Helping kids to find their Writing Superpower: by Allison Tait

The following is a guest post by Allison Tait, Author of The Mapmaker Chronicles



As an author who’s regularly asked to visit schools for talks and workshops, I have one main question for educators: Who am I talking to?

I find that the candidates for small group workshops tend to be made up of what I like to call the Keen Beans – kids who LOVE writing and simply can’t get enough of it. Most of the Keen Beans are writing their own novels by the time they’re eight.

Large group workshops, however, are a different matter. There’ll be one or two Keen Beans – answering all the questions for me – and 28 kids who simply stare at me as though I have two heads if I start talking about plots or characters or, heaven forbid, paragraphs.

This crew perks up immeasurably, however, when I mention superpowers. In particular, writing superpowers – and the fact that everyone has one.

They get even more excited when I tell them that I’m going to help them find their own writing superpower.


What is a writing superpower?

A writing superpower is a special strength that you bring to your writing. Everyone’s got one, but they’re not always what you might imagine. It’s not necessarily about the way that you use words, though this, of course, is part of it. It’s more about where you get your ideas from and what you do with those ideas. It’s about whether or not you can get to The End of your story, pushing through when it gets hard. Sometimes it’s about the ability to plan your story out, taking it logical step by logical step, and sometimes, for other people, it’s more about huge leaps, pushing an idea as far as it will go.

There are 10 writing superpowers

  1. X-Ray Vision: These kids are great at describing what they see. They think in pictures, and are often good at drawing as well. Encourage them to imagine a scene in their heads and simply write down what they see.

2. Supersonic hearing: This is one of my superpowers, and is a great source of not only story ideas, but natural-sounding dialogue. Lots of writers I know are eavesdroppers, and I encourage kids to look for story ideas in the daily conversations around them. Mum telling stories about the ‘olden days’ might be a story starter, as might two younger kids in the playground talking about how cool it would be to fly to the moon.

  1. The ability to leap: While it’s important that kids learn to plan a story, those Keen Beans who can start with an idea and a sentence and then follow the story to the end have a superpower. It’s a crazy way to write (I know because I do it) and can go horribly wrong, but if you have a Keen Bean who works this way, encourage them to push their idea as far as they can – as long as they finish the story.
  1. Endurance: If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about writing in the many years that I’ve been doing it, it’s this: most people are really good starters. But the ones who get really good at writing have a very special superpower – they keep going until they finish the story. Kids who finish are superheroes and should be treated as such.
  1. Analytical thinking: Kids who are good at maths often think they’re not good at writing, but that problem solving ability they have can be a writing superpower. When I talk about this superpower, I use Ironman as an example. People who are plotters and planners make up a huge proportion of published authors for one simple reason: they finish their novels. When you have a logical blueprint, you never end up with your hero stuck in a hole with no way to get out (as once happened to me).
  1. Memory: In The Mapmaker Chronicles, my hero Quinn has a photographic memory, which I think is a writing superpower. Kids who have good memories are able to recall not just the things that happened to them, but how they felt about those things. This is indispensable not only for coming up with story ideas, but for using small details to make the stories feel real. I encourage all kids to keep a journal or diary to help develop this superpower.
  1. The ability to shrink and expand at will: While Ant Man is not often associated with writing, I use him as an example of the value of editing your work. He can shrink himself when he feels like it, or be larger than life. Writers who can do that to their work have a superpower – being able to go through your words and remove the stuff that’s not necessary, or add in details that are, is a rare skill. Kids who understand the importance of editing – and are good at it – are miles ahead.
  1. Spidey senses: By the time they get to grade four, most kids have heard that they need to use all five senses when they’re writing a story. But it’s a rare kid who actually does it. If you have a kid in your class who describes the salty taste of the air at the beach, or shows you humidity by describing the sweat rolling down a character’s arms and the damp stickiness of his clothes, you have a superhero right there.
  1. Batman’s voice: this is perhaps the greatest writing superpower of all. One of the questions I’m often asked in high school workshops is this: how do I stop myself from writing like John Green/ Suzanne Collins/ Rainbow Rowell? The only way to do it is to tap into your own writing voice, which is basically the way that you put things together – the words you choose, the sentences you use, the little jokes you put in. The best writers write like they talk – only better.

