That guy

This is a post about that guy. You know, that guy.  The one that, if you’re like me, you’ve been thinking about, and probably getting angrier about, over the last couple of weeks. Those are the weeks since the Jian thing hit the fan, and then 2 MP’s got asked to leave the Liberal caucus over allegations of harassment. Yeah, I’m talking about that guy.


credit: krembo1 via cc

So who is that guy? Right now, he doesn’t work in my building, but he’s still in my professional life. He’s the one who doesn’t respect your personal space, who brushes or rubs up against you when you’re doing some silly icebreaker thing, and makes a comment that lets you know it’s not by accident, who leans in a little too close to show you something on the page or the computer, who makes no effort to hide the slow up and down he gives you when you’re introduced. The one who will offer the newest, or the youngest, or the loneliest woman in the room a ride home, and you will all try, by non-verbal communication, to wave her off, because you know that’s not a good idea. He’s the one who comes into your classroom for an observation, or professional learning, and gets much chummier with your female students than they (and you) are comfortable with.

You know, that guy.

We all know him. We give other women in our profession the heads-up about him, and when you tell a colleague a story about an uncomfortable situation you’ve found yourself in, she knows who you’re talking about before you name him, because she’s heard about him, or experienced the same kind of thing from him. We try and make sure there’s not an empty seat near us at learning events, so we won’t have to sit next to him. We work really hard to make sure our friends know not to be in a small group with him. We know he’s not safe, and we know he makes us and our friends and our colleagues incredibly uncomfortable. And yet, we don’t tell him.

I am not a shrinking violet, by any stretch of the imagination. People think I’m mouthy and pushy and opinionated. I have told women I work with to lay off the inappropriate comments about male co-workers, but I have not done anything about that guy. When he makes me profoundly uncomfortable with a touch or a comment, I may give him the death stare, and get myself out of that space as soon as possible, but I do not say anything to him. And I am ashamed of that, because it gives him license to continue to do what he does. I am also ashamed, because some of us are doing this in contexts where students see us, and we are modeling a power dynamic for them that I work against all the time.

credit: Peter Rukavina via cc

I was listening to Cross-Country check-up on Sunday evening, making dinner, and yelling nasty comments at the radio, as Rex Murphy (really, CBC?) attempted to have a meaningful call-in about sexual harassment. He was astounded at the number of women calling in to say “yes, this happens, yes, this is real, yes, we are STILL dealing with this crap.” He commented repeatedly on one caller who had impressed him with the strength of her personality, and seemed really surprised that this had happened to her. Because why, Rex? Because she doesn’t seem like an easy target?

This happens to all of us, introvert or extrovert, old or young. Part of why it happens is because we have somehow become desensitized and accepted that this is just the way it is. A colleague I talked to said we’ve put up with it for so long, that it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to change, so why would we be the one to make noise about it, and open ourselves up to shame and embarrassment, because we’re admitting this happened to us.

So this is my turning point. I have decided that I will no longer walk away. I will look that guy in the eye, let him know exactly what he’s done that made me uncomfortable, and ask him not to do it again, to me or anyone else. If you’re as fed up, and frustrated, and tired of being on edge as I am in this context, I’d love it if you’d join me. It’s time.


Let the sparks fly.


More than a meme to me.


My dad, Bert, a few months after diagnosis. I can see the disease in how he holds his mouth, and the thinness of his arms.

It’s been a weird couple of weeks for me, since the ice bucket challenge really took off, because I’m an ALS survivor. If you know anything about this disease, you know that there is no cure. I’m using the term survivor because my dad died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis 10 years ago. The only survivors of this disease are the family members and friends who offer care, love and support as best they can, advocate for their loved ones with doctors, nurses, bureaucrats and support workers, and watch and weep and wait for the inevitable, horrible death. Most people with ALS die within 2-5 years of their diagnosis, when they are no longer able to breathe or swallow.

