Permission to Speak on Diversity


I recently attended the Women in Education pre-conference to the uLead conference in Banff. This is the first time I have attended either. In the excitement of learning and as a new tribe was being formed around me I signed up to add a blog post for a #ulead #womened #digimeet.

Now its 2:00 pm on a bright sunny day (a rarity lately on the west coast!). My kids are playing outside, and boy do I ever want to join them because this is scaring the heck out of me. Maybe I’m scared because it’s a new tribe I am jumping into, maybe it’s because I haven’t blogged since last summer, maybe because the last time I wrote about women in ed leadership I felt exposed and was not prepared for the backlash.

So, with a bag of chocolate blueberries, a cup of coffee and my new tribe pushing me to be 10% braver and get a post out by 4:00, here we go!

Now about that post on women in ed leadership. It was a collaborative effort with some amazing women ed leaders that I have always admired: Jessica Johnson, Melissa Emler, Heidi Hutchison, Kaye Henrickson and Tia Henrikson. Titled, Where are the Women Keynote Speakers? we attempted to attack the problem of why the pool of keynote speakers in education were so dominated by our male colleagues despite the fact that education is a field predominantly of women.

After much work and reflection, we collectively pushed “post” and put it out there. Well, there was some support, and I’m sure in hindsight mostly support, but it’s always the naysayers comments that stick the most.

We delved in a twitter questioning, then discussion, then argument, then full out attack with a few who questioned that in a blog post about women, why did we fail to mention the lack of diversity as well. Despite my fellow authors asking for guidance, support to understand the concern, they were shut down with the conclusion of  “If you don’t understand the problem, there’s no point in enlightening you.” One comment thread in particular hurt:

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Why were they saying this?! “(W)hite cluelessness”, peple rareley consider race unless it impacts them.. I’m brown!.. Now my name may indicate that I am a woman of colour, but I never put myself out there as one. So was I “brown” enough to respond? I became uncomfortable as I knew the other women I wrote the post with weren’t women of colour and I couldn’t hide behind them… I was it. It was MY job to defend the post. Then my name was thrown out there, basically making the point that, well we do have Iram as an author, and she’s a woman of colour.

Ack, no! I was not ready I didn’t know how to respond and I realized that I have spent my whole life hiding from my colour. I’ve worked hard, tried not to make waves and keep my head low. How was I to respond without fueling this fire even more. Why is it my job, why is it not okay for “white” voices to participate in this conversation. So I didn’t, I just ignored it and have felt very guilty about it since.

Those feelings,unfortunately and fortunately came back as the women in education pre conference went on. I kept looking around and quickly realized, I was the only woman of colour in attendance. I began to feel like I stuck out, my colour was showing, but who am I, the one who hides from her colour to bring it up? And was it even an issue because what I was listening to and the conversations we were having rang true to me. However, I couldn’t help not feeling awkward and that hit me hard. So with a hesitant and brave heart on to twitter I went.

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I was glad to bring the the issue up, and I am grateful for the graceful and supportive response from Hanna Wilson. It gave me goosebumps to have attendees question the lack of diversity around them as the conference progressed. Thank you to those who did so. It is important to have diverse voices in conversations about education.

I have a lot more reflection and baggage to unpack in this area, and I am now ready to do so. I will be attending both conferences next year and hope that more diversity will be represented both on and off the stage.


Summer Reading: “Maker” Books

summer reading

A few days ago at ISTE 2016 @MargaretOW and I did a poster session titled “You Have a Makerspace, Now What?” On our table we displayed some books that we have found helpful in our maker journey so far. Someone asked if we had a list somewhere and we thought that was a great idea, so here they are!

Inspiration for Low Tech Project Ideas
-The Whole Make series of books is great!

