Category Archives: Education Strategies


With Hope in Her Heart and Grounded in Faith- Margaret Boersma’s P3

With Hope in Her Heart and Grounded in Faith- Margaret Boersma’s P3

By: Noa Daniel

Original Radio Broadcast here.

Margaret Boersma and I were at TEDxKitchenerEd in front of the iconic sign when we asked each other to take the picture. Our grateful salutations turned to warm hellos when we realized that we had already met as panelists on ONedMentors. Margaret is a creative educational consultant, coach, teaching artist, curriculum writer, thought leader and speaker. With over 30 years experience teaching Kindergarten to Grade 8, Margaret has honed her craft. She engages learners in a process of learning that incorporates powerful personal expression, enhancing teacher-student communication synergy. Her work sets out to reach and teach the whole child through arts-based workshops and professional development.

On a recent ONedMentors, our topic was Mental Health and Wellness. Margaret spoke about a new program of hers that, like all of her work, embeds social and emotional skills.  She mentioned SmArts for Well-Being, so I asked her a bit about it (a little abruptly for the first question out of the gate- my apologies, Margaret).  She explained her interest and concern for both teacher and student well-being. In combining an understanding of how children learning best and the most recent brain research, she has developed a workshop

focusing on trust and perspective. This is the first in a series on Well-Being. She explained that, “Teacher wellness is the key to student success…We need to teach the educators first, and then the educators will teach the tools to the students.” Margaret explained some of the reasons for and results of her program. She sees the ripple effect going home to parents and echoing through the school climate. She added that, “A school-wide sense of connectedness provides a culture ripe for learning.” The chart below explains more:


Margaret pulled out her wedding box in preparation for her appearance on the Personal Playlist Podcast. It was there that she located the lyrics of her nostalgic song. She hadn’t looked in this box of keepsakes for 25 years. In it, she found the words for an old tune called The Ash Grove, but different people have added their own lyrics over the years. She first heard the tune at her sister’s wedding, so she incorporated into her wedding, as well. While it is a religious hymn, she sees it as a song reflective of universal truths. She connects this to the social emotional realities that so many people have in common, noting a shared experience of cause and effect. Straight from a church handbook, a hymn composed by Katherine Davis, sung in the video by Lebanon County Youth Chorus, here is Let All Things Now Living:

Margaret’s identity song is one I had heard before. She reflected, “ I chose this for my identity song because it wraps up what I think I’m about.  In the lyrics, in what I try to do in schools and what I have a passion to do…its my life-passion to give…what I know to be successful…not just teaching strategies but ways of life…to be able to enter into deep conversations with students and teachers alike…to bring out those aha moments. I just love the lyrics that came out of this. ” It’s a heartwarming reflection of what she most often does in schools. Not long ago, she was working with teachers and students at Hartman P.S to build the social and emotional skills of the students.  She was working with the Grade 2’s and 3’s and several of their teachers, Stewart Wallace, their music teacher, composed the music out of the student-generated learning from Margaret’s work with them. You can read more about the process here. The song resonated enough to be shared in multiple ways, including at this year’s YRDSB Quest Conference for Well Being. Here is Be Kind taken from the video at that event:

Margaret feels she has found solutions to essential problems for students and teachers. All she wants to do is give all of what she knows.  In terms of music. she loves the songs that can go faster and faster, like her description of Klezmer Jewish music that is often expressed through a circle dance called The Hora. She quotes the biblical lyrics but adds her love of the dancing element as key. “I am a dancer at heart. I have taken years of dancing lessons. Even if I’m not moving, my heart is dancing.” She has studied with the great Marcel Marceau and shared how much she loves to communicate through movement. “I actually danced a solo at my own wedding,” shared our guest, “inviting God to come into the ceremony.” She connected her pick-me up song choice to children to whom she refers as innate movers. “Most of us don’t know how to teach them in one of their primal expression forms.” Margaret can help us learn to teach through movement and provides several examples of how kinaesthetic approaches can be integrated into teaching curriculum at different grade levels. Her final song choice is a whole body experience for her and lifts her up. Here is You Are My God; Sing Unto the Lord, Trees of the Field by Jeff Hamlin

In many ways, all of Margaret’s work is grounded in faith. Beyond the religious aspects of her calling, her belief in respect, community and the possibility created through social emotional learning has supported and motivated her throughout her years of formal teaching and in the development of her practice. This shined through in all aspects of her P3. When asked what was missing from her playlist, she mentioned a song from the musical Carousel. This song, reminds her of her time in Holland where she was exploring her roots. It helped her feel less alone as she would sing, “When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don’t be afraid of the dark.” She had performed in that musical and many others, as well. Margaret’s conviction and devotion to her craft has led her to contribute her work across North America and Hong Kong. You can find her through her website and on Twitter. Here are the lyrics from Carousel that light her up:


Kindness is the Cure

Kindness is the Cure

For published article, click here. See page 12-13.

