Home for the Holidays?

Santa wearing face mask holding Christmas gift on xmas eve using laptop

Due to the Covid pandemic, my partner and I have been thinking about how we will handle Christmas. We usually have several Christmas dinners with “the relatives” and then a dinner in our home. We have spoken to various cousins and siblings and have decided as a collective that Christmas dinners will be cancelled. Due to this, I made a point of sending Holiday cards to many friends and family members to spread some needed Holiday cheer.

Before cancelling Christmas (like the Grinch), we considered our daily contacts.

Too many contacts to count

My partner works for the Red Cross and is in contact with several people a week. My adult children have their own bubbles with many contacts. My son, who is a Bell Canada technician, is in contact with many people every day as he enters their homes to install telephone and internet services. To get an accurate picture, we’d need an algorithm to calculate the true contact numbers.

In my family, I am the person who has the most social contacts. I currently teach in a school with 4 cases of Covid-19. My direct contacts are 5 students who’s families also have their own bubbles and multiple contacts. I am personally exposed to over 400 people a day, regardless of how “socially distanced” we are, be it 6 inches or 6 feet!  

I wonder about the efficacy of social distancing as the Los Angeles Times recently published, “Infected after 5 minutes, from 20 feet away: South Korea study shows coronavirus’ spread indoors”.

Social distancing at school

In considering the role of social distancing, I ponder my own workplace environment. In my school, students are crammed into their classrooms along with winter coats and boots (i.e. these must stay in classrooms.) Social distancing in schools is a great challenge as it is against children’s natures to be distant from each other. As I am on duty at recess, I often wonder how students can social distance while wrestling or playing tag. It’s hard to prevent this play as this is how children play.

Almost every person in my school is wearing a mask. Teachers are also wearing visors. I find wearing visors challenging as it’s hard to see through the visor with glasses. I also have discovered that I cannot “raise my voice” as the sound does not escape my visor and goes straight to my ears.

In considering my family’s social bubbles within bubbles within bubbles, a Covid case is destined to impact at least one person. And with this we decided to cancel all holiday events. Due to the complexity of these bubbles, what we really need is an algorithm to calculate the contact numbers for each person!

Missing family, friends, and food

I spoke to my partner about all the things we will miss. I will miss “Japanese Christmas” dinner with turkey gravy served on rice and the rainbow Jello dessert my partners’ cousins make. I will definitely miss sushi appetizers.

My partner is an excellent cook, and his turkey dinners are amazing. I also realize that there are no tiny turkeys that come in serving sizes for two. My children will miss the dinner with its multiple sides and enough gravy for all.

Delivered, Christmas Dinner in a Box

So we would still have a Christmas dinner, we decided that we would make Christmas dinner and deliver it to my children, my mother, and some cousins. I’ll also make my famous carrot cake, which freezes very well.

While we deliver the “Christmas Dinner in a Box”, we will exchange and unwrap gifts out of doors. It won’t be like a “regular” Christmas but we will have some time, socially distanced outside, to visit.

Happy social distanced holidays

I know that if we are all careful with our social contacts over the holiday break, we will not have any regrets as we did everything we could to limit the spread of Coivid-19.

I leave you with a Covid Christmas – Festive Medley for 2020 parody of Carol of the Bells, Jingle Bells, Frosty & more It will cheer you up, for sure!

All the best to you and your friends and families,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

PS: I wrote this blog as a person who is a Unitarian and celebrates secular Christmas. I considered leaving out the word “Christmas” to make this blog more inclusive to those who are not Christian. Instead, I wish all readers a peaceful and healthy winter holiday season.

More articles on the 2020m winter holidays during the pandemic

Avoiding the Holiday ‘Balance Traps’

Nearly one-third of Canadians plan holiday gatherings despite pandemic restrictions: poll

Santa Claus is coming to town. Try not to infect him.

T’is the season to be jolly careful

Christmas rules: What can you do in a Covid Christmas?

Covid-19 Testing Privilege

The Story of COVID-19 Testing in Ontario | Public Health Ontario

Covid-19 Testing Privilege: Are we really all in this together?

After experiencing some symptoms on the Covid-19 list, I booked off school and set out to get tested. I wanted to make sure I would return to my school Covid free, keeping my students and my school safe.

First Test

This was my second time getting a Covid test. In April of 2020, it took 4 days of waiting before I was able to get a Covid test. It took me over a week to get the results as the website told me I needed to speak to a nurse several times … what! Did I have Covid? The answer was no as the website/system was not working properly. I hoped that the second time around would be easier and faster as I had to self isolate for 10 days.

Second Test

It took me a bit of time to figure out where I should go for a test as the available options were not evident. I found many websites with contradictory information as to whether I needed an appointment or not. After trying to book an appointment online with little success, I opted to book my appointment over the phone.

I wondered about a possible source of my undiagnosed symptoms. As I purposely keep my contacts to a minimum, only going to school and back home, I knew if I was infected the source would be my school. I also knew that if I was off, it was unlikely that I would have a supply teacher cover my class.

The person on the phone asked me if I had been in contact with an infected person. I responded that I was not sure as there were four cases of Covid in my school and two closed classrooms. I had no idea which classrooms were closed as staff were not told. I also had no idea which students were in these classes. As my classroom is near the Behaviour Teacher Assistant’s room, I interact with many students who pass by.

The person online stated that I should be fine since “students were learning with social distancing in place.” I almost peed my pants at the statement and corrected the person saying that students in my school were in crowded classrooms sitting about six inches apart … instead of six feet. I did not give the person on the phone a hard time as I knew they were just doing their job. After five minutes, I had an appointment the next day.

Waiting at the hospital

As my partner drove onto the hospital grounds, I noted a very small line for Covid-19 testing. It was easier than the first time as I had a short wait to get into the hospital to be processed. As I knew what to expect, the very long probe that was inserted into my nose (almost touching my brain) was not a big deal. The drive, test, and return home took 40 minutes.

While waiting in line, I spoke to a woman with her grandchild. It turned out that he was her great grand child! She told me that she spoke to her mother every night on the phone before they retired to bed. Wow, five generations in one family as the boy had a living and healthy great-great grandmother.

Privileged assess in health care

As I looked around, I noted that the people in the Oakville hospital, like me, had a great deal of privilege. The people all arrived to the testing location by car. Women could get tested without their children in tow, as they had adults to watch their kids. People had extra money to pay for parking their cars and access to Internet and/or a phone to book an appointment. Due to lower Covid outbreaks in Oakville, the testing lines were shorter than lines in Toronto, Peel, and York.

Challenges of Single Parenting

As I reflected, I remembered the days when I was a single parent. My children were four and six years old. My son, TWS, had undiagnosed ADHD and he was a tornado of a child, never able to stay still. As a single parent, it was taxing to take him anywhere.

Due to the challenges of both parents working, my children’s father and I decided that one of us would stay home to care for our children of 3 and 5 years old. As a result, I was the one to quit my well-paying marketing job. About a year later, my children’s father wanted a divorce. I was in an abusive relationship and I had to get away from this abuse.

I had no income, no vehicle, and few resources. As I could not afford a babysitter, I often took my children to my doctor’s appointments. While I attended an appointment, my son decided to rummage through my “talking “doctor’s reception desk resulting in him being covered with stamp impressions. Another time I had a PAB test done while trying to distract my daughter with a toy.

As a single parent, I could not afford cable TV and we made do with three channels using a “Rabbit Ears” antenna. I could not afford a cell phone until after I got a job as a teacher. I certainly would have not been able to afford internet.

