The Gift of the Pandemic

Gift? I know, you are wondering what I am on about!

As a Learning Assistance teacher, I work with a large case-load of high-incidence learners. When I say large case-load I am speaking about 90+ sttudents. It is impossible for one teacher to manage, let alone deliver intervention services to over 90 students in any effective manner. That does not mean that I haven’t done everything in my power to ensure service delivery and support for vulnerable learners. In fact, my stress level and the physical effects of working extensive hours and weekends are evident in each day.

So what am I saying when I refer to the gift of the pandemic?

In high-incidence service-delivery models, we typically see students in groups of 3 – 5 in order to address the needs of as many students as possible. These groupings may be seen anywhere from 2 – 5 times per week. Pre-March 2020, I was mixing co-horts, blending grades, and seeing students both in their classrooms and in pull-out situations. The student progress was consistent and reading gains were typical. So what has changed? Well, the pandemic.

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown created lost space and wandering time. In the beginning, I was searching for methods to effect positive distance-learning and test-driving platforms for authentic intervention opportunities. May and June of 2020 saw reduced numbers of students attending part-time and the focus was on push-in to maximize classroom learning. We could discuss these models, explore what worked and what didn’t, but I’m moving on from this discussion.

The end of the 2019-2020 school year provided clarity in a way that I hadn’t expected. I was left exhausted, frustrated, and ineffective. Pile on the isolation and fear of a pandemic… lost. In that vast wilderness, I saw light, found a directive, and fostered an idea.

So, September 2020 presented an opportunity to re-design my program without the assumptions of a district, the requirements of mixed modelling, and the imposed expectation of a full room. I began by prioritizing (as I do each year), but this time was different! My administration provided general support teachers to attend vulnerable classrooms to provide push-in and math support and that meant I could focus purely on reading!! Woo hoo!

I immediately began designing a new schedule that worked for everyone > a tall order under normal circumstances and even more challenging in current times. In this new reality, I see students one:one for dedicated intervention as part of a structured literacy program. We have the gift of time, working together 4-5 times per week! With a plexi-glass barrier in place I am able to continue phonological awareness training. Students working on identifying the physical formation of the 44 phonemes of the English language can play with sounds, experiment with manipulation, and gain mastery of phonology. We work on decoding the English language and building their sound walls. With explicit instruction, students are making gains we have not seen before. Students in grade 8 who were reading at grade-2-levels are improving multiple grade-levels in short timelines, moving to grade 4 reading levels in less than a year.

The pandemic has been a gift. A gift for me as I focus on the most vulnerable learners and change programming to support increased progress. A gift for learners as they develop new skills within a framework that supports accelerated growth. A gift for our community as students receive intensive one: one intervention and literacy rates improve.

Yes, this pandemic has been a gift. A gift allowing the time and space to grow, to change, to flourish. In peace, in calm, in safe spaces, learners are raised up in the pandemic.

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites


When you know better…

Reading came easily. Family, books, teachers, and friends supported my learning journey. But what didn’t I know…

I was born into the world of whole language and I loved the rich experiences. Today, I know that learning to read is fraught with roadblocks, littered with impediments, and often hindered by well-meaning people.

One in five students experiences persistent difficulties in learning to read. According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (2021), approximately 17% of learners struggle to learn to read. Of those students, approximately 3-5% will be designated with a Specific Learning Disability.

What do we need to do to support learners? There is extensive long-term research that supports Structured Literature (as used by the International Dyslexia Association): explicit and systematic language instruction using evidence-based programs and approaches to teach phonological awareness, word recognition, phonics, and decoding, spelling, and syntax at the sentence and paragraph levels (KPS; Cowen, 2016; Spear-Swerling, 2019). Today, you will find a myriad of resources for the ‘Science of Reading’. It is an approach I have embraced, expanded upon, and continue to learn about. It is true that university did not adequately prepare me to teach students to read. I see this sentiment echoed in the thousands of followers of multiple groups called “The Science of Reading – What I should have learned in College”.

I have been successful with balanced literacy programming and whole language programming but at what cost? Do my past students decode unfamiliar vocabulary to access meaning and use the words again in the future? Was their access to novel text facilitated by this instructional approach? I am not sure. The whole language program and balanced literature fail to systematically and explicitly educate readers. So in the end, learners with reading challenges are left with inadequate skills and incomplete strategies. I am committed to ensuring students are first able to access the code and then use the code to learn!

In my district, they promote Balanced Literature. This incorporates the cueing system > semantic, syntactic, and imagery.

” In the three-cueing system, students are taught that they can identify a word by deciding if it makes
sense, if it would structurally/grammatically ‘fit’ in a sentence, or if it looks right rather than closely examining the phonics patterns in the word and sounding it out. This is a practice that the research has indicated that we must abandon (Lenhart, 2020).”

Balanced literature teaches some phonics and some phonology, but not explicitly and certainly not in a systematic way that supports readers’ transition to reading-to-learn. PM Readers and Fountas and Pinnell are found in most primary classrooms. But what about after primary grades? When instead of learning-to-read, students are reading-to-learn? How do students who have been taught to rely on images and context, taught to look away from the text, access academic text and read increasingly complex vocabulary without sound and formalized decoding strategies?

Some decry structured literature and point to the lack of rich literature experiences. Not true. A well run structured literature program provides many rich literature experiences, introduces students to novel forms of literature, exciting topics, and rich vocabulary. Read-alouds, shared reading, and enhanced vocabulary instruction, including roots and affixes, provide many opportunities for the pure enjoyment of texts. Systematic and explicit instruction provides lifelong access to literature. Morphology instruction expands readers’ vocabulary and literary access for readers. Decodable readers are not arid expanses of print, they can be rich with novel and rare vocabulary, unique sentence development, and are available in both fiction and non-fiction. As with all forms of literature, there are varying levels of quality and we must look for good quality texts to support reader development.

” Phonemic awareness and knowledge of the writing system are applied to read unfamiliar words and to build a vocabulary of high-quality sight words with spellings fully connected to pronunciations and meanings in memory. The accumulation of written words in memory is continuous. However, the predominant connections that are used to remember the words change developmentally, from nonalphabetic visual features, to partial alphabetic connections between some letters and sounds, to full grapho-phonemic connections, to consolidated grapho-syllabic connections. These orthographic mapping processes
underlie the emergence of students’ skill in reading words accurately and automatically from

(Ehri, 2013)

As laid out in ‘Equipped for Reading Success’ by David A. Kilpatrick (2016) gives the reader an insight into the role of phonology and the link to orthographic mapping. The book includes the P.A.S.T. (phonological awareness screening test) as well as 1-minute drills to build phonological skills sequentially supporting reading development, orthographic mapping, and efficient reading skills for life. This is a good place for instructors and coaches to begin.

Looking for more advice? Check out the Facebook group ‘The Science of Reading – What I Should Have Learned in College.” You may also want to read anything by Louisa Moats or David A. Kilpatrick. I have included sources in the bibliography below which you may find helpful in your own reading instruction journey!

