Fly on the Wall

I just read a post written by Melissa Purtee, entitled “Just Wow“, and am reminded of the power of being a connected teacher.  Before the days of using a blog, Twitter, or even a Facebook group, to reach out and share ideas with other educators, I often wished that I could visit other classrooms.  I wanted to make contact with teachers whose work I admired and watch them in action.  This is still a lingering desire, but it’s so much easier to learn about great pedagogy by reading through the reflections of enlightened educators.

On this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I would like to thank all of the teachers who are willing to share a part of their experiences with the rest of us.



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Luncheon of Hope

Yesterday, I attended the 2014 TBayTel Luncheon of Hope in Thunder Bay.  To help remember this special occasion, and in case I lose the hard copy of my notes, I thought I would make a copy of my speech:

This is scary.  But I won’t let fear stop me from speaking to you today.  For too long, I’ve let fear paralyze me and prevent me from experiencing what life has to offer.  I’m sure that many of you can identify with this.  What holds us back from doing the things we want to do?  The things we were designed to do?

A while ago, my friend shared a quote with me:  “People with cancer don’t have the privilege to choose when to fight back, they fight every day”.

It must be scary to have to fight cancer.  To have no choice.  So how can others honour those who are facing that fear?  We can face our own.  We can make a difference.

This year, I had the privilege of creating an artwork that helped to raise funds for the Exceptional Cancer Care Campaign.  What an absolutely amazing experience this has been, and so fulfilling.  I started to realize that I could make a difference — something I thought that only other people could do.

So I would like to ask you to think about yourself for a moment.  Is there something small that you could do to make a difference for someone else?  To help another person?  To change their world?  When you think of it, do it.  Do it right away.

Approximately half an hour after I spoke to an audience of over 500 people, the silent auction for my painting was closed and the winner announced.  Tears were shed as I heard that a generous donor and new owner of my landscape had given $2000 to the Exceptional Cancer Care Campaign.


If possible, I will try to attend this Luncheon every year.  Thank you so much to Jason, Lindsay and Dan.  You may never know what a difference you have made.

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To learn the story of my painting, please click here.


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Invisible Art

#NipRockArt students learned about Invisible Art today.  Listen to CBC’s podcast:


I think it’s safe to say that Lana Newstrom’s artwork left an impression on my classes.  The image below includes some of the most common words found throughout their written reactions:

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No matter what sort of art is studied, my students use the critical analysis process to respond in a way that helps them digest what they see (or don’t see).

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We focused on our initial reactions today, which were filled with descriptions that included a wide array of responses.  Students weren’t shy to share their concerns, questions, admiration and even outrage.




When we looked at Newstrom’s website, we read about the purpose of her exhibit:

All proceeds go directly to some worthy causes. Today it is EFF… and, of course, you’re free to contribute to a cause of YOUR choice.
You’ll get to own one of my works once you let me know where you contributed and how much.

For some students, this information provided a chance to see things differently.  For others, their original opinion remained intact.


I believe it’s more of a story than art.  And she’s the only one who can tell it because no one else can see what she has created unless she is there to explain it to them. (student)

I believe [people] enjoy the feeling and connection they have with a piece when they imagine what Lana sees.  I think her description allows you to experience the piece for how you want to see it. (student)

I can see her point.  A way of being able to see what you cannot see.  And I like the idea.  It’s just not art.  (student)

I find it pretty awesome that even though she tells the same description, everyone is going to interpret it differently.  …Also, the fact that she donates to charities is pretty awesome.  All in all it’s a pretty awesome idea.  Kinda.  (student)

I’m looking forward to many more discussions about artworks that intrigue, challenge and inspire us.

*thanks to a fantastic group of art educators who provided a huge list of artists that are surrounded by controversy:  Jackson Pollock, Yoko Ono, van Gogh, Shia Labeouf, Marcel Duchamp, Norman Rockwell, Jeffrey Koons, Goya, Barry McGee, Richard Serra, Rousseau, Manet, Rothko, Damian Hirst, Chris Olifi, Ai Weiwei, Andy Warhol, Kostabi, and so many more!

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Pancake Lessons


Every Sunday morning, I make pancakes for my family.  From scratch.

