Foresight is 2020. Hindsight is 2019

At noon EST today December 31st, 364.5 days of 2019 have ticked off of the clock.
That’s 524 880 minutes that have not be banked for another time. It’s also means that we have been present for the 8 748 hours of inter/intrapersonal interactions that have happened. As I type, at my kitchen table, Spotify plays, my coffee grows cold, and the clock ticks incessantly towards a self imposed midday deadline to complete my last piece of 2019 for Heart and Art.

2019 was a year

If you look back on each moment of the past year, how do you feel?
Are you glad it’s almost over? December 31st is rife with reflection and anticipation for many. Although I am usually a procrastinator, I have been thinking about all things 2019 long before today.

As an educator, I think it comes with the job. We are prone to reflection as part of our professional and personal practice. There are few times throughout the days, weeks, and months at school when I, or my colleagues are not processing something that has occured by design or happenstance.

2019 was no exception as my role of SERT/Transitions/Guidance and Drama/Dance/Health/Music/English/Math teacher evolved. So many simultaneous experiences, happening in classrooms around the world/province/city/board/school to navigate, mitigate, orchestrate, and educate. As Wendy Howes shares, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Year ends, for some, are like trying to navigate through a maze full of mirrors and finally finding the one mirrored corner that shows you the way out after 364.5 days. For others, it seems that they find their way without a wrong turn, and get back in line to do it all over again. Most of us are probably somewhere in between for the sake of this analogy.

I know there were times that I felt lost in 2019.
There were also times where it felt like I was leading the way.
Did you take time to enjoy any of the special moments that have happened? I can imagine a range of feelings flooding in here. Based on my own year in education, I have wandered the house of mirrors making wrong turns and retracing my steps looking for the way out. The experience has left me with a profound understanding that I cannot do my job as an educator in a silo. What I quickly realized was that I was not walking through the maze alone and that others were helping to guide the way. Admitting this has allowed me to break a few figurative mirrors in the “funhouse”.

Having a personal and professional support network is crucial to teachers at every time of their careers. Being able to turn to someone within my circle of trust has been transformative in my approach to education. This includes connecting with the #ONTED family of educators and to an incredible global cohort via Twitter and TED Ed.

Although, there have been many incredible mentors along the way, it has taken me nearly 10 years in the classroom to realize that I cannot do this job well on my own. If you are a new teacher, I encourage you to do it now. Seek out those who inspire you, who challenge your thinking. Seek out educators who think differently than you do. Borrow/liberate/bandit ideas and good practices. Reinvent yourself every year and in turn inspire, challenge, and encourage others. The time is now.

2020 is almost here

We are counting down the final 1440 minutes until midnight.

Tomorrow gifts us with a fresh 365.
365 days to…insert limitless possibilities here, there, and everywhere else.

Cheers to 2019 and an even better 2020.

Attainable goals

In my first couple of years of teaching, I was so overwhelmed. I felt like I was doing everything wrong and not helping my students at all. I was so focused on lessons that didn’t go exactly how I wanted, that I totally missed out on all the positive things that were happening in my class. I was incredibly hard on myself and my expectations were way too high.

I looked at the first ALP that I wrote as part of my NTIP recently and I can see those overachieving expectations in the goals I set:

1)      Deliver a language program that meets the needs of all learners, engages students and uses assessment and evaluation to drive instruction.

2)      Deliver a math program that follows a three part lesson plan, allows multiple entry points and encourages rich math conversations.

Looking at these goals now, I realize that there were too many things that I was trying to accomplish at once. What I have learned is that when you try to do everything perfectly, you end up being a grumpy, unproductive teacher. I have learned that focusing on one thing at a time produces much better results. Also, becoming skilled at developing a three part lesson or creating an environment that encourages rich math conversations takes time! Reading professional books, attending workshops and the implementation of new knowledge take thought and reflective practice. This cannot be accomplished in one day, week or even a year.

What I have since learned is that everything is not going to be perfect – not by a long shot – and that you really need to set reasonable goals for yourself that are attainable. When I finally came to this realization, I decided to focus on improving one thing per year. Of course, working towards competency in language and math instruction were my first two goals. I also decided to focus on developing good management and climate techniques. After I had a handle on these items, the focus became other things like better parent communication, stronger programming for my English Language Learners and developing creative thinkers.