Each day is a day to learn anew. Each day brings more information, shared resources, innovative strategies to address reading difficulties and support students to read now, tomorrow, and through their lives. James Herriot’s ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ sits on my shelf today, as it did when I was 10, because someone cared enough to guide my reading skills and foster a love of literature. My hope for my students is that they too will have well-loved texts carried carefully through their lives and shared with their children.


Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties. John Wiley & Sons.

Lillian. (2017, June 18). Orthographic Mapping. Retrieved from

Lorimor-Easley, N. A. (n.d.). An Explanation of Structured Literacy, and a Comparison to Balanced Literacy. Retrieved from

MOATS, L. C. (2020). SPEECH TO PRINT: Language essentials for teachers. BROOKES Publishing.

Matt, Karenvaites, Manderson, Emma, Geisler, S., Maddox, C., & Understanding the Concerns About Teachers College Reading Workshop – eduvaites. (2020, May 11). The Trouble With Common Word Recognition Strategies. Retrieved from

Meltzer, E. (2020, May 23). The Three-Cueing System and Its Misuses (or: The Biggest Problem in Reading Instruction You’ve Never Heard of). Retrieved from

Meltzer, E. (2020, September 17). The Three-Cueing System and the Most Disordered Form of Reading. Retrieved from

Rayner, K., Foorman, B. R., Perfetti, C. A., Pesetsky, D., & Seidenberg, M. S. (2001). How Psychological Science Informs the Teaching of Reading. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2(2), 31-74. doi:10.1111/1529-1006.00004

Sanchez, C. (2018, February 12). The Gap Between The Science On Kids And Reading, And How It Is Taught. Retrieved from

Sohn, E. (2020, April 25). It’s time to stop debating how to teach kids to read and follow the science. Retrieved from

Goldberg, Margaret. (2019, November 26). Dear Lucy: An Open Letter to Lucy Calkins. Retrieved from

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites

Lost and Searching.

Trinity Public School (name changed to protect privacy) was a home. Welcomed from the first moment I entered the door and wrapped in embraces, I was loved. There, in that place, I felt free, I felt safe. The leadership was outside anything I had experienced and the community within our school was beyond comprehension.  I brought my children into this world as part of my school community. As a Christian school, our church was part of the school site and was an unexpected blessing.

Students were welcome in the church all day to pray, to contemplate, to be in community. Some days, when sadness overwhelmed my little ones, as it sometimes does, we would gather as a class to talk or just be together. It was a blessing each day to be part of something so much bigger than myself.

This place was not just teachers and students. Parents, the community members, and the congregation were equally involved and committed to finding each child’s place in God’s plan. The tears are welling now, even this many years later, in memory of the love.
My life was guided by my faith and my family. I was at home with my peers. They were my connections, my support system.

Sometimes, our lives betray our plans. My ex-husband believed that my community, my children’s community was distant and filled with outcasts. His faith was hard to find. When I wanted to visit friends I worked with, he would speak of them with disdain and tell me I had losers for friends and he had better friends.

Those ‘better’ friends were people with money and titles. They used drugs, womanized, and left their families alone. Eventually, I realized that was what my spouse was doing. I let him go, but not soon enough. I am overwhelmed with guilt for the pain I put my children through trying to ‘be a good wife’ and ‘keep the marriage.’

Time separated me from my extended family, a bitter spouse berated me, severing me from my friends, and fear stayed my hand. Emotional abuse is insidious in its nature, tricking our mind, shouting echoes and catcalls upon us, hiding behind smiling faces.
I miss my friends. Even this many years separated, grief seizes my heart, I find it impossible to reconnect. Shame, embarrassment, and regret still me.

To keep my place in a home I miss, I walk through the school grounds most evenings. I enter the church to pray, and I peer through my old classroom window. Over the past 6 years, I have periodically encountered Mary (name changed to protect privacy) a former partner teacher, in the parking lot, in the mall, around. She would, at each encounter, embrace me, smile, and fill my heart with joy.

Strolling in the mall last week, a former Substitute teacher informed me know that Mary had passed away suddenly. Mary was young, a couple of years older than me, our children attended school together. It was quick. She felt ill after a trip, saw the doctor when it didn’t go away. Reflective of the loving and supportive community at the school, when the doctor called Mary and asked her to bring someone with her, it was her team teacher who accompanied her to the hospital. Mary lived only 2 months beyond that appointment.

I am broken in grief. Love, relationships, family do not dissipate with time, distance, or barriers. We are not exiled, even by our own anxiety or fear. We remain in communion with our brothers and sisters.


It is up to me to reach out, to put aside that violent voice from my past, to quell the movement in my gut, and push through the embarrassment that I would let someone break me from family. I am searching for my friends, my companions, and lifting prayers for reconciliation. 

I pray for forgiveness, I pray for love, I pray for family. 

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites

Finding and Defining a Way

Finding and Defining a Way

Finding a mission statement, a credo, a life belief to guide personal development is sometimes an elusive idea sailing just out of reach. An analytical and self-reflective discussion on the concept of belief statements with a group of professionals revealed variable models of personal declarations. Key tenets have guided my life and teaching, despite being distorted by shadows this year. Laughter winds through my days disappearing, returning and leading my instruction. I see the students and their families, and in serving, I know that to educate and create opportunities is good. I must bend, flex, and dive into roiling waters and rise with my students. The team must trust each other; know that together in respectful presence they will pull each other to the surface. Together we will discover and grow and with hands clasped we will plan, learn, and lead. I returned home to investigate the history of my philosophies and my beliefs in practice.

Developing a personal statement as an educator has been an evolving and transforming process. A creed gives voice to personal philosophies, motives, and allows one to envision a story. Consistency and dedication to beliefs provide a clear map for decision making and life choices (Totten, 2015). Continual reflection and clarification of a personal mission are indicative of personal growth, shifting priorities, and changing focus. Over twenty years ago a former principal, Bev Pulyk, suggested the staff of St. Joseph compose Personal Statements. The process was individual, while also collaborative and revealing. As a faculty, we wanted the same things. My mission has unfolded over the years. I have changed. My priorities seemed to ebb and flow, the waves falling on the shore, however, remained stable.

Happy is my mantra; happy in myself, happy in my life, happy with my choices. Happy lives on my mantle as a reminder of what matters. Moments sliding over our fingers, comprised of individuals and opportunities. Rising moments in our life highlighted by flashes of joy and resolve washing around us. As educators we strive to be inclusive, embrace each child and provide an abundance of success opportunities. Expected in each lesson are creative, compelling, and engaging chances to stimulate growth (Snyder, 2006). I believe shared joy promotes learning. Searching for those erratic seconds filled with laughter, combing the crowd for faces concealing smiles. Lifting, cresting, and tumbling over, knowing that together we are supported on a beach of innumerable grains cushioning and lifting our fall. I believe that together, as a mighty storm gathering, we are happy.

