Implicit Bias – What’s in a Name?

This year our “Family of Schools” leaders are reading Deep Diversity, by @Shakilwrites

On page 4, I was struck by Choudhury’s story of receiving a business card for a local optometrist, with a name that evoked images that led him to hesitate to call for an appointment.

I realized that I had made conscious decisions throughout my life, based upon my experiences of this unstated manifestation of prejudice.

I am a cis, white, middle-aged woman, who was born in Canada and whose first language is English.  But I have not always been known as Terry Whitmell.

  1. My parents named me “Terry”, registered my birth as “Theresa Elizabeth”, and thereby satisfied family expectations that I had a saint’s name as a middle name, that I had a version of the Hungarian name “TERÉZIA”, and that my name was easy to pronounce.  My father’s name had been initially registered as Lajos, but changed during the second world war to Louis, due to a wish to appear more “Anglo”.
  2. My surname at birth was Tusz.  This is a name that rhymes only with somewhat rude words:  goose, loose, noose, caboose, moose, etc.  And, it is easy to mispronounce as toots, tuzz, tuss, etc.  To add to this, it means “hostage” in Hungarian!
  3. When we moved between grade 1 and grade 2, I chose to have my parents register me at school as “Theresa”, since I was getting tired of being told “you have a boy’s name” and “you should spell your name with an “i” not a “y”.
  4. When we moved between grade 7 and grade 8, I chose to have my parents register me at school as “Terry”, since it was “way cooler” and lacked the “Mother Teresa” connotations.
  5. When I married, I was determined to keep my maiden surname, but was marrying a man who felt strongly that a family should have one name.  We were open to “Tusz-Whitmell” or “Whitmell-Tusz”, but the pronunciation issues and the challenges they would present to our future children resulted in my changing my name to Theresa (Terry) Elizabeth Tusz Whitmell, and he retained his birth name.

Why did my name matter to me?  Why did it matter to those who read my name in print?  Why did it matter to those I met?

  1. Our names anchor our memories.  I am a different person as Terry Tusz, as Theresa Tusz, as Theresa Whitmell, and as Terry Whitmell.  Different groups know me as each of these, and some of the names are tied to a location or period of time in my life.
  2. In print, I am gender-neutral.  This is a HUGE advantage as a woman, to have gender off the table.  To those who only know me via email, I can be anyone.  And usually they assume “male”.  The years that I spent as a computer technology coordinator in our school board were made much easier by this initial assumption.
  3. It is so much easier to have a name that people can pronounce, and which they can remember accurately.  I still receive emails addressed to “Terri” or “Terrie”, but I assume that this is not a personal slight.  However, my name is almost always pronounced correctly when I am introduced, and that eases the following conversation.

My experiences make me acutely sensitive when meeting people for the first time.  I take great pains to pronounce names correctly, and to ask for spelling so that I can find them in social media, and use their name correctly when sharing our conversation with others.

I often meet students who say “oh, it doesn’t matter” or “however you say it is OK”, and I press them to help me pronounce and spell their names correctly.  I am still working on how to learn more about the origins of names, without making them feel uncomfortable.

Our Student Information System allows us to record both legal name, and “preferred” name.  When I encounter a preferred name that is obviously an Anglicization of the student’s real name, I will often engage them in conversation, and discuss if this is who they see themselves as, or if it has been a convenience imposed by their parents or chosen by themselves.  We allow our students to change their preferred name as requested, and it’s interesting to see how some of them will move through several identities during their four years with us.

Milennials now present themselves to the world as more than just a name: we see selfies, YouTube videos, and blogs that present a richer personal image than my name did decades ago. I just hope, for my students, that these media artifacts are an asset, not an invitation to prejudice for those who meet them.

I am still struggling with my unconscious bias towards the familiar, are you?

Why not Gamify School?

I just read @jess__bloom‘s blog post “The Gamification of Work“, and I think we could substitute “school” for “work”.

Our Ontario secondary school program requires our students to work for four years, to earn 30 credits.  In each credit there are a series of Overall Expectations, with Specific Expectations within each. There are 18 compulsory credits, and 12 optional, and once you earn them you are granted a diploma. If you achieve to a certain level in your final year, you will also be granted the title of “Ontario Scholar”. In addition, our post-secondary institutions require some of these credits for admission, so there’s the reward of admission to one of our top universities or colleges.

