Sharing our stories – some thoughts on narratives in research and professional learning/development

Reviving my blog back to my general education interests (for new readers, excuse the campaign coverage!).

I spent a few minutes looking at some of my past posts and just deleted [reposted, thanks, Diana for your comment] an earlier post with an old draft of my Master’s title and abstract. You can read the final(ish) version here. I say final(ish) because derivatives and additional will likely emerge in the next few months. Plus, many of you may be able to relate to this: I found it very difficult to write something set “in stone”. My learning and interpretations constantly evolve. Even as I pressed the official “Submit”, I knew there were different ways of telling the stories, more to add… I know now why it may take some people forever to finish their dissertations! 🙂

Somewhere between my first conference presentation and my final version of my Master’s paper, I began to get a bit too technical and detached from what I was originally seeking to explore through this research. I have always emphasized that I was conducting a narrative study. But really, does “Self-directed teacher inquiry in technology integration: Exploring the dynamics of synchronous and asynchronous collaborative learning” sound like it focuses on teacher experiences? Heck no.

It became quite clear to me that I was losing focus when while one of my Year 1 MT mentees introduced me to her colleagues, she vaguely described my research on “synchronous and asynchronous environments.” At that exact moment, I thought to myself, ” Hmm, that’s not quite right.

Sharing my research explorations and learning along the way has definitely allowed me to see how my ideas, research orientations, and interpretations have developed over the course of the year. Though I will eventually dabble with and delve into different qualitative and quantitative approaches, my initial orientation is towards narrative inquiry. I naturally focus on personal experience, chronology/development, and contexts. I always want to know details about my friends and colleagues. I am all about nuances. I work first and foremost from teacher/faculty’s experiences, pedagogical practices and interests first and foremost when supporting their instruction (with or without technology). I like to ask about before/during/after experiences. I enjoy self and shared reflection.

In my past few presentations, I started off by telling my teacher and researcher stories – how I got involved in instructional technology, my trip to Philadelphia, and the countless mentors who serve as the inspiration to my study. I usually wouldn’t consider myself a storyteller, but I guess, in a way, I am. I prefer conference presentations (attending or presenting them) that are informal and anecdotal. I go so far to call them conversations instead of presentations. If I have one hour to “present”, I want to dedicate a large part of that time to discussion… not just Q&A on my presentation, but rather co-learning with those in attendance….co-constructing knowledge.

I have caught myself actually asking, “What’s your story?” Recently and on numerous occasions, I  have spent hours over lunch and dinner with colleagues (some new, some old) sharing our stories in our own technology use and integration and our current work with teacher/faculty development and support. It is always amazing.

Every day, my natural interactions prove that personal connections and conversations are powerful ways of continuing our learning and professional development.

Teacher learning – W5H

Just starting to wind down after a busy month – paper submission, presentations, conference galore, etc. I just came back from Winnipeg, Manitoba where my co-presenters Alana Callan, Colin Harris, and I talked about teacher learning, reflective practice and instructor/faculty development in technology integration.

[slideshare id=12798861&doc=finalmadlat-120504090005-phpapp02]


I’ve been quietly reflecting on the experience on my own. Today, I received a message stating how I’m today’s featured OISE student for Education Week [screen shot below]. The banner sums up one of my passion quite nicely: I’m all about helping “classroom teachers build and develop meaningful professional learning connections in and outside their school environments.”

Re-reading that line a few times has sparked this post.

While in Winnipeg, our session was attended by participants mostly in teacher/faculty development/support roles.  There were 2 teachers joining us.  One continuously nodded her head when we talked about the power of collegial relationships and work environments. The other teacher shook his head when many of us spoke of our shared experience of becoming so engrossed in our own career/teaching development that we learn on our own – even on our “off” time & using personal finances. Why? Improving and sharing our practices, expanding our knowledge about teaching and learning… it’s not only a career investment but intertwined personal/professional goals.

Random questions in my head… Who needs to participate in professional learning/development? How do we invest in our own professional practice? Does our learning need to be dictated or set to particular times/places? What does that learning look like?

We so often talk about promoting “lifelong learning” with our students. As teachers, does our learning only occur when it’s paid, prescribed, or  when we receive more money, a step up the ladder, a certificate of participation? Why should we do it when it has little or no immediate, tangible “benefits” or “outcomes” – however you choose to define the words.

In supporting teachers/faculty in their own teaching practices, how do we support and encourage those who are a bit resistant to “change” and “improvement”?

The teachers I interviewed speak of some of their experiences with colleagues in and outside their school environments. By no means is there one solution. Here’s a glimpse into their experiences.

What are your thoughts?

