

At the end of a school year where the impacts of underfunded schools were evident in the increasing incidents of violence in schools, the expectation of implementing new curriculum in the foundational area of literacy and language is mind-boggling.

The problems with having a rushed implementation of the Language curriculum go far beyond the investment of time educators will have to make to align their work with so many new changes. Language learning goals are usually embedded throughout the teaching day; in other words, how we teach subjects like social studies and science will be impacted as well. And as I mentioned before, there are few – if any –  new resources in classrooms to support implementation. 

As a parent of elementary aged children myself, I cannot help but share my disappointment that my kids will be part of the cohort of students that will be the recipients of such an underfunded and abrupt attempt to “enhance” their learning outcomes. While I am confident that their educators are going to put their best foot forward, I understand how challenging it will be to develop high quality lessons and learning plans over time, and confidence in what they are doing. ETFO states, “these changes are significant and educators need sufficient time, dedicated resources, and sustained professional learning opportunities to properly implement any new or revised curriculum. To support this, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is calling for a minimum two-year implementation period.”

Anecdotally, I can say that many of my colleagues have mixed feelings about the new curriculum. The Right to Read Report gave us a taste of what kinds of changes we could expect, such as the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness and phonics and the emphasis on decoding skills. My more experienced teacher colleagues are familiar and embrace the shift in literacy instruction, while many of my colleagues who are newer to the profession are embarking on a learning curve that is steep and challenging.  This would be less of an issue, of course, if educators could take the time to receive appropriate mentorship and training and and do the learning it takes to master something before implementing it en masse to students. Would you feel comfortable receiving services from someone who had just read the manual?

As an instructional resource teacher, I had the privilege of having the time to learn this year about elements of the new language curriculum, and though I did not know exactly what the curricula would look like, I worked with my colleagues to provide resources and professional learning experiences on building the literacy foundations of students, specifically English language learners. However, much of our efforts were weakened by chronic understaffing and the reality of classroom teachers dealing with extraordinary pedagogical challenges that are likely related not only to underfunding, but the aftermath of a life-altering pandemic. Rather than piling on more new professional learning, I strongly believe that educators need time to consolidate their learning and integrate all the new learning expectations and content changes in a meaningful way.

What Might Sustained Professional Learning Opportunities Look Like?

From an educator perspective, a new curriculum creates a significant change in our work flow since we must change – and in some cases transform – the way we work. In an ideal scenario, a new curriculum should be introduced through progressive phases that enable teachers to:

  • explore the curriculum thoroughly
  • acquire and develop resources and pedagogical strategies that support the new curriculum
  • collaborate to determine which strategies work most effectively
  • collaborate on instruction and assessment
  • identify the best practices for supporting diverse students with a new curriculum

When educators have the time to explore, collaborate, and share ideas and best practices, students benefit from having quality instruction that leads to more equitable outcomes. When we don’t have the time to engage in professional learning and planning, much of that quality is lost when we are developing new lessons and resources right before the instruction happens: “building the plane as we are flying it”, in other words. We are currently witnessing the impact that occurred with the similarly released math curriculum, with stories of parents protesting the destreamed math course. Indeed, many boards are starting to introduce “bridge courses” in math to support grade 8 students as they transition to grade 9, in an effort to ensure students have the mathematical readiness to be successful in destreamed, academic math and English courses. Would it have been better for students if such supports were available at the time of the initial implementation? Quite likely.

Students in Ontario deserve more than needlessly abrupt changes to their learning.


Language Learning App Review

As an ESL/ELD resource teacher, I often get asked about what apps are beneficial for students who are learning English. This can be a tricky question! On one hand, I believe that spontaneous oral communication and interactions are the best way for students to acquire proficiency in an additional language. At the same time, I understand that teachers need resources to support their students, especially when they are in the early steps of acquiring English. While ESL accommodations and modifications may help to’level the playing field’ for newcomer students in the mainstream classroom, I think it is still important for English learners to receive explicit, targeted English language instruction, especially when they arrive in Canada during the intermediate grades. This is where language learning technology can play a huge role: many newer programs are designed to cater to the interests of learners, and follow a scope and sequence that aligns with international language acquisition continua.

Language learning technology has advanced significantly over recent years: there are a slew of fantastic options that make language learning fun and engaging. Let’s take a look at a few language learning apps that are fun for kids and adults alike to use. If any of these options sound intriguing, you can easily sign up for a week long trial to see if it will work for you or your students.