A grade 3 student says, “You mean we can be friends again after we make a mistake?” Students learn the “Make it Right Formula” and ah ha moments are visible in their eyes.

The thrill of those ah ha moments gives me great joy!  And it doesn’t matter if that is with children or adults, the thrill is the same.

Principals often want me to address the theme of bullying when I come into a school. I have come to realize that every school struggles with students who need lessons in how to deal with their feelings.  In fact, social/emotional learning is a popular term in education now.  And applying social and emotional intelligence has become more important than academic and technical competence to be “job ready.”  According to the Carnegie Institute of Technology, 85% of your success is due to your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead.  Shockingly, only 15% is due to technical skills.”

A Project with a Social/Emotional Learning Focus

Recently, I worked with a school creating an experiential, cross-curricular unit addressing negative student behavior.  The purpose was to make students aware of the impact of their inappropriate behavior.  But I like to be pro-active.  Rather than accepting mediocrity and teaching what was appropriate and inappropriate behavior, the team of teachers and I decided to reach for a more positive goal and outcome.  We created a unit called, “Be Kind.”

The consulting project, included 4 parts, providing a scaffolded approach.  There were 2 classes and 4 teachers participating.

  1. First the teachers participated in a professional development session learning powerful strategies, part of a new methodology, while “living inside a story.” We used a story as an analogy making it safe to explore inside of the story, trying out different responses and learning from the reactions of other characters.
  2. Then demonstration lessons were taught to students while teachers observed and participated. Both teachers and students were engrossed in the process.
  3. Later, teachers worked with students while being mentored.
  4. The cross-curricular unit concluded with a school assembly where the students in the unit shared the learning which they had experienced: dance and drama activities, oral language and singing. Teachers also learned the value and simplicity of sharing the learning process with the rest of the school.

Examples of Activities

Using a powerful story, which acts like an analogy to life, students discover their learning through role play.  This story and some process drama activities are available as a download on my website.

A powerful activity which is prepared before the unit starts and used later in role, is “Showing Appreciation.”  Students write a genuine compliment to a few other students in the class.  They are only a couple of sentences but stem from observation and experience. E.g. “Patrick, I love the way you dive into new topics.  You are not afraid to try new things.  You help people in the class when they look like they need it and you are a great team worker.”  The teacher must make sure that everyone in the class is being written about.  Later in the drama, each student is given one compliment, that they wrote, to read at a ceremony.

  1. Ceremony/Ritual: Students organize a symbolic ritual to remind the community of their values e.g. dances/gestures/giving and receiving compliments (warm fuzzies.)  Students write, draw, create meaningful compliments (warm fuzzies) for each other and present them at the ceremony.  The ceremony can include a chant written by the villagers to remind them of their history with warm fuzzies and the importance to their health.

Relationships Breed Well-Being

Students participate in empowering strategies and learning games that allow them to experience different perspectives, learn to rebuild trust and to repair relationships.  They learn to take responsibility for their actions, inactions and words.  We debrief each experience relating to other texts and real life.  Students learn to speak of real life experiences without pointing fingers at specific individuals.  This allows students an opportunity to learn from community. Students who have played the role of victims, bullies and by-standers benefit from this type of community learning.

We explore the power of the by-stander and call them “up-standers” (a person who stands up for another.)  We explore attitudes and actions of upstanders and students realize how powerful they can be and the difference they can make.

Speaking, Writing, Drawing, Reading, Math, Drama, Dance and Music are included in the unit.  The learning is deep as students’ emotions are engaged.

The homeroom teachers are part of the project as are the Drama/Dance teacher and the Music teacher.  All of us are learners on a journey.  We are teachers for each other and we recognize the students as teachers too.  We are community.  The culture is enriched.  Trust is built.  We experience healthy relationships and that breeds a sense of well-being.

The Impact of the Work Continues…Be Kind

During the unit, Mr. Wallace, the Music teacher, spun his magic.  He created a song with the students.  It was a very catchy song where students sang and played their recorders. The song was part of the sharing assembly.  And months later, it was shared at an international conference, Quest 2017.  Have a look and listen here.

The impact of the work we did together in that school continues in another way as well.  While students entered the gym for an assembly months later, they were asked, “What do I do to be kind?”  Their responses were written on a piece of wide, coloured duct tape which they stuck on a large outline on the gym wall.  It is a permanent reminder of the school pulling together to remember the lessons to be bold “upstanders,” to “make it right” and to “be kind.”




