November 20

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #4

Here we are again… How is it that weekends take so long to come, yet seem to be over before you know it? However, Sundays are for more than just rest and relaxation. Sundays are a time to reflect on the week you’ve had and prepare (mentally and spiritually) for the week that is to come.

I am officially at the halfway point of my practicum at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School. The teaching staff is incredible, welcoming, and compassionate. The learning occurring within and outside the classroom walls is top-notch. The students are unique, energetic, and provide the spark that fuels the entire school. This school community truly is a wonderful place.

The community extends far outside of our immediate school as well. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is an urban school and has some needs that other schools may not necessarily have. For example, as I am sitting here writing this post, it is snowing like crazy outside (can someone please tell the weather that it is still November…). For some students, snow creates a sense of excitement – something they look forward to playing with. For others students, snow causes stress. When your family is unable to provide you with a new winter jacket because your current zipper broke off… When you have to choose between buying a winter jacket and snow pants because you are unable to afford both… When your boots and clothes from the day before remain wet and cold because you have no drier to dry them…

This is where the community plays a large role. This past week, the local Knights of Columbus donated a large number of winter jackets to our school. These jackets were brand new and of varying sizes, a gift that will provide comfort beyond belief to our students this winter. I still get goose bumps when I think back to the moment when these jackets were delivered to our school. In a world where we hear more bad news stories than good, its kind and generous gestures like these that shine light on the loving and compassionate people that truly care for others.

Now that I’ve opened up my heart, let’s talk about curriculum! This week, I launched a few units that seem to be off to a great start. Firstly, we started patterning in Math and the students truly caught on fast. At first I wasn’t sure if my class had all-of-the-sudden become a group of child protégées, but after speaking with their teachers from last year, I quickly learned that they had lots of practice before coming into my class. We’ve explored letter patterns, number patters and shape patterns, identified pattern rules, extended patterns by 5 or more terms, filled in the missing terms in a number pattern, created and solve problems using a t-chart, and even solved word problems… all in a week’s time! I am hoping to do another day or two of patterning next week and then administer a short quiz to use in addition to their culminating task.

In Science, I launched our unit on changes and properties of matter. Despite having to do some classroom management, the lesson when over fairly well. The students jotted down things that came to mind when they heard the term “matter”, watched a video introducing them to the topic, provided examples of solids, liquids, and gases found within our classroom (written on sticky notes and posted on chart paper), and completed a K-W-L chart about “matter”. The K-W-L chart in particular brought to my attention some misconceptions about what matter is and what constitutes a solid, liquid, and gas. I’m glad I started with this activity as a form of formative assessment so that I am able to clearly assess where their learning is at and how I should proceed with my unit.


Even in a school that has a great sense of community, bullying will always seem to surface. This week, we had a situation of bullying that involved a large number of my students. After dealing with the situation and having the students talk it through with the principal, my Associate Teacher showed the class this incredible spoken word poetry video that led to a great discussion. The opportunities for discussion are endless and, truly, the video speaks for itself:

On Friday, we had an in-school Professional Development day that was jam packed. We had a staff meeting, delved deeper in to the Mathematics curriculum, and explore the areas of Math that should be deep- and light-study for each of our grades. While all of this was a great learning experience, I had THE MOST FUN learning about coding and using some robots! Check out my twitter explosion about these cool gadgets:

And here’s me almost getting a Sphero to do long jump!

November 11

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #3

On Monday, I transformed back into “Mr. Burton” as I started my final 6 weeks of practicum. Excited and anxious, I walked back into that classroom, prepared to accept the opportunity to teach the Grade 5 and Grade 5/6 classes at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Elementary School. For my first week, my goal was to reorient my mindset from student to teacher and establish strong connections with each of my students. In both of my classes, there is never a dull moment… never an end to the moments of learning.

Over the last two months, I have led my students in a Genius Hour Project for one hour a week. Now that I am in the classroom full-time, we have begun presenting our projects and teaching each other the innovative and passion-filled lessons we have learned. The students created projects about how to create origami, everything you’d want to know about the Stanley Cup, how video games are made, what the strongest animal is, explosive science demonstrations, and how to play the piano… And we still have more presentations coming! I truly enjoyed facilitating a Genius Hour; the students were engaged in their learning and they were passionate about presenting that information to their fellow classmates. Not to mention, there are SO MANY curriculum expectations that are met throughout the project!