Covid Testing as a Single Parent

As I have become more aware of the privilege I carry in my life, I considered my experience as a single parent going for a Covid-19 test. I imagined this experience through the lens of my own life as a single parent with my own children.

I know I would have had a challenging time booking a Covid-19 test as I only had a landline. It would have taken me time to figure out which location would be best for my circumstances. With no car, I would have had to take public transit which would have meant keeping my son, TWS, from not pulling the “stop request” cord. I would also likely have to transfer to another bus route making the journey more challenging.

Once at the testing location, I would have had to keep my children occupied while we waited. Further, I would have also decided to get my children tested. My daughter, KIS, would have complied to a test as long as there was some reward after. As I could hardly get TWS to agree to swallow medicine, I know he would not have agreed to have a very long probe shoved down his nose … he would have needed people to hold him down. The whole experience would have been a calamity.

After this ordeal, I would have had to get back on a bus to go home while giving my children snacks as a couple of hours would have passed. Exhausted with no extra support, we would have arrived home to have an early dinner and then bedtime.

Service Industry Workers

Most people in the service industry do not have many or any paid sick days. With testing, single parents and their children would have to self isolate until results were posted. This would result in a loss of pay for a parent and a loss of time in school for children. I could write an entire blog about the precariousness single parents face in their employment when dealing with their own health and the health of their children.

With privilege comes more available resources

I acknowledge that I have a great deal of privilege as an educated, employed, English speaking, non-immigrant, married, mobile (not physically disabled), White woman with resources like a car and working internet. As my children are now adults (now almost 27 and 28 years old), I am also relieved of the parental responsibilities of childcare and the monetary need to support them. Not all parents have these resources or privilege.

Are we really all in this together?

Regarding COVID-19, I’ve heard people say “we are all in this together” … but are we? The people who live with limited resources via housing, funds, and access to health care do not have the same privilege as people in higher socioeconomic circumstances. People who must work for minimum wage in service industries such as factories, warehouses, groceries stores or in long term care facilities do not share the same privileges. This community of people only share the disadvantage of being economically insecure which makes them more vulnerable to infection from the virus. As a result, they are not those with resourced privilege and this is likely why the virus is raging in their communities.

So, if you go for a Covid-19 test, remember how privileged you are to have easy access to getting this test.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

COVID-19 test and testing location information

Equity or Anti-Racism

Equity vs Anti-racism

As part of my advocacy for students, I’m on a school-based committee to address systemic equity issues within my school board. These board wide equity issues deal specifically with documented Black racism.

Within our committees’ discussions, a debate launched into what our committee should be called. Some members wanted the title, Equity Committee. Others preferred, Anti-Black Racism Committee. A third group of voices discussed a blend of both, Anti-Black Racism Equity Committee.


Equity is defined as “justice according to natural law or right specifically freedom from bias or favoritism” or “the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality: something that is fair and just.” The idea of equity does not address the systemic issues that people face. Making all things equal does not compensate for the underlying challenges faced by groups such as oppression and socio-economic factors. Equity does not always invoke the action needed to overcome deeply rooted systemic cultural issues.


Anti-racism “is a form of action against racism and the systemic racism and the oppression of marginalized groups. Being antiracist is based on the conscious efforts and actions to provide equitable opportunities for all people on an individual and systemic level.”

In order for anti-racism action to be effective, all people involved must take a conscious approach to face their own privilege by acting against acts of racial discrimination and changing personal biases.

Does equity work, really work?

Over my various careers as a Geologist, Marketing Manager, and now Teacher, I seen many equity committees come and go. Well meaning participants discussed the importance of promoting equity in organizations but in the end, they failed to meet their goals as the initiatives merely scratched the surface. These committees also did not address organizational cultures that support systemic barriers and prevent the implementing of real change.

Equity for Women’s Rights

As a Geologist, over 30 years ago, I faced many systemic walls and gatekeepers that discouraged me from moving forward in my career because I was a woman. I lost track of how many times I was told that I should “just get married and have babies.” My colleagues were mostly White privileged men with wives who did the unpaid work of managing family and home. These men had the privilege of devoting all their time to their work. They rarely faced barriers.

Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value

As a Marketing Manager for a Canadian corporation, I was part of an “equity” committee. Here we discussed ways to give more equity to women. During an “Equal Pay for Equal Work” program, my corporation rated my job title to a job title in their warehouse; it probably had more to do with what I was getting paid instead of my level of responsibility. I did not get a raise in pay.

More Workplace Equity for Women

The equity committee discussed surface level approaches to support more equity for women in the workplace. But the managers and directors of the company were all men with White privilege. I felt I was treated equally to men most of the time, until I had children. Having children unearthed the many inequities faced by all working mothers. Besides finding good daycare, I had challenges staying home with my children when they were sick. Their father refused to take time off as it was a “career limiting move.”

I started talking with women parenting while working and suggested creating a support lunch group called “MAW – Mothers At Work.” This was quickly shut down by my supervisor as the gatekeepers were not comfortable with the existence of this group. I knew then that starting a daycare at the corporation was not going to happen!

The most significant memory I have of this time was when a meeting went over time and I told my supervisor that I had to leave to go home and feed my child. I could not get home late; I was breastfeeding at the time and had an hour’s commute to Burlington. My boss told me that if I left the meeting, it would be a “career limiting move.”

The corporations’ gatekeepers pushed for the equity committee, not to promote equity, but to give the impression of promoting equity as they were comfortable in the systemic culture that kept them firmly in place.

Systemic Organizational Barriers Against Anti-racism

I cite the above personal experiences as examples of how untargeted equity work is ineffective in making real change for those who need it. Real change means unearthing barriers to equity. This means that gatekeepers can either change their ways, or be replaced. In order to effect change, this means that people, who identify as racialized, must see people like themselves in leadership roles. Having a token person who identifies as racialized does not cut it.

Parents without their Voice Being Hears

As a teacher, I attended a school board meeting where a group of parents were advocating for special education support for their children. These parents had already asked teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board trustees for support for their children and this was their next step.  Listening to their stories, I wondered why these parents had to go to such lengths to get this support. In order to support these students, resources would need to be found. It became clear to me that the school board did not want to pay for the psychoeducational assessments needed to unearth these students’ specific special education needs. The board probably noted that if these parents got this support, then it would open the flood gates of more board paid psychoeducational assessments. Providing more opportunities for board paid students assessments would be very costly. These students were Black and lived in low social-economic households.

Lack of Resources to Support Students

In my role as a teacher, I’ve witnessed Black students not getting the support they needed to be academically and socially successful. Many reasons exist. Students may be on long waiting lists for psychoeducational assessments that are paid by school boards; note that resourced parents don’t wait for these assessments and pay for them privately. A lack of funding for extra supports, such as social work, could also be an issue in getting students’ support. Additional issues could be that students’ significant socio-economic issues distract from getting to the root of academic challenges. In the end, these students still move from grade to grade without the supports they need, falling further behind.

Targeting historic, systemic legacy of racism

Here, the heart of Black racism starts with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. As early as the year 1503, the Black Slave Trade devastated African countries, making many Europeans and North Americans very rich. To what is now Canada and the United States, the Slave Trade shipped millions of people, forced into bondage into a lifetime of work in fields, households, and mills. It is estimated up to 12 million Africans were captured and forced into the slave trade as human property. Unfortunately, more that a million people never set foot on North American soil as they died on the journey.