In the squall of rising opportunities lives the servant. In the classroom, in the staffroom, and in my home, finding purpose and joy is possible because I am hopeful my actions might make a difference in someone’s life. That joy gathers and spreads like the water seeping through the sand to fill the jar beyond what was thought possible. (Sergiovanni, 1992). Recognizing that the smallest unnoticed actions and the quietest words make a difference helps me commit to sharing in a community that floats on structures anchored by many hands. This servant is committed to core values of kindness, trust, and happiness. Models of servitude, like my grandparents, have set a chart and defined the course of my life. Their door was always open, not in expectation, but in anticipation that someone in need might enter. Books, games, conversation, and laughter still floods through my memory guiding me like stars observed through the sextant. In my classroom, I endeavor to create opportunities to serve, to be present. Music, food, and drink are consistent items available for anyone entering my room. Like my grandparents, the goal is to make sure everyone has a life preserver, a way forward to shore. Finding what is essential in the journey and acting to see it realized in whatever manner possible is gratifying and promising. I hope in my life to serve in love those crossing my path.

As a flexible member of the school community, one requires resilient thinking and a willingness to alter course (Sergiovanni, 1992). Working in the ever-changing landscape of a school means shifting expectations of oneself and others (Wagner&Kegan, 2006). Adjusting expectations demands a readiness to take risks and an initiative to work and collaborate with new partners. The resulting uncertainty will occasionally toss us and sometimes upend our journey, but from mistakes come the opportunity to rebuild, revision, and redirect our efforts. During inquiry group discussions, it became evident that pedagogical and personal flexibility or lack thereof was a complicating issue at each of our schools. Fear of foreign ideas, the uncertainty of stepping onto unknown shores presented angst and resistance amongst our peers. An outstretched hand, supportive and patient, may be required for the short and perhaps the long term to facilitate transformation. A cooperative effort, a collective experience, and shared adventure improve the commitment of team members to participate in conversations as growth (Sergiovanni, 1992). I persist as that wave, shaping to the shore, curling over obstacles while clinging to the tide.

Trust is a gradual process building layers of respect, caring, proficiency, and sincerity (Robinson, 2011). As we acknowledge the individuals before us, take care of their emotional and physical needs with competent skill and dependability, we create trusting conditions (Tschannen-Moran, 2004). The resulting positive growth for the community, if trust is part of the experience, extends beyond academic goals (Robinson, 2011). Established trust can carry a staff, an individual, and a school through and over tumultuous breakers (Robinson, 2011). I commit to layering and transforming the multifaceted sandstone to bedrock on which the community can pause out of the chaotic surf.

Open Learning sets a standard for communications within a successful school. Ensuring quality information as part of an active dialogue and the decision making process is critical to concrete strategies for growth (Robinson, 2011). My Nana believed that in serving and supporting others, one must ask for each person’s truth and then continue searching for more information so that conveying support, counsel, and love could be authentic. Together my Nana and Gramps greeted people with respect. Whether entering their door in tuxedos or ragged garments, receiving each guest with hugs, handshakes, and smiles was a wondrous event which captured me as a child. My grandparents recognized the individual, listened to their stories, and heard the inner cry. I hope to see past the hard shells, the thorny exteriors, the bitterness, and open myself to respect all individuals regardless the stage of their voyage.

Discovered in unexpected places are the Unheroic leaders. My grandparents were those guides. Within their community, they celebrated a shared vision, asked questions, were open about their weaknesses, and embraced help from the group (Murphy, 1968). Their home was an extension of their community, and the idea persisted in that place growing and strengthening. As a child, I watched, wondered, and echoed the dynamic force celebrated in my family. They were the tide providing channels of movement upon which the community gathered and grew in intensity. I am hopeful that in rising waters I will embrace, ask, participate, and seek out the shared movement.

I am a teacher. I believe in creating happy spaces, safe retreats, and authentic acceptance of individuals. In service to people and the development of transformative opportunities for growth, I embrace change, shared encounters, and essential trust. I commit to being an optimistic adaptable learner. Within a group, part of an organization, wave upon wave, I hope to participate in initiatives for change.

We are one people, one world, one hope.


Grogan, M. (2013). The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Murphy, T. (1968). Phi delta kappan. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 28-39). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Robinson, V. (2011). Student centered leadership. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 297-316). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Sergiovanni, T. (1992). Moral leadership. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 372-392). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Snyder, K. (2006). The G quotient. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 131-147). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Totten, Samuel. (2014). The Importance of teaching social issues: our pedagogical creeds. New York & London: Routledge. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from the University of British Columbia Library on the World Wide Web:

Tshannen-Moran, M. (2004). Trust matters. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 40-54). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Wagner, T. & Kegan, R. (2006). Change leadership. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 220-254). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites


heat rising



m   e
                    n         g


how to rise                  how to gasp                                                                     p

how to find a way                                                                                     u


through          and




© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites



Collective Leadership: Discovering the Feminine Model

Collective Leadership: Discovering the Feminine Model

Women lead differently. Developed out of need and desperation, women found each other in waves. They reached out across gardens, whispered in teahouses, vented in factory recesses, and discovered each other in classroom corners. Women tentatively joined hands to promote civility, bravely crawled toward personhood, and proudly stood with hands clasped demanding representation in educational literature and structures. Women shouted with one voice over the flames which ate away the straps that bound and defined. Integral sexism and bias fractured opportunities for equality but women moved forward changed. Today, in woven embrace, women celebrate the multiplicity which is woman. Women share views, secrets, identities, differences and relationships. Together Canadian women unite to pursue justice for women around the world. As educational leaders, women listen, hear, and respond. They are active members of a network connected and secure guided by goals built by many hands (Newman & White, 2006).

Canada in the 19th century was male: male ideals, male leadership, and male dominance. Women were overwhelmed with disregard and objectification. The first wave rose up. Women were active members who helped to build and develop the nation of Canada, but an appreciation of their contributions was limited. Additionally, women went unrecognized as persons and voiceless in the political arena. Denied land rights, inheritance rights, and the right to vote, women began reaching out for one another. Keeping public life separate from private life was an important first step for women during this time. They experimented with wavering voices while at home preserving the subservient role expected by society. Representing the guardians of morality, women began to gather with purpose and without redress. Newman and White (2006) indicate the convergence of multiple factors affecting society including the decline of the imperial system, rapid growth in industrialization, and the development of cities in Canada. The conditions resulted in aggravated alcohol consumption, increased prostitution, and abuse. Together women found their voice rising against drug addiction and the associated results affecting the sanctity of the family. Women joined in acts of charity to rally for improved morality. The moral outrage allowed women to gather supporting change, enacting structures for assistance, and facilitating network development (Newman & White, 2006) (Sergiovanni, 1992). Acting as servants under God, women practiced servant leadership with the power to God. Their goals were clear, and women were united in their vision and sanctified purpose (Sergiovanni). The family was the core value and the shared vision. Faith was at the centre of the household. Women grasped moral authority, found it legitimized through institutions, and placed themselves in service to the communities. Thus women assumed stewardship for the betterment of their peers while building democratic networks for support (Senge, 1990) (Grogan & Shakeshaft, 2011) (Sergiovanni).

Women were coming together on a shared vision driven by moral outrage and facilitated by moral authority (Sergiovanni, 1992). They were organizing, building relationships with women they had never met, and developing empathy for women walking different paths. The vision was widening, growing, and changing. They demanded facilities for wayward women, fought for female medical supports, sought fair treatment in industry, and asked for political recognition. The community was developing, and leaders within those communities found their leadership responsibilities growing. Women were committed to educating each other to improve conditions and increase opportunities for success. Community learning through social networks that were by nature egocentric focused on friends and family in the communities (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011). Industrialization produced opportunities for women to expand the web of relations and contacts. The impact of focused women in positional power roles created societal leaders who provided opportunities to gain acceptance of the goals in the mainstream. The traditional role of charity allowed women to reach out to and through communities building the suffrage movement and finding victory. The relentless pursuit of common ideas and growing networks of communication provided opportunities for target promotion and achievement (Wagner & Kegan, 2006) (Newman & White, 2006).

Wave upon wave rising, in the mid-20th century women found themselves’ minimized and disregarded in literature and education. Educational institutions were open to women, invited women, but did not expect their success. Women were found nowhere in mainstream literature, textbooks, or in leadership. Using socio-centric networks, women worked within the associations to unite and fight for recognition (Newman & White, 2006) (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011). The educational institutions, like the Churches in the first wave, provided a place and space to gather and demand recognition as unique and solitary citizens (Newman & White, 2006). Women were mobilizing to overcome their muted role in the home, school, and workplace. Women discovered their shift of mind and saw that their personal life was indeed public. With increased independence, active participation in the community, and improving educational opportunities, women were not going to be defined only by their sex (Newman & White) (Senge, 1990) (Kline, 2010).

Slowly wearing the foreshore, the second wave continued to crash upon assumptive norms. The movement to empower women and recognize their fundamental equality slowed in the tide of economic forces and political play during the latter half of the 20th century in Canada. In 1964 the Real Women movement, which grew out of conservative uprising, drew negative backlash in the mainstream media denigrating ‘feminists’ and proclaiming any feminist anti-family (Newman & White, 2006). Women fought back and pressed forward. During the 1984 leadership debate, NAC (National Action Committee on the Status of Women) succeeded in making issues facing women a fundamental part of the debate. Mainstream media destroyed opportunity for progress despite the high levels of national interest and significant viewer population. NAC fought and achieved public presence to advance equality in the modern space, but broadcasting representatives declared it a non-event (Thrift, 2011). Following the debate, feminism became a target and a somewhat dirty word. The Conservative party was in power and referred to the Women’s movement as a special interest group. Rediscovering the vision, maintaining the connections, and moving forward became complicated (Newman & White, 2006) (Thrift, 2011).

Finding one another, building networks, creating contacts, discovering understanding; these were the relentless focus of feminists during the drought created out of economic pressures and the return to patriarchal leadership in a conservative Canada. During this time women found interest groups within their community of women. Women of colour, Aboriginal women, women of poverty, and abused women found each other and began calling for a change to social norms around the subordinate station granted women (Newman & White, 2006). They demanded cultural shift, representation, and structures to support the pursuit of equality. Women were united in their calls, clear of their vision, and focused on changing mental models (Senge, 1990). Women embraced Unheroic leadership (Murphy, 1968) in these new groups. The vision was clear; women were comfortable asking questions and open to responses to change, enrich, or amend their thinking. The diverse groups of women gathered, listened, and depended on each other for promotion and growth (Murphy). The struggle to understand and embrace what it meant to be woman was and is on-going. Women recognized that they are an integral member of our societal system and a leader for families and education. Today, women are continuing to build relationships, create webs of information and lift each other to equitable living. The waves are returning changed and amended. United in differences women gather and inform utilizing open-system networks to connect (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011). Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, have become powerful tools used to unite and lead women to equality. Increasingly focused on cultural interventions, (Newman & White) women are weaving wider nets, creating links to one another, finding their sameness, and celebrating their diversity as a collective (Bowden, 2009).

Canadian women participate in a global context with benevolent works seeded during the first wave. Throughout the recent history of feminism, women have worked improving the lives of others. Charity in groups and as individuals in the new era remains a feminine enterprise. Ground-breaking charitable works done by women continue nationally and internationally. Match International is a Canadian organization which gives Canadian women an opportunity to support women outside of Canada fighting abuse and inequality. Because I am a Girl Canada and United Nations groups like Global Citizen are struggling to end child marriage and improve education of girls. Canadian women united in interests and goals are coming together philosophically, economically, and actively in a new age of communication (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011) (Newman & White, 2006). Because women build networks and relationships, the opportunity for collaborative innovation exists. Additionally, because women work outside traditional models of bureaucracy, they have the freedom to introduce, test, and develop ideas without being restricted by a narrowing list of rules and guidelines. Cognitive shifts are resulting from women working within social structures rather than in segregated power organizations. Women work integrally with multiple members in a community allowing multiple viewpoints and providing opportunities for changes in thinking and innovative problem-solving. Ongoing development of the women’s movement includes coming together in unlikely ways, to respect the diversity of women, to hear each other, and to speak freely (Grogan & White, 2011) (Starratt, 2004) (Tschannen-Moran, 2004) (Murphy, 1968). Their voices and influence are evident in the gathering for Pan-Canadian feminists.
” We are the young RebELLEs who have answered a feminist call, and we are proud to call ourselves feminists…We are women of diverse abilities, ethnicities, origins, sexualities, identities, class backgrounds, ages, and races.” (Manifesto of the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering, 2008)
Feminism is by its very nature inclusive. Reaching out to the deep and varying persons who are woman opens conversations and leads to connections and relationships. Female educational leaders approach the multifaceted educational arena to create communal experiences, develop ties, and generate impactful interactions. In Canada, the new curricula published (BC Ministry of Education, 2015)(Alberta Ministry of Education, 2016) in several provinces provide a focus on diversity, acceptance, and social/emotional learning. Subsequent tides, robust and bracing, will ride on the leadership of women able to build associations and cast their net wide. Women continue to be misunderstood and overlooked. The traditional hero leader is male, and the heroic style of leadership is observable and measurable (Murphy, 1968). The servant and collective leaders are often unseen, unheard. Heroes lead from without; Women lead from within and they are essential active members who relate to the group. By empowering individuals, developing local specialists, and sharing in focused goals, women demonstrate empathy and build trust within the collective (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011) (O’Brien & Shea, 2010) (Senge, 1990) (Robinson, 2011).
Women traditionally held little power. They were not part of authority structures and had no voice to effect change. Women were forced to connect and communicate differently. They searched and found one another working to create opportunities to improve the lives of women, demand change, and fight for a voice. Collectively women built relationships and worked cooperatively to begin building equity in their world by demanding female leaders, literature with relevant female role models, and acceptance as unique citizens. Feminism faltered under male dominated media, but women found their voice and rallied for a broadened acceptance of what it means to be woman. As a net anchored and connected to its task, collective leadership lifted women with trust, relations, and passionate visions. Their voices rose and they found membership together. Women supported one another creating influence and effecting change while embracing diversity. Today female leaders endorse group learning, develop resident experts, encourage open conversation, and cultivate essential trust. Women present a distinctly feminine leadership model that is present in mind and functions cohesively and decidedly Unheroic (Grogan & Shakeshift, 2011) (Senge, 1990) (Robinson, 2011) (Iannello, 2010) (Starratt, 2004). Women lead differently.
Barth, R. (2001). Learning by heart. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Grogan, M. & Shakeshift, C. (2011). Women and educational leadership. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Grogan, M. (2013). The jossey-bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Iannello, K. (2010). Women’s leadership and third-wave feminism. In K. O’Connor Gender and women’s leadership: A reference handbook (Vol. 2, pp. 70-77). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412979344.n8

Kline, W. (2010-10-15). Bodies of knowledge: sexuality, reproduction, and women’s health in the second wave. University of Chicago Press. Retrieved June 4, 2017 from

Manifest of the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering. October 2008. The Socialist Voice. Retrieved June 1, 2017 from:

Mummery, J. & Bowden, P. (December, 2014). Understanding feminism. Acumen Publishing Limited. Retrieved June 3, 2017 from:

Murphy, T. (1968). Phi delta kappan. In M. Grogan (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 28-39). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Newman, J. & White, L. (2006). Women, politics, and public policy: The Political struggles of Canadian women. Don Mills, ON.: Oxford University Press.

Neysmith, S., Reitsma-Street, M., Baker Collins, S., & Porter, E. (2004). Provisioning: thinking about all of women’s work. In M. Hobbs & C. Rice (Eds) Gender and women’s studies in Canada: Critical terrain. Toronto, ON.: Women’s Press.

O’Brien, E. & Shea, J. (2010). Women’s leadership within their communities. In K. O’Connor Gender and women’s leadership: A reference handbook (Vol. 2, pp. 41-49). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412979344.n5.

O’Connor, K. (2010). Gender and women’s leadership: A reference handbook (Vols. 1-2). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412979344

Rebick, J. (2007). The Future of feminism. In Y. Abu-Laban (Ed.) Gendering the nation-state: Canadian and comparative perspectives. Vancouver, BC. University of British Columbia Press.

Robinson, V. (2011). Student-centered leadership. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline, New York: Doubleday.

Senior, P. (2010). History shows the importance of breaking silence. In T. Hennessey & E. Finn (Eds). Speaking truth to power: A Reader on Canadian women’s inequality today. Ottawa, ON.: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Sergiovanni, T. (1992). Moral leadership. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Snyder, K. (2006). The G quotient: why gay executives are excelling as leaders… and what every manager needs to know. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Starrett, R. (2004). Ethical leadership. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Status of Women Canada. (2016). Royal commission of the status of women in canada. Retrieved June 1, 2017 from:

The Match Fund. (2017). What we do. Retrieved June 3, 2017 from:

Thrift, Samantha C. 2022, Feminist eventfulness, boredom and the 1984 canadian leadership debate on women’s issues. Feminist Media Studies, 12(3)2012. 406-421. Retrieved from

Tschannen-Moran, M. (2004). Trust matters. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Zimmerman, A-L. (February 12, 2009). The local is global: third wave feminism, peace, and social justice. Contemporary Justice Review: Issues in Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice, 12(2009). 77-90. Retrieved from

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites

Pursuing Unheroic Leadership in an Heroic World


I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” ―Malala Yousafzai

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

Leadership Learning: Pursuing the Unheroic Leader in an Heroic World

As I reflect on effective leaders that have crossed my path and how they approach difficult issues and as I review Leadership for Learning in Chapters 18-20(The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership, 2013), the idea of ‘relevant knowledge’ (Robinson, p.298) seems key to all aspects of leadership. The greatest leaders I have known have been Servant Leaders at heart. They have held strong beliefs and they have been widely supported by their team because they developed shared goals which supported learners first, they held moral authority by living their commitment to the core values of the community, and they were not hesitant to express outrage when the community was threatened by actions or ideologies. (Sergiovanni, 2013). Relevant knowledge is the contemporary skills and expertise efficiently and creatively applied to specific areas or situations for success and growth. As educators work each day with students to provide opportunities for success they need to be knowledgeable in current pedagogy and informed of recent and on-going research in their area of expertise.  Teachers choose to be lifelong learners and that journey involves continuing professional development, training in new and prevailing pedagogical applications, and a commitment to professionalism. Likewise, effective leaders in education commit to evolving insights, cultivating progressive strategies and systems to enhance teaching practices, and the continuing pursuit of knowledge.

Recently a leadership inquiry group’s discussion was a catalyst causing me to re-examine what I had observed in my teaching career, my time as a student, and my experience as a parent. My thinking was confirmed through a process of self-reflection and I am committed to remaining vocal and active both in the acquisition of knowledge and in providing opportunities for educational advancement of teachers. My own experiences have confirmed that not all leaders possess nor implement the skills and knowledge required for success.

There are a myriad of reasons that set the stage for misuse or absenteeism of new information, trends, and research.  In the North American market we are exposed to and influenced by direct sales efforts.  Educational materials sold to government bodies, sold to districts, sold to principals, sold to teachers, and increasingly promoted directly to parents. Many publishers respond to new curriculum or trends with revisions, re-organizations, or re-writes of materials which are then marketed aggressively in education communities. The impact of big money publishers and tech companies can be observed currently in the American education system as they direct and influence policy, curriculum development, and instructional change. (Woodward, 2013).  Educational leaders and teachers need to be vigilant. Teacher autonomy within the Canadian system is fragile and requires defending. Leaders within our education system must be informed, be current, and apply that knowledge to the standing question: What is best for learners?

Administrators who embrace student first thinking become leaders for parents, for teachers, and for students.  The resulting success occurs when leaders at all levels apply relevant knowledge; staying current on trends, research, and development is essential to this success.

Present opportunities for expanded learner success in British Columbia include the implementation of new curriculum which embraces differentiated learning and champions our students as whole persons with multiple competencies.  UDL or Universal Design for Learning is a scientifically supported pedagogical approach which supports the new curriculum while also providing opportunities for effective implementation throughout a school community. This type of relevant knowledge ensures school leaders are able to support learner development, assure the provision of differentiated instruction, and present opportunities for growth to their team. (BC Ministry of Education, 2011) (Government of British Columbia, 2015). This sets the stage for student-centred learning guided by progressive understanding free from commercial influence!

The discussion with the inquiry group regarding the link between relevant knowledge and its application to complex problems resulted in more questions. This launched an exploration into the Hero as stereo typically male.  The complex issue around sexism in our educational systems was a divisive topic. Complex problems regularly arise within a school.  They require active support, modeling, resources, and an equitable approach.

Case Study 14.2 “They dominated the conversation” (class handout, 2017-05-02) highlighted both sexism and educational superiority which created a disdain and rebuke of input from the female team members, including the chair. The blatant disrespect of the male doctors for their team members is, unfortunately, a reflection of common observations between men and women.  According to research men interrupt women “33% more often than when they are talking with men.” (Shore, 2017)  This is readily observed in school staff meetings, at board meetings, and at social events.  As a woman, one’s ability to effectively solve complex problems can be severely impacted by the underlying sexist communication styles between men and women. The perpetuation of the leader as Hero is inevitable when the majority of leaders talk, interrupt, and converse for power. (Senge, 2013. P. 4)(Murphy, 2013. P. 29).It is the perspective of the privileged to fall blind to the adverse effects their state of being creates.  In society, the failure to acknowledge gender bias is part of a wider trend in the developed world.

