“High School”

I am so incredibly proud of Josie, whose career in filmmaking is just around the corner…


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Unexpected Inquiry Lessons

I didn’t plan for the conversations that happened in my classroom today. I’ve never had them with a class because I hadn’t thought this way before.

Let me explain.

My grade 10 art class is a unique bunch that thrives on activity.  They really enjoy building their skills rather than responding to topics or themes, so I began a unit with them this past Monday devoted to skill development.

They began by answering a few questions that I posted on the board:


Students established their goals and made revisions through the week as they began to develop preferences for certain techniques over others.  Some even refined their goal, making it more specific to their needs.

One of my students who decided to focus on drawing, was responding to one of my challenges and I came over to see her progress.  When I didn’t find her work in front of her, I asked what happened.  She seemed to be holding back her emotions as she talked about her disappointment in her work, using all sorts of adjectives to describe what she saw as a failed attempt at drawing.  Immediately, I told her I was proud of her — and that we found an opportunity for some excellent learning, believe it or not!  When we discover what we’re not comfortable with yet, we know where we need to focus more of our work.  Next time, of course, I’ll ask her not to toss out any unwanted drawings; at least not until we have a chance to talk about them first and to figure out how we’d like to adjust our techniques and strategies.


Our skill-building unit has begun! #DiveIntoInquiry @tntmackenzie

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Another student, whose goal is to improve his ability to code, created a summary of his knowledge with various computer languages.  While talking about his skills, we also discussed his current experiments with a few programs that allow him to design games.  He demonstrated a few of the games for me, which were quite impressive, but I felt that I needed to know how he was able to create them.  Eventually, with enough digging, I found out that he made the games by selecting certain operations and functions from pre-existing menus that were available from a program he was using.

This revelation allowed us to have a conversation about the need to understand the “behind-the-scenes” work involved with coding, rather than simply selecting material that someone else has provided.  This means more work, but at least we know what we’re dealing with.

Once we had this conversation, we discussed skills with more openness than we ever had before.  We took a good look at his summary of knowledge that he had prepared and talked about the importance of being honest with what we know.

If we try to make it look like we know more than we do, we are doing ourselves a disservice and our work will simply mask our own lack of knowledge.

He used a word that I hadn’t thought I’d hear.  He told me that if we’re being honest about our skills, it’s kind-of embarrassing.


What’s even more interesting, is what happened when I shared his summary of knowledge (with my student’s permission) with my friends Doug and Peter, whose advice I cherish.  After they had a chance to take a look at our shared Google Doc, I received this message from Doug:

Just added a few thoughts.  The thing that budding programmers need to learn is humility.  Nobody ever knows it all.  

Before excusing the class for lunch, I told them that I was learning about the importance of honesty within this unit.  Next week’s focus:  one-on-one discussions to help those who aren’t really sure about their next steps.  The only way we’ll get the clarity we seek is through challenging conversations.



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What do Educators Fear About Using Technology?

What holds us back from embracing technology in our daily practice?

I’ll be talking about these fears with some colleagues in a few months.  I’d love to hear your perspectives.  Please share your ideas in the comments below.  Thanks




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Self-Reg: a Summary in #Sketchnotes

Earlier this month, TeachOntario provided Professional Learning Series session with Stuart Shanker, author of Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage With Life, and founder of the MEHRIT Centre.  My current research into the inquiry process for my TLLP project has led me to investigate the learning environment more than I had anticipated, and I was intrigued by Dr. Shanker’s insights and contributions to education.





I look forward to learning more about Self-Regulation, how I can improve my learning environment, and how I can help students to recognizing stress and achieve a sense of calmness.



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Dylan’s Story

Dylan’s story is just beginning, and I’m happy to share some details with you (thank you to Dylan — and Dylan’s Mom — for allowing me to post this).

Dylan and I have had several conversations since he took my class last year.  He knew that there was quite a bit of choice available in my courses, and we regularly discussed new ideas for artworks.  When this semester began, we were both pretty excited about some new possibilities!

His newest goal:  learn how to make a large bowl using the potter’s wheel —  big enough to eat a lot of cereal.  I told him it was a great goal, and that if he managed to figure it out, I’d buy him a box of his favourite cereal:  Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Dylan has tried using the potter’s wheel before, but he struggled with a few things like centering the clay and pulling up the edges.  I offered to take a video of him while he was working — that way, we could share the video with experienced potters who might give him some solid advice.

When the video was posted, we shared it on Cherrico Pottery’s Facebook page and on “High School TAB”, which is a group on Facebook dedicated to Teaching for Artistic Behaviour at the high school level.


During this morning’s class, we read through each response and replied to people when we needed more clarification on their instructions.  After reading each suggestion, Dylan chose to watch one of the videos that were recommended in our post…


Watching a “Timsee Clay” video…

I gave him some time to get set up at our pottery station and work on getting his clay centered.   By the time I pulled up a chair to watch, he had centered his clay — something that had been a huge challenge before — and was thrilled that it was much easier than it had been in the past.  He described how he had used the techniques in the video and showed me a few tips.


