First stage on the way to Kilimanjaro

We are in Amsterdam! The first stage on our way to Kilimanjaro.

For the first time, our group is all together – 29 people collected in the waiting lounge waiting for the eight-hour flight that will bring us to Kilimanjaro.  Everyone is tired after the first flight, but excited to be one step closer to our objective.

It is great to meet people who we have only seen on the group website!  These are our climbing partners and the people we will all depend on for the next seven days.

We should all be exhausted – its 3:30 AM Ottawa time, but we are about to start something very special.

Also, the coffee in Holland is really good.

Next stop – Moshi and Kilimanjaro!

Our schedule in Tanzania to the top of Kilimanjaro

We are getting ready to leave.

First, the best link to follow us up the mountain, thanks to Liam McGuire is

Here is our itinerary while in Tanzania:

Day 1 | Mar. 31, 2017 TEAM ARRIVAL DAY Pickup at the airport and drive to hotel. Overnight at Springlands Hotel.

Day 2 | Apr. 1, 2017 (B)Rest/prep day, optional city tour included. Overnight at Springlands Hotel.

Day 3 | Apr. 2, 2017 (B,L,D)Start at the Machame Gate (1,490 m/4,890 ft) where the group will register and begin climbing to Machame Camp (2,980 m/9,780 ft). Hiking time: 7 hours Distance: About 18 km Rainforest Zone


Day 4 | Apr. 3, 2017 (B,L,D)Machame Camp (2,980 m/9,780 ft) to Shira Camp (3,840 m/12,600 ft). Hiking time: 6 hours Distance: About 9 km Lower Alpine Moorland Zone

Day 5 | Apr. 4, 2017 (B,L,D)Shira Camp (3,840 m/12,600 ft). Full day acclimatization. Habitat: Moorland

Day 6 | Apr. 5, 2017 (B,L,D)Shira Camp (3,840 m/12,600 ft) to Lava Tower (4,630 m/15,190 ft) to Barranco Camp (3,950 m/12,960 ft) 15 km, 7 hours. Habitat: Semi-Desert

Day 7 | Apr. 6, 2017 (B,L,D)Barranco Camp (3,950 m/12,960 ft) to Karanga Valley Camp for acclimatization.

Day 8 | Apr. 7, 2017 (B,L,D)Karanga valley camp to Barafu Camp (4,550 m/14,930 ft).Hiking time: 7 hours Distance: About 13 km Habitat: Alpine desert

Day 9 | Apr. 8, 2017 (B,L,D)SUMMIT DAY! Barafu Camp (4,550 m/14,930 ft) to Uhuru Peak (5,895 m/19,340 ft) to Mweka (3,100 m/10,170 ft). Hiking time: 8 hours to reach Uhuru Peak, 7/8 hours to descend to Mweka Distance: About 7 km’s ascent, 23 km’s descent Habitat: Stone scree and ice-capped summit

Day 10 | Apr. 9, 2017 (B,L)Final descent, Mweka camp (3,100 m/10,170 ft), Mweka Gate (1,980 m/6,500 ft). Hiking/Descend time: 3 hours Distance: Approx. 15 km Transfer to Springlands Hotel in Moshi town for a much deserved celebration. Overnight Springlands Hotel.

From here, some of the group will return home and some will stay a few more days to take part in a safari.

I can’t guarantee beautiful photos like the one in this blog, but I will do my best to take shots and blog whenever possible and feasible.

Now it’s time to put on the packs and get going!

Many hands on the way to Kilimanjaro

Tomorrow we leave for Kilimanjaro. There are 30 climbers in the group and up to 70 others who will be guiding us up the mountain starting on Sunday.

Start at the Machame Gate (1,490 m/4,890 ft) where the group will register and begin climbing to Machame Camp (2,980 m/9,780 ft). Hiking time: 7 hours Distance: About 18 km Rainforest Zone

As I climb up Kilimanjaro, I will be thinking of the team we have all left behind, all those who raised money for us, supported us, cheered us on and said ‘yes’ to the entire experience.

In particular, I will be thinking and giving thanks to my wonderful wife, Heather. Without her love and support this venture would never have happened. Apart from running a really successful fundraiser, she has been with me every step of the way, right from the moment we decided that to do this properly, I had to retire at Christmas so I could focus on training for the climb. She has been my wonderful emotional support every day since this venture started. Retirement was a really good idea!

I will be thinking of my family and all the work and support they have given me throughout the fall and winter, right up to today when my son Liam spent an hour working with me to set up the right ESRI Story Maps to allow for live tracking during our climb.

Liam’s new map that will show Tweets from the mountain along with waypoints recorded by my InReach GPS. Liam’s map is best found at this link:

Then there are so many people who have sent notes of encouragement and who have helped sustain an incredible fundraising campaign that is almost at $10,000 at this point – twice the amount I was expecting to make. What an incredible community of support.

The best thing I can do now is climb well. For Heather, my family and all of you who have helped so much. I am humbled and blessed to have such a beautiful community of support.

Starting on the way to Kilimanjaro

In three days we leave for Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Our journey has been a long one. Not just the training, a major component of this venture has been the fundraising. Today, we have raised over $214,618.00 this year and are over the $1 million dollar mark since 2011.

one of our many group shots during the training hikes on Wolf Trail

We have had a wonderful experience so far. I have tried to record as much as possible through blogging, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.  Here is the latest video outlining the training we have done over the past six months.

Our team leaders have been wonderful – Shawn Dawson, Kristi Johnston and Jason Colley have been with all of us all the way.  I write this so that all readers will know who are responsible for all our training and fundraising.

These wonderful people have been supported by Darren Prashad, our travel coordinator and Don Penney, our webmaster.  We will soon be joined by a whole host of other team supporters.  Shawn has told us that our team heading up the mountain will total more than 100 people.  I hope to introduce you to some of them before we climb.

Our climbing team includes: Byron Johnson, Harry Binks, Crystal Borutskie, Natalie Shea, MaryAnne Ivison, Gillian Barth, Allison Burton, Augustina Dean, Bob Connolly, Virginia Gluska, Jeremy Post, Emily Fisk, Jamie Straw, Karlie Reinberger, Juli Baird, Vicky Castledine, Amanda McCambley, Kevin Brockville, Patrick Fitzgerald, Leta Woodford- Pearson, Troy Pearson, Malcolm Preston, Mark Straw, Megan Benoit, Heather Benoit, Greta Dounev and Roberta Brown

30 people, all climbing together.

The challenge now will be to find good ways for you the reader to follow us in Africa.

Our Canadian-Kilimanjaro Journey.clipular
layers can be added to this ESRI map so students should be able to track us up the mountain

This is the map we hope to use to track our progress up the mountain.

To find us on the mountain, you can go to this address:

you will get an image like this: 

The obvious difference will be that the map that will show up will be from Tanzania.

Finally, to follow us up the mountain and to access the 3D map about, you will have to go to our ESRI Story Map

This is only a screen shot of the last page on the ESRI Story Map, but does not support embedding, so you will just have to go to the site yourself here:

Lots more to write about as we get ready, but I need to pack!


My Mental Health Journey


This week, my daughter asked if she could use me for an assignment on mental health.  She is in the middle of a Master’s degree in Science, so I thought this might be a good time to write about something I have never disclosed publically.  I do this not to draw more attention to myself – I have no interest in that.  I have decided to put this out with the hope that it might help someone and that I can contribute to the conversation on mental health that is currently going on here in Canada.  The assignment questions and answers are all part of this post.

Hope it helps.

Can you talk briefly about your diagnosis?

Yes, the diagnosis was reached 8 years ago and it was characterized as ‘pure obsessive-compulsive disorder’ – a clinical anxiety disorder.  Pure, in the sense that this form of OCD did not come with any form of compulsive actions like washing hands, checking to make sure doors are locked, excessive cleanliness etc.  Pure OCD is characterized more by obsessive or intrusive thoughts.

Growing up, what did you know about mental illness? How was mental illness seen by the society at large? How was it seen by those close to you?

Growing up I knew nothing about the condition.  I am pretty sure my mother suffered from some form of the disorder, but she never received treatment.  In fact, until 8 years ago, I knew little about the condition.  I went through 20 years where the condition was undiagnosed.  It tended to flare up during the summer and at Christmas when I wasn’t as busy at work.  It first presented itself around the time I started working full-time at 27.  It was a preexisting condition which I think was aggravated by stress and I worked in a very stressful environment as a high school teacher.

How is mental illness seen by the public?

That is a huge question.  I think there is still a huge amount of stigma surrounding mental illness and that the whole topic is somewhat of a taboo where those that suffer are somehow seen as weak.  This has led me to keep my condition largely a secret, which really is not helpful for others that suffer from some form of mental illness.  I believe there is very little understanding of mental illness amongst the general public and educators are no better informed than the general public.

I am reminded of a time where I actually disclosed my condition to a supervisor explaining that undue stress could trigger a relapse of the condition.  The supervisor discounted the information entirely.  I still feel like I have a responsibility to address this situation with this individual at some point.  A lack of empathy when it comes to mental health issues is simply not acceptable, especially when a person is responsible for others in the workplace.

Other supervisors told me when I was in the midst of a particular mental health crisis that they didn’t want to know anything about it.  Unfortunately even loved ones encouraged me to ‘get over it’ or concluded that this condition would just ‘remain’ and I should get used to living a diminished existence.  I am happy to say, that at least with my family, there has been a great change in attitude as they have learned along with me.

Generally speaking, people don’t understand anxiety and other forms of mental illness and I do believe that people are threatened by these discussions.  I have a great amount of respect for Canadians like Clara Hughes who has been so open about talking about her mental health issues.

In class, we sometimes talk about mental illness as a form of disability. People are disabled by their environment because our world was structured for those without limitations. Have you ever seen yourself as having a disability?

Yes, I do have a disability.  Mental Health becomes an issue for people when it gets in the way of normal functioning.  This was the case for me for over 20 years.  For people with OCD, it has been typical that the condition goes undiagnosed for as long as 20 years.  Diagnosis and treatment make a huge difference and it is a tragedy that people have gone so long suffering, in fact, in silence.  My hope that writing about the condition will help more people to seek help earlier and that everyone begins to see that mental health is something that needs to be talked about and understood, especially by people who manage others in the workplace.

Can you talk about your experiences with health professionals? Could the health professionals you encountered done anything differently?

Things changed for me because of some wonderful practitioners at the Ottawa Hospital and a close friend who is a psychiatrist at the same hospital.  I received excellent treatment there, but I would never have received this help if it wasn’t for the intervention of my friend.  This is one of the terrible facts about mental health in Canada.  It is very difficult to access really good care.  I find that many people are unable to access the care that they desperately need.  Psychological assistance is very expensive and generally available only to those who have health coverage.  For people without connections, the waiting list to see a psychiatrist can be very long.  I am so fortunate to have had the resources to access the excellent care I have received.

It is also true that many practitioners do not understand anxiety very well.  My family doctor was not helpful and prescribed an anxiety medication that led to serious addiction issues.  One therapist I saw for a long period of time actually made things worse for me and gave me no warning about the very negative effects of the medications I was taking.  The road to recovery was littered with many false starts and lack of understanding even from members of the medical community.

Has your experience with mental illness impacted the things that you do every day? (More specifically, in the workplace, in recreation, with family members)?

Yes, it has changed entirely how I look at life.  It led me to learn much more about meditation and Buddhist philosophy – both which have altered the way I  look at myself and others.  I realize now that you can live with a mental health condition and that serious conditions can be treated very successfully.  You do need an effective team working with you and the team does need to understand who they are dealing with.

Dealing with mental illness means that you have to look at your whole life and how you approach things.  You need to learn to accept the help of others and in some cases, learn that taking medication plays an important role in keeping you healthy.  I see all this as a good thing.  I truly believe that we learn best when we are under pressure or even in crisis.  We tend to ‘lean in’ and learn when we are in crisis.  The alternative is seeking oblivion through drugs, alcohol and a whole variety of methods.  This is a real danger in our society and one of the reasons why we need to understand addiction better and help those more effectively who are suffering.  Again, as a society, we could do a much better job at this.

Do you believe that your experiences with mental illness has offered you a unique perspective?

Yes, totally.  I don’t really regret the 20 years that I suffered from undiagnosed anxiety.  I appreciate the help I have received and I have learned so much about myself.  In some ways, I feel that I have been reborn by this experience especially now that I truly understand my condition and have learned to live with it successfully.  I also believe that we are always learning about ourselves.  To stop learning is to stop living and I deeply appreciate what I have gleaned over the past 8 years.

For you, what was the most effective form of treatment?  

For me, it was a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy – talking therapy and in my case, medication.  Sometimes medication is essential so the mind can get a chance to calm down enough to be able to accept the cognitive element of treatment.  That is why it is important to have a team working for you – a psychologist to do the cognitive therapy working in tandem with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication and monitor its effects.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to write about all of this.  This is something I probably could not have done even a few years ago, but I realize now that it is important to speak out to help those who are suffering on their own.  I think it is also a measure of my own recovery that I am able to write about my mental health journey.  I would also like to thank my family,  friends and my wonderful medical team who has done so much for me over the past few years.

Obstacles to Innovation in Education – reflection on George Couros



This morning I read a great post by George Couros: Flipping the Script; 3 Obstacles to Innovation Viewed Differently.

It ended with this statement:

If we start looking at the challenges as a great way to get people to think differently about the “why, what, and how” of education, we are in a good spot. If we ignore these statements and running away from the challenges, we are actively doing what we don’t want to happen in our schools.

We need to start looking at the challenges as opportunities to create something new and vital in education.

I have always heard the traditional reasons for not making radical change – ‘we don’t have the time, we don’t have the money, we are not sure this will work.’

George does a great job at debunking these obstacles.  I would add one other great obstacle that is really stifling innovation – the impact our practices will have on test scores.

We are really afraid of making radical change because of these obstacles and I think test scores create the greatest barrier to change.  It works a little like this – ‘If we just keep doing what we are doing but we tweak just a few things, we will finally get the results we have to get.’

One big question – even if we get these ‘results’ how do we really know that we are providing an education for our students that will help them to be the innovative and independent thinkers that our society really needs right now.  I can’t help but think that we are really missing the big picture here.

Why not risk?  Why not innovate?

For example, what if we tried some of these ideas?

  • allow schools to develop local partnerships to fund initiatives in their schools
  • put professional development in the hands of individual schools, principals and teachers
  • do away with any meeting that does not allow for active participation and learning for those involved
  • invite the community into our schools and allow them to offer their expertise to our staff and students
  • finally get over the textbook and the ‘5 computers per class’ model.  Provide every student with a good computer and make sure it goes home every night.
  • ask people what they think and what they want – students, teachers, parents, school administrators – stop telling everyone what is ‘good’ for all of us

This is a provocative list and readers may immediately respond with the time, money, results, will it work paradigm.

We need the collective courage to start over and ask very challenging questions on what innovation should look like – the compliance model simply doesn’t work and begs to be thrown out.

Thanks to George Couros for asking these tough questions.

23 Days Until Kilimanjaro!

Every week, I have been putting out an e-mail note to the wonderful group that is supporting me.  Here is the text of my latest note.
There are now 23 days until our group leaves for Africa!
some of the group on one of our training treks in the Gatineau
We have all our gear and the training continues to go well.  This past Sunday I climbed ten sets (31 floors) in a new time – 1 hour and 51 minutes.  This may not seem all that interesting, but for us this is huge.  The only way to prepare for this climb is to get in the best physical shape possible.  There is no way to prepare for the lack of oxygen at the higher altitudes, you just have to work on what you can control.
heart and respiration rates on the stairs
We all continue to fundraise, which to me is the truly unique feature of this experience.  We are now over $165,000 for this year and over one million raised since 2011.
Many of you have contributed to this total and I thank-you for being active participants in this wonderful venture.
Together, we have raised $8695.00 for Rec Link and the Sens Foundation.  Well over the new goal set at $8000.00,  thanks to some really generous recent donations.
All this money goes to kids, so if you haven’t donated yet please consider making a contribution on my fundraising page.  You will automatically receive a tax receipt from Canada Helps for 2017.
Recently, I have been working on learning Adobe Premier Pro and have a new video out that shows some of the training we have done this year.  I will keep working on my film-making skills over the next few weeks.  You can see our latest video, Trekking to Kilimanjaro here.
This video will be added to our ESRI Story Map that also contains a 3D map of Mt. Kilimanjaro which we hope to use to show our progress up the mountain.
layers can be added to this ESRI map so students should be able to track us up the mountain

