Interview with Sandy Hirtz: Leading by Example

February 16, 2011

The Literacy and Language Professionals Who Lead by Example Series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. They share their inspirational tips and stories. Check out those who were honoured in the 2010 series.

I’m thrilled to start off the 2011 series by showcasing the work of a leader who works tirelessly from her home base in British Columbia, Canada. She’s a leader when it comes to literacy, technology and collaboration. A true inspiration!

What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?

My name is Sandy Hirtz.  I am an independent e-learning and social media advisor. I primarily work from home juggling a plethora of projects. I moderate online forums for the BC Ministry of Education: Literacy branch, E-learning branch and Leadership branch.  I am involved in an Open Educational Resources for open schooling project with the Commonwealth of Learning.  I am project manager and editor of two books collaboratively authored by professionals from around the globe—Education for a Digital World, Edition 1 and soon to be released, Edition 2.0.

What are your thoughts about leadership and literacy?

I think the age-old philosophy of autonomous leadership is no longer adequate for dealing with the complex problems inherent in communities and organizations today. The current intensity and speed of globalization compounds the urgency of addressing the issue of literacy for all, especially among the poor and marginalized on as many fronts as possible.

As people concerned with education, literacy leaders have a critical role to play in fostering, supporting, encouraging and, above all, equipping learners with the values and skill-set necessary to be successful in the 21st century. What better way than by modeling and mirroring this world in our own practice.

Today’s leaders need to be tech savvy, think globally, collaborate, and create partnerships. They need to have the ability to anticipate, envision, maintain flexibility, think strategically, share responsibility, and build community.

In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of a language or literacy professional’s job?

Raising literacy levels! Illiteracy is a critical problem that affects all corners of the earth. It has no boundaries and exists among every race and ethnicity, age group, and economic class. This silent epidemic threatens over 785 million adults worldwide; one in five adults is still not literate, two-thirds of them are women.

Improving literacy is a commitment to taking on a collaborative, cohesive, coordinated and holistic approach that involves families, communities, and government. It means taking the best of what is happening and making it accessible to all. It means looking at literacy as a lifelong skill. It means considering where and when we can best reach those in need of resources, training, and opportunities — in school, at work, at home, in healthcare environments, and in the community. Literacy is everybody’s business.

What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with that you would like to share?
BC Literacy Forum – advancing literacy and learning
The Literacy Forum showcases literacy initiative, innovation, experience, and best practice. Our goal is to engage in dialogue about literacy and improve literacy education.  Literacy is the key to opportunity for individuals, families, and communities. Come join us! If we band together, we can boost literacy levels from coast to coast to coast.

Community of Expertise in Educational Technology (CEET)
CEET is an online community for educators interested in teaching with technology.

Collaborative Authoring
Education for a Digital World: Advice, Guidelines, and Effective Practice from Around the Globe, was published by the Commonwealth of Learning and BCcampus in July 2008. It can be downloaded at the CoL website: http://www.col.org/digitalworld.
Education for a Digital World 2.0: Innovations in Education is being published by the Ministry of Education and will be available in print, pdf and as an e-book in March 2011.

The collaboratively authored books represent a shift in how educators are sharing their research, experiences and best practices in online teaching and learning. Facilitated completely through virtual interactions, this new model of authoring went beyond writing and editing to become an international effort in community building and professional growth.

Open Educational Resources for Open Schools An initiative of the Commonwealth of Learning in collaboration with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Ministries of Education and Open Schools in Zambia, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Seychelles and Trinidad and Tobago.

Professional Learning Potlucks

I host free and open Moodle Meets or Professional Learning Potlucks.  Ursula Franklin says that an analogy of the perfect society is a potluck supper. “A society in which all can contribute, and all can find friendship, that those who bring things, bring things that they do well and in the end there is a variety of things. All share their talents and all belong. ” Her analogy fits perfectly with these collaborative professional learning events.

What keeps you inspired?

Working collaboratively to create meaningful, relevant and accessible learning opportunities.  I envision a world classroom, whereby people from every country; regardless of age, color, race, gender or wealth, have equitable access to completely free, on demand, personalized education.

