Taking Stock Through Critical Reflection: Check Your Teaching Assumptions in 2021

I am currently reading Brookfield’s (2017) second edition book entitled “Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.” At the end of every semester, students share their experiences of learning in my courses through a feedback mechanism that my institution has named SETL (Student Experiences of Teaching and Learning). I typically look forward to reading the comments and also do so with the hope that I will be better able to adjust my practice for future students. This year, I was reluctant to read the report and felt all sorts of butterflies-in-the-stomach when it came time to do so (I am blaming COVID-19 for this as it was my first time teaching remotely). Essentially, the reports this semester were similar to the many that I have read before (and I share with you dear reader the reports are mostly positive and highly insightful) but way down–in the small print comments–a message that one student perceived me to be singularly focused on one way to demonstrate success (and this was NOT a strength) struck a tender nerve. This notion of “my way or the highway” has been shared with me in the past–albeit, by my children–but I could always square that away with “Right! I DO know best – I am your Mother!” narrative. This was different.

Brookfield (2017) suggests that a teacher can reframe their teaching by “viewing it through four distinctive and complementary lenses: through their students’ eyes, colleagues perceptions, relevant theory and research, and personal experience” (p. 7). He also asserts that critical reflection is not simply “deeper reflection,” it focusses on understanding power and hegemony (Brookfield, 2017, p.9).

My standing questions: How then can I unpack my teacher power and see the hegemonies that I am trapped by to change my practice? How can I best see through my students’ eyes? Which trusted peer can I rely on to challenge me? What does the research say? And lastly, I am thinking about when I have felt this way as a learner: what does my own lived experience reveal to me?

Perhaps when I have read a bit further into Brookfield’s work, I will hold more answers. But for now, it is enough to know that I am not alone. Brookfield reminds us that all teachers fall victim to our assumptions. In this case, my prescriptive assumption that success = x + y + z in my assessment scheme, and in my communication, shut down one student’s creativity and perhaps their questions. It is up to me to adjust–and I do so with gratitude that they shared.

Leadership Lightbulb Splat

I am knee deep in writing my dissertation for my Doctor of Education. Writing is such a task – as I write this I am not even sure what adjective to use to describe it. Writing is such a _________________ task: creative? wriggly? iterative? messy? hard? frustrating? down-the-rabbit-hole-ish? inspiring? maddening? joy-filled?

I needed a moment to just free write what I am LEARNING (thank you personal blog). No style worries, no referencing (ok not true because I value integrity too much – but you know what I mean), no trying to create good figures by using smart art on PowerPoint when you have literally NO idea what you are doing, no trying to avoid passive voice.

Dear Passive Voice,

I do not like you very much. Yet, I cannot seem to live without you. Why do you continually knock on my door? Please don’t for the next 6 months.



And I digress; I have had a dream-like epiphany. I am certain that this is not new for others but it is new to me. I have been a formal school leader and I have been an informal school leader. Presently, I find myself somewhere in-between but closer to informal leadership in my role as Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Professional Year Program (BEd) for secondary school teacher candidates. I am researching and writing about organizational change and educational leadership. I was 49 years old when I first realized that there is a SIGNIFICANT and fundamental difference between Transformational Leadership and Transformative Leadership. (turn on the first lightbulb here thanks to my advisor, Dr. Scott Lowrey, at Western University)

I have used these terms interchangeably and I am pretty sure that others have too. And no – this is not simply word play and semantics- smoke and mirrors- if you are already thinking so. Get ready for a WHAT, SO WHAT and a NOW WHAT thinking routine!


Transformational leadership is about reform. Taking what presently exists and transforming it for the better- REFORM. Leithwood & Sun (2012, p. 388) write that the focus of the transformational leader is on “increasing the commitment and effort of organizational members toward the achievement of organizational goals.” Hewitt, Davis & Lashley (2014, p. 228) clear it up for me: “Transformational leadership, in other words, involves reforming or improving the status quo while ultimately maintaining it and reproducing it.”

Transformative leadership is all about DISRUPTION. This!