This is what tracking looks like – here, a variety of hikes in the Gatineau

For teachers who are part of this list, I hope you will have a chance to follow us through the Story Map starting March 30th.  I will be posting photos, video, text and our route to the Story Map whenever possible.
Thanks to my technical assistant, Liam McGuire for helping to make this possible and interesting for your students.
The link to follow me live using the InReach tool is
Currently, the page looks like this.
When a student clicks on one of the waypoints on the map, they will receive information on elevation, latitude, longitude and bearing.
I am really looking forward to sharing all this with you.  This is a venture we all will take part in.

Compliance vs.Engagement – A response to George Couros: Creativity, Daydreaming, and Cat Videos


The purpose of this post is to just make people think about the changing expectations that we have for ourselves in our changing world, and the often stagnant expectations that we have for our students.  If our focus is truly on quality learning, creativity, innovation, we have to understand that a culture of compliance does not foster this for adults, nor our students.

Creativity, Daydreaming, and Cat Videos – George Couros

So much is at stake these days in education.  We want to develop innovative thinkers and to do this we need to open our eyes and learn to innovate on a system-wide basis.  In my experience, this is very hard to achieve.

As an administrator, I found that many colleagues would be on their e-mail or social media while at meetings at the district office.

The reason for this was pretty simple. These meetings were all about compliance and rarely about engagement or empowerment.  There was little interest in engaging us as learners or even asking what we thought about the policies and practices we were being presented with.

The overall mood at these meetings was that compliance is king and we will innovate for you.  As a result, many educators turned off and buried themselves in their computers.

Many of these administrators then returned to their schools and did the same thing to their staffs.

This is the plan and we all have to follow the plan.

How can we expect our teachers or students to engage when the model we experience as administrators is one based on blind compliance? How do we learn to innovate when we are not encouraged to become engaged in true decision-making about how to become innovative as a district?

When your opinion is not valued and when you are expected to comply with someone else’s ideas there is a serious disconnect.

It is possible to innovate as a system and George Couros argues that this is essential for systems to succeed.  While I always see ‘islands of innovation’, I do not see districts adopting innovation as the standard and the challenge.

Can this change?  Of course it can, once we engage educators in the discussion.

Response to The Fear of Sharing

I just finished reading George Couros’ post The Fear of Sharing.  It is a great article.  I really wish I had a chance to work with George before I decided to leave the profession.  He is a real leader in education and is always empowering and positive – that is where the real growth and learning takes place.

I am borrowing a visual from another positive educator Amber Teamann.


What would it be like to work with positive educators like this?  I can only imagine.

Sharing makes us all better. Really liked Amber’s line: “If someone feels uncomfortable because you are doing good work, you are not the problem.”

I agree, but I can also remember being reprimanded for ‘sharing’ too much on my blog. Fortunately, this did not hold me back but pushed me to create more and be more critical of the people I worked for.

There is a certain amount of courage that comes with sharing – it is easy to be snubbed withing the small professional community you work in for really trying to connect with other educators. This does not bother me at all – I get so much more positive feedback from my PLN and the professional groups I work with outside the narrow group that used to employ me.

It is important to remember that sharing and creating and sometimes criticizing is what we should be doing.  You will rarely be rewarded or recognized by your own district – to criticize is often seen as being negative, not being a member of the ‘team’.  This doesn’t matter, if we are motivated by receiving the praise of others we will never get anything done.