Who knew that thinking we were not good at Math ≠ the Truth?


photo by Sam Howzit CC BY 2.0

Well in advance of my ever becoming an educator came an episode of BBC’s Dr. Who, where the TARDIS traveller shared,

“You know the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: They don’t alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.” from Dr Who Episode – The Face of Evil Part 4 January 22, 1977

It seems very clear now, that we are capable of convincing ourselves of anything regardless of sensibility, social standing, or support system. It’s happening everyday in classrooms because it has been allowed to happen over and over this way since forever. I’ll use the short story below to illustrate how it might be playing out in a typical Math classroom.

Some others

It’s a Tuesday, or is it Wednesday? No matter, because it’s Mathday. A teacher shares the concept(s). Some respond with nods, others avoid eye-contact, and silent supplications of “please don’t ask me to explain this”. Students try to understand what’s being taught. Some get it faster than others. Seconds pass, then minutes. Teacher grows impatient with awkward silences and then ploughs on. As if in unison, the others begin to doubt whether they’ll ever get it? Some wonder in disbelief how the others don’t get it and repeat. At some point most educators will have learners floating in various states between being some or the others.

Suddenly, but with far less warning, an assessment is given and the results serve to separate some from the others. Followed by a false, yet difficult to overcome, opinion that Math ‘can’t be got’, and therefore  must be hated, simply because of the inability of others to solve all or some of the concepts taught and problems given. This imbalanced view negatively warps some mindsets one way or an other;

  1. They tie Math and other academic success to self-worth
  2. Students begin to doubt their abilities based on single results rather than embracing an attitude of process and progress instead of performance.
  3. Problem solving skills are mitigated out of the day by educators who feel they have to cover what’s in the text books rather than what’s needed by their students. In other words they are being taught to the test rather than being allow to test what they’re taught.
  4. Resilience is skill that goes further underdeveloped in favour of focusing on report card marks. Instead of emphasising growth from concept attainment, iterative thinking, and real life application opportunities students are made to live, breathe, and be measured by a singular method and measure.

Simply put, we can’t allow alternative facts, false beliefs, or misinformation to infect the minds of our learners and colleagues. Yes, teachers believe that they can’t do Math too. We need to stand in the gap to prevent and dispel destructive mindsets. For some students and teachers this means time to unlearn, a safe place to make mistakes, relearn, and start again.

If we equip our learners with the ability to re-frame their focus with confidence and arm them with problem solving tools we can erase the discourse of doubt that plagues so many. This will run counter to the mass instruction of the past, but it will be better than perpetuating the destruction any longer. We need to understand that we are works in process and success will look different from lesson to lesson and learner to learner.

Perhaps then, the breezy breath of fresh air will be felt as a change for the better by everyone? In the meantime, I will be moving the air about my classroom like a human tornado helping students understand that thinking they are not good at Math is does not equal the truth.

I hope you liked this post. If you did, please consider subscribing. If you didn’t please consider subscribing to keep an eye on me or offer me some constructive feedback. I’d appreciate it and look forward to the learning.


This post is written in order to explain some of the back story for a blog post on ETFO’s Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning blog.

In 1978, my family packed up and moved from a very small western town in Wyoming to Toronto. At the time, it was a devastating life event. Everything and everyone I knew was in flux. Where would we live? Would the people there be nice to us? Even though I was Canadian by birth, I feared being treated like a stranger in my own country.  Needless to say, I was not thrilled to be uprooted and then replanted. Worse than that, I felt alone.

Who knew, in hindsight, that a new learning adventure would unfold in the Summer of 1978?

A home in a new neighbourhood – Jane and Finch.
A new school(my 3rd in as many years) – first experience with multiculturalism.
A new grade(7 – awkward).

On the first day of school, I am taken outside to my new class which was located in an L-shaped porta-pack. By this point, some doubts were forming. Why the heck, can’t this school afford real classrooms like back in Wyoming?  The door opens and I am nudged in. Suddenly it felt like a new prisoner being thrown into general population. The eyes of my new classmates glared as if they’d been rudely awakened from a deep sleep. Why wasn’t anyone wearing bell bottoms like me?

