Student Voice-What are the Possibilities?

Note: This blog was originally written for the Inspired Learning community and has been cross-posted with permission. The Inspired Learning on-line community is a place for Alberta educators to connect, share and learn with other educators province-wide. More information about Alberta’s Inspiring Education vision can be found here.

My interest in student voice has been a serendipitous journey that started in my early years in the classroom, impacted my work as a school principal and has evolved into a bit of professional passion. So I have taken with great interest both the student-centered focus of Inspiring Education and Alberta’s Speak Out initiative. In particular, I have been reading the Speak Out blog where Alberta students post about the issues and questions that are currently on their minds. Over this school year alone there has been lively conversation around topics such as the impact of school sportsgovernment funding for school buses, reflections on shorter school weeks and creating learning-styles based classrooms, among others. I found it insightful to see the wide variety of views presented and even the vast selection of issues presented by the student bloggers as a whole.

A few years ago, as I researched further into this concept of student voice, I found Robert Hart’s Ladder of Child Participation (see page 8 of this document). Over the years, I have found various organizations (including school boards) modify the ladder to their specific contexts for student voice, but the essence is the same. If you are new to Robert’s ladder, you may find the image below from Compasito or this explanation from Cornell Garden Based Learning helpful.

Since finding Hart’s Ladder, I use it for reflection and to assess my own actions, both in classroom and school settings, to determine where the choices I have or will make regarding student voice fall on this scale. The goal of course is to be in the range of active participation (4-8) versus the non-participatory range (1-3).

I’ve also read interesting steps various Canadian boards have taken to bring students to the table and engage in decision making. Here are some examples:

Revisiting Inspiring Education and given its focus on becoming more student focused,what does student voice look in our classrooms and schools? How can we further elevate student voice in these settings? What possibilities exist to integrate student voice province-wide with the Inspiring Education vision?

Riding the Waves of Change


Recently I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel abroad to recharge and refresh. During this trip I had an opportunity to snorkel over a barrier reef for the very first time. On the day that we went, the ocean was very choppy and the guide asked our group if we preferred to stay in shallow, calm waters or deeper, rough waters. The caveat of all this was that we were likely to see more wildlife in the rougher waters. Ultimately our group opted for the deep sea experience.

Riding out on the ocean with the boat bouncing and sea water spraying, I admit that I became a little nervous about our recent group decision. Soon enough we were at our starting point and I found myself taking a deep breath and jumping in to the deep blue sea. The cool water felt invigorating, but as I rose to the surface the rough waters distracted me and I could feel myself starting to panic. My mind flashed to the snorkel techniques my husband and I practiced prior to our trip and realizing that I was getting nowhere other than more panicked by trying to stay above water, I took a deep breath and dove under.

Beneath the rough waters was a colorful world of fish, coral and other sea life. As I let my body ride the choppy surface and my breathing finally returned to its normal pace, I was in awe of all that I was able to see. I found myself gesturing emphatically to my husband all the wonderful things I hoped we would remember later. Our guide zipped just ahead of us, pointing to other creatures and leading us over the world’s second largest barrier reef.

In my life I have willingly taken on many personal and professional challenges, all of which I have never regretted. For someone who has been quite accustomed to change, even this brief experience, out of my element, was for a moment terrifying. So what has this experience reminded me about change? What can leaders bring to a community that is going through a change process?

Recognize that people need to know why change is important and help them to make sense of it

One of my favorite TED talks is Simon Sinek’s How Great Leaders Inspire Action. The premise of his talk is about articulating the why before the how or what. When we embark on change in our communities, individuals need to know why the change is important and more importantly, the reason should be one that resonates with the community. At times in education, we can be too focused on the change process itself and we must slow down to involve those impacted by the change. In our ocean adventure, our guide clearly explained our options for the day and ultimately let our group’s feedback shape the outcome.

If you are the leader of the organization, jump in with your team.

Change is never easy and it takes courageous leaders at all levels of a community to inspire others to be a part of the journey. I suspect if our guide had not jumped in to the rougher waters first, he may not have had many volunteers to jump in. Once he did, a few others were quick to follow and within minutes the whole group was in the water. For added support, there were staff that remained in our boat, not very far away from where we were snorkeling at all times. So leaders, invite others willing to take the first steps with you and also look for others who will be able to support the initial risk takers and ultimately the group, along the way. Failures and mistakes are an inevitable part of the process and with the right team can turn these situations into learning opportunities.