After two full (and admittedly tiring) days, I was fortunate to join the Grade 6 students on their trip to WE Day! This conference brings together world-renowned speakers (Paula Abdul, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Tragically Hip, Rick Hanson…), A-list performers (Hedley, Classified…), and tens of thousands of youth to celebrate a year of action that transformed communities and changed lives. WE Day is something that I always wished I could have attended as a student, but that opportunity has come full circle for me as a teacher. The speakers were inspiring and their messages were motivating:

I began a Health unit on the topic of alcohol for my Grade 5/6 class, which is off to a great start. We stared by watching a video, which helped us to understand the mindset of addition. The students really enjoyed analyzing the video and they came up with some interesting ideas of what the yellow blob could represent (we linked it back to alcohol for our unit).

The students demonstrated some great inference skills when they were presented with a number of alcohol-related terms, creating some mind maps and drawing some pictures of what they knew. This served as a great jump-off point for our unit, ensuring that each student understood the vocabulary that we will be using throughout.


Not only am I taking on this 6-week practicum, but I am also running the After School Program for a great group of Junior students. On Mondays and Wednesdays after school, we have a snack, enjoy a read-aloud (we’re reading one of my favourite books – “Wonder”), have 20 minutes or so to work on homework, and then we have some fun. This week, we had some low-energy games, such as board games, magnet centres, and puzzles, as well as some active time in the gymnasium.

Although I know that I am in for a challenge, I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I’ve already learned so much by working with my students and from the wonderful teachers at our school. This feels like the beginning of something great!

October 19

Applying the Principles of a Positive Learning Environment

As someone who is just beginning my career as a teacher, I often wonder, “What is the most important thing that I can offer my students?” Can I provide them with an innovative educational experience that prepares them to become super geniuses? Can I ignite a sense of curiosity in my students that will later translate into the next best invention? Can I model for them what it means to be a responsible citizen that treats others with dignity and respect? Perhaps… But none of this is possible unless I first create a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment for each and every one of my students.

I believe that creating a positive, safe and supportive classroom environment is one of the most important aspects of teaching. The one thing that I can guarantee for my students is an environment in which they feel safe, as we know not all students have a stable home life. Students want to feel comfortable to express themselves freely and not have the fear of rejection by their peers or their teacher. This not only benefits their self-image, but it allows them to take academic risks, which enhances their overall learning.

The way that I view a safe, supportive, and healthy learning environment is like a family. You may not have chose your siblings (your classmates) or your parents (your teacher), but you are all in this family together. As a family, you have each others backs in the hard times and always have each others best interests in mind. You support one another and want to see everyone succeed.

But how do we build the classroom community that houses our family? It is my belief that a safe learning environment must be based on mutual trust and respect and provide social and emotional support for students. This can be achieved by implementing practices that fosters support. Firstly, students strive on routine and stability. Most people are privy to the classic classroom guidelines, but it is important to take this one step further. As the facilitator of the classroom, teachers must take a step back and allow the students to create the classroom guidelines. Rather than telling the students what they ought to do and why, this approach allows students to collaborate in the process and feel a sense of responsibility and ownership. The teacher can prompt students throughout the process by asking questions like, “What helps to you learn while you are in class?”, “What stops you from learning?”, or “How should we respond if someone fails to keep these agreements?” but ultimately, the students should take ownership of their guidelines.

Another way to build classroom community is by developing personal relationships with each and every student so that they are understood as an individual and the teacher is aware of each student’s needs. I never liked it when my teachers or professors introduced themselves and shared all of their amazing life experiences and then never asked the students to share about ourselves. It sets the precedence that the teacher matters and the student doesn’t. It is important to provide students with the opportunity to discuss or share their backgrounds and cultures, expressing exactly what makes them the person they are.

I like to think of myself less as a ‘teacher’ and more as a ‘facilitator of education’. I do not transmit my knowledge to students; I learn far too much from my students to not have the learning be reciprocal. Rather, I provide students with learning environments in which they have responsibility for their own learning. Teacher facilitated, student-driven learning allows students to learn by doing, writing, designing, creating, making and solving, not just by listening.

