School re-opening smart policy design: How Ontario’s current school reopening policy is not so smart

Education policy implementation is a complex process that requires the input of all stakeholders including teachers, school staff, parents, and school communities. As major players in policy implementation, teachers decode and recode policy texts in the process of understanding and translating with various degrees of intentional and unintentional interpretation (Clune, 1987; Fuhrman, Clune, & Elmore, 1991).

In the complex process of policy implementation, teachers experience challenges with implementing educational reforms where previous policy initiatives have not met their objectives (Fullan, 2001). In the layers of educational initiatives, an “array of policies” implemented simultaneously in schools, can cause policy overload within teachers’ practices (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996; Grossman & Thompson, 2004).

In addition, teachers’ thinking is focused on the complexities and ambiguity of their classroom practice and not necessarily on system-wide views of initiative implementation (Timperley & Robinson, 2000). This means that policies, developed with the system-wide perspective of policy authors, may conflict with the classroom-bound perspectives of teachers.

Teachers’ reactions to the “fragmented and cluttered” policy implementation process  may be viewed as teachers being resistant to change. This instead may be a response to the accumulation of past policy experiences, policy overload, policy fragmentation, policy contradictions, and competing perspectives (Timperley & Robinson, 2000). In other words, most education policies don’t fit into the complex and variable context of teachers’ classrooms.

Even when educational policies do not present the intended results, policy authors still believe the design of their policies is an effective way to make change in education. Greenfield (1993) argues that although this reality “usually fails to shake our faith in such theory” (p. 3), it implies that “we need to ask whether the theory and assumptions still appear to hold in the settings where they were developed before they are recommended and applied to totally new settings” (p. 4).

In other words, are education policies producing the intended results in all schools and classrooms? Policy authors rarely follow up with an audit of the effectiveness of their policies nor do they consider if their policies have resulted in harmful consequences to schools, to school communities, and to students’ lives. This is particularly objectionable when the health and lives of students and teachers is impacted.

What makes good policy implementation?

(Viennet & Pont, 2017)

Smart policy design:

Well developed policies offer a logical and feasible solutions to policy problems. Effective policy implementation is based on the feasibility of adequate resources available to support its successful implementation. These resources should include funding to ensure adequate staffing and supplies to support policy implementation in schools that support the policy’s framework.

For example, if a policy is framed upon students being able to social distance in classrooms, then there should be enough space in classrooms to accommodate students with this level of distancing. If classrooms are not large enough to have over 25 students sitting in desks spread out over the classroom, the policy is sure to fail.

Including stakeholders like educators:

Whether and how key stakeholders (i.e. educators, parents, communities, students) are recognized and included in the implementation process is crucial to any policy’s effectiveness. Without the input of front-line stakeholders, the intended policy objectives could result in unintended consequences.

For example, if a policy is to be implemented in the landscape of schools and classrooms in communities, it is imperative that those with intimate knowledge of the landscape should be consulted in order to unearth any obvious challenges presented. An example of this is the diversity of classroom layouts and its contents. Classrooms are as unique as the people who learn in them. Not all classrooms are the same size or configuration. Further, not all classrooms contain desks and instead have collaborative work areas where students sit at tables. If students are to sit two metres or even one metre away from each other, tables may only have one spot for a student. If a policy is based on a configuration of desk placements, it will fail unless furniture is purchased to meet the policy’s assumptions.

Policy designed for schools and their communities:

An effective policy implementation process recognizes the existing policy environment (i.e. schools before Covid-19), the educational governance (i.e. board and school administration) and institutional settings (i.e. elementary and secondary schools) and the external context (i.e. returning to school in a pandemic). Without input from frontline stakeholders, policy authors may produce policy recommendations that are completely inappropriate for schools and their communities.

For example, implementing a return to school policy based on schools’ past configurations will likely result in a quick realization that this assumption is flawed. The practical conclusion is that there will be no way to fit the same number of students into the same amount of space with the implementation of a social distancing policy.

Sensible policy strategies for schools:

A coherent implementation takes into consideration all the guidelines and resources needed to make a policy operational at the school level (i.e. policy needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of schools’ in their particular communities).

For example, policy authors may mandate synchronous daily online learning sessions for each classroom. Policy makers may not consider the specific technology and the resultant cost for the set up of these online sessions. One most obvious challenge is that there might not be enough Internet bandwidth to support the synchronous daily learning sessions simultaneously for all classes in all schools in Ontario at the same time. In June of 2020, I personally had my own class synchronous learning sessions crash when my board’s staff meetings were occurring at the same time.

Safe Schools in September?

In summary, without consulting school staff and their communities, policy authors will likely see their policy objectives fail as they did not consider the context in which their policies were to be implemented. On a further note, as school boards are already stretched for funding, no additional funding will result in policy implementation that is not smart and not implemented.

I write this blog in a state of frustration and concern as Ontario’s Ministry of Education released plans to open schools in September 2020. Key stakeholders were not consulted in the making of this policy which have resulted in glaring deficits in it’s implementation, particularly in elementary schools.

As a person who has taught through 20 years of education policy implementation, I know education policies fail more than they succeed. I’ve worked through half-baked policy implementation that was only partly implemented or completely abandoned. I’ve faced the fall out of failed policies such as having hand sanitizer in schools during the H1N1 outbreak as some students became sick from ingesting this substance.

Even the thought of having to manage the social distancing of so many students makes my head spin.

My greatest fear is that school communities will face outbreaks of Covid-19 and people will get very sick. The worse negative consequence is that school communities may have to mourn the loss of a person belonging to their community.

A failed return to school policy may end up failing us all.

Take care of yourself and your communities.

Stay safe.

Deb Weston, PhD – a concerned classroom teacher

PhD in Education Policy and Leadership


Clune, W. H. (1987). Institutional choice as a theoretical framework for research on educational policy. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 9(2), 117-132.

