Watershed Moments (Inspired by Dean Shareski and Chris Kennedy)

I’ve purposefully returned to reading and commenting on blogs in recent months and I read two really good (and connected) blog posts this weekend. I first read My Own Watershed Moments on Chris Kennedy’s blog Culture of Yes which led to me to Dean Shareski’s post, Watershed Moments of Learning, on Ideas and Thoughts. At the end of his post, Dean Shareski invited  his network to write about their own watershed moments of learning. That challenge was the inspiration for Chris Kennedy’s post and, in turn, they both prompted me to spend some time thinking and writing about my own watershed moments.

This task, which initially seemed pretty easy, was, in retrospect, not as straightforward as I expected and turned out to be a good exercise in thinking and ranking. I’m guessing that this list will change with time so think of this as a snapshot of my ideas at this point in my life. I decided to organize my ideas using most of the same categories as Dean and Chris: PD Event/Conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

 PD Event/Conference:

TEDx West Vancouver ED (2013) is my watershed PD event because it is one of the PD events I’ve attended in the last few years that continues to standout in my mind. It was my first (and so far only) TEDx, the first TEDx West Vancouver Ed, and one of those PD events where you finally get to meet all sorts of people in your PLN face to face (many for the first time – it was the first and only time I’ve ever had the chance to talk to Dean Shareski!). I loved the event. It reminded me that I became the educator I am because I left my small little town and ventured out to PD beyond. It inspired me in so many ways – the speakers were absolutely incredible (see the youtube videos here). It also, indirectly, reminded me that I learn best through arts based methods. At the time I had been tweeting at conferences to record and share professional learning but for whatever reason (serendipity I think), my devices were not connecting to the wifi that whole weekend so I switched to my default, old-school method – a sketchbook and colored, dry media. My doodles from that day, and a bit more of an explanation, are here.


Choosing just one speaker or presentation is super tough. For today though, I’m going to pick Helen Keegan as my watershed speaker. Her presentation on gamification at Edmedia in Victoria a few years ago dramatically changed my thinking. She introduced me to gamification and I’ve since become fascinated by this. Because of Helen, I co-created and taught one of the coolest units I’ve ever used with students last year – the Battle of the Books: Canadian Authors. That unit is a new twist on online literature circles that uses gamification as the method through which to engage kids and trick them into loving reading novels. I also have to give credit to Justin deVries and Mike Koppes from Kamloops for their awesome workshop that deepened my understanding of gamification at the PITA conference last fall. I’m still fascinated with gamification and plan to continue learning more about how to use this as one method to engage kids.


I love to read and I read a lot. To have to pick just one book, ever, to answer a question that starts with “Which book…” usually seems like an impossible task to me. So, accordingly, I decided on my top four watershed books as of right this minute, today:

#1: The Arts and the Creation of Mind by Elliot Eisner – This book was recommended to me by Dr. Vicki Kelly (see my watershed person below) when I was writing my thesis. When I started reading this book, I couldn’t believe that there was a book, written by a famous Stanford professor, that summed up everything I believed as an arts educator in such an articulate, academic way. It blew my mind. It still blows my mind. I’d been teaching a certain way and developing certain pedagogical beliefs during my years as a high school visual arts teacher (that transform my practice to this day). This book fit perfectly within, and gave sound theoretical basis to, all that I had learned, experienced and struggled with as a teacher passionate about arts based methods and the integration of the visual arts into students’ learning.

#2: Look to the Mountain by Gregory Cajete – This book was also recommended to me by Vicki when I was writing my thesis. It was the first book I ever read that actually described my mother’s way of teaching. You’d have to read my thesis or sit and chat with me for the complete explanation about that. My great-grandmother raised my mother (and my siblings and I) and my great-grandmother, in turn, was raised by her Cree grandmother. Essentially, my great-grandmother’s and my mother’s pedagogy and child-rearing philosophies were rooted in indigenous ways of learning and knowing. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to read a book that actually described how my mom taught me to teach and to be with kids as a teacher. I think it will forever be one of my favourite non-fiction books for that reason.

#3: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman – This is the same book mentioned by Chris Kennedy in his watershed post. In 2005, when this book was first published, I was starting my graduate coursework, learning about the emerging online tools, and attempting to wrap my head around the impact of what was taking place in the field of education because of the internet and the world wide web. This book really helped me to understand the changes happening at the time and pushed me to think about where learning in schools and the world in general was heading.

