It has been a long, arduous journey from September to the end of June and we are just weeks away from closing the chapter on another academic year. I am going to relive the last ten months of a fictional elementary school teacher.

A group of twenty plus disconnected, diverse individuals arrived in your classroom with a variety of needs beyond their academic status. Through careful planning, creative thinking, endless commitment and tremendous flexibility you were able to to:

  • make each child feel welcomed and loved
  • create a learning community
  • develop the confidence and self-esteem of your students
  • help them move forward in all academic areas
  • taught them the power of being a team
  • provided off campus, intramural, choir, club and athletic opportunities for them
  • offered them a high five to celebrate and emotional support when needed
  • in some cases provided food to meet their basic needs
  • laughed and cried with them
  • believed in them enough to provide tough love
  • wrote reports, called parents, attended meetings
  • organized assemblies and spirit days
  • created Individual Educational Programs
  • purchased necessary materials for your class and students
  • spent endless hours beyond your school day
  • gave up personal and family time for your students
  • helped develop future global citizens
  • attended a variety of professional learning opportunities to help in your journey toward best practice
  • you have sacrificed personal health for your class and school
  • please continue this list with anything I have missed

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! On behalf of students and parents everywhere, you continue to be a part of one of the most rewarding and important roles there is. You are a teacher!

I would also like to take this time to thank ETFO for the opportunity they have given me to be a part of the Heart & Art blog for the last 5 years. In that time I have had the wonderful opportunity to learn from many talented people. I have had comments shared with me that reminded me how proud I am to be a part of this profession. Finally, I have become a better teacher as my blogging has helped me reflect on the day-to-day work in my classroom. I am making this my last blog and challenge the many talented and inspiring teachers in ETFO to join in and share the expertise that lies within you and your teaching. THANK YOU!


This past week allowed me an amazing opportunity to work with a very committed and compassionate group of Early Childhood Educators. They are part of ETFO and as such are able to partake in a variety of services that are offered including workshops. The topic of this session was on poverty (Why Poverty? is the official name for the provincial workshop). So on a Monday evening in the month of June, twenty ECE staff showed up after a full day of work to talk and discuss the topic of poverty.

At first I was quite nervous, as I had never facilitated a workshop for anyone but teachers. Over the two hours that we worked together the titles faded away and we just became a group of like-minded people who were seeking ways to help level the playing field for the children in our care.

Then it happened, that aha moment where the idea of partners and partnerships became very real for me. So on my drive home from Hamilton I began to ask myself where else could I find partnerships? Who could also partner with me to enhance the educational experience of my students? The answer was astonishingly simple. I need to look no further then the staff room in my school. I just needed to look with a different lens in order to see the amazing wealth of talent that exists within each school (Child and Youth Workers, Educational Assistants, Early Childhood Educators, volunteers).

Yes, right before my eyes existed a wealth of ideas, passions, skill sets and people who chose a career that focussed on helping young people be successful. The task is to work on bringing them all together, to create an environment that values each person, their profession and not their title. This approach is alive and well in our Kindergarten programs. How do we transfer that to our entire school? How do we bring support staff and teachers together in workshops to learn side-by-side?

I highly encourage the readers to please share their ideas or current practices on how to best create, maintain and foster growth in these types of partnerships. In closing, I would like to thank the Early Childhood Educators from Hamilton who helped me experience the power of a partnership.

Building Better Schools Forum

What does a healthy classroom look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like when you enter through the classroom door? I recently had the opportunity to be a part of our local ETFO’s Building Better Schools Forum in Kitchener. It is an initiative by our provincial office to engage parents, guardians and community members in helping shape the direction of elementary schools in our province ( ).

I was part of a three-member panel that was made up of a social worker professor from the University of Waterloo, a school council chair and mother of students in the WRDSB and myself, a teacher in the board. We had a variety of questions that were asked of us that allowed the audience (including our local released officers, director of education, superintendents, board trustees and general community) to hear from this cross section of people about their concerns, their wishes and the areas that they felt satisfied with in the public education system.