James Martin (The Meaning of the 21st Century: A Vital Blueprint for Ensuring Our Future) says the people of today will, “more than at any other time in history, make a spectacular difference to what happens this century – and there needs to be an absolute crusading determination to bring change about.” (James Martin, page 398).  It is change, and the promise of global unrestricted access to knowledge, that is inherent in my professional activities.

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2010 Recap: Literacy and Language Professionals who Lead by Example

January 14, 2011

In 2010 I started a new series to showcase the amazing work of some Literacy and Language Professionals who Lead by Example. Last year, I featured the work of 6 amazing educators in Canada and the United States, whose work focused on:

Brent David Novodvorski, a Deaf teacher of ASL and ESL.

  • Literacy, ESL literacy and Deaf literacy
  • American Sign Language
  • ESL
  • German
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Mandarin

I encourage you to check out their profiles and see the difference these people make to our profession:

Cheryl Haga (USA: French, Mandarin and Spanish)

Meike Thomson, German bilingual educator

Brent Novodvorski (Canada: American Sign Language (ASL), English as a Second Language (ESL), Deaf Literacy)

Paul Rogers (USA: ESL)

Martha Urquhart (Canada: Literacy, ESL Literacy)

Meike Thomsen (Canada: German, German-English bilingual education)

Felix Wöhler (Canada: English as a Second Language)

I’m now looking for suggestions for the 2011 series.

Here are the criteria I use for the series:

  • Literacy or language professionals should have practical classroom experience.
  • Their daily practice sets them apart as people who lead by example.
  • Their work inspires you and will likely inspire others.

Send me an e-mail at saraheaton2001 (at) yahoo.ca to nominate someone today. (I prefer nominations of others to self-nominations.)

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Canada’s 9 Literacy and Essential Skills

January 1, 2011

It used to be that being literate meant being able to read and write. Over time, the definition has expanded to include a variety of basic skills that are needed for people to function in the world. In Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has established 9 components to literacy. Together they make up the Literacy and Essential Skills that our government has determined that are important for Canadians:

  1. Reading text
  2. Document use
  3. Numeracy
  4. Writing
  5. Oral communication
  6. Working with others
  7. Continuous learning
  8. Thinking skills
  9. Computer use

Literacy isn’t a black-and-white, clear-cut issue. A person may excel in one essential skill and have poor abilities in another area. Sue is a network tech who is brilliant in the area of computer use, but doesn’t write very well. Her sentences are poorly constructed and his spelling makes it difficult to understand what he means. Sue would rank high in computer use, and low in writing.

Alfred is a senior citizen who reads and writes very well. Opposite to Sue, he dislikes computers intensely and finds them intimidating. He doesn’t own a cell phone or a home computer and doesn’t want one. In an increasingly technology-centered world, he is frustrated by things like bank machines and the machines at the  local light rail transit station where he must buy a ticket if he wants to go somewhere. Alfred would score high on reading and writing, and poorly on computer use.

In today’s world, reading and writing aren’t enough for most adults to function in society. Together the 9 Literacy and Essential Skills cover all the skills we need for life in the 21st Century.

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Related posts:

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Interview with Felix Wöhler: Leading by Example Series

October 4, 2010

This series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. They share their inspirational tips and stories. In this article I’m pleased to showcase the work of Felix Wöhler, owner and manager of an English as a Second Language (ESL) school in Ontario, Canada.

What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?

The school name is English Encounters (formerly Bronte Language Centre) and we have been in business since 1986.  We are fully accredited by Languages Canada for our ESL Program.

In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of managing a language school?

The most important thing is to provide students with an enjoyable and useful language learning experience.

There are very few people who have bought a pre-existing language school. That makes you a pioneer of sorts. I think readers would be very interested to hear about your experience. What were the best and worst aspects of this experience for you?

The best part was not having to build everything from scratch.  I “inherited” an existing database of agents, students, and staff as well as an existing online and physical location.  This made the takeover relatively seamless in the sense that, in contrast to starting a school from zero, I was fully operational from day one.  On the other hand, the fact that all these aspects had already been established meant that there was a long period of adjustment – for both myself and staff, and to a lesser extent, for students – to each others’ way of doing things.

