12 Tips to incorporate blogging into your classes

August 2, 2012

In a recent Master’s of Education course I taught at the University of Calgary, blogging was a required assignment for the students. The program coordinator (my boss) urged me to have the students blog as part of their course. She let me know that the students were enrolled in a graduate certificate program and that the course I was teaching was the first course of their certificate. She said that the certificate had been set up so that students would blog throughout their entire learning experience, as part of every course in their certificate.

The course I taught was on incorporating technology into educational practice. As an avid blogger myself, I was excited by the prospect of incorporating blogging into my teaching practice.

Most of the students were teachers themselves and some of them were technology leaders in their schools, but only one had her own blog.

After having incorporated “blogging for learning” into my teaching practice, here is what I learned:

1. Recommend a blogging service.

We (meaning the course coordinator and I) did not restrict what blogging service the students chose, but we recommended a few (including WordPress and Blogger). We recommended free sites and suggested that students not pay to register their own domain (at least, not to start).

 2. Show students the nuts and bolts of how to set up a blog.

I spent approximately 30 minutes in one class, showing students the “behind the scenes” of my own WordPress blog. Using an LCD projector, hooked up to a computer with an Internet connection, I took my students on a virtual tour of my own WordPress dashboard. I showed them how to choose a theme, write a post and then publish that post. They appreciated the demo and it gave them confidence to get started.

3. Give them time to set up their blog.

One student reported that it took her two hours to set up her blog. This included familiarizing herself with the dashboard, selecting a theme and figuring out how to post. Even for those who are into technology, setting up your first blog can seem overwhelming until you get the hang of it. The students needed dedicated time to figure out the practicalities of their blog.Sarah Elaine Eaton, speaker, presenter, keynote, technology, social media, Calgary, Canada, educator, education, professional development

 4. Link the blogs to the course content.

Emphasize that the topics that students post on need to relate to the cours content. Topics covered in class or questions raised during class were some suggestions. At times, I would encourage students to think about their blog by saying in class, “That is good fodder for a blog post.” This helped them to think about what a learning blog is and what topics make for good blog posts.

5. Assign a certain number of postings.

In our course, students had to publish a minimum of four posts throughout their course. Their instructions included “keeping up-to-date with postings throughout the course”. About half of the students were able to do this. The other half waited until the end of the course and then published three or four postings at once. Many students admitted to having their blogs in draft form, but did not feel ready to publish them.

6. Assign a minimum number of words for each post.

In our course, students’ blog posts had to be a minimum of 200 words. This meant that writing was part of the assignment. It was not enough to post a graphic or a video without a reflective response.

7. Encourage multimedia.

In addition to the 200 words, I encouraged students to post videos, graphics, Wordles and other multimedia to their blogs. Since our course was about incorporating technology into inquiry-based learning, this was appropriate. Some students were able to incorporate media quite easily, but others struggled with this.

8. Encourage students to include a blogroll.

Students were expected to read and comment on each other’s posts. To help them with this, we had each student post their blog address in our online class Blackboard site. I encouraged each student to include a blog roll on their own blogs, so they could easily access each other’s blogs. Not all the students figured out how to do this, but most of them were able to set up a blog roll. This helped them to keep track of each other’s blogs more easily.

9. Include commenting and interactivity as part of the assignment.

Part of the learning task included students commenting on their classmates’ blog posts at least twice. These comments counted as part of their grade for the assignment. Students were asked to post thoughtful and reflective comments that went beyond “Good post!” or “I liked this”. This proved to be problematic at the beginning, as some students had difficulty figuring out how to approve comments. Until they did, their peers’ comments did not show up on their blogs. Once the students figured out how to approve each other’s comments, this went much more smoothly.

10. Talk about blogging in class.

Not only did I highlight topics or questions that would make good blog posts, we also talked about the process of blogging in class. One student was excited to announce that someone from another country had read her blog post and “liked” it, using the “like” button in WordPress. Until then, she had no idea that anyone outside our class might read her blog posts. Knowing that another educator, whom she did not know, read and liked her post gave her great inspiration to keep writing. Her story also inspired the other students to think about how blogging can help them connect with others on a broader scale.

11. Differentiate between a personal and professional / educational blog.

Not only did I provide written instructions on the course outline, I also supported the written instructions with an in-class demo and ongoing discussions in class about blogging and how to use blogging for learning or professional teaching purposes. A couple of students had trouble figuring out how blogging for class differed from personal blogging. We talked about how a personal blog might include more family photos, recipes or other personal information, while a professional learning blog would include topics more focussed on work and our professional lives.

12. Help students find their blogging voice.

I made it clear that since the students were also professionals and teachers, that their blog was an extension of their professional selves. Some students initially found this a bit diffiult and said that they did not know what tone of voice to use in their blog. We had a conversation about language register and how a learning blog was one step down from a formal research paper and probably one step up from very informal conversations. By the end of the course, most of the students had found a happy medium.

Overall, the process of working with these adult learners (who are also teachers) in helping them learn how to blog was both challenging and rewarding. In the beginning, I had assumed (incorrectly) that since they had high levels of technology literacy and many of them teach tech as part of their professional practice, that they would find it easy to blog. In reality, it took time for them to learn the nuts and bolts of how to blog, to learn what topics made for a good blog post and to learn how to find their voice as a blogger.

In the end, they did extremely well with their blogs and I have subscribed to all of them. I am excited to see how they progress with blogging in thier next course.

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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.

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Six truths I wish I had been told when I started teaching

May 1, 2012

Here are six truths I have learned over the past eighteen years as a teacher. These are things I wish someone had sat me down and told me about when I started.

But then again, I may not have understood. These are truths about teaching that you learn by going to work every day and living a teacher’s life:

Truth #1: What we teach matters

When I first started teaching, we would teach our students to learn vocabulary by repeating new words in a given context. For example:

  • There are three pieces of chalk in the classroom.
  • There are two maps in the classroom.
  • There is one teacher in the classroom.
  • There are no bad students in the classroom.

That was boring eighteen years ago. Not only did it get more boring to teach over time, it also became less relevant for the students’ lives. Fifteen years later, the textbooks still contained the same darned examples, and by then not one piece of chalk could be found anywhere, in any of our classrooms.

Because I taught college students, I learned to change the examples. They still followed the same basic structure, but taught my 18 to 25 year old students words that they might actually use in their travels abroad:

  • There are three pickpockets in the subway station.
  • There are two drug dealers in the subway station.
  • There is one passenger in the subway station.
  • There are no police officers in the subway station.

This is the same example structurally. The location remains constant. The verbs change from plural to singular when appropriate. The nouns, however, were vocabulary words that resonated with my students. The examples also reflected a cultural reality of travelling in a large, European city… except that there may never be only one passenger on a subway station platform.  But the poetic license created an example that captured my students’ imagination. They imagined that they were that one passenger in the subway station, alone in a potentially dangerous situation, as they were travelling in a new place. They went from being disengaged to intensely interested. Best of all, they learned the content.

 Truth #2: What we teach does not matter

No matter how engaging our examples, I have learned that our students will not remember most of what we teach them. They will forget the vocabulary. They will forget the structures. They will forget the majority of the content.

This used to stress me out. Then I reflected on my own experience as a student and realized that most of what I had learned in school, I had not retained. And I turned out OK.

The content provides a means for students to make their own meaning, to allow their mental synapses to learn to work in new ways, to stretch their thinking and to show them they can learn more than they ever dreamed possible. It is important not to teach hatred, bigotry or facts that are just plain wrong. Apart from that, I’m not convinced that it really matters what we teach. They’ll forget most of it anyway.

Truth #3: Some students just need a hug

Sometimes a teacher’s job means reaching out to a student and letting them know it is going to be O.K. They are going to get through this… and much more than this. They are stronger than they think.

Sometimes, that lesson is more important than any content contained within the covers of a textbook.

 Truth #4: Some students just need a kick in the rear end

Sometimes being a teacher means giving some very tough love, not taking the crap that a student may lay down and letting them know that there are boundaries and rules that you expect them to follow. Collaboration be darned. This is your classroom and they are there to learn. A good, swift (metaphorical) kick in the pants is what some students need to kickstart their motivation.

Truth #5: It is important to treat students equally

We do not delay the start of class because Johnny is late. If class starts at 9:00 a.m., then it is disrespectful to those who made an effort to be there on time if we delay the start. The rules apply to all students equally.

The real world has rules that people need to follow. If you break the rules, there are consequences. If you speed when you drive, the consequence may be that a police officer writes you a ticket. That’s just the way life is.

Laws impose rules on members of society. Schools and teachers can impose rules on students. It is part of the job. Teachers can prepare students for the real world by teaching them that certain rules apply to everyone. Period.

Truth #6: It is important to treat students equitably

You can treat all students exactly the same or you can treat students in a manner that is appropriate for their situation. That is treating them equitably, not equally.

This involves some wise judgement on the part of the teacher who makes the decision about what constitutes “equitable” treatment. That also reflects the real world. The police officer who stops the speeder may, at the officer’s own discretion, decide not to give the driver a ticket but instead choose to get back in the police car, turn on their lights and siren and escort the offending car to the hospital so the driver can get his wife, who is in labour, to the delivery room. In such a case, the police officer may choose not to write a ticket due to the circumstances.

If I have a student who is an absolute superstar, I will ask more of that student. It is my job to keep my students engaged and challenged. If some students need more challenge, I will give them what they need to stay interested and motivated. Not all students are created equal. My teaching needs to be flexible enough to accept that, and wise enough to know what to do about it.

Using the power of discretion wisely and sensibly is part of the job. Sometimes, treating students equitably is more important than treating them equally.

A paradox is a statement that “seems self-contradictory or absurd, but in reality expresses a possible truth”. Teaching is a complex profession that is full of paradoxes. Being a teacher requires us to think in complex ways, accept that much of what we do requires us to be rigid and follow rules set out for us by an administration or system that is much larger than us… and at the same time, to be flexible and choose our own actions wisely, based on a given situation at a given moment in time. That requires a great deal more skill than teaching from a book.

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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.


The wisdom of your story: Storytelling resources for teachers

January 27, 2012

Storytelling is a practice that dates back centuries. Sometime in the last 20th century however, its use in the classroom began to diminish, but researcher, Melanie C. Green, reminds us that “stories are a powerful structure for organizing and transmitting information, and for creating meaning in our lives and environments”.

How-to articles and resources

Storyteller.nethttp://www.storyteller.net/– This site has a sub-page called “Articles” with dozens of links and resources

Storytelling: How to tell a tale – by LibrarySpot.com – http://www.libraryspot.com/features/storytellingfeature.htm – This article goes over the essentials, and learning the art of storytelling. It also has links to a variety of other resources.

Storytelling Lessons, lesson plans and activities

Storytelling – Oral Traditions (lesson plan for grades 4-6) – by Teachers’ Domain – http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/echo07.lan.stories.lporaltrad/

Storytelling – ProTeacher.com – This site is a collection of links to other resources, including lesson plans and activities – http://www.proteacher.com/070163.shtml

Professional organizations

National Storytelling Network (U.S.A. ) http://www.storynet.org/

Research articles

Storytelling in Teaching – by Melanie C. Green, published in APS Observer – http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1562

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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.


Success Strategy for Students: How to Make Sense of Scholarly Research Articles

January 17, 2012

Students sometimes find it hard to figure out what a research article is really trying to say. The language is dense and thick, full of long, Latin-root words. Before you know it, their eyes are drooping. Their phone chimes and they pick it up, eager for any reason to abandon the dull and hard-to-read article.

This handy tool helps students move from being passive readers to active readers of research articles. It helps them figure out key information and dissect the article in a way that helps them make sense of it.

This is a free, downloadable and printable resource designed for high school and post-secondary students, as well as adult learners.

View this document on Scribd

Related posts:

Success Strategy for Students: How to Cite Class Notes

Success Strategy for Post-Secondary Students: Get to Know Your Profs
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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.


4 ways to engage learners without losing your mind

December 5, 2011

StudentsThere’s no doubt about it. Schools, universities and adult education training classrooms of today look very different than they did half a century ago.

Heck, they look different than they did 20 years ago. Twenty-first century learning is all about “engaging” the learner. What does that mean, exactly? There is not a single, concrete definition (at least as far as I have found). Here are a few common characteristics:

  • The teacher’s authoritative role is downplayed. Teachers are expected to be guides and collaborators, rather than the “ultimate authority” on a subject.
  • The “lecture” style of teaching is considered ineffective. Instead, group work and models that involve learners interacting with each other are preferred.
  • Students are encouraged to share their own ideas and opinions, not just regurgitate information. In an ideal situation, students also learn to back up their arguments with data and research.
  • Students discover meaning for themselves (often through a process guided by the teacher).
  • The one-way transmission of the teacher imparting knowledge and the students madly writing down everything the teacher says in order to absorb it all, is considered outdated and ineffective.

Let me be honest about my bias and say that I believe whole heartedly in engaging learners in this way. However, this way of teaching requires a substantial “re-wiring” of an instructor’s brain. If you were raised during a time or in a place where teachers could — and did — use the strap or a ruler to discipline students who misbehaved, you know what I am talking about. When I went to school, the strap had been outlawed, but rulers were still used.