The number one item that came across from the panel was the concern about mental health and how it permeates every area of our education system from students to teachers to parents. What was once overlooked, swept under the carpet or just ignored now is coming to light as a result of the courage of many people who are helping reshape our thinking.

The end result of needs not being met when it comes to mental health in the classroom is usually maladaptive behaviour that can range from withdrawal to violence to attempting suicide. What was clear in the conversation is that there is not enough supports available in our communities and schools to support the increasing demand.

As teachers, we are at the frontline to this growing epidemic and need to understand that our wellness will dictate the wellness of our classroom. Don’t tolerate violence, don’t just look at the behaviour component and don’t stop lobbying for change by our government. We must give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves, we must build balance into our lives throughout the school year and not just on holidays and finally we must have our voices heard in helping get the changes needed in our education system.


Overcoming Math Phobia

A phobia is defined as an extreme fear or aversion to something. This can often be associated with mathematics both by students and teachers alike. Human nature is such that when we feel we are not good at something, we therefore can’t be successful at it and we tend to avoid that what we will fail at. This self-fulfilling prophecy is often alive and well in a teacher’s or student’s thoughts.

I will be the first to say that at an earlier stage of my career I was very uncomfortable and unsure of myself when teaching mathematics. Sure I knew how to do math, but did I know how to teach something I was not very comfortable with. I had to do something to ensure that my skills and pedagogy were improving. Thus began a voyage of self-learning or self-guided professional development. Now, twenty-five years later I am still on that journey of learning about how to best teach mathematics so that my students learn and are engaged in their world that is so filled with math.

As with anything else you must find the right tool or vehicle for learning. I attended as many workshops as I could on mathematics. The Waterloo Region District School Board offers a wealth of learning opportunities for their teachers as does ETFO and the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education (OAME) (

These are several key areas where you can start your journey of learning. I would like to share three key resources that have helped me become a more efficient and knowledgeable mathematics teachers. The first is the work of Dr. Catherine Twomey Fosnot. Her work and approach to the instruction of mathematics is the number one influence I attribute to my growth in mathematical instruction. I attended several of her sessions as well as visiting her site in Harlem. I would highly recommend her series ‘Young Mathematicians at Work’ as a classroom resource.

The second most useful tool I have come upon is the series entitled Super Source. There are many reasons why I like this resource. The first is the rich problem solving tasks that are in each book. There are a variety of tasks and each task is connected to an area of mathematics where it can be used like number sense or patterning. There is a book written for each type of manipulative (Base 10, Pattern Blocks, Tangrams etc…). The most valuable asset of this resource is that there is a section where the mathematics behind each task is explained to the educator (the big ideas) as well as suggestions on how to bring out the math in your students. As with any resource this provides a jumping on point where a teacher can then adapt the task to meet their needs.

The final resource I would like to share with you is one of the many works of Van de Walle. I used this resource as a teaching tool for myself. It helped me understand the concepts I was teaching and how to bring out both a level of engagement as well as a deeper understanding of mathematics in my students. I hope these resources prove to be as valuable a tool to you as they are for me in my teaching of mathematics.


Emotions, Context and the Reluctant Writer

One of the biggest challenges I face is getting my students to enjoy and take risks with writing. Too often they get bogged down with the fear of not knowing what to write or nervous about experimenting with vocabulary they do not know how to spell. There are two critical approaches I take in helping my very reluctant writers to engage in the writing process. The first is to help them understand the stages of writing (Idea, Plan, Draft, Edit/Revise, Publish and Share). Each stage is explored and its purpose discussed and demonstrated in multiple ways. Once a student understands that the edit/revise stage occurs after you are able to get your ideas, thoughts and/or feelings into print form they become more likely to take risks in getting their ideas out. When they give themselves permission to let their ideas free flow without word-by-word critiquing, the quantity and quality of their work improves. A completed draft version allows them to separate I have good ideas and can write from I need help in making sure my writing is correct and ready to share with others. I also experience a huge drop off in the question “How do you spell _____________”.  That focus typically grinds the creative process to a complete halt.

