A Review: Creating Thinking Classrooms: Leading Educational Change for a 21st Century World



Creating Thinking Classrooms:Leading Educational Change for a 21st Century World has got me well, thinking about thinking. We all want to enable our learners to be critical thinkers and we can all agree that this is essential to providing our students with an authentic education that will prepare them for a rapidly shifting, increasingly digitally challenging world. We want the public to have confidence that we are providing our students with the skills necessary to be active, well-prepared citizens who can flourish in the post-secondary world, but what we can’t seem to agree on is how to go about doing all of this.

The questions remain: What does a 21st century classroom look like? How do we teach critical thinking?

Creating thinking Classrooms, written by Garfield Gini-Newman, and Roland Case provides the reader with a sound understanding of what a thinking classroom is and how to support the entire system in embracing the change needed to create these environments.

Creating Thinking Classrooms  is based on 5 key principles that will support the change necessary to foster rich, thinking classrooms:

  • Engage students
  • Sustain Inquiry
  • Nurture self-regulated learners
  • Create assessment-rich learning
  • Enhance learning through digital technology

Worried that this book is yet another item to be added onto all the other “musts” we have to do in our classrooms and in our spheres of influences? Refreshingly, what is made clear throughout the book is that the principles, and strategies are not the new “next” in Ontario education. This is not a new, shiny initiative that teachers are expected to learn and implement in their classrooms. The strategies discussed in the book are based on the same pedagogies that are currently in use as best practices in our classrooms today. The authors don’t advocate for scrapping everything we know about teaching, but rather they provide support to enhance current practice to align with current system goals. By honouring teachers’ professional voice, creating thinking classrooms has the potential for scalability across systems. 

To achieve their goals, the authors stress the importance of relationships and conversations not only among educators at all levels who are involved in creating a shift in thinking and professional culture, but also with students in the classroom as well. When our students are at the forefront of these conversations we are always headed in the right direction.

The moral imperative is clear, and now the work begins on providing the opportunities and environments for thinking about thinking to happen.

Click here for my visible learning on Creating Thinking Classrooms


A Review: Indelible Leadership: Always Leave them Learning


I have stated before, in a blog post that 

“In the end, being in a position of leadership is both a gift and a responsibility. Leaders need to surround themselves with the resources that will support them in their role because change starts with us.” (swallwin.wordpress.com)

Michael Fullan’s, Indelible Leadership:Always Leave Them Learning, is another excellent resource for this who are want to continue to push their leadership learning and add a resource to their leadership toolbox. The goal of the book is to strengthen leaders so that they can unleash the spirit, passion, commitment and focus for the deep learning required by all to upset the status quo in education and prepare students to make an indelible impact of their own.

The book is organized around the six tensions that Fullan believes will support the deep learning:

  • Moral Imperative and Uplifting Leadership
  • Master Content and Process
  • Lead and Learn in Equal Measure
  • See Students as Change Agents and Proteges
  • Feed and Be Fed by the System
  • Be Essential and Dispensable

All 6 tensions work in unison and are not independent of each other, but the one chapter that really resonated with me is the one in which an effective  leader should be both essential and dispensable. Empowering others should be the ultimate goal of all leaders. Strong leadership does not involve ego. It is not about you, but the people you serve and that priority should direct you in all you do.


I have the privilege of working with #sgdsbtc Technology Champions who are dedicated and passionate life-long learners who work hard to  provide rich, authentic 21st century learning opportunities for all the learners in their sphere of influence. These 15 individuals challenge my thinking, leadership and learning every day. They make me want to be the best leader I can be so that they in turn can go out and conquer their worlds.  I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to learn with and from them and to witness the deep impact they have created in my Board. They have changed the thinking and learning of many more people than I alone could do and our students are more fully prepared for our increasingly changing world as a result of these individuals. They are truly indelible leaders:

“Finally, and paradoxically, the way to sustain the work into the future is for leaders, as essential as they are in the early stages, to deliberately become dispensable over time.” (introduction xx)

Looking to lead change? Surround yourself with the resources such as Indelible Leadership: Always Leave Them Learning and amazing people who are committed to meeting the needs of learners and ask yourselves:

                                                                  What will your legacy be?



A Review: School Culture Recharged

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Leadership comes in many forms. Leaders can be in positions of both formal and informal leadership. Leadership can be something that you take on or it is thrust upon you. For some, leadership is a struggle and for others it comes naturally. In the end, being in a position of leadership is both a gift and a responsibility. Leaders need to surround themselves with the resources that will support them in their role because change starts with us.


