#CFISinnovate17: My first organized school-wide PD session

Over the past few weeks, I have been engaged with planning and organizing a Preschool to Grade 12 Professional Development day for all the educators, support staff, and specialist at Calgary French & International School.

I was originally inspired to organize an event like this through various conversations I have had with the Head of School regarding the organization of a “marketplace” PD, that allows different educators to share their expertise with others. This is also known as a mini conference, that our ECE and Elementary Division have done from time to time. As I have built relationships with the staff across all three divisions of the school, I was really inspired to be able to take advantage of the expertise that we have within the walls of the school to organize a school-wide PD or mini-conference. We often bring in experts from outside to work with our teachers during PD day’s, yet we have so many experts that are available on the inside. Furthermore, teachers are often attending professional development outside of the school, and yet are not often given the chance to share some of the things they have learned and been able to put into practice in their own classroom. Therefore, after reading the Innovators Mindset, and participating in the #ETCoaches online Book Study, I was so inspired to bring alive the “Marketplace” idea, that I took the risk in asking the principles from each division if I could organize this event. They all thought this was a fantastic idea and over the next few weeks helped me contact teachers or provided suggestions on who may be interested in presenting.

When meeting with the Innovation Reps in the Elementary and ECE division, and with curriculum teams in the secondary division, I made it very clear when I approached everyone that they did not have to feel at all obligated to present during the PD. However, what I did do, is share individually one thing they are doing that I feel is innovative and exciting and that others would like to learn about. I felt this created a trust between myself and the teachers, and everyone seemed extremely excited and happy to share. I also explained that I would like to build in time to allows the attendees to build, play, explore or try anything that would be presented, so to consider framing their session around 15 minutes of instruction with 30 minutes exploration.

Once I had a good number of teachers willing to present, I was determined to make this a professional development day, like nothing the school has scene before. And had a goal to create the feeling as if everyone was attending a high caliber conference. To do this, I modeled what I learned from a conference I attended last year and created a website with: the schedule, descriptions of sessions, registration page, a page for session resources, and a hashtag for the event: #CFISinnovate17. Furthermore, as things fell into place, I was also able to organize a keynote speaker to begin and end the day, in addition to integrated built-in reflection time.

What was also so positive, is that in in the weeks leading up to #CFISinnovate17, everyone shared with me how excited they were to be able to share their passions and expertise with others.

Overall, I am so impressed with how the school came together and got an opportunity to learn together across all three divisions. The positive responses while reading the feedback survey and everyone’s individual reflections was overwhelmingly positive. In addition, a number of teachers who presented for their first time, thanked me at the end of the day for believing in them and encouraging them was inspiring. Overall, this has been such an amazing experience and definitely a highlight of my career so far, that I have asked if I could do this again next year.

Here are some highlights from some of the attendees’ reflections:

“I was impressed with the caliber of the presentations and by my knowledgable colleagues.”

“We need more sessions like today. Today was a fantastic day.”

“Can we do more PD like this???? This was awesome!”

“This staff is a treasure chest of resources.”

“What a wonderful day of presentations from our colleagues. Thank you for organizing them!”

“All the presenters, were passionate and interesting and truly “formidable”.

“The best ressources for a teacher is often inside of a school!! What a powerful PD session.”

“The presenters were very prepared and great resources on their chosen topics. I enjoyed the sessions very much.”

“We have GREAT resources at our school, we need to use them more.”

“This was a great opportunity to meet other CFIS staff and having the freedom to choose what we learned for PD was very refreshing!!” ”

“Today I was inspired by some amazing presentations. I am so lucky to have the colleagues I have.”

My reflection for improvements for next year:

  • More break time in between sessions.
  • An announcement on the PA system 2 minutes before the next session begins to remind teachers to go to their next session.
  • Choosing a different time of year, as many teachers were at school quite late the days prior with parents-teacher conferences.
  • Finding additional time to allow teachers to revisit what they were introduced to and having time to put into practice what they learned.
  • Have one hour sessions instead of 45-minute sessions.

In the meantime, I would like to explore the implementation of #ObserveMe and the use of a #PineappleChart in the staffroom, throughout the school. Now that we have got everyone motivated and inspired, I want to be able to provide additional opportunities for staff to connect with our internal experts and allow for teachers to go into classrooms to observe and see what they learned during #CFISinnovate17 in action.