Certain nuns in my school were particularly fond of whacking a ruler on a desk to grab the attention of a student who was daydreaming. Instantly, 25 students felt fear rush through them. I may be dating myself a bit here, but really, I am not as old as that statement might lead you to believe I am. My point is that education has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades.

The problem for many people like me is that we find it hard to reconcile 21st century ways of teaching and learning with the model that we know. Not only do we know it, it is all we knew growing up. Teaching in a way that supposedly “engages learners” seems “airy fairy” or “a waste of valuable classroom time” to some people. Some of those same people are very well educated. They have taken years to develop their expertise and they know their stuff darned well.

The problem is that no one really cares what teachers know any more. The whole concept of “teacher” has changed. Now, the person leading a class guides their students along a learning journey that neither begins, nor ends in their classroom. The model is unsettling and uncomfortable for educational professionals who feel that their worth and value as teachers is undermined unless they are imparting and actively transmitting their knowledge they carry within them.

So, what is the solution? Here are some easy ways to begin to transform your teaching practice, while still being true to who you are:

1. Start in the hallway. This may seem counterintuitive, but if the classroom is your sacred space where you teach and students learn, then acknowledge that bias and begin your exploration of new ways in a more neutral setting. Instead of rushing from your classroom to the teacher’s lounge or your office right away after a class, linger in the hallway. Ask students what they thought of the class today. Ask them how they might apply what they learned in the real world. Engaging students in these kinds of conversations gives you insights into your students’ abilities to engage in reflective thinking. It will also give you an idea of how they are making sense of what they learn.

2. Temporarily relinquish control of the chalkboard. Traditionally, the chalk board or white board is where the teacher writes down the information they want students’ to copy into their notebooks. It is part of the teacher’s “sacred space”. Traditionally, a teacher’s desk is located in front of the chalk board and there is an invisible field of authority around this space that includes the chalkboard or white board. Try this review activity in the last 20 minutes of class. Ask students to form teams of 4 or 5 students. Give the teams 2 minutes to write down the 10 most important aspects of the lesson. Draw vertical lines down your board so that the number of columns equals the number of teams (5 teams = 5 columns). Give each team a piece of chalk or a white board marker. Have them simultaneously go to the board and write down their 10 points. Then, have them find the common denominators among their lists. Talk about why those points rose to the top as being the most important. Then, review the points the teams did not agree on. Do all this while students are gathered at the front of the classroom in front of the board. At no point in this activity does the teacher write on the board. Let the students do the writing and circling of common denominators.

3. Include a group “discovery” or “creativity” project or activity. The project should not include going through a rote set of exercises and coming up with standardized answers. Instead, choose an activity that forces students to think “out of the box” and use their resourcefulness to create something new, using what they have learned. For example, in a foreign language class, group work might traditionally be done read through a dialogue. Each student would read the part of a different character. Together, students figure out the meaning of the conversation and answer standard questions. Instead of that traditional activity, an alternative would be to give students a list of key words or phrases in the chapter they are studying and have them create sentences using their new words. Groups trade copies of their work with each other and correct one another’s sentences. The teacher used to traditional classroom instruction needs to be aware that this type of activity will take much longer than a traditional group activity. A brief verbal survey after the activity is over will let you know which type of activity the students prefer more. Encourage them to articulate why they prefer one over the other.

4. Incorporate metacognitive activities. One aspect of creating “engaged” learning is challenging students to become more self-aware about their own learning process and increase their levels of personal responsibility. In order for this to happen, learners must become aware of the processes involved in acquiring new knowledge. Then, they can determine which methods are most effective for them. An example of how to do this in a language classroom would be to give pairs or small groups of students an assignment asking them to determine what is the most effective method to learn new verb conjugations. This activity begins with the assumption that there is more than one method. Students then embark on a journey of discovery to determine what those methods are. Part of the assignment might include testing a variety of different methods to determine which they feel works best. Then, they must use analytical thinking and research skills to determine which method is most effective. This not only helps them learn their verbs while focussing on the effectiveness of their method, it also increases their awareness of themselves as learners.

Evangelists of 21st century learning will tell you that traditional ways of teaching are bad and that your methods are arcane and do nothing to help students learn.

There may be some truth in that, but if you have been raised and trained to think and teach a certain way, becoming a 21st century teacher is not something that happens overnight. If you are interested in learning what will keep your students engaged, incorporating small, incremental changes to your teaching practice might be the most effective way to go. You don’t have to throw away everything that has worked for you over the past ten, fifteen or more years. Take stock of what you do very well and take pride in it. Incorporate new strategies slowly, in a way that makes sense for you. Observe how your students react and most importantly, if they are learning and absorbing new material in an effective manner.

Personally, I believe that most teaching methods have some merit. Certain methods work better with certain students. There is no absolute right way. Having said that, the teaching profession has changed… and continues to change. Our students and our world have changed. If we are to be not just teachers, but also role models, it is up to us to challenge ourselves to try new ways of doing things, too.

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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.


12 Great Resources on Strength-Based Leadership

July 10, 2011

Last Thursday I did a leadership workshop with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Students Association (SAITA) in Calgary. We did an entire afternoon around strength-based leadership. I led the group through a personal and large-group strengths inventory. Then, we did another activity to see how people can leverage the strengths of the associations and groups they belong to. We wrapped up by helping the newly elected student leaders revisit their goals to see how they could achieve them more effectively using an asset-based approach.

A few of the participants asked for the titles of some reading materials on this topic. This post is dedicated to the wonderful leaders at SAITSA. Here are a dozen of my favorite books on asset-based or strength-based leadership. The authors may call it by different terms, but the underlying ideas are shared among these works:

Appreciative Inquiry Commons. (n.d.).   Retrieved May 1, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/

Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2003). Appreciative inquiry handbook. Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore Publishers.

Cooperrider, D. L. (2007). Business as an agent of world benefit: Awe is what moves us forward.   Retrieved February 21, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/practice/executiveDetail.cfm?coid=10419

Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2008). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry.   Retrieved March 27, 2008, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/uploads/whatisai.pdf

Cramer, K. D., & Wasiak, H. (2006). Change the way you see everything through asset-based thinking. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Eliot, C. (1999). Locating the Energy for Change: An Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry. Winnipeg: International Institute for Sustainable Development / Insitut International du Developpment Durable.

Faure, M. (2006). Problem solving was never this easy: Transformational change through appreciative inquiry. Performance Improvement, 45(9), 22-31.

Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. Skokie, IL: ACTA Publications.

Kretzmann, J. P., McKnight, J. L., Dobrowolski, S., & Puntenney, D. (2005). Discovering Community Power: A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and Your Organization’s Capacity. Asset-Based Community Development Institute, School of Education and Social Policy,
Northwestern University. http://www.abcdinstitute.org/docs/kelloggabcd.pdf

Murrell, K., L. (1999). International and intellectual roots of appreciative inquiry. Organization Development Journal, 17(3), 49-61.

Northwestern University. (n.d.). The Asset-Based Community Development Institute: School of Education and Social Policy.   Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://www.abcdinstitute.org

Tzu, Sun. The Art of War (L. Giles, Trans.). London: Arcturus Publishing Ltd. (The original was believed to have been written between 505 B.C. and 473 B.C., though exact date unknown).

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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.


Best of Social Media Resources & Guidelines for Education, Literacy and Other Non-Profits

May 18, 2011

Over 20 Resources to Help You Develop Your Own Social Media Protocol or Policy

If you’re with an educational or non-profit organization that is new to using social media, you may find it helpful to establish your own Guidelines, Protocol or Acceptable Use Policy. Here’s my “best of” list of resources and guidelines to help you get started.

ABC LifeLiteracy Canada’s Social Media Guidelines (.pdf)

Social Media Governance Site – Over 170 sample social media policies and guidelines from non-profits and governments all over the world

Red Cross Social Media HandbookLinkedIn logo

NSW Social Media Guidelines for Teachers on Scribd

Creating a Social Media Policy for Your NonProfit

57 Social Media Policy Examples

Sample Nonprofit Policy on Social Networking by Blue Avocado

Social Media Best Practices and Guidelines by Tuft Unviersity

5 Simple Ways Non-Profits Can Measure Social Media ROI (Return on Investment)

What Non-Profits Need to Know about Social Media

How Non-Profits Can Maximize Engagement on Facebook

10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy by Mashable

How to Write Your Firm’s Social Media Policy

Penn State’s College of Education’s Social Media Policy

Improving Your Social Media Policy

Ontario College of Teachers’ Professional Advisory on Social Media

Social Media in Plain English – A brilliant short video (3:33) to help you understand social media

Facebook for Educators by Linda Fogg Phillips, Derek Baird, M.A., & BJ Fogg, Ph.D.

Lake County Schools – Guidelines for Employee Use of Social Media Networks (.pdf)

The Principal’s Partnership: Research Brief: Social Media – Developing an Acceptable Use Policy

Social Media Acceptable Use Policy for Schools

Is there a great site that’s missing from my list? If so, leave a comment and let me know. I’ll be happy to add other great resources to the list.

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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.


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