What if we had software that tracked each expectation, and provided a visual for each one that was achieved? I’ve played games such as Diner Dash and Klondike, and found them both addictive and satisfying.  I think that turning our students’ achievements into high scores and “conquered lands” might be a fun and effective way to support students’ sense of accomplishment.  It might just be the feedback that they need to persevere!

What do you think would make the best “world” for us to build online, to represent four years of secondary education?

PhD Comprehensive Exam

It’s a weekend of procrastination as I prepare for my upcoming Comprehensive Exam. This has been very productive, as I have already hit 14,000 steps on my Fitbit by mowing the lawn, and I’ve enjoyed this week’s Modern Learners Podcast (#44 with Dr. Susan Blum) which has extended my thinking about learning, schooling, policy and assessment.  One of the areas that Dr. Susan Blum and Will Richardson agree on is the value of feedback rather than marks.  And they discuss in the podcast the use of a portfolio as an alternative to traditional evaluation methods.  Despite this positive learning experience, I am not really any better prepared for my upcoming exam than I was this morning.

My Comprehensive Exam, as designed by the Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education for our Educational Leadership and Policy Program at OISE (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education) at the University of Toronto, is a wonderful example of the type of assessment supported by Dr. Blum and Will Richardson.

The guidelines (Comprehensive Examination Guidelines) direct the candidate to create a portfolio linking five artefacts to seven skills, and to write an original paper.  The portfolio of artefacts and reflections, and the original paper are then presented to an examining panel in a 90-minute session.  In my case, this is scheduled for next Thursday.

Here is the introduction to my portfolio:

The original paper (Terry Whitmell May 2018) focuses primarily on policy in the context of social diversity. The issues of leadership and change are referenced as they relate to the implementation of policy.  The five artifacts were chosen as representative of a similar focus, and illustrate achievement of the seven areas of knowledge, skills and abilities:

Research Design
Conducting Research
Analyzing Data
Communicating Research Results
Knowledge of the broader field of education leadership and policy
Knowledge of Major Theoretical Frameworks in the Field
Synthesizing Existing Literature
Implementation of 21st Century Competencies Requires Revolution not Renovation
Reflection 1
Gandhi Freire and Civics Education
Appendix A
Appendix B
Reflection 2
Survey Proposal: Use of Learning Goals & Success Criteria to Support Student Engagement and Achievement
Reflection 3
Classroom Assessment Practices of Early-Career Ontario Secondary School Teachers
Reflection 4
What Motivates Teachers to Lead Change?
Reflection 5

In my presentation, I will connect these five artifacts and the original paper to a conceptual framework that I developed while writing a literature review of 21st Century Modern Learning:

Conceptual Framework for Comprehensive Exam Presentation

As you can see, much of my work deviates from Educational Leadership and Policy, into Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, and I am seeing challenges with our current structures that separate the two.  My paper explores some of these structures, where the intent of policy results in very different outcomes once the policies are enacted in the classroom. In my conceptual framework, I see learning theory at one end, and educational policy at the other, and the framework of “Know, Do, Be, Live Together” in the middle.  If learning and policy both aligned with this simple framework, keeping the “bigger picture” in mind, we would have a much better learning environment for our students.

Teaching to Strengths – Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress

Teaching to StrengthsDebbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz and Judie Haynes have written an excellent guide for teachers and administrators that provides a rationale for a strengths-based approach, direction for teachers in their work in the classroom and strategies to support the school in its partnership with families and other community agencies.

In the first chapter, they incorporate research into positive psychology, positive youth development, neuroplasticity, and growth mindset to support the need for instructional practices to support our students.

The second chapter considers how educators can reflect on their own strengths, and then use these to support students and families living with trauma, violence, and chronic stress.

Chapters three and four focus on the classroom through teaching practices that connect academic learning to students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences while honouring what students bring to the classroom.  The practical nature of this advice, such as the critical importance of routines and predictability or the need for positive, affirming and energizing feedback, had me nodding my head in agreement.  Implementation of these within a classroom would benefit all students, not just those living with trauma, violence and stress.