In Upper Canada, now Ontario, a former slave, Peter Martin, brought the mistreatment of Black slaves to the attention of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe.  Simcoe pushed for the legislation of 1793 Act Against Slavery. The Upper Canada elected executive council members, “who were merchants or farmers who depended on slave labour, saw no need for emancipation”. The Assembly did pass an Act Against Slavery that legislated the gradual abolition of slavery. This meant “no slaves could be imported; slaves already in the province would remain enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, and children born to female slaves would be slaves but must be freed at age 25”. It took until another forty years, in 1833, for Britain to abolish the slavery of Black people.

Enslaving Black Africans and African Americans would not end until after the American Civil War on December 18th, 1862 (only 158 years ago). This resulted in many freed slaves becoming poorly paid sharecroppers and workers. White supremacy movements and Black Codes were launched, a year after, in 1877.

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement achieved political and social gains. This would still be not enough as the Black Lives Matter movement would rise in 2013.

A legacy 360 years of social and economic systemic oppression

The 360 years of slavery would leave a legacy of social and economic systemic oppression for all people who identify as Black.

As Dunia Nur, the president of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC), states

Will Anti-racism work to overcome systemic bias?

For me, the push for equity for all is not enough. There are documented issues of racism against Black students within school boards in Ontario. It is time to dig deeper into challenging the systemic racist structures within school systems in order to give our students, who identify as Black, a chance to overcome their own barriers to social and academic success. As educators, we must take this difficult task of challenging our own biases towards those who identify as Black. Teachers work to promote the best opportunities for all students’ futures. We have more work to do.

I write this blog as a White woman with economic and educational privilege. I live my life carrying my White Backpack of privilege, never worrying about being carded or being asked to see a receipt when I leave a store. When my students, who identify as Black, complain about police bothering their families, I acknowledge that this happens and we talk about the roots of racism. When my students note that books have “all White kids” in illustrations, we talk about why this is the case and how it should change.

I will work towards Anti Black racism on an Anti-Racism committee as I unpack my White backpack …  as it is a life long task.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Teacher Advocacy Matters in the Right to Read

Ontario Human Rights Commission on the Right to Read

In the past school year (2019-2020), the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on the Right to Read has launched a public inquiry on the human rights issues affecting students with learning disabilities. This public inquiry was facilitated due to concerns from parents and recent Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test scores showing over 25% of Grade 3 students and 53% of Grade 3 students with special education needs did not meet provincial standards.

Students Struggling with Reading

The OHRC cites that students who cannot read struggle with many aspects of school and are more vulnerable to psychosocial stressbehavioural issuesbullying and much lower levels of educational achievement  (Schumacher et al, 2007.) The result of these challenges means that these students face life-long consequences including, homelessness, and involvement with the criminal justice system (Bruck, 1998; Macdonald, 2012; Maughan, 1995).

All students with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, have a right to learn how to read. The OHRC is concerned that these students are not getting the supports they need to become literate. This is particularly challenging when students are not receiving early intervention and supports that are known to be effective in increasing reading ability.

The OHRC Right to Read inquiry team assessed evidence based approaches to meet students’ right to read. As part of an effective systematic approach to teach all students to read, they cited five benchmarks including: universal design for learning (UDL), mandatory early student screening, reading intervention programs, effective accommodations, and psycho-educational assessments.

OHRC Advocacy for the Right to Read

For the 2020-2021 school year, the OHRC Right to Read inquiry team wrote to the Ministry of Education and school boards, calling on the establishment of programs that systematically address the needs of students with learning disabilities. The communication cited concerns around students’ inconsistent access to technology, professional services, screening and assessment, and specialized reading instruction and programing. In addition, the OHRC Right to Read inquiry team had concerns about the role of Identification, Placement, and Review Committees (IPRCs), the implementation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and the duty to accommodate students’ education needs.

The OHRC Right to Read inquiry team is currently analyzing the information received and is drafting a final report. The report will address concerns with how Ontario’s public education system meets the needs of students with reading disabilities. These concerns relate to curriculum and teaching, early screening, reading interventions, accommodations and psycho-educational assessments.

A final OHRC Right to Read inquiry report, which will include detailed findings and recommendations for government and education stakeholders, is now planned for release in Spring of 2021.

Teacher and Guardian Advocacy on the Right to Read

As teachers, we see the direct impact challenges with reading has on students’ learning. The lack of literacy at grade level prevents students from taking full advantage of what is being taught in the classroom. Every day of not being able to read results in another day where students fall further behind.

Waiting for Psychoeducational Assessments

Psycho-educational assessments are key to determining students’ strengths and needs in their educational profile. With this profile, students can receive the special education funding and support they need to achieve their potential as learners.

As teachers, we also know of students who have been placed on long waiting lists for psycho-educational assessments. Even with the increase in special education funding, boards of education and principals report inadequate resource funding to meet students’ needs (People for Education, Feb 2020.)

Parents and guardians must wait, for sometimes years, for their child’s name to make it to the top of the list in order to receive a board funded assessment. Parents and guardians who have resources can seek costly psycho-educational assessments from private providers. Parents and guardians who do not have resources must wait as their child falls further and further behind. Sometimes students never receive a psycho-educational assessment. This reality means that students who live in lower socioeconomic households may never get their special education needs assessed or met, thus making them more susceptible to leave school early.

It is important to note that boards of education are trying their best to support all students’ needs. Boards of Education already spend 80% more on special education than they receive from provincial educational Ontario funding (Ontario’s Auditor General, 2017.)

Teacher Advocacy Matters

When students struggle with their learning, teachers’ advocacy matters. In the Ontario College of Teachers’ (OCT) Ethical Standards for Care includes “compassion, acceptance, interest and insight for developing students’ potential. Members express their commitment to students’ wellbeing and learning through positive influence, professional judgment and empathy in practice” (OCT, 2020). This means that within teachers’ practices, they must promote students’ potential. I cannot think of anything more important than promoting literacy to promote students’ potential.

As a dyslexia learner and a teacher of dyslexic learners, I understand the struggle and emotional impact of living with dyslexia. People do not grow out of learning disabilities, they just learn how to live with them.

The bottom line is that reading is a human right and without the ability to read, students face an ambiguous future.

Teachers work to empower literacy for all students, as all our students deserve the Right to Read.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Resources for Teachers and Guardians

What are LDs?

Living with LDs

Assistive Technology and LDs

Executive Function and LDs

Reading and LDs

Writing and LDs

Math and LDs


Math Waterfall Chart: Understanding Learning Disabilities- How processing Affects Mathematics Learnings

Building Math Skills at Home

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD and LDs)

Mental Health and LDs


Bruck, M. (1998). Outcomes of adults with childhood histories of dyslexia. Reading and spelling: Development and disorders179, 200.

Macdonald, S. J. (2012). Biographical pathways into criminality: understanding the relationship between dyslexia and educational disengagement. Disability & Society27(3), 427-440.

Maughan, B. (1995). Annotation: Long‐term outcomes of developmental reading problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry36(3), 357-371.

Schumacher, J., Hoffmann, P., Schmäl, C., Schulte-Körne, G., & Nöthen, M. M. (2007). Genetics of dyslexia: the evolving landscape. Journal of medical genetics44(5), 289-297.

Self-preservation, in the time of Covid-19

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare." Audre Lord

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

In the time of Covid-19, feeling like I am working all the time has become a regular part of my existing.

