Treat them all the same by…

Carol Ann Thomlinson is perhaps the world leader in differentiated instruction.

How to differentiate.pngHer most recent book on the subject, How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms 3rd Edition (2017) starts out with an explanation of what differentiation is and isn’t and proceeds to provide educators with a myriad of examples and thought processes by which they might better meet the needs of the students in their class.  Differentiation is scary stuff, the thought compels the teacher to consider how best to teach and support each student as an individual rather than teaching one lesson, designing one assignment or activity for all 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35…students in the classroom.  Differentiation is not 35, 30, 25, 20 …entirely different lessons, assignments or activities.

Steven Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) wrote,  “The Golden Rule says to “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” While on the surface that could mean to do for them what you would like to have done for you, I think the more essential meaning is to understand them deeply as individuals, the way you would want to be understood, and then to treat them in terms of that understanding. As one successful parent said about raising children, “Treat them all the same by treating them differently.”  It is this notion of treating each individual the same by treating them all differently that I’d suggest is the foundation of a truly inclusive education system and one that his helped by an excellent understanding of differentiation as outlined by Tomlinson.


The foundation of success is in knowing your students, knowing what makes them tick and tuning what we do, even fine-tuning the work to harmonize with and draw out the best in our students. Tomlinson, in chapter 9 uses the notion of a soundboard or equalizer to suggest that for some students we can slide up a bit here, draw back a bit there to get the perfect pitch, tune that draws out the best work.  Don’t panic, the students and parents are partners in this work and Tomlinson provides excellent examples of strategies that can make it work in classes big and small, diverse or homogenous.


There are soundboard settings that can be one click and adjust a number of sliders, some can be pre-programmed and activated when the moment is right and in a differentiated classroom where the foundation has been set with students and teachers engaged in the conversation and routine development it’s clear that everyone can benefit from the collective attention to diversity in the room.

This makes sense or should make sense.  We are not all the same, we share many characteristics but like snowflakes no two are exactly alike, even identical twins need variance.   Seems like a perfect place to revisit Todd Rose’s work on the Myth of Average.

Treat them all the same, by treating them differently.  It’s really an extension of the golden rule and the results help close the gap between the best version of each student and where they currently stand on their journey.


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2018 Westwind Education Assistants Conference

Please check your division E-mail account for full conference details.  The registration link is here.

Please note there are very specific limits placed on the full day First Aid training outlined in the conference letter.  The First Aid training is a longer day as outlined in the letter.

We have a wide range of sessions that are in response to the feedback we’ve received from last year and in the interest survey I sent out in the fall.  Please complete the registration process by the end of day Friday, January 26 and we’ll get your individual schedules out to the schools on Monday, January 29th.

Our conference schedule for January 31 in Magrath looks like this for all those not in the first aid training.   I look forward to being with you all and learning together.  See you

8:30 – 8:45 8:45 – 9:00 9:15-10:45 11:00 -12:30 12:30-1:15 1:15 – 2:30
Snacks Opening Session 1 Session 2 Lunch Session 3

The Sessions for Selection

Repeat sessions are offered in 2 or 3 time blocks  This year we have some Continuing sessions in response to the requests to go deeper on some of the subjects – participants will be in those sessions for Session one and Session two or Session two and Session three.

Session One 9:15 – 10:45 Session 2 11:00 – 12:30 Session 3 1:15 – 2:30
Supporting Anxiety – Self Reg Tips – Lana Caldwell Repeat Supporting Anxiety – Self Reg Tips – Lana Caldwell Repeat Supporting Anxiety – Self Reg Tips – Lana Caldwell


The highly sensitive student: Helping your student thrive when school overwhelms. – Nathan Smith Repeat The highly sensitive student: Helping your student thrive when school overwhelms. – Nathan Smith


Reaching Children Through Play – Danielle Olivieri (KCC)    