Ultimately, when it comes to building a classroom community, believe in your students and they will begin to believe in themselves. It may take a while for you to instill this understanding in your students, but once students realize that we genuinely care for them, we know we are on the path to creating a positive and healthy learning environment.

Throughout my Bachelor of Education, I have come to learn that there are so many philosophies behind each teaching practice. Whether it’s about implementing the curriculum, student learning styles, classroom management, or student discipline, each teacher has the task of evaluating the many philosophies and adopting their own that guides their practice. When it comes to classroom environment and culture, I truly respect the idea of restorative practice. Although restorative practice gives the impression of being a reactive approach, when implemented properly and regularly, it has many proactive benefits.

As Bob Costello, Joshua Wachtel, and Ted Wachtel explain in The Restorative Practices Handbook for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators, teachers must do things WITH students, rather than TO them or FOR them. By implementing a learning environment that uses both “high control” and “high support”, students will be both safe and supported in their learning.

There will be times in every classroom when conflict arises. However, the way we view and approach this conflict is very important. Conflict is simply a challenge that allows the opportunity to develop, learn, and grow through an exchange of different views and perspectives. As teachers, we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by arguing back and forth with a student, especially with other students as an audience. Even how we approach conflict between two students is important. The Restorative Continuum in The Restorative Practices Handbook provides insight for teachers about the various ways to respond to harmful behaviour.

Informal                                                                                                                 Formal
Affective statements Affective questions Small impromptu conference Group or circle Formal conference

 Rather than scolding the student for inappropriate behaviour, it is important to give the student control, allow them take responsibility for their actions, and rectify the situation. This is a different approach for many teachers, and I can tell you that it feels a little awkward at first, but prompting the students with questions like, “What happened?”, “Who has been affected by what you have done?”, and “What do you think you need to do to make things right?” will give students the opportunity to take ownership of their behaviour. It is important to remember that just like how students can make an error on a math test, students can also make errors in their behaviour. They are not “bad kids”, but they simply made a mistake.

I find that I remember to give the student ownership of their behaviour is by providing them with choice. I don’t believe that any student wants to misbehave; sometimes, students just don’t know how else to respond. By giving students choices, we allow them to take ownership of their response while also sending the message that we respect their decisions.

The main thing to remember when approaching harmful behaviour is to remain calm at all times. Students know when you are not happy, and they know when they can take advantage of your mood. When a teacher responds negatively to a student, it breaks down the trust that has taken so much time and work to build. It also disregards the concepts of a safe and supportive learning environment. Take a breath, smile, and set a positive mood for the learning environment.

There have been a number of practices that I have seen during my practicum experiences that help to contribute to positive learning environments. A restorative practice that I’ve seen is circle time at the beginning and end of each week. This time allows students to express their thoughts and ideas, share their feelings or apprehensions, build deeper relationships with their peers and teacher, and practicing collaboration. These circles, when implemented correctly, establish the classroom as a safe space and help to maintain emotional safety.

I am also a strong believer that collaborative learning is a practice that supports a safe and supportive learning environment. In my own teaching, I try to use pair work, as well as small-group and whole-class activities throughout the learning process. It is important to start this during the first week of school to help students get acquainted with one another and provide opportunities to from connections with students they don’t interact with as frequently inside or outside of the classroom. As I learned in the documentary #bullyPROOF, it is less likely that someone will bully a person that they know well. Therefore, group work supports both relationship building and academic achievement.

Within the walls of the classroom, we can engage in many actions that create supportive learning environments. Something as simple as displaying student work on the walls promotes student ownership of the room. When students look around and see their work and achievements, they feel comfortable and proud to be where they are. As I’ve said before, circle activities promote that everyone is equal and valued, and that we are all able to express feelings or solve problems. Circle guidelines such as a talking stick and the right to pass instill a greater sense of safety. When students need time to themselves to self-regulate, a predetermined safe space can provide that extra sense of safety.

The school itself can contribute to the overall essence of positivity. Initiatives such as “Caught You Caring” where school staff recognize students for their contribution to creating a safe and healthy school environment will encourage students to adopt their own positive actions. Assemblies that recognize student character and achievements sets the precedence that this is ultimately what the school values, not just marks or grades. Even something as simple as spirit points during intramurals or sports gives value to what is expected for everyone to win.

Safe and supportive learning environments can also be developed by extending the walls of the school to include the surrounding community. Engaging in community initiatives give students a chance to feel that they are doing something good, not for themselves but for others. This is especially important for students that feel they are being viewed as the “bad kid” at school.

Every teacher should create a safe, healthy, and supportive learning environment, but they cannot do it alone. Students must drive this movement and know that the classroom is their environment to create. I am just starting my teaching career, but if I continue to explore ways in which I can promote a positive learning environment for my students, then I know that I am doing what matters most for our next generation. I have a lot to learn and a lot to practice, but students are my focus and I will do what needs to be done for each of them to feel valued and successful.

September 29

Perspective on Education: Doing to Learn

The information I’ve collected about your practicum class definitely informs my goal-setting and planning. There are a lot of considerations to take into account when looking at my classroom makeup. I have students who are new to the country and have very low levels of English. I have other students who are on IEPs in various subjects, including Language and Mathematics. There are other students who have medical considerations, such as ADHD, that sometimes acts a distraction for the student themselves and the peers around them. I also have students who, for one reason or another, come to school in a bad mood and find it hard to follow instructions or get excited about the learning at hand. As teachers, we are to take each of these “ingredients”, mix them together, and bake a healthy, well-rounded cake… or responsible students and citizens.

Knowing everything that I have learned about my class, my planning and goal-setting will most definitely be directed to meet the needs of my students. For example, there are some students who are reluctant to partake in group work, whether it be because of the people they are asked to work with or the task that they are asked to work on. A goal that my Associate Teacher and I have been working towards is developing a classroom culture that embraces group work. We have brainstormed different ideas of what positive group work should look like, discussed and role played different situations involving group work, debriefed with the class about how a period of group work went, and celebrated the successes that positive group work accomplished. With that being said, I will continue to work towards developing a positive culture of group work in my classroom while also remaining reluctant to avoid group work altogether.

My student’s academic levels vary widely from one another. For example, there is a span PM Benchmarks that range from 1 to 30+, which is essentially the entire system (most fall between 19 to 30). This is where differentiation is key. I will have to get creative with my planning, ensuring that all reading abilities are accommodated for during a singular task. This does not just account for Language class; reading comprehension is needed in all disciplines, including Mathematics. In order to account for differentiating my lessons for each student, I have adopted an inquiry-based, deep learning approach to education.

The concepts of problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and deep learning are all practices that I hope to implement into my own teaching. I am passionate about teaching student to enjoy learning and fun, engaging, and innovative approaches to education are what draw this passion out of students. “Doing to learn”, rather than “learning to do” is such an important perspective on education. Student-driven learning is deep learning, which my why currently in my practicum, I am implementing a Genius Hour. For 1 hour every Wednesday that I am there, the students get to learning whatever they want! Well, as long as it has been proposed and approved by me. The students are just started to research answers to the questions they had about their chosen topics and are documenting their learning in a research log book. Eventually, students will create a presentation or a product and teach their peers about their chosen topic. Students thus far have been engaged and are learning to learn on their own; they pose a question and answer it on their own. This will be a truly immersive learning experience for the students that hopefully equate to deep learning.


September 25

Year 2 Practicum Reflection: Week #2

My second week of practicum was full of creative instructional lessons, some “interesting” student behaviour, and many learning moments. I was fortunate enough to experience a school assembly that introduced the Terry Fox Run to our students, and I even got to participate in my first Meet the Teacher Night! Let’s go through my week moment by moment.

My first takeaway from my week is just how creative my associate teacher is with his lessons. He is able to take a concept and introduce it in a number of ways to ensure that every student understands and succeeds, while also having fun. An example of this is how we was able to integrate Math, Language, and Religion into one lesson. First, he taught the students how to find a reading in the Bible by looking up the book, chapter, and verse. Next, the students were to read two parables, each discussing the topic of loss (Luke 15: 1-10). This led to a discussion about the meaning of the parable and the lesson we can draw from it. Following this discussion, students answered math questions that combined the religious parables with our fraction unit.