What does this have to do with Batman? Everyone has their own Batman Impersonation (mine is particularly impressive now that I’ve had to do it at countless workshops). We’re all trying to sound like Christian Bale or Michael Keaton or Adam West – and yet we all still sound different.

Writing is the same. We’re all writing a story, but the thing that makes the story special is our writing voice.

A kid who has developed his or her own writing voice is a superstar.

  1. Bravery: Writers who write what they think and feel, and are willing to let other people read it, are really, really brave. The best thing about this writing superpower is that it can be developed with time and practise.

Why do writing superpowers matter?

Every kid, even the ones who don’t think that writing is for them, can find something on this list that they’re good at – or can become good at (in the case of bravery, for instance).

I encourage kids to identify one writing superpower and use it to give them the confidence to keep writing. Because when you’re confident that you’ve got at least one thing going really well, then it’s much easier to take risks with writing and to try different things.

And, as we all know, the best way to improve writing is to keep writing.


Allison Tait (aka A.L. Tait) is an Australian author, who has been working professionally as a writer for 20+ years. The Mapmaker Chronicles, her bestselling middle-grade trilogy, will be available in the US and Canada from 1 June 2017 through Kane/Miller Books.

Find out more about Allison at and more about The Mapmaker Chronicles at


Critical Literacy

Our students need us more than ever. Society needs us more than ever. Educators are key to teaching critical literacy. 

We want our students to think critically about the world around them. We want them to think critically about all information shared through media, and make sure that the information is bias free. Particularly when conducting research. Particularly when voting leaders. Perhaps most important, we want students to not be swayed into rhetoric that is damaging or dangerous to themselves or others.

This is where Critical Literacy comes into play. It is important to make sure that we are still helping our students to be caring, compassionate and have awareness of others and our planet. But what happens when we are tricked into believing that a website is fair and equitable? Or worse, what happens when a leader tricks people into believing they are fair and equitable?

We have a serious problem on our hands. More than critical thinking, critical literacy is essential to ensuring we keep ourselves and others safe from hate speech and other damaging actions. 

We start with our students.

In terms of the internet, sites like the ‘House Hippo’, or the ‘Tree Octopus’, and many more, have been used with many students, especially younger students, to demonstrate that not all sites on the web are what they appear to be. This is a great starting point.

However, often that which we are trying to understand are not this clear cut.  There are very complex media, messages and people that represent hate, racism, and use advertising ploys to manipulate readers and researchers. 

Even white supremacist sites can be cloaked as civil rights websites. White supremacist leaders can be cloaked as civil rights activists. 

People need to understand when they are being manipulated into using and believing information for learning purposes, and beyond.

Daniels (2009) discussed these sites as ‘Cloaked Websites’. They indeed look legitimate, but are not equitable, fair, nor do they promote compassion and awareness of key issues in society. Cloaked Websites are full of propaganda, advertising, politics, racism, misogyny, hate speech and more that converge together in new ways. 

How will we teach our students to separate facts from political spoofs? Marketing ploys? Racism cloaked as human rights? Authoritarian leaders?

This is very difficult for adults, let alone young impressionable minds to make sense of.

‘Cloaking’ relies on the naivete of  target audiences. It is easy for our young impressionable minds to experience the messages, and even harder to understand alternate agendas.

In terms of online media, here are examples of a cloaked sites:

Breitbart – Website for Nationalism and Homophibia – Presents itself as a neutral site, but is actually pro-life propaganda. – manipulating customers into ignoring criticisms, and viewing them favourably to continue spending money. – Promoting a ‘Canadian Identity’ that excludes and oppresses.

And now all we need to do is look to world leaders and the messages they are cloaking for their own agendas.

I parsed out from Daniels (2009) some basic traits of  ‘cloaking’:

  • Selective interpretations of information
  • Unidentified ‘We’
  • Distractions that are not normally associated with the ‘agenda’ – meant to throw off the reader
  • Consumer psychology at play with ‘catch phrases’ etc.
  • Telling you that they have the ‘Real Truth’
  • Legitimizing aspects ie., pop quizzes, rap lyrics that make them appealing to youth for instance
  • mixed with political agendas, racism or others.
  • Legitimate sources are added in to fool the reader
  • They show up in the top 10 on Google
  • The website ends with .org
  • Authorship, Publisher, political affiliation – usually this information is not available OR
  • Author is impossible to find out without going to an external website
  • If Author is there, you have to scroll right to bottom which most web readers do not do
  • They may give the appearance of grassroots support
  • Have very convincing domain names
  • Graphics could be similar or the same as other reputable sites

I would also be aware of political agendas that are not necessarily cloaked – they are legitimate – but still serving to ‘trick’ people to believing a side of the story that is damaging to a group or groups of people.