Drops by Kahoot

Drops is a fabulous language learning app that hails from the same company as Kahoot, a company whose app became ubiquitous in the virtual teaching world. Users of Kahoot will recognize the dark purple interface and illustration style, along with the same easy to use, immersive, and exciting virtual environment of their quiz games. I absolutely love this language learning app for the same reasons I love Kahoot: it is fun, intuitive, and has an element of urgency to keep you on your toes.

Drops is an app that is best used on a mobile device. The app works by feeding the user a steady flow of highly visual vocabulary learning activities. Once you have correctly identified the meaning and spelling of a word a certain amount of time, you have “mastered” the word or phrase and can move on to new ones. The app is great for supporting students who are getting regular oral practice in the classroom or through other immersive situations.

I could see this app being used by an older multilingual learner who enjoys games and is accustomed to using a mobile device. Drops does not have a dashboard teachers can see or monitor learning, so a teacher would have to check in with the learner regularly to see how they are progressing through the app.


Lingo Pie capitalizes on the access Netflix has to content from all over the world. You can watch multilingual shows and movies from all over the world, geared for different ages and levels of language acquisition. The subtitles are interactive, and the user can click on words they don’t know. After the content has been watched, Lingo Pie generates a set of digital flashcards the student can use to practice.

This is a fun app that enables learners to experience language through media and storytelling. I could see a teacher having a single subscription and sharing the media on a projector, pausing when a student or students identify an unfamiliar word. This app could have great potential with French or any international language app.


Mondly is Pearson’s contribution to the language app world, and it does not disappoint. Educators will feel comfortable using content from such a well known publisher, and the website does indeed offer purchasing options for schools and boards. Mondly presents basic vocabulary and phrases for multilingual students, and students can learn the target language using instructions and prompts from their home language (ex. there is an Arabic interface for those learning English as the target language; you could learn Romanian from Turkish, or French from Chinese). The app produces a daily lesson, and students can complete that lesson or move forward if they’d like. The app can be used on both mobile and desktop devices.

Another great aspect about Mondly is that there is a version for young kids with child friendly graphics. My daughter in grade 1 enjoyed playing it!

I could see this app being used widely by multilingual learners of different ages. It is a great way for students to practice at home, or in school during periods of independent work. In my dream classroom, my entire class would using it to learn the language of their choice!

Lexia for English Learners

Lexia, whose reading app has become widely used and praised, also has created a program for English learners. This app is designed for desktop use, and has culturally responsive characters that appeal to kids through storytelling and subject based learning. Students do not require literacy skills in the target language to start the app, as it is focuses on building oral foundations for students: much of the initial part of the app is based on listening and students speaking to the app.

To support its methodology, Lexia has published a series of rather informative and useful articles explaining the pedagogy of the program. As you might expect, the app is rather costly. However, the subscription package does offer some flexibility so educators can make the most out of it during the school year.

Which App is the Best?

As with all technology, it is more than worthwhile to give it a good test run before making the investment. Much of the effectiveness of the app will depend on how it is utilized and the extent to which it compliments the ongoing language instruction happening in the school.

Coloured felt letters on a black felt background.

On Supporting English Language Acquisition in the Mainstream Classroom: A Blog in 2 Parts

This summer I will have the privilege of facilitating a workshop with new teachers in my board at a New Teacher’s Conference. The topic is one that I know has stymied many teachers for a long time, including myself: how do you support newcomer students in acquiring English in the mainstream classroom?

Answering this question is a challenge – even with all the policy documents and resources out there, the reality is always more nuanced and complex than it seems.

In my own conversations with teachers, I have noticed a trend where there is decreasing support for English Language Learners (ELLs) in schools, as ESL support staff are being utilized all too often to cover classes in schools where there is a supply teacher shortage. Support for ELLs is critical, especially for newcomer students who need accelerated instruction in English to build vocabulary, speaking, and listening skills.

Another element that makes teaching ELLs a challenge in Ontario is the fact that ESL programming in elementary school is based on accommodations and modifications to the curriculum. Yes, accommodations and modifications are essential to adapting the learning environment to ELLs. These adaptations create an entry point for ELLs and make equitable assessment and evaluation possible for teachers. But there is still a missing piece: how do we actually do the work of teaching the essential, oral foundations of English?