Finally, to integrate it into our Langauge lesson, students used chrome books to write a story about their own experiences of “loss”. Talk about an integrated and well-structured lesson!

Later in the week, my associate teacher created Language stations that revolved around stories from my favourite author: Dr. Seuss! He formed 6 groups of 4 students and had them read together through a different Dr. Seuss book. At the conclusion of the book, students were given a handout to fill out which had them practicing their narrative writing skills by describing the beginning, middle, and end of the story. As with all Seuss books, there are important (and genius) underlying messages that the students had to discover. Lastly, to tie the lesson into Religion, the students had to choose a character and identify whether they exhibited a Catholic Graduate Expectation or not. Pretty comprehensive lesson if you ask me!

This week also marked my first time teaching a lesson while using the full functionality of a SMART Board! The students seemed to be engaged and remain interested in the topic throughout the duration of my lesson. The SMART Board allowed for students to participate in the lesson, and in all honesty, it forced me to make my teaching more student-centred in that they were able to write on the board and teach their peers. The extra student engagement even allowed me to go deeper into equivalent fractions, a concept that we were exploring for the first time, than expected.

fractions1 fractions2

Another neat little tidbit I learned from my other associate teacher is that the Ottawa Catholic School Board released a series of “Language wheels” that outlined the variations among each grade level. Board members found that with there being so many different types of writing that needs to be covered each year, teachers were focusing on some more than other. In theory, this is fine; however, when teachers year after year are focusing on the same types, then students find the others more difficult later in their educational careers. Therefore, these wheels were developed to outline which types of writing should be focused on (In-Depth Study) and which should be reviewed (Light Study) for each grade. Here is an example of the wheel and how writing should be varied between Grade 4 and Grade 5:

Meet the teacher night was a great experience, especially as a Teacher Candidate. These are the types of events that you aren’t taught about in school and are usually left to figure it out on your own. I loved getting to see how teachers prepared their rooms throughout the week in anticipation of the parents. With our school being more in the urban setting, teachers were unsure of how many parents would actually attend. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a crowd of parents and students join us for our welcome barbecue and later wandering the halls of our school. It is definitely an interesting thing to meet the parents of your students. It allows you to gain a holistic idea of the student, seeing where they came from and who they go home to. It’s almost like meeting the students’ “other parents”.

You might have noticed the little numbers on the books above. These books are part of the PM Benchmark system that my school uses to determine student reading level and comprehension. It is a great system that has students to read aloud to a teacher and answer some recall questions about the story. I have continued to complete these assessments throughout my Wednesday visits to the school and its a great way to develop a deeper understanding of the student’s Language ability.

Another great moment from the week was when Mrs. Pickett came into our Grade 5/6 split class with her keyboard and amazing vocals. The students sang along to “Open The Eyes Of My Heart”, which had both English and French sections. It was great to see just how engaged the students were, and how memorized they were with the keyboard. I look forward to seeing our students have more music classes in the weeks to come!


September 2

Extend-A-Family Summer Program 2016: A Review

Extend-A-Family LogoIt’s that time of year again where we wrap up our summer program! 2016 was a year filled with excitement, friendship, and fun!

Before we get into all of the exciting details about the program itself, we’d like to first introduce you to the team that brought all of the magic to life! This year our team was led by two time On-Site Director Spencer, who never failed to bring out the excellence in the rest of the team members. Josh held the position of Assistant On-Site Director, who rejuvenated the Peer Leader system by bringing mentorship and goal setting to the forefront. Returning for his third year, and introducing the Summer Program Leaders, Gryphon brought his strong relationship building back to the program, and gave the rest of a team an example to follow. Our resident cheerleader Sabrina brought enormous amounts of energy and spirit to everyone she interacted with. Patience and an aura of peace and tranquility came from our leader Marissa, who made strong and lasting one to one connections with many of the participants. Evan, our jack of all trades, brought a great sense of humour and well roundedness to the team and the participants. Where’s our last leader you ask? Not to fear, Emily is here! Emily met every challenge with a positive energy and with a unique intuition, which helped the team strive for greater success.

Sticking with tradition, we began our summer program by traveling the globe in “All Around the World” week. We focused on bringing different cultures to life, by creating maracas and dancing to music from different countries, we had the chance to meet some ‘very cute’ exotic animals from Little Rays Reptiles, and ended our week touring the animals of the world by visiting the African Lion Safari!

IMG_0056    IMG_0011

We learned a lot about each other in our “Hidden Talents” week. Marissa brought her dad in to give an educational and interactive lesson in Karate, our minds were blown thanks to the magical talents of Five the Magician, and we found out what our personal super powers are by creating super hero models! Finally, we wrapped the week up by showcasing our hidden talents in a talent show, which had everything from lifting weights and arm wrestling, to beautiful singing and dancing.

In our third week of program, we managed to get out into the community and give something back by being “Vibrant Volunteers”. We began the week by focusing on our futures and learning how to write a successful resume. We created goals for ourselves and put them in jars as a reminder of what we want to achieve, and took steps towards many of those goals by volunteering in small groups at the Victoria Hills and Forest Heights community centers. We took everyone to the Family Center and spent the full day learning about the positive experiences that can arise from being a volunteer. We ended our week taking a bit of a break at the Mountsberg Conservation Centre, where we learned all about different birds and how important they are to maintaining a healthy environment.

After a week of volunteering, it was time to bring out a bit of competition by “Getting our Game on!” We channeled our inner Tom Cruise by planning mission impossible, broke into teams and played our hearts out in a sports circuit, and gave er’ a go with some Australian sports taught to us by X-Movement. We finished off the week with an awards ceremony, followed by hitting those strikes bowling and splashing around at the Waterloo Rec Center.

XMovement   XMovement2

After a busy, hot summer, we wrapped up our day program getting wet and refreshed at our “Wacky Water Week”! We tapped into our inner artist and created some amazing paintings using water guns, got soaked running relays and capturing the flag, had a fiery time in the gym when Drumfit came to burn some calories, and relaxed afterwards by creating some tie dye shirts. After spraying the participants with water all week, it was time for them to get some revenge in reverse paintball, where everyone got the chance to paint the program leaders from head to toe, and wash all of the paint off using water guns, sponges, pails, and eventually the buckets that held all of the water.  We capped off our week with a trip to Wild Water Works, where we slayed the slides, laid back in the lazy river, and went wild in the wave pool.

We said goodbye to the day program and hello to the overnight program by travelling to Camp Impeesa, located in Ayr. For the next two weeks, we spent our days playing cards, board games, going on hikes, making bracelets and paintings, swimming, and even a little bit of rock climbing. We celebrated the nights by singing around the campfire and making s’mores, watching movies and eating popcorn. We partied with a dance, topping off the night with ice cream sundaes.

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Just like that, summer program came to a close. All of the excitement and fun of the summer came to a wrap. The friendships and relationships built this summer brought everyone closer, and the sense of unity and closeness extended out to everyone who came into contact with the summer program. The staff at St. Dominic Savio did an amazing job at accommodating the needs of a constantly changing program, the peer leaders jumped right into their role and quickly became members of the team, the coordinators who connected all of the participants to the program, our fantastic guests and trip locations who provided memories that will never be forgotten, and the one on one support workers who did an outstanding job in insuring that everyone felt welcomed and supported at the summer program, we would like send a great big thank you to all of you for becoming a part of the summer program, and making this summer one to remember.

We want to send a big shout out to Mitch Bewick, whose 6 years involved in the summer program is coming to a close. His amazing contributions and guidance in that time has lead the program to new heights and success, and he has helped set the bar higher each year for the next team to reach. We want to wish Mitch all of the best in his future endeavors, and look forward to seeing his continued success.

Summer Program 2016 426
Until next time, Summer Program!

Written by: Summer Program Staff 2016

August 29

Start Living Acceptance

This summer, while working at Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region, I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderful gentleman by the name of Ryan McTavish. Ryan and I immediately recognized each other, and it wasn’t until a few days later that Ryan found the link – we had been babysat by the same babysitter years and years ago! Here is a little bit about Ryan:

My name is Ryan McTavish and I am a 23-year old musician and Autism activist. I was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 5. Last year in 2015, I hosted my very first show to raise awareness for Autism called Rock For Autism Waterloo, with special guest, Canadian music legend Fred Penner.

This year, to continue my advocacy career, I created a video called “Start Living Acceptance”…and my coined phrase, “Stop talking awareness…Start LIVING Acceptance” began to spread.

… And this exactly what blew me away about Ryan. He stood in front of a room of support people, each with their own views about what it means to support someone with autism, and shook our mindset about awareness. Yes, awareness is important when it comes to individuals with varying abilities, but it is not enough. We must learn to accept others for who they are and display this mindset through our every day interactions with others.

Here is Ryan’s message:

Ryan has now created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to create promotional mechandise, which will begin to be printed, if enough funding, by the fall or winter. These T-Shirts will contain the phrase “Stop talking awareness…Start LIVING acceptance” in some way, and the distribution of these shirts will help give Ryan’s advocacy campaign a boost to spread further. The shirts will be sold to numerous supporters, including friends, families, organizations, and any place I will speak or perform. PLEASE go support Ryan’s message here.

In the words of Ryan himself:

Thank you for all your support, and START LIVING ACCEPTANCE!

June 6

SEEDS Conference: A Credo for Support

Dreams are the SEEDS of hope: Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.

On Thursday, June 2nd, I attended the 4th annual SEEDS Conference, hosted by Community Living Cambridge. This conference explored emerging evidence-based approaches to providing direct support, focusing on making us the best support providers for those individuals that we work with. With talks from medical professionals and social workers, and a keynote address from Norman Kunc and Emma Van der Klift, the day was full of information, inspiration, and motivation.


The day began with the keynote address from Norman Kunc and his wife Emma Van der Klift. They titled their talk “Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic”. Norman, being someone with a disability, explained how throughout his life he was told to “be realistic”, like when he wanted to get his driver’s license. As a licensed driver today, Norman explained that when we say something is “not realistic”, we are actually changing “I don’t know how to do it” into “it’s impossible”. This stops us from looking for solutions to the challenges we deem “unrealistic”. If at first you don’t succeed, rather than trying the same way again, try another way! This allows us to revert “unrealistic” back into “realistic”.

Norman and Emma continued their talk with a parable about a man who was speaking to a wise man. He says to the wise man, “I feel like there are two dogs inside me. One dog is positive, loving, kind and optimistic and then I have this fearful, pessimistic, angry and negative dog and they fight all the time. I don’t know who is going to win.” The wise man thinks for a moment and responds, “I know who is going to win. The one you feed the most. So feed the positive dog.” By choosing to live a more positive life, despite the situation at hand, we will be enlightened with the possibilities to overcome any challenge.


Many individuals in the field of social work have heard Norman and Emma’s Credo for Support. This is a must read for anyone who knows or works with an individual living with a disability.

Throughout history, people with physical and mental disabilities have been abandoned at birth, banished from society, used as court jesters, drowned and burned during The Inquisition, gassed in Nazi Germany, and still continue to be segregated, institutionalized, tortured in the name of behavior management, abused, raped, euthanized, and murdered.

Now, for the first time, people with disabilities are taking their rightful place as fully contributing citizens.

The danger is that we will respond with remediation and benevolence rather than equity and respect. And so, we offer you:

A Credo for Support

Do not see my disability as the problem.
Recognize that my disability is an attribute.

Do not see my disability as a deficit.
It is you who see me as deviant and helpless.

Do not try to fix me because I am not broken.
Support me. I can make my contribution to the community in my own way.

Do not see me as your client.
I am your fellow citizen.

See me as your neighbour.
Remember, none of us can be self-sufficient.

Do not try to modify my behavior.
Be still & listen. What you define as inappropriate may be my attempt to communicate with you in the only way I can.

Do not try to change me, you have no right.
Help me learn what I want to know.

Do not hide your uncertainty behind “professional” distance.
Be a person who listens and does not take my struggle away from me by trying to make it all better.

Do not use theories and strategies on me.
Be with me. And when we struggle with each other, let that give use to self-reflection.