#4: An Imaginative Approach to Teaching by Kieran Egan – I really like reading books by Kieran Egan and I’ve admired and followed his work for a long time now. Several times when reading this book I would read a chapter at night and try out strategies the next day with my students. Many of those strategies are firmly embedded into my teaching practice. Because of this book, I often weave storytelling into my lessons and kids always seem to respond well. I once saw Kieran Egan when I was completing my MEd. He was working in a garden outside of the education faculty at SFU. I was starstruck and too shy to go say hello. I kick myself for that to this day. He looked so peaceful though, working away, surrounded by plants and I respected him and his peace too much to intrude at the time.


The watershed tool would have to be Twitter. It’s been interesting to experience the evolution of this tool since I created my account in 2009. I enjoy spending time learning with and from other enthusiastic educators who love teaching and working with kids and Twitter allows me to do that with people all over the world from a small, rural town in the interior of BC. I can dip in to talk or comment whenever I feel like it and rarely does a day go by that I don’t check my feed to see what’s happening in the world. Of all the technology I’ve tried and use, I think that Twitter has transformed  professional learning for me (one example of how in this post here) more than anything else. Even with the changes that seemed to have come with the explosion of people using it in recent years, Twitter continues to be the tool that impacts my practice the most.


My watershed person, and someone who definitely had a profound impact on my thinking, teaching, personal life, and everything, really, is Dr. Vicki Kelly. She is one of the most important teachers of my life. Vicki was one of my professors during my Masters year at SFU in 2010-2011. I don’t think there’s any way that I could explain how much I learned from/with her and through her teaching. She is an expert teacher and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. She helped me in a way that I don’t think any other professor could have. especially when it came to my learning about traditional Métis and Cree beliefs surrounding education and child-rearing. And it’s no small coincidence that two of my watershed books above were recommended by her.

Those are my watershed moments. Thanks to Dean and Chris for the inspiration and thanks for reading!


Digital Footprint Summer to do

Even though it’s summer and I’m purposefully not doing anything work-related, I’m going to create a Summer to do list. I already have a list full of daytrips, family events and other household necessities. This post is the summer to-do specifically related to my digital footprint. Here’s my summer to do:

  1. Change my twitter avatar. Convocation was last fall, and although I am still in that Masters mindset, and I love that photo because my dad took it, it’s time for a change.
  2. Re-acquaint myself with Google Reader. I have a great list of brilliant people. I need to read what they’re thinking. And I’d like to comment on 2-3 posts per week.
  3. Write. Blog. Post. Simple.
  4. Get back to digital photography every day. My Flickr account has been lonely.
  5. Create an about.me page to consolidate all the corners of my digital presence.
  6. Actually use the Posterous account I created awhile back.

I’m guessing that’s enough. I’m also guessing that it’s precisely because I’m not doing anything work-related, my ingrained-listing habit is feeling the need to organize some of my idle summer time.

I guess we’ll all see how much of this I get done. Did I miss anything important? What else should I add to my list?


Imagery by me.


What’s Creating the Connection?

Yesterday I attended a social media workshop in neighboring SD #73 (Kamloops). This was, for me, a follow up to the Digital Learning Spring Conference and a chance to deepen my learning around notions of digital citizenship for Masters studies. It was also a great opportunity to connect with other educators in my PLN. Special thanks to Cale Birks (@birklearns) for arranging so that I was able to attend!


It was incredible to watch the presenter, George Couros, once again manage to encourage the attendees to the point that many opened up to begin to trust social media. At the start of the day, there were four of us, including George, on Twitter. By the end of the morning, several new tweeters were contributing to the #kamloopsgc hashtag and as the day went on, I noticed the presence of many educators exploring social media, either for the first time or with a new perspective.

As in Vancouver last month, the highlight for me was a chance to connect with like-minded educators, especially those I’d only ‘met’ online via social media. I had the chance to visit with George, whom I’d first met at the Digital Learning Spring Conference. George introduced me to Cale, who introduced me to others. Probably the neatest connection was to Tracy Poelzer (@SD73Techie), the District Tech Coordinator for SD#73. We’ve followed one another on Twitter for quite some time and, at the start of the day, did the “Hey, where are you sitting?” tweets, which led to a wave across the room and, finally, a face to face meeting at coffee. Turns out, though, that I’d seen Tracy speak several times in April at the Regional Science Fair in Kamloops when I attended as a parent with my son. It was really neat to have that extra connection to make an already positive introduction that much more meaningful.