Spring 2020

In the first lockdown, I was working 7 days a week, planning, instructing, and assessing. My learning curve was steep as I was developing skills in teaching through an online classroom via video sessions and learning how to organize my classroom instruction and assessment through technology. As I look back, these skills, now attained, seem so straight forward. The end of the school year in June 2020, was a welcome time for me as I could finally relax and have time away from screens.

Fall 2020

The September 2020 hit. Almost every day, policies and procedures changed. At one point I gave up reading board emails as the absorption of information taxed my executive function and in the end was futile as information changed. Instead, I asked the office staff for the “latest” updates thus sidestepping the need to read pages of email text.

As I had anticipated a future lock down, I set up my contained special education classroom practices to be virtual in nature. This meant that I could easily flip to teaching solely online if needed. Weeks into September, I was informed that I would also be teaching students synchronously online while teaching my students in class. Naïve, I thought flipping back and forth would be something I could handle. But it wasn’t.

Hybrid teaching and learning with inadequate technology

With students both online and face to face, my classroom calendar became the classroom hub. I set video links for the online students to join our class. There were a few significant barriers I had to overcome. Technology (i.e. equipment) needed was not provided, nor was the tech support to align my synchronous instruction needs. At one point, I was using a Chromebook as a microphone and camera in order to facilitate my online students seeing and hearing me and the rest of the class. There were many failed configurations that often resulted in echoing feedback. It was a very frustrating time for my students and me.

Welcome Mike

Finally, I decided to purchase a microphone for my school computer. The in class microphone, now called “Mike”, was a stress saviour. Now, our class could interact with students at home with ease. I left the video link open all day so students at home could reach out to me for help while we worked in class. They even asked to go to the bathroom!

In late October, my board provided our class with additional teacher support to work with students at home. The online students did not receive direct Physical Education, Health, Art, and Music (i.e. PHAM) instruction and were left with no teacher instruction as I was on my planning time.

Extra support is not always helpful

I welcomed this additional support for my students, at first. But the configuration and constraints set out by my board had the teacher providing online support to my students before our school’s first bell (i.e. students were set to receive instruction outside of school hours.) There was also a suggestion that I change my schedule, yet again, to accommodate this additional teacher support. It was late October. After changing my schedule over 6 times, I had finally found a schedule that supported all planning and curriculum requirements. I refused to change it again. After several weeks, the online support teacher was working with my students in a time period that met everyone’s needs … without a change to my schedule.

Stress increased risks to health

During the spring 2020 lockdown, I noticed new symptoms with my stomach. I attributed these symptoms to my existing diagnosis of gastritis and being more sedentary than usual. Between July and August, my symptoms faded away.

Once September hit, my symptoms made themselves known, getting a little worse each day. I experience regular pain in my abdomen and was exhausted all the time. I avoided possible triggers such as alcohol and fried foods but the symptoms became increasingly more disruptive, causing me pain that prevented a restful sleep.

On the phone, I talked to my doctor about my symptoms and we agreed to increase my stomach medication. This did not resolve the pain. Finally, I went to the hospital. The emergency doctor asked me why I had not contacted my family doctor about the pain. I told her I had but my doctor was not able to palpitate my abdomen … over the phone. Blood tests and a CT scan revealed an issue with pancreatitis and irritable bowel syndrome.

As I eat well and take care of my health, I wondered why I was experiencing this painful and fatigue inducing diagnosis. I then realized the obvious cause … stress.

Establishing boundaries to preserve physical and emotional health

Since my trip to the hospital almost 2 months ago, I still have symptoms. But I am feeling better and have more energy. My diet is very limited and I cannot eat very much at a time. I’ve lost over 20 lbs … don’t worry I am not a skinny person.

As a result of my health issues, I have purposely limited the time I spend on school work. Last weekend was the first weekend since teaching during Covid, that I took an entire weekend off. I have also taken up my cross-stitching hobby and listening to books. Herbal tea with a touch of honey is also very soothing. I find that when I do choose to work on my teaching practice, I am much more focused and effective as I am making fewer errors in my online classroom planning.

The time I’ve spent, being purposefully relaxed, has helped me manage my work as a teacher. In putting my own needs first, I am able to support my students more effectively.

It is my hope that teachers who read this blog will take more time for themselves so they can be there for their families and their students. If teachers do not care for their own needs, they could face burnout or challenges with physical and/or emotional health.

As Audre Lord states

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and is an act of political warfare.“

Take care of yourself before you care for others,

Deb Weston, PhD

Honouring those who experienced war

George Ebert

Today, Wednesday, November 11, 2020, I spoke with my students about why Remembrance Day is a special day to honour those who lived through war.

I recognized that my words had little meaning as they were just words. We watched videos about people who had been in war; but these images had little context and meaning to my students who were sitting in a classroom in 2020.

I grasped that, in order to put Remembrance Day into context, my students needed to hear real stories about real people.

Fortunately, there are many stories I can draw from, in my own family history. Here are a few …

George Wilbert Henry Ebert (1920 -1943), navigator in the British Canadian Airforce from Cache Bay, Ontario (now North Bay).

Wilbert Ebert shot down in WWII


Will was my half uncle. He survived the death of his siblings and mother from Tuberculosis (TB). My grandfather, George Wesley Ebert, met my grandmother, Permilla Ann Coulthard (nurse) in the Muskoka Tuberculosis Sanitorium. George may have contracted TB from his work as a mining electrician or as it spread through the Cache Bay community. Will and George were the only family members remaining.

Will, a school teacher, was eager to explore the world and to learn how to fly. He became a pilot/navigator after only weeks of training and was sent to fight WWII. He was 22 years, 3 months, and 2 days old when his plane was shot down over Iceland. Will would never see his family again and would never have a family of his own. I never knew Will but I have read his letters to my grandmother and grandfather. He always sent his best wishes to my mother, who would have been around 5 years old at the time.

George Wesley Ebert (1897-1957), sniper in the British Canadian Army from Cache Bay, Ontario.

George was a sniper in WWI. My mother told me he loved the wilderness. George’s mother was aboriginal. He was a skilled hunter and fisherman. He was also a perfect person to take to the Canadian National Exhibition as he always won the very large prizes in the shooting galleries. While fighting in the trenches, he was gassed several times which caused significant damage to his lungs. His health never was the same after war and upon contracting TB, it only worsened. George was a troubled person who relied on alcohol to sooth his trauma. This would lead to his end in an early death.

George Ebert with fur

Lewis Henry Weston (1910-2008), British Navy, Lieutenant Commander born in Plymouth, Devon, England, last stationed in Northern Ireland. Lewis pictured below aged 12, 45, and 96.

Lewis Henry Weston 1910052 (2)

Lewis joined the navy at the age of 12. This was not unusual as most children from working class families did not go to school past grade 6, instead working as an apprentice or in service. My grandfather had many tales to tell about his 30+ years in the navy. Lewis was a navy engineer meaning he built bridges and roads with his hands. He was also a navel diver, wearing very large metal helmets and heavy metal shoes while men pumped air into his helmet to keep him alive. Lewis stayed alive by his commitment to duty, as well as his wits and his faith in God. At the age of 45 years old, he retired from the British Navy and collected an indexed pension until the age of 98.

While Lewis was away at war, my grandmother, Iris Doreen Turpin Lawrence Weston, was in London, England during the German bombing raids. At the time, my uncle was at boarding school in the countryside. Iris and my father, David John Weston, sought safety every night in the London Underground (i.e. subway). My father shared stories of the terror he and my grandmother experienced as bombs fell every night, destroying the City of London. Even though my father never went to war, I believe that David never got over the terror he experienced. Iris never talked about the war.

