A Review: Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level

We are hearing the concept of “innovation” more and more throughout the education world but what does that mean? This is what Don Wettrick tackles in his book, Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level.


What does being an innovative educator take? According to Pete Freeman (@MrPeteFreeman), a former of student of Wettrick’s, innovation takes, “sawdust. Lots of sawdust.” (p.123). Curious?

Pete shared the story of a factory worker who took home the “worthless” sawdust that piled up in the factory and made something new with it. From worthless sawdust came particle board, mulch, and charcoal briquettes. Being innovative opened up a world of possibility. (p.121). Pete’s vision  to “…take something I was carrying around with very little value and give it life” (121) is what we want for all of our students because the last time checked, life was not a series of worksheets.


#GeniusHour, #HourofCuriosity, #20Time or, whatever you want to call it,  are all asking the same thing of us: to support a culture of innovation, and student centred learning and leadership within our schools and classrooms. It means giving students an authentic voice in their learning. Many educators consider this risky business. In an innovative classroom, educators relinquish control and provide support for students as they journey towards their goals. It is less about the worksheet and more about student passion, connecting with people in the community and the global community and utilizing social media a positive change. It is about empowering our students to make a difference in the world with their learning.

Nervous about how to get started? Don  Wettrick provides readers with the building blocks of incorporating innovation in the classroom, in an aptly named Chapter “There is No Plan”.  Wettrick gives you the guidelines in successful implementation, but the tips are already in our best practices toolkit: take risks, model risks, collaborate, connect, be creative and reflect. Most importantly, understand that the learning is the journey, not the destination.

If you are looking to truly bring student centred learning to your practice, while preparing  students with real-world problems solving skills, Pure Genius is one of the resources that can help you feel invigorated and supported as you shift the learning culture of your classroom for your students.



Review:What Connected Educators Do Differently


What Connected Educators Do Differently” by Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker), Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) and Jeffrey Zoul (@Jeff_Zoul)was one of the books that I selected for my summer reading. This year, administrators and leads in Superior-Greenstone District School Board were not given assigned reading, but rather were allowed to choose books that supported our unique learning leads.  I selected “What Connected Educators Do Differently” because I try to model and promote connectedness across our Board, but I wondered if the book would provide with any greater insights into being a connected educator.

This book reaffirmed in me the importance of being a connected educator. Sometimes we need to hear the messages that we hold to be truths from a variety of sources and again and again. Knowing that we are not alone in our thinking, while learning new perspectives that support our beliefs, can give us the continued strength to keep moving forward.

There were many ideas that resonated with me and I am grateful for the resource to giving me the opportunity to reflect on the core beliefs of being a connected educator.

  1. No matter what technology you use to connect, the main goal of connecting is the relationships formed. It is these relationships that enhance our current beliefs, challenge our thinking, and support us as we engage others to become connected educators with end goal being what is best for our students. Being a connected educator is not about the technology, but rather the relationships that emerge and strengthen as a result of the technology.
  2. A virtual PLN is based on trust and support. Our connected PLN can support our thinking and professional risk-taking-sometimes more than our face to face colleagues.
  3. No one can do it all or know it all. A PLN is vital to ensuring we share our strengths to support ongoing learning with each other so that as a collective we all become stronger educators. Connected educators possess a “giving mindset” (126) and know that sharing is beneficial to all; most specifically  for the person doing the sharing! Being a connected educator is not about us as individuals.  It is about becoming a better educator/leader to support those we serve in the best way possible.connected-educator
  4. Honouring authentic voice does not mean having others implement your ideas. Leadership means truly allowing individuals to take control of their learning and not leading our pre-planned ideas. 
  5. Being a connected educator doesn’t mean being plugged in 24/7. Being a connected educator means knowing when and where to connect and when and where to disconnect. In fact, the ability to disconnect and focus attention elsewhere is key to being an effective connected educator. Being connected 24/7 can compete with our ability to be mindful and in order to be creative, critical leaders and educators, we need to practice mindfulness.  By maintaining personal health, balance and face to face relationships, our online relations can flourish.

I wasn’t sure that as a connected educator I would take anything new from “What Connected Educators Do Differently” but I did. This resource would support educators who are on various entry points along the connected continuum. There is learning for everyone in this book. I appreciated that the authors reaffirmed my professional goals, caused me to reflect and enhanced my understanding of my professional assumptions.