The second element that greatly assists me in helping my reluctant writers is to as often as possible design a writing focus around an event relevant to their life. This may be something going on in their school community like writing a persuasive writing piece on allowing students to wear hats in school. It may be a news event from their community or a global situation that will help connect my students to a bigger audience.

Several years ago when the Chilean mining catastrophe occurred we had taken time to have it as a part of our morning circle conversation. That lead to a brainstorming session on what might we do to help out. The final decision was that we could write letters of support to them.  I found the address to the Chilean Embassy in Ottawa and we mailed our letters to them. The power of the contextual relevance automatically tapped into their emotions. When emotions are involved in the learning process the lesson, the message, the focus becomes more consolidated in their cognitive realm. A magical bonus on this project was that my class received a letter from the Chilean Embassy acknowledging our letters and honouring the efforts of my students. Our next writing unit was accepted with little or no resistance.

Lessons In Uganda

I have been fortunate enough to be on a two week secondment with CTF in Uganda Africa. This is my sixth visit to Africa and first to Uganda. I am working with a partner who is very knowledgeable on many countries of Africa and has spent a lifetime working in various capacities on the continent. Our purpose is in mobilizing communities to harness the skills and knowledge that exists in their people while building capacity in their primary schools. Needless to say, I am learning far more than I am able to share from my Canadian perspective. Here is a list of lessons I have gathered while in Uganda.  

The first lessons is on creative thinking and ingenuity. There was not a day that passed that I did not sit back and watch innovation and thinking outside of the box at its best. The following photos will help show you the brilliance and creativity of  the people of Uganda.

A Primary 1 classroom alphabet.
A Primary 1 classroom alphabet.
Banana leaves being used for plates as well as to cover the food to keep it hot and free of bugs.
Banana leaves being used for plates as well as to cover the food to keep it hot and free of bugs.
A local soccer ball.
A local soccer ball.

























The second lesson that was instilled in me was gratitude. One only has to see places in the world where not everyone lives in an equitable way or has the daily necessities of life to understand just how fortunate Canadians are. The following photos will depict some of the scenarios I came upon during my visit.

A primary classroom I spent time visiting in.
A primary classroom I spent time visiting in.
A temporary orphanage being run by the Head Teacher at her school. This housed 9 young boys.
A temporary orphanage being run by the Head Teacher at her school. This housed 9 young boys.


















The third and probably most profound lesson I experienced, was that happiness is a state of mind that is dependent on how you live life and not what you have. As Sheryl Crow’s song chorus goes, “It is not having what you want, it is wanting what you got”.

The smile of a child reminds us all about how important it is to take time to be happy.
The smile of a child reminds us all about how important it is to take time to be happy.


Have you ever been driving along and all of a sudden you hear a low chime and look down to notice your fuel gauge has lit up and you are in desperate need of a fill up? Well, I can truly tell you this last week was just that feeling. It was like I was running on fumes and was hoping to be able to make it to Friday afternoon and the start of March Break. When I look back at a bad cold and three days off work, demands of our class’ annual play, contract voting, work on local committees, ETFO Executive role, monthly team meetings, staff meetings, report cards, school initiatives etc… there is no wonder that my tank was nearing empty. The bigger and more important question is how I let myself get to such a low.

In the first two thirds of my career the above stated condition was just what teaching was about. That is why we had Christmas Break, March Break and of course the famous summers off. What I found was that throughout the year I had put so much into my teaching, my students and my school that there was very little left for me and my family. The first two weeks of summer felt like being in recovery where my body just shut down and said, ‘REST’. I would then enjoy several weeks of life trying to get caught up with family time and me time. By the second week of August, I was starting my new cycle by pondering and preparing for the upcoming school year.