In sharing these stories with my students, their understanding of the impact and loss due to war was grounded in real stories about real people, my people.

I encourage teachers to share their own family’s stories. War needs context as this will bring a deeper meaning to the courage displayed and loss experienced. This will help our students understand and remember the terrible cost and loss of war.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Unpacking the Invisible White Backpack in a Time of Black Lives Matter

WHITE PRIVILEGE - Showing Up for Racial Justice - SURJ

In a time focusing on the impact of racial equality, Black Lives Matter advocacy is pushing for the human rights of all those who do not identify as White. As a person who identifies as White, I do not go through life with the same experiences as people who do not identify as White.

I grew up in a family with a White mother and a stepfather from an African country. His ancestry was East Asian, African, and European. He did not have light coloured skin. His hair was lightly curled and he had a European shaped nose. My half-sisters had different skin colours and different hair. One sister had lighter skin “passing as White” with reddish hair and blue eyes. The other sister had darker skin looking very East Asian with dark brown eyes and very curly dark hair. In school, my sisters were told they could not be full sisters as they “were not the same colour.”

I did not start noticing the differences in my family’s skin colours until my grade 7 friend (who was Black) pointed it out. She came to my door one day and told me my stepfather was “Black.” I realized that she was right in the sense that he had dark skin and did not “look White.”

My awareness of skin colour did not change my experiences in my life journey as I accepted people for who they were and how they looked. I never considered that the colour of one’s skin could highly influence their life’s experience. I was colour blind.

My view of the world changed when I started my PhD studies in equity and inclusion. We spent over a week discussing issues around race, gender, background, and privilege. At this point, I was introduced to the idea of the Invisible Backpack I had carried around my entire life. As a person who looks White, I had been handed many privileges that those who don’t look White do not have.

This blew my mind. I never realized how being White gave me so much privilege. As I started unpacking this privilege, I saw many inequities in society and commerce as so many people were excluded due to their colour. My colour blindness evaporated. As an educator, inclusion is very important to me. But when I looked through all the teacher materials and books I used I only noted people that looked like me … they were all White.

Shaken by my revelation, I spoke to my friend about what I had learned. She stated that “colour blindness is a purposeful evasion as it does not honour people who do not pass as White.” She further went on to state that “as a Black Woman, I have to deal with the lack of privilege that comes with the colour of my skin.” As a well-educated Black woman, she had experienced being undermined by those who were White. Her ideas and comments were regularly questioned in her career and social settings. She told me she regularly experienced having her comments dismissed in social settings while her White husband’s were noted.

My husband is third generation Japanese Canadian. He is often asked where he is from and even though he is aware of what people really want to know, he launches into the “Where are you from” game. There’s a typical pattern to the conversation. When asked “Where are you from?”, he usually responds with “Oakville, Ontario.” The person usually follows with “Where were you born?” and his response is “Oakville, Ontario.” Then the person typically asks, “Where were your parents born?” in which he responds “Vancouver, BC.” At this point, frustration sets in and he is again asked “Where were your grandparents born?” The person finally gets the answer they were looking for, “Japan.” The person can now categorize him as of Japanese descent and not Chinese.

I spoke to my husband about my revelations from learning about the White Backpack. He told me he was always one of the only non-White people in school and at work. He knows that White people have more privilege and “it has always been that way.” He did mention that when we are out as a couple, we regularly receive glances of disapproval as an Asian man with a White woman. I’ve noted that the further away from the city we get, the more “looks” we experience.

The process of uncovering my White privilege has been ongoing. I check myself to make sure I am not precipitating my privilege over those without privilege due to the colour of their skin.

Below is a seminar developed in my studies on White privilege. I found it unpacked my own privilege and the experiences of others who may not identify as White.

On August 28th, 1963, DrMartin Luther King Jr, PhD stated “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”. I was a year old when he spoke these words. Dr. King dreamed of racial equity and inclusion. It is my hope that I will live to see this dream in its true form.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD

Activities to discuss colour-blindness and the White Backpack.

1. Colour-blindness (5 minutes)

How does colour-blindness affect schools? Read & Reflect In groups of 5, people to discuss issues around colour blindness in schools.

“Color-blindness does not deny the existence of race, but the claim that race is responsible for alleged injustices that reproduce group inequalities, privilege Whites, and negatively impact on economic mobility, the possession of social resources and the acquisition of political power. Put differently, inherent in the logic of color-blindness is the central assumption that race has no valence as a marker of identity or power when factored into the social vocabulary of everyday life and the capacity for exercising individual and social agency.” (Giroux, 2005, pp. 66-67)

2. Daily effects of white privilege as per Peggy McIntosh, 1988 (10 minutes)

“I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.”

Play segment of Freedom Writers movie showing the above in a classroom.

Hand out one or two statements to each person. Have people discuss these statements in their group to uncover their privilege.

  1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
  4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbours in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my colour made it what it is.
  8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
  10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
  11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person’s voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
  12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
  13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
  14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
  16. I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.
  17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my colour.
  18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
  19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
  20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of colour who constitute the world’s majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
  23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behaviour without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the Revenue Canada [IRS] audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
  29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
  30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn’t a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of colour will have.
  31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
  32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
  33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odour will be taken as a reflection on my race.
  34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
  35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
  37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
  38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
  39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
  40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
  41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
  42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
  43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
  44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
  45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
  46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” colour and have them more or less match my skin.
  47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
  48. I have no difficulty finding neighbourhoods where people approve of our household.
  49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
  50. I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social

The Invisible Backpack (15 minutes)

Ask people consider how they identify as people and outline their own privilege they carry in their lives.

The invisible backpack is the unacknowledged privilege that people carry due to their gender, language, religion, culture, race, social class, ethnic status, sexual orientation, physical ability, age, and geographic location. What is in your invisible backpack?


Tools for Educators

Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

Racism 101: Definitions

What are my rights? Racism and the Law

Tools for Equity in the Classroom

Aboriginal Education Curriculum

Anti-Racism Workshop Manual for High Schools in Peterborough by Hassan Hassan

The Storytelling Project Curriculum: Learning About Race and Racism Through Storytelling and the Arts (US-based)

Speak! Radical Woman of Colour Media Collective CD

Anti-Racism Resource Kit

“Canada’s Creeping Economic Apartheid” by Grace-Edward Galabuzi (2001)

Teaching Human Rights in Ontario


Giroux, H. (2005). Spectacles of race and pedagogies of denial: Anti-black racist pedagogy under the reign of neoliberalism. In L. Larumanchery, (Ed.), Engaging Equity: New perspectives on anti-racist education. Calgary, AB: Detselig.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women’s studies. Independent School, Winter, 1990. Downloaded from http://www.case.edu/president/aaction/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pd

What is Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)?

Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of All Students - MDR

When I started reading Ontario’s 2020 Mathematic Curriculum, I came across “Overall Expectations A. Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Skills in Mathematics and the Mathematical Processes.”

According to the ministry document

“This (Math) strand focuses on students’ development and application of social-emotional learning skills to support their learning of math concepts and skills, foster their overall well-being and ability to learn, and help them build resilience and thrive as math learners. As they develop SEL skills, students demonstrate a greater ability to understand and apply the mathematical processes, which are critical to supporting learning in mathematics. In all grades of the mathematics program, the learning related to this strand takes place in the context of learning related to all other strands, and it should be assessed and evaluated within these contexts.”