A huge part of me wants to appear like the cliché Mom from magazines in the 50s, doing everything right & making everyone happy.  This includes cutting up my children’s food. (forgive me)

For the past 2 weeks, this has been one of the things my children are trying to do: cut their own food.  This sounds crazy, but I think that, as parents, we get used to our roles as caregivers and forget to help our children develop the skills they need to be independent.

We celebrated a new skill (& patience/determination displayed by my kids) at the breakfast table with a round of high-fives today.

How does this relate to our role as educators?  Are we still ‘cutting up their food’?  How much control are we willing to give up?  Does it take more patience to allow students so much independence, because it’s easier to do certain things ourselves?

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A New Beginning?


My son and I discovered a seed inside a nectarine over a week ago.  A special seed.  For some reason, it had started to sprout, so we decided to see what would happen if we encouraged it to grow a little bit more.

Educators love metaphors, so my mind wandered as I began to watch this little seed begin to take on a new life.  You would think that the nectarine had done all the work it needed to do.  It grew, ripened, and served a purpose.  Isn’t the same true of us?  Aren’t we satisfied if we manage to ripen and serve a purpose?  Why bother with more?

Don’t settle.

If we assume that we have learned all we need to learn, we do ourselves a disservice.  We will lose the spark that ignited our love of education, and our students will see that learning is finite.

*thanks to Karen Grose at TVO for sharing this clip

As we look forward to a fresh new school year, remember the all the reasons why you fell in love with learning.  What was it that captured your attention?  What kinds of projects or lessons allowed you to become so focused that the rest of the world began to fade away?  What excited you so much that you couldn’t wait to share what you discovered?



I’m thankful to TVO for providing educators with a new platform for sharing knowledge throughout Ontario; a way to connect across our vast province, to meet leaders & learners, and to provoke conversations as we reevaluate the services we provide for students.  I would encourage teachers in Ontario to visit TeachOntario, create an account & start connecting!  It’s so nice to have access to a great resource that enables us to learn from each other.



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I’m pretty sure that #ArtBusking is one of the coolest art projects.  Ever.

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**Listen to my interview on CBC’s Superior Morning with Cathy Alex *HERE*

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation has been so incredibly supportive in our #ArtBusking endeavour.  They created a website dedicated to the project, and have allowed me to paint in the hospital lobby, where my new friend Lindsay (who works at the Foundation) keeps me company & continues to take pictures and share our progress using social media.


Dan Bissonnette, Jason Bociurko (my awesome cousin), me & Lindsay Doran

I really have to thank my cousin Jason, who introduced me to Dan Bissonnette and his team at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation earlier this year.  After we had the chance to discuss our ideas and what we hoped to achieve through #ArtBusking, they worked so hard to make our plans materialize.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 9.00.37 PMToday was one of our most exciting days, because Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, was visiting the hospital.

My Mom, who happened to be visiting at the time, waited until the Premier came through the lobby on her way out & asked her to come see our #ArtBusking project.  (Mom:  you’re awesome.)


Lindsay Doran, Kathleen Wynne and myself


Me & my wonderfully supportive Mother

Here are a few extra photos we’ve collected throughout our #ArtBusking adventures:

What amazes me about this experience, is the level of support from friends, community members & family.  There are so many wonderful people who come to visit, and share their stories  ~ I’ve never been part of an art project that has filled me with so much happiness before.  I never want this to end.

I’m looking forward to this year’s Folk Festival in Red Rock, where I’ve been invited to do a little more #ArtBusking.  It’ll be great!


Not far to go now…


This painting (and hopefully one more… if I can create it in time) will be auctioned off at this year’s Luncheon of Hope in October.

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The Perks of Being an Art Teacher

Official warning:

Like a grandparent who is armed with a pile of baby pictures, I am awfully proud of my students.  This post is dedicated to them.


It’s awfully tempting for a teacher to stick to a regimen.  It would be so easy, so safe, to rely on the lessons from the good old days.  Besides, who wants to ruffle any feathers?

 Placation will leave you stranded on the road to discovery.

As a young man dances to share his culture, a young woman hopes to shatter glass and bones for an artwork, and a group of teenagers work together on the potter’s wheel, my heart swells with pride that students are finding a way to share their ideas with the world.


I can’t deny that I’m getting something out of this.  As students unveil their interests, their questions and turmoil with me, it’s an honour to help them dig deeper to uncover new depths of understanding.  They constantly teach me.

If I don’t step out of my comfort zone, how on earth can I expect students to step out of theirs?



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