How will we make critical literacy a bigger focus in our curriculum. How will we help students to evaluate knowledge claims on media? How does this extend to ideas? I am particularly concerned about vulnerable youth who perhaps lack self-esteem, or feel confused sexually, racially.

Indeed, at this day in age where our students are more likely to use Google than a trusted adult/educator. Our world continues to experience very serious issues of racism, homophobia, global warming, marketing ploys and political agendas of world leaders – and aspiring world leaders – we need critical literacy skills more than ever.

Where can we go to start this process of critical literacy skills?

Now more than ever perhaps we have to educate against stronger messages of hate coming from new world leaders. 
We have an enormous job to do as educators. This job goes well beyond parsing out fake vs real websites. 

Sites for educators to check out: 

Though we still need educated people to help legitimize websites, here is a list of some excellent sites of resources to help teach and learn about critical thinking and the web:

Please share if you have any great sites!


Deborah McCallum



Daniels (2009) Cloaked websites: propaganda, cyber-racism and epistemology in the digital age. New Media & Society, 11, (5), 659-683.


Syrian Refugees: Allowing Stories to be told in the Classroom

I have begun to think about how I would make sure that my practice is fair for helping Syrian Refugees in classrooms.

First, I don’t know their stories, and can’t ever own them either.

I think that there is pressure for teachers to know all, and be in complete control of the underlying stories that are told in the classroom.

As a result, there are stories about Middle Easterner’s that have already become reinforced in our Canadian schools. I think we need to try and figure those out, and figure out why they have become our stories. Understand that we cannot possibly own these stories. Therefore, I think about promoting critical literacy, deconstructing stereotypes, and acknowledging my lack of any knowledge about their experiences, thus allowing them to own their own stories.

Paying attention tothe stories that we think we aren’t telling.    Considering that the Middle East does not come up in Canadian Curriculum for elementary school students, I would say that this counts as promoting ‘stories’ that promote oppression.

I think that as teachers we need to take risks, make mistakes, but also remain accountable. Accountability need not be about following pre-packaged lesson plans, teaching to a test, and using reproducibles.

Perhaps the most important things we do, is address the misinformation and ‘stories’ about Middle Easterners that we have in Canadian society.

Practically, I think that asking students who are Middle Easterners, who have either been here for a while or are new refugees, should have the time, space and opportunity to share their own stories, in their own time.

I would also want to ‘check’ that I as an educator, am not shaping their stories to match our own ‘stories’ that are full of misinformation. Therefore, I think it is important to facilitate activities with students that disrupts our stories. Disrupt the stories we get in the media. Allow students to have their own stories and honour this.

Since school is the source where our sense of self becomes negotiated with the stories that others have, I see a great deal of potential for this in the literacy classroom, and the processes associated with storytelling, and story writing. I think that these processes could help students to explore their own self-concepts and explore the conceptions that others have. Also to explore how they impact personal identity. My hope is that this would help to disrupt the stories that get reproduced through the school curriculum, the null curriculum, and media.

Most important part of this process would be myself, and all teachers feeling okay with learning and knowledge that is upsetting, confusing, angering, and even disruptive of our common discourses of Canadian Nationalism.

We can admit that we don’t, and can’t own the story. Knowing that it is okay not to know.


Deborah McCallum


Innovation for New Pedagogies and Education Spaces

I have been thinking a lot lately about the deeper ‘why’ behind the need for innovation in education. The deeper WHY behind the need for new spaces and also new initiatives including, but not limited to, makerspaces and genius hour. While I have led initiatives like these before, and believe in them, I wanted to know ‘why’ they were important –other than the usual old rhetoric about meeting the needs of digital citizens in the 21st century. I wanted to really understand the deeper why.  