Keepin It Real: A Review



Lisa Donohue compares educators to that of Christopher Columbus, the explorer that used the tools at hand to navigate unchartered territory. According to Donohue, “our youngsters are the ones who will define the worlds to come, and our role is to equip them as well as possible for the unknown future.” Are we preparing our students, who like Columbus, are entering unchartered territories, or are we providing our students with learning environments that are best suited for us?

It is hard to deny that technology plays a greater role in both our personal and professional lives. Despite this increasing reliance on technology, and a global dialogue about technology enabled learning and teaching, how many educators truly embrace technology in their classroom as a means of supporting current, sound pedagogical practice? Let’s be honest, how many technology enabled learning opportunities have been missed because of an educator’s unwillingness to embrace change and take learning risks in an ongoing effort to support student learning?


 What does your classroom practice look like?


“…teaching is the only profession where we have the same responsibilities on our first day as on our last. It’s the way in which we carry out these responsibilities that define our career.  If we’re doing the same thing we did 20 years ago , then we have failed not only ourselves , but our students to.”-Arthur Birenaum.

Keepin It Real, provides 21st century classroom opportunities that any educator can implement that support the skills we need to empower our students to be successful, engaged individuals outside of our schools.

The author focuses on the “new literacies” needed to be successful in our changing world:

  • Reading Literacies
  • Writing Literacies
  • Media Literacies
  • Digital Literacies
  • Social Literacies
  • Critical Literacies


These are vitally important skills to be able to interpret the world we live in. As educators, we need to adapt to the rapid changes in order to help our students safely navigate the online world in which they learn, play and work in.

At the recent  technology enabled learning and leading conference #TELL2016, the message was clear, we can no longer afford to wait for all educators to become “comfortable” with technology before engaging our students.



Trying to “get on board” with technology in the classroom can seem like trying to jump onto a fast moving train that just won’t slow down! It may seem like you will never “know it all” or “well enough” to introduce it to your students, but that is is the benefit of integrating technology into the classroom! Our students are so open to learning and sharing alongside you and they don’t expect you to know it all. In fact, they love to show you what they know! Integrating technology into your classroom also allows you to model lifelong learning, co-learning and risk taking-valuable skills for our students!

As Donohue explained

“When I began my teaching career many years ago, I stood at the door  of my classroom every morning, welcoming my students into my room. It seems that now I stand at my classroom door and, instead of inviting them in, I invite them to look out, beyond our walls, beyond our community and into the world.”

-Lisa Donohue, Keepin It Real, 79

Keepin It Real is a great resource to get started on transforming your teaching practice by integrating technology.It explains how the “new literacies” are a means of supporting the “old literacies” (reading, writing, speaking, listening) while engaging students with 21st-century learning opportunities. Each chapter provides relevant, easy to use examples of how educators have integrated technology into their lessons and Donohue provides student feedback from each of the tasks.

If, as educators, we want to do what is best for our students, we need to prepare them for a world that is highly connected and digitalized. If we remain in our comfort zones, we support student learning that allows them to remain successful in our world, not theirs.

“The primary aim of education is not to enable students to do well in school, but to do well in the lives they lead outside of school.”

                                                                                                             -Elliot W. Eisner

A Review: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

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I just finished reading The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom (@mitchalbom).

As with all his novels, Albom weaves his lesson adeptly throughout the characters, especially that of Frankie Presto and his musical gift. Uniquely narrated by music, the narrator provides us through Frankie, many opportunities to understand the many gifts we each posses and the role that these gifts have in shaping our lives.

The message that resonated with me is that we all, at different points in our lives, join a band. Our band members may change and our musical tastes may change, but in the end we all play to our own music and the various band members we play with help create our sound.

“Everyone joins a band in this life. And what you play always affects someone. Sometimes, it affects the world.”-Mitch Albom

Whether playing a solo piece or a rambunctious melody, the lesson that was evident throughout was that we never truly understand the impact that people have on our lives nor do we truly understand the impact that we have on others. Our relationships need to be sacred and we need to be cognizant of the potential impact we have on others. We may not be fully aware that we are members of someone else’s band, but we need to be aware that as we navigate life, we support, intentionally or not, the music of others.

“You cannot unplay your notes. Time, like music, is indelible that way.” -Mitch Albom

Although I enjoyed the message about how our lives are so interconnected with others, I have yet to read a Mitch Albom novel that has impacted me the way that Tuesdays with Morrie did. Tuesdays with Morrie captured my heart and set the bar high for any of Albom’s subsequent efforts!


The Innovators Mindset-Blog Hop #4


In my position as the Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching Contact for my Board, I am often tasked with generating data and completing reports that document results on the impact that innovative teaching practice is having on our teaching practice and that of students’ learning. It is a difficult position to be in because innovation, as we have discussed throughout the book study, means different things to different people. What is innovative for one educator may be common practice for another.  Can the impact of innovative practice be measured quantitatively?

Innovative practice takes risk, time and reflection to implement effectively. I often feel that the goal of measuring innovation is counter-intuitive to innovation itself.

As an educator, I do understand the value of measurement. Our data tells our story.By measuring our efforts we can inform our future direction. However, for educators to feel supported and encouraged to take risks, in the school and in individual classrooms, I think the idea of meeting measurable outcomes while creating innovative learning environments is difficult to balance. Being accountable to standardized reporting formats is stressful for educators and relinquishing control over student learning in an attempt to create student centred learning is intimidating in systems of increasing accountability. I think that the strongest indicators of measuring the impact of innovation on our practice and student learning lies in the conversations that occur both inside and outside the classroom.

When these all important conversations are occurring the results are immeasurable. The impact of these conversations go far beyond the single classroom and help build energy,momentum and the capacity to “innovate within the box” . I can create reports, and charts but the most empowering signs of how innovation is impacting practice in education comes from the emails and conversations I am grateful to have with all educators in my Board. Conversations that are open, honest and based around what is best for our students give us the greatest insight into innovative practices. If you are not hearing these conversations, or you are not a part of them, then no amount amount of measurable, quantitative data will allow you to truly measure the impact of innovation in our classrooms. Listening and contributing to the journeys of innovative educators is the most powerful part of the process!

Listen-the conversations are all around and if they are not- spark a conversation with a simple, ”What if?…”



A Review: The Illegal

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The Illegal, by Canadian author, Lawrence Hill is another opportunity to get to learn new Hill characters such as Keita Ali, Lulu, and Mrs. Ivernia Beech ( a tea drinking, cookie eating, fiercely independent senior citizen). Lawrence uses his writing skills to weave a robust cast of characters against the fictional lands of Freedom State and Zantoroland.

Keita Ali grew up wanting to be a winning, marathon runner. He trained and aspired against the backdrop of his homeland, Zantoroland, but due to the increasingly dangerous political circumstances of his homeland, he becomes a runner in Freedom State. Running becomes a metaphor for something much more than the physical act. Keita Ali runs from his homeland, and his old life and he runs towards a future as a man with a documented identity. He no longer experiences the joy of running. He runs for his freedom, and for his life and that of his sister. Set against the frightening existence of undocumented people fighting to survive while struggling to balance an undocumented existence while clinging to their identity is all too real in today’s world.

Although a fictional novel, The Illegal is a timely read as we witness  in the news the struggles of people who flee political and economic situations that none of us can truly understand.The news is filled with stories of people fleeing their homeland in search of a better life and that of those who have already fled but exist in the shadows due to their illegal status. It is in these shadows that Keita Ali exists and runs to survive.

The ending wraps up the conflicts that are so strongly developed throughout the book a little too tidily, but the book and its characters capture the reader and make the book an enjoyable read.

Click here to hear a recent interview of Lawrence Hill by the CBC’s The Next Chapter by Shelagh Rogers (@RogersShelagh).

Innovator’s Mindset Blog Hop-“What if…”


What If….?

Imagine for a moment that you could implement innovative practice in your school or classroom. Don’t think about the policies. Don’t think about past practices and the way “things have always been done.” Don’t think about finances. Don’t think about the naysayers. Dream big. Aim for moonshot thinking. Allow yourself to imagine. Start with “What if…”.

George Couros posed a series of  the “what if” questions in his book, The Innovator’s Mindset. The question that resonated with me was, “what if schools operated as if we should all be learners as opposed to students being the only learners?”

My professional world was opened up to me through fabulous mentors and my PLN. Being a connected educator has been transformative in my practice. It wasn’t always this way. I taught my students in the best way that I knew-the exact same way that I had attended school as a student and in the way that I saw teaching being done around me. Change? Change is hard, I get that, but it is necessary. To accept that we can continue creating learning environments that do not engage our students with curriculum and 21st Century Competencies because we see no need to change is doing a huge disservice to our students and to our profession. What if we all had a learner stance and took the time to reflect upon our current practice, open our classroom doors to connect with educators inside and outside our buildings and most importantly, listen? What if taking risks, and participating and modelling life-long learning was valued by all?

“What if…” two simple words but when used together can be the catalyst for change. If we frame our thinking around what is best for all our learners and ask that simple question the possibilities are endless!

What if your decisions were based on courage rather than fear?

What if there was enough time and support to do everything you wanted to do?

What if everyone saw the possibilities instead of the obstacles?

What if we could achieve a healthy life-work balance?

What if everyone made decisions based on what is best for the learner?

What if everyone took the time to share their effective practices and learn from one another?

What if everyone listened-to each other and the learners we serve?

What are your “What Ifs?”

Check out these bloggers and their “What Ifs”

Jennifer Casa-Todd

Patrick Miller

Tina Zita

Mark Carbone

Donna Fry

All #InnovatorsMindset blogs for question #3 can be found here.


A Review: Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker


I was excited to read Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People from Liars, Criers and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker  (@toddwhitkaer) because I was curious about my role in the “monkey business” and how this was impacting me and everyone I serve.

Whitaker identifies monkeys as challenges, obligations,and problems that pop up in our jobs on a daily basis (p.3), but most importantly he identifies our role in shifting those monkeys back to where they belong: quickly, efficiently and without guilt.

I admit it. I feed the monkeys. In all aspects of my life I feed the monkeys. Initially I think some level of feeding the monkey is necessary but to continue to feed the monkeys does not serve anyone well.


Do you feed the monkeys?

  • Have you ever taken on additional responsibilities because you viewed handling all conflicts and crises to be part of your leadership role?
  • Have you ever taken on additional responsibilities because it is faster to do it on your own?
  • Have you ever enabled your good colleagues to take on additional responsibilities because you know they are capable of shouldering many monkeys?

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then you have been unable/unwilling to shift the monkey back to its rightful owner. You feed the monkeys.Todd Whitaker’s book very simply gives those in positions of leadership key tips on how to shift the monkeys, to grow as a leader and protect our fellow colleagues with whom me serve.

Todd’s message is based on three key principles:

  • Treat everyone well.
  • Make decisions based on your best people
  • Protect your good people first.

(Whitaker, Todd. Shifting the Monkey. 28)

Monkeys come in many shapes and sizes. It is natural for many leaders, especially me, to make the mistake of taking on monkeys, thinking that they are helping others. Placing the monkey back where it belongs does not make one a weak leader, nor does it make them unaccountable. In fact, strong leadership effectively and efficiently shifts the monkey back it where belongs and allows leaders to move forward with bigger goals while protecting and supporting colleagues who make every attempt to support the goals of the organization. Most importantly, by recognizing the monkeys and putting them squarely back where they belong, you are modeling accountability. As someone whose natural tendency is to feed the monkeys, this is much easier said than done!  BUT it is vital to an organization that our best employees, as well as ourselves, are protected from taking on these monkeys!

I highly recommend Shifting the Monkey for anyone. Monkeys can creep up on us at anytime, in any aspect of our lives. The people who like to shift the monkeys onto us won’t change so it is up to us to take control and shift the monkeys back where they belong so that we can be the best leaders and people we can be. I am learning nobody benefits from us taking on someone else’s monkey. True leadership means taking control of the monkeys.


Click here for my visible learning on Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker.



If I Could Design a School….


If I could design a school today I would want a school that provided rooms that allowed students to learn in a manner that best suited their physical needs.  I would want the physical rooms to be awash in as much natural sunlight as possible and opportunities to take the learning outdoors as often as possible. Seating situations would maximize collaborative learning opportunities. I would also like to see classrooms that provide physical supports for promoting healthy, engaged students.For example, I would like to see traditional desks swapped with standing desks that adjust to both a seated and standing position. As an adult, how often do you enjoy sitting all day long? 

A classroom in my ideal school is clearly student centred with the teacher having many opportunities to be a co-learner and this would be reflected in the fact that the teacher’s desk would not be front and centre with all student desks aligned and facing the teacher for his/her delivery of information.

All rooms in the school would support technology enabled learning. A variety of devices would be available for all students to access, record, share and demonstrate their learning. When adults attend conferences they are often plugged into more than one device. How can we expect one device to meet the needs of all our learning opportunities?



These multiple devices would be readily available within each and every classroom. Technology would be embedded throughout the day and seamlessly integrated into the most effective teaching and learning practices. Technology will be the expectation and not an event. Students would not make their way to computer labs and libraries for regulated tech use.

From the classroom, to the learning commons, to the lunchroom, students and staff would have access to WIFI that would support the use of multiple devices. Bandwidth would not be an issue. There would be no such thing as a “Dead Zone”.  Tech enabled learning would no longer be defined by the traditional classroom walls. It will happen anywhere, anytime. We know that the Internet has changed the way we learn. We are no longer dependent upon educators to provide the facts. Nor are we dependent on framing our learning between schools hours and class periods. Learning happens anywhere, across a variety of platforms and throughout the day and evening.  Students need access to a variety of tools and strong bandwidth to ensure the learning is uninterrupted. IT would have the resources to support this school and work in conjunction to support what is best for the learners.

In an ideal school there would be continual opportunities for collaboration with fellow learners both within the walls of the school and within the virtual classroom. All learners would be be provided with time to co-learn. Most importantly time would be provided for reflections because that vital step in the learning process is often the most overlooked.

My school would not only take care of the physical and technical needs of my students, but I would also provide students with the mental health supports that they need to feel safe and secure. Counsellors, medical professionals and spaces designed to support mental health would be key to taking care of the entire student-not just the education part.

The joy in learning, whether it be in the gym as part of team, in the student lounge as part of a club or in a workshop as part of an extra-curricular learning workshop, would be front and centre. There would space, time and money for all members of the school community to work together, learn together and showcase the learning. My school would be connected to its school community. Partnerships and relationships would be empowered with the transparency of the school and the learning and joy occurring there.

The physical structure aside, I would like a school community that supports the learning of ALL its learners. I would like ALL learners to exhibit growth mindset, collaboration, and technology enabled learning skills. I envision a school community that is connected and supportive and working together to enhance the learning occurring in the building while connecting with other learners from across the globe to enhance the learning and collaborative expereince. No matter how well designed it is, and how much WIFI is in place, learners without a growth mindset and a passion to do what is best for learning (for themselves and others) will never benefit from the most well-designed school. The physical space supports our learners but ultimately it is the learners, ALL the learners, that will have the most profound impact on each other and the learning in the building.

Please check out Paul McGuire’s post as part of the #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop!

Please check out Leigh Cassell’s post as part of the #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop!

Please check out Donna Fry’s post as part of the #InnovatorsMindset Blog Hop!


Using Social Media for Student Learning

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This blog post has been in my head for a while, but it is one that is worth writing down (finally) because of the impact it can have on student learning. If you are an educator who is hesitant about utilizing social media in the classroom I hope that my recent experience with Holy Angels School (@HAS) will change your mind.

Holy Angles School tweeted about their upcoming #familyliteracyday #HASReads activities.


My nephews attend #HAS and I was excited to know that I could follow their learning on Family Literacy Day. I would not be able to attend the literacy activities, but I could still be involved in their learning.


Thanx to the trusting principal, Kim Figliomeni (@kfilane), all educators at HAS have access to the school twitter account and so I was able to learn that Liam really enjoyed Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (@Gary_Paulsen123). 


Being an avid reader, I was excited to discuss Liam’s ideas about the book. To start the conversation, I asked Liam what he did for Family Literacy Day and he said “nothing, we played hockey”. I asked his brother what he read for that day, and he replied “nothing, I just drew.” If my nephew’s school and their teachers had not taken the time to share their learning via Twitter, our conversation about reading might have ended there, but the teachers did share and I was able to dig a little deeper. Soon Liam was telling me, in detail, all about the book and why he liked it so much. Not only did Liam provide all the specific details about the book, he also made connections to his family’s time at their camp. Not to be outdone, Blake also described in detail the book he liked and had drawn a picture for.

It was through the power of social media that I was able to have engaging conversations with my nephews who initially had “not done anything” for family literacy day!

As my nephews get older, it seems that unless the conversation is about hockey or video games (not my strongest points!) we have fewer things that we can relate to. As a reader, and as an aunt, I greatly appreciated the ability to have some insight into Liam and Blake’s learning and reading interests.

If you are not using social media to connect your school or classroom community, please reconsider. The connected opportunities between your students and their families empower everyone to take an active, engaged role in the learning, curiosity and wonder that is occurring in your classroom/school. Imagine how the conversations can support the learning if our parents/guardians know what their son/daughter is doing throughout the day.  With all the tools available to connect our students and empower our entire school communities can we still keep all the awesome experiences behind our walls?

Below are a few awesome Superior-Greenstone District School Board (@SGDSBoard) educators who model connected learning.