Do not try to control me. I have a right to my power as a person.
What you call non-compliance or manipulation may actually be the only way I can exert some control over my life.

Do not teach me to be obedient, submissive and polite.
I need to feel entitled to say No if I am to protect myself.

Do not be charitable towards me.
The last thing the world needs is another Jerry Lewis.

Do not try to be my friend. I deserve more than that.
Get to know me, we may become friends.

Do not help me, even if it does make you feel good.
Ask me if I need your help. Let me show you how you can assist me.

Do not admire me.
A desire to live a full life does not warrant adoration. Respect me, for respect presumes equality.

Do not tell, correct, and lead.
Listen, support, and follow.

Do not work on me.
Work with me!

As we go through life, we must recognize the value and gifts that every person possesses. We are all special, we are all unique, and we are all able to achieve anything we want in life.

June 2

Servant Leadership

“The servantleader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.” – Robert K. Greenleaf

Working at Extend-A-Family has brought to my attention many different theories and philosophies of leading and working with others. One of the main philosophies that we incorporate into all of our interactions with the people we support or our teammates is called servant leadership. Servant leadership is a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world. The themes present within this philosophy often remind me of the type of characteristics I hope to emulate as a teacher within the classroom.

Servant LeadershipThe following are 10 themes that are present within servant leadership:

  1. Listened
    • Actively listening and being present with the person who is speaking to you. Listening to everything – not just the words
  2. Empathized
    • Understanding and empathizing. Seeing everyone as someone who deserved respect and appreciation
  3. Encouraged
    • Healing yourself and others. Helping people solve problems and encourage growth and development
  4. Aware
    • Awareness of yourself and others. Helps to see the big picture
  5. Persuaded
    • Convincing those you work with, rather than using labels of authority, to persuade people into a course of action
  6. Saw Possibilities
    • Conceptualizing helps in thinking beyond the day to day realities
  7. Saw It Coming
    • Foresight helps to see an outcome of a situation. Learning from the past helps to identify possibilities for the future
  8. Experienced a Growth Opportunity
    • Committed to the growth (personal and professional) of others
  9. Took Care Of
    • We hold Extend-A-Family in stewardship for the families and individuals we support
  10. Built Community
    • Building a strong community, both in and outside of our walls

These themes are so important when working with anyone. We must always conduct ourselves in a way that is respectable and self-less when working with others, whether it be peers or students. By constantly conducting ourselves in this manner, we remind ourselves of exactly who our work is for: others.

Servant Leadership2

May 17

“Get Through The Week” Advice

Work can be a stressful place sometimes. Due dates, timelines, tasks… Things are constantly running through our mind, forcing us to over-think everything, making us feel that the things we are working on are way bigger than they actually are. But work isn’t the only place this happens.

Often as adults, we overlook the stressful lives that children in this day and age are living. The strange part is, many of the stressors that adults experience are the same as students in the classroom are experiencing. Students have deadlines. Students have work. Students have social pressures. And yet, we as teachers do not always do an adequate job of preparing students for these stressors that they will most likely experience for the rest of their lives.


There is a movement in the world of education to break down the stigma of mental health by explaining exactly what it is to be depressed or anxious. We also explain to them the importance of seeking help and we provide them with different resources they can contact. On a day-to-day basis, students experience a number of different stressors, but does this make them depressed? In the short-term, no. So, shouldn’t we also prepare them for the daily stress they’ll inevitably encounter?

This video from Dr. Mike Evans explains (using an awesome visual aid) the various ways that you can get through a “crap” day or week. Here is a brief summary of his “get through the week” advice:

  • Stick to the basics:
    • Sleep
    • Activity
    • Get perspective
    • Eat
    • Go on a date
    • Clean up your space

In its very essence, his advice explains the basics of self-care. This is something that is of great importance to all people, students included. Each of these little topics can be used to start a class discussion about mental health, self-care, and realistic and achievable methods of dealing with stress. Even a 20-minute discussion once a week could provide students with an understanding of their own stress and how to cope with it, so that they can continue to reach their highest potential.


For your viewing pleasure, here is Dr. Mike Evans’s video: