Developing in house or not… that is the question.


I am a Learning and Development team of 1. I don’t think this is unique, as many people I talk to seem to be in a similar position.

It does, however, present some challenges. You have to be a time management pro. You definitely have to know when to say no. You have to also be good at setting appropriate expectations, as you cannot possibly do all task in a day.

One of the things I have learned recently is that it is also important to know when you should develop materials in house or look for another company that may already have this content developed. This is HARD to admit. I think it’s natural to want to develop and deliver your own courses all the time. But sometimes this is not practical AND sometimes there are people who have more expertise in a particular subject and would serve your learners better.

I recently did just that. And it was not nearly as bad as I thought to the ego. I worked with the other company customizing the content to fit the needs of our organization. And when we launched the program it seemed the learners were just as responsive or more than if I did it all myself. The best part, I get to watch and learn how another skilled teacher teaches.

While it is not the same, it does remind my of Brookfield’s idea of team teaching. By having more teachers you can capture more learners, as each teacher will use techniques that fit their style and interest.











Experiencing Teaching

The first chapter of Brookfield’s book “The Skillful Teacher” is appropriately titled Experiencing Teaching .

From the start of this book, Brooksfield has caught me. This chapter talks about how teaching and learning is messy and unpredictable. What works for one topic may not work for another. And what works for one group of learners may not work for another group of learners. Brookfield posits that exploring our experiences as teachers can help us manage the times when are best laid plans well bomb.

Brookfield also talks about some “truths” that he has discovered about his practise through his experience. While reading these, I could not stop yelling YES! YES! This is my favourite “truth” he shares:

I will always feel like an imposter and will never lose the sense of amazement I feel when people treat me as if I have something of value to offer.

This “truth” made me giggle. Each time I get in front of a class, I feel like I’m pretending to be a teacher. This does not just stay with my teaching experience either. As a manager, I also feel like an imposter. In both these roles, I sometimes feel someone will pop out of the woodwork and expose me for the imposter I feel like I am. It is humbling to think that I am not the only person who feels this way.

This brings to mind another experience I had in the PID program: Taking the in class 3220 class. The class was a mix of professionals just entering the teaching field and others who have been teaching for years. One of the commonalities that seemed to run through the group was our anxiety of leading a lesson. We all had varying degrees of nerves, which while we get used to over time, it does not completely disappear.

In my early years of being a leader, I used to blame my imposter feelings on a lack of confidence. The more I think about confidence, the more I realize that it is pretty rare that I feel completely confident. I always thought that if I just get more experience, my confidence will fall in line. BOY was I wrong. I am still rarely confident in the conventional way that I think you’re suppose to be. What experience has changed is how I manage this confidence gap.

My reflections on confidence have lead me to my own truth: I will never be fully confident and this is part of what makes me excel in what I do, both as a manager and teacher. My confidence gap keeps me skeptical. This prompts me to closely examine my actions and performance, so that I can improve. This makes me work just that little bit harder in attempt to mimic that actions and performance of what good confidence looks like, even though my feelings may not be completely aligned.

As a final thought, this reminds me of a TEDtalk by Amy Cuddy:

While her talk is centered around body language, what really sings true and applies to this discussion is that you really can “fake it til you make it.”

We may feel isolated in our anxieties about our confidence or performance, but this in itself balances us in our practise. It can allow us to closely examine our actions and forever seek better ways of doing and improving. And to me, this is what it means to be a good teacher.











Say What Now? Directed Paraphrasing

It’s probably no surprise to anyone, but I read every page of every book I start. This includes a tragic discovery of exact how bad James Patterson mysteries are.

Recently, I was reading a textbook on classroom assessment techniques. It was an interesting timing as I was working on a communication challenge at work where there was some frustration at the level of technical information our support team was sending to customers. And then the perfect technique came before my eyes: directed paraphrasing.

Instead of writing about this one, I made a video. Enjoy!

Great Class Activity Gone Wrong

It can be easy to get excited about trying out a new classroom technique only to have it bomb. It sucks, but not all ideas can be successful.

This article recently came across my facebook news feed. It caught my attention as this was the high school I attended:

‘Grammar exercise’ distributed to students in Mission school raises concerns

I can understand the outrage completely! As a feminist, I want to grab my pitchfork and rally the troops. As an educator, I want to understand how this happened and whether it was a poor choice of topic or technique.

Ignoring the topic, this was actually a really good technique. This is clearly a teacher that cares and adapts to class needs. Not only did this start as a creative assignment, but student work was used to launch into a grammar lesson. This is incredibly innovative and I applaud the teacher.

The content selected though is questionable. But it is also taken out of context. We don’t know if the students were given a debrief or whether there was discussion on the prominence of domestic violence in the middle ages. I would not say it is a mistake, but extra preparation and caution needs to be taken, not just with the students, but also the parents.

Without hearing from the teacher, we really cannot understand the intentions. This could have been selected to launch into further lessons on women’s issues or domestic violence. After all, the technique selected was very innovative and thoughtful.

My initial reaction is understandable, but over dramatic. This really is  an example of a great technique going awry.

Why is the Middle Ages still part of the curriculum anyways? Surely there’s more value in women’s history, gender studies or black history….



Triad Listening

Check out a colleague of mine’s digital project on Triad Listening:

I really appreciate this video’s short and sweetness. Sometimes I find videos a bit too long. Typically anything over 2 minutes, I’m going to be looking for something to do in addition to watching the video or at least something to click on. When I watch a TEDtalk, I’ll generally have some data entry or other ‘low thinking’ task to do while watching the video. I don’t know if this means I have a short attention span, but it does make me a bad movie date.

Or maybe I need to practise some Triad listening! This strategy is one of those strategies that I breezed over when I first read about it. But after reflecting, this would be a fantastic strategy for teaching customer service. We often use role play to practise customer service. What I like about triad listening over role play is the addition of the referee. Not only does this ensure that things stay on track, but it encourages more self assessment via peer assessment, rather than relying on the facilitator.

Definitely going to try this one sometime when I have the opportunity.

The Question of Power in the Classroom


I’ve been pondering the role of power in the classroom since investigating “Whole Brain Teaching”.

I’m not a fan of hierarchal power structures. Even as a manager, I would describe myself as a servant manager. As an educator, I’m a facilitator or even partner in learning.

I attribute a lot of this to my feminist rearing. But also it’s a very contemporary view not in education, but also management and even economics.

But what sort of effect does power have on learning? Is there any benefit to reducing the hierarchy of the classroom?

Actually there is! There is evidence that autonomy affects level of motivation and mastery. Daniel Pink is a big proponent of the link between intrinsic motivation, autonomy, and mastery, which is described in this video:

So autonomy is important. But can we ever eliminate the hierarchy in the classroom? As much as we try, typically there still needs to be a teacher. To answer this, I think we need feminist pedagogy. Feminist Pedagogy looks to challenge hierarchies in the classroom. I found an interesting article that discusses how to limit the power imbalance in the classroom:

This article acknowledges the power that is inherent in the existence of a ‘roster’, but suggests this can be overcome by introduces democracy to the classroom. Interestingly, this can be achieved with many of the teaching strategies I’ve discussed in this blog. The key is to balance engagement and ensure that all views are heard and that no one person dominates the class.

Feminist Pedagogy shares many of qualities with other contemporary perspectives, such as transformative and andragogy. But it also acts to disrupt hierarchies and dominance, which has many benefits for learning. It makes me wonder why this perspective it is  missing (or just glanced over) from most textbooks on adult learning.



What’s really interesting about the feminist pedagogical perspective is that it shares a lot of qualities with other contemporary views, such as andragogy and transformative learning.

Personality, the Gogies, and Whole Brain Teaching

So who was Whole Brain Teaching made for? Is it more effective on certain personality types (ie. extroverts)? Is this technique suitable for adult learners?

When I saw my first Whole Brain Teaching video, I was pretty immediately uncomfortable. I know as a student I would not be able to tolerate it–I would look to escape or drop the course. As an instructor, I would also be uncomfortable delivering lessons using this  technique. But I don’t necessarily trust my opinion. I am an introvert, so a loud, super quick paced activity like this would be difficult.

Through the forum I am facilitating and sharing the video with friends, it seems the consensus is that this technique would alienate introverts. There is a mix of reactions–some would run like me, while others may ‘play along’, mouthing the prompts much like the back row of a church choir. What surprised me though is that extroverts also do not love this. So there appears to be more than just the loud, quick pace that detracts learners and instructors from this method.

While proponents of this method claim that this technique can be used in any class, I think this is more suitable as a pedagogical technique. You can find examples of uses in the college classroom (I posted one in a previous blog), but this technique violates many of the assumptions we make about adult learners. The big ones for me is adult learners are self-directed. In this technique, the teacher controls almost everything, leaving little room for self-directed or autonomous behaviour. A common reaction from people seeing this method for the first time is that it is ‘childish’, which I would have to agree.

So it appears that the idea audience for Whole Brain Teaching is very narrow. As a class management teachnique, it seems to be created more for teachers than students. To me employing this technique for any extended period, would be a risk.


Whole Brain Teaching: Is this Real?


