New voicEd Radio Series: Reversed—A Memoir

New voicEd Radio Series: Reversed—A Memoir

There is something pretty incredible that happens when we send our kids off to school for the very first time. I use the word incredible because, when you think about it, that very first day of school is one big act of trust, isn’t it. We trust that as we, quite literally, hand our children over to another adult who we may never have met before and reluctantly walk away, that things will be OK. We trust that they will know exactly what to do. We trust that what we value, they will also value. We trust that our children will be safe, cared for and protected from harm.

It’s a huge leap of faith, but one that is made year in and year out right around the world.

But what happens when our children don’t quite fit the mold for which our schools were designed. What happens if we sense that those young ones that we have spent so much time with in their early years might face some challenges along the way. And what happens if the system doesn’t have the capacity or resources to meet their learning needs and the associated social challenges.

Well, in the case of Lois Letchford, you take things into your own hands! Lois’ middle son, Nicholas, struggled to learn how to read. The system seemed to be at a loss as to how to help him and, after many emotional attempts to get Nicholas the help he needed, Lois committed herself to becoming Nicholas’ reading teacher.

Reversed: A Memoir is Lois’ personal journey to help Nicholas learn how to negotiate text and, in so-doing, negotiate an important part of his world. We are honoured to have Lois Letchford join us on voicEd Radio over the next six weeks for some very poignant conversations about that journey.

To be sure, Lois’ story is very personal, but we’re confident that it will resonate with so many other parents and educators.

Tune in Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM EST for Reversed: A Memoir by Lois Letchford

Why a Tech Conference Might Just Be The Best Place To Fail!

Why a Tech Conference Might Just Be The Best Place To Fail!

Well I could call up any number of literary quips at this point in my day.

“All the world’s a stage—even when you fall off”.

“The best laid plans of mice and men—all look good before you press send!”

“If at first you don’t succeed—reboot and start again.”

Any one of these might act as a little bit of consolation as I unpack the equipment from today’s attempt to broadcast live version of This Week in Ontario Edublogs live from the #MindsOnMedia event at BIT17 in Niagara Falls.

The stage that Rob Scott had set for us when we arrived was great. The plan that Doug Peterson had worked out for the broadcast was brilliant. And the technology in which I had invested worked beautifully—before I left the house. In fact, it worked beautifully when I took voicEd Radio MOBILE for a test run at Monday’s Mindshare Learning #CDNEdTech17 Summit at Mars Discovery District on Monday.

Doug had gathered 5 regular Ontario Edubloggers in the room for the broadcast. The plan was to bring each of them onstage during our live hour and, for the first time in TWIOE history actually hear their voices, their thinking and their passion for their work.

But when I went to hit the “ON AIR” button, I realized that no sound was coming through the broadcast software. I fussed and I fiddled, I rebooted, reinstalled and rebooted again. As Peter Skillen tried to hold the fort, I did everything I could to figure out why all of the equipment seemed to be working, but wasn’t.

I was more than a little embarrassed. After all, when you’re trying to build confidence and energy around something as a 24/7 Radio station dedicated to education, you want everything to be perfect all of the time. But I put on a brave face and we went on as if nothing were wrong. As Doug observed later, in the 33 weeks that we’ve been doing this show from the comfort of our own homes, this was probably the best. And I think he was right. The only problem is, we don’t have any evidence of that. Without a broadcast, there is no archive. Without an archive, there is no evidence. And without evidence, today was just a moment in time, only appreciated by those who were in the room.

After our “show” ended, I spent the next hour trying to figure out why things didn’t work. All of the indicator lights on my Rolland Rubix 24 USB Interface were lighting as they should. All of the connections were secure. The broadcast software was newly installed.

And what’s more, my Microsoft Windows 10 software had just been automatically updated when I arrived on site at 7:00 that morning! (Foreshadowing for ardent Windows users)

After an hour of trying to get to the bottom of things, and acting on a little bit of a whim, I went on to the Rolland site to download the latest drivers. I installed the most recent update and tried again. Slam! Everything was back up and running. Sound was passing from my interface to my software and out onto the airwaves. I wanted to call everyone back and redo the whole show, but that wasn’t going to happen.

We talk about embracing failure, building resilience and honouring perseverance. Today’s experience might just allow me to do all three.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my #MindsOnMedia experience:

  1. There is something special about meeting people face-to-face. After 33 weeks of talking with Doug Peterson over the voicEd Radio airwaves, it was great to finally meet him in person. Since 2009, I’ve followed over 3500 people on Twitter. I would consider Doug a friend among the “followed”. Always seek personal connection.
  2. Declaring, “Well, it worked at home.” doesn’t cut it. Test everything on site. And then test it again. And, just before the curtain rises, test it again!
  3. Turn off Auto Updates on Windows 10. Thanks Rob Scott for that piece of advice.
  4. As soon as something doesn’t work, immediately look for an opportunity to try it again somewhere else. (Luckily, I get to take voicEd Radio on the road this weekend at the researchEd Toronto conference at Trinity College.
  5. The best place to encounter a technical failure is at a tech conference. Practically everyone in that room today will have an epic fail story to tell. The fact that they were in that room is encouraging!

Thanks to all who participated in today’s not-a-broadcast. Let’s try this again real soon! Thanks to Aviva Dunsiger, Eva Thompson, Cal Armstrong, Ramona Meharg and Jim Cash.

Doug and I will be back live on voicEd Radio next Wednesday at 9:15 AM!

According to the Map…

According to the Map…

Since we are children, we are pressured into finding our passion early on. Not only must we find it, but also we are expected to pursue it and stick with it. We must have an idea in elementary, find it in high school, and pursue it in university. Quite frankly, I never agreed with this process. In all my years of schooling, I have found my hobbies, likes and dislikes; but it was not until a degree later and a new job that I discovered my true passion. How can we give our students the opportunity to discover their passion?

I’m not going to lie. I Googled information for this blog post, and was disappointed to see so many advice columns suggesting career aptitude tests. Should we be so lucky to score something on a test on a given day, and have a realization that this is the answer to your future. As I continued my search, I began to realize that there is no clear cut answer to helping out students find their passion. There is no map to follow and, oh look, X marks the spot and I now know what I want to do with my life (also, how many times did YOU change your mind about your career path from ages 16-18?). However, amongst this search, I discovered ways in which we can help our students discover their passion.

Be Open Minded. So many times students feel that they need to choose a certain career path because it is the “smart” path to take. This path will undoubtedly lead to a job and a happy life. Let’s show-and-tell our students that instead of choosing the path that they think is right, choose the path that they like. Choose the path that is filled with your likes, your interests, and the possibilities you cannot wait to see come to fruition. Don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer? Let your students know that there so many other possibilities and choices out there. We need show them how to be open minded to other paths they may not have thought to take before. As a teacher or an educator, we spend a lot of time with them throughout the day, and we should be praising them for their interests, likes and questions- not putting them down. We should expose them to different careers and choices and show them what their options are.

Intrinsic Motivation. Yes, extrinsic motivation systems have some beneficial aspects to it, but in terms of life lessons, we should be focusing on internal motivation. Have students focus on the parts of their life that they do for the sole reason that they just like to do it. There is no reward gained, no recognition; they are doing this because they truly enjoy it. Distinguishing what these aspects are can help them get one step closer to discovering their passion.

It’s Okay Not to Know. Students mayknow what their hobbies are, and where their interests lie, but that doesn’t mean they know their passion yet; that’s okay. Although we are helping them discover their passion, we also need to be aware that at younger ages, this is exceptionally hard to do. I only discovered my passion at 23 years old. How can we expect a 15 year old to do it? Giving them to tools to discover it, while simultaneously acknowledging the difficulty and relieving the pressure, all make for great ways to find their passion.


Collaboration. Although this step may not be entirely about finding their passion, I believe it is a useful tool that can be effective anywhere it is applied. We need to move away from competitiveness. Students compete for grades, for attention; they want to be number one all by themselves. Is this realistic? In life, we are, for the most part, working in teams or with other people. Seldom do we work independently all the time. We need to teach our students that collaboration is not a bad thing. Working together will still get the job done, and will also allow you to see different view points, gain insight into new ideas and learn new things. As a team, we can all find our passion together, and enjoy the process.


Fortunately, there is no map that leads us directly to our path in life. I say fortunately because I think the process of finding this path is just as important as getting there.

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it” – Rosalia de Castro

Peel-ing Back the Layers- Jonathan So’s P3

Peel-ing Back the Layers- Jonathan So’s P3

Jonathan So is a Grade 6 teacher as well as the instructional technology lead and math coach in the Peel District School Board.  He went to arts school in that region and now he teaches there. Jonathan is the father of three children and a person of many talents, especially when it comes to music as I disovered through The Personal Playlist Podcast interview (link to come). Jonathan believes in creativity, exploration and inquiry, and his P3 certainly reflects that.

For Jonathan, “It’s more about the melodies and the music and the imagery that’s kind of created with it all more than the actual lyrics behind things.” When introducing his nostalgic song, he reflects back to when he and 16 and the song was first recommended by his band teacher. His teacher introduced it to him saying, “You’ve got to learn some fusion rock, hard core jazz stuff…” Jonathan played first trumpet in his jazz band and brings it out for Remembrance Day assemblies or for fun. Even though people may perceive this to be an easy instrument because there are only three keys, Jonathan shares that,” For every combination there’s seven different notes than you can play.” This song celebrates the band’s horn section. The song, I learned, has been controversial in terms of the meaning of its lyrics and has even been banned in some places. However you interpret the lyrics, it’s a powerful tune that is often played as the band’s finally. Here is 24 or 6 to 4 by Chicago:
As we began discussing his identity song, I learned some aca-tastic things about Mr. So. Did you know that he was in a barbershop quartet? One of his best friends had been in one for a long time so, when Jonathan was 20, he sang bass in that group for a year. He even sang with one of his superintendents whose wife was his principal. His friend continues to be in this group and is part of Ontario championship quartet. There is a distinct difference in this version of his identity song choice than the title track from the movie of the same name. Like the Pentatonix, Rockapela is an acapella group who may be best known as the house band for the 90’s PBS children’s geography game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? This version of the song reflects Jonathan’s identity because it shows the power of relationships.  With the challenges of mental health and the isolation in the teaching profession that can often leave you feeling alone in your “four walls”, Jonathan relies on his colleagues and PLN, and they can rely on him. He said, “No matter what, I’m by my friends.” Here is Stand By Me sung by Rockapella:
Jonathan likes music in layers, and his final song choice is not exception. While I was surprised by his choice for this aspect of the task, Jonathan refers to this song as one that makes him happy. This third song is called a motivational or pick-me-up song, but I will add his descriptor with the addition of forget-about-everything-song, which he also mentioned in his lead-up. This song compels the listener from the great introductory riff and then brings out the ever-lovable cowbell. As he mentioned this, we simultaneously alluded to the hilarious SNL skit on the instrument (see below). After some research, it turns out my
comment about the origin of the name of the band was way off, so here is an article about David Clayton Thomas that gives some more background. Here’s Blood Sweat and Tears with Spinning Wheel:
When I first heard about the TEDxKicthenerED talks, I knew I wanted to go. I love being inspired by passionate educators, and I am acquainted with several of the presenters. Now that I had interviewed Jonathan, I was looking forward, even more,  to cheering him and the others on a TEDx. Jonathan was amazing, and I will be blogging about my incredible experience in Kitchener after I post this. If you want to connect with Jonathan, you can find him on Twitter or check out his site.

Source: Noa Daniel

Making an Impression- Debbie Donsky’s P3

Making an Impression- Debbie Donsky’s P3

Introducing Debbie Donsky is like explaining George Seurat’s pointillism.  Each element, every dot, each colour and texture contribute to the big picture. You see the whole work, and it’s amazing, but it truly becomes a masterpiece when you look at all the contributing factors in perfect detail. Dr. Donsky is a mother and a teacher. She is a principal on secondment from YRDSB working as a student achievement officer for Mathematics at the Ministry of Education. She teaches the Principal’s Qualification Program and co-authored a 125 hour course for the Ontario Principals Council on Digital Leadership. She is a sketchnoter, and an artist. She is a writer, a thinker, a change agent, an advocate for equity, inclusion and student voice, and speaker extraordinaire. Like any work of art, Debbie really captures your attention and imagination, and recording her Personal Playlist podcast (link to come) was no exception.