The thing about ALS is that it’s a “hard sell” in the charity fundraising market. There are no inspiring survivors – there is no cure. There’s no multi-million dollar industry around it – not a pink ribbon or national school run day anywhere. Those who suffer with it often can’t speak, walk, feed or dress themselves – difficult conditions if you’re trying to advocate. And those conditions also mean that most people, quite naturally, don’t want to see what ALS looks like, as its victims fade away to a shadow of their former selves. 2-3 people die of ALS in Canada every day, according to ALS Canada, compared to much higher numbers for other diseases.

So, it’s a little strange, all of a sudden, to have a freaking hashtag about ALS, and to have people all over the world dumping ice on their heads and challenging others to do the same, to raise money for this disease a lot of people have never heard of. I’ve been trying to dig into why I’m ambivalent about it. I love the amount of money that’s going to ALS charities, and heaven knows we all needed a feel-good story this month, but I wish I was convinced that it meant people were actually learning, and talking, about ALS. A friend’s 9 year old daughter posted her own video after her dad did his, and challenged a few friends to do their own. It was adorable, but it also frustrated me, because the cynical side of me knows that those kids aren’t making donations, or hearing anything about ALS. It just becomes dumping water on our heads, which makes for entertaining video, but doesn’t help find a cause or cure for a disease we’ve been aware of for more than 100 years.

I read a Slate article that suggested that people being more aware of ALS does “precious little good to anybody”, and I would respectfully submit that that’s crap. If this challenge means that more people have an awareness of this disease, and fewer people living with it are laughed at as they try to manoeuvre food to their mouth in food courts or restaurants (as happened to my dad), and friends and family members might not have to do quite as much painful explanation or advocacy, I would be thrilled. Awareness does make a difference, and there is almost no way that I can explain the relief that would come when I told people what my dad was living with, and someone had a sense of what that meant. Someone understood that we were watching my brilliant,frustrating,athletic, impatient,Drama and English teacher dad lose his ability to bicycle, rant, tend his grapes, dance, share his opinions, eat the good food that he so loved, hold my kids, swim, sing… was a gift when someone understood that.

So, please, if you’re taking part in the challenge, take a minute to find out what the first part of that hashtag is all about. If you choose to make a donation, you might want to choose one (like ALS Canada) with a mandate to research, but also to provide care and increase awareness. It’ll help your donation keep making a difference when ALS, inevitably, gets bumped out of the social media spotlight.

Links to check out:
Bo Stern’s blog.: A family member’s perspective on living with ALS.
ALS Canada

Let the sparks fly.

Tumbling in (for 3 voices)

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into @MzMollyTL (Diana Maliszewski) and @MDHS_Librarian (Sarah Wheatley) on Twitter. Diana was admitting some confusion around Tumblr, and suggested that the 3 of us explore Tumblr on our own, and share what we found/learned. As Tumblr was a new frontier for me, I was game. We set a date  (really important for me as a procrastinator), and off we went.

photo credit: flickr user SJL via cc

One of the first things I did was talk to some of my Grade 7 and 8 students about who was using Tumblr, and it quickly became clear to me that the kids who really loved Tumblr were my visual kids – the ones who are always sketching or doing something creative with their photos – but also some of my storytellers. That started to give me a clue about who Tumblr appeals to. It’s not the same crowd that is all over Instagram, because there it’s all about the pictures, and Tumblr is definitely about the pictures, but also about the words. It occurred to me that these students might also like to explore a photojournalling site like blipfoto or a photo and writing combination like thinglink, or even a photo narration variation like fotobabble. Things to think about for the best way to help my students express themselves.

As I explored, I started to get the sense that Tumblr occupies a middle ground between the immediacy of Twitter, and the longer reflectiveness of a “blog” (and I know that term can mean a lot of things).  The first Tumblrs I encountered a couple years ago were very much like what Pinterest has now become – I remember one in particular that was a collection of  images of  70’s couches. It was a way to document your passion, and I think that having your students share the Tumblrs they love (maybe it becomes part of the classroom job list, or there’s a corner for it in a newsletter?) would be a terrific way to direct some passion-based learning.