Blog by Margaret Boersma



Modern Learning is… Bringing Learning to Life!

“Effective education is always a balance between rigor and freedom, tradition and innovation, the individual and the group, theory and practice, the inner world and the outer world.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Student1Modern Learning is mostly experiential learning or “bringing learning to life.”  As educators, we are preparing our students for the 21st century they find themselves in now and in the future. It is essential that students have the opportunity to problem solve collaboratively, to find their voice and express themselves confidently and persuasively. They must be proficient at reading, researching information and be able to use technology affectively and creatively. As well, students must be trained to respond appropriately in a given situation.

The 6C’s of education (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, culture, creativity, connection) are embedded naturally in holistic education where a single inquiry can lead to cross-curricular academic work in multiple subjects while embracing character education and social justice issues at the same time. Continue reading


Communication – The Key to Making A Difference


Communication– the Key to Making a Difference

What would the world be like if we all know we have everything we need to make a real difference in the world? Would there be wars? Would there be hunger in the world? Would we feel loved and like big people with a mission to take care of each other and the resources we were given? What can we do to get out of our own way, build others up for who they really are and get passionate about making a difference out there? The world needs us…you and me!

“If it wasn’t for the conversation with you, the follow-up conversation with Tom (pseudo name) would not have been successful, Sally says. Thank you for seeing me as my possibility and for taking a stand for me.”

Sally and I are colleagues in a course.  The conversation she is referring to is difficult for me as well as for her.  I confront her on her ineffectiveness with taking steps to complete her project. I am coached to do that in a way I am not used to talking to adults, with rigour while standing for her possibility with love. We both experienced a breakthrough!

In the Team Management and Leadership Program Sally and I are taking, we learn to discover our “blindspots”…areas that are “missing” in having our communication be more effective. Sally is in her own way and doesn’t realize it.

The training for me, on this call, is to be rigorous with my colleague so that she gets the communication…previous attempts have not worked. I feel nervous about the conversation but after some coaching am able to be rigorous while loving and seeing her as her possibility and not the point of view she holds for herself, namely “I am a failure.”  If I allow her to stay in that point of view, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy and the pattern she is used to would just continue.  In order for her to have a breakthrough I have to be rigorous.

At the end of the call, Sally is pretty quiet and I find out later that she thinks about it for a few hours before reaching out to another colleague,Tom, who is able to have a follow-up conversation with her. Then, she gets to work, completing a huge chunk on her project.  I see her as a huge leader that is up to making a big difference in the world.  We both have breakthroughs in that conversation!

Communication is the backbone of all relationships. It is the responsibility of the listener and the speaker. Communication is not possible without both people taking responsibility. In the share above, Sally takes responsibility by listening and taking time to think about what I am communicating and I take a stand seeing her as a powerful business woman up to big things.

We all have a point of view about ourselves and the world. It is formed when we are very young when something (often dramatic) happens where we feel we have no control. In that moment we make a decision about ourselves and about the world. And it is not an empowering one. Examples include, “I am unworthy and the world looks down on me.” Or “I don’t have a voice and the world doesn’t care.” Or I am not loveable and the world ignores me.” Then we go forward living our lives as if that was true and we find all kinds of evidence to support that…I think of it like buying a new red car and then finding more red cars on the road then ever.

The result is that most of us go into “survival” or “fix it” mode. When we do that we defend, manipulate, withhold communication, protect, etc. That is not real communication!

Consider that we live our lives based on the decision of a young child. Consider that we have everything we need to make a powerful difference in the world and to experience ease and freedom in the process. Consider that we are perfect, whole and complete the way we are and that God/the universe…doesn’t make mistakes. Consider that if we could get out of our own way, we would be able to make a real difference in the world.

Then I ask myself, what can I do for teachers and students to support them with communication…starting with how they see themselves. I am creating units to support that work. “I am Special – self-esteem” is an example (see description under “Workshops” on this website. Children get it…faster then many adults, actually. Let’s train this generation in the communication skills they need for each student to make a valuable contribution to the world.

Thank you to Landmark Worldwide for the Communication courses steeped in wisdom and practice.


What are my Strengths?


“Ms Boersma, come watch our dance! It is really coming together!” Boys in a grade 8 class work in a group of 6 creating a dance on power and oppression, part of a social justice theme throughout the grade 8 curriculum. Their athletic abilities are thoughtfully integrated into the dance after much group discussion on the topic and some specific lessons in expressing ideas and feelings through creative movement. These boys are often the students sent to the office for being disruptive. But, actually, they have much to offer…when learning in their area of strength.

Some of us take years to realize we are gifted in some way. I didn’t discover my ability to act or dance until I was an adult. I knew I had an interest in teaching because I always tried to teach my younger sister “important life lessons” as she grew up. But it was only during my March Break in my last year of high school that I took a weeklong course in leadership and was affirmed in my abilities to teach and lead. Why didn’t I know these things going to school all those years?

Sir Ken Robinson, in his new book, “Creative Schools,” addresses this very point. He says, “…many highly talented, brilliant people think they’re not because the thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized. The consequences are disastrous for individuals and for the health of our communities.” Most schools cater to the linguistic and logical-mathematics intelligence types and this is mostly what is tested in standardized tests. No wonder not all students know their strengths!

“Creative Schools” is a powerful book published this year. This is Sir Ken Robinson’s response to many requests people have made to expand his thinking behind his famous TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Off Creativity” (2006). His book sights many examples of schools and school systems around the world progressing toward a more holistic approach to education while addressing the type of learning needed to take us into the future. “Creative Schools” is a ‘must read’ for all educators, politicians, policy makers and community leaders.

I see myself throughout this book, as a student, an educator and now as a consultant with a big desire to move the education system forward. Sir Ken Robinson advocates for a holistic approach to education, one that “nurtures the diverse talents of all our children.”

This is particularly true for the kinesthetic learner. Sports address this learning style and in many schools Physical Education class is only once or twice a week, or after school and then they are often paid activities. Drama and Dance are highly kinesthetic and interpersonal as well as linguistic, intrapersonal, mathematical, musical, spatial and can be naturalistic. It is my opinion that Drama and Dance should be given top priority in teacher training and professional development.


However, sadly, Drama and Dance are often the subjects on the bottom of the totem pole when being addressed in the school curriculum.  Not only do they address all the intelligences but they are tools or strategies that can be used to teach almost anything!  Most educators are not familiar with these art forms and therefore do not access these powerful teaching methods to teach the rest of the curriculum.

Inquiry-based learning, experiential learning, learning through play and discovery…these are the ways to reach students. Yes, and the arts, in particular Drama, has a plethora of strategies to engage learners in all areas of the curriculum. Now is the time to reach students, inspire them in their learning and encourage them to be self-expressed. They have a lot to offer the world. They are our future. Let’s go!

“And there are those who move: the change agents who can see the shape of a different future and are determined to bring it about through their own actions and by working with others. They know that they don’t always need permission. As Gandhi said, if you want to change the world, you must be the change you want to see….” Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D and Lou Aronica in “Creative Schools.”



Recognizing Biases through Social Justice Education

Image for Social Justice Tab

The university students in my workshop, “Poverty at Home,” think about the following statement, “Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit.” by Eli Khamarovthen. Students stand on a line according to their opinion…strongly agree at one end of the line and strongly disagree at the other end. “I hate to say it but I think poor people take advantage of the system and are basically lazy,” said one student as he stood on a Value Line.

At the end of the workshop, we create the Value Line again to see if perspectives change. After the drama, this student’s perspective had changed significantly toward “agree.” I find it so rewarding to use drama tools and strategies to teach on a social justice issue and have students really experience the learning first hand.

I am touched by a response I received recently from the teacher of that Additional Qualification (AQ) class as she reflected in the following testimonial: Margaret’s work had a real impact on my students. They were fully engaged both in their heads and with their hearts. Margaret’s work as teacher-in-role provided the students with a powerful example of how to use this strategy effectively with students.   All in all her work was sensitive, thoughtful and creative and I would invite her back in a heartbeat.  Jane Deluzio, Arts Educator

Social Justice is a theme for all ages. I can see why it is so current in education today. In the spring, I taught a Social Justice unit for grades 4 and a 5/6 class. Teachers chose this theme and had a deep desire to support their students to internalize their learning with the goal of making a difference in the class climate. In our planning meeting, we decided our inquiry question for the unit would be, “How can people of differing opinions and points of view work together to accomplish something outside of themselves that serves a greater need or purpose?” Students were put in a fictitious world where they were free to explore the consequences of their actions in role. Later, we would debrief out of role and teachers were shocked at the accomplishments of their students reflected in higher level, critical learning, reflected by rich discussion!

Now, I am looking forward to doing some work through virtual conferencing. Through this project, I will be the teacher in a school anywhere in the world! I will work with my colleagues in the classroom to organize things and then be the teacher…on the screen. This has been very successful using a whiteboard where students can see the virtual teacher from any point in the room. I am not sure if it has been done for a creative movement class but I am looking forward to it.

I am also setting up an on-line discussion platform, which I can tell you more about, in my next blog.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you via email ( or facebook (MB Creative Educational Consulting). I would love to write about specific ways I can support you.





Teach and Learn…Make a Difference

Sisters on the Beach Image“If you suddenly fall into a drift of snow that is up to your neck, how would you get out?”  Growing up in Nova Scotia, we sometimes got a fair amount of snow.  Sonya, my younger sister and I, were walking off the road and suddenly found ourselves stepping off solid ground, off a steep ledge and into a huge snowdrift.  I was able to show her how to save herself by rocking first and then getting horizontal and rolling toward safety.

I am a teacher.  My first student was probably my sister Sonya.  Teaching her how to use a toboggan, get out of a high snowdrift safely and leading creative birthday parties for her are some fun memories I have growing up.

When I was a child, the education system did not serve my needs.  That is to say, lecturing, reading and writing extensively are not my natural ways of learning.  I loved to be engaged in active play, do gymnastics and other creatively kinesthetic acrobatics in the yard.  I also desired to play games, especially large outside games like Hide and Seek, Kick the Can and Double Dutch Skipping.

In high school I passed an elementary school everyday on my walk to school.  One day I heard students sing through an open classroom door.  I thought to myself, I am going to be a teacher and sing, do plays, dance and play learning games on the floor with my students.  School in my class is going to be fun!  And everyone will be able to learn in his or her own ways.

You, my friends and colleagues are not nameless, faceless people to me.  You are real individuals, like me, with a deep desire to make a difference with those young people in your care.  We are thousands of loving and caring adults with a unique charge to shape the next generation.  Let’s work together, keep learning and make a difference everyday to each student in our care and each colleague we meet.

I teach a unit on “Warm Fuzzies” where we learn that a smile, a compliment, a “Can I help you” can make someone’s day.  I have my students share the reaction of the people they gifted with warm fuzzies as sharing makes it real to them.  It is amazing how simple acts can change an entire culture in a school.  Go ahead…change the school climate…one small step at a time.  Teach and learn and make a difference!



Where is my doll?

iStock_000061736934_SmallIts August 1st, I am in Montreal and attending a workshop. We are in groups of 5 and it is time to open up and share stories of our childhood. I pause, I look to the corner of my mind and in an instant, Teresa my doll pops vividly into my head.  “I poured all my love into that doll.  She was my little precious Teresa and I loved her and she was taken from me. In an instant, my little friend was lost. ” My group of 5 develops a short play about my story.  It pulls at my heartstrings as I was 5 years old when my favourite doll was so worn and ripped and then one day I couldn’t find her.

The workshop weekend I am attending is about story development.  One person plays the mother.   I teach her how to say good night in Dutch, “Welt rustin, Margaret,” she says each night.  After the door closes, I sing a Dutch lullaby as I cuddle my doll every night to fall asleep.  As the play continues, time passes and I get a bit older…the doll is so loved, she is falling apart.   One morning, after looking everywhere for Teresa, I cuddle the blanket and sing one soft line of the lullaby while curled in a ball.  The play ends.

This is part of a large conference, Association for Theater in Higher Education (ATHE), where I love to become a student again.  Theatre professors from universities mostly across the U.S. and Canada share their expertise with each other.  To me, this is my playground.  I get to explore…to be self-expressed using my words and my body to communicate my feelings and ideas.

I also taught a workshop with a U.S. colleague sharing my skills.  “Character:  Accessing Authentic Memory Experience through Process Drama” is a workshop we created for acting teachers and directors to enable their actors to develop memory experiences to draw from as they develop their characters.  The process drama (or educational drama) strategies are very helpful for an actor in this process.

I am looking forward to going to another conference in a few days, American Association of Theater Education (AATE).   I will hear keynote speakers about brain based learning and go to workshops to “play” again and learn about my craft.  This time I will be surrounded by teachers, theatre directors, playwrights and others interested in theatre education.  I will learn about devising or collective creations, as it is sometimes called.  I love it because it uses the whole mind and body.  Improvisation is a large part of the creation process and although it holds an element of risk, it is very freeing in an emotionally supportive environment.

I use it all at school.  As an educational consultant, I love supporting teachers to bring the curriculum to life.  I love watching those students (and then their teachers) get excited about their learning! Their eyes light up and they learn deeply about the theme (other subjects).  Their writing is expressive and passionate after experiencing their learning from inside the story…weather it is a passage in Language Arts, a History lesson, Math or Science.  This is truly differentiated instruction and assessment as students have the opportunity to express their learning in multiple ways.  It is playful, fun and uses multiple ways of learning, which totally lines up with current brain research for excellent pedagogy.