What I have come to understand, is that it has to be about equity and our deeper awareness of what equity means in the 21st century. It is also about recognition and restitution for all of our FNMI students and believe deeply in social justice.

Therefore, in my quest to understand why things need to change in education, ie., why students need more choice, voice and opportunities with technology, inquiry, different spaces and pedagogies, I realised that things need to change for the basic reason that we need to disrupt the status quo and promote equity.

We now are recognizing that there are many different ways to share an idea. More than one way to build knowledge. More than one way of knowing the world around us. We know that simple transmission of content from ‘expert to student’ is paternalistic. It also promotes apathy and indifference among students who are simply not interested.

How we ‘innovate’ can produce great potential for our young learners. As long as we are not using it to promote a more ‘privileged’ agenda, and that we are considering them as ways to promote more respectful and dialogical relationships with our students and communities. The traditional physical, virtual, social, financial and emotional boundaries of learning need to move, or disappear.

Innovating to foster equity and social justice in a context of privilege is difficult to say the least. But I think that we are acknowledging that our education system shares some of the complicitiy in maintaining an unjust status quo. Traditional teaching practices often promote this. We are challenging what we know to be true, in order to give voices to those who have not been able to have a voice in the past.


Here is what Innovation can do:

  1. Help us move beyond the beliefs that we need to define what is ‘correct or incorrect’ with our students.
  2. Help us begin to realise that what we teach, or not teach, needs to be relevant to students!! This is HUGE! If we continue to teach with content and strategies that are irrelevant to our students, then we are essentially ensuring that we help create apathy and indifference.
  3. Help us encourage students to really think about things – not just assume they need to understand our externally imposed teaching and evaluation protocol.
  4. Help promote cultural synthesis, not cultural invasion. We recognize that we teach our curriculum from a white settler perspective. Educators still lack adequate knowledge and understanding about the true First Peoples of this land we now call Canada.
  5. Help us realise that our role is not to teach, or transmit knowledge – it is now to ‘learn’ with the people.
  6. Help us understand that we cannot package and ‘sell’ the curriculum. It needs to be co-created among co-learners.
  7. Help us generate attitudes of awareness through critical reflection.
  8. Help us foster appreciation for intrinsic value and intrinsic human worth.
  9. Help us educate from a posture of solidarity with our co-learners – not from ‘paternalism’ – and a belief that we alone ‘know what is right’.
  10. Help us encourage students and educators who are more privileged, ie., in terms of class, social status, race, gender, sexual orientation, culture and more, to hear the voices of ALL students – this means we hear the voices of students and learners who are oppressed along the same axis – we hear the voices even when they are articulated in violence.
  11. Help us stop looking at the ‘other’, for instance FNMI students, as a ‘project’, or as solely having an identity solely linked to oppression.
  12. Help us move beyond sserting our own educational agenda.
  13. Help us realise that we all have a shared humanity.

For all the reasons listed above, is why I firmly believe in the necessity of innovation, in addition to initiatives that include, but are not limited to, makerspaces, genius hour, inquiry based learning, and creating more dynamic spaces.

We innovate to create equity, AND meet the needs of all learners in the 21st century.

If we are not engaging in new pedagogies and new ways of thinking, then I fear that we are working solely from a place of privilege that continues to promote oppression, apathy, and indifference – in addition to making school ‘unsafe’ for many of our students.


Deborah McCallum

C 2016

Socially Transforming the Classroom

What does it mean to be normal? How can we tell if new and innovative tasks and pedagogies are truly authentic – or just considered authentic because it fits into our privileged views of what normal is?
Innovation. New Pedagogies. Digital literacies. 21st Century Learning Skills. How do we make sure we are not just perpetuating the same values, ideas, knowledge, experiences etc. of dominant culture?

Education is essential to empower those who are ‘othered’, or oppressed.

Oppression exists across many different axes in our schools and society, and includes (but not limited to) sexism, racism, classism, heterosexualism, gender and more. How these axes intersect very much depends on the social dynamics of any given context. But white, male, settler privilege continues to prevail as dominant culture. While we all experience oppression and privilege across different axes, our public education system is harmful to those who are oppressed.

Sometimes, we see the ‘oppressed’ as ‘not normal’.

What is normal?