Additional or Foreign Language classes are typically focused on teaching students the basics of the target language: how to greet others, to interact in practical situations, build vocabulary, or how to use different verb tenses. While the secondary curriculum offers specific courses that address the usage and mechanics of English, there is no specific ministry resource that provides a scope of learning expectations that address the unique needs of elementary English language learners. Sure, we have the STEP continua – but this document is more of a list of look for we might see as ELLs acquire English, and not a comprehensive list of learning expectations.

What I often see in schools is the expectation that newcomer students will acquire the oral foundations of English from interacting with other students or being immersed in the English saturated world of Canada. And for the most part, this is largely what happens. For younger children in Kindergarten and the primary grades, English acquisition happens through structured play, the explicit teaching of foundational literacy skills, and texts and lessons that are highly visual and graphic. Teachers may incorporate practices like language experience approach and picture word inductive model that support academic vocabulary acquisition for English learners.

Older students in the intermediate grades are in a much different position. Older ESL students may have completed the majority of their learning in another language, not to mention in another school system with a curriculum different from the Ontario’s. Entering a new classroom can be exciting for newcomer students, but also difficult if they perceive that their prior learning and language skills have no place in their new learning environment. Many students go through “silent phases”, or appear disconnected or disengaged from classroom activities. As a result, many classroom teachers often feel at a loss of what to do, especially if they are unused to working with newcomer students. In my discussions with many classroom teachers, they are often wondering:

  • How do I teach them to start speaking and understanding English?
  • Are they bored?
  • What more can I do for the student?

While I wish there was more specificity to ESL programming beyond modifications and accommodations, there are many strategies teachers can use to make the work of teaching ELLs feel more purposeful and intentional without adding additional weight to the current workload. In the next blog, I will focus on unpacking some ways educators can integrate English language instruction into their regular classroom teaching.

Cover Image Source: Magda Ehlers, Pexels

Teacher Tip: Take a Real Break This Summer

June has arrived, bringing the promise of summer and a sudden shift toward optimism in our daily routines. While I will eventually write a post about some of my favourite recommended teacher reads for the summer, I am going to encourage all of my fellow ETFO members to do something really important: take a long break from teaching.

a sunset in the trees
Take some time to disconnect this summer.

I remember my first few teaching years rather vividly: the stress, the endless classroom management, planning endlessly, and the never-ending pile of marking that only seemed to grow. It is hard to describe the feeling of absolute relief, joy and freedom that comes on that last day of school when the bell rings. Within days, I would pack my giant backpack and head on a flight to South America, where I would gleefully spend my days exploring new cities, trying new foods, and meeting people from all over the world in the hostels I would stay in. Nothing puts distance between yourself and your daily routines like immersing yourself fully in another country, especially if  you are somewhere radically different from the place you are from. Spending long weeks simply exploring was like living another life, and I relished every moment until the inevitable day I would return home and be in the same place I had left – but utterly refreshed and ready to start a new school year.

While my life has changed radically since those carefree days – it’s a little harder to live out the backpacker lifestyle with two kids in tow – I still feel it is critical to distance myself from work for as long as possible when summer arrives. Teaching is intense, and this school year was perhaps one of the most challenging. As the recent ETFO member survey points out, violence in schools is pervasive, behaviour in schools is escalating, and understaffing persists. The challenges faced by students re-entering schools after years of pandemic disruption added a whole new dimension to the work of classroom management. Self-care is absolutely critical to stay healthy in the teaching profession today.

A view of a coastal village.
Where will summer take you?

As educators, we continue to teach and support students, even in difficult circumstances: but to keep going, it is essential to take the time to distance, decompress, and refresh.

This summer – if it is possible – create as much space as you can between your personal and professional life. Get lost in a new country, the woods, the desert, a new town, a new park, or new neighbourhood. Read books or watch movies that that activate your imagination and take you to another world. When you see your teacher friends, try not to talk about work! Try it for a few days, a week, a month, or more.

a picture of the desert
Spend time in nature and clear your mind.

Of course, professional development over the summer is important, but going into a learning session when you are burnt out or frustrated may hinder you from getting an optimal learning experience. Take the time you need before pushing yourself again in your professional practice. Your body and mind will thank you for it!