Session One 9:15 – 10:45 Session 2 11:00 – 12:30 Session 3 1:15 – 2:30
ADHD Strategies to Support Children and Youth –Alisa Beddome (KCC) (180 Minutes Session 1 and 2) Continuing Session on ADHD Strategies – Participants are in this session all morning with Alisa Beddome from KCC  
Grief and Loss – supporting children and youth – Kent Hollingsworth (KCC) One time Offering    
Yoga in the classroom Zen and Me – Tiffany Weeden (Be Fit for Life) Repeat Yoga in the classroom Zen and Me – Tiffany Weeden (Be Fit for Life) Repeat Yoga in the classroom Zen and Me – Tiffany Weeden (Be Fit for Life)
Supporting Literacy Development 6-12 & EA PD Moving forward – Rick Gilson Repeat Supporting Literacy Development 6- 12 & EA PD Moving forward – Rick Gilson Repeat Supporting Literacy Development 6-12 & EA PD Moving forward – Rick Gilson
Speech, Language Development and Literacy Pre-K – Gr 2 – Kendra Tait and Catherine Ball (AHS) Repeat Speech, Language Development and Literacy Pre-K – Gr 2 – Kendra Tait and Catherine Ball (AHS) Repeat Speech, Language Development and Literacy Pre-K – Gr 2 – Kendra Tait and Catherine Ball (AHS)
Tips and points to ponder in support of our First Nation Students and everyone else in an inclusive class – Garry Fox, Jerry First Charger, Jordan Ducharme   Repeat Tips and points to ponder in support of our First Nation Students and everyone else in an inclusive class – Garry Fox, Jerry First Charger, Jordan Ducharme
Session One 9:15 – 10:45 Session 2 11:00 – 12:30 Session 3 1:15 – 2:30
An overview of our responsibilities in support of students suffering from suspected neglect and/or abuse – Darwin Skretting Repeat An overview of our responsibilities in support of students suffering from suspected neglect and/or abuse – Darwin Skretting Repeat An overview of our responsibilities in support of students suffering from suspected neglect and/or abuse – Darwin Skretting


Autism 101 – Bethany Mills (KCC)

One time offering

Adapting Activities for Successful Inclusion – Ginger Shaw KCC (180 Min Session 2 & 3) Continuing Session Adapting Activities for Successful Inclusion – Ginger Shaw KCC (180 Min Session 2 & 3)
Supports and Strategies for Challenging Behaviors – Kent Hollingsworth KCC (180 min session 2 & 3) Continuing Session Supports and Strategies for Challenging Behaviors – Kent Hollingsworth KCC (180 min session 2 & 3)

Expect miracles. Believe you can make a difference and then work to make it happen

In the movie, Stand and Deliver, when faced with a group of students struggling to meet the standards of the curriculum, Jaime Escalante suggests that “students will rise to the level of expectations” (Menendez, 1988).  It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t instant but he believed and proved that with courage, effort and a variety of formative and summative assessments that he could take a group of students from some of the lowest math classes in the school to success in one of the most challenging math classes in North America.  Oh yes, and a bit of ganas or desire would be required on the part of everyone involved.  It’s a great movie if you haven’t had a chance to see it I highly recommend it.  I introduce it to illustrate that a group of students systemically excluded, possessing a wide range of challenges were able, with the right supports, to experience a life-changing miracle.

At the very front of that miracle, the first step without which it simply would not have happened was a belief that whatever limits staff perceived for those students they could be challenged and changed.  Mr. Escalante believed, initially more than the students, more than the student’s past academic achievement supported, more than most of their parents, that the students could do more and ultimately be more, than what was previously believed.

At the most basic of levels, every life is a miracle.  Some miracles are a little bigger than others, some take longer, some won’t necessarily happen during your watch, but the question you must ask yourself is whether you truly believe in miracles.  Do your actions demonstrate you believe you can have a positive impact on the frequency of miracles, large or small, in the lives of your students?  Are you willing to look for the opportunities and learn what you need to learn, develop the skills you need to be part of the solution in the lives of the students with whom you work?