Take a look beneath the surface and explore, don’t be too focused on outcomes right away.

Of course when we embark on any change, there is an ultimate goal we hope to achieve. I support the use of goal setting and success criteria as they are essential to any endeavour. It is also important that individuals in a community have time to acclimate and dive beneath the rough waters under their own terms. I needed that moment when I first dove in to the water be slightly panicked, to catch my breath, and dive in when I was ready. When I saw what was beneath and how surprisingly more calm it was underwater, than above, you couldn’t get me out of the water.

The point is people need time to explore and adjust when change is in progress. If you stay solely task oriented and rush too soon to the next task, you miss opportunities for individuals to see the beauty in the change and embrace it. More importantly, they will not have a chance to engage in their own explorations that could bring great value to the team’s overall process and goals.

Let the group explore, but also remind them of the focus.

Our guides were great about letting us explore, but also did not let us wander way beyond our limits. Our guide in the water wore bright swim shorts so we could easily identify him from afar and he would take the time to show us the beautiful wildlife that he thought would make the most of our experience. Change is messy and while it is important to let individuals find their own way (see above) and work through this process, it will be necessary to bring individuals together and remind them of what is most important.

Change has never been easy and never will be, but with these few reminders from my recent vacation experience, I hope to make future change processes I am involved in meaningful to my community.

What other analogies could you add about change? What opportunities should leaders take to make the change process a more meaningful one?


Ten Things I Learned About Teaching Online-Part 2

This blog is the second part of my blog post, Ten Things I Learned about Teaching Online-Part 1. Below are my takeaways from weeks 6-10 of the course.

Week #6-Affiliation is essential for successful online learning experiences. (Dabbagh, 2007).

This was the week when we had the opportunity to dive deeper into various scholarly articles about online learning. I was particularly interested in Nada Dabbagh’s article, The Online Learner Characteristics and Pedagogical Implications. It notes the popularity of building of communities of practice in online spaces. Since such communities rely on the social network to drive learning, it emphasized the importance of affiliation (Dabbagh, 2007). I plan to apply this concept by recognizing that I must build trust early on, community over time, and engage in knowledge building efforts to develop the online community.

Week #7-How will group projects be managed in online spaces? What is the role of management and facilitation in online spaces?

In comparison to a face to face classroom, the dynamics are different in online spaces. This week brought forth a greater awareness about the need to consider how I will manage group projects. (Check out the resources our facilitators for the week assembled on this topic.) A conversation evolved in our course about the differences between management and facilitation and what that meant in online spaces. I consider management in an online space as the instructor’s efforts to set up the structures for group success, as well as effectiveness in addressing situations that violate community norms. On the other hand, I see online facilitation as the efforts taken to empower individuals and the group to go in the directions needed for learning to occur.

Week #8: Know the difference between crowdsourcing and knowledge building so that you can leverage both in your online courses.

For years I have just assumed that these two terms meant the same thing. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In short, when I consider using the two, I will start by asking myself the questions:

  • What is my goal/purpose in engaging in this activity?
  • When do I plan to do this in the course?

The answers to these questions are important because if I hope to gain a wealth of ideas/perspectives and am not concerned about the level of expertise or depth, crowdsourcing would be an appropriate choice. However, if I was looking to engage in a shared task with a group of committed members, knowledge building would be a better approach. In terms of timing, it seems most appropriate that crowdsourcing would be done earlier on in the start of the course, when individuals do not know each other well, if at all. Knowledge building would seem to be more effective once some rapport has been established within the group and shared ownership for learning has been maintained.

Week #9: What the purpose of grades/marks?

I recognize this very question can be subject of another blog post. At this point, I am questioning whether I need grades in my course. Assuming I have a choice as an instructor, I would like to have a structure set up where students assess and grade themselves. In situations that require grades, I will be using student created assessments and self/peer assessments as much as possible.

Week 10: Reflection is powerful.

In this particular course our last week was designed for reflection. That was the first time in a course where so much time was devoted to reflection and I enjoyed the opportunity. So often when we take professional development courses, we hurry through the course and may devote our own time either through blogging or informal conversations to deconstruct what we learned. What a great opportunity to do this formally in a course with those you have been learning with for an extended period of time. I recognize that it may not always be possible to incorporate a week of reflection in my future courses, but I plan to build in more than the obligatory course evaluation moment for such purposes.

Lastly, I owe a big thank you to my co-learners for a wonderful ten weeks of learning. I have learned so much because of each of you. Also special thanks to Sheryl for all your expertise and wisdom. This time together has opened my eyes to so many possibilities!

Dabbagh, N. (2007). The Online Learner: Characteristics and Pedagogical Implications. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 7(3), 217-226. AACE.

Ten Things I Learned About Teaching Online-Part 1

For the last few months I have been taking a Teaching Online and Blended Learning course with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. It was a fast paced, rigorous course which has inspired me to jump into the world of online teaching. The following are my takeaways for each week of the ten week course. This blog is part one of two in which I will share highlights of the lessons learned from the first five weeks.

Week #1-Have a vision for your course and be clear on your purpose and goals.
What skills, habits and competencies do I want learners to walk away with after completing my online course? The answers should guide the development of my future course. Our class work on analyzing various theorists and constructing a learning philosophy helped to remind me that what I plan in both asynchronous and synchronous spaces should be aligned with my overall purpose.

Week #2- Hit the “sweet spot” of planning.
When I asked Sheryl for the advice she would give to new online instructors, she noted the tendency of new online teachers is to either under plan, relying too much on “winging it” or to over plan and not allow for flexibility. I will consider in advance how I can best structure the learning for my students, and also want to be open to the unplanned opportunities that may arise in a course. I would also like to incorporate the goals of my students, so that as much as possible, I can create a program that will result in meaningful learning experiences.

A consideration for instructors of adult learners is the need to be mindful of the juggling act that students face when taking online courses. Sheryl was excellent at considering what format might work best for learners juggling work, family and life. She was able to maintain high standards, while encouraging us to jump in when we can and always welcoming us if we hadn’t been able to pop in for awhile.

Week #3: Leverage your syllabus and multimedia to set the tone of your course.
Having only taught face-to-face courses to this point, I now recognize the importance of and committing to creating an engaging syllabus as this will likely be my first point of contact with students in an online setting. Also, in my first email to course participants, I would like to include two videos. The first will be an introductory video to help learners get to know me and encourage relationship building. The second will be a course video to help students learn more and get excited about the course. To address any questions that learners may have, I will be constructing a course website that students can access and obtain further information. I hope creating these resources will help students to connect with me and the course, as well as allow students to focus on the learning ahead.

Week #4: Online instructors jump into the learning.
In my early years of taking online courses, my interactions with instructors were largely consultative in nature. After taking this course, I know when online instructors jump into the learning, it pushes the learning of all. When instructors adopt a learning stance, they demonstrate all three types of online presence. Understanding social, cognitive and teaching presence and adjusting your approaches to your prospective learners’ varying strengths in these areas are part of constructing a dynamic learning environment. I plan to use the different types of presence as another framework in which I can assess if my approaches as an instructor are balanced and meeting the needs of various learners.
In addition, understanding how a group develops is important to forming a learning community. Through Sheryl’s modelling, I learned that it is important to be very present in the beginning of a course and then slowly back off as the group develops. (If you are unfamiliar with the stages of group development, this may be a helpful resource.) By giving your class more space in the later stages, it helps them to grow as a cohort and lets the class take learning in the direction that makes the most sense for their needs.

Week #5: Community Building is an essential part of online learning, not an add-on.
I have taken a variety of online courses and what strikes me as different about PLP courses is the focus on community. This focus on community building early on and throughout has really deepened my learning as a student. This is because when an environment of collegiality is created and supported in the course, you learn from more than just the instructor. Your peers become a critical part of the learning process. Your thinking gets pushed, new ideas and reflections abound, and once the class is over, you have an expanded network of colleagues to learn from.

So how will I build community? It involves being mindful of opportunities to build community in synchronous sessions and asynchronous realms. It can be as small as incorporating a brief collaborative activity at the beginning of a synchronous session or structuring in larger collective knowledge activities in asynchronous discussions. I plan to incorporate a designated social space such as a virtual café or lounge. This is a place for learners to gather during the course so that they can get to know one another beyond academic discussions. I will also create a community bulletin board to post questions. These small steps will help individuals build rapport and trust over time.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post (Weeks 6-10).

What is Your Word for 2014?

With the start of the new year, I have been thinking a lot this month about my goals. A few days into 2014, I read about One Word 365. This is not to say that I would not be doing anything outside of my chosen word, it would simply be a way to live mindful of my intentions and provide a means to reflect on how I am living my daily life.

So after much thought, the one word I want to focus on this year is “cultivate”. As a former science teacher, this word brings to life so many images for me around growth, support, the building of strengths, and change. All of these themes will help me to be the best that I can be this year. So what do I want to cultivate?

As an educator I want to continue to cultivate and nurture the relationships I have made with others who push my thinking and learning. I also want to cultivate the leadership potential in my fellow colleagues so that they may be the best at what they do for our kids.

Personally, I would like to continue to cultivate spaces for me to recharge and focus on my well-being. This can be as simple as ensuring I do not bypass my commitment to exercise when I get busy and taking moments to stop and “smell the roses” throughout the day.

This is of course a work in progress, but for now, the questions I will be reflecting on daily are:

  • What relationships have I cultivated today?
  • How am I cultivating the leaders of tomorrow?
  • How have I taken the time to cultivate my own well-being?

So over to you, what is your one word for the year?


Connected Coaching Is…


As the final days of our course approaches, I wanted to take some time to reflect on my Connected Coaching learning experience. We are finalizing our group projects (the creation of Connected Coaching Toolkits) and having the time to revisit concepts has made me realize how much I have learned as a Connected Coach.

I have often been asked, “What is Connected Coaching?” So the Haiku Deck slides you see below is a brief visual response to that question. The remainder of my post will expand on the concept introduced in the slides.


If there is one key take away from this course, it is the reminder of how important trust is in our work as educators. Time and time again, I was reminded of this in both my own reflections and those of my co-learners. As Connected Coaches, we help educators to connect with one another both in synchronous and asynchronous formats. We foster a learning community by what we do and say, all the while, helping others to build collegial relationships with one another.


One of the biggest stereotypes of coaching is the notion that coaches “fix”, a theme I have explored previously. Connected Coaching bucks this stereotype because it is about starting where the individual is at. As the coach, I am a co-learner and explorer along with my coachee. As connected coaches, we start to do this by being seekers of stories and facilitators of the Appreciative Inquiry model.


An educator’s daily work flies by at a hectic pace, which further drives home the need for mindfulness in our work. Connected Coaches must be present and listen deeply as stories are shared. We embrace not having to be the “expert” and refrain from telling and/or judging. As a Connected Coach, it is so important that I am fully aware of my own assumptions and perceptions, as well as how they influence my responses and actions.


As someone who truly wants to support educators, this was perhaps one of the easiest areas for me to understand, but much harder to put into practice. As educators, we have often been trained to have the “correct answers”. I now see coaching as a journey and have let go of this need to have all the answers. This is because Connected Coaches help educators to uncover their strengths. This is key for individuals to reach their goals and new opportunities. We uncover strengths and opportunities by asking powerful questions, offering tools and support when needed, and leveraging technology in meaningful ways. We relish playing with ideas and thereby encourage, engage in, and support other educators in their own experimentation.


Educators are fantastic at constantly giving to their students and communities and less so to themselves. We can invest in educators by providing them with the environment, time, and tools to reflect, aspire and learn. When we invest in educators, we create vibrant and innovative learning spaces for our school communities.

Embracing the Connected Coaching mindset, utilizing our path markers and offering the most effective means of support is no easy task, but in doing so, we are able to help educators connect as a community of learners. As these connections grow over time, so will individuals, who will be inspired to act within their own communities. At its core, Connected Coaching is truly all about elevating educators and their students.


Special thanks to all my PLP co-learners and our instructor, Lani Ritter Hall, who have provided me with such rich discussions and experiences. These new insights will continue to stay with me in my own evolution as a Connected Coach.




Reflections of a Connected Coach

As the weeks rapidly draw to a close and my mind still swimming with putting all that we have learned into practice, I reflect on several of the Connected Coaching Standards:

  • Persevere in exploring ideas and concepts, rethinking, revising, and continual repacking and unpacking as they build upon and assist in uncovering strengths of those they coach.
  • Engage in discussions on difficult or messy topics from an appreciative inquiry perspective to increase confidence and self-efficacy.
  • Use activities to create a connection to the content and context, to oneself, and to those who are part of the learning community at school and online.
  • Collectively review and analyze with an open mind and without judgment all and many perspectives on coaching.

While I am still learning and reflecting how I can translate these new ideas into my various contexts, there are some definite themes that have stuck with me to date.

The Importance of Community in Coaching

Prior to taking this course, I often thought of coaching as more of a one-to-one activity. When I think about how much I have grown in my learning and capacity as a coach, it strikes me that the growth was only possible by being a part of a larger community. In this online community, I met a wonderful group of passionate, interesting and encouraging group of educational leaders. We were physically located in all parts of the world, serving students (children and adults alike) in varied ways through our professional roles and each one of us from such diverse personal backgrounds. I felt welcomed and encouraged to share my ideas by all. There was consistent and thoughtful application of tools used by our facilitator that enhanced our discussions. Over time, I found myself eagerly looking forward to our weekly synchronous chats, both to learn something new and hear what was going on in the worlds of my fellow co-learners.

Connected Coaching does not provide one linear answer. I didn’t mind the “messiness” of our learning process. The beauty of a coaching community is that we learned through modeling from our instructor and benefited from the unique questions and ideas that each of us brought to our space. I gained an appreciation of other perspectives I had not yet thought of and more questions to challenge my thinking. We interchanged roles continuously from coach/coachee in our interactions and as a result, our learning has been deep and rich.

Having been a school administrator, I have often wondered throughout this course about the value of providing educators with either the option of online learning communities to support face to face coaching or access to an online space for coaching, if none was available. What might happen if all educators had access to such supportive online communities? How could we transform experiences for our students when consistently engaged in robust coaching discussions?

Coaching is About Others AND an Awareness of Self

Unfortunately, education is not a profession immune from judgment. What if we were able to suspend judgment (both conscious and unconscious)–what might we be able to accomplish together?

A large part of the community feel established in our course space was because I did not feel I would be judged by my co-learners. As a coach, I have learned to become even more mindful of the role assumptions and judgments play in how they filter and influence perceptions, and our resulting interactions with others. I have also learned that asking powerful questions can bring these assumptions to the surface so that we can grow and learn as opposed to maintaining status quo. Most importantly, I embrace being fully aware of others, as well as my own thinking and emotions in coaching. Being self-aware allows me to be present in those interactions, as well as mindful of my resulting inquiries and actions as a coach.

Coaching Redefined

Another theme I have been thinking about is that we often associate coaching with the negative. Too often, in educational environments we “coach” when something is wrong or when we want individuals to buy-in with a certain idea/initiative. I myself have been guilty of this at times as an educator. Having seen and experienced the power of a coaching community, I’d like to see us as educators reframe coaching. Coaching should be about strengths, exploration, curiosity and refining -the natural process of learning and growing as an educator.

An online community is the part that makes this learning accessible for busy educators. I envision these online coaching spaces as almost a 24-7 online support center. I should be clear that these are not spaces where one logs in and would expect to walk away with immediate answers (though that may happen on occasion). These are spaces where we dare to ask questions, and share the challenges that preceded them. We can expect to receive support through careful listening, paraphrasing and inquiring questions. We will also experience and use various tools that will help us to refine our thoughts, stimulate thinking and give us the push we need to find the answer that is going to work best for our context. Connected Coaching is not about having the “right” answer. Connected Coaches provide opportunities and  tools, as well as create an environment for individuals to reflect and devise their own pathways for possible solutions.

How can we shift the stereotype of coaching from deficit to strength-based? How do you see Connected Coaches supporting your work and schools?

Risk Taking as Acts of Trust

Trust by Ibrahim lujaz (CC BY)

Trust by Ibrahim lujaz (CC BY)

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently completing course work on Connected Coaching. Our recent conversations have been around building trust in online spaces and a colleague shared an interesting TED video by Amanda Palmer on The Art of Asking. While her talk is framed in the context of her work as a musician, one theme in particular stuck with me that seems very relevant in education circles, taking risks and trust.

In the TED video, Amanda notes that what some consider risks on her part, she views as acts of trust. As I thought about this point in the context of education, risk taking and trust work in parallel. There is the trust that we must have in others in our community. I am sure we have all experienced environments in our lives where our willingness to step beyond our comfort zone was made much easier because of a high level of trust in that setting. There is also the experience in which one could be a part of a highly functioning community and not engage in any risk taking at all. It seems then, that risk taking is also rooted in the act of trusting in one’s self.

Can our schools and communities benefit from thinking of risk taking as acts of trust? I have only begun to scratch the surface, so I am left wondering:

  • In schools, what would it take to shift our perspective of risking taking to acts of trust?
  • How can this shift allow us to create deeper relationships and more creative, inclusive, and energizing learning/teaching spaces?
  • What do our schools look, sound and feel like when we there is a high degree of trust and risk taking?

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts and stories.

How Do You Build Trust in an Online Community?

Currently I am taking a graduate course on Connected Coaching from Powerful Learning Practice. In the past year I have been exploring my general interest in coaching. I also have an interest in better understanding how we develop cultures of learning and risk taking in our schools. I do believe that engaging in the coaching process can support the continuous learning and reflection of teachers, staff and administrators alike. This commitment to continuous learning and reflection of practices are essential components to creating change in our profession.

From now through December, I will periodically post about my learning and reflections on my Connected Coaching experiences.   

Creating the environment to build relationships

We are about to embark on week four, but I have been really mulling over this idea of building trust, one of the first topics we explored in the course. My head is swimming with thoughts and ideas, some of which have yet to fully form, so this topic is clearly a work in progress. As I reflect upon our time spent on that concept, I start with the question of: how does one structure the online environment so that trust forms between members?

When I think back to the first week, while the topic was an introduction to trust building, we actually didn’t spend time talking about specific strategies (though that perhaps inadvertently came out in discussions). In fact, the whole time was spent in giving us space and time to share, getting to know one another, and engage in discussions around our stories about learning or coaching. Even in the second week, while the topic of trust was not the explicit focus, this idea was really extended into having us share our values and beliefs about coaching. In essence, we were really sharing values and beliefs that were important to us as individuals, an activity that required a little more risk taking as we revealed a bit more of whom we were as individuals. At the same time, we were building community as we discussed these values and how they resonated with us relative to coaching.

In the third week, our own values were used as a starting point to talk about coaching dispositions. Building on the values we identified allowed us to create our own models of understanding of the coaching content. By valuing our experiences, our instructor was modeling trust. I should add that this was further emphasized in how discussion questions were reframed back to us, asking for further reflection upon past experiences and to share these stories. In essence, we were being trusted to be sources of expertise.

Thoughtful Technology Use

I am starting to see first-hand that as a facilitator in online spaces, one must be just as reflective about the tech tools used to carry out these activities. This is because the use of a variety of tools is important for engagement. Also, given individuals’ varying experiences with technology, ease of use of these tools is critical. A tool that is difficult to use decreases accessibility and the means for the group to build on their work.

Perhaps most importantly, technology cannot be used for the sake of doing so.  I can see a clear purpose for why we are using the tools we do. For example, one of our assignments included having to compare ISTE and IAC coaching standards with the Connected Coaching standards, as well as further insights. We were asked to share these ideas on Voxopop. (For those not familiar, Voxopop is like a message board, but all done through recorded voice messages.) I’m sure I could have done this activity in a simple comparison chart and posted it, but the act of being able to speak to and hear from my co-learners around the world really focused my thinking and led to some unexpected insights. Tech tools are not just about engaging the individual, but must absolutely be about deeper learning.