Fuhrman, S., Clune, W., & Elmore, R. (1991). Research on education reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy (pp. 197-218). AR Odden, Education Policy Implementation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Fullan, M. (2001). The new meaning of educational change (3rd ed.). Toronto, ON: Irwin.

Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (1996). What’s worth fighting for in your school? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Greenfield, T. (1993). Theory about organization: A new perspective and its implications for schools. In T. Greenfield & P. Ribbins (Eds.), Greenfield on educational administration (pp. 1-25), London, UK: Routledge.

Grossman, P., & Thompson, C. (2004). District policy and beginning teachers: A lens on teacher learning. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, (26)4, 281-301.

Timperley, H., & Robinson, V. (2000). Workload and the professional culture of teachers. Educational Management & Administration, 28(1), p. 47-62.

Viennet, R., & Pont, B. (2017). Education Policy Implementation: A Literature Review and Proposed Framework. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 162. OECD Publishing.

The Future of eLearning

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.

Given that we are at a time in history where a pandemic is pushing school work onto eLearning platforms, I can see growth in the technology of eLearning platforms for many students.

In our immediate future, eLearning will allow students more flexibility in choice and mode as they learn. This means that students could take courses offered by schools, other than the school they attend. Options could include a blended approach which comprises of specified times where they attend classes for hands-on activities.

Note that I see students developmentally ready at a high school level, as I believe students in elementary school require more ongoing face-to-face support with their teachers. In addition, students who are at or below grade 3 level should be limited in their eLearning as they still require personal interactions to learn and socialize with others.

I’ve highlighted some applications that are being used or will continue to be used on eLearning platforms.

Transitioning To Mobile Learning Apps

Teaching students through mobile apps may also be an option in learning languages (e.g. Duolingo), practicing math skills (e.g. Prodigy), and practicing reading skills (e.g. How to teach your monster to read).

Virtual Reality

Augmented and Virtual Reality solutions may become a way to teach students about places they cannot directly visit or experience situations they should not experience. Examples include  visiting the Tundra where polar bears live or learning about the impact of drunk driving through Smart Wheels for grades 4 to 6  (a program I participated in with my students. There are even virtual reality programs for seniors now.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning may also be developed to support students with special education needs. Here programs adapt the learning environment to meet each students’ profile of needs and accommodations. These could include having computer programs reading text to students (text to speech) and recording answers (speech to text). Learning environments could also adapt to students’ learning profiles presenting learning with more visuals to visual learners, more audio to audio learners, and the use of augmented hands for tactile learners.

As the learner spends more time with their learning platform, the program would assess how the student learns best and adjust the platform accordingly. There is a debate as to whether personalized learning can really deliver  the same quality of learning as being face to face with humans.

Caveats to eLearning

I have been using aspects of online learning for several years with my grade 4 and 5 students. We use Google Docs/Drive to share work with other students in a collaborative format. My students also use assistive technology like Google Read/Write to complete work and then share it with me via Google Docs.

I’ve been teaching my students with significant learning disabilities online for over 2 months now. As time has gone forward, my students who are very good at working on their own have done well in our online learning environment. My students who need a significant amount of support are struggling more and some students have stopped participating completely (33% not submitting any work, 33% submitting some work, 33% submitting all work on time). Note that all students do not have access to high speed internet and to their own technology (as they are using computers from the school).

The big challenge is that my students are missing the social aspect of school as they once worked and played with their friends. Also, many parents have reported students with increased mental wellness challenges.

The one big take away from this experience is that the parents, mostly mothers, are having to take on the role of a teaching assistant while they run the household, take care of children and the elderly, make meals, do laundry, and work at their own jobs at home. Downloading the work of educators onto parents is not sustainable. This puts further pressures on parents,  mostly women, who do most of the unpaid work in their homes.

In the end, online eLearning will only work for a certain group of students. It will support the students who are already self starters who work well with little supervision from instructors. For the students who need support to learn, online learning may leave them behind.

Ontario’s current flawed model of online learning

All I know, at this moment in time, is that the current model of online learning is flawed as it expands the digital divide between those who have reliable technology and those that do not. Further, the diversity of learners is not being met as students who work well on their own succeed. But some students will not succeed, especially those students with special education needs. Learning for all promotes a safe, supportive, and inclusive society of learners, where no students are left behind.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston


2018 Training Industry Report

Strategies to Engage Students in Online Learning

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.

This is a personal reflection on how I have improved my skills as an online teacher of students with learning disabilities. It is my hope that this reflection will support teachers with their own online learning journey.

  1. Teachers need to know the technology and how to support students with this technology

As teachers we are expected to lead by example. In the transition to online learning, teachers were tasked to provide our students with an online learning platform in a short time frame. Many teachers had never used any of the platforms provided and had to stumble through the first weeks following a very steep learning curve.

This meant that I had to investigate many applications that I thought would work with my students. I quickly learned every week what format and applications kept the students’ interest and what did not.

Teachers do not have to be experts all the time and it is perfectly acceptable not to know how to use every application and platform immediately. With time and support from others, teachers can build enough efficacy to support their students in learning how to use the technology.

As a teacher, I have also been supporting parents on how to support their children with on line learning as parents are now acting as adhoc teaching assistants.

A caveat: Even with my 2 years of teaching teachers online, this still did not prepare me for the colossal task of trying to keep my students working on schoolwork and engaged in their learning.

  1. Give students the opportunity to add to their own learning.

Getting my students to help develop our online content was not as challenging as I thought as my students already ask to investigate things that matter to them. This meant getting and using suggestions made by students to post as online class assignments. An example of this was our class’s “Message of Hope” where students were ask to create a message that I could Tweet out through our school’s community.

In our weekly meeting, the students decided that they wanted to visit different parts of the world using Google Earth. This created a chance to talk about many things we saw in our visits. Further, the students also decided that each student should take a turn to run our Friday meeting.