There is a natural enough tendency to dismiss the miracle as the exception, the one-off. But when it comes to students and success would you prefer to be the miracle exception or the student trapped in the mistaken perception?  It happens.  Consider the story of Ido Kadar (2012), as you read the book you learn about Ido, a severely autistic young man unable to communicate.  His mother shared that, “Ido’s first speech teacher told me that he was mentally retarded.  “How do you know?” I asked.  “Maybe he can’t show what he knows and is merely ‘functionally retarded?’”  “It’s the same thing,” she said” (p.26)

My wife, Chauna, was an education assistant for about 14 years.  We read the book together while driving for several hours.  I’m not ashamed to say that there were times when she had some trouble seeing the words and my vision of the highway as I drove and listened was blurred by the tears in our eyes as we reflected upon the students with whom we’ve worked.  It is hard to think of the students who, one way or another, we may have negatively impacted by our limited ability to look for or find the key to their challenges.

In November of 2008, Ido wrote, “I hate my situation in life.  Is it fair to give a person a mind to think but no means to communicate with others?  Is God good or is God indifferent to my pain?  I wonder, is God ever going to help me?” (p.44).  Perhaps it is up to us to help.  It’s our responsibility to prove by our actions there is no indifference to the students who are struggling in severe situations like Ido’s or any of the myriad of challenges the students we work with face each day in our schools and communities.


Ido’s Website –

Kedar, I. (2012). Ido in autismland: Climbing out of autism’s silent prison.

Menendez, R. (Writer). (1988). Stand and Deliver. USA: Warner Brothers.

Other books you might want to check out on this theme:

Barnett, K. (2013). The spark: A mother’s story of nurturing genius. New York, NY: Random House

Grandin, T. (2006). Thinking in pictures: And other reports from my life with autism. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

One of Temple’s Ted Talks:

Kluth, P. (2010). “You’re going to love this kid!” Teaching students with autism in the inclusive classroom (Second ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Moore, S. (2016). One without the other: Stories of unity through diversity and inclusion. Winnipeg, MB: Portage & Main Press




My Bad…

John Maxwell (2013) starts his book with a question, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you wouldn’t fail” (p.1)?  It’s certainly easier to cliff jump into a lake if you know it’s not going to hurt, the water will be warm, and there is no risk, no fear, no chance at failure, even if failure is a bit of a belly flop entrance to the water. But would it be the same experience?  The same challenge?

(this water was quite cold by the way…I’m 3rd from the top)

And sometimes more is learned than won….


Now, this isn’t about life-threatening experiences, it’s about the willingness to try, to reach, to succeed and ultimately to be willing to fail along the way to succeeding or perhaps as Maxwell later asks us to consider, “what do you learn when you fail”?  Stories, urban myth or otherwise are all around us of great inventors and the multiple times they failed in what they were working to develop before it worked.  They didn’t fail at say inventing the lightbulb, they learned a 100 or 1000 ways that the light bulb couldn’t be built and then…after all those lessons like magic, let there be light.  The overnight success has more than a few hours of learning process invested that on many occasions looked nothing like a success.  Somehow, we must ensure we, as the guides for our students and those who work with us in education, embrace the learning process for what it is, a collection of peaks and valleys wins, and losses that can hurt a bit and reward a bit along the way.

Along with that line of thinking, I like this podcast series I’ve come across recently and while the voices are mostly teachers and administrators I think all of us in education can identify and could probably find a story or two to share.  It’s called “My Bad…” you see it in sports, the QB or point guard makes a bad pass, the receiver drops a great ball, they point to themselves and say to the others, “my bad…” I messed up, I didn’t get that right, and of course, implied in the statement is the notion that they will get it right the next time as a result.  (Doesn’t always work that way but hey I did suggest there were a few 1000 my bad’s along the way to inventing the lightbulb).