My take away thoughts on building the foundations for trust in online spaces:

  • Building trust means giving space for it to happen.
  • As a facilitator, a balance is required between the need for structured activities (so individuals feel safe to share and discussions remain on the learning at hand) and flexibility to let individuals express themselves.
  • Identifying the pre-existing values and beliefs of a group is critical to both building trust and identifying a path forward for one’s work together.
  • Valuing and building upon the experiences and voices of others emphasizes trust in the individual and models trust for the group as a whole.
  • In online spaces, take the time to ensure you have selected tools that are engaging, accessible and promote deeper learning. All three qualities will be needed to further entrench group trust.

What have I missed? What other ideas or insights do you have on building trust in online spaces?

Making the International Day of the Girl Every Day

As an educator, nothing pleases me more than seeing schools full of girls, eager to learn and taking on challenges. This is because I know in many parts of the world girls are denied access to education because it is not held as a basic human right. Two years ago, The United Nations General Assembly declared October 11th as the International Day of the Girl. Along with many supporters and activists worldwide, Canada played an important role in advocating for the establishment of this day. Currently, many around the world are recognizing that we must urgently work to support education for all girls.

Why do we need an International Day of the Girl?

According to Plan Canada’s website, 66 million girls in developing countries are denied an education, despite the fact that a 10% increase in girls attending school would raise the country’s GDP an average of 3%. The reason behind why girls are denied an education is complex and context driven, but Plan Canada’s 2012 report, Learning for Life, has identified three main factors for girls who are not able to go to school and/or stay there: they are often from poor families, tend to live in a rural areas and from ethnic groups that are discriminated or excluded in their society. These identified factors of poverty, accessibility to education and discrimination are universal issues that all countries and local communities around the world are working to overcome.

So What About the Boys?

This can be the common reframe echoed any time girls or women’s issues are brought to the forefront. I cannot stress how truly important working for the rights of girls is really about human rights for all. This is because the views on gender that prevent girls from an education are also the very same viewpoints that negatively affect the lives of boys. The following excerpt from Plan Canada’s 2011 report, So, What About Boys?, provides clarity on why boys and men should care about gender equality:

“1. Girls’ and women’s rights are human rights. If men and boys believe in justice and fairness, they will be able to see that their mothers, sisters and girlfriends are often not treated the same way as they are, do not enjoy the same level of respect in the community, and do not have the same opportunities to make choices about their lives.

2. Greater gender equality will help boys to succeed in school, to be comfortable with their own identity, to be confident in expressing emotions and to be equipped with the skills to build positive relationships of mutual trust and respect.

3. Gender equality has often meant more freedom for girls and women to define themselves in new ways, but little corresponding change for boys and men. A new perspective on gender is about a more productive way of viewing power relationships to the benefit of both sexes ” (Plan Canada 3).

If we truly believe we live in an interconnected society, one based on the power of the human spirit to create change, then we cannot afford to ignore these issues.

The Voices of Girls and Women

Last week I had the opportunity to see a powerful documentary, Girl Rising, that speaks to the importance of educating girls and the challenges faced by girls around the world. The film features the stories of girls and young women told through a writer from that girl’s country. The film touched me deeply, enraged me and provided me with great hope all at the same time. It is a powerful and must- see film for all.

Malala Yousafzai demonstrates the courage, resilience and hope that is characteristic of many girls and advocates that are fighting for change. Her inspirational speech to the United Nations from July of this year can be found here (via The New York Times)and is a reminder of why this fight for girls’ education is so important.

Kakenya Ntaiya, founder of a primary school for girls in the Maasai region of Kenya , articulates in her blog post at National Geographic the power of education for girls.

From the start, every girl should have the opportunities and chance at life that she so rightly deserves. She should no longer have to fight for the basic rights that so many girls and women have fought for before us and continue to do today. In the future, she will not need an International Day of the Girl because all children will have basic human rights, the ability to make their own decisions, create their own life paths, as well as to equally sit at the tables of change when making decisions about their communities. The International Day of the Girl is one day and it will take recognition and work of what is important every day for these dreams to be realized.

Works Cited:

Plan Canada. “Because I am a Girl The State of the World’s Girls     2012: Learning for Life, Executive Summary.”  2012. Web.  11 October 2013. <>.

Plan Canada. “Because I am a Girl The State of the World’s Girls 2011: So, What About Boys?, Executive Summary.” 2011. Web. 11 October 2013. <>.