In building an opportunity for students to learn what they find interesting, intrinsic motivation can be maintained as their love of learning new things and new technology will likely promote further engagement in student’s learning online.

  1. Provide a time for sharing to build community

During our weekly online meetings, students share how they are feeling (similar to the daily community check-ins). When I ran this activity, my questions were often met with short answers. Now that students are running the meeting, they ask questions such as “What did you do yesterday?” which are apparently far more engaging than “How are you feeling today?” As a regular part of our meeting, we usually end up telling stories about happenings in our lives. This is also a powerful way to connect students with their peers as they ask questions and add on to these stories.

In order to keep students connected to their school community, I invite surprise guests to visit our weekly online meeting. To date, the VP, the office manager, and the kindergarten teachers/ECEs have visited our meeting. I think our VP had more fun that the students did with her visit!

  1. Updating online learning content every week

I found out very quickly that I needed to keep my Google Classroom fresh with new content. This meant that I had to delete content that students did not engage in or gave poor reviews on such as “I didn’t like that site/activity , I think we should do something more interesting”. With this feedback, I try and keep the content engaging which included writing a journal on Slime in Space. I also included quizzes on learning styles and future careers which turned out to be a big hit!

In keeping content engaging, I need to get feedback from students as I am not 10 years old anymore and my students are the experts about what they find interesting.

  1. Get students to help other students

Some of my students are very solid users of technology and some are not. As I would in my classroom, I ask students to support other students in helping them learn certain applications as they have already had the lesson from me. This strategy is very effective as students who need support get it and this gives an opportunity for other students to develop leadership skills. It is interesting when the support flips and the student who usually provides supports needs it from a student who usually gives support.

  1. Making sure work gets done

Keeping students accountable during the time of online school is a challenge. Students are not accustomed to learning online and prefer the more social face to face learning in classrooms.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has been very clear about not assessing students and only providing feedback for work completed online. This also means that students do not have to complete work as there is no source of extrinsic motivation. Instead, teachers must rely on students’ intrinsic motivation demonstrated through their love of learning online.

Further, parents must be onside. Parents, mostly mothers, have been put in a place where they are acting as their child’s teaching assistant. This means that parents must monitor and encourage their child to complete the 5 hours of assigned work per week without the teacher in place to support schoolwork. As a teacher, I do everything I can to support parents in getting their child to turn in their work. I am now meeting with each student online to go over their assignments and support them as needed. Some parents are having a very challenging time getting their child to do any work. This is a reality of online learning as some students cannot sustain their engagement in learning without a teacher’s support.

In addition, some parents are overtaxed with supporting their child’s learning at home. During the , parents have been working from home and caring for their children. For some parents, it is so overwhelming that they cannot support their child with their schoolwork.

Even during the pre-lockdown school days, I could not help my son with his homework which he rarely completed. It was not worth battling with my child to get his work finished. I am glad he is an adult now, responsible for his own work.

The bottom line is that since I am accountable to tracking and reporting on work completion, I must continue doing this as I am my students’ teacher.

Overall, this challenge of solely teaching and learning online has not been something I want to maintain. I plan to keep some aspects of our Google Classroom as it is a good way to track work and grow students learning of new technology and applications.

With our current online learning reality, what I miss most is working directly with students seeing their faces and reactions to learning new things. In being able to read students’ level of comprehension, I can make the work harder or easier so we are in the sweet spot of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. If work is too easy, students learn very little. If work is too hard, students give up.

In using visual cues, I can be highly effective in teaching my students more. Without being physically present while watching my students work, I am teaching blind.

Wishing you health and wellness,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Classrooms After Covid-19

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.

I write this blog in response to the Province of Quebec opening their public schools as of May 11th 2020. As the education of students is challenged with many layers of complexity, I will muse about what classrooms might look like when Ontario’s students return to classroom.

Managing the Spread of the Virus

In minimizing the spread of the virus, schools may be given the responsibility of monitoring students’ level of health. This could mean morning temperature checks, hourly hand washing routines, hand sanitizer stations, and the wearing of masks. Custodians would also be tasked with cleaning areas frequented my students such as hallways and washrooms. This would mean more custodians may need to be hired to keep up with increased hygiene demands.

Further, policy might have to be put in place to send students home who are experiencing signs of Illness. As a classroom teacher, I know that parents send their children to school with diarrhea, vomiting, and fever which is likely to spread infection to others. I am concerned about the occurrence of students’ 11 o’clock fever which results in parent dosing their feverish child with Tylenol at 7 am only to have the fever return when the medication wears off 4 hours later. In 2009, when the H1N1 virus hit, one of my grade 7 classes had 18 students sick with H1N1 after a birthday party. From my students, I contracted H1N1 and was fortunately put on antiviral medication, so I recovered within a few days.

In considering teachers already being tasked with many responsibilities and challenges, I suggest that the responsibility of monitoring students’ health be placed in the capable hands of trained medical professionals. This would mean that boards of education would have to hire health professionals such as practical nurses to monitor students’ health and deal with students first aid needs.

Hallways, Entry, Exit, Busing, Recess, Assemblies

In order to limit traffic and honour social distancing, schools may have to set zones, based on students’ age, to limit contact between grade level divisions. This might mean that students in Kindergarten, primary (grades 1, 2, 3), junior (grades 4, 5, 6), and intermediate (grades 6, 7, 8) will have limited access to different hallways and staircases in order to limit numbers of students interacting.

Further, limiting numbers of students interacting may mean staggered entries and dismissals with each grade division having its own entry and dismissal time.

The number of school buses would have to increase to ensure seating to accommodate social distancing for students riding to and from school (i.e. one child per seat).

Students would have to stay in their classrooms to eat lunch and they would also have staggered recess times to limit contact between students of different ages and the number of students outside for recess at the same time.

Assemblies would be cancelled until the chance of spreading the viral infection was limited. Physical Education classes might have to be limited in size of 15 students only and often held outside to limit the spread of the virus.

Classroom Configurations

Classrooms will have to be set up very differently than they are now as flexible seating and collaborative work will not measure up to the requirements of social distancing. This means that students will be sitting in rows 2 metres apart. Students will not be permitted to get out of their seats to talk to their peers or to wander around the classroom. Classrooms will be much like my grade 5 classroom with all students sitting in rows, doing work with classroom instruction on the board.

Younger students may also have to sit separately during carpet time in their marked spot (while teaching grade 2/3, I used tape to indicate where certain students had to sit).

Connected Collaborative Classrooms

In order to engage in classroom collaboration, students, grades 4 and up, will require computers to work to complete classroom assignments and work collaboratively with other students via online classroom applications.

Class Sizes and Staffing

The Province of Quebec indicated that they would limit class sizes to 15 students. This will present a problem for many boards of education as they simply do not have enough schools and classrooms to accommodate these much smaller class sizes. Further, Kindergarten classrooms usually have up to 30 students in each classroom. In accommodating smaller class sizes, students might have to have staggered use of their classroom with half the class coming to school in the morning and the other half coming to school in the afternoon. Or instead, school boards would have to locate twice the classrooms to accommodate all Kindergarten students.

With smaller class sizes, means hiring more teachers. With class size at about 25 students average per class there will have to be 1.1 more teachers for every two classes currently (25 X 2 = 50 /15 = 1.1). If you have been involved in staffing schools, you will know teacher allocations are usually about percentages as there is usually a teacher in a school with a percentage of a whole teaching job e.g. 0.4 = 40% of time and pay of a whole teacher.

In using the numbers for an elementary school, Kindergarten to grade 8, staffing numbers could change as follows for just classroom teachers not including planning time teachers (i.e. Music, Physical Education, Health, Art, Drama, Planning Time):

In this scenario, there would be a 42% increase in teachers needed to teach smaller classes Students

Current Staffing

Covid-19 Staffing

Primary Division




Junior/Intermediate Division








In cutting class sizes to accommodate physical distancing, there could be an over 40% increase in teaching staff as demonstrated above.

Limiting People with Compromise Health

Further, the Province of Quebec is suggesting that teachers over 60 years or with compromised health challenges work remotely from home. Students with compromised health challenges would also be recommended to stay home thus having them continue their online learning.

Dealing with Mental Health

This is a challenging time for all people; students and educators would require more mental health supports available on site within schools. With the stress of social distancing and more structured changes in learning, many students may not be able to cope.

Violence in schools has already been well documented as a significant concern and with more stress in schools, students will have even more challenges in regulating their emotions. Schools will need mental health professionals, more teaching assistants, and more social workers to support these students who are already at risk.

The Bottom Line for People

In the end, with all this planning and adapting of the educational landscape, parents may choose to keep their children at home. As a parent, I know that children are great spreaders of infection. I have personally missed three Christmas celebrations as my young children got sick at the time and then passed the infection on to me. I believe that viruses and bacteria strengthen in young children only to hit their parents like a tsunami – I have pictures on me lying on the floor while my kids open up their presents! Fortunately my children are adults now.

Governments should be cautious in their advocacy for reopening schools as they put staff, students, and the school community at risk of getting sick or very sick, suffering life changing consequences. Be reminded the Infection Prevention and Control is a significant health and safety concern in all workplaces.

Wishing you, your family and friends best health,

Deb Weston

Resources & Recent News Articles

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) technical guidance: Guidance for schools, workplaces & institutions World Health Organization

COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response WASH and Infection Prevention and Control Measures in Schools Unicef

COVID-19 Guidance: Occupational Health and Safety and Infection Prevention & Control

COVID-19 in Quebec: Some businesses will reopen in May, but no return to ‘normal life,’ says premier

How other countries sent their children back to school amid COVID-19

How will schools enforce physical distancing Your COVID-19 questions answered

May opening of elementary schools, daycares ‘a necessary decision,’ says Quebec education minister

No plan to reopen B.C. schools yet, says education minister

What will Canadian schools look like after COVID-19? Here’s what could change

Keep Calm and Teach ONLine




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.

I’m in my third week of working to set up my online classroom and to get my students, and their parents, up to speed with learning critical online tasks. These include knowing how to log in, remembering passwords, and completing/submitting assigned work. In addition, all of us, students, parents, and teachers, are facing a steep learning curve with using applications and technology not previously implemented.

I’ll be honest with you, reader, I’ve had some lasting moments of being completely overwhelmed with the circumstances we are going through as teachers. Isolated in our homes, we deal with steep learning curves while worrying about our students in their lives and in their learning.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, online learning has been very quickly implemented by asking teachers, who usually teach face to face, to move to an online format. Students, who usually learn face to face, are now having to negotiate online learning without the support of their teachers. Parents, who usually rely on teachers to do the work of education, are now having to take on this role.

Doing the work of education

Through an informal survey of 145 people, via Twitter, 64% of mothers were taking on most of the education work of teaching online, while only 8% of the fathers were taking on most of this work. In addition, the survey indicated that 28% of both parents shared this education work.

This is particularly challenging as mothers and grandmothers are having to manage and maintain households while they keep children occupied and prepare meals in addition to working online and helping their children do schoolwork online. In other words, as one parent stated, parents are acting as ad hoc Teaching Assistants.

Inequity and exclusion of access to technology and reliable internet

 School boards are inadequately funded for having students work from home and only have limited resources to supply students with the technology they need to do this work. As a result, some students are doing their work on their parents’ phones. Adequate internet access is also a challenge in urban and rural areas. Students who live in low socioeconomic settings cannot afford technology to support online learning as it is an unaffordable luxury.

This discrepancy in access to technology has amplified the digital divide which boards of education and the Ontario Ministry of Education have known about for many years. Boards of Education have used stop gap measures such as students bringing devices to school which results in students using their phones to do schoolwork. Even with this measure in place, there are still students who’s families cannot afford any technology or internet access to support the technological needs of their classrooms.

In a classroom of students who “have” access to their own technology, the “have not” students stick out. This presents a significant inequity and exclusion from a society that relies on technology and internet every day. If this was not the case, the Ontario Ministry of Education could not have implemented provincial online learning from home for all Ontario students. The problem is that not all Ontario students are receiving the needed accommodations to support their learning.

When teaching is online, learning opportunities become visible. The Covid-19 pandemic crisis  has not only made learning visible but has made the inequity in learning with technology visible. This crisis has highlighted the great divide in students’ access to technology and internet. Skills developed through using this technology are key to students’ futures in doing well in education and obtaining jobs that provide a living wage. Again, students without access to technology and reliable internet face inequity and exclusion in society.

Ontario’s Education Policy Memorandum No. 119 cites that all publically funded school boards are required to address Barriers to Learning through policies of equity and inclusion. In disregarding these barriers, human rights violations occur as cited in the Ontario’s Human Rights Code. These Barriers to Learning have always been there for students; now educators are facing the consequences of inequities and exclusion while teaching online.

Challenging times for educators for teaching online

As I teach teachers online and communicate with parents and teachers from my school, I’ve collected anecdotal notes on their experiences. In addition, I’ve talked to colleagues who are also sharing their challenges with online teaching and learning.

In total, I’ve collected feedback from teachers who are experiencing many challenges from a variety of school neighbourhoods. These include schools in First Nation communities, British schools, schools in Ontario and other Canadian provinces, schools in low socio-economic communities, and schools in areas with high levels of immigration. These teachers instruct students from kindergarten to grade 12. Below are some of the major issues that the teachers addressed:

Adequate internet access:

  • In some rural and fly-in communities internet signals are not strong enough to have all students on the communities’ internet at the same time
  • Even in urban areas internet can be inconsistently unreliable
  • Many fly-in communities do not have basic services such as potable water thus making internet very much a luxury
  • Underfunding of special education means inequity and exclusion in these areas for students who need technology to learn
  • Some students have no access to internet or technology supports

Challenges teachers are facing in teaching online:

  • supporting learning via emails/phone calls with parents
  • listening to parental challenges with online learning
  • getting students to complete assigned work
  • dealing with only 20 to 70% of students signing into online courses
  • dealing with students only submitting 0 to 50% of assigned work
  • supporting parents with low levels of literacy
  • supporting parents with low levels of English and/or French as their second/third language

Supporting Students with Special Education Needs

Students with special education needs are one of the groups of students who are not receiving the support they need in this challenging time. When not at school, these students miss out on their usual learning supports that includes therapy, counselling, equipment needed for learning, assisted behaviour modification, and trained educators who deal with specific student needs.

With everyday that passes, these students miss on the supports they need to be successful as learners. For these vulnerable students, every day that is missed results in one more day of a lost opportunity to learn.

Provincial Ministries of Education need to step up and provide emergency funding for technology supports which includes paid internet access and computers to implement online learning for all.

Lost opportunities in a time of inequity and exclusion

A teacher candidate, Ms. Randhawa wrote …

“The whole world is making the best use of technology for the first time and it is very much visible that learning is not just confined to classrooms anymore.”

Indeed, not only is learning more visible but so is the discrepancies between the families who have access to technology resources and those who do not.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the digital divide, between the “have” and “have nots”, is in the front line of education for all the world to see. Provincial Ministries of Education must address this deficit so boards of education can support all students. Without this, Barriers to student learning for our most vulnerable students will be impacting children’s lives, today and tomorrow.

A note just for teachers: Please remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Care for yourself so you can support your students. Without a well rested and healthy teacher to support learning, students, and their parents, will be on their own.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD – At Home, Teaching and Learning Online

A Time For Self Care

A Time For Self Care

As educators, we face an unprecedented time where we are not working, waiting to be called back to work when the Covid 19 outbreaks subside. Waiting, not being busy, watching the numbers of confirmed cases grow has been very unnerving for me.

As a teacher, I thrive being busy. I thrive being with my students. For 14 days, I’ve been  socially isolating (with my patient,understanding partner). In two weeks, we have only left our place to get groceries. I can only do so many puzzles or watch Netflix so many times.

And I know that as educators, you worry about students and miss being at your school. Your work is part of you. It is part of what defines you! Your work, that provides structure to your life, has been suspended.

Ironically, the stress I am feeling is opposite to the usual stress of being physically, mentally, and/or emotionally worn out due to our role as caregivers to our students. This is caregiver stress is referred to as compassion fatigue and has been referred to as “the cost of caring” (Charles Figley, 1995). An even without dealing with students, being away from them causes educators’ stress.

I’ve been regularly practicing self care since the day last week where, I went “a little squirrelly” … looking for things to do. I don’t sit around well!

As busy educators, some of you are also having to care for children and elderly relative during this time. If you feel overwhelmed, there is a reason for this as this moment in time and its repercussions is a lot to deal with!

As educators we do more than “just teach”, we care for our students and our colleagues. Teaching is about relationships and caring. I became a teacher to make the world a better place one student at a time and one day at a time. This exceptional time in the world is challenging for me.

If you feel overwhelmed, please reach out the medical personal or a mental health professional.

Take care of yourself so you can take care of others – Take each day one day at a time.

Wishing best health to you and your family,

Deb Weston

Some excellent resources from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Challenging worries and anxious thoughts

Talking to children about COVID-19 and its impact

Dealing with problems in a structured way

Attend to self care

  • self care is an effective way to guard against burn out from compassion fatigue or stress
  • self care helps educators deal with challenging workplace stress
  • key self care strategies include eating well, sleeping well, exercising, taking a break during the workday, taking time to self-reflect, making time to de-stress
  • know your triggers for stress

Build Resiliency

(Adapted from CAMH Resiliency & Short Term Self Care, n.d. )

Resilience is frequently described as the capacity to thrive and fulfill one’s potential despite (or perhaps because of) stressful circumstances. All of us are resilient in one way or another, but some people seem to be more resilient. These people are inclined to see challenges as learning opportunities which can result in healthy emotional growth and development.

Factors that are characteristic of resilient people include:

  • a sense of closeness and connectedness to others
  • strong, dependable support from at least one significant other in their lives
  • attention to their own personal health and well-being
  • high self-esteem, a strong sense of personal identity
  • a sense of humor can help you overlook the unattractive, tolerate the unpleasant, cope with the unexpected and smile through the unbearable.
  • a realistic and balanced awareness of their strengths and limitations
  • the ability to be assertive and emotionally tough when necessary, but also sensitive and compassionate
  • a playful, lighthearted approach to life
  • a sense of direction and purpose in life
  • the ability to turn difficult experiences into valuable learning opportunities
  • the capacity to pick themselves up, shake themselves off and keep moving forward after traumatic and upsetting situations
  • the ability to adapt to and live comfortably with uncertainty and unpredictability
  • the ability to laugh at themselves. Resilient people do not “sweat the small stuff.”

Short-term Strategies: Putting on the brakes to relieve stress

Short-term strategies that help ease anxiety are unique to each person. List the quick wins that might be most helpful for you, and add to your list when something comes up that you find pleasant or re-energizing.

Here are some simple ways to relieve stress:

  • phone or email a colleague
  • take a walk
  • eat well
  • ask for help
  • ask for advice
  • drink at least two glasses of water a day
  • if you can, take in some nature
  • stretch
  • 4-7-8 breathing 4 in-7 hold-8 out
  • bake something and share it with others
  • make jam or bread … it always helps me

Making it Personal

Here are some quizzes you can do to help you know yourself and how you deal with stress!

Self Assessment for Stress and Burnout

“How Resilient Are You?” by A. Siebert (

“The Resiliency Quiz” by N. Henderson (

Making a self care plan that works for me


Figley, C. R. (1995). Compassion fatigue: Secondary traumatic stress disorders from treating the traumatized. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 7.

Mayo Clinic Staff, (n.d.) Stress management: Know your triggers

O’Grady, C. P., & Skinner, J. W., (2007) MSCAMH A Family Guide to Concurrent Disorders (CAMH Resiliency & Short Term Self Care) Downloaded from

Stress Cat (n.d.)

Stay Home Activities for Kids

Picture of my kids (at 9 & 11 years old) being “bored”

Upon hearing that my students could be at home for up to 3 weeks due to an “extended March Break”, I started putting a list together of “kid” things to do. Once my students discovered I was writing this list, they gave me many more activities to keep kids busy at home.

While putting this list together, it reminded me of when I was young and my own children were young when we had limited access to technology – as a single parent I could only afford a rabbit TV antenna … we got only 4 channels clearly.

I’d like to thank my students for all their suggestions, and together, we always make having fun learning better.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Stay Home Activities for Kids

Make (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1. Invent new things with household items – an invention convention

2. Design and sew clothes – using old clothes and material

3. Cook or bake something (like homemade pizza)

    • ask for adult supervision or help
    • read the recipe
    • make sure you have all the ingredients you need
    • make sure your parents are present when you use the stove or oven
    • ask someone to critique your food

4. Make an obstacle course – challenge yourself, friends and parents to get through it in record time

5. Make popsicles – using fruit and juice

6. Make Best Ever No-Cook Play Dough Recipe

    • 2 cups plain flour (all purpose)
    • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (baby oil and coconut oil work too)
    • 1/2 cup salt.
    • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar.
    • 1 to 1.5 cups boiling water (adding in increments until it feels just right)
    • gel food colouring or regular food colouring (optional) (I use no sugar Koolaid Mix)
    • Mix together and knead dough

7. Make homemade ice cream

With just a few basic ingredients and a bit of shaking, you will be enjoying individual bowls of ice cream. Making this will allow kids to explore scientific concepts that turn this creamy liquid into a yummy solid.

What You’ll Need:

        • 1 1/2 cups half and half
        • 1 tablespoon sugar
        • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
        • 1/2 cup rock salt
        • 3 cups ice
        • 1 gallon-size zip-top bag
        • 1 pint-size zip-top bag
        • Dish towel

What You Do:

      1. Start by filling the gallon-size zip-top bag with half the ice. Invite your child to sprinkle half the rock salt over the ice and then place the pint-size zip-top bag inside.
      2. Now carefully measure and pour the half and half into the small pint-size bag along with the vanilla and sugar. Make sure the top is tightly sealed!
      3. Pack the rest of the ice around the cream-filled baggie and then sprinkle with the rest of the rock salt. Zip the top, wrap in the dish towel, and get ready to shake.
      4. While your child is shaking away, take a moment to chat about what role the salt plays in the homemade ice cream making experiment. Without the salt, the ice wouldn’t dip below 32F, which isn’t cold enough for making the ice cream. The freezing point of salt water is lower than regular water, so adding all that salt is an essential part of making the cold treat!
      5. Enlist your youngster to keep track of the time and check the bag after one to two minutes of good shaking. Creamy ice cream should be awaiting inside!
      6. Remove the ice cream from the bag of salted ice and enjoy — straight from the bag.

Perform (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Make your own musical instruments with items found around the house – have a musical performance

2. Make puppets – perform a puppet show

3. Kid Karaoke – by playing music and singing along to it

4. Record a stuffed animal performance – using stuffed animals as the cast members

 5. Write and perform a play using a story you know or make up your own story – Don’t forget to write scripts and make props/costumes

6. Play “Pictionary” – by drawing something and having people guess what it is

Build (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Build Structures and analyse it

  • Analyse the forces in the structures – gravity, load, push, pull, forces
  • Take a picture to share

2. Build a fort in your house – take picture to show your friends

3. Build a cardboard box arcade – make up games you’ve played and some new ones

Explore New Things (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Play board games or card games – try a new game you have never played

2. Listen to music you have never heard – like Jazz and Classical

3. Go for Nature Walks – Take pictures of interesting things to present to others

4. Explore your family’s past

  • by asking your parents and grandparent to tell you stories about their lives – I loved hearing my grandparents’ stories and tell them to my adult children now
  • write down these stories so they will be remembered!

Create (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Create your own board game – using spinners (paper clip) and/or dice with play money

2. Create your own recipe – but remember if you make it you must eat it!

3. Create your own card games – remember to write out the rules

4. Create a Kids Art Museum – Draw, paint, make sculptures and put them on a display

Practice (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Calligraphy or practice cursive writing

2. Math Facts Competition

  • ​​​Adding and subtracting to 10, to 20, to 50 to 100,
  • ​​Practice multiplying and dividing by 10 and 100
  • ​​Multiplication tables

​3. French Practice

  • Have a French cafe where everyone must speak French and order food in French
  • Have a French Fashion Show where all clothing is described using French names for clothing and colours

 Media (always with adult supervision and/or permission)

1.Movie Marathon – Watch all the movies from one series such Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Lego Movies, How to Train Your Dragon

2. Watch “old” TV series – The Flintstones, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch

3. Watch “old” kids series – Arthur, Sesame Street, Magic School Bus

4. Listen to audio books for kids – review/talk about the books

5. Listen to pod casts for kids – critique the pod cast

6. Write a journal on news items

  • Topics that interest kids like Covid19, Climate Change, Fashion, Sports
  • Include Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How in journal
  • Include appropriate pictures from the media.
  • This could be a daily journal on what was happening in the world during the pandemic.

7. Watch a movie and review it – Tips to Write Engaging Movie Reviews

  • Watch movies in which your parents approve
  • Take notes while watching the movie
  • Analyzing each part of the movie – plot/story, characters, setting, action scenes
  • Express your opinions and use supporting details of your criticism
  • Watch it again if you need more information
  • Considering audience kids, adults
  • No spoilers please

9. Review a book for a book talk

  1. First name, Where you live
  2. Name of Book, Author(s), Source (where you found it)
  3. Type of Book: (identify genre: fantasy, sci-fi, realistic fiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, historical fiction, journal, folk tale, fairy tale, mystery, legend, etc)
  4. Summary: Summarize the plot in a short paragraph. In your summary, identify the main plot, major conflicts/problems, and how the problems were solved.
  5. Characters: Summarize the main elements of each important character. Evaluate two or three decisions these character(s) made. Highlight three key events that provide insight into the main character(s)’s personality. Chose a minor character and show how he or she was important to the plot, main character, or themes.
  6. Connecting yourself to the book: List several things that you value or that are important to you from the book. List a character’s actions or values. Compare and contrast you list to the character’s list, pointing out similarities and differences. Are you similar or different to the character? Explain why.
  7. Paragraph pulled out: Pick an interesting paragraph from the book and read it to the class. Explain why you liked it.
  8. Recommendation: Do you recommend the book? Why or why not? For what age group or gender? Give reasons to back up your opinion.
  9. Maximum length: one handwritten or three-quarter typed page double spaced. Remember to proof read for conventions (spelling and grammar).

9. Start a Literature Circle (Activities listed below)

Literature Circle Roles for Grade 4 up

PS: I sneaked some real school work activities into this blog!

Building professional capacity through teacher collaboration and online learning

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.

Internationally, professional educational bodies and teacher federations in the United States, Britain, and Canada, for example, advocate for learning communities and the teacher collaboration that supports it (American Federation of Teachers, 2011; Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, 2011; General Teaching Council for England, 2003; National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2004; Ontario College of Teachers, 2006).

In Ontario, the Ontario College of Teachers’ Professional Learning Framework specifies that “Learning communities enhance professional learning. The professional learning framework encourages collaboration. It supports ongoing commitment to the improvement and currency of teaching practice as an individual and collective responsibility” (Ontario College of Teachers, 2015, p. 23).

Further, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario defines learning communities as “A group of education professionals who share common visions, values, and goals, and work collaboratively using inquiry, experimentation, and innovation to improve teaching and student learning” (2015, n.p.). The federation supports teachers’ involvement in learning communities when teachers’ participation is voluntary, is based on collegiality, respects members professionalism and autonomy, is supported with funding, and contributes to teachers’ professional growth (Weston, 2015).

The push for promoting teacher collaboration has gone from teachers simply meeting as a group to the hierarchical restructuring of schools in which learning community organization has become embedded in the educational landscape (Gajda & Koliba, 2008). It is important  to note that when collaboration is forced on teachers through administrative bodies, it can morph into managed or “contrived collegiality” (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012, p. 119). An example of this would be when administrators control teacher interactions through managerial meeting agendas, lists of working groups, and data teams (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012). Ideally, through a nonjudgmental collegial lens, collaboration should be focused on the developing, planning, and assessing of teaching practices to meet students’ needs (Lortie, 1975/2002).

Available research suggests that teacher identity norms impact teacher collaboration (Hargreaves, 2010). However, no large-scale quantitative data have been collected to investigate the relationships among teacher identity norms and teacher collaboration. In other words, there is no research that captures how teachers’ identities are implicated in the move towards a professional collaborative culture. “The research is clear on the importance of teacher collaboration in building collaborative communities (Achinstein, 2002; Gajda & Koliba, 2008; Hargreaves, 1991). What is not known is the connection between the way teachers work, the way they collaborate, their identities as teachers, and their identities as colleagues” (Weston, 2015).