It took me a long time to truly “identify” with the school. At the beginning, it always felt like I was managing someone else’s business.  However, over the past year, I have worked closely together with my team and helped recreate and improve the school in a way I really feel I can identify with and am, in fact, very proud of.  This includes renaming the school, relocating to a brand new facility in a neighbouring city – a location we feel is far better-suited for student needs, decorating the new premises, redoing the website, getting accredited by Languages Canada, and creating new and improved programs and curricula.

What is it that you like best about owning your own language school?

The most rewarding aspect of owning my own language school is meeting students from all over the world and seeing their English improve as they enjoy their time in Canada with us.  Many of our students have become very close and it is wonderful to see how they keep in touch and refer their friends and family members.

What do you see for the future of language learning?

Language learning in the future will become increasing important as the world continues to globalize. To that end,  more and more people will need a second language, particularly English, which seems well-placed to become a global lingua franca. For language schools, the challenge is to provide language training that is both attainable and enjoyable.  At the same time, the high demand for English training means that large amounts of students can become concentrated in popular areas or language schools.  The problem with that, is the strong tendency for these students to break off into ethnic groups and revert to their 1st language in all out-of-class activities.  The strategy at English Encounters, therefore, is to provide a small, student-centred learning environment in a smaller city where the likelihood of finding many speakers of languages other than English is much lower.  This makes our school the ideal place for true immersion and language training.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Interview with Paul Rogers: Leading by Example Series

August 30, 2010

This series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. They share their inspirational tips and stories. This week we highlight the work of Paul Rogers, creator of the Pumarosa language learning program.

What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?

My name is Paul Rogers and I have been teaching ESL for more than 20 years. I am also the author of a free website for Spanish speakers, PUMAROSA.COM, which has been online for 6 years, and is now widely used.

What are your thoughts about leadership and language learning?

Leaders in our field should lead by example, not only as teachers but as language students. It is also very important to investigate the uses of new technologies as applied to language learning. And I also feel it is important to champion what I call a multi-cultural, multi-lingual approach, i.e. respecting, appreciating and learning from other cultures and languages.

In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of a language teacher’s job?

I used to think that my job should be providing adequate and interesting lessons so that the students would be able to learn English as easily as possible. Although I still believe that aspect of the job is important, after studying your reports and articles, I have realigned my thinking! Learning languages is a life-long endeavor that is very important not only to the individual but also to society as a whole.

We must be frank and honest with language learners and tell them there is no quick fix, no fast track.

So now I look at my job as a resource and as a guide, and as an advisor and a friend. I have to say that I am more relaxed and probably more effective as a teacher now.

What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with that you would like to share?

I promote PUMAROSA and sell materials, such as workbooks.

Otherwise, I have developed a “Home Study” program for Spanish speaking adults. I teach classes in the students’ homes in groups of 4 or 5. The materials used include my texts, audio CDs and DVDs, along with PUMAROSA, You Tube and a few bilingual websites that feature popular US songs. I also show the students how to use a computer. I encourage everyone to buy a used computer for about $50 at the second hand stores nearby. Some of them went out and bought brand new computers! I have discovered that many people spend up to $100 a month in telephone calls back home. But with a computer hooked up to the internet for less than $50 a month, they can call back home for as long as they wish for free. Some of my students use a webcam, and I even “taught” a class to their families in Mexico!

What do you see as three new directions in language learning?

  1. The use of technology, in my view, changes the direction of language learning significantly. Now adult learners and families can basically learn at home without a teacher. This new development in distance learning makes language learning more democratic. Previously only a few people were able to attend classes, which were under the control of the teacher, i.e. ‘teacher centered”. Now learning can become ‘student centered’ so that mothers with children, for example, will not be excluded from learning anything.
  2. All of which leads to teachers becoming more and more like a guide or advisor rather than an authority figure. Paolo Freire would be very pleased with this shift.
  3. Distance learning programs will become the norm, with more and more community based involvement.

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