2016 Summertime Reads from the LEARN Team

Summertime by Martti Vire

In the summer when the days are hot,
I like to find a shady spot,
And hardly move a single bit
And sit, and sit, and sit, and sit.
– Anonymous

As exam centres close, white boards scrubbed, classroom floors polished, art projects taken down, and cafeteria trays returned, our mindset begins to shift. Ever so slowly, the 2015-2016 school year fades away, as we dream of cottage lake docks, summer cocktails, BBQ festivities, and family vacations. Inevitably, time follows… time to invest in ourselves. Again this year, the LEARN team wants to support you in this endeavour with its summertime reading list.

Our criteria is simple: recommend a book you’ve enjoyed or one that is on your summer must-read list. We’d love to hear your book recommendations, please share in the comments below.

the life changing magic of tidying up
by Marie Kondo

ben_readsThis is a non judgmental space right?  My name is Ben and I will admit that sometimes I am not tidy.  This summer I will be reading the life changing magic of tidying up by Japanese organizing guru Marie Kondo. You might notice that I took the book out from my local library, therefore, I won’t even have to stress about where to put it once I’m done.  Full disclosure, I have already started the book and learned a few things.  Firstly, ask yourself why you want to be tidier.  Once you answer that question, ask yourself why.  Once you have that answer, ask why again, and so on.  Eventually, you will come to the root of the matter.  Is that what they mean by self-help? I’ve also flipped through the later chapters, so I know that at some point I will take all my clothes and put them in a pile on the ground.  I will touch each one and ask myself if it brings me joy.  If not, I will thank the item for its service and donate it.

Sounds goofy.  But so am I.

-Ben Loomer, Pedagogical Consultant & Provincial Resource Team (Community Learning Centre Initiative)

La princesse des glaces
par Camilla Läckberg

JulieVous avez envie de vous évader, de lire un bon roman policier et de vous dépayser. Je vous suggère le premier roman d’une série de 9 de l’auteur suédoise Camilla Läckberg.

Rejoignez, dans la petite ville balnéaire de Fjällbacka, la romancière Erica Falck et l’enquêteur Patrick Hedström afin de résoudre l’énigme:  suicide ou meurtre ? Bonne enquête !

-Julie Paré, conseillère pédagogique




Vanessa and Her Sister
by Priya Parmar

This is  a fictionalized account of the lives of the Stephenson family from 1905 to 1912, focussing particularly on Vanessa Bell, the artist, and her relationship with her sister, Virginia Woolf, the writer. I like books that make me want to learn more and this one sent me scrambling to the internet – fact-checking, looking for paintings mentioned, investigating places they lived and visited, etc. Although it is fiction, the gist is true to what we know about their lives. I enjoyed learning more about the many famous people in their circle (the Bloomsbury group) and seeing how their lives intersected. A well-written book and a good read.

-Susan van Gelder, Pedagogical Consultant


Prince Edward Island: Red Soil, Blue Sea, Green Fieldsbev
by Wayne Barrett and Anne MacKay

A recommendation to travel by picture and word, and love the places that inspire us!

-Bev White, Director – Special Projects




Cheryl book blurb

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

This is a historical novel about a German boy and blind French girl leading up to and surviving through World War II. The author goes back and forth between characters and time. It is a deeply moving and compelling story that builds with every page. The story is not easily forgotten.

-Cheryl Pratt, Adult Education & Vocational Training Initiatives (CORAL)

The Night Manager
by John Le Carré

Rob_reads1I was inspired to pull John Le Carré’s  The Night Manager from my bookcase while I watched the TV adaptation. John Le Carré is far and away my favourite novelist, and I was surprised to discover that I had never finished this one (but I fully intend to). In fact, the bookmark that I found mid-book was a Club Soda ticket stub from sometime in 1993! Le Carré has a beautiful writing style, and his characters are always richly drawn. “The Night Manager” is the gripping story of a British expat hotel night manager in Cairo who is drawn into the dark world of spy craft in an effort to bring down a wealthy British philanthropist and business magnate involved in shady arms deals.


Up, Up, & Away
by Jonah Keri

My non-fiction recommendation is a book I received last Christmas. This book chronicles the history of the Montréal Expos baseball team from their arrival in 1968 to their sad departure in 2004. It is filled with wonderful anecdotes and makes a great breezy summer read.

-Rob Costain, Pedagogical Consultant

On Snooker
by Mordecai Richler

Well, I figured it was about time I read a book by one of Québec’s most famous authors.  And then I found out he shared one of my passions, and tells the story in an “outrageously funny” style.  But more than that, I can totally relate when he says in it, “Like a religion, a game seeks to codify and lighten life. Played earnestly enough, a game can gather to itself awesome dimensions of subtlety and transcendental significance.”

-Paul Rombough, Pedagogical Consultant


How We Learn
by Benedict Carey

Interesting book… not really sure it is summer reading but certainly worth taking the time to explore.  Heavy neuroscience made easy enough for me to understand.

-Michael Canuel, Chief Executive Officer


Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World

by Bill Nye

As a child of the 90’s, the chant “BILL! BILL! BILL! BILL!” marked the beginning of a scientific adventure.  Bill Nye (the Science Guy) was, and still is, a man who could bring the wonders of the natural world into focus, helping me and countless others to develop a greater understanding and appreciation for STEM.  In more recent years, Nye has become a staunch advocate for the fight against climate change.   I recently picked up his latest book called Unstoppable, where he re-frames the daunting reality of climate change as an opportunity for the greatest scientific advancements of our time.  While I have only just begun to read this book myself, I suspect Nye will do what he’s always done – inspire us to meet the challenges and opportunities of our time head-on.

-Emma Legault, Provincial Resource Team (Community Learning Centre Initiative)


Black Hole Blues and Other Songs From Outer Space
by Janna Levin

After my first experiences of Maker Spaces, this book came as the ultimate validation of making and tinkering. Imagine wanting to make a device to record the sound of spacetime ringing, an instrument both scientific and musical, which could record the Lilliputian gravitational waves that would reach us only when great astrophysical masses such as black holes collide. This is a book about the journey of building a monumental measuring tool, from a brilliantly simple concept, to a 4 kilometre monster of precision, over a period of 50 years. I like it most of all because it conveys the struggles, the spirit and the ethos of all those who worked together to problem solve and tinker it into near perfection. Oh, and it works! The very year of its completion in 2015, a gravitational wave was detected and measured.

-Christiane Dufour, Pedagogical Consultant


50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do)
by Gever Tulley


This is an innovative, challenge-based book for children and adults alike!  The challenges range from licking a 9 volt battery, to making a slingshot, to sleeping in the wild, stand (sit) on the roof. Each challenge comes with How-To, requirements, materials, duration, difficulty levels, safety tips, warnings and a whole page for field notes. Pack as much outdoor playtime and curious exploration into those summer months as possible. Gever reminds us all how to be kids again in 50 really imaginative ways.

-Chris Colley, Pedagogical Consultant


by Kathleen Winter

I’m reading this book for a second time, which speaks volumes about how very good it is. Kathleen Winter’s lyrical, rich narrative, and honest characters make it oh so worthwhile! The topic (which I will not discuss here for fear of spoiling it for you) is timeless, and will resonate with anyone dealing with issues of familial diversity and personal challenge.

Hey, and why not read about winter in coastal Labrador while you laze on your deck in the heat of summer? The snowy landscapes may cool you down, but this beautiful coming- of-age story will warm your heart.

-Kristine Thibeault, Pedagogical Consultant


Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown

This booked is a planned re-read this summer… I need a refresher!

Essentialism, sort of like Ben’s pick of the life changing magic of tidying up, is about being disciplined. It’s about figuring out what you care about most so that you can release some of the things that make you busy… but aren’t really that important at all.  Reading in my hammock, being by the water, and spending relaxed time with my family are all essential for me to have a great vacation. Tidying up? Not so much! Happy summer!

-Dianne Conrod, Principal – Online Learning


The Martian
by Andy Weir

Picture 20As a self-proclaimed science geek, I can’t wait to read this fictional account of astronaut Mark Watney as he struggles to survive after a dust storm that leads to him being stranded on Mars. Apparently, Weir did exhaustive research to make his story as scientifically sound as possible. After I read the book, I may just check out the movie (starring Matt Damon, need I say more?).

-Kerry Cule, Online teacher & Pedagogical Consultant


by Colm Tóibín


I am a simple Irish girl at heart. I loved this story about Eilis Lacey, whose heart is with her family in Ireland, but is looking for a better life in Brooklyn. Eilis and I could be very good friends. Easy summer reading for all. Enjoy!