There were maybe 150 in attendance for the morning workshop and, from my viewpoint, many seemed unsure of social media at the start of the day. There were numerous concerns about how to even integrate technology into schools. By the end of the morning, however, there was a hopeful buzz in the room and by the end of the day there was evidence that practice had changed.

I left with some unanticipated questions. The overall experience left me wondering about those in the room who engage in social media and technology on a daily basis. What is it about these ‘like-minded’ educators I’m meeting through social media? Why are we alike? Why do we, if you think of the group as a unique cohort, a subsection of educators, engage with technology the way we do and embed it into our practice?

I know my answer, and I think it’s the same answer many  of my PLN would offer – that we need to because it’s the world our students are growing up in. Is that the common thread that connects us – our related awareness of, and comfort level within, the larger learning environment that our students are growing up within? Or is it that we’re challenge-loving risk-takers who don’t mind pushing outside of our comfort zone to engage with tools and environments that are uncertain and sometimes overwhelming? Simply a contemporary group of overachievers? I’m not certain yet, but I’d love to figure out what’s creating the connection.

Imagery by tiddlywinker on Flickr.com


Del.icio.us is one of my favourite, and most used, Web 2.0 tools. I can’t emphasize enough how much I value the ability to save and access websites of note from any computer workstation. I also love the fact that I can see what others in my network are saving and tagging with a few simple clicks. I am quite sure that educators who don’t use social bookmarking have no clue what they’re missing. Here’s what my Del.icio.us bookmarks look like visually thanks to Wordle:

delicious wordle

I borrowed the idea (from a virtual colleague) to tag links found on Twitter as ‘fromtwitter’ and it’s obvious from this image what a huge impact Twitter has had on my learning in just under one year!

If you’d like to see what links I’ve been bookmarking, or to add me to your network, my del.icio.us account name is emisle.  Welcome to my personal learning network!

It’s Been Awhile…

Where to start?

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. My apologies to those of you who do check in regularly. I’ve thought, at least once a week, of something that would make a great topic for a post, but then life rushed me right past it before I could pull it out of my mind and onto the ‘new post’ window.

Here’s what’s happened in the last two months to prevent me from posting:

#1. Report cards. I’ve been teaching for 14 years and I still haven’t figured out how to do reports without the rest of my life coming to a complete standstill. Any ideas?

#2. Presentation to colleagues on Using Web 2.0 Tools To Build and Maintain a Personal Learning Network for the district non-instructional day in November. This was really a long, detailed Tech Corner designed to spread the word about the great potential for learning connections using technology.

#3. Twitter. Wow. I said that in August, and I’m still saying that now. In only six months I’ve sent 636 tweets, decided to follow 302 people and I’ve picked up 195 followers along the way. If you want to be connected in the world today, you have to be on Twitter. It’s just that simple. It does come with a price though. It’s taken a fair chunk of my computer time away from this blog but because it’s microblogging, I still think I’m moving forward with my online pro-d.

#4. Christmas. I think for the first time in my life, I managed to pull off a wonderful, organized, fun-filled family Christmas without tiring myself out. I made it a priority and I maintained balance which meant that some things, like blogging, just didn’t take place. But this is some of what I did accomplish:

  • 8 batches of gingerbread cookies (my specialty)Christmas Baking
  • 4 batches of sugar cookies
  • 2 batches of shortbread (secret family recipe)
  • 1 batch of krumkake
  • 1 gingerbread house
  • several Christmas movies, complete with treats, blankets, pjs, and other comfy movie night necessities
  • a beautiful Norwegian Christmas Eve dinner, etc., for my husband’s family

#5. I joined a book club. My first, actually. A wonderfully inspiring colleague asked me to be a member so I couldn’t refuse! We’re reading Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen. The coolest part so far was a conference call to Eric himself (turns out one of my colleagues knows him, what are the odds?!) after we read the first chapter.

That’s my update! I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do plan on posting more regularly. More to come…