It is the way we think people ‘ought’ to be. It is the way we think things ‘ought’ to be. It involves what we choose to include and not to include in our curriculum, which leads to the hidden curriculum. The hidden curriculum leads to exclusion, invisibility, marginalization and more.

We simply cannot afford to continue to make assumptions that our students are all ‘normal’, or should fit in to the normal.

We simply cannot afford to assume that our innovations, new pedagogies, digital literacies 21st, century learning skills, etc., could do anything but promote dominant cultures of privilege. Critically thinking about our worldviews around our innovations is essential. My hope would be that new innovations and new pedagogies etc., will help us to promote equality, and not privilege. But this is really hard work.

Oppression also goes beyond our ideas and knowledge, values etc., but also spills over into our physical environments.

I think about all of the structures and policies around us in our educational settings, and how they promote oppression. One thing that I think about is ‘lates’, and policies to deter students arriving late to school. Perhaps this shouldn’t matter if we are demonstrating empathy and understanding of the needs of families and learners, ie., not assuming that being late equals laziness. This just reminds me of that white, male, privileged, protestant work ethic. Therefore, the practices for deterring lates can lead to shame, and further oppression that perpetuates schools as harmful places for those who may already be oppressed.

I also think about how to create welcoming environments. What do parents see when they drop their kids off at school? There are pylons, people on duty and signs. Signs telling us not to enter, not to park. I understand this is all for student safety, but for those already oppressed by the school system, it can feel quite intimidating. At the front door, there are many signs on the front door. You must buzz in for permission, you must sign in, maybe the Principal doesn’t say hello, there may even be a sign telling parents to stay out of the hallway. There are no spaces/rooms for parents to welcome them in a neutral space in the school.

All of this can feel unwelcoming, and can further oppress those who may not already feel trust and safety with our schools. Even though the majority of education workers are just trying to do our best, and do what we believe is ‘right’. We just don’t yet understand what or how to promote equality, and help make schools truly ‘safe’ for the ‘other’, and not just the privilege.


I am not sure that we have the services and supports available to help educators and learners handle the emotions that go along with changing one’s worldview.

This means we have to unlearn what we have previously learned as normal. This can be very upsetting. Our privilege is disguised as authenticity. It means that we may have to have others help us to ‘check’ our innovations, and make sure that we our ideas are not disguised as authentic. Therefore, we often unknowingly promote racism, sexism, classism, heterosexualism and

Guiding Questions:

What would it look like if we could have spaces in our learning environments that are supportive, empowering, with lots of information available?

How can we incorporate home cultures into our classrooms and pedagogies that are culturally sensitive, and culturally relevant?

What strategies serve to create culture of power for the ‘other’, so that they can understand themselves better. Beyond merely seeing them reflected in their teachers and other education staff.

How can we make sure that our New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, and Innovations are not promoting white, male, straight, settler perspectives that continue to oppress the ‘other’.

What if we changed the idea of what it means to teach? Without perpetuating dominant culture? 

How can we integrate the curriculum?

How can we understand that the curriculum is more than a document we follow.

In what ways am I privileged? In what ways am I oppressed?

What is my worldview? How can I change it?

What are the implications of answering these questions?
Deborah McCallum

The impact of Innovation on Power & Privilege

Innovation is truly an evolution of ideas. It is so much more than the great ideas that spring from our ‘aha’ moments. I think that we are in the midst of an evolution of old ways of doing things in the library, toward new models of meeting new demands, exploring new ways of allowing ideas and knowledge to be shared. But we don’t really know what that looks like yet. We try new things, celebrate successes, learn from mistakes, and understand that what succeeds in one environment won’t necessarily succeed in another.

But what I really think is important to focus on, is how Innovation evolves depending on the privilege and power status of those trying to innovate, and in the populations that we are serving.

If we are content where we are and what we are doing, why would we care about power & privilege issues? How do we listen to ALL voices when we innovate, and not just those that enhance our own power and privilege? We are socialized to measure our self-worth in the ways that our leaders and other roles of authority deem important and respond to the most. The most privileged become part of the agenda that leads all innovation. Why would we care about others if our own agenda benefits us so perfectly?

The following are just a few ideas that can be explored as we consider all voices in the evolution of innovation:

  • Ensuring fair strategies to tap into the perspectives, knowledge and practices of ALL educators, not just the ones most similar
  • Consult all voices in strategies that help innovation to evolve
  • Engaging community with activities that build solidarity and help all deal with learning processes more effectively
  • Build and promote empathy with all interactions
  • Building empathy for your own pain so that you can better see it in others.