Debbie explored many songs when trying to narrow down her personal playlist. The first songs that she thought of were the favourites from her adolescents, ones that “…were tied to that time in my life when music was my comfort, it was my joy, it was my closest friend…” When introducing her nostalgic song, she explained that she chose it because she remembered it going “straight to her heart.” She referred to her Grade 9 teacher, Mr. Armstrong,  who helped her see herself as an intelligent, capable learner. This was an important shift at a critical time. “When someone really sees you,” says Dr. Donsky, “you fall in love with them a little bit.” This song was played at her grad as a tribute to Debbie and Mr. Armstrong. “For me in Grade 8, it was a very lonely time in my life.” A different teacher had done some significant damage but, thank goodness, this other teacher has become one of her five people who helped to make her feel seen and valued, empowering her to persevere. From her clothing to her personal convictions, this artist also helped her audience feel good to be who they are. It’s hard to go back to the eighties without channeling images of this classic icon and pop star. Here is Cindy Lauper singling Time After Time:

Choosing one identity song for this educator was too challenging, so she has two. She has a song that she used to sing to each of her children, and this song was her son Max’s. She recalled how this comforted him many times, especially one night as he was awaiting for surgery. Unable to feed him before an operation when he was a baby, she nurtured him through hugs and this song. He was fine, and this song really helped both of them get through it. Then, Rachel, her daughter, was doing volunteer work singing in different old folks homes. At Baycrest, a Jewish home for the elderly, she sang this version of the song with her ukulele. For Debbie, it represents her children and being a mom, a huge part of who she is. Referring to her children, Debbie said lovingly, “Watching them grow into young adults has been the greatest gift of my life.”  This beautiful rendition of an Elvis classic is by Hailey Reinhart. Here is I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You:

 Debbie’s second identity song reflects her busy life and many interests. She did some research and discovered the story behind this song. The artist, “reconnected with his estranged father who was living in Vienna. They saw and old woman sweeping on the street. The son thought she shouldn’t be doing the work, so he felt sad for her. His father told him that it’s not sad because she has meaning in her life.” The lyrics about slowing down and being ambitious reflect Debbie’s life, but having meaning is a driving force. A key aspect of the lyric shows that saying,” Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about? You’d better cool it off before you burn it out. You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in the day…” This educator has many things to do and places to go, continually inspired and motivated to grow. While she has many aspirations that keep her excited. Debbie has developed a mantra: “ My ambition will never surpass my integrity.” Take a moment to take that in as you listen to Billy Joel singing Vienna:

If you have ever dreamed of making your mark, being the change or reframing something that has been societally imposed, my guest and the singer of this song have crafted tributes you need to hear and see. The latter, among her many accomplishments,  made an inspiring speech to her daughter at the at the Video Music Awards (VMA’s) about accepting and celebrating yourself. Debbie said about the song by this artist, “When I hear it, I think about driving in the sun, singing with my daughter, and it lifts my spirits every time.”  Debbie presented her TEDxKitchenerED Talk, and I want to see it all again when the video is ready. It was well-rehearsed, heartfelt, and honest. She talked about several experiences that she had growing up, which contributed to her being drawn to equity work. The essence of her talk is about, “…not to judge people… because of the body that holds them.” Each statement was complemented by photographs, original artwork and pointed statements that gripped the audience and culminated in a standing ovation. Debbie refered to this song as, “…a call to action to accept and celebrate and have fun and just embrace exactly who you are.” She goes on to quote the lyrics,  “So raise your glass if you are wrong, in all the right ways, all my underdogs, we will never be never be anything but loud, and nitty gritty, dirty little freaks, won’t you come and raise your glass…” Here is Debbie’s inspirational song by Pink: Raise Your Glass.

 Debbie’s TEDx Talk blew the audience away. It took her time to come down, overcome the adrenaline rush and take in all the sunshine. I was so glad to have witnessed it in person. Debbie had been busy preparing for her talk, transitioning to her new job, presented on myriad topics and doing many other things in the past few months, so she asked me to wait until October to interview her. Spending this time and unpacking the songs with Debbie was worth waiting for.  If you haven’t read her work or seen her art, you should definitely check out her website and start following her on Twitter. Debbie uses creativity to share her heart and soul with the world. Although we have not yet met in person, I feel like we are friends. I look forward to continuing to learn from her, and I hope to rock out with her one day to the rest of the songs on her playlist that didn’t make the P3 cut.