Two years later, my goals looked like this:

1.     Continue to learn good classroom management strategies

2.     Continue to learn from collaboration with colleagues, including lesson and unit planning.

3.     Continue to learn best practices in assessment and evaluation.

Seven years into my teaching career, my annual learning plan is reflecting a shift into some leadership goals:

1.      Mentor a student teacher through their practicum

2.      Mentor new teachers in their first years of teaching through a blog called the “Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning”

3.      Continue to learn best practices in music instruction by attending workshops and conferences.


Take the time to celebrate the success that you have had and make achievable goals!





Painting with the same brush.
PublicDomainPictures / 18043 images CCO 1.0

An artist was preparing to paint one day. First, she stretched and secured her canvas over its wooden frame. The artist continued by arranging her brushes, planning a colour scheme, and then by setting up her supplies. Finally, it was time to ponder her subject forever to be captured in a moment of time and occupied space – where her vision would be on display in pigment, oil or acrylic for evermore for all to enjoy.

The artist could already see her finished masterpiece. As if the picture had miraculously painted itself. Without anything left to imagine, conjure, or deliberate she began.

Un-(der) inpired
It was all right there in living, er um, cold dead colour. All she had to do was slather it onto the wintery whitewashed space in waiting. She pulled out the widest brush in her kit, dipped it into the first colour, white, and painted a perfectly straight line across the top of the canvas. She dipped her brush again and repeated, the same thing over and over, with the precision of her first strokes until she has covered the entire canvas. She felt satisfied, but did not have time to admire her work for long. There were 29 more canvases to cover just like the first one. She smiled, sighed, dipped her brush, and started on the next one.  Yet, with a pallet of colours and brushes at the ready, the artist only knew how to paint with a single brush and to use white paint to do her work. CCO License

Under pressure
Does teaching ever seem like this to you? Do educators feel they are asked to paint blank canvases everyday, but are only given one wide brush and a single colour to work with? I wonder whether that is how some teachers have come to feel when a learning system is imposed on them which expects students to be taught to the test?

Teachers plan and prepare their materials to deliver a lesson much like the artist in the story above and in the end are expected to use the broadest brush and one shade of paint. What may be more disappointing, is that many only have time to paint one coat before feeling they have to move on.

I am not a huge fan of the traditional textbook. In fact I have called them “knowledge coffins” in the past. When traditional textbooks are at the centre of the instructional day, there is little option for learners to explore beyond its pages.  Yes, it’s all in there, but at what cost are other things and ideas being left out?

First, consider the cost of purchasing texts/licenses per class. Math books alone can range upwards of $1500 to $2000 for a class set per subject. What happens when the curriculum gets revamped like what has recently happened in Ontario with the French(2013), Health/Physical Education(2015), and Social Studies(2013). Could the money schools, boards, and government pour into photocopies and textbooks be used to provide Chromebooks for every student instead? Imagine the cost savings in paper alone. If we did this, every learner from K to 12 could be equipped with a productivity and research tool for the classroom at their fingertips? And, at home too if WiFi is available.

I am a fan of adaptive and hands on learning environments. In the classroom, I want students to have a voice in how and what they are being taught so we can democratize education. I believe all educators possess the means/ability to transform and tailor their instruction to suit their students. What they need now is a safe place to do so and that’s an issue of system and school leadership.

JFK Paint by Numbers
JFK Paint by Numbers

To paint a portrait of the future, educators need to use the prescribed curriculum as a pallet filled with colours that is not limited to a paint-by-number task. However, many are afraid to use other, less traditional brushes and materials to paint their masterpieces because the outcomes might not look resemble or match work gathering dust on the walls.

Yes, there are things to be taken from the past, but the world outside our classrooms has not remained fixed in space and time. Neither should it remain static inside. The classroom must become a vibrant and connected place where students have access to, and be able to contribute to a world of knowledge.

This requires courage to happen. It requires time for others to understand, accept, and embrace. It doesn’t have to look perfect. The mess is an important part of the process.

Ask yourself what or who inspires you to take chances as a learner? What new idea(s) would you try in your classroom if you knew you couldn’t fail? Start by giving yourself permission to change things up in one subject area, and then go from there.

I’ll be here to chat if you want to talk more about how we can change the portrait of education to a landscape of creativity, differentiation, and encouragement.

In the meantime I have some brushes to clean.