Empathy and building of meaningful relationships will be at the helm of new ideas. But this also means that those who are ‘more well liked’, will be the ones whose ideas will be privileged enough to move forward.

By contrast, we can also consider the saying ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. How you may ‘want’ to innovate will simply not work if your school or community is against it, or if it is perceived as a threat, a barrier to the current status quo. With this in mind, the less power and privilege you have, the greater the risk involved with your innovation strategy.

Can we at the same time continue to provide the services that have always worked, in addition to taking more risks and making changes? Is it possible for all voices to be heard?

Do you have any strategies for balancing power and privilege as it pertains to innovation?


Deborah McCallum

c 2015



The Collaboration Contemplation


We are hearing so much about collaboration. We hear about all of the benefits, why we should do it, how it improves our practice and student achievement.  I have had wonderful success with amazing collaborations through inquiries, projects, conferences, leadership opportunities, and with students, parents an amazing colleagues! In this way, it has solved problems I have been facing in my practice and meeting my needs as a practitioner. But it has not always been this way. What happens when new collaborations cause problems, and don’t solve them? What are the ingredients and strategies that make it a success and improve the learning experience?

As educators, we collaborate each day by engaging in activities that can include calling parents, attending meetings, emailing, teaching with students, conferencing, coaching, using technology and social media, working with other teachers, and engaging in school and board-wide collaborative inquiries.

But when is collaboration not productive? Teachers are SO busy, and there is no question that collaboration is an important part of the job. But when does it stop solving our problems, and create new ones?

It is well known that a lot of other work must happen on a Teacher’s own time. All of the other work, ie., marking, report cards, ‘decorating & design of classroom’, planning the bulk of our lessons.

If the collaboration opportunity takes too much time, or if there are too many collaboration opportunities, or imposed collaboration activities, employees are forced to collaborate in ways that are not productive, then this adds to stress, frustration and more disengagement.

What conditions are conducive to collaboration flourishing, and what conditions are not?

 What are the reasons that we collaborate?

  • To build knowledge and skills
  • Build relationships for even better collaboration
  • To solve problems/issues that we are facing in our practice

Categories of collaboration activities: Those that are:

  1. a) necessary to help you solve the problems you face in your practice,
  2. b) something that you want because you are interested,
  3. c) just nice to have or
  4. d) imposed, or mandatory ie, school plan, principal etc.

Different norms and strategies will need to be in place depending upon whether the collaboration falls under a,b,d, or d.

I figure, that if  we can identify the ones that are necessary to improve our own practice, set good norms, organizational strategies, we can enhance our practice and be more energized and become a better practitioner.

How do we prioritize strategies for identifying the most pressing needs you have, ie., raising literacy scores, classroom management, classroom design, integrating numeracy? How do we keep up with increasing demands, or set limits?

We don’t have infinite resources for all of the collaboration that happens. We know that collaboration works, but how can we learn the difference between what is best for our situation and what is not – what will just tax us more? How can we ensure that our leaders are honouring this as well?

How do we handle taxing collaboration that does not help the needs we have in our classroom? What if we are made to teach a different grade, or collaborate with another teacher that we have difficulty with?

What is the fine line between engagement and disengagement in our collaborations?


Teacher-Librarians as Collaboration Leaders

The Teacher-Librarian can burn out with all of the collaboration opportunities, and needs. Likewise, can contribute to burn out from others if not buffering against other pressing learning needs.

TL’s are leaders who are not just responsible for creating and managing collaboration activities, but also managing the demands for collaboration to help other educators save their personal resources. In this sense, the is TL the catalyst for collaboration activities, but also the buffer against too many demands.

When and how will collaboration be the most valuable?

How do we harness it for your own needs to solve. Not just because there is another initiative to take on – but because it helps us solve the problems/issues/needs/wants that we have for our own classroom?

Final Thoughts:

More often than not, our systems are still set up to reward individuals, even though we are promoting collaboration. What are the ultimate implications of this? Further, what happens when we don’t see the fruits of our labours in a collaboration? What happens when we are forced to collaborate to ‘fix’ a serious situation? When responsibility of a leader gets downloaded to another teacher? What are the student learning implications?