According to Sanchez and Thornton, “…there seems to be “an implicit assumption that problems of equity for women have been solved and there are no issues left to address” (Coleman, 2005, p. 5). Moreau, Osgood, and Halsall (2007) found that many female teachers and other educational stakeholders did not recognize or identify a gender imbalance.” (p. 3).

This statement is supported both by my discussions with the inquiry group and with my observations in the workplace. As new principals were being assigned recently, there were few women placed in administrative roles despite the overwhelming need for female role models in leadership. Additionally, school district leadership training groups are comprised dominantly of men. It is fair to ask if our system recognizes the inequity observed and to challenge popular thinking.

The “ambivalence, resistance, and antipathy” which have continued to grow around the glass ceiling and gender bias frustrate the work for gender equality. (Sanchez & Gordon, 2010, p.3).

Frustration is observable both in team members and in students as they navigate a complex reality of gender and bias. The absence of gender issues in public discussion is the result of societal changes while navigating the rise of neo-liberalism and the increasing loss of backing for social programs which support gender equality. (Rebick, 2013, p. 678) To ignore specific gender issues ignores the growing effect on our youth and their understanding of education and leadership. Social programs build awareness and effect avenues of address. Increased awareness and highlighted effects on our youth are essential to changing the situation. Relevant knowledge includes being informed on social issues and how they affect children.  (Ligocki, Retrieved 2017)

According to Blount (2006), “Although men held only 21% of all teaching positions in 2000, they accounted for 87% of superintendent positions.” (p.2 Encyclopedia of Educational Leadership and Administration). Despite the overwhelming statistical evidence indicating deep-rooted gender bias, the fight is declining. Recent events like the March for Women has increased awareness once more, but within our community, there is little voice given to the reality which will imprint on learners and affect women’s ability to lead effectively without bias. There are distinct differences in how men and women communicate.  Men communicate to advance their power and reputation while women communicate to build relationships and develop connections. (Shore, 2017). Servant leadership is seen as feminine; soft and gentle. Hero leadership is strong and dominating; essentially what we perceive as masculine.

The patriarchal society we live in is our reality. Add to that the white conservative bread-basket we experience in the Okanagan Valley, and the “Father Knows Best” belief which pervades our systems of thinking (particularly in education where the school is an extended part of the family) and male leadership is the norm.

To experience student-centred learning and student-centred problem solving we must acknowledge this state of being. It is through accepting our reality, our unconscious belief systems, that we can challenge the Hero and open ourselves to equal opportunities. Murphy (2013) emphasizes that instead of issuing answers leaders need to acknowledge ignorance, search for knowledge, and take action to effect change. (p. 32). The elimination of bias will lead to balanced systems, leadership, and learning structures. Student-centred learning means students see equality in the faces of teachers, administration, parents, and ultimately themselves.  Together we teach.

In the face of public belittlement such as the one observed at recent meetings between Union representatives and school districts in BC where a female head of a union group was advised by a male superintendent “there, there, don’t get emotional”  we should all be challenging disrespectful leadership and pursuing change. Relevant knowledge includes the transformation of core belief systems through ongoing education and problem-solving asking always “What is best for learners?”

I am committed to servant leadership. It is my belief that in quiet reflective moments we are surprised with insights.  As leaders we can effect change, support team members, and ensure opportunities for on-going education with quiet presence. Transformational growth can emerge from complex issues when approached with a shared understanding and established trust. (Robinson, 2013. P. 307) (Fink & Markholt, 2013, p. 328). This approach requires our ability to engage and direct when necessary. We cannot be washed away by sexist systems.  We must be ever vigilant like the wave upon the shore changing the landscape with every effort.  Moral outrage is effective but also necessary.  As educational leaders it is our responsibility to mentor, teach, and guide.  These responsibilities will drift from reach if we do not call out that which violates our core beliefs and moral goals. We must challenge traditional thinking. (Sergiovanni, 2013. P. 380). Relevant knowledge is essential to solve complex problems.  Student centred leadership is an opportunity for leaders to implement current information to enhance educational systems and creatively approach sensitive crisis in the community.

I will continue to pursue equality, fight demeaning comments, read, and research, explore new developments in education, and lead for learners.

#globalgoals             #educate           #girlpower         #bevocal


Blount. S. (2006). Encyclopedia of educational leadership and administration. English, Fenwick (Ed.). SAGE Publications, Incorporated. Retrieved May 6, 2017, from UBC Library database:

B.C. Ministry of Education. Supporting students with learning disabilities. Author. (2011) Retrieved May 13, 2017 from

Fink, S. & Markholt, A. (2013). The leader’s role in developing teacher expertise. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 328). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Government of British Columbia. B.C.’s new curriculum. (2015) Retrieved  May 13, 2015 from

Grogan, M. (Ed.). (2013). The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Ligocki, Danielle (2017). How does sexism operate in schools and wider society. [Electronic version]. Retrieved May 13, 2017

Murphy, J. (2013). The unheroic side of leadership. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 29-32). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Rebick, J. (2013). The future of feminism. In Gender and women’s studies in Canada;  Critical Terrain (pp. 678-684). Toronto, Ontario: Women’s Press, an imprint of Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.

Robinson, V. (2013). Three capabilities for student centred leadership. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 298-307). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Sanchez.J. & Thornton. Dr. (2010). Gender issues in K-12 educational leadership. Advancing  Women in Leadership Journal, V. 30 – N. 13. Retrieved from:

Senge, P. (2013). “Give me a lever long enough… and single-handed I can move the world”. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 3-5). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Sergiovanni, T. (2013). Leadership as stewardship. In M. Grogan (ED.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership. (pp. 379-388). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass

Shore, L. (2017). Gal interrupted, why men interrupt women and how to avert this in the workplace. WomensMedia. Retrieved May 13, 2017  

Woodward, D. (2013, August). The corporate takeover of public education. HuffPost. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites

Happily Gardening


Prompted by a sign I’ve dragged around with me and which now sits askew, dusty, and seemingly out-of-place by our front porch, Wyatt asked “What garden?”  I had a garden once upon a time; designed by me, built with the help of my good friend Brad, and nurtured by the dreams of seeing my children grow, get married, and bring me grandchildren.  Sometimes seeds bloom and fade.  Then we discover the garden we need.

Set on a rolling lot with excellent sun exposure, mature trees, and volcanic earth, my garden was destined to grow successfully!  It began quietly in the front yard digging with Karen in the rain.  She was 15 months old and a gardener at heart from the start!  We removed shrubs struggling to survive without adequate space or light.  Next soil was mounded and rocks were placed to create a life size fairy garden.  21

The pond by the deck happened by accident.  Fritz was lost to seizures.  I could not fathom placing my much loved feline anywhere but under the lilac tree he loved so much.  So the addition of a pond surrounded by a frenzy of daylilies hosted his resting spot.  I relished the sound of water so much that we added a rolling waterfall and multiple ponds at the back of the yard.  Taylor helped me choose goldfish and then find the perfect fountainhead.  The spitting frog had to have just enough action to keep mosquitoes at bay but be gentle enough for small birds to bathe.

Rachel loved to recline in the yard or around the pool surrounded by friends and acquaintances.  She found joy in selecting some of the many statues for the garden.  They follow me still.  Rachel is not a gardener of the land but her heart enjoys the architecture, the flowers and the wildlife like Rocky the racoon; a year round resident of our sanctuary.