To learn more about #CFISinnovate17 and some of the sessions that were offered, check out the PD website and the Storify Twitter Feed.

Help learners build a positive digital footprint #IMMOOC

When it comes to discussing digital citizenship, this is a topic that I am quite passionate about teaching students. So I take my role very serious when it comes to creating an effective digital citizenship curriculum for my school. Through a variety of personal experiences, I understand the importance of having a positive digital footprint. During Monday’s Live YouTube Session with George Couros, Katie MartinJennifer Casa-Todd, there was a big discussion around using social media and helping students build a positive online presence. I found this to be very timely, as I have recently been having conversations with teachers about having more positive conversations with our students, instead of always telling them what they shouldn’t be doing online.

Here is an image I created to encourage our students to use social media as a powerful tool for their learning while creating a positive digital footprint.


Furthermore, the discussion about digital citizenship and social media usage on the #IMMOOC Twitter chat also caught the attention of Paul Davis, a very highly reputable speaker who travels across Canada and the US to educate students, teachers, parents, and law enforcement about being safe and smart online. He has a very powerful message to share with everyone, with presentations that are targeted to different age levels, leaving each audience member empowered after his presentation to make positive changes in how they continue to use technology and social media. If you haven’t had the privilege to have Paul Davis address your school community, I highly recommend contacting him. To learn more about his presentation at my school this past fall, please read my article, Keeping Kids Safe Online.

Thursday morning, I was honored to get a call from Paul Davis to further discuss some comments and questions that were posted on the #IMMOCC feed. We had a passionate discussion around the power of social media and its role in the classroom.

We both agreed that it is great and important that teachers want to introduce students to using social media to help them build their positive digital footprint; however, educators need to understand to successfully and effectively do this, that it involves effort and time. Educators need to invest time to understand how to keep their students safe by guiding them in an established and secure environment and need to invest the effort to properly set up the necessary parameters.

Paul Davis recommends that the best tool to do this with is Twitter. With his professional expertise, he believes it is the safest, easiest and least challenging tool to learn to use. In addition, unlike many other social media sites which state:

“You must be at least 13 years old to use the Service.” Instagram TOS 
“No individual under the age of thirteen (13) may use the Services” Tumblr TOS
“No one under 13 is allowed to create an account or use the Services” Snapchat TOS 

“You will not use Facebook if you are under 13” Facebook TOS

for residents outside of the US, there are no minimum age requirements for the usage of Twitter. And, for residents of the US, “you must be at least 13 years old to use the Services. [Unless]..you are accepting these Terms and using the Services on behalf of a company, organization, government, or other legal entity…” Twitter TOS. Therefore, making Twitter the ideal social media platform for an educator to use in their classroom, with a classroom account, with students under the age of 13.

Furthermore, Twitter’s platform allows educators to use protected Tweets to connect with other classrooms privately. Currently, with parent permission, our Kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms are using protected Tweets, to connect globally with other children their age. Our grade 12s are using protected Tweets within the classroom to have discussions around their current topics of study in Social Studies. And one of my next steps in using social media in a positive way with my students in my Design & Innovation course is to create an opportunity that allows my students to connect with subject matter experts on Twitter to help them with their projects. (This is an idea inspired by the book Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level written by Don Wettrick.) 

Slowly introducing students to social media in the classroom, in a controlled environment, allows an educator to help lead by example and educate students on how to post and have conversations online. Beginning this at a young age will better prepare our students for when they are of the legal age. This way, when that time comes, they will be ready to begin building their positive digital footprint, sharing their voice and passions in a powerfully positive way, to create an accurate reflection of who they are, in a digital world.

Paul Davis also recommends encouraging students to create a blog, a similar idea to George Couros, who encourages students to create digital portfolios. A blog/portfolio really helps students share who they are, and allows any future employee, that conducts an online search on the individual, to get a more in-depth overview of them. I think of it as an online resume that accompanies the one- to two-page paper resume.

