Learning Spaces and Places: How Do You Build for Community?

Untitled photo credit: jotaemephoto via photopin cc

It seems I am inspired on my two-year blogaversary (?) to finally hammer out a post I have pondering for a while. That is the thing about blogging. Sometimes I will go weeks and in this case two months without posting anything to doing a number of posts in the same evening. Since mid-July when I was preparing to set up my new classroom home I started thinking about learning spaces and how they foster a sense of community.

One thing I immediately noticed when I entered my new school is the thoughtful design that has been given to all the spaces in the school. There are ample amounts of windows allowing natural light to stream in at all times of the day. Although this is a simple thing it is something that was missing in my last school. The effect that light has on our moods and learning is truly amazing. Another thing that I noticed was that throughout the school there are gathering spaces. These spaces are comfortable places that invite people to take a seat and relax. Gathering spaces naturally help build community. When we gather, we can’t help but talk and connect with others. Something as simple as the assembly room strikes me as a place that builds school community. It is a beautiful room filled with windows that is designed that when the school gathered it really helps everyone feel proud of the place they are in.

When I think about my classroom ( and in fact what I hope that you see when you walk in my room) is a space that promotes learning and community. Although my students each have an old school desk (an honoured and important rite of passage for everyone) their desks are arranged in groups of four. These little groups as all teachers know grow and form a little community as time passes. In a group formation of desks the students can chat and share but still have their own personal space that is solely their own to inhabit. About once a month I change things up and we move our desks into new groups. At the beginning of the year I choose the formation of the groups. As the year progresses the students begin to decide how they want their seating arrangement to look. This often yields interesting formations. Yes, some students really want to be an island for a  short while and others simply love sitting with others.

Our room also has 2 large tables where students can move if they find their group is being too chatty or they simply want another space to work in. The option is there and as long as they are on task, they are welcome to use it. When I set up my room, I made sure to leave some open spaces on the floor (I could have easily filled them up with our desks). These open floor spaces serve as a place for us to gather as a group and as spots for students to work if they so choose. I had to chuckle during our first silent reading time when all my students sat down at their desks to read. At first I was a bit puzzled but then I said “This is your room. You can read anywhere you like.” Something so simple seemed to make them very happy which in turn has makes me happy. There is nothing better than seeing two students stretched out reading side by side with blissful smiles on their faces.

Our classroom walls were quite bare at the start of the year. I see our walls as a space for us to fill with our learning and the work created during our adventures. It has been marvellous to see bits and pieces go up the past few days. I hope in the next while to had the bulletin boards over to the students, for them to choose what we should put up there.

I understand much of school design comes down to economics but I was truly surprised when I immigrated to Canada and saw some of the schools were designed. Many seemed to lack imagination or seemed to be places where optimal learning environments didn’t seem to have entered the school design process. I will say I was blessed to have gone to a beautiful school growing up where it seemed every space had a thoughtful purpose to help students learn. (I will blog about it soon but if you want to see a preview here’s a link to their website: www.Epworth.co.za)

How has your school been built for community?

How do you build for community in your classroom?


Mentors Matter


 Shadows Trekking photo credit: manufrakass via photopin cc

‘If you genuinely want to learn. People will help you.” N.Bertram

As the school year is winding down and I am getting ready to wrap things up my mind has turned toward my journey through the past few years. Last week I had a long conversation with my brother around the idea of mentors. I have had an incredible first year teaching and would not have been able to have reached this point with amazing guides along the way.  Although we work in very different professions my brother and I have both actively sought out mentors in our respective fields. People we can learn from and that can help us grow. In some cases our mentors have been our direct superiors. Some have been colleagues in our buildings and still others are people we have met at other stages of our lives. All of them have shaped who we have become and we are both indebted to these people who have helped us along our journeys.


They share their passion and help you ignite yours.

They share their knowledge and help you learn.

Provide a perspective you may have never considered.

They don’t judge but strive to give balanced advice.

Push your thinking and challenge your ideas.

Encourage you to consider your checks and balances before diving head first into risky situations.

Provide wisdom and insight when you feel lost.

~ I am thankful for each and every mentor in my life. I look forward to learning and growing more as the years progress. ~

Changing Landscapes: Teachers As Knowmads Part 1


 “Rider” photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Over spring break I happened to come across a Tweet on my Twitter stream about an interesting book to check out (Knowmad Society). Little did I know that I wouldn’t be able to put this book down until I had finished it. Some of the ideas proposed in the book have profound implications on societal and educational systems. One of the most interesting concepts of the book was that of a Knowmad.


1. Are not restricted to a specific age.

2. Build their personal knowledge through explicit information gathering and tacit experiences, and leverage their personal knowledge to produce new ideas.

3. Are able to contextually apply their ideas and expertise in various social and organizational configurations.

4. Are highly motivated to collaborate, and are natural networks, navigating new organizations, cultures and societies.

5. Purposively use new technologies to help them solve problems and transcend geographical limitations.

6. Are open to sharing what they know, and invite and support open access to information, knowledge and expertise from others.

7. Can unlearn as quickly as they learn, adopting new ideas and practices as necessary.

8. Thrive in non-hierarchical networks and organizations.

9. Develop habits of mind and practice to learn continuously.

10. Are not afraid of failure.

Page  24 of Knowmad Society


Australia, Adelaide; Light on the waters photo credit: kool_skatkat via photopin cc

As I thought more and more about the concept of what a Knowmad is, I began to think about how vital it is for educators to embrace the notion of being a Knowmad. We are entering job hunting season across Canada and the U.S. There are new teachers graduating from Ed faculties and experienced teachers simply looking to make a change all on the job search. It’s a stressful time for those looking for employment in such a tight market where nothing is guaranteed.

Many of the points in the definition of a Knowmad remind me of my Twitter PLN and the fantastic educators I have connected with. We work together, share ideas and are always willing to help  each other regardless of location. The relationships and interactions afforded by our online and offline networks allow us gain new knowledge and to apply it in our classrooms the very next day. We are always learning and trying new things out. Having a supportive network has allowed me to gain the courage to try things and to not fear failure.

I am still pondering the idea of teachers as Knowmads and many of thoughts shared in Knowmad Society.  Once I have pondered some more I will write-up another blog post.

What do you think of the idea of teachers as Knowmads?

Interesting Articles to Read:

“What I am Afraid of” by Ben Grey http://bengrey.com/blog/2013/03/what-im-afraid-of/

“Stop Following Your Passions.. the Celebration of Work” by Dean Shareski


“Don’t let your change agents become free agents” by Natalie Foley http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2013/03/29/dont-let-your-change-agents-become-free-agents/

“How managers can keep their top talet.” by Maynard Webb https://smartblogs.com/leadership/2013/02/27/how-managers-can-keep-their-top-talent/

“How to innovate like a Jedi knight” by Diego Rodriguez  http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130328222915-5935179-how-to-innovate-like-a-jedi-knight

Digital Identity: The Big Bad Web & Why It Needs You Part 1

Before you read through this post try one thing:  Google yourself. What do you see? Do you like what you see? For some of you that will have been an eye-opening experience for others you already knew what to expect. Perhaps it revealed things that you thought were long-lost in your history or maybe the person that popped up simply isn’t  you.


“241/356” photo credit: kennymatic via photopin cc

Having an online presence helps empower you to have a voice to an audience bigger than you could ever imagine. If you don’t embrace your voice and identity others will shape it for you or things you never thought others see will be what will start to represent you online. The more educational voices there are online the more we can do to counteract the negative stereotypes people may have of educational systems and teachers.

Slide from: Digital Identities: Who are we in a networked public?

C.C @bonstewart 

 As a professional it is important to have an online presence because at one point or another “You will be Googled”.  Before I go to a conference I usually Google the speakers and topics they will be speaking on. I like to know who I am going to see and to figure out if the topic they are presenting on is of interest to me. Before I apply for a job I look through the prospective employers digital footprint to see if they are a good fit for me. I hope the same is true of employers and that they check digital footprints.

Your digital identity is yours to shape.

Your presence should fit your purpose.  Context matters. Some like to keep it strictly professional while others like to mix in bits of their personal narratives with what they share with the world.

Slide from: Digital Identities: Who are we in a networked public?

C.C @bonstewart  


Reasons to join the online education community:

There is a growing community of educators embracing their digital identities and joining various services like: Twitter, Google+ etc. The online education community has worked hard to build a culture of improving practice by being exposed to a wide variety of ideas and resources. The sharing of ideas ranges from sharing links, blogging or engaging in online chats about educational topics.

These online communities have also allowed people to form Positive support networks something that may be lacking in some workplaces. As a rookie teachers it is nice to know that some of the things you go through are completely normal and not to give up. Some days you really do need some kind words to lift you up and help re-inspire you. These networks can also help you collect resources that would have taken hours to collect on your own. Try sending out a request for resources on an educational Twitter hashtag and you will more often than not will be pleasantly surprised.

These communities also allow for respectful professional dialogue to occur on a daily basis. The beauty of the online community is that it breaks down barriers and allows our different educational worlds collide.  Principals, teachers, counsellors, school board members and educational theorists  are all able to discuss and share ideas. These connections help change paradigms and change thinking around different topics. It can also reinforce things that we are unsure of  and help us grow in confidence professionally. These conversations are important to have as a whole profession because classroom demographics and society are changing. These changes are happening fast and we need to come up with creative solutions for many of the challenges we face as a global society. It’s not all kumbaya in these debates there is real open dialogue happening – no need to tear anyone down for the thoughts and ideals they hold.

Having a positive online presence allows you to be a model for digital citizenship in your own classroom. How do you teach digital citizenship without actually practicing it? If you can walk the walk then you are able to talk the talk. Which is more powerful: showing your students a short video clip about commenting etiquette or to show them examples of how you comment online?

With your voice and presence you can help us refine ideas, change paradigms and hopefully make our educational community stronger.

To see part 2 of this blog post with tips and tools to get connected head on over to: Miss L Whole Brain Teaching

Oh yes… and I would be remiss to mention that @MissLwbt is someone I have connected with through the wonderful world of Twitter and Blogging. We have met once but routinely bounce ideas off of each other and push each others thinking. Twitter Changes Lives.

Related links and articles:

Knowmad Society – Book that tackles the changing landscape of learning and work in our ever globalizing world.

Presentation By Bonnie Stewart: Digital Identity: Who are we in Networked Publics.

Who Controls Teachers’ Professional Learning by Joe Bower

Education to Advocacy. Reflections on #etmooc by Jeff Merrell

How Social Media Sharing Makes The World a Better Place. By Kay Bisaillon