The author’s, Todd Whitaker (@ToddWhitaker) and Steve Gruenert (@stevegruenert) define culture as:

“…the personality of the building. It is the professional religion of the group.” (4)

Culture steers the ship and it is up to the leader to use the culture to promote the well-being and success of all the learners in the building. The authors provide leadership advice and strategies to identify the current culture, the different roles staff have in maintaining that culture, and the staff that can shift the culture. Once the key players have been identified, you can begin to support those risk-takers who are willing to go outside the cultural norms. The process in shifting the direction of the culture depends on the capacity of the positive outliers to withstand the pressure of the group because the job of culture is to ensure that nothing changes!


Whitaker and Gruenert provide strategies to support leaders in undertaking the challenges that surround evaluating and undertaking the challenge of recharging a culture so that everyone’s potential is reached.

I recommend this book for anyone who wishes to make the culture they envision a reality. Although titled “School Culture Rewired” and directed at school leaders, I think that this resource pertains to any organization that wants to shift its culture and harness the power of it to grow the organization in a positive way. As Gruenert and Whitaker state,

“Organizational culture is not a problem that needs to be solved; it is the way people solve problems” (163) and this book is an excellent read for all leaders who wish to make the changes necessary for all our students because in the end, it is about our students.


A Review: Mindstorms:Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas

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For several years I have been hearing about the powerful connections between math and coding.  These two subjects are essential to providing a strong mathematical and 21st century education to our students.  I needed to get learning! Through my invaluable #PLN, I frequently heard about Seymour Papert and his Book: Mindstorms: Children Computers and Powerful Ideas and so despite my personal learning issues with math, and lack of coding experience, I began to read.

Throughout parts of  the book I had to practice a growth mindset. There were parts of the book that resonated with me as a learner and there were parts of the book that contributed to my sense of inability to ever grasp math, which was frustrating.

Although the main theme of the book is about how children learn, and there were many examples about coding and math, there were many concepts that resonated with me as a non-math learner:

  • using a computer can help make the math learning process more natural than formal math structures used in schools
  • learning with computers may impact the way we learn about other things
  • mathematics and math are not the same thing and if we teach our students in “Mathland” they will be fluent in math
  • early negative experiences with math can limit a student’s definition of themselves and their abilities and have lifelong consequences for the student
  • coding provides opportunities for students to practice grit, determination and resiliency
  • debugging skills in coding transfer to all aspects of problem solving
  • coding is much more than algorithms; it is a languagescreenshot-twitter.com-2017-04-22-22-46-10

For someone like me, math has a wrong and a right answer. After many “wrong” answers, we begin to believe that we ‘can’t do math’ and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Papert believed  these fixed ‘right and wrong’ experiences contribute to “mathphobia” (42) which create self-fulfilling, negative situations for many students.  Mathphobia creates the idea that there are things that cannot be learned which has a profound impact on the a student’s sense of his/her ability to learn throughout life Teaching our students to code provides students with authentic, student centred learning that allows them to relate to the learning.

Papert makes the connection between providing authentic learning for students, especially in math, so that they can incorporate new learning with life experiences. Creating meaningful connections between math and personal life experiences makes

“The difference between what he ‘could’ and ‘could not’ learn did not depend on the content of the knowledge but on his relationship to it” (65)

I will admit that there were times when Papert and his research made this read challenging, but I am glad that I persevered.  Learning to code, and learning about math is not about me, my obstacles or you. It is about our students. Mindstorms  presents a thorough foundation between learning,  mathematics, and coding and we owe it to our students to understand these connections to ensure that we are providing the best learning opportunities for our students.

A Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman


This book has been on my reading pile for two summers. This Christmas I simply grabbed it off the pile and had no expectations of the book itself. I could not put the book down.

How hard can it be to kill oneself?  Ove asks himself that question every day as he longs to be reunited with his wife. A thorough, sensible, practical and conscientious person, he makes the necessary plans and arrangements to kill himself while leaving behind the least amount of mess and fuss as possible. This is Ove. If nothing else he is thorough and “un-fussy”.

Ove is lonely. He loved his wife and is lost without her.

 “He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had.”  (A Man Called Ove).

He had no life before he met his wife and he most certainly had no life with her gone. In loving her, her absence caused even greater  loneliness:

We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.” ( A Man Called Ove)

A thoughtful man, he simply planned out how he would take fate into his own hands so that he could once again be with the one person who brought colour into his black and white world. However, the best laid plans don’t always work out and with the timely intervention of a chaotic, group of “idiots”  meaning is brought back into Ove’s life- whether he wants it or not.