I missed my home, my friends, my town. I missed being able to walk to the YMCA after school. I missed my dishwasher job at the deli, and I missed the mountains. Where were the mountains? When we left Canada in 1970 there were mountains.

That first week I realized that some people were nice, others indifferent, and that others were just mean. It took time to find a friend, and that came with many awkward lessons. What did any of us have in common at first? I had a western drawl, a bowl haircut and wore hand me downs. With time, I found out where I fit in thanks to two friends named Jerry B and Terry L, where the Becker’s store was along the way home, and how to hold a hockey stick.

There were tears, fist fights(sorry mom), angry words, and frustration that eventually gave way to acceptance, understanding, and friendships. And then there was my first school dance. DON’T ask! That was more about pre-adolescent survival than anything else. Although, the Led Zeppelin was a welcome relief to overcome the Disco.

And new subjects, like French and Italian. Did I mention that the history was completely different from what I was taught? Where were the rockets red glare and waving flags? Or, that I had to use something called the Metric System for measurement?

And then we moved again and it started all over again at new school in a different neighbourhood of Toronto. I remember my dad saying how adversity was character building and that there is always something to learn through all of these opportunities.

Fast forward to 2017, I’m loving every minute of my 8th year as an educator, and not much has changed since 1978. A charismatic Prime Minister named Trudeau leads the country. Gas prices hover around a dollar – except that’s per litre instead per gallon. The world continues to become a smaller place as technology connects us all. Immigrants continue to make Canada their home and we become a stronger nation from our depth of diversity.

Disco still sucks. Standardized tests continue to be a reviling option in education. Dictators are still dictating in some familiar and not so expected places. Rush is still rocking, Quebec is still threatening to separate every now and again, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are still trying to hoist the Stanley Cup again.

I’m glad we moved back because Canada is the best country on the planet by the metric equivalent to a country mile (1.62 km). Thank you.

OK. Back to the Heart and Art blog.



3 things

Warning: Do not read this post for more than 3 -4 minutes.

2016 is hurtling towards its calendar end and thoughts turn to a highlight reel retrospective heading for the history books. My mind is counting down around a repeating loop of ideas and reflections like a Space X reusable rocket. Well, maybe the baking soda and vinegar in a bottle type.

As the countdown approaches, I wanted to ask educators around the world to answer this question. If you’d like, think of it as a wishlist.

What would you change in education for 2017?

If you could change 3 things about education in 2017, knowing you wouldn’t fail, what would they be? I’m talking Astro Teller moon shot type changes here.

We use the word “moonshots” to remind us to keep our visions big — to keep dreaming. And we use the word “factory” to remind ourselves that we want to have concrete visions — concrete plans to make them real.  Astro Teller

Here are my 3 cannot-miss-the-spot-moonshot-thoughts.

  1. End the school to prison pipeline. My wish would be that schools could be funded with the same amount of money per student as the prisoners of our world. I believe that if we provided more funding for our schools, then our prisons would soon be very different and under-crowded spaces.I also believe that by stopping the flow of students from classrooms to courtrooms to cell blocks there would be a better standard of living for our entire society with opportunity for all. Imagine what could be done with all of the extra money if it was spent educating instead of incarcerating? Did you know that the students receive on average only 1/3 of the funding of prisoners?
  2. End standardized testing. What good is asking students to cram 10 months of learning into 9 months, only to stresst them out?  Why are millions of tax dollars being spent on tying up instructional time and resources in order to administer and assess students in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Is it worth quantifying education annually as a soapbox for politicians?Has anyone thought that the questions being asked are not considerate of skills and understandings required for the future? Cynical me asks, if there is a correlation to test results and real estate value? This appears to frequently be the case in my own province of Ontario, Canada. My own home price benefiting from strong results in neighbourhood schools.When I look at results by district in the U.S and compare facilities and funding I am left with many questions around equity and distribution of assets. In 2012, 1.7 billion dollars were spent on standardized testing in the U.S.A. If the financial cost doesn’t get your attention, how about the anxiety and mental health issues that result from many educators who feel they need to teach to the test instead of to the needs of their learners?
  3. End the global desk-wagging contest known as PISA and invest the money shelled out back into the students.Are you noticing a trend yet?To whose benefit do these tests and rankings really serve? How come the sample sizes are so small? Why are students and schools used as collateral/capital for international bragging rights? Did you know that schools can be recruited or selected to participate? How does this not scream of yielding a skewed sample? Why are so many countries not taking part in PISA? There are students learning on dirt floors or without access to any education at all. All the while a bunch of people in suits are deciding to see which privileged country’s students are number one.

It’s your turn to share 3 things. Shoot for the stars because you can. It will not be marked.
Countdown in 10, 9 … 3, 2, 1.

If you have made it this far, thank you for your interest in this topic. You are now past 3 minutes. Why not read on? Here is a very worthwhile reading list.

Pipeline to prison – https://briarpatchmagazine.com/articles/view/pipeline-to-prison

School-to-prison-pipeline – https://www.aclu.org/infographic/school-prison-pipeline-infographic?redirect=racial-justice/infographic-school-prison-pipeline

Project Liberty: School to prison pipeline –


How High-Stakes Testing Feeds the School-to-Prison Pipeline Infographic –  http://www.fairtest.org/pipeline-infographic

US should nix its federal department of education –  http://www.troymedia.com/2016/12/12/canada-proves-dont-need-federal-department-education/

School performance rankings from the Fraser Institute –  https://www.fraserinstitute.org/school-performance

How does a school district affect the value of your home (don’t miss comments) –


The standardised test debate. Is EQAO good for education? (don’t miss comments) –


School choice not the right choice for our kids –  http://www.freep.com/story/opinion/columnists/nancy-kaffer/2016/10/02/choice-schools-michigan/91240656/

Pisa and the creativity puzzle – http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/pisa-and-the-creativity-puzzle

The tower of PISA is badly leaning – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/03/24/the-tower-of-pisa-is-badly-leaning-an-argument-for-why-it-should-be-saved/?utm_term=.c813afeddee2

Remembrance and gratitude

Today I sit, move, teach, and learn without fear of war in the place I call home. Today I stand. Tomorrow I will do the same, and each day hereafter.


photo by Hobvias Sudoneighm – Flickr, CC BY-SA2.0,

This week I seek to honour those who have sacrificed so much while never knowing the countless lives that were made better by their actions. This week I stand with those who have served.

This month I receive a torch; as mine to hold high to guard the flames of bravery, selflessness, virtue, and kindness that make our nation a light on a hill. This month I stand for those who serve.

This year I pause, again, to remember that those who have come before me have not served in vain. This year I stand for those who will serve in the future.

In my life there is still work to be done.

But for now, I am taking time to be still, to look back, and give thanks.
Lest we forget.

My adventures with failure

When we consider our possessions and social status as the only measures of success in life then we have failed to see the big picture. In this post, my incredible niece, Hailey shares from the heart how she overcame a near death experience in her 20s to travel, experience, and photograph our world at a time in life where so many people are too busy chasing careers and things rather than discovering a world waiting for them to experi ence it.

Kean on Culture

I have put this blog off for more than a week. I have written and rewritten it 7 times. I have thought about it and gotten really confused and then emptied my brain and began to think about it again. How do you write about failure, about your own personal failure without embarrassing yourself or being a propagator of TMI? Bear with me. I’m going to write this the only way I can: honestly.

Now that I’m in my 30’s I feel this firm pressure to be at a certain point in my life socially and economically. This feeling becomes more prominent with every wedding invitation I collect, every baby that one of my friends’ pops out, every condo an ex buys and every job promotion one of my university classmates receives. I then realize that I don’t have any of these things and a shadow of failure starts to…

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Tick…tick…ticked off

By Imager23 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The sound heard in classrooms all over Canada. To a handful  it feels like the second hand has been stuck on the same spot for far too long. While for many others, it’s spinning away like a Sesna propeller at take off. Where did the year go?

Does this sound familiar in your school as the academic year comes to a close? Don’t you wish there was a little more time to share, challenge, and grow with students in the classroom? I sure do.

Recently a local media outlet shared that teachers are phoning in the last weeks because report cards were done. I’m here to say that statements like these do not accurately reflect an over-whelming majority of educators and are thus utter BS (bologna slices) IMO.


As part of my daily 10 minute commute, I listen to the radio. Most days it’s CBC Radio 2, but on June 22 the tuner landed on CBC’s Metro Morning, also found via TwitterMetroMorningBSfor the segment that sparked this post. When I shared it with my colleagues, they too were disappointed at such skewed perceptions from a usually credible media source.

How does painting a negative portrait of our profession with such broad strokes show balanced journalism? The last weeks in a classroom cannot be taught on auto-pilot because there is still a lot to teach, discover, and share. So contrary to a public broadcaster’s opinion, the kids and teachers have not “checked out”.

Sorry I’m not sorry to burst this bogus bubble folks, but the kids will have to sit on their own couches over the Summer if they want to watch a movie. Especially, in my class because there’s still learning to do after losing the better part of a week to standardized testing earlier this month.

What makes this difficult to understand, for me, are the incendiary intentions attached to narrow minded statements like these? What is the gain of creating enmity in statements about our profession without hearing from those who  are making a difference in their classrooms from start to finish? StillLearning

I replied via Twitter with a few reminder posts that students are involved in ongoing inquiry and real life problem solving in Math.

Please remember that what we do comes with mountains of misunderstandings from many sources. Our calling to be educators carries a nobility and satisfaction unlike any other that allows us to be the difference makers in the lives of all who we teach. Somehow that message gets lost even by the media.

Can anyone who hasn’t worked in a classroom with students for longer than an interview segment really understand what educators pour into each day to prepare for their learners?  I didn’t think so.

Gotta go. There’s work to be done.

Thank you for reading my post. If you like what you’ve read please subscribe and share.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section too. Will

No child in grade 1 dreams of living on the streets

On May 14, 2016 I was privileged to share my first TEDx talk at TEDxKitchenerED. Standing in front of nearly 250 people, and speaking was a powerful, albeit nerve-wracking, opportunity to share my experiences and ideas as an educator. For those who like to read, here is a transcript of my talk. Warning: it might not match up with the final product as a few ad-libs may have occurred.

If you’d prefer to follow along with the TEDx YouTube video of my talk here it is for your viewing pleasure.  No child in grade 1 dreams of living on the streets.

Please note that it took an army of kind peer reviewers, patient event organizers, generous family, and an incredibly supportive spouse to make this talk happen. I am forever thankful and humbled by their kindness. Here goes…

I’ve heard a lot of interesting things from students over the years.

“When I grow up I want to be a transformer.” said a grade 1. Another said,“I want to own a castle and an army of monkeys.” More recently, a grade 6 boy was working on an art project when he yelled, “She ruined my character.” I turned my back to laugh, and muttered you have no idea how true that could be. Another asked, “why did early immigrants to North America steal everything from the First Nations people when they shared it?” I shook my head in disappointment knowing I could not offer an acceptable answer.

Like all students, mine are trying to make sense out of things. This happens by asking questions, interacting with one another, and responding to the world as they see it. Our classroom serves as a combination sounding board and brick wall where thoughts are safely shared whether serious or silly. Most of the time, these are positive expressions of youthful exuberance.

I believe students should be free to speak their minds, and be valued for it. Whether we agree with them or not listening to all voices, and being heard are crucial to a happy education.

There is one thing I’ve never heard a student say;
“You know what my dream is when I grow up? Not having any of my dreams come true.”

I think I’d die on the spot if I ever heard that, because that is not something a kid would ever say. Neither would anyone else for that matter. To quote Sir Ken Robinson, “Why would they?”