After a while, I felt like a little kid, watching someone who’s working in the kitchen — there’s just something wonderful about seeing an artist work.

I’m pretty sure that we were both really excited when we realized what was happening — he was really improving!  He had created a vessel today that was larger than yesterday’s, with more consistent wall thickness and a better form.  Wow!


Dylan is proudly displaying a few of his vessels that were created on the potter’s wheel.  #1:  a small mug that he created last year;  #2:  A bowl he made yesterday; and #3:  today’s wide cylinder/bowl.

There are some moments in class that I don’t want to forget, and today’s experience is definitely one of them.


I thought I should probably pick these up on the way home from school… 😉

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A Healthy Learning Environment: Play + Collaboration

It can be really intimidating to try something new for the first time:  a job, an exercise class, a project, a new recipe…  In fact, unless you have experience with something, fear can hold you back from trying just about anything.

How can we address this fear in our classrooms?  What can teachers do to help our students push past their fear so they can think clearly, take risks and be creative?



Image via “Thoughts on Arting” by Melissa Purtee


Melissa Purtee wrote about the importance of collaboration when students are learning foundational skills, which is vital for any classroom.  These skills can be considered as a form of visual literacy that is needed for effective and powerful artworks to develop.  Often, I connect skill development to athletic performance since I have so many fantastic athletes in my classes.  They understand the importance of practice and improvement if their goal is to play well.

I have found that students enjoy collaboration when they are building their skills in class.  There is less pressure to perform at a certain level because the expectation is simply to experiment, explore and …play.


Play is a remedy for fear.


My classes are enjoying a number of structured inquiry units (designed while reading “Dive Into Inquiry” by Trevor Mackenzie), and I’m so happy to offer a healthy environment for students to build confidence and comfort with materials before they make informed decisions about their final artwork.


Check out this post by Girls Garage 

These words mean more to us today than they ever have. #letsdothis #thegoodfight

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Never let fear hold you back from becoming the person you are meant to be.


The newest addition to my smock! 👽#printmaking #silkscreen

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Thanks for the new #print on my smock! It looks #justducky 😉

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Play: Essential for Learning

One of the most effective ways to nurture creativity is to provide an environment where artists can explore and experiment freely.  My grade 10 students were introduced to reduction printing this week, and we spent a number of classes having fun with styrofoam and fabric ink:


Experimentation is a vital part of the Creative Process; you gain confidence and comfort with the materials you are learning about by playing with them.  You learn what works and what doesn’t.  Your critical thinking skills kick in as you make constant decisions about successes and failures while you plan your next move.

Preliminary #printmaking

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There were no marks involved in our explorations.

I didn’t have expectations for our prints.  I simply hoped that students would play with the materials and let me know what they thought of the techniques as they played with the styrofoam and ink.  When I provided my demo, I made sure to let them know that it’s ok to mess up — in fact, it’s more than ok.  If the t-shirt looks “ugly” after we’re done with it, great!


It has been so rewarding for me to witness the growth in my class throughout this inquiry into printmaking, and I know that the students have enjoyed collaborating in a stress-free environment.  These thoughts popped into my mind as my colleagues and I discussed our Theories of Action yesterday in a meeting for aspiring leaders in our school board.  We had been feeling quite stressed because it seemed so difficult to develop an effective theory of action based on our new knowledge of the Ontario Leadership Framework.

What I didn’t like about my Theory of Action was having to select one method to connect with others.  It felt inauthentic.  I achieved more success by straying from my original plan and meeting people where they were, and helping them with their needs if they were willing/able to connect.

This is exactly the point of my current TLLP: recognizing individual entry points, goals and methodologies.  The same seems to echo with fellow educators; in fact, unless there is a tool that is relevant for their practice, it is a waste of time (think of the educator’s perspective).  Therefore, why waste someone’s time with my own goal & assumption about what will help them move forward?  It is my responsibility to listen and respond.  

My frustrations with my inability to develop a clear vision are captured in my reflections above, which I’m glad I recorded because they seem to compare to the messy t-shirt prints from my grade 10 class.  Is it possible that messy learning can be a part of leadership too?  As I mentioned, this possibility crossed my mind in yesterday’s meeting thanks to some extremely open conversations about our progress as well as our understanding of the OLF.

When I began to see the development of a Theory of Action through the lens of inquiry, I felt a weight being lifted from my shoulders.  It made more sense to see leadership as a new learning journey and consider these first steps as preliminary sketches (or even messy prints on a t-shirt).  The pressure began to disappear and I am grateful to the facilitators at yesterday’s meeting for providing an environment where exploration was encouraged.  Maybe this is what play looks like for educators?

What a great group of colleagues in #SGDSB!

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