Podcast Recommendation: Teaching MLs with Tan Huynh

Do you want to keep up with the latest culturally responsive pedagogical strategies and thinking, but cannot squeeze yet another book into your shelf? Look no further than Tan Huynh’s “Teaching MLs” podcast, which focuses on sharing the perspectives of the most innovative educators in the field of multilingual learning. Best of all, it’s free, and perfect content for your commute, lunchtime walk, or whenever you find its best to listen to a podcast. Tan’s podcast has over 150 episodes, with new content added weekly.

I have personally found podcasts to be very “hit and miss” in terms of content and quality. Some podcasts seem to barely scratch the surface of their topics, focusing a little too long on conversation and not nearly enough time on the topic that drew me to listen in the first place. Tan does a great job of balancing the banter with substance, making every episode feel like something between a friendly conversation and a keynote address.

This podcast is excellent not only for the topics featured – translanguaging, multilingual assessment, dual language schools, science of reading, and Chat GPT, just to name a handful – but the incredible speakers that most educators will recognize from their professional libraries. John Hattie, Jim Cummins, Ayanna Cooper, Margot Gottlieb, John Seidlitz, and Gholdy Muhammad are just some of the “educelebrities” you will encounter on the podcast.

Tan manages to bring out useful insights and conversations from renowned speakers and experts that will make a lasting imprint on your thinking and pedagogy. Personally, I have found it an excellent resource for summarizing big topics like phonics based instruction, balanced literacy, aritificial intelligence, and and teacher collaboration. Tan connects the research and ideas of his interviewees to his own experiences as a multilingual educator, English learner, and language learner, layering his ideas and perspectives onto the work of renowned researchers and educators in the field. Even when speakers are not completely focused on the topic of multilingual learning, Tan does an excellent job of connecting the topic back to English language pedagogy.

Listening to an author or expert speak about their work also helps me to better understand things I have read, and sometimes even compels me to re-read, deepen and consolidate my learning.

I was fortunate to meet Tan in the fall of 2021 when he accepted an invitation to be a virtual guest speaker at our board’s annual conference for ESL/ELD teachers. He joined our planning meetings and conference from Thailand, where he was likely tuning in at what should have been his bedtime. He turned out not only to be a confident, knowledgeable, and talented presenter, but unbelievably kind, humble and easy to talk to. His presentation on Translanguaging continues to impact my work and the work of my fellow PETL colleagues: we still get comments on how informative and practical his presentation was.

Tan’s dedication to the work of multilingual educators is inspirational and exciting. In a moment where it can seem more challenging than ever to be an Ontario educator, we need professional learning that will affirm and enhance our practices. Check out the Teaching MLs podcast on your favourite streaming platforms. His website also contains great resources and a blog!

An Amazing Day at the Unlearn Conference 2023

Getting back into professional learning has been a blast – as teachers, it is easy to forget about how fun it is to be students. After years of planning lessons and professional learning sessions for colleagues, it always feels special to learn from a lesson someone else has created! So when my fellow PETL member and extraordinary NTIP coordinator, Allison Cunningham, invited me to attend the Unlearn conference – I eagerly accepted the invitation.

Unlearn offers learning experiences that inspire critical thinking.

The excitement that comes with entering a day of learning (or unlearning, in this case)  was high as I entered the conference. Unlearn is a well-known Canadian organization whose thought provoking posters and visuals can be found in hundreds of schools. Their goal is to inspire positive change through transformative, critical thinking pedagogy that facilitates rich discussions about social issues and inequities. In addition to posters and visuals, Unlearn also puts together professional learning experiences for educators focused on implementing inclusive, anti-oppressive, and anti-racist pedagogy.

Upon arriving at the conference, I was thrilled to see a large ETFO sign showing our union’s support for the event. The venue took place at the Mississauga Small Arms Centre, which has since been transformed into gorgeous, light filled art gallery and event space. The venue has a special energy that is unique to historic, industrial architecture and was a perfect space to host over 200 socially conscious educators from all around Ontario.

The day started with an unforgettable land acknowledgement from Clarance Cachagee, who captivated us all with a smudging ceremony that compelled us to think about the importance of having positive intentions and mindsets for the day. Unlearn’s founder Abhi Ahluwalia also spoke of the growth of the dynamic organization , activating our thinking about destreaming with a powerful new graphic released in the latest publication of posters. A powerful keynote about the experience of growing up Black in Canada from Dwayne Morgan followed: the audience, completely captivated by Morgan’s insights and stories, gave a standing ovation. While it would be hard to distil the keynote into a single takeaway, what stood out for me was how he emphasized how important it is to provide Black and racialized students with a learning environment that enables them to grow and flourish, like a plant in a well-tended garden. Toronto Star journalist Shree Paradkar led the afternoon session: she spoke about the importance of self-care and protection for social justice educators in a time of widespread volatility on social media.