Further, many of the collaborations happen from a lot of the same people. For instance, teachers who take on too many collaborative projects and initiatives that improve student learning, but then don’t get the recognition they need. Does collaboration in and of itself create more demands on those that demonstrate themselves to be capable and high efficiency collaborators. Does diverse work go unnoticed if taking on too much from different departments.

What about teachers who detest the thought of ‘collaboration?’ How can we help them find a reason, or recognize how to harness a collaborative relationship to meet a real need they have – not an imposed need? How can we build them up and help them feel valued for the contributions they do make.


‘Growth mindsets without boundaries can be detrimental to our well-being as educators and student achievement!’


We know that collaboration is essential, we know that sometimes it works very well, and other times it  can be detrimental. Professional autonomy is essential to deciding what helps and what doesn’t.

I am a very big fan of collaboration and have been fortunate enough to have experienced great gains from the collaborative process through amazing projects, inquiries and leadership opportunities. This truly fuels my passion for learning and teaching! But I have also felt the drain of being forced into collaborations that serve others needs. I believe that there is a lot we can learn and harness to make education and learning even better!

What are your thoughts on Collaboration? 


Deborah McCallum

Teacher Moderation & Assessment in the age of Knowledge and Innovation

I think it behooves us to ask ourselves whether collaborative assessment practices including moderation, is different now that we are headed into 2016 – versus what it looked like in 2006? The process of grading and assessing students is very subjective, and it always has been – but with so much information, technology, globalization, opportunities and access – can we still reach consistency with our assessments?

We know that the more people engaging and collaborating, the more accurate our assessments can become. When we reach a consensus, we are better able to fill the gaps in for student learning. We can create shared interpretations of the expectations and create a better culture of equity, consistency and reliability in all of our forms of assessment.

To me, however, this also means that we need to have more formal, concrete samples of student work to assess. Further, the classes also must be consistent in assessment for, as and of learning. Therefore, I wonder if this means that all teachers engaged in moderation need to be doing the same things with all of their students? To this extent, how does innovation, inquiry, and unique cultures play into the moderation process?

Certainly, honest dialogue about how we assess our students is vitally important, as is the ability to negotiate the assessment process with other educators. This leads me to ask, who or what is driving the learning? Is it students individual learning needs? Is it the curriculum expectations? Is it our need to have data? This of course then leads me to a host of other questions including, what is curriculum? All of these questions will have an impact on the assessment processes. Can we moderate vastly different sources of assessment data and still come to a consensus? If individual student needs are different between classrooms and schools, boards etc., can we all come to a consensus for moderating student learning?

It is that fine balance of variables that we need to negotiate how we asses – especially as we plan with the end of a chunk of learning in mind. Regardless of how we all end our units, are we all expected to achieve the same kind of learning? Is that even possible? Can we achieve high quality learning even with vastly different tasks?

Our next steps and goals should always be to take our students to the next level. But I am not sure if this looks fundamentally the same across schools, or if it even should. I certainly believe that we can engage our students in parallel tasks where they are working to similar learning goals but with different tasks. Each educational context will require its own unique blend of differentiated instructional strategies and universal design elements as well. We also need to ensure that we engage in purposeful planning for the critical and effective use of technology. I do believe that we all can reach similar learning goals even if we are ever expanding our teaching strategies. Likewise, I think that it takes skill to be able to conduct appropriate and equitable assessment and evaluation practices. Equitable assessment is varied and administered over periods of time to enable students to make important connections between the learning in the classroom and real life experiences. Regardless of how innovative we get, we still come back to the categories of achievement and levels of learning that we must apply on our report cards.

Now that we are nearing 2016, I am wondering if the research and ideas that dominated our views of assessment for, as and of learning in 2006, still apply in the same ways now that we have access to information and technology in ways that did not exist. Opportunities for globalization and new forms of collaboration and knowledge building exist now that did not 10 years ago. Can we, and should we be continuing to collaborate and moderate in the same ways that we have been over the past 10 years?

The fact is, collaboration is emotionally and intellectually demanding. In what ways does it need to be done in 2015/2016 that are different than in 2005/2006?

Deborah McCallum

Copyright, 2015