Getting back into professional learning has been a blast – as teachers, it is easy to forget about how fun it is to be students. After years of planning lessons and professional learning sessions for colleagues, it always feels special to learn from a lesson someone else has created! So when my fellow PETL member and extraordinary NTIP coordinator, Allison Cunningham, invited me to attend the Unlearn conference – I eagerly accepted the invitation.
The excitement that comes with entering a day of learning (or unlearning, in this case) was high as I entered the conference. Unlearn is a well-known Canadian organization whose thought provoking posters and visuals can be found in hundreds of schools. Their goal is to inspire positive change through transformative, critical thinking pedagogy that facilitates rich discussions about social issues and inequities. In addition to posters and visuals, Unlearn also puts together professional learning experiences for educators focused on implementing inclusive, anti-oppressive, and anti-racist pedagogy.
Upon arriving at the conference, I was thrilled to see a large ETFO sign showing our union’s support for the event. The venue took place at the Mississauga Small Arms Centre, which has since been transformed into gorgeous, light filled art gallery and event space. The venue has a special energy that is unique to historic, industrial architecture and was a perfect space to host over 200 socially conscious educators from all around Ontario.
The day started with an unforgettable land acknowledgement from Clarance Cachagee, who captivated us all with a smudging ceremony that compelled us to think about the importance of having positive intentions and mindsets for the day. Unlearn’s founder Abhi Ahluwalia also spoke of the growth of the dynamic organization , activating our thinking about destreaming with a powerful new graphic released in the latest publication of posters. A powerful keynote about the experience of growing up Black in Canada from Dwayne Morgan followed: the audience, completely captivated by Morgan’s insights and stories, gave a standing ovation. While it would be hard to distil the keynote into a single takeaway, what stood out for me was how he emphasized how important it is to provide Black and racialized students with a learning environment that enables them to grow and flourish, like a plant in a well-tended garden. Toronto Star journalist Shree Paradkar led the afternoon session: she spoke about the importance of self-care and protection for social justice educators in a time of widespread volatility on social media.
All in all, I would highly recommend any educator to attend the Unlearn conference. The event is incredibly well organized, informative, and engaging. The food was also fabulous, and the swag bag included some great souvenirs from the event, including a cool mug and key chain.
Check out their amazing offering of posters for students in your school, and don’t hesitate to sign up for the conference in 2024!