Despite the love and time devoted to building a place for my family it was not to remain.  As it is for so many of us… life presents transitions.  Transitions moving us literally, emotionally, figuratively.

I have a different garden now.  It is small, dusty and slightly askew… reminiscent of our welcoming marker.  The joy and overwhelming love in my humble little plot is so much more than I ever expected to sow.  The butterflies alight on milkweed, bees dance about the sweet peas, and there is the beauty of green all about!  I must admit that the mottled jade hues are achieved with the arrival of tenacious seeds blown in by the wind.  However they arrive, the resulting ground cover is admired for its strength and relentless nature to survive.  So we indulge their will.  Planters are overflowing with the common petunia, beautiful in their wildness and filling our days with their sweet scents.  Accompanying the riotous pink and white posies are pinwheels emblazoned with red maple leaves reminding us of our childhood and that our children are close to heart.

Alongside the house sits a cedar chest.  It once kept dress-up dreams for my tots.  Masks, hats, magnificent dresses, and sparkling shoes were held there for those magical and fantastical days when tales came to life.  Today it holds soccer balls, volleyballs, diggers, dinosaurs, and a spiderman mask.  The rain falls upon the planks and the spiders find homes within the trunk.  This vessel is another item I have managed to drag about as we moved through life’s metamorphosis.  A symbol of dreams and fantasies come true in our dishevelled backyard.

My good friend Bonnie gave me design advice many years ago: group items in 3’s, it’s more visually appealing!  I have kept that in mind and I sometimes follow her counsel.  It appears, as I scan the yard, that I’ve taken the advice more often than I thought!  Three Obelisks which now house tomato plants are the centre of a vegetable garden ravaged daily by our hounds.  Each planter holds three varieties of plants or three colours.  A wrought iron planter is framed by St. Francis and the frog pot my mother presented me with several years ago.  Three angels can be found protecting our home and three candle holders light the evening gently.

Beside the traditional BBQ lay two sheets of plywood.  They are my amazing hubby’s weed management tool of choice.  They are also a canvas for grandchildren armed with sidewalk chalk and a roadway for diggers being chased by dinosaurs!  Atop and placed carefully (no one would know this but us) are two chairs others might remit to the landfill. One is a reminder of our wedding and the love we share.  The other is a ripped, faded, and generally useless seat to all but our youngest grandchildren.  It remains as a reminder of a daughter’s love on a Father’s Day past.

Wyatt I want you to know that gardens come in all sizes, styles, and temperments.  They may be works of art or they may be happy accidents.  Choose the style which makes you happy, fills your heart, and satisfies your thirst with peace.  Find ways to enrich the lives of the lowly and the small; the intrepid travelers on earth who hide in the dirt.  Plant beautiful things and let those untiring seeds of desire blowing on the wind guide you, protect you, and create a cover over the sharp-edged stones which you will undoubtedly encounter.  And when you see a sign welcoming you to a garden remember to look beyond the expected and contemplate what it is that has been planted.

Welcome to our garden…

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites


Hiding under Furniture

James was hard to find.  Sometimes in the closet, periodically in the hall, randomly in the washroom… and often under my desk.  James knew all the quiet spots.  Spots away from those annoying peers who liked to talk, spots away from the prying eyes of supervisors, and spots away from pencils.

The first few days in my grade 5 classroom I would scan the room to take attendance.  After the first two days I knew to look around to ensure James was on the premises.  His previous well-meaning teachers advised me that he was just a weak kid with social anxieties and to just do my best to get him through.  That was not on my ‘to do’ list.  I wanted to inspire learners!  Ignite fires and feed them books to keep their paths lit on their journeys through life.

Hmm, by week three I was feeling that the fire I aspired to set was being washed away by rivers of fear secreting the firewood away into dark thickets.  It is a difficult thing to undo a core belief that one simply ‘does not fit’.  The trail is lined with obstacles and webs are strung between strong poplars. I trekked on, through, over, until one day I sat beneath my desk.

James was also under the desk, just sitting.  He had stopped hiding outside the classroom after day three when he announced that I was “not scary!”  From that day until the desk (rather under desk) meeting James would conceal himself on shelves, in the cupboard, behind my desk, and sometimes lying under the chalkboard ledge.  We had to find a way to make this more successful.

hiding under desk8

On the morning of our desk meeting, James greeted me cheerfully with his crooked grin as he watched me climb over the footrest and join him under my rather large double pedestal. I sat with him calmly and then began to tell him about my favourite books.  I am a reader; books were and remain my saving place. I could not at that moment think of anything profound to say and so I spoke about what I loved. James listened intently.  He became animated asking me about different topics and he seemed thrilled that I was a history fan.  Now at this point in the class James had not been observed reading, looking for books, or even skimming the multiple titles suggested to him.  But in the quiet and shadowed underbelly of my desk I discovered a reader.  James read!  He read a lot and he read mature novels.  James reveled in the written word.  I thank God for an amazing group of students that day.  Students who just seemed to understand that someone needed my attention and who were willing to provide the time it required.

The following day when I looked for James he was not in his desk.  I peered under my desk and found his grin peeking back at me.  I left him there.  He began to participate in activities, follow instruction, and demonstrate growth after skill building! I designed a personal program to address deficits but to also springboard off James’ vast knowledge and interest areas.  James regularly worked under my desk.  It was a haven safe and secure in a world of unknowns.

I referred James for assessment before the end of October.  I met with his parents along with the school based team to discuss his strengths and weaknesses.  Everyone had something to say about James’ weaknesses but I was more interested in his strengths.  I believed James was above average; gifted. His parents laughed at the suggestion and signed the paperwork for assessment.  They weren’t laughing when we all met with the psychologist following multiple meetings to complete the process.  Parents can also be victims of social expectations, peer pressure, and bullying.  A child that hides must have problems, right?

James was identified as highly gifted with a significant writing and spelling disability.  I was elated for James.  His parents were really lovely caring people who wanted their son to be successful.  They didn’t mean to feel embarrassed by his strange behaviour but endless snickers and stinging comments from friends and family had left them wondering and sensitive.

James shone in his year with me, grew in skill, and developed coping strategies to bolster both social and academic abilities. His amazing gifts were embraced by his classmates and celebrated during discussions.  They had been unaware of his interests and his humour.  Peers clamoured for his attention away from the hiding spots which beckoned James less and less. He was full of ideas for stories and would design extravagant playground games based on living in space.

The following year I was the director of the Gifted Education program.  James was first on my list.  Included in the group was a six-year-old math genius, a 13-year-old language buff, and James.  They were all space fans.  Together they designed a space centre and presented their creation to a College professor.  The professor was astounded at the depth of knowledge, research, and understanding of galactic travel the students had demonstrated.  He felt they had developed a feasible plan.  Wow! The positive response and acknowledgement of hard work and innovative thinking was surprising to James most of all!