-Peggy Drolet, Online teacher & Pedagogical Consultant


The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick Dewitt


Sometimes I read a book because of the first line on the first page, but this one had me at the title. I have a lot of brothers and sisters and so does my husband, from whom I stole this. Ssshhhh.

-Audrey McLaren, Online teacher & Pedagogical Consultant




Nothing: A Very Short Introduction
by Frank close

This summer, I’m reading nothing.IMG_3223

After a fun discussion with my son about emptiness and void in space, I’ve decided to re-read Nothing – A Very Short Introduction from Frank Close. It’s a small but fascinating book that explores the concept of nothing, all the way back to Aristotle. 150 pages of pure delight. Really.

-Louise-Gilles Lalonde, Senior Programmer


Tricky Twenty-Two
by Janet Evanovich

ChristyI started reading the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich a couple of years ago.  I was introduced to the series by a library friend of mine.  It is an easy read with action, romance and a lot of LOL’s.  The series consists of 22 books so far.  I am in the middle of reading Tricky Twenty-Two and hope the series continues.

-Christy Schwartz, Administrative Support – Online Learning

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
* The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer
by Sydney Padua

IMG_4173I’ve been immersed in STEAM education this year, so a graphic novel about the first computer that never was… the steam-powered Difference Engine designed by inventor Babbage and conceptualized by mathematician Lovelace seems a fitting summer read. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage * The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer is described by the author Sydney Padua herself as “an imaginary comic about an imaginary computer.”

-Christine Truesdale, Director of Pedagogical Services and Educational Technology

And the Mountains Echoed
by Khaled Hosseini

IMG_0398Khaled Hosseini also wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. All three of these books give a view of life in Afghanistan through the lives of different families, at different times in the last 100 years. And the Mountains Echoed is probably the most powerful, telling connected stories through the voices of several different characters whose lives intersect over time. This is not a light read, but if you are looking for a grounding story about life in another part of the world that is emotional, thought provoking but still leaves you with hope, this book exemplifies the art of good story telling.

-Thomas Stenzel, Pedagogical Consultant

Le monstre
by Ingrid Falaise

imgpsh_fullsizeThis is the personal story of Ingrid, a Québec born actress who has written this very poignant first book. It is a story that involves the crossing of two very different cultures that are trying to come together under the false premise of love. It happened to Ingrid when she was 18, but it could happen to our daughters, sisters and even us. When they say love is blind, it can really be blinding. I chose this book for a quick summer read and I read it in a flash! It is well written, interesting, and will even get you to cultivate your French language.

-Natalie Dahlstedt, Online Teacher

My Life on the Road
Gloria Steinem

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 9.02.29 AM

I have started to read a lot of Gloria Steinem’s work. I was really young when I first heard her name. Since then I have learned a lot about her work, but until recently, had never read any of her own writing in great depth. Her newest book, My Life on the Road explores her feminist work through the lens of her very intentionally nomadic life.  Among many other things, I was impressed with how lighthearted and fun she is, while still focussing on such important issues.

-Mary Stewart, Managing Editor – LEARNing Landscapes




From everyone at LEARN, enjoy a relaxed and greatly deserved break… and happy reading!


For more great book recommendations:

50 books to read in 2016: TED-ED Educators and TED Speakers share their picks

K is for Kindergarten: Why parents matter in the transition to school

I still remember the day I went to our local school to inquire about registering my daughter for kindergarten. It was going to be a big step for her, and I vaguely felt it would also be a change for me. Being new to the area and not knowing anything about the local school, I was a bit nervous about the kind of environment it had to offer. So I was pleasantly surprised as well as quite shocked when the young secretary who took my information looked up at me and said: “Welcome Mrs. Dufour. I bet you don’t remember me.” Turns out I had been her teacher in CEGEP some years back. It was an impromptu visit, very informal, but the welcome I received as well as what I saw of the school left me with a good impression of the people and the place. As a result, I felt good about the school in general and about my daughter’s kindergarten teacher in particular.

This happened quite a while before Gordon Neufeld became known for his attachment-based developmental approach of how children come to realize their potential as human beings along with the role that adults play in this process. I had no framework to understand the effects of my positive attitude towards my daughter’s new teacher on her transition into kindergarten. According to Neufeld, by liking her teacher I was giving my daughter implicit “permission” to create an attachment to that new person in her life, to trust her and follow her directions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/ (CC BY-NC)

As an educator, I now like the light shed by Neufeld’s attachment focus on a child’s transition into kindergarten. I like the guidance his view can provide to educators who plan a welcoming process for parents and children. It offers an interesting framework which can shape that plan and give it an overarching meaningful objective, that of creating a bond with both parent and child in order to allow that child to feel securely dependant on their teacher, their other “mother duck”.