Social-Emotional Learning will go beyond teaching just Math

“As of the 2019-20 school year, learning about mental health in Ontario schools will take place:

  • through the newly enhanced elementary Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum
  • across the curriculum, as well as in Kindergarten, and
  • as a part of students’ everyday experience at school

Source: https://www.dcp.edu.gov.on.ca/en/curriculum/elementary-mathematics/context/the-strands-in-the-mathematics-curriculum

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills

  • “Throughout the curriculum, students also learn to apply SEL skills.
  • Because these skills are so important to students’ mental health and healthy development, SEL is now also a distinct section of the updated curriculum. This new section builds on Living Skills learning from the previous curriculum to help students foster their own overall health and well-being, positive mental health, resilience and ability to learn and thrive. The table below shows what students learn about and why.
Students learn about: So they can:
identifying and managing emotions express their feelings and understand the feelings of others
coping with stress develop resilience
positive motivation build a sense of hope and the will to keep trying for their goals
building relationships support healthy relationships and respect diversity
deepening their sense of self build an understanding of their own identity and feel that they belong
thinking critically and creatively support decision-making and problem solving

Students apply these everyday skills as part of their learning across the other three parts of the curriculum, and in their experiences at school, at home and in the community.

A few examples of how these skills could be integrated with the other three parts of the curriculum (Active Living, Movement Competence and Healthy Living) are outlined below.

  • Grade 1: To learn about positive motivation, students practise showing willingness to try out new skills and keep practising. (Movement Competence)
  • Grade 2: To practise identifying and managing emotions, students try taking a moment to breathe deeply and refocus if they are feeling anxious or upset before starting a physical activity. (Active Living)
  • Grade 3: To build relationships, students working in small groups practise welcoming everyone and being willing to be a partner with anyone in the group. (Active Living)
  • Grade 4: As they learn about coping with stress, students explain how knowing about physical and emotional changes that come with puberty can help them handle those changes when they occur. (Healthy Living)
  • Grade 5: To practise thinking critically and creatively, students make connections between being active, working towards personal fitness goals and mental health. (Active Living)
  • Grade 6: To deepen their sense of self, students think about how stereotypes affect how they feel about themselves and identify other factors, including acceptance by others, that influence their sense of themselves. (Healthy Living)
  • Grade 7: As they learn about coping with stress, students explain how to access various sources of support (for example, school staff, family, counselling and medical professionals) when dealing with mental health challenges or issues related to substance use. (Healthy Living)
  • Grade 8: To practise identifying and managing emotions, students explain how social media can create feelings of stress and describe strategies, such as connecting thoughts, feelings, and actions, that can help maintain balance and perspective. (Healthy Living)”

Supporting students

  • “There is strong evidence that developing social-emotional learning skills at school contributes to student well-being and successful academic performance. Learning about mental health can also help to reduce the stigma around problems in this area. When students understand that many people experience mental health difficulties from time to time, and that there is support available when needed, they are more likely to seek help early when problems arise.
  • As they develop SEL skills, students will also gain “transferable skills” (for example, self-directed learning, collaboration, critical thinking, communication and innovation) and develop “learning skills and work habits” as they learn to set goals, follow through and overcome challenges. These interconnected skills taken together, help foster overall health and well-being, and the ability to learn, build resilience and thrive. Helping students make connections among these skills is key to enhancing their learning experience in school and throughout their lives.”

Source: https://www.ontario.ca/document/health-and-physical-education-grades-1-8/social-emotional-learning-sel-skills#section-1

My first question was where did this initiative originate from?

Collaborative for the Advancement of Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

The concept was first published in 1997 Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators (Elias, Zins, Weissberg et. al., 1997) by the Association for Supervision of Curriculum Development (ASCD). It was coauthored by members of the Research and Guidelines Committee of the Collaborative for the Advancement of Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). According to CASEL it is a “trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL). CASEL supports educators and policy leaders and enhances the experiences and outcomes for all PreK-12 students.”

CASEL’s “mission is to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. Our work is critical at a time when educators, parents, students, and employers increasingly recognize the value of SEL. Together, we are united in our call for schools to educate the whole child, equipping students for success in school and in life.”

CASEL provides training and resources for programs that support social-emotional learning such as:

Second Step “provides instruction in social and emotional learning with units on skills for learning, empathy, emotion management, friendship skills, and problem solving. The program contains separate sets of lessons for use in prekindergarten through eighth grade implemented in 22 to 28 weeks each year.”

Steps to Respect is a school-wide program designed for use in third through sixth grade. Implementation occurs in three phases:  school administrators take stock of their school environment and bullying issues; then all adults in the building are trained; and finally classroom-based lessons are taught.”

In a meta study The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions endorsed by CASEL and written by Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger (2011) universal social and emotional skills (SEL) participants demonstrated improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behaviour, and academic performance where school teaching staff successfully conducted SEL programs.

The use of four recommended practices for developing skills and the presence of implementation problems moderated program outcomes (Durlak et. al, 2011.) The practices used the SAFE acronym (Sequenced, Active, Focus, Explicit).

“New behaviors and more complicated skills usually need to be broken down into smaller steps and sequentially mastered, suggesting the benefit of a coordinated sequence of activities that links the learning steps and provides youth with opportunities to connect these steps (Sequenced).”

“Gresham (1995) has noted that it is ‘‘important to help children learn how to combine, chain and sequence behaviors that make up various social skills’’ (p. 1023). Lesson plans and program manuals are often used for this purpose. An effective teaching strategy for many youth emphasizes the importance of active forms of learning that require youth to act on the material (Active).”

“’ ‘It is well documented that practice is a necessary condition for skill acquisition’ (Salas & Cannon-Bowers, 2001, p. 480). Sufficient time and attention must also be devoted to any task for learning to occur (Focus). Therefore, some time should be set aside primarily for skill development.”

“Clear and specific learning objectives over general ones are preferred because it is important that youth know what they are expected to learn (Explicit). “

In other words, SEL programs must follow the SAFE practices and be well-executed in order to be effective. The meta study noted that only a small percentage of the meta research investigated did follow-up assessments to determine long term efficacy of SEL practices.

The meta study also noted that classroom teachers were the most effective in implementing SEL practices which usually included a specific curriculum and set of instructions such as behavioural rehearsals and cooperative learning. It noted that SEL programs were successful at all education levels.

The meta study included books/articles/reports that ranged in dates between 1955 to 2007 (e.g. 1955 to 1989 work = 25% of research included) and published/unpublished articles/books (e.g. unpublished reports = 19% of research included). The meta study excluded studies targeting students with behavioural, emotional, or academic issues. In addition, the meta study did not note effects on students with special education needs or the impact on students from lowers socioeconomic backgrounds.

Economic Value to Social and Emotional Learning

In The Economic Value to Social and Emotional Learning, the paper noted most SEL interventions had multiple goals and benefits and this contrasted with interventions to improve cognitive test results in a particular subject. The SEL interventions reduced aggression which “may also improve impulse control and later juvenile crime and/or may raise academic achievement”. The “measures of benefits are based upon a limited set of dimensions … actual benefits may be considerably higher if we were able to identify all effects” (Belfield et. al., 2015.) The paper examined the costs of Second Step at $440 per student including instructional time.

What does this mean to teachers?

In my opinion, I am sure that SEL programs do have an impact on students’ academic and emotional success. I also agree that learning should be social, in the context of a classroom, in collaborative groups and through discussions. What concerns me is that in order to be effectively implemented, SEL programs require a great deal of classroom teacher training and program costs.