Amazing keynote speakers are part of Unlearn’s conference.

All in all, I would highly recommend any educator to attend the Unlearn conference. The event is incredibly well organized, informative, and engaging. The food was also fabulous, and the swag bag included some great souvenirs from the event, including a cool mug and key chain.

Check out their amazing offering of posters for students in your school, and don’t hesitate to sign up for the conference in 2024!

Book Review: Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces, by Elamin Abdelmahmoud

Professional reading for educators tends to be rather prosaic, focusing on how to do things, such as taking a new approach to teaching or reinforcing specific strategies. While these books are certainly important to read, it can be highly stimulating to look outside the realm of education for new perspectives and ideas. For this reason, autobiography is one my favourite genres of writing. Reading the everyday, exceptional and relatable lived experiences of others is fascinating, inspiring, and empowering at the same time. As the publishing industry has diversified, the range of voices we can choose from as readers is broader than ever. In my own reading and exploration, I have found that many autobiographies I have helped me to enhance my work in becoming a more culturally responsive educator.

One particular autobiography that stood out for me this year is Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces, by Elamin Abdelmahmoud. I initially picked up this book because I had been following Abdelmahmoud for his journalistic writing, but quickly learned that it was an excellent text for enriching for my teaching practice as well. Throughout this book, Abdelmahmoud shares his lived experience of Canadian school and society as a Black newcomer student learning English and a plethora of different cultural norms.

Abdelmahmoud’s book describes his journey from Sudan to Canada as a child, interweaving the turbulent colonial history of Sudan and “Operation Infinite Reach” with the numerous culture shocks that came with moving to the largely white community of Kingston, Ontario. Both informative and reflective, Abdelmahmoud’s writing tenderly intersects geopolitical, migration, and coming-of-age narratives. The concept of “elsewhere” forms the foundation of Abdelmahmoud’s storytelling. He writes: “elsewhere is an orientation, an emotional frequency, a chaotic compass that waits until you take a step in one direction, then immediately points in the direction behind you.”

Abdelmahmoud’s developing sense of identity is a central theme of the book. He discovers that he has “become” Black when he arrives in Canada, and grapples with the expectations and stereotypes that are ascribed to his skin colour in Canada. He describes the Islamophobia that surrounded his upbringing in Kingston, and the suspicion his community faces after the horrific 9/11 attacks. He also delves into what secondary school life was like as an English language learner, sometimes humorously exploring what that meant for his dating and social life.

Music and pop culture fans of the early aughts will also appreciate Abdelmahmoud’s reflections on country music and his complex connections with Linkin Park, WWE wrestling the OC. Personally, I found his thoughts on adolescence incredibly relatable and heartwarming. The tensions he describes between his parents’ Sudanese cultural values and Canadian society will likely be incredibly relatable for anyone who has grown up in a cross-cultural home.

Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces is a worthwhile read for educators reading for work, recreation, or both! It is also available on audiobook, and is read by the author himself, which I highly reccommend.

Why Teacher Networking is So Important

Business is a concept that probably comes to mind more often than teaching when we think of networking. I remember being in grade 11 business administration class and hearing about it from a guest speaker who worked in finance: “networking is one of the most important things you can do in your career.” I understood that it broadly meant meeting the right people and making connections. Once you built that network, opportunities would magically appear.

What confused me was how. How do you even get into a room with people that can help you advance your career? What do you even say to build a relationship? Aren’t such relationships inauthentic?

As I entered my career in education, it occurred to me that networking might not even be relevant to my career choice. I got my first job as a supply teacher by submitting a resume and interviewing, and a permanent job through the same process. I figured, this is it! I’m done! No need to worry about networking!

I Was Wrong About Networking

Becoming a more experienced teacher helped me to realize how I wrong I was. In fact, the network that I ended up building throughout my career ended up becoming a critical part of my professional growth.

Networking isn’t just about finding people who will be “useful” or who have influence that can work in your favour. It’s also about locating expertise, building professional relationships, finding career mentors, and getting your own name out there. While being an educator would seem to be a fairly straightforward profession, there are actually lots of different career pathways you can choose, even within your own board.