Chapter five considers the families and guardians, and chapter six argues for a whole-school strengths-based approach and vision.

Whether you are a teacher hoping to make your classroom more responsive to the needs of your students, or an administrator looking to focus your work to meet all students’ needs, there’s something for you in this book.

3 Frameworks for Course Design: Life Lessons, Meaning Maps, and Textbook Tales

When designing a course based on prescribed standards or expectations, our teachers utilize Wiggins and McTighe’s “Backward Design”.  They group expectations, develop “Big Ideas”, “Enduring Understandings”, and “Essential Questions”, and then design assessment tasks that will allow their students to demonstrate achievement of these.  Their lessons scaffold and support learning, to ensure that their students are able to achieve success.

Our teachers develop a strong sense of why and what they are doing, but do their students?

When teachers are able to make connections, and put the learning in context, students are able to do so as well.  My grade 11 English teacher, Mrs. Miller, focussed all of our learning on the theme of LOVE, perfect for hormone-crazy 16-year-olds.  In the same year, our World Religions teacher, Mr. Peter Carver, connected all our learning to answering Eternal Questions.  And so when I had to connect all the skills and content of our grade 9 business course “Introduction to Information Technology”, I had the students explore their inner entrepreneur, and design and plan for a fantasy business.

My question is, can we do this for courses like Math?  Like Science?  Like Computer Science?

In my next three blog posts, I am going to try it out.  I’ll take a subject area that I know little about, look at the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum documents, explore the textbooks and resources, and create either a Textbook Tale, a Meaning Map, or a series of Life Lessons that might create coherence for our 21st century teens.

Leadership- according to Reeves, Kirtman and Fullan


Douglas Reeves (@DouglasReeves) and Michael Fullan (@MichaelFullan1) have been on my leadership reading list for many years, and management consultant Lyle Kirtman (@KirtmanLyle) continues that work in his new book with Fullan.

Both Fullan and Reeves have written extensively on leadership, and on the change process.  As a secondary school principal, both are of keen interest to me.

Here’s how their advice compares:

Douglas Reeves – From Leading to Succeeding:   The Seven Elements of Effective Leadership in Education Description Lyle Kirtman & Michael Fullan – Leadership: Key Competencies for Whole-System Change Description
1. Purpose What do we aspire to be and to do, and why are we here and what makes us come to school each day? 3. Creates a Commonly Owned Plan for Success Creates short- and long-terms with input, develops clear measurement to monitor and adjust, and ensures the people buy in.
2. Trust Doing what you say you will do. Quickly and humbly acknowledging mistakes and asking for forgiveness. Confronting conflicts between personal values and professional environment. 2. Builds Trust through Clear Communication and Expectations Is honest and direct, follows through, ensures understanding and is comfortable dealing with conflict.
3. Focus Focus on the best initiatives, weed out those with low implementation levels and low impact, evaluate those with high implementation that are having low impact, lead those with high impact but low implementation and invest (support) those with high impact and high implementation. Avoid the lure of fragmentation. Focus on the right policy drivers: 1. Capacity building, not negative accountability; 2. Teamwork, not individualistic strategies; 3. Pedagogy, not technology; 4. Systemic policies, not ad hoc policies. Takes a broader, more “balcony view” to leadership, with focus on pedagogy, people and systemic policies
4. Leverage Make good choices, and make the most of very minute of time in school. 1. Challenges the Status Quo Challenges practices that are blocking improvements, delegates, takes risks and does not let rules and regulations block results.
5. Feedback Provide fair, accurate, specific and timely feedback. 6. Has a Commitment to Continuous Improvement for Self and Organization Uses strong self-management and self-reflection skills and a high sense of curiousity, along with input from all team members, to take responsibility and change.
6. Change Readiness for change depends on personal and organizational conditions:   both low = resistance, low personal + high organizational = frustration, high personal + low organizational = learning, both high = change.  Do the important, not the urgent. 5. Has a High Sense of Urgency for Change and Sustainable Results in Improving Achievement Uses data to set a clear and decisive direction to move initiatives ahead quickly.
7. Sustainability Plan early to delegate, to allow colleagues to practice and refine their skills. Refers to Fullan’s eight elements of sustainability, particularly the “long lever of leadership” and the need for systems thinking. 4. Focuses on Team over Self Hires, empowers and develops the best team, and welcomes critical feedback.
7. Builds External Networks and Partnerships Understands role as extending beyond the work and community, and uses technology to engage people in two-way partnerships.

Given that Kirtman is a management consultant, the building of external networks and partnerships is a logical addition to what appears to be a fairly consistent list from both publications.

Both provide excellent advice, and reminders to school leaders.

Thank you!


Looking for an Internship for my Ed.D. Program

A requirement of the Ed.D. program at OISE (the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education) is a supervised “on-the-job” experience.  It new_design_oise_logomust be linked to both theory from our course work and field experience, and involve responsibility and accountability and the opportunity to perform effectively in a senior leadership role.

As we are a cohort of practicing educators, our Internship/Practicum is scheduled for the summer of 2017.  I have begun my search for a placement with my advisor, Dr. Carol Campbell.  She has suggested that I draft two paragraphs to provide a brief CV and my area of research.

To reduce my resume AND my research interests each to a paragraph each is not a trivial task, and so it has inspired a great deal of reflection and thought about both my history and my future, and the ways in which this “course” will be perfect for me.

Learning Music

My education has always been a mix of traditional learning, and self-directed learning.  In grade 11, the first real musician joined the staff of my high school.  I joined his stage band as pianist, then dropped Geology to take grade 9 music and learn to play the trombone.  Three years late I was a student at the University of Toronto, having auditioned successful, and been offered a scholarship.  This was based on grade 9, 11 and 13 music credits, a year of private lessons from a saxophone player (there being no trombonists in my small town), and a lot of “woodshedding” on my part.

Learning Computer Science

When I completed my four years as an undergrad, I was ready to apply to the Faculty of Education for a B.Ed., and certification as a teacher.  I had the prerequisites to teach Music and Mathematics, but was intrigued by the description of Computer Science, which included the phrase “no prerequisite”.  Having never touched a computer, I signed up.  In a class with students who had full four-year degrees in Computer Science, I learned by doing:  completing class assignments, teaching in placements in high school CS classes, and working, working, working.  I won the IBM award upon graduation, and was offered a job teaching Music and Computer Science, in a year when most of my classmates remained unemployed.

My Resume

This cycle of a mix of formal training, on-the-job experience, and personal reading and reflection has served me well since then.  Among my credentials listed by the Ontario College of Teachers are specialist qualifications in Music and Data Processing, Principals’ Qualifications, a Master of Education from Brock University, and Supervisory Officer Qualifications for the province of Ontario.  Throughout my career I have pursued both personal learning and professional experience.  I have taught in two secondary schools, opened a third as department head, served as an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, and then contributed four years as the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for the Peel DSB.  I then developed my leadership skills over seven years as a Vice Principal in three schools, and am now in my fifth year as Principal at Brampton Centennial SS.

My Research

My research interests have evolved as I have completed half the coursework in the Ed.D. program.  Dr. Campbell helped me narrow my focus to “Personalized Assessment” one year ago, and now this has expanded to include “Personalized Curriculum” as well.  My utopian vision is of students with electronic portfolios spanning K-12, where each item has been validated by a teacher against criteria set out in curriculum documents, culminating in a credential granted based upon a mix of class and personal work.  I am hoping that through my Ed.D. work I can complete some of the foundational research, to permit such a future for our students.  As an educator who has worked with technology my entire career, I believe that there is unrealized potential in the ability of technology to support student learning by organizing work, validating learning, and analyzing feedback, in order to make students responsible for their learning.

My Internship

To do this groundwork, I believe I could learn more by working with our Ministry of Education, with scholars in the areas of 21st Century learning, instruction and assessment, and with organizations that support learning beyond the K-12 structure. I have asked Dr. Campbell to introduce me to those in her network who might be looking for 120 hours of “free” labour, and am hopeful that our search will result in some amazing learning for me next summer.  If you are looking for someone, or know someone who is, please contact me: