Author Archives: Sarah

About Sarah

Educator, writer, musician, baker, food and wine lover.


Simply Surviving

This past July, my life changed in the blink of an eye. OK, it was more like in the blink of 9 months and 25 exhausting hours. I was thrust into the most exciting and terrifying adventure of my life in my role as a new mom. Sometimes I still have to repeat it multiple times before it really sinks in. I am a mom. I am somebody’s mom. I will be somebody’s mom for the rest of my life.


One of the only photos of the two of us in her first two months of life.

One of the only photos of the two of us in her first two months of life.

Although I remain immersed in the world of education via many different channels, my recent transition into motherhood has inspired me to add some new topics to my writing repertoire. Not to mention that this new life has currently taken over just about every brain cell that I have. These days, I can’t think about too much besides diapers, tummy time, parenting styles, breastfeeding, swaddling, and sleeping. I have always excelled at the majority of the pursuits that I’ve taken on in my life, but I will be the first to admit that my first two months of motherhood has been hard. Really hard. Despite my best efforts, it was impossible for me to prepare for just how much my life would change, or how much of a challenge being a new mom would be.

In these early months, I could only describe my new life at home with baby as survival. We were not thriving. We were not living. We were simply surviving together. Every hour that we survived seemed like a miracle, largely due to my lack of confidence in my mothering abilities. All of my energy went into making sure that my baby was surviving, and sometimes all of the energy that I had didn’t feel like it was enough. I felt guilty that the very best that I had to give only ensured her basic survival, and that I had to let go of so many of the special things that I had planned on doing with her just so that we could survive. When she turned four weeks old, I realized that I had become so caught up in our world of surviving that I had failed to take any photos with my new baby in her first month of life, had not purchased a baby book for her, and had gone 16 days without washing my hair. I also found it very challenging to suddenly give up my career. My identity has always been very closely tied to my role as an educator, and having to form a new identity as a mother overnight was incredibly overwhelming.

Those rare smiles in the early weeks gave me confidence that not only was she healthy, but also happy.

Those rare smiles in the early weeks gave me confidence that not only was she healthy, but also happy.

At this point, I knew that I needed help. When my husband was home, he was the most caring, attentive and helpful person in my life; but his work commitments and our dependence on his income did not afford him much time off from work. So I reached out to friends who had young children for advice, we started receiving our first visitors who came over with the sole purpose of helping me adjust, and we hired a postpartum doula. Although the extra help did wonders for my nutrition and hygiene, what I gained the most from my growing support system was the reassurance that surviving was more than enough for my fresh babe. She didn’t need photos, a baby book, or for her mama to put makeup on every morning. What she needed was to be kept alive – to have a clean bum, warm toes, a full belly, and plenty of snuggles. I realized that I needed to drop the “simply” from the beginning of the phrase “simply surviving,” because there is nothing simple about it. Surviving is a huge deal. Keeping another human alive is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and right now surviving is more than enough. I am doing more than enough.


School Year’s Resolutions

Originally written as a guest post for Playful Bee.

Most of the teachers I know follow a different annual calendar than the rest of the world. While most people hit their restart button on January 1st every year, fresh starts and new beginnings for educators are reserved for the first day of school. Much like the official New Year, the new school year offers endless opportunities for teachers to make resolutions. Of course, there are the traditional resolutions – eat more vegetables, don’t leave report cards to the last minute, avoid the sugary treats in the staffroom – but many teachers also tend to make a secret set of resolutions for the school year ahead.


I am lucky enough to still receive “happy back-to-school, Miss Sarah” photos from my former students and their families!

I had the opportunity to catch up with some of my colleagues who were kind enough to share their school year’s resolutions with me, and it was inspiring to learn about the goals that they make for themselves and their students on the cusp of the new school year. These goals influence so many aspects of their teaching practices; from the professional development they take part in, to their unit planning, to their classroom setup. Here is an inside peek at a few school year’s resolutions that my colleagues shared with me:

“Last year was tough for me on a political front, so this school year is really about avoiding the politics that destroy my joy in the job and focusing on the natural positivity of the kids.” Miriam M.G., teaching Special Education.

“I would like to further learn about and utilize the inquiry approach in math.” Earl G., teaching a grade 1/2 split class.

“My resolution this year is to remember that it’s not always about the marks, and that the priority for many high needs students is to develop the life skills that will better equip them to advocate for themselves and help build a strong community.” Sarah E.H., teaching a grade 9-12 ‘Caring and Safe Schools’ program.

“My goal is for increased reflection with a focus on gratitude. We often forget to acknowledge and celebrate all of the wonderful things that we are doing in and out of the classroom, and modeling that positivity and graciousness will help the students in the long run.” Crystal S., principal of an independent school.

“My school year resolution is to incorporate more technology, and specifically to learn how to use an app for Full Day Kindergarten documentation and assessments to create individual portfolios for each child.” Ashley C., teaching Full Day Kindergarten.

“My goal for this year is to really improve my communication with parents.” Emily M., teaching multiple grades and subjects.

“One of my main goals this year is to create a better professional development experience for teachers. It’s a shame that PD often follows the “sit and get” model that we know isn’t effective. I look forward to stirring things up and (hopefully) inspiring some teachers to do the same.” Allison W., Customer Success Manager, Hapara.

FullSizeRender (4)

A teacher’s agenda – essential to keeping those “stay organized” resolutions!

After I spoke with these teachers, it became apparent that their resolutions all have an underlying mission to help improve learning and education in some way, whether it is to help special education students find confidence, help improve an overall school climate through focusing on gratitude and the positivity that children bring into our lives, help parents feel more informed and included in their child’s education, or help other teachers benefit from quality PD. Even when a teacher’s resolution focused on self-improvement, such as integrating technology or inquiry learning into their teaching methods, the motivation behind these resolutions was for their self-improvement to ultimately help their students.

I have always believed that teachers are an incredibly rare and special type of people, and this belief has only been strengthened after taking part in this project. Listening to these teachers talk about their school year’s resolutions with so much renewed determination, optimism and genuine care for their students should give any parent confidence that when they send their child off to start the new school year this week, they are in very good hands. And as for my own school year resolution? I will be out of the classroom for most of this year and staying home to take care of my new baby girl, so my resolution is to find as many ways as possible to stay involved in education, such as through amazing collaborative projects like this article!


How a Local Food Startup Kept Me Sane During Pregnancy

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with food. With a sense of culinary adventure akin to that of a toddler, it’s safe to say that my food preferences are juvenile at best.

One of my favourite dishes - shrimp scampi!

One of my favourite dishes – shrimp scampi!

A common dinner for me consists of buttered noodles, a scoop of peanut butter, a slice of processed cheese and a pickle – nutritionally balanced and delicious. In fact, my Instagram hashtag #DinnerWithSarah – consisting of photos of my pathetic dinners – managed to attract quite the fan club.

This food relationship changed only a few months into my first pregnancy. I spent the majority of my first trimester not unlike countless pregnant women before me: eating meager portions of dry toast, crackers and candied ginger on my bathroom floor. But as the nausea passed, the second stage of pregnancy hit me, and hit me hard – the hunger.

Not only did the hunger make me so ravenous that I could have scared off a pack of wolves for a meal, but I was craving foods I had never liked, or even tried, before. I also started to consider that maybe pickles and cheese weren’t going to give me, or my growing baby, the nutrition and satiation that we needed. A lifetime of poor eating habits had left me painfully unable to prepare quality meals for myself, so I quickly turned to outside sources. Surely, somebody in Silicon Valley could feed me.

That’s when I was saved by a local food startup. A Bay Area based foodie company, Gobble, promised me big things – minimal dirty dishes, gourmet meals, and dinner on the table in less than 15 minutes. Fortunately for my increasing appetite and decreasing patience, they delivered on everything they promised. I found myself feeling like a 21st century Betty Crocker as I turned on my stovetop for the first time in six months and whipped up dinner armed with nothing more than a frying pan and a wooden spoon. The meals were mostly prepped, cut, marinated and sometimes partially cooked for me, but when all was said and plated I somehow felt as though the small amount of searing and simmering I did was really what brought the meal together.

I also took comfort in having somebody else do the nutritional planning for me. My days of choosing between brown bread or white bread were replaced with choosing lean cuts of steak, ancient grains, vegetarian dishes, or sustainably sourced fish. I can’t imagine going back to the bland B.G. (before Gobble) days now that I’ve had a taste of forbidden rice, freekeh, and spinach gnocchi. Gobble gave me the helping hand that I needed during my pregnancy to worry less about fumbling in the kitchen and not getting proper nutrition, and gave me more time to do what I really wanted to do all along – eat massive quantities of food. Alas, my hunger was finally satiated. Now all that was left to do was to find some dessert…


Food for Thought

image6There are some stark realities affecting our nation today: childhood obesity rates are the highest they have ever been in our country’s history; most families are primarily exposed to processed and pre-packaged foods, with little knowledge about where those foods actually came from; the mass production of food in our country is hurting the environment; and food education programs exist in only a small fraction of schools across the nation.

As our population – and their waistlines – continues to grow, food education and sustainability issues are increasingly important topics to be teaching our youth. Fortunately, there are schools across the country recognizing this need and taking on the challenge of revolutionizing food education! Many of the food education programs popping up around the country are using off-campus trips and cooking classes to target high school students; but some schools are designing their programs based on the philosophy that nutrition, environmental responsibility, and sustainability values can be instilled in even our youngest citizens.

image9This is the case at a preschool in San Francisco, where in the heart of a downtown concrete jungle exists a small oasis of organic produce and friendly animals, all cared for by the teachers and students. Preschool children take on responsibilities such as churning the compost pile, watering the gardens, releasing worms into the soil, classifying plants and insects, identifying and pulling weeds, and feeding the resident chickens and sheep. They also get to reap the rewards of their work by enjoying snacks right from the farm – handpicked and freshly squeezed lemonade, scrambled eggs, and popcorn have all been on the menu.

image10Over the course of the year, these youngsters have learned many important lessons about how food makes it from their hobby farm to their mouths. They’ve learned how to patiently wait for fruits to ripen, how to use friendly insects to keep their gardens healthy, the importance of using compost as a fertilizer, how to care for animals, and how to identify and enjoy wholesome, non-processed foods. Food education programs that teach such powerful fundamentals of sustainability and healthy eating are helping to inspire responsible habits in tomorrow’s citizens – I think we can all eat and drink to that.

The words School's Out written on a chalkboard

Life After the Classroom

As this school year comes to an end, I can’t help but think back on the fears that I had just one year ago as I packed up my classroom permanently. My husband had received a career opportunity that required us to relocate 3000 miles from home, which meant that I had to say goodbye to my comfortable, supportive, and beloved colleagues and school. With teaching jobs at a premium in my hometown of Toronto, I questioned my sanity as I gave up such a coveted teaching position. Alas, with zero career prospects in my future we were off to find new adventures in San Francisco.

I had always held a very linear way of thinking about my career trajectory: complete my undergrad, complete my Bachelor of Education, get a teaching job, stay there forever. I was set! What I didn’t realize is that my education, teaching experience, and friendly disposition had prepared me for so much more.

I started attending MeetUps, where I met other teachers – some still in the classroom and some not – who were equally as interested in my background as I was in theirs. I became a volunteer at a school in the city, which was an incredibly refreshing experience after having spent several hectic years as a head teacher. All of a sudden I had no report cards, no curriculum, no deadlines, no angry parents, no school politics, and no marking. Instead, I was able to enjoy all of the things I love most about teaching, like reading stories, art projects, hugs, playing outside, and making friends with fantastic teachers.

I found myself with time to start blogging – I had no idea that so many people would want to read about my musings on education and teaching! I learned how to use my background in education to create a hobby-based course for adults, which continues to sell-out every month. I dove into professional development opportunities that I quite simply did not have the time for while I was teaching. My article about my experiences participating in Startup Weekend Education chronicles just how much professional and personal growth is possible over the course of one, very intense, weekend.

And I started working with an EdTech startup, which has been one of my most creative education-related pursuits to date. I provide consulting, design complex and beautiful units, write songs, and help with marketing our early education company. Not to mention that I work with a amazing team that is comprised of women who are both teachers and moms, which defies the typical single-male demographic that tends to dominate the startup culture in Silicon Valley.

Reflecting on this past year, I am confident that leaving the classroom was one of the best things I could have done. I learned that I had a lot more to offer the world of education than I gave myself credit for, and that I could still make a positive impact on children and their families in my life after the classroom. And in the same timeframe, I also managed to get married, move to a new country, explore my beautiful new city, spend ample amounts of time at the ocean, make friends, get pregnant, and sample craft cocktails, organic coffees, sourdough bread, and fresh crab… but that’s a story for another day.


It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

There is one day in Kindergarten more celebrated than any other holiday; birthdays can’t hold a candle to it, and Halloween is barely a blip on the radar in comparison.

We used bingo dabbers to fit 100 gum balls into our gum ball machine!

We used bingo dabbers to fit 100 gum balls into our gum ball machine!

I’m talking about the much-anticipated 100th Day of School! Starting on the very first day of each school year, lower elementary classrooms around the country carefully mark each and every day they spend in school until the 100th Day milestone arrives.

There is a lot of debate as to the origins and purpose of the 100th Day of School, from it being a powerful classroom math tool to it being nothing more than a fabricated “holiday” created for the purpose of selling stickers and trinkets.

Students used Ten Frames to group their favourite sea creatures

Students used Ten Frames to group their favourite sea creatures

I believe that, like so many subjects, it’s really what the teacher makes of it that is important. I have always used our 100th Day countdown as an opportunity to build rich math foundations in my young students. Our daily work with our number chart helped us learn to group by tens, solve simple algebra equations, identify numbers 1 through 100, count backwards, and understand important concepts, like: “ten groups of ten equals one hundred.”


After sorting 10 groups of 10 Fruit Loops, students loved stringing their cereal onto necklaces and eating their creations!


This year, I spent the 100th Day of School in a kindergarten classroom where the teachers worked hard to strike a perfect balance between reinforcing math concepts and throwing a celebration. As the students moved through different activities, they excitedly counted by 10s, ate Fruit Loops, and proudly pinned their 100s Day badges on each other. I think that the 100th Day of School can help serve as an excellent opportunity to create a positive attitude towards math, and help young students experience all of the ways that math can be fun!

Shaking Up My Inner Teacher

One of the philosophies that I regularly pursue in my professional and personal life is a dedication to lifelong learning. Forcing myself out of my comfort bubble and into new experiences that stimulate my own learning and growth is something that I find both rewarding and challenging.

A delicious Aviation, perfectly mixed and ready for tasting!

Recently, I undertook an opportunity to work with a new company, Learn From Neighbor, where I was asked to teach an interest class to a group of adults on a topic that I considered myself an “expert” in. Trying to think of an interesting subject that you are qualified to teach to a group of peers is quite a challenge, but after much consideration I decided that a mixology course might be right up my alley.

Now, my kindergarten days are typically filled with Dr. Seuss, counting by fives, and tying shoelaces, so the thought of teaching a group of adult students how to shake and stir their way to professional-level cocktails was quite intimidating in comparison. I can teach the alphabet with relative confidence that I won’t make any errors, but correctly relaying the detailed history of alcohol consumption in America seemed like a much more daunting task. I also felt uncertain about what the teacher-student relationship would look like between myself and a group of adult students. Surely they wouldn’t find it as endearing as my usual audience does if I referred to them as “friends” or “boys and girls.”

Ultimately, teaching this course proved to be far less challenging than I had imagined. As the trusted mixology expert in the room, I was aware that a professional rapport existed between myself and the students, but I was also able to connect with the students on a more personal level than I have ever experienced before. Their questions evolved from asking why a Moscow Mule is traditionally served in a copper mug to how my husband and I met – a story that I could never share with my kindergarten friends. My concerns about remembering the complicated course content quickly faded away as I described different types of whiskey to a room full of nodding heads, and my faithful assistant – my husband – was crucial in heightening the course experience as he tirelessly prepared classic cocktails for the students to sample.

One of the most meaningful realizations I gained from this experience is that deep inside of myself exists an “inner teacher” that I can truly depend on. No matter the subject matter or classroom setting, I have the ability to generate excitement, curiosity, wonder, a sense of community, and fun learning environment for diverse groups of students. And not unlike my kindergarten classroom, I even received a few hugs at the end of the day – a gesture that many teachers understand as a genuine and humbling measure of success.


Top Education Trend: Great Teachers

The implementation of technology in classrooms has become a regular topic in education. As a relatively active member of the EdTech community, I was not surprised to find that many 2015 education trend reports were heavily weighted with predictions for the increased prevalence of tech products and services in school communities. After discussing these trends with colleagues, I realized that many of them shared a somewhat wary outlook towards EdTech. It’s not that they were being inflexible about adapting to changes within the profession; it was more of a concern about trying to implement these trends in schools where their students don’t even come to school with food in their bellies, let alone have the resources to participate in “bring your own device” day. If these are the trends expected to give students the best chance at a successful future, then where does that leave the huge number of teachers and students who don’t have access to these resources?

Mrs. Colquhoun's weekends are full of DIY projects; she combs neighbourhood rummage sales to find pieces that she can transform into learning centres, sensory experiences, and inquiry-based projects.

Mrs. Colquhoun’s weekends are full of DIY projects; she combs neighbourhood rummage sales to find pieces that she can transform into learning centres, sensory experiences, and inquiry-based projects.

I endeavoured to collaborate with a fellow educator who could relate to working in an environment with limited resources, yet who was also undaunted by the high EdTech expectations making their rounds through school communities. I began learning about Mrs. Ashley Colquhoun’s full-day kindergarten classroom, where Mrs. Colquhoun and her assistant teachers practice creativity, patience, dedication and high expectations tirelessly in their low-income community.

Mrs. Colquhoun puts careful consideration into her inquiry projects, ensuring that they contain enough interest to incite genuine curiosity, and enough of a challenge to help students stretch their thinking and achieve a sense of accomplishment when they complete a task. While showing me the colourful walls and enticing learning centres in the room, Mrs. Colquhoun spoke confidently about how she believes the lack of technology available for her students is far from being a disadvantage.

Inexpensive materials serve as helpful reminders for young readers.

Inexpensive materials serve as helpful reading-reminders for young students.

“During activities, students are constantly talking with each other,” she explained. “They ask questions, think critically, and work together to solve problems and create solutions. Maybe they could also do some of these things on a set of classroom tablets, but we simply don’t have access to those resources. The improvements that my students demonstrate are a real indicator of just how much they are thriving. Many of my students don’t get a chance to interact with kids their own age outside of school, and the majority of them are not involved in sports or other clubs. So why not utilize every moment of the rich learning that can happen when all of their little minds are together? Technology or not, I am determined to help my students have the same advantages and opportunities as everyone else. They deserve it.” I had to agree that I couldn’t imagine a future where determination, curiosity, creativity, and strong teamwork and problem solving skills wouldn’t be an asset.

Mrs. Colquhoun’s attitude and efforts served as an inspiring reminder that despite the availability of resources, a dedicated teacher is often the most important and irreplaceable education trend of all.

Transforming a Dramatic Play Area into a Doctor’s Office sparked engagement, personal connections, and a lot of fun!



love-my-studentsHave you ever had one of those mornings? The kind of morning where your alarm clock doesn’t go off, you spill your morning coffee down the front of your crisp white shirt, your car doesn’t start, and a torrential downpour manages to drown you just as you run into work late? Yes… those mornings.

I had one of those mornings recently, and a particularly bad one at that. But within seconds of entering my classroom, every inconvenience of my morning was all but erased as soon as I heard an excited voice call, “Miss Sarah! You’re here!” In that moment I felt overwhelmingly grateful for my always slightly too-warm classroom, for the familiar smell of sweaty socks and salami sandwiches, and for that set of 19 eager faces waiting for me to lead us into another day.

Educators often reflect on the impact that they have on their students. They consider how their attitude, creativity, organization, flexibility (the list could go on forever) will help or hinder their students’ success. That night, my reflections shifted to considering the impact that my students have on me. I thought back to earlier in the day when one of those mornings threatened to derail my entire day but was saved by a group of five year olds, and I realized just how much I appreciate my students. Now, I know that not everybody would appreciate a group of germ-filled, hyperactive, painfully dependent kindergarten students – but I do. So, this one goes out to them:

Thank you for attentively listening while I read you my favourite childhood stories; thank you for asking me if I want to play with you and making me feel included; thank you for showing such a genuine interest in my life, from why I drive a red car to why my pants have so much cat hair on them; thank you for excitedly bringing me gifts from your home that I then have to awkwardly return to your parents; to the ladies, thank you for copying my hairstyle – after all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; thank you for mysteriously knowing exactly when I could use a hug; thank you for loving nature and animals so much; thank you for not being afraid of getting dirty; thank you for always being completely, unapologetically honest; thank you for reminding me how important it is to appreciate the little things in life, like enjoying popcorn during a movie or seeing a rainbow after a storm; thank you for noticing every single new thing about me; thank you for boosting my ego with your daily barrage of compliments; thank you for making me want to be a better teacher; thank you for giggling when somebody, uhm, passes wind… because honestly, it’s funny; thank you for trusting me with your secrets; thank you for somehow always sharing the notion that clowns walk a thin line between being silly and scary; thank you for having an endless supply of self-confidence; and finally, thank you for your unconditional love – I am a better teacher, and a better person, for having known every single one of you. Thank you.

Edtech Cartoon

Is This Thing On? One Teacher’s Edtech Journey

Edtech 2 ComicTechnology in education is big right now. Really big. Today, buzzwords like “classrooms in the cloud,” “E-learning,” and “MOOCs” are the “overhead projector” of 1986 when it comes to staff room hot topics. I’m going to let you in on a secret – I struggle with using technology. Not in the way where I get frustrated if I can’t prevent cross-site scripting or DDoS attacks, but in the way where I get frustrated when my printer won’t print, only to remember after many hours of troubleshooting that I unplugged it two days ago when I vacuumed the living room. A lot of things come very easily to me, but using technology just has never been one of them.

Technology has changed the education experience throughout many schools, and undoubtedly helped countless students achieve success in areas where they previously struggled: adopting technology has been vital in providing differentiated instruction for learners with special needs; the use of multimedia has heightened learning by engaging students in new and exciting ways; and Edtech has introduced online options for homework help and tutoring that allows students and their families to continue the learning process from home. Edtech continues to pick up steam, as developers and educators partner up to create more software, apps, and tools designed to help students and teachers alike.

If you are like me, using these valuable tools can be a challenge – just setting up the microphone for my voice-to-text software was a two-hour ordeal, which included skipping dinner, a few tears, and the uttering of some choice words that are not appropriate for a blog that children could be reading. Yet despite the time, planning, and energy often involved in implementing technology into the classroom, countless teachers continue to embrace the challenge. So why do we do it?

For me, the answer is pretty simple – because I care. I care about how the potential success of my students could be improved by helping them become comfortable with technology. I care about giving my students with special needs equal opportunities in their education. I care about meeting the needs and interests of my students by engaging them in their learning with relevant materials. And I care about these things more than I care about spending my weekend completing tutorials on how to use my new laptop, learning how to run and update our classroom e-newsletter, setting up and monitoring online homework reading programs, or spending my evenings fighting with installing speech recognition software. Do some educators go through these efforts for a better teaching position, a raise, or recognition? Maybe. Do some educators stubbornly refuse to integrate technology into their practices? Definitely. Fortunately, all of the teachers I know are embracing Edtech for all of the right reasons, no matter how difficult it may be.

So, to my fellow tech-challenged colleagues: if you have ever had to Google what a “wordle” is, arrive in class an hour early to connect your tablet to a projector for the first time, or ask, “is this thing on?”, yet you continue to, sometimes painfully, take on these challenges for the sake of your students – you are not alone. I understand your struggle, and I applaud your perseverance in the quest towards successfully integrating technology into your classroom. At the end of the day, I think we would all agree that the effort is undoubtedly worth it.