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The Hows of a School Makerspace

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Makerspace Design

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Maker Research, Theory and Trends

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Prior Vocabulary Knowledge: What is a Tam Anyway?!

dogChalk this up as another time my own children push me to reflect on teaching and learning. This weekend my daughter, who is in Kindergarten, and I were playing around with words and their sounds. She was having a great time exaggerating the sounds in words… in fact she thought it was hysterical. So hysterical that she rolled off the couch at one point. I loved how she was having so much fun with it all.

So, my teacher hat came out and I thought it was a great opportunity to bring out all my phonemic awareness puzzles and games. We began with a puzzle where you are required to match pictures of words that have the same beginning sounds and fit them together. It was a slow start, as there were many pieces to look through. I helped her out by saying one of the words and having her look for the corresponding picture. We started with rose, she had to find rake.  I could tell she was struggling, so we tried balloon and she found ball right away. This continued and definitely wasn’t as fun as what we were doing before!  I found she struggled with many of them, it actually shocked me how much help she needed.

After a bit, I realized, she was not having difficulties with the beginning sounds of words. She actually didn’t know what many of the pictures were. Now we are a family that sailboatreads a lot, we have hundreds of children’s books all over our house. We take our kids on excursions to expose them to many different environments, people and history. We have many discussions about what is happening in the world and every time our kids ask us questions we try to honour them all. We are doing the things that teachers tell parents to do all the time. We are exposing our children to activities that increase their vocabulary as well has giving them a bank of prior knowledge that they can refer to when they are learning.

But, my kid couldn’t look at a picture of a rake, a tiger, a lion, a zebra, (she confused these animals) nuts, map, can, bug and identify what it was. With some, after I told her she would say, “Oh yeah!” but she didn’t even know what a rake was at all.

This got me thinking, how many activities and assessments are we asking our students to do and they have no idea what the words are? How many students freeze up because oberetf these words. There are so many games and worksheets (sigh) that rely on students having a certain vocabulary bank… I’ve seen some that use the words tam and mast, what?!! When was the last time you heard the word tam or mast?

Words for learning need to be relevant to the students we are teaching. While exposing them to new vocabulary to grow their vocabulary bank, we also need to get to know our students and allow them to show us what they know. We also need to be very careful how we use assessments from generic programs and workbooks that assume that all students know the words they are asking them to work with.

Note: Before I get comments about this, I would like to clarify that I know the rabbit above is wearing a hat that is more like a beret than a tam. I couldn’t find a TAM on Pixabay!








Dear Teachers, Let’s Talk About Mother’s Day

mother's day

                                                         CC0 Public Domain

Dear teachers, let’s talk about Mother’s Day.

As a mother, I give you permission to forget about Mother’s Day. I sincerely do not expect a cute present that you stressed about creating with all your students. I do not expect you to use precious learning time and resources to create something for my children to give to me. Mother’s Day is a family event, I expect my family to honour me in the way they see fit (they know I love chocolate and eating out!). Why do teachers feel the pressure to provide their students with a gift for Mother’s Day? Is it an expectation that families have? Do families rely on gifts made at school? If schools did not provide gift that their students made would no mothers be honoured?

What got me thinking about all this, is the dreaded Mother’s Day Tea that has entered my life for the past 5 years. Not sure how it is where you live, but for some reason it has become a popular idea around here for classes, especially early learner classes. Teachers host an event during the school day and have children pamper their mothers with refreshments and “relaxation”. This time is used to show mothers how much they are loved and appreciated. It is a very sweet idea.

Being a working mom, I have missed Mother’s Day teas because I, of course, have to be at school. It has been heartbreaking to tell my children that their father would attend in my place and then being the only children who do not  have their mother in attendance. While everyone says it’s okay to send someone else important in my child’s life, it’s not the same. It’s difficult to deal with yet another reason to feel guilty that I am a working mom. I don’t think it was a coincidence that last year in our school district we had a teacher on call shortage on the Friday before Mother’s Day! This meant that there were so many teachers who called in sick or took leaves of absences that there weren’t enough teachers on call to take their place. Often administrators like me had to go into classes to provide coverage. You can imagine how that made me feel!