The Tumblrs that I really enjoyed (and I think one of my absolute favourites is this one, created by the Royal Ontario Museum) managed to find that balance between an image, and the things they wanted to say about it. The ROM Tumblr makes great use of Tumblr’s visual capacity to show off their collection, but also manages to share lots of information (but not too much). And sometimes, it’s just about the image.

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

from the ROMKids tumblr: The entrance to the museum, looking like the Rebel base on Hoth

I was very interested in seeing how other teachers were using Tumblr, and was lucky enough to have a great example in my friend  Stepan Pruchnicky, who teaches with TCDSB. He uses his Tumblr as his class’ website, and features student work, announcements and other news. It’s a terrifically engaging way to invite parents into the classroom, and his students are obviously very comfortable with the platform. This is something I want to look into further, since I’m always looking for accessible ways to share my students’ work. I’d also like to find my way to some more teacher’s Tumblrs. Do you have a great one to share?

At about the mid-point of our exploration, Diana shared a tweet from a friend including some of Tumblr’s terms of service, which are, to say the least, a little unorthodox, and written in language most people can understand. I actually found this refreshing, and was pleasantly surprised to find this in the terms:

tumblr terms

That link takes you to an international set of crisis phone numbers, and places to get help. Not something you’ll find on every social media site, and while I know not many users would actually drill down that far, I was impressed.

I did set up a Tumblr account as part of this inquiry and I can see using it in certain contexts.  Blogging is often a long, reflective process for me, and I find that it’s tricky to find the time to get that done (I’m very aware of the clock ticking on this one). With Tumblr, it’s like a quick shout-out – again, with more room for a conversation than Twitter, but relatively easy to get it out there. I think it might be perfect for travel blogging with my own kids, because we can choose the pictures we want to talk about.

In terms of ease of use,  I like how easy it is to add a friend’s Tumblr, or something I’ve read on-line to my stream, but wish there was an easier way to do the opposite, and zip a Tumblr out into the Twitterverse. I acknowledge that it probably and I just haven’t found it yet.

Overall, I enjoyed the chance to dig into Tumblr, and am hugely thankful to my co-explorers, who checked in along the way, to keep me motivated (as well as to my students who let me pick their brains). As with any social media platform, there’s some silly stuff out there (witness this lovely bit of “internet whimsy” featuring benedict cumberbatch and otters), and using it in a classroom would need to be focused on the creation part of the equation, rather than consumption.

And maybe that’s my big takeaway. The students I talked to seemed to be willing to be creators in this format – yes, they’re reblogging pieces by others, but some of them are posting their own ideas, too. That’s something I’m looking to encourage, and this seems less of an intimidating format to my students than whatever they perceive a “blog” to be.

Here are my co-conspirators reactions:

Diana’s: Trio tests Tumblr: Diana’s path

Sarah’s: Encouraging Each Other

What do you think?

Let the sparks fly.

Bands across the water, bands across the world.

That's us on the SMART board in a classroom in the UK.  (photo credite: Laura Jackson)

That’s us on the SMART board in a classroom in the UK. (photo credite: Laura Jackson)

My band and I had an amazing experience this week. Using Skype, we created a concert with a group of Year 10 (Grade 9) students in Durham, U.K. We’re in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada by the way, where it was a frosty -15 Celsius, as my hardy band members made their way through the snow to an early morning practice.

So how did this happen, and what are the takeaways?

A few weeks ago, I spotted a tweet from @mrsjacksonmusic that @skypeclassroom had retweeted. She was looking for someone interested in a Skype concert. “Why not?” I thought, and responded right away. (hint 1: if serendipity hands you an opportunity, take it.)

In very short order, we determined that our students were fairly close in age (mine are Grade 7 and 8), and that, amazingly, despite a 5 hour difference, the times would work out, if my kids came in for a practice early.  We settled on a date, and I found that having some build up time gave me a chance to get my students excited about the event (and talk them out of building a backdrop with an igloo).

My UK partner and I did a quick test-run ahead of time, and trouble-shot a few things (Hint 2: always, but always, do this, just in case)

So, 8:15 on December 17, with a few sleepyheads still setting up instruments, we were good to go – first a little trouble with sound, but quickly resolved, and then we were off…..and running!