Yet, despite trillions of dollars spent annually on education to develop and improve the well-being of our world, children are still slipping through the cracks of our systems and into the most at-risk marginalized places of our society.

“No child in grade one dreams of living on the streets.” The long version might sound like this: “No child in grade one dreams of being abused by a family member, of witnessing violence in the home, of being addicted to drugs, no child in grade one dreams of being a prostitute, of being incarcerated, no child in grade 1 dreams of suffering from depression, or living on the streets.”  

Take a walk around any major city and witness for yourself a very public reminder that the system is not working at its best. Seeing people sleeping on sidewalks or waiting out their days until a homeless shelter opens for the night does not scream to me that everything’s alright.

As educators, as a society, we need to reflect on what we’re doing.
And it starts with this question.

How can we help? What motivates any of us to help at all?
I am not naive enough to think that altruism is all that is required because there’s plenty of it in this room to do that already.

So let’s start here.

What are you passionate about? Is it Coffee? Learning new things? Traveling? Saving the world?

I am passionate about education, but in the same breath I have a problem with the word passion. I wrestle with this because there are still those who let it pass over their lips, but do nothing to embody it in their educational lives. If you share a passion for education, then the goal is simple. Use it to impact the lives of students in your community. To stand in the gap where life events are robbing our youth of their dreams.

Isn’t the role of education meant to stop helplessness, hopelessness, and homelessness from happening? Isn’t that the deal of getting an education? So everyone can have a better quality of life?

Do we as educators need to put aside teaching the usual 3 Rs, and they’re not reduce, reuse and recycle, to equip our students with the life skills of relationship building, resilience, and restoration of self so they arise wiser, stronger, and whole after being knocked down by life’s tragedies?

Tonight up to 35000 people in Canada will be on the streets joining another million south of the border.  All despite what we would call progress, and contrary to the fact many who are living in this dreamless state have gone through some version of the educational system.

Because of this, we must claim our share of responsibility for the disappearance of our students dreams too. Until we as educators, and as a society recommit, reimagine, and reinvent what we do in our classrooms to include compassion first, this tragedy will only get worse.

There is an old expression that says, every picture tells a story. So a class photo could fill a library. The one behind me is no different. All of us, gussied up in Sunday best, have our own stories. What you see are 21 simultaneous narratives from 1972 caught on film in the process of being written by mischievously complex creatures with big imaginations and dreams of their own. For most of us, the nostalgia of these old photos evokes happy memories. However, for some the smiles in the pictures may mask pain and sadness that no child should ever know.

Like most other 6 year olds, the future teacher you see was full of his own dreams. In order to make them come true I threatened to run away and join the circus on a number of occasions until my mom started to help me pack. But there was one job that occupied my dreams more than any other and I didn’t have to leave my livingroom. I dreamt of being an astronaut.

With the Apollo missions front and centre on our TVs, it was like boundless imagination had been set free in me. Watching the rockets blasting off took me beyond the moon to the stars each time. NASA showed the world that we weren’t stuck here.That the impossible was possible and dreams did come true. I knew it. I watched them live on TV.

With the world now being beamed into our home each night, came the realization that all things were not the same out there as they appeared in our little corner of Wyoming. I screen-witnessed the Vietnam war,

poverty, and civil unrest. At an early age I ached for those who were suffering. I became very aware of the effects that tragic events were having on the world. And they began to hit me too.

When it got to be too much it was easy to get shooed out of the room and told not to worry, but seeing those stories provided many restless nights. My dreams suddenly had competition from some nightmarish realities. And although I did not like them at the time, my dreams and nightmares helped me to see my students differently today.

From early on in my career, I realized for lifelong learning to happen the well being of students had to come first. That if their mental health was being affected by events too powerful to prevent then they were at risk of flying under the radar and crashing. Sadly, I’m not sure whether I was able to make the well being of my students the priority when I first started. Learning to be a teacher may have qualified me to enter the classroom, but it was only while in the classroom that I began to understand what needed to be done, and it wasn’t found in the curriculum.

Now think about your classroom. Does someone in particular come to mind? I have at least one student that represents the one that got away.

At first I sluffed it off resigning myself that the blame lay beyond my control. I keep asking myself, 6 years later, what could I have done differently?

Watching a child struggle is like having them write a story while someone breaks their pencils, tears their pages, and hurls insults at them. It has led me to repurpose my priorities and look at my students with a different lens.

In her 2014 TEDMed Talk Nadine Burke Harris explained the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs on children. These include abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction. Sadly, children who endure them are at a significantly higher risk for a lifetime of physical and mental health challenges if they go unnoticed, untreated or ignored as misbehaviour.

Burke Harris goes on to share that about 2/3s of us have experienced an ACE or two, but are usually able to overcome them. And these next statistics are worse.

1 in every 8 have suffered through 4 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences. When that is the case children are over four times more likely to suffer from depression, and the suicide rate is 12 times higher.

If the human cost isn’t setting off alarm bells then maybe these next two figures will?

A conservative estimate pegs the cost that have ACEs on our economy at $150 Billion annually. According to another estimate that figure could be as high as $600 billion. Perhaps the staggering financial impact will wake up the bureaucrats making cuts to education services and social safety nets.

Much of the world, and The U.S.A in particular seem resigned to spending 6 to 10 times more money on incarceration than they do on education. What if we could flip that statistic, empty out overcrowded prisons, and offer equitable access to education that will lead to fulfilling the dreams of all children?

Wouldn’t it be better that they never ended up in prison to begin with?

Can we really put a price on the pain and loss of unrealized human potential?

How much better would all of our world be if we invested in education instead of locking everybody up?

We have to remember that behaviour is communication. You would misbehave too if you were going through hell in your life. Teachers, we must learn to differentiate when misbehaviour is really a cry for help and not an act of defiance. If we can stand down, count to 10, maybe 50 in some cases, and then think through these moments we have a better chance at reaching our students rather than driving them further away.

Think of a child in your class who is acting out with defiance, uncharacteristic behaviour or seems to have lost interest in the world around them? Before you take them to task for their outbursts or disrespectful behaviour did you try being kind to them? Did you give them a chance to gather their emotions and retain their dignity?

Maybe your student is hungry? Did you ask them if they ate today? Wouldn’t the cost of a box of granola bars be worth a calmer, more engaged student? Asking “Did you sleep alright the night before?” followed by it’s ok to close your eyes in class you must be tired. Maybe all that student needs to do is talk to someone? We don’t need to provide the answers to every problem when all we need to do is listen. What about a student whose loved one is sick or has recently died? Are we taking time to allow them to grieve their loss?

In my mind it all starts with relationships. If we can foster community in all classrooms by equipping and empowering students to care of one another then we’ll never have to worry about another one slipping through. Did you know that it only takes one person to make the difference. Imagine if a child had several? Think of it as if we are all cords being woven and threaded into a rope. Whether we are 3, 33 or 233 we would not be easily broken when together. That is what I ask of my students. When we weave our community out of kindness and strong relationships we will form caring bonds capable of greatness.

We can ensure that ALL  who enter our schools know they matter, and that they are here to do great things.

Although the scars and memories of negative experiences can never be completely erased, our classrooms could help to reduce the traumatic experiences of our students to only a chapter in their life’s story?

We can do this by choosing to help will we enable students to rediscover their dreams again. It is then, and only then that the nightmares will become faded as an old photo from a time gone by.

So my wish for today is to make a shift in how we use our passion for education with the world. I want us to go beyond the moon and stars when we say we’re passionate about education.

I am talking about making compassion our goal in education. I am asking you to take teaching to the highest level and empower your classrooms with care and commitment to be the difference makers in the lives of one another.

There are so many times during life that could rob us of our dreams. During a child’s education should never be one of those times. Let’s work to restore the dreams of students in our classrooms who suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences. Let’s overcome this together through Active Compassionate Education.

Join me.

Thank you.