I do appreciate the thoughtfulness that teachers have to help their students celebrate the day, it’s all coming from a good place. However, instead of making gifts and hosting events, here is what you can do to mark the Mother’s Day occasion. Help support my children in learning that this world is filled with different types of mothers… that children have different types of relationships with their mothers… that some children do not have mothers, but have other people in their lives that be seen as their mother. Teach lessons that encourage children to grow up into inclusive adults, who do not take others for granted and appreciate all the people in their lives that support them and help them grow.

I do love all the cards and crafts I have received throughout the years, just as I love all the work my children bring home. I don’t need a gift or an event provided for me by my child’s teacher to show how much I am appreciated. I hope that my family can handle that on their own.





A Post for Parents: Your Kids and Video Games


video gamesRecently we had a member of our district’s Safe Schools department visit our school to present to our parents about online safety and digital media. In particular, I was surprised at how many parents did not know about ESRB ratings and the content of video games and YouTube videos related to game play that their children were being exposed to. Some of this content was very inappropriate for our K-7 students.

I have written the following post for the parents who were not able to attend the presentation. Feel free share the link below with the parents at your school.

Your Kids and Video Games



Your Kids and Video Games

We all have busy lives, sometimes it is a relief to have our kids occupied with video games, apps and YouTube. Now, more than ever, though, it is very important that we check in to see what digital content our children are consuming, as well as how they are using their devices and who they are connecting with.

kids computer

(Pixabay CC0 1.0)

First off, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is an excellent resource for you to refer to when deciding whether or not a video game is appropriate for your child. The following chart that they provide is an easy reference.

ESRBIf you have trouble finding a rating, an easy Google search with the name of the game and “rating” will help you find one.

At our school, we are very concerned about our students playing games that are rated M and above. These games should never be played by our students or around our students.

Now, you may not buy games that are rated M or above but your children may be watching inappropriate videos on YouTube related to games rated M or above. Or the game may be rated for your child to play, but the language used by the host of the video may be inappropriate. To find appropriate videos for your children to watch, just do a search of “family friendly” with the name of the game you are interested in. In particular, here are some family friendly YouTube channels on Minecraft. I personally love watching Stampy and Paul Sores Jr. with my family.

Another area to be concerned about are mods. Mods are apps or software that, when uploaded, modify the game in various ways. For example, a great game like Minecraft can be turned into a violent game through mods that add guns, blood, zombies, etc. Monitor the mods that your children are downloading onto your devices.

Online gaming opens a whole world of exciting and concerning possibilities. There are some games that allow for connecting with others through online chatting and game play. It is fun to play with friends and distant family members online, but it is easy to connect with strangers who aren’t who they say they are. If you allow online game play, limit the options of players only to who all of you know and preferably have met in person.

Finally, the amount of screen time our children are exposed to can drastically  impact their sleep patterns, behaviour and relationships. Set limits to how much time your children are playing video games and do not allow any screen time for at least an hour before bed time.

Thanks to My Dad, I am a Maker

My dad built the house I grew up in, and while this house was being built, I spent many hours on the worksite trying to stay out of trouble and helping as much as I could. I remember my brother and I spending hours looking for scrap materials like nails, wire and pieces of wood and creating new projects like cars, boxes, and mini-houses. He tolerated all this because it kept the worksite clean and it kept us busy.

My dad is  also really good at fixing things. Any toy, appliance, car that was “broken” magically came to life again with him tinkering. I learned quickly that he is good at fixing things not necessarily because he knows how to fix anything, but because he is good at tinkering and isn’t afraid at trying different approaches. He also perseveres because he can’t stand having to spend more money on buying things to replace the broken items! Having five children would do that to you!