We played the 4 songs we’d prepared for our holiday concert that night, with students doing introductions. The pride on my students’ faces when the UK kids applauded was such a gift. Kids their age, an ocean away, were appreciating what they were doing.

If you look closely, you can see the guitar player in the top corner of the screen (photo credit: Laura Jackson)

If you look closely, you can see the guitar player in the top corner of the screen (photo credit: Laura Jackson)

Then the Durham kids performed for us – individual pieces – vocal, guitar, piano. They needed to perform as part of their curriculum expectations, and we provided a unique, and enthusiastic audience. My students were totally intrigued by the information that one of the guitarists had written his own piece, and recorded it as part of an album that he had produced as part of his course work.

As our time came to an end, both groups wanted to ask questions – about accents, and weather, and how old we all were – the usual things kids want to ask, no matter what age they are or where they’re from. I couldn’t help thinking about the we can see project as I held my webcam up to the window to show the snowy day we were  having, and they showed us their still-green trees! My kids were horrified to find out that the British students thought they sounded like Justin Bieber, and the UK kids thought it was wonderful that they were horrified. We discovered that the consensus was that the 3rd Austin Powers’ movie is the best one. We even had a little showboating, as one of my very talented piano players couldn’t resist the chance to show that we had individual talents as well.

(Hint 3: do a little more advance scouting than we did, so you have a good sense of what each group might present. That way, if the other group is doing some solos, some of your students can do that too – my kids have already suggested a talent show format for another connection)

dancing away in the back row! (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

dancing away in the back row! (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

It was magic. Honest to goodness, you know they won’t forget it, fairy dust on your shoulders magic, that happened in my slightly pokey music room that morning. Total engagement in playing and listening and sharing. Both groups can hardly wait to do it again. (Hint 4, and my biggest take-away I think – invite colleagues. Otherwise, they may just smile and pat you on the head as you burst with enthusiasm all day long.Some of us are visual learners, and need to see things happening.)

What did we need to make it happen? Serendipity in finding the tweet, bravery in giving it a shot, a couple of computers and presto!

our Skype partners waving at us, as we finished up. (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

our Skype partners waving at us, as we finished up. (photo credit: Lisa Noble)

So, please, if you’re hovering on the edge of trying a #mysteryskype, or a #globalclassroom activity, take that leap. You’ll have a glow on all day, your students will want more, and you’ll have forever made the world a tiny bit smaller.

Let the sparks fly.

An introduction

So, it’s finally time. I’ve considered myself a writer for a long time – almost as long as I can remember being a learner. I wrote poetry and wrote and edited for newspapers through high school and university, and wrote lots and lots of letters (some of them even published, though that’s another story), and then, life got in the way. I had kids, and something happened to the writer who lives inside me. There just wasn’t time…..

…. and now? Well, now those kids are 10 and 12, and the world is a different place. Now, I have an amazing PLN (personal learning network if that’s a new acronym for you) who make me think and question and look at things in different ways….and I want to share that. Now, there’s the medium of a blog, to help me share my thoughts in writing. So, now, it’s time to write again. To try and let that storyteller, who’s been locked out for a while, back in (she’s kind of been banging on the doors and windows a lot lately).

Credit: flickr user domit via cc

Credit: flickr user domit via cc

What might you find here? Reflections on what’s happening in my classroom, reflections on bigger ideas in the education/technology world, something cool that somebody else shared, a great recipe I came across, and maybe even just some joy at something unexpected. We’ll see…it’s a journey, always. I hope you’ll come along, and maybe share where these sparks take you.

Thanks to @kevinhoneycutt for the name of the blog.  I was lucky enough to meet him at #ECOO13 in October, and he suggested that I was a sparkplug, and the more I thought about it, the more I decided he was right. I like to light things up…to share ideas, and encourage people to play with them, and take them in different directions – like sending out a shower of sparks to start something up. Thanks also to Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) whose #nerdlution (and reflections on it) was the final push I needed to get this out there!

Hope to see you here soon.