Ontario’s Mathematics Curriculum includes SEL as a strand within the Mathematics curriculum. The ministry of education states that SEL “should be assessed and evaluated within these contexts.” Does this mean that for each subject like Mathematics, teachers will be assessing SEL skills as a strand of the subject?

I do not agree with Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Skills being included as a strand in the Ontario’s Mathematics curriculum for 2020. I see SEL skills as being incorporated into the learning skills elementary teachers already report upon three times an academic year in the Elementary Report Cards.

I wonder when the SEL resources and teacher training will be provided to Ontario’s elementary teachers. As the The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions paper reports, in order to be effective, teachers must be trained in SEL SAFE instructional strategies. In a time when education budgets are being cut, this sounds like an expensive initiative.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Belfield, C., Bowden, A. B., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The economic value of social and emotional learning. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis6(3), 508-544.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child development82(1), 405-432.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child development82(1), 405-432.

Elias, M. J., Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Frey, K. S., Greenberg, M. T., Haynes, N. M., … & Shriver, T. P. (1997). Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators. Ascd.

Zins, J. E. (Ed.) (2004) Building academic success on social and emotional learning: What does the research say?. Teachers College Press.

Zins, J. E., Bloodworth, M. R., Weissberg, R. P., & Walberg, H. J. (2007). The scientific base linking social and emotional learning to school success. Journal of educational and psychological consultation17(2-3), 191-210.

Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Wang, M. C., & Walberg, H. J. (2004). Building school success through social and emotional learning.

It’s Too Much: Teacher Anxiety in the Time of School with Covid-19

can't sleep

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

As I usually write blogs about educational issues, I’ve decided to make this one more personal. I know that teachers are feeling very stressed at the thought of going back to school in a pandemic while having to face classrooms with up to 30 elementary students. At this point in time, students will return to school with no decrease in class sizes from March 2020.

Issues with teaching in schools in a time of Covid-19

Infection Control

As teachers, we all know that students are “viral conduits” and that we can usually rely on catching some flu or cold before the end of September. In my 20 years of teaching, I’ve contracted H1N1 (2009 swine flu), Whooping Cough twice, various coughs and colds, and had 3 months of bronchitis.

My health was particularly poor when I taught primary grades as students in these grades tend to have less developed immune systems and they like to hug teachers. I taught middle school for 11 years and was sick less often in which I attribute this to the fact that middle school students rarely touch their teachers! What I do know is that no amount of cleaning will be able to keep up with little hands in hallways and classrooms.

Adequate Ventilation

The Ontario Government is complacent to the fact that infections are spread in schools. Elementary school classrooms are usually poorly ventilated as is evident in September and June with no air circulation to combat hot classrooms. Classrooms are also not all the same size but due to equity issues, classes consist of the same number of students. This means a teacher with a larger classroom will have the same number of students as a teacher with a smaller classroom.

Social Distancing Seating

With flexible seating and collaborative learning, many classrooms no longer use desks. Instead, to facilitate a more fluid learning environment, teachers have students sitting at tables in many different groupings. This means that there are not enough desks to put students in socially distanced rows. With underfunding and a lack of hard caps on class sizes, some classes contain up to 30 students or more.  With no cuts to class sizes, this means students will have to sit beside each other.

Social Distancing Hallways

Hallway management is another challenge as students crowd the hall during breaks or classroom changes. Even with arrows and tape on the floor, I cannot imagine having all these students being able to socially distance before, during, or after school. There is simply not enough space to have students move separately through hallways.

Social Distancing Busing

Busing is a further challenge. As an average bus carries 24 students without social distancing, a socially distanced bus would contain only 8 students. I’d like to know where Ontario will be able to find 3 times the amount of buses and bus drivers to drive students to school.

Unknowing Before Schools Closed

In March 2020, when schools first closed, I had no idea what I was about to face. I had a mission to get my classroom learning online and a very steep learning curve to make this happen. Like all the other teachers in Ontario, we worked many hours to make online learning a reality. It is what teachers do for their students. Teachers heard reports for extended school closures hoping for school to open in April, then May, and then June. As online learning work was not to be evaluated, we wrote June 2020 report cards and Individual Education Plans based on assessments and evaluations from before the school closures occurred.

Dealing with Uncertainty and Stress

During this time, I was going through moments of great anxiety which resulted in low-grade panic attacks. This has been an ongoing issue most of my life and in my mid 30s I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression. The first time I took meds, I felt like a curtain had been lifted as I could hear, feel, taste, and see more clearly. In dealing with this anxiety, I considered seeking more medication support. But the idea of more meds was not an immediate option as all medication comes with some side effects. I decided, instead, to manage my anxiety with regular exercise, plenty of water, and eating well.

In addition to my moments of anxiety, I had many sleepless nights between March 2020 and the end of June. I know I am not unique in losing sleep in this uncertain time as I’ve spoken with colleagues and read teachers’ posts on Twitter. Sleepless nights worrying about students is an occupational hazard.

But the exercise, water, food, and light did not help. I reached out to my doctor and started seeing a psychotherapist online. This worked to some extent, but my anxiety was ever-present like a big weight pulling me down. Weekly therapy sessions did help. In coming into summer, my anxiety waivered and became manageable again.

With anxiety and depression, for me, it never really goes away completely. Without meds, my anxiety and depression can become so disabling that my ability to do anything complicated fails me and I’m left on the sofa staring at the ceiling for hours. Even with meds, I can have a low-grade depression staying around like an uninvited guest.

Going Back to School with Covid-19

Given the many challenges that await teachers, it is no wonder why my anxiety is ramping up again. In the past Septembers, I always thought about my return to the classroom with waves of joy. I looked forward to seeing my students, in setting up my classroom, and in catching up with my colleagues. Now, I just feel dread.

Health & Employment

My dread is centred around the health and safety of my school and its community. I worry about my school’s students and my colleagues. I wonder how many students and colleagues will return to school this September given the risks of contracting Covid-19 with little social distancing. There are two reasons why my colleagues may not return to school; personal health and family status.

The first is ongoing health concerns. If some colleagues contract Covid-19, their health would be severely compromised. Colleagues, with health concerns, could also ask for accommodations and work via teaching online instead. Although I am not sure, if a teacher has health issues, they may be placed on short term disability.

The second reason for not returning to school would be to request for accommodations due to family status. This would include needs to provide childcare, eldercare, care to a family member, or living with a family member with a compromised immune system or chronic condition. Here, teachers could work from home via online learning if needed.

As I never completely trust employers, I am concerned that boards may deny teachers paid leave which may precipitate having to go on Employment Insurance. This could be a problem for both the teacher and the employer as teachers would essentially be laid off. Boards would then have to hire teachers back to work. It would also impact teachers as they could lose benefits.

Knowing What to Expect

Another challenge with going back to school is that I have gained a great deal of experience and knowledge since March. Now I have a good idea as to what I can expect to face in my instruction and supervision duties.

I know that some of my students will not be attending school face to face, as attendance is voluntary. This will mean that I will be teaching some students online and some students face to face through a “blended” approach. This will include using synchronous streamed lessons that may or may not be supported with equipment and technicians for set up so it will work seamlessly. I do know that I do not have this equipment and with my previous online experience I know these sessions will likely crash several times a week as they did in the spring.

I also know that some of my students will have a challenging time with social distancing in school, especially at recess. I envision my recess duty will consist of trying to keep students apart. I am shaken at the thought of this!