In the regular classroom James was struggling.  His teacher in grade six did not believe in differentiating or in allowing tech devices (I recommended the provision of a laptop so James could get his ideas down without the restrictions of his writing disability and a calculator for basic facts). He was failing math despite exhibiting advanced problem solving and critical evaluation of complex data.  His teacher informed me that because James did not know his times tables by heart he would not pass.  Ahhhhhh.  I was so frustrated.  The principal worked with me that year to re-educate the teacher.  It was at James’ expense.  The following year I kept James in my program almost exclusively to allow him time to learn and grow with individualized curriculum and alternative learning opportunities.

James ignited the fire in me to fight for individualized student programming.  My peers often call out “I know!  Differentiate” as I approach them.  I am passionate about student success. I am vocal about the need for implementing varied instructional strategies and employing alternative work spaces.  I have seen James many times since he left the school.  His mom and I are friends on Facebook and James and I have shared stories with laughter.  He is a creative and successful adult.  He is still what many describe as ‘alternative’. I just remember an incredible person with surprising insights who taught me that sometimes learning under desks (or in closets or behind chart stands) is an amazing place to begin explorations, treks, and travels!

Names changed to protect privacy.

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites

Hiding in the Shadows

Every year teaching has brought tumultuous twists and turns with students who have challenged my thinking, pushed my expectations, and encouraged me with their personal courage.  Throughout my career I have seen the flickering of wings from the dark side of the moon, smiles flashing across crowded corridors pulling shadows from unseen hideaways, and resilient whispers pushing towards life on a thread of Faith. Over the next few weeks I will share just a few stories from decades of teaching incredible individuals.

Learning Assistance (LAT) is an often overlooked grey area of Special Education.  LAT includes students for whom there are specific learning challenges.  These students join a multitude of disabilities with invisible struggles.  Who are these kids!?  They are individuals whose brains lack working memory, the ability to see numbers, perhaps an inability to decipher phonics.  They are the ‘sensitive’ people who are overwhelmed by neural activation; sound, sight, taste, or touch.  They are undervalued, dismissed, pushed away.  These students take time, focus, skilled instruction providing differentiated curriculum, delivery, environment, or conditions.  There are so many possibilities for success. Inclusion is a right of all.  This includes Learning Assistance students.

Innumerable times in my career I have been informed by classroom teachers that students are ‘just lazy’, ‘too sensitive’, ‘take too much time’, or  ‘need to get over it’…  My fury was ultimately balanced by the need to educate and inform these teachers.  LAT kids appear mainstream.  Their designations may sound small and may be easily dismissed by misunderstanding.  So many times I have witnessed 60% of student populations receiving 100% of the instructional planning and delivery.  What about the edges?  As Shelley Moore has advocated, we need to aim for the corner pins! (Moore, S. 2016-04-04)

Mental health can be a precarious thing for learners who are led to doubt their abilities, their potential, their gifts.  Such was the case for Steven.  A strong personality with so many fractures he was held together by sheer will power.  The central belief that he was unable to learn and would forever be a burden to those around him, resulted in a deep debilitating depression.  In the regular classroom he was consistently overlooked.  A quiet person in a sea of teenage angst and social festivities, Steven would often reach the end of a unit without any notes (he was unable to hand write legibly), without any recollection of the topic (he had an extremely weak working memory), and without having participated in any activities or discussions (he suffered from extreme anxiety).

Steven and I found each other one year when by chance he arrived in my LAT classroom.  He was actively seeking a ‘safe place’. Somewhere he didn’t have to face people.  My room was quiet, soft music floated out the door, and light emanated from a table lamp with “Be Brave” emblazoned across it in glittering gold.  Steven chose the corner chair facing the door with his back to the wall.  What had happened to create such distrust?  As this was the first week at a new school I went looking for a file to provide background and hopefully arm me with strategies to communicate with a student who was at that time…silent.

The team at the school let me know that a full assessment had been done previously and that Steven was a Resource kid who missed the designation by a point with his perceptual reasoning.  I took that information, considered it, then proceeded to instead looked for patterns in his school history and communication.  Then I began the lengthy process to affirm myself as a ‘safe person’ in the safe room.  Over a few weeks I began to get eye contact, grunts, small talk.  My presence in Steven’s regular classes were a time of increased anxiety, even when I worked with other students in the opposite corner of the room.  I opted for one:one contact in the corner of my room with only one or two other students in the space.  The relaxation was palpable. Our first few real discussions about video games and websites were filled with evident trepidation. Once we had established trust and had begun building a relationship developed over common interests, Steven blossomed!  He would participate in animated debates and arrive with tales from home, friends, and the neighborhood.  Then began the process of addressing Steven’s academic needs.  Steven used the computer like a pro and was able to write using tech but he truly believed he was incapable.  He refused to look any different than ‘normal kids’ and would not use the technology available to improve his achievement.

A robust person appeared as Steven’s comfort increased.  Steven was bright, interactive, and demonstrated unexpected insights. As a result of my observations, I contacted the psychologist to request an adjudication as soon as possible.  When the report-out occurred, the results were not what other people expected.  He was within normal intelligence, completely capable, but incapacitated by severe disabilities spanning several competencies!  Additionally, the concurrent depression was stifling any possibility for growth.

The psychologist was new and extremely well trained.  He took the time to provide on-going counselling sessions to Steven.  Together they maneuvered the roadblocks wrought by years of misunderstanding and minimization. Steven sobbed the first day he truly believed he was not handicapped in the traditional sense.  We began to learn that he had been systematically bullied by a group using intellectually prejudicial slurs for a number of years.  A lack of understanding of Steven’s abilities, the absence of required instructional strategies, and weak interpersonal abilities created a perfect storm for both academic and social marginalization.

We began by removing students, or Steven, from classes where he continued to be a target of abuse.  It is my firm belief that the decision made for Steven’s safety, precluded any on-going attempts at educating the abusers.  The re-education of the targeting gang would continue without Steven’s victimization.  Next, we encouraged Steven to find his voice!  He began writing a story rich with profanity, violence, challenges.  His voice was angry and the ability to write with conviction and vision was liberating.  Steven was a prolific writer intent on being heard.  He repeatedly asked how he could create a richer reading experience for his audience.  Wow!  Reading had been difficult and continued to bring up emotional responses.  I introduced text to voice and found that Steven enjoyed listening to stories!  He would follow along with visual tracking programs and participate in small conversations with intimate groups of quiet students.  Numeracy was Steven’s weakest skill area.  Beginning with building blocks I discovered another passion initiating active engagement!  The hands on participation in numerical representations, re-grouping, and manipulation allowed Steven to feel successful and build demonstrable skill.  The blocks were a permanent part of our table, along with whiteboards, number tables, calculators, rulers, and colourful anchor charts for reference!

Incredibly slowly, painfully aware of each movement, Steven began to pull out of obscurity.  He developed a real friendship and implemented social strategies we practiced in the hushed confines of a comforting space.

The differentiation of curriculum, individualized programming, and the integration of strategies for success benefit all students.  Students with specific learning disabilities are able to explore their gifts when they are enabled and empowered. See beyond the wariness, the fear, the reticence. Pull those shadows out from the lockers, away from the corners, and up from under the tables.  Let them find their light and enable them to brighten their own path through recognition, empowerment, and trust!

** All names changed to protect individuals


  1. Moore, S. 2016-04-04. Transforming Education. Retrieved from

© Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michelle Redman and mredmanwrites