What would transition welcoming activities look like if we took as our premise that this is the year in which a child can get off on the right foot by creating a strong attachment to you, their teacher? There are so many variables which come into play when putting together welcoming transition activities that it’s impossible to give a single recipe for success. So I’ll just try to give ideas about some goals to achieve and examples of what could be put in place to get there.

There are essentially three major moments that create opportunities for “making a good impression”: before school starts, at the time of school entry, and at key times throughout the year. In this blog, we’ll just look at the first one.

Meeting the parents and children in May-June

 The process could start with a parent-child meeting in May or June. Its purpose would essentially be to make both parent and child welcome and to instil the seed of a positive mindset towards the school and the teacher.

  • Focus on the child.
    There would be a cordial and personalised welcome. You could greet each child individually, at eye level, saying his name and staying focused on him. Then only would you greet the parent! Parents are about to entrust their precious children to you. They’ll appreciate that you focus on them first and foremost.
  • Create a shared experience
    You would plan something that both parents and children would enjoy doing together in the school environment. It could be a picnic, sharing a snack, or playing school yard games, perhaps the kind the parents would have played when they were young. In this way they can talk about what they did as a child and connect themselves to the school experience.
  • Put both at ease about the larger school environment
    Include a visit of the school in the plan. Why not do it in the form of a game? Perhaps a little rally through the school in which both parent and child discover all its areas together at their own pace. This type of approach also shows the parent how they can expect their child to learn in your class: by being active participants rather than passive listeners.
  • Address parents’ information expectations
    Of course parents would get any pertinent documents that will tell them about such things as when school will start, how the first few days will be organised, what they need to know about bussing, etc. This is not yet about the program, your expectations, your pedagogy, the school rules, etc. That can come later. With this you are responding the adults’ expectations and you are reassuring them with the basic information they need to be ready for the fall entry.
  • Make both parent and child feel special
    When it’s time to go, you would make sure to thank each parent and child individually for their participation and let them know you’re looking forward to seeing them again in September. You might give each child a little booklet in which they can present themselves and their family in a variety of ways. This would help maintain the parent-child conversation about school alive and positive throughout the summer. Ask them to bring it back with them in the fall. If the school playground is open to the public, you could invite them to use it.


Of course, all these types of activities are multi-purpose. They also allow you to observe the children in different contexts: language, motor development, social interactions. These observations could be used to help balance groups when there is more that one K class in the school.

What you do may be very different from these examples given the great variety of school and community contexts. But if the focus is clear you should be able to find a way to help the child see you as an attachment figure with the parent’s blessing.

You will still need to provide more information to parents about the program, about your classroom practices and expectations, about school rules and regulations, about bussing, about daycare, and the list goes on. Keeping this for a separate occasion allows you to plan with adults in mind who will have your undivided attention. You, on the other hand, will have a better opportunity to get to know them: their backgrounds, prior experiences with school, with authority figures and with learning, their expectations or fears. All these you will have to uncover in order to make them your allies and your partners. The quality of that partnership will have an impact on their child’s connection to you.

What are some ways you (or teachers you know) welcome parents and children in your school? I’d love to hear from you!


Related resources

Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement. Projet entrée progressive au préscolaire, Revue Préscolaire, Vol. 47, no 2, avril 2009.

Neufeld, G., & Maté, G. (2013). Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter. Toronto: Vintage Canada.

Robillard, R. (2015) Merci! Revue Préscolaire, Vol. 53, no 1, Hiver 2015, 20-21

Dossier : La collaboration école-famille. Revue Préscolaire, Vol. 51, no 4, Automne 2013.

“What IS Attachment and How Do You Get It?”. Mothering.com. Retrieved 2016-04-24


AuthoritATIVE Parenting, not AuthoritARIAN Parenting”. Mothering.com. Retrieved 2016-04-24


One Year Later: Passing thoughts of a newbie-flash-in-the-pan principal

digits-705666_1280Three Little Lessons Learned – One Year Later
Special series by Neil MacIntosh – You can read his previous posts here, here and here.

After much procrastination, after fixing other things in the house that did not really need to be fixed, like the plumbing and electricity, the final installment. I had wanted to blog a long time about the things that I learned while principal at a school for one year on a leave of absence. In brief, I learned three take-aways, that have unwittingly stayed in my head.