If schools do shut down again, I know what to expect in teaching online. This means that some students will become completely disengaged and as a result, will miss more learning time which is critical to helping them keep up to their grade level. I know that missing months of learning could present significant disadvantages to students in the long run. This is especially true for students from low socio-economic backgrounds which can limit achievement. Allowing this to happen to any student is highly objectionable.

Evaluation and Reporting

When returning to school, while teaching using online or blended learning, I will be tasked with writing report cards. The ministry of education “recommends that, to the greatest extent possible, assessment, evaluation and reporting activities proceed as usual, with a focus on the achievement of overall expectations and the primary purpose of assessment and evaluation being to improve student learning.” So, this means that assignments will be evaluated as if students were in school.

In evaluating students’ work, I also will not be able to confirm “who” is completing the work. I wonder, if a student does not produce work in an online or blended school year, will I be recording “incompletes” for work not done. Further, will I be taking attendance in an online or blended learning format? Will boards of education be providing additional support for students who are struggling?

I could easily write another page about all the things I think about late at night while I lay in bed awaiting sleep, but I will stop here. What I do know is that I will have my colleagues to support me through this exceedingly difficult time in my career.

It is my greatest hope and prayer that not one person gets sick with Covid-19 as a result of being in schools, where social distancing will not be possible.

Sending my best wishes of health and peace to you and your family.

Collaboratively Yours,

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Fostering Student Engagement Through Voice and Choice via Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Now, more than any other time, it is important to give students a place for their advocacy and hearing their opinions. In this time of Covid-19, students are unsettled. Their traditional ways of going through their lives have been disrupted by the closing of schools and times of isolation during the lockdown. Students have not been able to interact with their peers and family members. And they’ve spent even more time on technology as a result. Students need to be given some control of their lives and giving them more control over assignments and assessment is a good place to start.

Choice in assignments and assessment

Building student advocacy is a powerful instructional strategy to build on student engagement and their overall learning experience in school. Empowering learners happens through student voice and student choice. Here students can provide suggestions on how to learn and how to demonstrate their learning through their choice of assessment. Visual learners might wish to supplement a writing assignment with a illustration, graphic organizer, or video. Auditory learners may wish to talk about their science project while limiting some of their writing. Kinetic learners might ask to act out their summary of their novel study.

In being flexible and open to suggestions, teachers allow students more agency in their own learning and in their ownership of their work.

The importance of hearing students and honouring their perspectives

As an advocate of student voice, I have listened to my students’ concerns and feedback. This process keeps my teaching practices in sync with students’ life experiences. I always thought I had a well-established practice with student advocacy until one day. While talking about police my student stated, “I hate the police.” At first, I was taken back by this very definitive statement (this was before the Black Lives Matter protests of the Spring/Summer of 2020). I thought the statement was disrespectful but then I realized that this was based on the students’ experiences as he identified as Black. He watched his older siblings being harassed by police. He had experienced being watched in stores to see if he would steel anything. He had been criticized for his very large amount of curly hair.

There, in that moment, I adjusted my perspective as he had every right to state this. I asked him to explain why he had said it and the rest of the students in my classroom were in shock that their experience had been very different to his. In allowing him to voice his perspective, he introduced a new perspective to each student in our classroom.

Hearing students’ voices in schools

Students should be able to see their identity in the curriculum they study. This means promoting equity and inclusion through culturally responsive instruction and assessment. The role of culturally responsive teaching is to understand who students are as people and who they are within their community. This pedagogical approach acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates fundamental aspects of student culture while providing equitable and inclusive education for students of all backgrounds and identities. With the Black Lives Matter movement in full force, this is especially important for students who identify as Black. Essentially, in teaching through a lens of culturally responsive pedagogy, student identity is honoured.

How does culturally-relevant pedagogy benefit teaching?

Teachers need to be reflective of who their students are and how best to adapt with instruction and assessment to their needs. As reflective practitioners, teachers learn to adapt their teaching to meet the needs of their students. Here, the focus of teaching goes away from the curriculum and towards the learning needs of the students.

Schön (1987) stated that in teachers’ reflection, learning influences behaviour through the teachers’ self-discovery, self- assessment, and deciding the appropriateness of instruction. It is through teacher reflection that the opportunity, the motivation, and the environment reflects on the idea that learning belongs to the learner, the student. In this process, teachers take on the role of and status of facilitator over the traditional role of an “expert” teacher (Schön, 1987).

In using a reflective stance (Schön, 1987), teachers incorporate issues of equity, inclusion, and social justice as a necessary element in their day to day teaching practices. The development of culturally relevant teaching strategies is necessary in order to challenge learners to think critically about their own learning and who they are as learners. In other words, to feel included, students need to see themselves within the curriculum and instruction (Hutton, 2019).

By including their identity in education, students become more engaged in their culture in the context of learning. This helps develop perspectives and skills to adapt to present day reality in order to address skills and knowledge for the future (Hutton, 2019).

Best Practices for Culturally Responsive Teaching & Assessment.

The Culturally Responsive Educator Mindset (adapted from Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 4/5)

  1. Socio-cultural consciousness: Teachers are aware of how socio-cultural structures impact individual students’ experiences and opportunities.
  2. High expectations:Teachers hold positive and affirming views of student success from all backgrounds.
  3. Desire to make a difference:Teachers work towards more equity and inclusion as change agents.
  4. Constructivist approach:Teachers understand that students’ learning is constructed through their own knowledge (or schema).
  5. Deep knowledge of their students:Teachers know who their students are by knowing about students and their families. Teachers then know how individual students learn best and where they are at in their learning.
  6. Culturally responsive teaching practices: Teachers design and build instruction based on students’ prior knowledge in order to stretch students in their thinking and learning.

An example of student agency in action

Before schools closed and the lockdown was in place, my class was studying Black History. One student mentioned Viola Desmond being place on the Canadian ten dollar bill. As we discussed her story, the students became very engaged as they were great advocates of human rights and several students identified as being Black. I had planned this to be a relatively short lesson that was followed by a short journal. But I have learned that half of my planning is abandoned due to student choice and voice as the students usually come up with much more engaging lessons and ways to show their learning.

My time of lesson planning stopped and the students took over. One student said “Let’s do a play about Viola” another mentioned costumes and another started writing scrips. By the time they were done, we had full scripts, costumes, props, blocking (i.e. where actors should stand), and invitations to come see our play, Viola Desmond Buys a Ticket. The principal and vice principal came to see our play; the grade 2s and 3s came to see our play; the grade 4/5 class came to see our play; and even the custodian came to see our play. My assessment blossomed with reading, writing, art, media, and drama marks. It was magical all because I let go.

I write this blog as a person who identifies as White in privilege. Because I am White and educated, I carry my privilege in my Invisible White Backpack. I’ve included a resource if you’d like to explore this further.

Wishing you good health and peace,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD


Hutton, F. (2019). Notes on culturally responsive pedagogy.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (November 2014). Culturally responsive pedagogy: Towards equity and inclusivity in Ontario Schools, Secretariat Special Edition #35, Ontario Ministry of Education, Downloaded from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/cbs_responsivepedagogy.pdf

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner.


Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

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Promoting Students’ Self Advocacy

Advocacy – Student Voice by Adam Lajoy

Unpacking the Invisible White Backpack

Advocacy – Student Voice by Adam Lajoy

Promoting Black Lives Matters

No single right way to be an effective ally, says Black Lives Matter activist — but there is a wrong way