Which brings us to the next question: how do build your network, especially as a new teacher?

The first and easiest way is to join events with other schools. Professional learning sessions, for example, are great ways to broaden your professional network. While it can be tempting to stay with the people you already know during a table activity, step out of your comfort zone and meet teachers from other schools. The same goes for social events at your ETFO local, or conferences. ETFO also hosts excellent professional learning sessions and conferences, where you can connect with teachers at other boards.

In my own experience, I have found that some of the best networking opportunities come from joining initiatives like writing teams or workshops. At one STEAM based workshop, I met another teacher in my board and we planned a joint event between classes at our school. It was exciting, and experience we could reference in job interviews and on our resumes.

Why Is Networking Important as a Teacher?

Over time, networking can lead to so many new experiences, opportunities and relationships. I love that I have colleagues that have moved to other positions in and outside the board, and that I can turn to them to ask questions about how they navigated their careers, what challenges they encountered, and the successes they found in new contexts. I enjoy the fact that I can find familiar faces and names at the events I go to.

Conversely, I also enjoy being part of other people’s networks. It makes me happy that I can share my own insights and experiences with others, and be a resource in areas that I have built capacity.

So the big takeaway here? Make time to network. You will see the results pay off in dividends throughout your career!

A Day at “Reading for the Love of It”: Thoughts on Returning to In Person Conferences

I love attending teacher conferences: meeting new people, learning new ideas and strategies, browsing the latest student resources, experimenting with new technology for the classroom. Pre-pandemic, finding a good conference was a ritual I’d perform every school year – Googling endlessly for an event that was just the right location, theme and cost for my professional learning funding for that year. Like many teachers, I love travel – so spending hours comparing accommodations, conference speakers, and transportation fees brings me a very high level of excitement and joy.

Last year I went to my first conference since the pandemic had started, and it fortunately was a virtual one – I was recovering from a bout of COVID-19 as I watched the speakers present through my screen. While I learned a lot about culturally responsive assessment, I found it a little too easy to tune out of the conversation and start researching random topics, or respond to work emails that popped up. All of this is to say that virtual conferences just aren’t the same – while they can be good learning experiences, there are a lot of pieces missing that make conferences a fully immersive professional learning experience.

Attending Reading for the Love of It

What is Reading for the Love of It? This conference is organized by the East York-Scarborough Reading Association, a group of Ontario educators who are passionate about literacy. The event and organization is entirely volunteer run, and the conference has run for 44 years. You can read all about their organization and past conferences at their website.

When an opportunity came up to attend this year’s annual Reading for the Love of It conference in downtown Toronto, I promptly signed up with several of my colleagues. Simply planning to attend was already a different experience from getting a virtual link. We excitedly chose which sessions to attend, organized a lunch meetup, and coordinated meeting points.

Arriving at the venue, a big smile spread across my face: the beautiful lobby of the Sheraton hotel was flooded with teachers carrying conference programs and swag bags, friendly volunteers appeared at every turn to guide us in the right direction. A large exhibitor section filled with booksellers and vendors provided endless browsing possibilities where I could finally thumb through student resources I had been eyeing online for months, like a decodable reader set for older students and a full trove of hi-lo fictional novels.

What was truly wonderful was running into colleagues and ETFO members, some of which I had never met in person. It struck me how easy it was to have interactions that other wise took days of planning: scheduling a zoom meeting, or planning a visit. I remembered how exchanging valuable tidbits of information about projects and sharing resources and insights could happen in the span of second – this is the real value of being at conferences like these.

The Value of Choosing Your Professional Learning Pathways

Experiencing an in person conference again also reminded me of the value of choosing our own professional learning pathways. Just as the students we teach benefit from determining their own inquiries, as educators we may also be more engaged in our learning when we can choose our own way to grow professionally.

Understanding how to access funding is critical to fostering our own growth. There are hundreds of conferences and learning opportunities happening all over Canada, and many new teachers may not be aware that some ETFO locals offer professional development funding to assist with costs. For example, at my local, we can access up to $300 for conferences and $400 for professional learning courses. I will be always grateful for the mentor that showed me this funding was available, since I have used it at every opportunity.

If you are unfamiliar with how to organize and fund your professional learning, contact your local to find out what options are available!