“Transformational leadership focuses on improving organizational qualities, dimensions, and effectiveness; and transformative educational leadership begins by challenging inappropriate uses of power and privilege that create or perpetuate inequity and injustice” (Shields, 2010, p. 564).


I do not think that one is better than the other. But I do think that we cannot use the language interchangeably- especially in our current situation where it is time to disrupt, decolonize and prioritize liberation of the oppressed. (Yes, I am reading the mighty work of Freire and Freire & Macedo. And yes, I love it. And yes, I understand that it may be unsettling. And yes, I am becoming a disruptor of my own mind. And my last and yes…it has taken me a long time to get here and great deal of self interrogation.) Either you reform or you disrupt through your leadership. Can you use these different typologies strategically at different times? I think so. But remember, this is a splat of my late night-dream thoughts after reading and this blog post is an early morning journal entry written after only one cup of coffee.


Time to disrupt. Time be a positive deviant. Time to lead with strategic clarity in my own work. And time to speak up.

Dear Reform,

I still like you… a lot. We will take a small break in our relationship. Or, I am happy to keep seeing you in the background work and in a minimized way. I am not sure yet. Either way, this dissertation is designed to disrupt my thinking.

See you in the more just future,


References for you:

Hewitt, K. K., Davis, A. W., & Lashley, C. (2014). Transformational and Transformative Leadership in a Research-Informed Leadership Preparation Program. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 9(3), 225–253. https://doi.org/10.1177/1942775114552329

Leithwood, K., & Sun, J. (2012). The nature and effects of transformational school leadership:
A meta-analytic review of unpublished research. Education Administration Quarterly, 48,

Shields, C. M. (2010). Transformative Leadership: Working for Equity in Diverse Contexts. Educational Administration Quarterly, 46(4), 558–589. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X10375609

The Future Is In the Air

The Scorpions released the song “Winds of Change” in 1990, the year I was transitioning from high school to university, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the Meech Lake Accord collapsed, and Hip-Hop was on the rise.  I vividly recall loving this song and thinking that I was so politically astute at the age of 19 (this makes me smile today). Listening to this song can take me instantly back in time to when the tension of certainty and uncertainty reigned supreme in my life.

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

As I reflect on this it seems as though not too much as changed.  Today, as I pursue my Doctor of Education, I find myself a student of change management and all over again Scorpions’ lyrics become relevant.

“The future’s in the air. I can feel it everywhere.”

I believe that change often has a bad-rap.  Not everyone perceives change to be negative. The Scorpions didn’t – right?! Resistance to change is not a universal truth. Many will question change, but this does not equate with resistance. Questioning helps us position our feelings around the benefits and costs of change. As I age, my ability to change grows more flexible.  I have experienced some truly GOOD change in my life and I am looking forward to more!

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

As a change leader I am reminded that I need to seek to understand rather than to be understood (thank you, Stephen Covey, Habit #5 of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

At my place of work, we are all engaged in cycles of inquiry for continual improvement. This is our second year of inquiry and coaching one another using a Liberating Structure called Troika. Through this process we have improved our personal practice, drawn together as a community of learners, met our SMART goals and served our “clients” (our students) better. Every time we meet (bi-weekly) the “future is in the air” as we map out a theory of action to enact meaningful, incremental, reflective and sustained change for our work.

“Take me to the magic of the moment…where we dream away in the wind of change.”

Thank you Scorpions for reminding me in 2019 that change is powerful and inspiring. It is my hope that we continue to dream a way to better support students in their time of transition from secondary school to university.


This Saturday our campus is welcoming 750 new students. Our university is alive with returning student leaders, campus beautification projects and renovation projects finishing up. The energy in the air is strong and positive. Everywhere you look, our environment is saying “Welcome! We are so happy you are here!” Today, I had the privilege of working with 45 student leaders who are Peer Instructors (PIs) for a first-year university seminar course. These amazing leaders were exploring the skills of facilitation and practicing them with each other.