So this week I am facilitating a discussion forum on “Whole Brain Teaching”. The best way to demonstrate this technique is through video. Here’s a link for this technique applied to a college Philosophy Class:

My first response to this video was to laugh. I took a great many Philosophy classes in University. This is the noisiest Philosophy class I have ever seen.

Personally, if I went to a class like this, I would not be able to tolerate it. I would quietly excuse myself and drop that class as quick as I could.

The big selling point of this technique is classroom management. The prompts allow teachers to control the pace and participation of the class. Many teachers swear by this method claiming to have seen great improvements in learning.

One of the things that drove me absolutely NUTS about researching this topic was the lack of scholarly material. There are tons of blogs and websites out there on the topic, but a review of several article databases at my college left me empty handed. I guess the argument could be made that with the accessibility and ease of internet mediums, the often times expensive and inaccessible scholarly mediums are on their way out, so a newish technique like Whole Brian Teaching might latch onto only the web. However, that would be inaccurate. Journals are still a very lively academic space, particularly in Education. The fact that Whole Brain Teaching is all but absent from this space, I think should be met with caution.

Another interesting quality I found doing this research is that there were very few critical views of Whole Brain Teaching. Most of the websites and blogs out there are written by proponents of the technique. In most cases, the material has a ‘sales pitch’ feel. The only real critical material you can find is a few news articles debunking some of the science claims proponents make.

It also occurred to me during the discussion forum I am facilitating that the student voice is absent. This is an interesting note to ponder in general, not just with Whole Brain Teaching. A good reflective practitioner I think should adapt to both student needs and reactions (I know these can often contradict). So the student voice should be present in evaluating teaching strategies. In the case of Whole Brain Teaching, this is definitely a voice I would like to hear from.

Facilitating Discussion Forums

In the Instructional Strategies course I am taking, we have a lively discussion forum. Each week there are new topics and we all get a turn at being the ‘facilitator’.

I love these discussion forums. It makes the course very lively. I have taken a lot of courses with discussion requirements, but the way this is structured makes the participation more frequent and really feels like a classroom discussion.

This week it is my turn at facilitation. I was really looking forward to this. My topic is whole brain teaching, which is interesting and has a lot of angles for examination.

However, It has been more of a challenge than I expected. First, I have strong opinions on the topic, so it can be a challenge not spelling out my opinion, but rather questioning and directing learners to examine different aspects.

I also ran into some issues at the very start. Initially, when I was planning this out, I wanted to introduce multiple threads, so that it would be easier to follow. In the end I chose not to start this way. No one else was doing this, so I felt it would be confusing and look like I’m ‘showing off’ or something.

2 days into my forum our Professor advised that we consider using additional threads to make the forums easier to follow. While this was not directed at me, I felt really bad that I contributed to the confusion. I should have went with my instinct. Either way, I ended up starting additional threads a couple days in.

While I am excited about this forum, the asynchronous nature has also been a challenge. Responses can be slow and not everyone jumps into participate early. When you’re monitoring your threads frequently, it can be hard not to take it personally. However, I think about my behaviour as a non-facilitator and realize that this is just a scheduling phenomena.

As I have done a lot of research and thinking about Whole Brain Teaching, I will also be doing a multi blog post series on this topic. So please stay tuned!

Informal Assessment Strategy

Please check out a colleague’s digital project on Informal Assessment Strategy:

This project gives a very thorough outline of Informal Assessment Strategy. It’s very well put together and researched.

It kind of reminds me of one of my early ideas for this digital project. I wrote about Formative Assessment in a previous blog and because of it’s value and the general neglect of it’s practise in the workplace, it was one of my top choices for a topic. In the end “Frames” won, but oh well!

While I was watching this project, it reminded me so much of the call audit/monitoring processes most call centres have in place. Call monitoring is so fundamental to employee training in call centres. Often times, there will be a structured checklist which peers or managers will fill out while listening to calls. This checklist structures the coaching and feedback that typically following a call monitoring session. One trick I used to like to do when I was managing call centres was not only assess the call myself, but then have the employee listen to their own call, following the checklist and assess themselves. We would then meet and discuss how we rated the call and why. As a manager that was development focused, these were some of the most memorable and satisfying moments in my career, as this was a partnership in learning and improving.

Another interesting call centre application is what I like to call “coaching ops”. It’s very common that more than one employee may talk to a customer or work on a particular issue. This means they are often more aware of the performance of their peers than the superiors. Encouraging this feedback can provide great opportunities for learning. If the group of employees is not comfortable providing feedback to each other, management can be used as a buffer by having employees inform a manager. The manager can then provide feedback or coaching to the employee anonymously.

Great topic!