How to coddle a volunteer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This week I finished my volunteer stint as co-planner for the Ontario School Library Association, which for a rough estimate, is about 100 hours per year.  As one of the best volunteer experiences of my life, I’d like to take you through why it’s such a fine way to give your time back to your profession.  The Ontario Library Association celebrated its 25th anniversary of this conference this year and so it has honed the craft of finding and retaining volunteers to a fine art.  Here’s what they do really well to make sure their volunteers are happy.


There’s a legacy structure to the planning committee so that 1/2 are returning to plan a 2nd year, and the other 1/2 are new to the role.  My senior co-planner Jess Longthorne in 2018, and my junior co-planner Diana Maliszewski in 2019 are both elementary teacher-librarians.  Having this diversity in our team helped us to better cover the full spectrum of needs.  Collaboration is hard work and I would always prefer to parallel play but this enforced structure helped me grow in my ability to communicate and share ideas.

Advocacy to supervisors

Without any question whatsover, OLA provided a letter and 5 paid supply days to my principal to cover my 5 absences for this planning.

Fancy red vests

Each of the 23 Superconference co-planners was loaned a red vest to wear from sunset on Tuesday to sundown on Friday and we wore them with pride.  I felt like part of an elite club, or a magnificent unit mobilizing to make OLASC perfection.

Biology needs taken care of or at the ready

I had a glorious hotel room onsite at the Superconference.  Whenever I was hungry, there was good healthy food.  My car was safe and dry.  Whether it was at the 2 days of planning we did at the OLA office, or at HQ at the conference itself, I was well-fed, comfortable and my sense of security was a priority.

Wiggle room

I felt enormous responsibility in choosing sessions and our spotlight speakers for the Superconference.  We wanted quality and edge.  We wanted diversity and inclusivity.  We wanted to have a fabulously rich experience for each attendee.  Michelle Arbuckle and her team had a number of strategies for helping us ideate and design just such a schedule.  At the same time, we were given freedom to develop the conference theme within our own context and to choose speakers that matched our own vision.

Clear instructions

Even before we began, we were given a schedule to follow for the whole year.  We were told which meetings would be face-to-face and what our goals would be.  This really helped me to stay on track and once I added them to a Google Calendar, it helped us remember to check in with one another.

Clear help

In the moment at Superconference, even enormous amounts of pre-planning can’t prepare you for everything.  We used Slack to build channels where we could ask for help and receive it at a moment’s notice.  Because we had this reliable help structure, we took greater creative risks.  For example, Diana and I worked this year to bring in Stephen Hurley from to podcast some of our sessions.  Stephen just needed a quick lesson from the tech people to get started.  In another moment, Peter Skillen from Code to Learn offered free books for all OSLA participants but we had to get those books from one floor to another.  No problem, people helped us anticipate how to make that flow from floor to floor.

Long leashes

Our only instruction really is to: show up, make sure everything goes smoothly and sometimes, make sure everyone is having fun.  So I really enjoyed taking the conference theme seriously and dragging my costume out for the welcome party, or making sure I had a 90s song ready for karaoke.

Someone to tug at the end of the leash and reign me back in

There are these awkward/funny moments when Michelle (both years in a row), wants us to all show up and look shiny for a group photo, or drink champagne en masse, or lead the fun at one of the socials.  Having these scheduled times to show up as a red vest collective really helped us to signal to conference attendees that this is where you can be welcome and be social.  For a group of introverts (or at best ambiverts), this is a really important part of the superconference.

A reasonable bedtime

All of our social events ended at 10 pm.  Lord knows that I am not great at self-regulation and can be too easily persuaded to push myself to the edge, so having limits set for me is wonderful.  I felt no pressure at all to stay out too late by the official ending of a social event.


…is my favourite meal of the day and 2 of the 3 mornings of Superconference I had a planned breakfast meeting.  More groups should do meetings this way.  Here’s your energy, here’s what you need to know, now go forth and make awesome things happen for everyone else all day.

A little music goes a long way

There were moments where my feet were telling me that they just couldn’t go on, and then someone would play some funky tunes and I found my next wind.

Have an exit plan

The plan is for all superconference planners that you’ll do it twice.  Knowing that there is a finite ending has really helped me prepare emotionally for this post-planners trough.  I’m sort of sad that I won’t be able to hang out all the time with the new friends I’ve met on the planning committee, but I’m also looking forward to remembering what I did before.  Heck I might even blog more often.  I can feel myself thinking to warn incoming OSLA Superconference planner Kate Johnson-McGregor about Diana’s total lack of focus (I mean who drops to their knees to create a poster in the middle of a sandbox?) but the fun in volunteering in a collaborative format, is to find out these things for yourself.  Volunteering for the Ontario Library Association has been a rich journey in my own professional development as a school library leader and as an agent of change.

I’ll just close with this dangerous sentiment:

I’m available now for new volunteering opportunities.  But I should warn you, I’ve had the best so my standards are pretty high.


Looking back on my PD journey in 2018 in #OntEd

Waking up to more cutbacks in #ontEd funding is never fun.  So I decided to look at the data.  This post is all about the different ways I developed professionally in 2018.  There were so many great happenings around the province this year.  It never ceases me to amaze me the passion that Ontario educators have for generating their own professional development, voluntarily with a little help from organizations to cover classrooms, and provide accommodation and transportation.  In an effort to be radically transparent, I’m going to try to use these hashtags so you can see where the funding comes for me to be able to participate in these events:

#self-funded = one way or another I usually provide transportation, accommodation, registration, resources for myself in order to be able to attend.  I need idealistic people in my life in order to take the creative risks that I do so for me, it’s worth it.  #babyI’mworthit

#OLA = Ontario Library Association, I have volunteered for the Ontario School Library Association (my school library subject association) for 5 years now.

#UGDSB = The Upper Grand District School Board does backflips to try to make sure that its staff are well-supported.  I love working here.  As a weirdo school-librarian, eLearning teacher I have lots of strangely specific needs for PD and UGDSB always helps me somehow.

#OTF = Ontario Teachers’ Federation is invaluable as a resource for professional development.

#OSSTF = Ontario Secondary Schools’ Teachers’ Federation is the union representing many education sectors in Ontario including teachers.  They have started to really recognize their value as providers of professional development in a new, reinvigorated way.  I like this direction a lot!

Of course we have to start with the incomparable work done by the Ontario Library Association’s Superconference in January 2019.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to volunteer as OSLA’s co-planner for 2018 with Jess Longthorne and again in 2019 with Diana Maliszewski.  Having an elementary expert alongside my deviant secondary brain has made a marvellous madness of Superconference elements.  There’s something for everyone.  I’m really really looking forward to our line up of outstanding school library speakers, our inaugural OLA Sandbox of makers and maker strategies, and our OSLA Spotlight speaker Chelsea Klukas. #OLA

My board UGDSB Applied Strategy workshops with Sandra Herbst involved 4 release days to work with consultants and the incomparable SH to appeal to our applied-level students through strategies on the triangulation of assessment.  Having this time to hyperfocus helped my school create valuable tools and shifts in thinking towards using conversation and observation more effectively each teaching day. #UGDSB

I completed a webinar series from Edugains and Brian Weishar on inference with my colleagues in the UGDSB. It was so rich and so informative that it has immediately become part of my teaching practice both in the classroom and as part of my school library program.  Brian must spend hours making these webinars as they are hugely interactive and use all sorts of critical thinking activities.  I can’t find the webinars anywhere on the Edugains website, but there are some inference resources.  Better yet: here’s Brian’s blog. #self-funded I was able to take some of these great ideas and share them with UGDSB’s literacy leaders because our own UGDSB optimist Sandy Kritzer believes in me. #UGDSB

I have to let you know that there is this secret underground lair where professional development is happening called VoicEd Canada and it is awesome.  My guru who lead me here is Stephen Hurley and although he does a lot of the work, he is joined by amazing educators across the country!  There’s always something going on and their podcasts are archived.  Hello!  Archive your stuff people so we can use it later!! #self-funded

FOLD publishes a regular list for diverse Canadian reading.

Where do you get the best reading lists in Ontario?  From Amnesty International Canada’s bookshelf and from the Festival of Literary Diversity (The FOLD).  If I’m marking something to read that’s relevant to me both as a human and as a teacher in an Ontario secondary school, it probably comes from one of these two sources.

The first shoutout to the Ontario Teachers’ Federation for their series of webinars called OTF Connects.  I have participated in numerous webinars but the quality of the content in these is generally wonderful.  I even tried one myself!  Big thanks to Trish Morgan for keeping this resource alive for Ontario educators. #OTF

The important work of unions.

My own union OSSTF has done some remarkable re-engagement work for its members this year.  As someone who has served on my branch’s executive every year since 2000, this important work needs to be supported, and I really appreciate the way that District 18 has held  rejuvenating local workshops for its members.  #OSSTF

PD Todd Pottle
Todd Pottle visits elearning teachers at UGDSB

As an elearning teacher in the UGDSB, I am really well taken care of.  Sean Hamilton and Pam Eurig recognize that we are doing ground-breaking work to make online learning a viable and dynamic experience for students.  They even convinced the fabulous Todd Pottle to visit Guelph one day.  able supported to attend both the CONNECT conference and the BOLTT conference each year.  Both conferences offer different foci for different audiences.  ELearning is best supported at BOLTT but CONNECT’s work is better-grounded in the research. #UGDSB #self-funded

I’m still fondly remembering the work done by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation on their 2 day Wellness conference in the spring.  I learned a lot about self-preservation, balance and remembering that every interaction with students can make a difference in their mental health.  Highlights: dancing my understanding of support networks with Leigha Turner and Jenn Coleman #OTF

Asking Eden Robinson a question!

I am thrilled by the success of our ODSS staff summer book club reading Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster. UGDSB’s own Colinda Clyne has been very gracious in provoking and promoting FNMI voices and she provided us with many many books this year. She even visited one of our meetings and brought cookies.  #rockstar  It was so successful that we also co-read Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers.  I have hopes that this will continue in 2019, possibly starting with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, who visits Brampton’s Rose Theatre in February 2019. #UGDSB #self-funded

This is the 3rd year that I have presented at the Ontario Teachers’ Federation Pedagogy B4 Technology conference, in Markham, Ontario  and I thrilled to do it.  This conference’s focus on the practice of teaching with the use of technological tools is just right for it’s length, breadth and optimism!  I look forward to it because the questions and the speakers really motivate me to focus inwards on my own educational values, and I return to my school feeling rejuvenated and ready for action. #OTF

PD Mindomo
Tina Ginglo’s course inspired this Mindomo reflection.

I was so motivated and enthused by the idea that I was stepping back into the classroom again as the new creative writing teacher at ODSS, that I INSANELY signed up to take Tina Ginglo‘s Writing Part 1 AQ through York University.  I’m only insane because of the time commitment not because the course isn’t AWESOME.  And this awesomeness is what got me through because as a veteran teacher of 21 years, I STILL learned something and was thrilled to have time to focus on my teaching practice of writing itself, to gather new resources, and to develop really practical tools for teaching writing.  Thank you Tina! #self-funded

I have admired the work of ECOO for years and they have propelled me into being that person at school that people rely on for innovation and technical support.  Imagine a world where self-professed geeks and nerds want to show you their cool stuff for 3 days and you have, what is now known as the, Bring IT Together conference. My favourite day is the first one, where you get to hyperfocus on hands-on learning in workshops that are 1/2 day.  This year I chose to work on 2 topics: gamification using BreakoutEDU and computational thinking through knitting.  I learned so much from Kim Gill and Lisa Noble and I am still working on these ideas.   I usually apply to present so that my registration is subsidized but this is harder to do each year without additional support.  #self-funded #UGDSB

What’s next in 2019?  We’ll see.  I know, as well as you do, that we’re entering leaner times.  I wanted to write this post to remind myself as well as you that there are many many opportunities for PD.  Just because we can’t always get together face-to-face doesn’t mean that we can’t learn.

All the best for a happy new year of professional development.