“Newcomers baffled by our system” 2007 to today

This article in the Toronto Star by education reporter Kris Rushowy was printed in 2007.  This is nothing new & actually, nothing has changed.

Newcomers baffled by school system


Middle Eastern parents wonder why their children don’t get more homework. Russian parents might expect weekly reports from teachers. Some Pakistani parents find it rude to have to make an appointment to talk to the teacher.

For the country’s largest and most diverse school board – and others around Ontario with large numbers of immigrants – it’s a constant learning curve to help newcomer parents adapt to this country’s education system.

But they could be doing a better job – and it’s critical that teachers and parents get talking because children of recent immigrants drop out, fail, are suspended or streamed into non-academic courses in disproportionate numbers, Ryerson University professor Mehrunnisa Ali told a Toronto District School Board parent conference on the weekend at Scarborough Civic Centre.

Full article here.

Interestingly enough, I am the only candidate who speaks about the issues and needs of newcomer & immigrant (first-generation) students and families.  From the shortfalls of our ESL & settlement worker programs, proposing an alternative school to specifically help these students integrate into our Canadian educational system and society, to knowing full well TDSB needs to improve on their training for teachers in the field of cultural diversity/responsiveness… Newcomers and first-generation Canadians make up 78% of our population and we need innovative ways to meet their needs.

Vote for me, Monica Batac, #1 on the ballot, someone who understands the diverse needs of our students, schools, and communities.


Media Coverage re: Sex Education, Bill 13 & disclaimer

Here is another recent article from our 1st all-candidates meeting.

Disclaimer: The journalist focuses in on one topic, however does not make clear distinctions between the proposed Sex Ed curriculum and anti-bullying legislation, “Bill 13”. I only spoke in reference to the Sex Ed curriculum, the original question. Most candidates spoke of Bill 13.

Excerpt with clarifications added:

Monica Batac, a candidate and an educator, agreed that sexual education has to be approached carefully.

“Do I believe we need to create a curriculum that provides support for all students and make them feel safe? I do,” she said. “But we need to bring about this curriculum in a sensitive and appropriate way.”

Batac said in her conversations during the campaign, she saw that many parents are concerned about the curriculum change that [the province re: Health & Physical Education, specific to Sex Education] would bring.

“When it was proposed in 2010 at a provincial level, there were parents who removed their kids from our public schools and put them in Catholic schools because they had no idea in terms of this implementation,” she said.

Any questions, feel free to send me an email at


Social Media and Parental Involvement

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how we engage with parents at classroom and board levels.  I recently posted about how I seek to make a clear, direct path and link between parents and myself as Trustee.

I know many educators who use email, Twitter, class blogs, websites, Facebook, and other on-line platforms to share information with parents.  I must make clear the distinction between using social media to merely transmit knowledge and using it to create, develop, and maintain dialogue.  Colleague Lorna Costantini discusses this distinction:

Are teachers using SM to ask parents what they think? Is it being used to seek advice from parents? Are we using Facebook and twitter to maintain two-way communications? Are we providing training for parents on how to respond and engage using these tools? Is it the already engaged parents who are engaging now using SM? How many parents are connected with smart phones, computers the Internet? Is there any data to support how many parents know how to use these tools. I want to hear overwhelming that SM is being used successfully to engage parents but in general I don’t think it is. I need to be bang on in writing about tools for parents of teens so can you share your thoughts on how best to do it?

I believe we must

  1. Share information with parents using social media
  2. Train parents how to use social media
  3. Develop collaborative and transparent dialogue with parents using social media

Full article by Lorna Costantini can be found here.

Social media & digital literacy – what to do?

I’ve heard mixed reviews about teachers’ on-line participation and communication with students.  Specifically, a concern I often hear is that this treads into cyber surveillance. Some think becoming Facebook friends or a Twitter follower of students will require you to be hyper-vigilant in terms of monitoring their after-school or out-of-classroom activity.

However, what are the consequences of simply disregarding and ignoring the realities of the ubiquity of technology and digital media in our students’ lives?  I’ve thought about this quite a bit… who teaches students how to participate in responsible ways on-line?  We may choose to ignore their Facebook requests, but are we guiding them in navigating through and participating in the on-line world?

How do we support our students?

At Edcamp Toronto, I facilitated a conversation regarding this issue. Here was my written prompt:

Social Media use – who teaches our students? Who teaches our teachers? We all saw the Ontario College of Teachers’ advisory on Social Media. With no mandated curriculum for reference, teaching internet safety and social media use aren’t set priorities in our elementary classrooms. Some of us choose to expose, encourage, and teach students about responsible use. Others do not with their own sets of reasons.
Why? Why not? How?
Do teachers even know how to do this? How can we teach this to students when our own personal and professional use is so varied?
Is it up to the parents? Do students learn by trial and error? By experience – by error and consequence?