We know that you cannot judge a book by its cover and in this book we learn this lesson applies to people as well because in the end, despite Ove’s best intentions to prove otherwise,  it turns out that Ove’s heart is truly too big for his body.

This book spoke to me on so many levels and I will admit that I cried when reading this book.

And I think that there is a little bit of Ove in me.

So I reminded when reading about a character such as Ove, that maybe just maybe, when we least expect it, we can be the colour in someone else’s life.

This is a must read!

“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” (A Man Called Ove)

A Review: The Best Kind of People

A Review: The Best Kind of People

By Zoe Whittall


I was drawn to this book given its somewhat relatable premise. A highly regarded educator and upstanding citizen has an unthinkable claim made against him. The resulting fallout not only ruins his career but impacts his entire family. The book touches on society’s ability to quickly and harshly judge, especially in this day of social media, without knowing all the facts.

It also touches on society’s willingness to distance themselves from people in their time of need. Although this was a much hyped book, I don’t think the author developed the characters robustly as they developed in stereotypical ways. Whittall also seemed to integrate other societal themes such a homosexuality in a small, narrow-minded town,  or teenagers and drugs without much success.  Arcs like that seemed to be more of an add-on rather than thoughtfully developed throughout the character. As well, the ending seemed to wrap up nicely without spending some time thinking through how events and people would truly evolve. The author had the idea of a great book but unfortunately the writing doesn’t necessarily live up to the idea.If you are going to read it, have realistic expectations and consider it for light reading- on a beach or on a plane!

A Review: Professional Capital:Transforming Teaching in Every School


If you have hopes of making a significant impact or change in any system that seems mired in bureaucracy, entrenched beliefs, and on overall lack of vision that makes a systematic shift nearly impossible, then Professional Capital is a must read. The authors Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1)and Andy Hargreaves (@HargreavesBC), present ideas not only what to do but they provide guidance on what has been proven to not successfully sustain change.

As outlined in the book we already have the resource to make the changes necessary to provide our students with the 21st-century competencies and learning that will equip them to be successful and lifelong learners:educators. It’s how we utilize, develop and support teachers that makes the difference in shifting change. Fullan and Hargreaves provide actionable steps to transform the readily available capital that currently exists within the system. By providing them with opportunities to develop human capital (skills, competency, efficacy), social capital (the relationships within the system and the network the individuals are connected with) and decisional capital (entrusting those with the ability to make professional decisions) we empower educators to support the change needed in education.


There were some keys messages that resonated with me:


1)You can’t do it alone. We know that change is scary, messy and hard. It can only occur with genuine, not superficial collaboration and commitment, within your school, within the district and globally. Becoming a connected educator is key to learning how to improve practice for the benefit of students. It’s not about us. We need to get out of our comfort zones, challenge our thinking and push and pull ourselves and our colleagues to new learning in the interest of our students.


2) Teachers need to be a part of authentic, professional learning communities that both support and challenge their  ideas and contribute and support ongoing professional growth. Connecting with colleagues in both face to face and online communities builds capacity for all. As one of my favourite quotes suggests, “the smartest person in the room is the room.” (David Weinberger). Why not connect with others and learn from the best practices employed by other educators? If we all do this, soon we our best practices will simply practice and we will move on to our “next practice” to continuously support our learners.  


3) To support the rich potential of a PLN/PLC educators need to have a voice in the implementation. Compliance of someone else’s ideas is not true collaboration and will not sustain and impactful, long-term change.


4) It is morally imperative that as educators we see all students as own and make ourselves accountable to the learning of all these students. As soon as we invest in all our students a collective capacity and responsibility occurs that supports a positive shift for all. By helping others, we all win.



Making a shift in education at all levels cannot occur from the top down. It won’t occur with an influx of money and it certainly won’t occur by chasing the latest initiative. Transforming education at all levels and across systems requires a sustained investment in human capital but also a commitment by all the professionals to work together at all levels and across the system to impact change that empowers the people at the heart of the change:the teachers. Teachers are willing to do the work to improve the learning experiences of their students if they are empowered with the skills to be experts at the centre of the change.

By working and learning together and by keeping our students at the centre of our planning, thinking and action, we can’t help but implement the changes necessary to provide our students with the 21st-century education that will allow them to be successful lifelong learners.



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