Then it hit me, well it felt like it hit me as I lost my voice for a two-week period and had damaged my vocal chords. The simple diagnosis was that I was doing too much and not allowing enough rest time for my vocal chords. I thought to myself, if that was occurring with my voice, it is likely occurring with all of me both from a physical and emotional state. That simple but important event helped me understand the word balance and how critical it is to every one of us no matter what career path we choose in education or other fields. The simple remedy was that I needed to get and maintain balance in all aspects of my life.

I began by prioritizing events, tasks, extra curricular time, family time and me time. My first professional priority was to teach and help my students be successful. That is where most of my school time should go. Any extra events I choose to be a part of are now based on my overall balance picture and what I think I can contribute while still maintaining a healthy life balance. As I have learned, that changes from month-to-month at times.

The second shift was to ensure that what I needed to maintain a balance in life (exercise, time in the outdoors, family time, friend time, alone time) was also a planned component of this new and improved work smarter not harder picture. No longer was I ever going to listen to my youngest son (5 at the time) tell me it is okay that I was not able to talk to him now, we could do it in the summer. So I have found that by just writing this blog it once again has forced me to revisit my life/work balance. It seems I was moving into unhealthy patterns again. Take care of yourself by striving for balance as teaching is a marathon and not a sprint.



The word ally is typically defined as a nation or state cooperating with another for a military purpose. As with most words it of course has been expanded for many uses but retains the meaning of being on your side. So the question I ask you today is, as a teacher who are your potential allies?

From the minute I enter into my school I have an amazing opportunity to make allies, get people to support the work I do with my students, school and community. Allies are everywhere but like countries you must take the time to build up relationships to develop those allies. When you do that, they will be there when you need them most. I am going to talk about several key allies that I have in working with my students and how without them there are many things I would have much greater difficulty accomplishing.

The first ally is of course the parent(s) of my students. Let’s be honest, we both really want what is best for a child even though we may not agree on how to accomplish that. From the moment I know a child is going to be in my classroom I reach out to families to try and start building that working relationship. It starts with a simple call home the week prior to school welcoming them and their child to my classroom. It continues on with my first Weekly News letter home by asking them to brag about their child as they know them best as well as asking them to prioritize two goals they would like their child to accomplish this year. This helps sends the message they are a part of the formula to create success for their child. I continually update them with sunshine calls home, weekly news updates, inviting them to attend events in the classroom and any other way I can include them or make use of their expertise and assistance in my room. Of course not every parent becomes my ally or totally agrees with every decision I make. There will be some parents who just won’t or don’t engage in your efforts. This work I put into recruiting parent allies always pays off with some very strong relationships that are there when I need them most.

The second set of allies I work hard at creating are with the school support staff such as our office manager and custodial team. These are key people who are the heart and soul of the school and can be there to support me in many situations when I need the help. One of the most unique request I made of our custodian was to have our front classroom door taken off so my class could create a drawbridge door for our Medieval Times study. Needless to say I had to have a strong relationship with that person to make and receive such a request. Our office manager (and every office manager) is the heart of the school. He/she is the first and often last person everyone sees when coming to our school. That role is so important and my class spends time on a regular basis showing how we appreciate the work she does. That time and effort has helped me many times over the years when I need a last minute request or forgot some important deadline.

The final ally I want to talk about is a community-based position. My class spends time doing service learning projects and as such we need to have people who trust that I can take a group of 8-11 years old out into the community and perform projects that enhance our community. I have worked a lot with city environmental personnel who over the years have come to value and trust our staff and the request we make. There are community agencies and people who can also become a potential ally for you.

As I began to change the lens upon which I viewed my classroom I began to see more and more how many potential allies (support) I have available to me. I do not have to do this on my own. My educational team continues to grow as I grow relationships and take advantage of the opportunities they can provide me in supporting my students and my professional growth. Allies do not just happen, you must work at creating them.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

I am for sure aging myself here, but for those of you who may not be familiar with this figure of speech it is used to describe a person who is good at many skills but a master of none. That is the best way to describe who I am as a teacher and how I have evolved over my career of  learning to be a better teacher.