Is it enough to do a small unit on internet safety? Is it enough to leave it up to the the Teacher Librarian to model responsible use? Do we assume parents are going to do this during evenings/weekends?  Where do teachers fit?

Thoughts?  Let’s continue the conversation.


Parental Voice in Education – Breaking the hierarchy, beyond the school walls

You’re a parent and have concerns, ideas, and suggestions regarding your child’s education, the local school, or perhaps the Toronto District School Board at large.  Who do you talk to?

Traditionally, you would approach the teacher or principal. Some of you may even be part of the advisory committees.  Is this the only way?

What about if you don’t have time to call in or drop by the office? Many of us struggle with daily responsibilities and meeting immediate needs.  Where do you find the time and space to have your voice heard?

Arguably, most parents do not see the giant hierarchy of the school board. They don’t necessarily come into contact with the administrative and executive staff.  But if the changes you seek and the questions you have require dialogue at that level, what do you do?

Your ideas can get lost in the hierarchy. I’m here as a direct link.


Most parents may think they can bring their concerns up to the Principal level. But the puck does not stop there. Did you know that the Board of Trustees have a ton of influence on what goes on in Toronto schools? They essentially decide what initiatives and projects take priority.

Trustees should be your advocates.  As a Trustee for Scarborough-Agincourt, parents can talk with me. I will open the doors, both online and face-to-face, to make sure you can access me in whatever mode works best for you.  Trustees are to develop and maintain meaningful relationships with parents, students, staff, educators, and community members/organizations.

Vote for me so you can have real dialogue with someone who can influence the direction of public education.

I’ve heard many parents advocating to maintain city services in Toronto for the sake of their children. I urge you to continue to be more vocal, especially with education.  I’ve heard parents urge city councillors and Mayor Rob Ford to listen to the needs of the people they serve.

I’m here to listen, talk, collaborate, plan and advocate
on your behalf for your child’s education.


Let’s continue the conversation:


Curious to see the full TDSB organizational structure? See it here.


Specialization or Generalization of Education – thoughts?

This is one of a few topics I wanted to explore at Edcamp Toronto, but I didn’t end up facilitating this discussion.  I post it here in hopes it’ll promote some dialogue with readers:

Many of us subscribe to some sort of teaching interest/passion or approach: educational technology, environmental education, holistic education, inquiry, media literacy, physical education, and so on. Our students are the same – they may like games, nature, drama, music, dance, literature, scientific inquiry, etc.

Are we doing ourselves and our students a disservice by limiting and narrowing what we value and prioritize in teaching and learning?

If I choose to focus on outdoor education… who will teach my students how to navigate their way in the digital world?

If I emphasize creativity and the “arts”, are all students engaged?

If I put my child in a sports-focused or arts-focused school, am I limiting their potential in other ways?

How do we balance our own interests and passions? Do we promote general or develop specific student interests & passions? Do we want well-rounded teachers and learners? What place does specialization have in elementary education?  Do we need to provide & promote balance? 

[Relating to TDSB, the board indeed has their Programs of Choice… if you are or are not familiar with this, include this in your comments.  My follow-up post will provide some links & information about the Board’s programs & stance + my two cents]

The new year brings a new trustee – my campaign begins…

On our first day of 2012, I would like to share an important message with you.

It is with the overwhelming support of my family and many colleagues, friends, and mentors that I will be running in the by-election for Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustee for Ward 20 – Scarborough-Agincourt.  I am excited & encouraged for the next two months of campaigning.  I hope you will come along for the ride.

Over the past few months, I have considered the range of career opportunities available after graduation. Anything and everything under the sun has been suggested- from oversea teaching gigs, employment with local boards, to tutoring.  I’ve considered continuing my studies or entering the private sector.  As some of you may know, I have not been 100% convinced that one opportunity was better suited for me than another.

I have spent the last two years navigating and switching between my identities as student, teacher, educator/mentor, researcher, community member, and advocate.  Yes, I am a multi-purpose, multi-identity stakeholder in education.  Becoming the Trustee for Ward 20 would allow me to continue this often messy, complex, yet invigorating work.  This time though, it is beyond informal conversations with peers or teachers – it is with the stakeholders themselves and with some weight in decision-making.

My reflections, learning, and experiences have always brought me back to the big picture, the critical implications of our definitions, practices, and values of teaching, learning, and education.  Would you agree there is dissonance in what is and what could be?

We all know we’ve got work to do.  Let’s get the votes.

Introducing Math Journals – instructional & student reflection

I had the opportunity to introduce Math Journals with Grade 3 students.  It was a work in progress over four weeks.  I saw exponential growth from Day 1 to Day 15-20.