22 years after my dad built our family home, my husband and I embarked on an epic project that put our perseverance, tinkering abilities, and emotional and physical strength to the test. We bought our first home, gutted it and renovated it… mostly all on our own. renovatingWe learned how to frame, drywall, paint, install windows, stucco, build stairs… the list goes on and on. I have to say, though, without my experience of being around my dad while he built a house I don’t think I could have done it… I don’t think I would have even attempted it.

I am grateful for the experiences I had with my dad because , even though the project brought us to the edge in many areas at many different levels, we did it and we are now living in something we worked on together. More importantly, my children are growing up in a house that we built and will be continuing to build as they grow up. I am glad that they get to experience what I experienced with my dad. Oh, and today, my 69 year old dad is in the middle of building another home!



Yes, You Can Teach Coding With No Tech or Low Tech



Image from Pixabay

Last week our Premier announced that all students from kindergarten to Grade 12 in British Columbia will have the opportunity to learn the basics of coding.

The education community and concerned citizens responded with many questions and frustrations, mostly about the lack of funding attached to this announcement.

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Coding is just another skill that is needed to understand how our modern world works, like learning about electricity and structures. I don’t think there is an expectation for everyone to become master coders after they graduate from our school system. Coding can be complicated. Kids aren’t going to be developing apps overnight nor is there an expectations that they do so. Some will take to it and eventually may have a career that heavily involves it; some will just grasp a beginners knowledge of it. Both results are fine. I think it’s great that what many teachers in the province are already exposing their students to is officially being put into our curriculum.

With that said, ideally it would have been nice for some sort of plan and funding to be released. Despite this, we need not panic. Here are some coding resources that do not require any tech hardware, internet connection, or a computer science degree to implement. They also won’t break the bank.

Computer Science Unplugged
This website is filled with no tech options to teach students computational thinking through games and puzzles that use materials you can easily find.

The no tech board and card game industry is growing every month, with new great titles added. Here are some suggestions.

Robot Turtles 2-4 players, Ages 4+
In Robot Turtles, players decide how their Robot Turtle moves on a game board with the goal to reach a jewel to win. There are different variations that can be played depending on players’ experience.

Code Monkey Island 3-4 Players, Ages 8+
Players are leaders of tribes of monkeys. The goal is to take your tribe around the board avoiding quick sand traps to a banana grove and score some fruit along the way.

The Code Master Programming1 player, Ages 8+
In Code Master, your Avatar will travel to an exotic world in search of power Crystals, but only one specific sequence of actions will lead to success.

Bits and Bytes 2-4 Players Ages 4+
Bits & Bytes is a card game. The goal is for each player to guide their character by giving them directions. At the same time they have to avoid obstacles like walls, bugs and the Seepeeu (CPU).

Robo Rally 2-8 Players, Ages 12+
Robo Rally is a board game where you control a robot to meet goals in a race across a factory floor. The factory is filled with obstacles like pits, lasers conveyor belts and other robots to slow you down or destruct you. The first robot to claim all the goals in the correct order wins.

Another area of great development are gadgets that don’t need any devices, hardware, or a WiFi connection. Here are some that are perfect for early learners.

Bee Bot
Throught the buttons on top of Bee Bot, children are able to enter a sequence of directions for Bee Bot to follow. Bee Bot blinks and beeps at the end of each command and allows children to follow the sequence. It is very easy to use and there are many games and projects teaches have created to challenge Bee Bot and students.

Pro Bot is a robot in the form of a race car. Just like Bee Bot, children can enter a sequence of directions for Pro-Bot to follow using the directional arrows on top. It also has a mode that allows users to add numbers for distances and degrees for movement.

Cubetto is a wooden block robot that is paired with a board that sends programs to it. Children use blocks and place them on the board. These blocks give Cubetto instructions on where to move.

Yes! You can teach coding with no tech or low tech!

If anyone has more resources that can be added to this list, please add it in the comments section below.

Thanks to My Mummy, I am a Maker



Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create and express ourselves to feel whole. There is something unique about making physical things. Things we make are like little pieces of us and seem to embody portions of our soul.

-Mark Hatch, The Maker Movement Manifesto

When I was growing up, Mummy (and yes, I still call her Mummy) sewed a lot. I remember our dining room constantly being used as the spot to place projects all in various states of completion. Her sewing machine, a Kenmore that my father proudly purchased for her from the Sears catalogue lived on our kitchen counter. That Kenmore is still being used 35 years later.

I often wondered why Mummy sewed. What did she get out of it, what drove her to taking on more projects? Was it because it was a cost effective way to decorate a house and clothe five children? Was it because she enjoyed the compliments she received when people saw her work? Was it a time where she could escape from the busy life of a homemaker?

I guess it was all of the above in some way.

I have spent most of my life envying Mummy’s capabilities. I spent many hours on end watching closely and waiting while she worked. Off to the side I would collect scraps and hand sew clothes for my Barbie dolls, imitating the techniques my mother used. Sometimes I would fall asleep close by as she continued to work on through the night fuelled by the excitement of finishing a project before dawn.

I will never come close to Mummy’s dedication and proficiency at sewing. I still do like the process, though. I love picking a pattern, looking for fabrics, gathering all the notions and getting to work. Being in a fabric store gives me a warm feeling and gets me excited about the many possibilities. I also love the end product, even with all the mistakes hidden behind the seams and under the fabric. It feels incredible to produce something, especially something that is useful and creative at the same time.


As my 5 yr. old daughter sits the same way I did by my mother watching closely while I sew her “the most beautiful dress in the world” (her words!), I realize that when Mummy sewed she felt the same way I do now. It makes me feel human and whole again… simple happiness.

Everyone should have the chance to feel this way. I often think about our students who do not get to watch and learn from their parents making and don’t have the opportunities to make things on their own at home. The process of “making” is taking a back seat to activities like homework, studying, video games, working long hours at a job, watching Netfilx, etc.. We are living in a world where the craft fairs and farmers’ markets are more popular than they ever have been, but how many of us are actually creating rather than consuming?

We owe it to our children and students. They need to “make”. They need to see the adults in their lives make and make with them side by side… watch and go through the successes and failures together. Ultimately, as Mark Hatch states in the quote above, “Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make, create and express ourselves to feel whole.”

Where are the Women Keynote Speakers?

women lead

Image from Pixabay

I had the privilege of writing the following post collaboratively with the following amazing women leaders in education:
Jessica JohnsonMelissa EmlerHeidi Hutchison, Kaye Henrickson and Tia Henriksen

In a recent discussion in our Women in Leadership voxer group, we came to the realization that opportunities for us to hear female education leaders speak as keynote presenters at conferences are a rare find. We can list numerous outstanding male keynote speakers we have heard at conferences and would be happy to listen to again:

  • Todd Whitaker
  • Eric Sheninger
  • Peter DeWitt
  • Andy Hargreaves
  • Michael Fullan
  • Joe Sanfellippo
  • Tony Sinanis
  • Jimmy Casas
  • Jeff Zeoul
  • Daniel Pink
  • Sir Ken Robinson
  • Kevin Honeycutt
  • Baruti Kafele
  • Josh Stumpenhorst
  • George Couros
  • Dean Shareski

The list could go on and on…

Yet, when we tried to list women keynote speakers…our conversation came to a halt. Within our group we could actually only identify six keynote speakers that we’ve heard:

  • Pernille Ripp
  • Marcia Tate
  • Becky DuFour
  • Heidi Hayes Jacobs
  • Angela Maiers
  • Kristen Swanson

All six are dynamic speakers who we want to promote and would love to hear again.  One interesting piece of these women keynote speakers is that they are all pedagogical goddesses and relentless advocates for student learning.  Liz Wiseman, another woman keynoter who was remembered later in the conversation, is the only woman that was hired to keynote on the specific topic of leadership and the impact leadership has on student learning.  We are connected to many great female education leaders; we’ve read their blogs/books, we’ve connected in social media to continue learning from them, and we’ve heard them speak on smaller scales (conference sessions, not keynotes). So why aren’t they being asked to be keynote speakers at state, provincial, and national level conferences? Why is the pool of keynote speakers so dominated by our male colleagues?  More importantly, why are we, the women leaders in education, not making a bigger stink about it?

This has been a difficult question to discuss as it has brought up some uncomfortable reflections, especially in the areas of how we support women colleagues. Some of the reasons that we discussed included:

  • Women can be our own worst enemies. Sometimes we compete with each other as though there is only one space at the top, when as we can see with the number of men who are keynote speakers, this is not true.   
  • Some women leaders feel isolated and don’t have a support group.
  • Speaking in front of others can be scary, causing us to question whether we really are an expert to present to others about it. It’s the own voices in our head that prevent us from stepping up. Many refer to this as the “Impostor Syndrome” which is common among high achieving women where, “Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved” (wikipedia).  According to researcher, Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, women who are in male-dominated professions are particularly vulnerable to this syndrome (Goudreau, ForbesWomen, Oct. 19, 2011).
  • Sometimes, we rely on “duty calls” and stay back to complete the work. Again, our own worst enemy by not prioritizing sharing our story (and the story of our teacher leaders) with others.
  • The reality of mom guilt; we already feel guilty about the many hours that take us away from our children and worry about the additional time spent away from our families.

According to Tiffani Lennon, the author and lead researcher of the report, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, women hold 75% of all teaching positions across the U.S., but hold only 30% of leadership positions. Education is a field that is predominantly women, but we hold less than a third of the leadership positions. In looking at this report, education has the largest gap between number of women working and number of women in leadership. We have work to do.

What can we, the women in school leadership roles, do to help even out the influential voices in our space?  These are our suggestions:

  • Demand that the organizations we belong to recognize the imbalance and work hard to elevate our voices. We pay membership fees too.
  • Recommend women in leadership that we know would be excellent on the stage.
  • Submit proposals to speak at conferences on topics we are passionate about.
  • Encourage women colleagues to get out there and share their passions.
  • Recognize and promote the female speakers that we want to hear.
  • Continue to share our learning/reflections with others online (Twitter, Blogs, Voxer, etc.).
  • Read, reflect and discuss great books on women in leadership, such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
  • Reflect upon our own self-doubt and bravely put it out there so that others can learn from it, support you and help you move onto reaching your leadership potential.
  • Learn more about the Impostor Syndrome and what that is and looks like for you. Get help from others, as you feel necessary.
  • Learn about some of the many successful people who have also identified themselves as “impostors”, as described in the article,  High achievers suffering from imposter syndrome Dec 10 2013.
  • Get to know women leaders, so when the time comes to recommend speakers you have a list of good, potential candidates.

We believe women in leadership is a diversity issue and doing this important work is the responsibility of all educators. It is important for girls to see women in leadership roles so that they can imagine and dream their own possibilities. It is also important for girls to see women being celebrated as speakers whose opinions are honoured and valued. It is just as important for boys to see women in this role and on the stage.  This issue is not just about girls and boys though; it is also about women and men.  If most of our teachers are women, they deserve to learn from women and aspire to be like them.  If they only see men, some of the best and brightest may never choose to elevate their position.  On the flip side, there are certainly some amazing men in our classrooms who may feel forced to enter leadership positions because it is seemingly expected.  The field of education needs all of us to be in roles that fit our strengths.   Furthermore, we need to challenge our own thinking, and have courageous conversations that move us forward. It is important for everyone to acknowledge and value the importance of our voices as women to the educational conversations, including as Keynote Speakers at major conferences, both locally, nationally, and internationally.  In doing so, we are doing the work of creating a brighter future for all of us.