The website for the My Bad podcast is here you can also find the My Bad podcast in iTunes podcast section.  Some stories may not apply to you, others can hit right between the chambers of your heart.  Check a couple out.  More importantly, recognize the theme of the podcast; we are in the work of learning from mistakes, most of what we do is formative and “My Bad” is a part of that formative process when we mindfully work to learn and improve.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 9.56.48 AM.png

Maxwell, J. C. (2013). Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn: Life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses. New York, NY: Center Street.

EA Conference 2017

The conference is for Education Assistants working for Westwind School Division. Any others who may be interested in attending the conference should contact Rick Gilson Asst Superintendent at Westwind.

Review the material below and then click on this link to Register

The Conference is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan 31st  at Magrath High School.  The schedule for the day will follow a pattern we’ve established over the last couple of years and looks like this:

8:30 – 8:45 – Snacks (I’m told ‘fresh’ butterhorns will be part of this along with some water and fruits and veggies) and get ready to start the day

8:45 – 9:20 Greetings and Opening Comments – Tom K gym at Magrath High School.

9:20- 9:30 moving to session one
9:30 – 10:40 Session One
Break 10:40 – 10:50 moving to session two
10:50  – 12:00 Session Two
12:00 – 1:00 Lunch – Ham, Roasted Potatoes, Salad and Dessert (planning to be in the Audi)
1:00 – 2:10 – Session Three

2:10 – 2:45 – School Team Meeting with your school teams prior to departing for the day.  The feedback from last year  suggested that some time to meet is appreciated but perhaps too much time was provided as some continued the conversations in their cars, buses etc on the way home and some of the feedback suggested that folks really wanted the opportunity to attend three of the topics rather than just two.

So in the spirit of experimentation slightly shorter sessions, 3 of them, and a starter conversation meeting.  School’s have a conversation to determine who will lead your conversation in advance please.


Through the Looking Glass – A look, through a variety of activities videos, and conversation at what our students who struggle may experience and how understanding those issues can help us as Education Assistants. Conrad Boehme (Ed Psychologist) Offered all three sessions

Nature Play and Traditional Games – This session will give participants an opportunity to learn about how to connect their classroom with nature and the Aboriginal culture of Southern Alberta. We will be using learning tools and household items to show participants there is always a way we can be connected to nature, regardless of weather. Secondly, we will be looking at some of the Traditional Games and Culture of Aboriginals in Southern Alberta. These games link traditional culture and values to physical literacy and fundamental movement skills.  Tiffany Weeden Session one and two

Mindfulness In the Classroom – The Lethbridge College Be Fit for Life Centre will provide a hands on training to utilize two of their most popular resources. Zen Me and Yoga Techniques for the Classroom provide ready to use techniques to inspire focus, balance and relaxation. Combined they can help students and teachers be less reactive and more mindful with their actions on how they respond to stress. Tiffany Weeden Last Session only

Strategies through speech and communication  – Regan Bikman (SLP) -Working from the perspective of a Speech Language Pathologist Regan will share strategies and approaches to work with students in improving their ability to communicate with others and function in the classroom for SLA’s and any other EA’s whose students are primarily struggling with communication challenges. . (Offered in the last session only)

Using PODD (Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display) books to support children with complex communication needs  You will learn general strategies for using alternative communication methods, the principles of PODD and why it might benefit your child, and the importance of modelling and how to model the use of PODD Jocelyn Roberts (Alberta Health Services)  Offered in the last session only.

Reflexes and Movement as a stress buster for young children AND adults: Building upon  Erin Stonehocker (PT) Erin has continued her work that was shared in part last year exploring the links to gross motor development and learning, Erin writes, “We all experience different types of stress.  Learn how MNRI or reflex exercise can help with stress relief in both adults and children.  These simple exercises can help reset the chronic stress cycle and improve overall well being and function.”   (Offered in the morning two sessions only)

GOOD GRIEVING: A PERSON CENTRED, STRENGTH-BASED APPROACH ASSISTING CHILDREN AND YOUTH Are different kinds of losses grieved differently? Do children grieve differently than adults? What common mistakes can be avoided when attempting to assist those grieving? Those who attend will leave with strategies to support those grieving.  Kent Hollingsworth, MA, CSFT (Offered first session only)