Logistically, we worked on Math Journals at the beginning of our instructional block. It began right after lunch recess and it was a good way for them to focus and relax.

I had 3 key purposes behind this practice.

1. I wanted students to express their thoughts and feelings towards math, especially with the specific content and planned activities. This was another way to get formative assessment of their learning & students’ feedback on my actual instruction.  I also got them to share me their thoughts on what is a “good” or complete graph or “good” surveying (criteria!).

2. I wanted students to build their metacognition skills. Self reflection is a key component to one’s learning and general goal setting.  I wanted them to learn how to express when they weren’t getting something, & think about what to do when this is the case. I wanted them to celebrate their strengths.  Over the course of our time together, the students began to think about how they can improve their surveying and graphing skills (We were working on Data Management at the time).

3. I also used the Math Journals to build, develop, and reflect on their collaboration and communication skills.  As one does at the beginning of the year/with new students, I had to develop the culture for cooperative and collaborative learning.  Some of the prompts asked students to reflect on working with a partner and working in a group.

Some general thoughts…

It is so important to model metacognition and reflection.  We addressed some of the prompts as a whole class, and students shared their responses on the carpet.  I modelled (orally and written responses).  Students also shared and discussed their response with a neighbour.  We can do this type of reflection orally and written, we can do it independently or in dialogue.  I like the combinations.

At first, I was getting one line answers.  One minute would pass with hands up and tugging, “Miss Batac, I’m done.”  I started writing detailed probing questions in their journals to promote deeper thinking.  I also did this during carpet time.  Slowly but surely, students began to sit down longer, writing longer and insightful responses.  By the end, most students were writing for 7 to 10 minutes.  Eyes looking up, rubbing chins, pursed lips, furrowed brows – they were deep in thought.

3. This will be an essential component to my mathematics program.

Some of the prompts:

When I hear the word math, I think….

My favourite thing in math is…

My least favourite thing in math is…

If I could ask for one thing in math, it would be..

When I hear the word “survey”, I think…

Tell me about your survey prediction.  Were you right or wrong?

If you could change your 3 possible options [on your survey], what would you change? Why?

How do you feel about showing your work on the board?

Are you cheating if you talk to your neighbour about a math question or answer?  Why or why not?

What makes a good work partner?

How well did your group work yesterday?  How can we improve today?

How can you and your group make sure you are not surveying the same people?

Students’ thoughts on Math Journals…

You know, I really didn’t do formal closure or group talk about the practice during my last instructional days.  However, my mentor teacher had students write their “Memories of Miss Batac” for a class book.  It was my parting gift.  When I read the responses, I was surprised to hear so much about Math Journals.  For many, this was a highlight.  Here is one of their responses:

Success? Yes – in more ways than one.  Successes for me & more importantly, for the students themselves.

Read this article for a great introduction to math anxiety and math journals:

Furner, J. & Duffy, M. (2002).  Equity for all students in the new millennium: Disabling math anxiety.  Intervention in School and Clinic, 38(2), 67-74.

The #Edtech litmus test – quotation from interview

I’m currently transcribing one of my interviews with “David” (pseudonym), an Ontario educator (more of this in another blog post).  I quickly wanted to share a key statement:

There are so many people in education who like to depict themselves or to present themselves as people who do “techie” professional development or workshops or are “leaders” in that respect.  But the true litmus test is when you ask them the question, “How are you using technology to transform or to change the learning and teaching?”

Early today, I tweeted some food for thought from Gary Stager‘s comments on Joe Bower’s critical blog post.  I’d like to share a key quotation from Stager:

Like everything else in popular culture, the most simplistic “acts” will get all of the attention. Education magazines have been filled with dazzling bulletin board decorating ideas for decades. Many edublogs are the digital equivalent. With the exception of handful of thoughtful blogs… most “edublogs” merely reinforce the educational status quo. Even if the blogger proclaims herself a reformer, often she is in the words of another social media star, merely “putting lipstick on a pig.”

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now…

ECOO11/Minds on Media: Playing around with Stop Motion Animation

Better late than never, here are two videos from our playful exploration of Frames, an Animation and Digital Storytelling software (available through OSAPAC).  We were at the October 22, 2011 Minds on Media event/ECOO.  The wiki from the day is available here.

Special thanks to Kent Manning, he ran the Frames workshop.  The Wiki page dedicated to this workshop is here.

We did this under 15 minutes with lots of room for improvement (see the still shots of our hands?).  I recorded this with my iPad 2 and as you can tell, it was a little tricky.  I opted for this instead of a screen shot because it’s quite nice to see teachers get silly during “PD” play.