Far too often we think that in order to use a strategy or tool in our classroom we have to be an expert at it. We don’t! As a teacher I have to be familiar with the content, the methodology and/or the necessary steps but I do not have to be a master of it. I am going to talk specifically to my personal Achilles tendon of teaching, the ARTS. I am in no way a musician, yet I can share my passion for music, lyrics and the powerful messages found in music. I can learn and teach to the curriculum expectations of my grade. I can partake in professional development opportunities to expand my skill set and knowledge. Even after all that, I will still not be an expert as compared to a music specialist.

My greatest accomplishment in the arts has been my work on understanding drama as a teaching tool, learning dramatic content and implementing it into my program. I have never been on stage (other than as an elementary student at Christmas time). I have never been a part of any formal dramatic theme, other than helping clean up after a school event and yet drama is one of the most successful components of my program these days. Each year my team and I take a group of highly volatile behaviour students and put on a formal dramatic presentation that we travel with to various schools within my board to share. We are currently in mid production of this year’s play.

Like in almost anything I was not comfortable with as a teacher, the students’ skill set, passion and innate ability to learn took over and I was just left to facilitate their growth. The second message is that when you share your expertise with your colleagues (collaborative planning) the saying that no one person knows more than all of us holds true. I am writing this for all teachers to understand that is it okay to take risks, it is okay to make mistakes in your classroom and learn from those mistakes and it is certainly okay to be a jack of all trades and master of none.

Anchoring Learning

Anchor charts have long been identified as a high-yield learning tool. What exactly is an anchor chart? Why use them? How do you determine what should be on an anchor chart? These are common questions faced by teachers as they try to establish optimum learning environments for their students.

I have heard anchor charts best described as the ‘third teacher’. The following is a quote from Scholastic’s Literacy Place – For The Early Years, 2010. “ To promote literacy skills and encourage independence, you will want to make strategic and purposeful use of print resources such as posters, signs, lists, charts, and student/teacher writing samples in your classroom. One tool in particular, the anchor chart, is very effective in promoting student success. An anchor chart outlines or describes procedures, processes, and strategies on a particular theme or topic and is posted in the classroom for reference by students. Examples of anchor charts include: what to do in an interview, tips on using commas, what readers need to do when they infer, how to choose just right’ books, or how to write a literature response.

This of course aligns perfectly with the visual learner. Visual learners learn through seeing, observing and anchor charts allow them perpetual access to critical information and not just when instruction by a teacher is occurring. They can return to the key ideas or concepts when they need to and as often as they need to.

One lesson that I have learned is that not everything can be an anchor chart even though it is all so valuable. If the visual scene in your classroom becomes cluttered the benefits of this tool diminish as they just become part of the scenery and no longer a tool for the students. In my class we have a large variety of anchor charts positioned around the classroom with different colours, fonts, sizes, shapes and almost any other way I can make them unique and stick out. I did an experiment with my students one day where I gave them post it notes and asked them to go around and put them on the anchor charts they used most often and felt were most helpful to them. Prior to that I had made my prediction of what might occur. Needless to say, what I thought was most important did not align with their view. Sooooo from that point on, my anchor charts became a mutual task created by my students and myself. I still do all of the finish work, but the content and positioning in the room is a shared decision. One final change in my practice as a result of that data collection was that I am constantly changing the visual cues so that they stay fresh as learning tools and not just become a regular site in the room.

Another feature of this great tool is that I also have personal anchor charts around my desk that help me as I learn new pedagogy to add to my practice. I am able to return to them throughout the day to evaluate my growth and development progress. IMG_1799 IMG_1803 IMG_1804 IMG_1797 IMG_1806 IMG_1798 IMG_1800 IMG_1801