One last thing to consider, for those teaching in high school, is to help students build their LinkedIn profile before they graduate. According to LinkedIn’s TOSyou must be the “Minimum Age” (which means) (a) 18 years old for the People’s Republic of China, (b) 16 years old for the Netherlands, (c) 14 years old for the United States, Canada, Germany, Spain, Australia and South Korea, and (d) 13 years old for all other countries.”  So once students reach the minimum age, it is a great idea to introduce them to this tool.

In closing, to learn more about integrating social media, digital citizenship, and supporting your students in building their positive digital foot, check out what Jason Shaffer has done in his school, by reading Helping Students Develop Their Online Identity written by George Couros. Please also remember to invest time in creating a safe online environment for your students to learn in, lead by example, monitor your student’s participation, and last but not least, consider using Twitter as the social media platform you use in your classroom.

Empowering Language Learners with Technology

No matter where you teach in the world, the opportunity to work in an immersion or bilingual setting is an extremely unique and rewarding experience. Dora Deboer and I met through the #IMMOOC, an Online Book Study and decided to work in collaboration to write this blog post to share our unique experiences.

Dora is a Bilingual Intervention Specialist at a Title I school in a suburb of North Texas and her school district follows an early exit bilingual program. This means Dora’s students receive initial instruction in Spanish (her students’ first language) then transition into English language instruction as soon as they are ready. I am the Director of Educational Technology and Innovation at Calgary French & International School in Canada. My school follows an immersion educational model to teach French as a second language. This means the students at my school receive their instruction in French from preschool to grade 12.

As we prepared for the #IMMOOC blogging buddy challenge, we learned that we both share the same love for our job! And although our work settings might seemed very different at first, we both encounter some of the same challenges.

One of the biggest challenges working in any bilingual/trilingual setting, is to keep students engaged and excited to learn a new language. Keeping students motivated to learn a language that is not spoken at home or spoken in the community can leave students often feeling frustrated. In addition, some students like Dora’s spanish speaking students can be passive learners and reluctant to participate in language production activities. In my French Immersion setting, students are excited to learn a new language when they are younger, however when they reach upper elementary, they become more reluctant to converse and communicate with their peers in French.

But this “challenge” is also one of the of the reasons we love our jobs so much because it forces us to find new and creative ways to engage students in the learning of a new language. We need to look at our instruction differently in order to design opportunities where our students are motivated to learn a language.

Thanks to having access to various technology tools, there are many ways they can be used to support second language instruction. At Calgary French & International, we use the iPads to create various types of videos, from digital storytelling, to interviews, to small videos clips on the ePortfolio, video is a great way to capture what students are capable of doing in their second language. Furthermore, using video allows the teacher to capture the learning and then share it with the child’s parents, who don’t always have the opportunity to see what their child is capable of doing in the other language. This also helps strengthening home-school connections because it creates a bird’s eye view into the classroom.

Another benefit of using videos is that it allows students to listen to themselves and provide opportunities to self-reflect, which empowers them to take ownership of their learning by setting personal goals. The reaction of watching students listen to themselves for the first time with their foreign language is priceless.

The Aurasma App allows students to get involved in critiquing each other’s language production and learning how to provide specific feedback. This App gives students the opportunity to become active participants in the learning process because the teachers is not longer the only one assessing students. Students learn to be critical listeners!

ChatterPix is another great tool to encourage oral language production. This provides an opportunity for students to practice the target language in a fun and creative way. Students love going around the classroom to take pictures of newly learned vocabulary and then recording themselves practicing their new words. This is perfect for reducing students’ speaking anxiety since it allows them to give voice to any object. Another favorite tool in grade 1 for learning new vocabulary is PicCollage. Below are some pictures the students created while learning the French terminology for different emotions.







Technology tools like the ones described above can also help level the playing field in the classroom. This is especially the case when working with a language that learners are at different proficiency levels. These tools and many others like it can support and encourage students to develop their second language skills in engaging ways. Teachers can also benefit from incorporating technology into their teaching because it can help personalize instruction to address individual needs.

It is clear to us that technology has the power to transform the way we teach and learn; however, we understand that by just integrating technology in our lessons, we are not harnessing this power. We need to start with the learner and their individual needs, then we need to design lessons where students feel empowered and are active participants in their own learning.