The first is the importance of embracing the “I don’t know.”   I really did not know what to do in many cases – in fact I did not know what I did not know. Only by the end of the year did I know what I did not know. A few more years and I would have learned…what to know.   Regardless, when asked questions by parents or staff or even students, when asked of subjects I knew not, I eventually saw that it was okay to say “I don’t know” , but that it was also important to get back to the party involved.     I kept a notebook of To Do Lists with other random To Do Lists attached. Very often the delay of keeping these lists gave me more time to think and consult on the decisions.   I was lucky to have a network of fellow principals who mentored me along, as well as a very supportive and professional school board who were quite straight-shooting and helpful. Of course, sometimes I did actually know what to do.

I knew enough to delegate — as much as possible.   The staff members who were entrusted with activities were given the authority (no not the responsibility), within limits of what was to be done. It could have been the graduation ceremony, or determining the year calendar (which we did collectively, so technically not delegation, but trust was involved). The old saying being “I don’t know more than all of you staff together” rang so true.  As a 100% principal with 50% teaching duties, my plate was full.   Nights were late, doing reports, marking, organizing, the million+1 tasks that motivated staff do.   Trying to micromanage another project was beyond my capabilities.   So delegation was a necessity.    I checked up now and then and asked questions, but that was it. And I thanked them when it was over. I also went to my staff members, (one or two especially) repeatedly, almost to the point of being bothersome, during the classes and afterwards. One of the advantages of a small school is the familiarity and the patience of fellow school council members.    To keep abreast of the tasks, at each school governing board meeting, I updated a list of school activities, pedagogical development activities and building improvements. This had the benefit of cutting down discussions and ending meetings earlier.

Finally I listened.   Being married 25 years encourages one in that – listening when you want to, and listening when you don’t want to (but need to).   Active listening is so important. Putting the pen down, closing the laptop, moving away from the desk, and giving eye-to-eye contact and ear-to-ear 100% listening. A teacher or student or parent needs that – anyone.   Taking the emotional load off their shoulder, if only for a few moments, was one benefit. The approaching pat-pat of shoes signalled the end of whatever other work that I was doing.   I would swivel away from one desk to a smaller one to greet them.   In this case I would listened only to listen, not to butt in and give advice –unless requested.   Sometimes I did not know the “answer”.   Often that type of listening was enough, especially with staff and students to help get that person through the day or the week. Listening when you don’t want to forces you to look for issues… and sometimes there were inconsistencies, e.g. equitable supervision schedules to be dealt with, or extra help schedules. The next step was to turn words to action – which was hard, but I tried to keep track of that stuff on one of my many To Do Lists.

So, being ok with saying “I don’t know”, delegating whenever possible, and true listening are important to running a school. It was a great experience to try on being a principal for one year.   Having a happy school was not my direct goal, but I think it did happen a bit. I hope the staff , students, and parents enjoyed it.   These lessons learned have opened my eyes to other opportunities.

And procrastination. Tim Urban, in his TED Talk, expands on the happy desire to be able to say that he has done a TED Talk – in the past tense. The hassle and the anxiety leading up to actually preparing for it and writing his speech, led him to describe his inner demon as the instant gratification monkey (spoiler alert). We do everything in our power not to do the necessary. I have heard that to overcome this, you pick an activity even less likeable to do. I usually wind up with a list of unlikeable tasks piling up….and depressing me.   It is the rushing up sounds of a deadline that bring on Urban’s panic monster which scares the monkey away and his inner self into action. I am not sure what mine is. I think my panic monster is a bit slow witted.

The opposite of fear as motivator would be passion – passion to perform or to fulfill an inner desire.   In her book, Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It , former journalist and Duke University professor of Business Admin Dorie Clark details how to find your new idea at work, hopefully. That is her Big Idea. Passion is the fuel.

So if your big idea is to improve a school in some aspect, then learn about PLCs, or literacy, for instance and do some hands-on research at school.   Getting the idea out requires a network of colleagues.   The network should be small at first so that your ideas can be bounced around and adjusted and improved by input from colleagues.   In school or out, you can develop a network to help you achieve small successes. Success is what can change the point of view of naysayers.   It is not necessary to break out from your school, when you are already in.   There is no one idea to fix a school. The multitude of problems need a multitude of approaches from a multitude of in-school leaders.

I have only learned three…so far…. for now.