Facilitate is an interesting verb – “to make easy.” University is challenging – of this there is no doubt. The first-year of university has unique pressures and a steep learning curve. While I can vividly recall my first year of uni, I must admit it was a long time ago and I know many things have changed. The decision to employ near-peers as course facilitators is grounded in the belief that student leaders are uniquely positioned to facilitate this transition for their peers. In fact, a PI facilitated their transition last year! This is how of culture of leadership and service is created on our campus. Facilitate: to make easier. And, in the process of facilitation a culture of support is born and a learning community strengthened. It is sheer joy to be a part of something so powerful!

Welcome first-year students! Your peers are ready to make your journey a little bit easier. Thank you Student Life for investing in student leadership development and allowing me some space to facilitate your good work! 😃

(A special thank you to Tiffany Sawatzky who has led this good work in Student Life this past year. I will miss you Tiffany! I am always available to “facilitate” for you as you have done for me!❤️)

Administration – Poetic Thoughts

I cannot stop thinking about this poem:

It is not that I lack the desire to live beside rivers and among hills,

Hearing the wind scatter leaves, watching the rain breed fish;

But the thought of disproportion in public affairs

Offends my sense of rhythm, and disposes me

To expend the passion that normally takes form in song and painting,

On matters of administrative interest.

Knowing that all things have their intrinsic nature I imitate the whale

That perpetually aspires to change the currents of the sea.

Torn by contradictory thoughts, I drink deep.

– Tu-Fu, Chinese Tang Dynasty Poet

This poem is found in a chapter written by Wagner and Tony (as cited in the Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership, p. 252)   I have been thinking deeply about how to respond to this. I am desperate to create an artistic response, yet I know that my skills would not do this piece justice. It is as if Tu-Fu is speaking directly to my weary soul in this poem. There is beauty in my work even when I long to be elsewhere.  I know the value, worth, and joy of a consistent, sustained focus on culture, improvement and building capacity.

As an administrator, have you ever felt like the whale: attempting to change the currents of the sea?  Today, I am getting a bit vulnerable and posting a photo essay response to Tu-Fu’s poem.  Click on this link to drink deep with me.

Dreams, Dreams, Dreams

Please allow me to begin this long overdue post by acknowledging the artist who generously shared the beautiful photo, that is my featured image, for Creative Commons use on Unsplash: Hannah Olinger.  Thank you, Hannah, for sharing your creativity with the world!

I have held a few dreams in my mind and heart that I have wondered if they would come true:

  1. I would be able to ride my bike to work with a big basket on the front to carry my books. The bike in my mind’s eye is fuschia and there is an orange Gerber Daisy on the basket.
  2. I would one day teach in a Faculty of Education, pre-service teachers. The joy!
  3. I would happily drink 8, 8 fluid oz glasses of water every day without even thinking of it.
  4. I would own (and wear regularly at home) a big floppy hat with plumage and a matching robe that I earned through higher learning at a university of renown.
  5. I would see my own children graduate from post-secondary learning and embark on brave, independent life adventures of their own.

Well 2018, you are a blessing!  Some of these dreams are shaping up.  In the fall, I am beginning my EdD (Doctor of Education) as well as teaching in a Faculty of Ed. I am thrilled to share that I am teaching “The Principles of Teaching and Learning” to a new generation of teachers. While I do not live close enough to work to have the bike, drinking enough water daily is not a natural joy and my children are still en route to adulting some of my heart desires for my calling are being realized and I am happy.

Dreams are powerful harbingers of HOPE. May yours be likewise.


This is Me “Middle Schooling” & Loving It!

I am stand for joy and love- these are my core beliefs❤️. My vocation, teaching, allows me to speak joy and love into the lives of young people and I am thankful for this calling every day.

I have been learning alongside a number of passionate middle school level leaders at the Association for Middle Level Education, AMLE, Leadership conference in SanDiego this past week.  After a time of deep, rich, learning I have come to value a quiet moment to reflect and to plan my next best move to grow and stretch my leadership. This time to think, plan and document is a professional gift.  You see, I am at the end of the academic year in a new leadership role, in a new city, new province, and with new curriculum. Truthfully, I have used the phrase “this is new to me” a great deal this year. Insert a humble admission here: I am not proud of how much I said this, but it was said regularly.😊 My entry plan for my new school included a lot of observation and listening.