AD[H]D: Impact and Implications – A COLLABORATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING APPROACH  ADHD can cause significant challenges in the lives of children with this diagnosis, and significant frustration for those who teach and support children with this diagnosis. This workshop includes a variety of video clips and resources to help understand the AD(H)D brain, it’s impact on executive functioning, and helpful supportive strategies and ideas to help support students who  have these types of challenges, and encourage those that support them. Kent Hollingsworth (Offered second and third session)

UNDERSTANDING AND MANAGING ANXIETY IN THE CLASSROOM This presentation helps participants understand the new research around the roots of anxiety and how they can self-recognize their own anxiety as well as those in the individuals they support.  Participants will learn hands-on strategies through group discussions, case presentations and anxiety reducing activities.  Brandie Andrews -MSW (Offered First and Third Session)

ATTACHMENT DISORDER:  STRATEGIES TO PROMOTE HEALING AND REGULATION  This introductory workshop will provide a brief overview of Attachment Disorder and how best to support these individuals.  The workshop will begin with an information summary of the disorder followed by practical strategies to promote and foster positive relationships.  Participants will have the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss case questions.   Brandie Andrews – MSW (Offered Second Session only)

What’s going on in that brain? Experiences in the first years of life influences brains are built. The Brain Architecture Game gives participants an interactive experience will answer questions and help to educate about how life events, both positive and toxic, affect the brain’s development as children grow. Michelle MacKinnon (Offered all three sessions)

Pencil and Scissor skills- how to make it easier on you and your student. This session focuses on how to help your student develop pencil skills (holding a pencil, pre-printing and printing skills) and how to teach scissors skills (different types of scissors, progression of skills) Melany Duffin – OT (Melany will be presenting three times, once on Pencil and Scissors, once on Self-help and third time the focus will be on the most requested of the two.)

Self-help skills – how to help your students become independent. Dressing skills (jackets on/off, zippers, buttons, shoes), toileting strategies, eating skills (utensils, drinking, etc.), and building skills by chaining activities. Melany Duffin – OT (Offered at least once)

Evolving Education Assistant World in Westwind. Share some resources and tips for supporting a range of areas,  including a few tech tips and an opportunity for participants to share some of the areas they’d like to see some support or resources developed in the future and an exploration of the ever evolving role of education assistants in Westwind. (No bribery but there will be a few takeaways at this session) Rick Gilson (Offered three times)

First Aid Training – Most of our colony EA’s will be taking the full extended day First Aid Training, joining us for lunch. The session will be 8:00am – 4:00pm. Their names have been gathered by Mr. Karl Peterson and they are pre-registered i the course which will also take place in Magrath. 

Presentations  Lunch 12:00 – 1:00   School teams meet from 2:10 – 2:45

Thank you for your support of this day.


Presenter Session One (8)

9:30 – 10:40

Session Two (8)

10:50 – 12:00

Session Three (9)

1:00 – 2:10

Conrad – Through the Looking Glass Yes Yes Yes
Rick – What it is, isn’t, how we all lead Yes Yes Yes
Tiffany – Nature Play and Traditional Games Yes Yes
Tiffany – Mindfulness In the Classroom Yes
Regan – Strategies through Speech and Communication Yes
Jocelyn – Using PODD Books Yes
Erin – Reflexes and Movement as stress buster Yes Yes
Kent – Good Grieving Yes
Kent – AD[H]D Impact and implications Yes Yes
Brandi – Understanding and Managing Anxiety Yes Yes
Brandi – Attachment disorder Yes
Michelle – What’s going on in the Brain Yes Yes Yes
Melanie – Pencils and Scissors Yes TBD
Melanie – Self Help Skills Yes TBD

Changing Our Behaviour to Influence Their’s

Throughout my career I’ve had some success and more than a few challenges along the way with students, and maybe even a few adults around those behaviour challenges that just seem to eat up the effectiveness of a great lesson, a class, a practice when coaching. I’m not sure it matters if the class is five 12 year old boys on a Sunday or 39 English 30-2 students on Monday or 50 football players on the bus on a five hour trip to Edmonton getting everyone on the same page and particularly creating an environment where everyone can excel, is a challenge and a worthy goal.

Magic can happen at anytime in any class, one on one teaching situation, coaching moment and the simple fact is that every student, player, parent, teacher, administrator can learn and can succeed. Setting the stage to reduce behaviours that inhibit the magic is a career long learning process.

I’d like to share the work of four authors for you consider and their three books. Each provides concrete suggestions for classroom and one-on-one work that can maybe put a little spark in our own practice in the classroom and in our other interactions as well as help those students who we perceive are struggling with behaviour and engagement in our classes.


First let me say that if you already are reading or have read any of these books I’d love to invite you to share the successes and struggles you may have had applying some of the suggestions in the book. I love Breaux and Whitaker’s (who’s written an awful lot on what good teachers, administrators etc. do) preface story, the challenge that a teacher presents is that “you just can’t teach (change the behaviour) of a student without support from home.” In response to the question the teacher to asked, “so you are staying that if an orphanage opened next door to this school tomorrow, you could not teach those children?”  Of course we could, it might not always be easy but we could. So what needs to change, in our practice, to reduce or eliminate the behaviours that negatively impact learning?  Each of these three authors present very specific examples that teachers can do, it might challenge our thinking and practice but they work, some more than others and some with different students than others but they work.

The first way from Breaux and Whitaker to improve behaviour: look at how you greet

Dave Burgess maintains a website/Blog

Doug Lemov’s Teach like a Champion Site with resources and video examples

A PDF copy of 50 Ways is available here.  And here’s a PDF to his presentation, “What Great Teachers do Differently.

A little stress is a good thing…but

Harvard Center on the Developing Child has a wide range of resources helpful for teachers, parents, and students. The center identifies three levels of response to stress.

While we may be adding what seems to be a very light load of stress to a student from our perspective, a bit of homework here, a quick quiz there, a classroom presentation, or just asking a question in class what we are unable to easily identify is what level of stress we are adding to…for each student.

It is clear that each student is unique, no two homes are alike, no two snowflakes are alike and though it’s challenging to figure out in a 185-190 day school year, no two students hear and process exactly what we say or ask of them the same way.

Image from the Harvard Center for on the Developing Child

Another way to think of these levels of stress is represented in this graphic from Alberta Family Wellness:


Perhaps one of the most profound bodies of research on Toxic stress is the Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE study.  There will be more posts on this in the near future but consider this Ted Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris as one introduction.

I will refer back to this site more in the future but take a peek –

What’s the framework for our learning?


In this relatively recent presentation Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy which started out with Sal creating videos to help his nephew with his math homework.

Here Sal talks about why he invented Khan Academy

This is not to suggest this is the only way, rather it is another way to learn.  I wonder if each of us pondered about something we’d like to learn to do, a craft, a trade, a simple skill, what are the variables and resources involved with us learning whatever it is we desire to learn?

What factor does time play in your learning? How will you assess that learning? Who are the teachers for what you want to learn?  More questions than answers in this post and that’s ok.  I’m interested in hearing stories about something you wanted to learn, something you wanted to master and how you went about achieving that goal.



Edwin Markham wrote:

“He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!

Mother Teresa stated, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

In On Such a Full Sea, Chang-rae Lee wrote, “It is ‘where we are’ that should make all the difference, whether we believe we belong there or not.”

The author of the the Allegiant series, Veronica Roth wrote, “I belong to the people I love, and they belong to me–they, and the love and loyalty I give them, form my identity far more than any word or group ever could.”

How do we decide who belongs?

In stores and books, and it seems in life as well we tend to sort and categorize put items in a box, and maybe people…is that ok? How can it change?  Consider this video post by Prince Ea