If you knew me, you would know that listening, observing and uncertainty about protocol and policy is an uncomfortable place to be for my soul. My leadership profile marks me as an extroverted influencer.  I love the limelight, and feeling confident!  This past year has been stretching and–wait for it–it has been good for me. It is good not to hold all the answers.  In some ways, I am back in a metaphorical middle school! You know the adolescent profile: I know enough, but I am uncertain about the rest.  I am happy to learn, but I do not always like constraints and sometimes, I think I still know it all.  I appreciate structure and expectations for my performance yet I long to be truly me and without limitations! I worry about fitting in and not being too weird or loud. I want to connect, build relationships and have fun with my peers.  I am happiest when others are smiling and laughing with me. Will I ever graduate from middle school? I hope not!! The AMLE leaders conference reminded me just how much I love it!

My leadership learning this week reinforced for me that I am my best when I am truly myself. Staff and students will be best served when I am real about times when I do not know and we have to work together to puzzle it out and problem solve. Staff and students will feel comfortable when I am comfortable with my own significant degrees of weirdness. Do I know it all? Far from it, but there might be times when I make an informed decision and hope for the best. If the decision goes south, I will remind myself (and others if necessary) that this is how we learn – middle school is NOT easy you know! I will take risks. I will choose joy. I will share vulnerably and listen to others with empathy. These are lofty ideals I know, but this is what education is all about. Year two, here I come!

Tell me again…What is a DENOMINATOR?

I have the best job!  Part of my professional portfolio is facilitating professional learning in mathematics.  I work alongside amazing teachers who are willing to take pedagogical risks and try new approaches.  These amazing educators are as concerned with ensuring that fundamental concepts are deeply learned as they are concerned that we are building mathematical agency in our students.  The desire is that our classrooms are places of learning where girls say: I can do this; This struggle is good; Mistakes help me move towards understanding; I am flexible; Your thinking will help me with my thinking; I am a listener; I am a collaborator; I am NOT a denominator! (yes, this requires some explanation…read to the end of this blog post)

Our Grade 4, 5 and 6 classes are all exploring fractions.  In Grade 4 and 5, students were able to name the parts of a fraction with ease – especially when the whole was pizza or a chocolate bar!

pizza fraction.gif

Misconceptions started to reveal themselves when students were challenged to explain the meaning of fractions.  I mean, what exactly is the denominator anyways?  The bottom number?  There must be more to it than that!   And the numerator?  Always smaller than the denominator and always on top.  Always smaller? Can you prove that?  Students knew the names but they did NOT understand the meaning.

In order to get to rich learning for students, teachers at our school design their lessons according to an understanding by design framework (UbD).  Further, I am a four-part math lesson kind of teacher and it is my experience that 4-part lessons lend themselves to deep learning.  The kind of learning where students can confidently name the learning goal of the lesson at the end of the period(s).  You can read more about the 4-Part Math Lesson from Kyle Pearce. The-4-Part-Math-Lesson

The design of the lesson was important.  The plan was critical. How could I move girls in their understanding of fractions?  How would I set the stage?  How could I lead them into deeper learning?  How will I know what they now know? And lastly, how will students assess their own core competencies (Collaboration and Communication)?

You can check out the lesson plan here.  I used Van de Walle’s resource, Teaching Student-Centred Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades 3 – 5, to help lay out a path and set the questions to present to our students.  I love this resource and it is a “go-to” for me whenever I am beginning to lay out a UbD plan.

Something really interesting happened in this lesson.  The core competencies and the big idea (denominator is a divisor) came together in an unexpected way.  When I use the word denominator, I ask students to accompany the word with an action.  For denominator: students stand, bend low, form a two-fisted arm flex and say loudly in a low voice: DENOMINATOR!!! (Check out the Blue Power Ranger for a visual with this :))


power ranger.jpeg

After we had established that the denominator acts as a divisor – divides up the whole into parts – students quickly connected that our core competency learning goals (collaborate and communicate) would NOT happen if people acted like a denominator in their small groups.  This was a significant light-bulb moment! And, I think that it will stick!  We are on the road to deeper learning and enduring understanding.  Who would have thought that learning about fractions would lead us to life lessons along the way?