In 2015, my research brought some light to what promotes and what suppresses teacher collaboration. Using quantitative research methods, my research found that the data indicated two clusters of teacher identity norms. The norm cluster of innovation, interdependence, and cooperation showed positive correlations with collaboration and the norm cluster of conservatism, individualism, and competition showed negative correlations with collaboration. The data showed that teachers highly valued collaboration as part of their teaching practice but did not always experience it in their school setting. “The analysis suggested that if schools reinforce norms of innovation, interdependence, and cooperation, collaboration will be nurtured. Further, the data showed that if norms of conservatism, individualism, and competition are continued in school cultures, then collaboration will not be sustained. As a broad educational reform agenda, teacher collaboration is used (a) to support school cultures, (b) to change teaching practices, and (c) to implement policy-based initiatives (Weston, 2015).

On a personal note, it is through my collaboration with my colleagues that I grow most in my teaching practice. Currently, I have the opportunity to work with two colleagues who also teach my classroom program. This means that they have a similar base of knowledge in teaching the Empower program in our Contained Communications classrooms. As this teaching role can be very challenging, I often rely on my colleagues experience to deal with academic, social, and emotional challenges I face with students’ success. It is also important to note that we also share students so we can compare our similar challenges with a particular student. Some days I just need my colleagues to listen to me, while on other days I need advice and suggestions for changes in practice. I provide the same opportunity for my colleagues to talk to me about their challenges or just listen. Some days we commiserate together (tissue is sometimes required).

As my research suggests, our interdependence in supporting each other builds our collaboration. Further, with regular cooperative support, we become more effective as teachers and less stressed as we can reduce our apprehension about the challenges we face with our students. In providing supplementary suggestions and resources allow each of us to become more innovative in developing new strategies that work to increase our students capacity to read and write.

Within our group’s culture, it is because of this opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues that I have developed further in my effectiveness in teaching students with significant learning disabilities. In our collaboration, we build our students’ ability to become literate lifelong learners.

How does building online collaboration differ?

As of December 2020, it’s been almost a year since I’ve started teaching synchronously online (and face to face). I’ve been reflecting on how student and teacher collaboration differs. As I reflect on my experiences with online learning, I realized the core foundations of collaboration are not much different … it’s just  the forum that’s changed. Of course, participants must deal with technical issues and and learn about synchronous Online Etiquette (i.e. when to “raise” your virtual hand, who get to speak next etc.) In an online setting, participants are still people building relationships with each other. As each online group is a unique as its participants, their online culture will also be formed based on its member’s needs and interests. As an on line teacher and instructor, I realize that it is even more important to reach out to colleagues for support as the process of collaborating via a screen can be very isolating.

I don’t have all the answers yet and I continue to learn more each day. I welcome any tips or feedback as I will learn from this too.

As always,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Achinstein, B. (2002) Conflict amid community: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration, Teachers College Record, 104(3), 421-455.

American Federation of Teachers. (2011). Teacher development and evaluation. Retrieved from

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (ETFO). (2015). Professional Learning Communities, Retrieved from

General Teaching Council for England. (2003). The teachers’ professional learning framework. Retrieved from

Hargreaves, A. (1991). Contrived collegiality: The micropolitics of teacher collaboration, In J. Blase (Ed.), The politics of life in schools: Power, conflict, and cooperation. (pp. 80-94). London, UK: Sage.

Hargreaves, A. (2010). Presentism, individualism and conservatism: The legacy of Dan Lortie’s schoolteacher. Curriculum Inquiry, 40(1), 143-154.

Lortie, D. C. (2002). School teacher: A sociological study (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1975).

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. (2004). What teachers should know and be able to do: The five core propositions. Retrieved from

Ontario College of Teachers. (2006). Standards of practice. Toronto: ON: Author.

Ontario College of Teachers. (2015). Professional learning framework for the teaching profession, Standards of practice. Toronto: ON: Author. Retrieved from

Weston, D. (2015). Investigating the Relationships Between Teacher Identity Norms and Collaboration. Retrieved from

Class Size Matters: Then and Now

As I look back on my 1973/1974 grade 5 classroom of 29 students, there are significant differences in how we were taught.

Teacher Qualifications:

Our teacher did not have a university degree and only one year of teachers’ training. (I looked her up).

Today’s teachers must complete a 4 year university degree and two years of teachers’ training before they can become professional teachers.


I recently returned to my former grade 5 classroom and knew exactly were I sat as we were in rows in alphabetical order. There was little or no collaboration with classmates and we were expected to sit quietly and work with little or no support from our teacher. In the 1970s, I did a lot of rote learning and paperwork – it was pretty boring. I sat and worked in the same spot for my entire grade 5 year.

Today, classrooms are dynamic with flexible seating and continual student collaboration. Now learning is more active through student inquiry and the use of technology. Collaboration within groups is a key learning skill on report cards.

Class Composition:

In 1973, we did not have any students with significant special education needs as those students were placed in contained classrooms. This was before the inclusion model was implemented. Any students who struggled were likely held back by failing a grade. (I was almost held back due to my undiagnosed learning disability). We also had students who were younger as they had “skipped” a grade.

Today, there is a wide range of student abilities in classrooms. I’ve taught classes with gifted students and students with significant learning deficits. This meant that I had to modify my teaching instruction to several grade levels higher or lower to meet these students’ needs. I once had a student functioning at a grade one level in a grade 7 classroom and was fortunate to have an educational assistant and special education teacher to support this student.

Educational Assistants:

In the 1970s, classrooms with students with significant special education needs had educational assistants/teaching assistants. I can only remember ever seeing teaching assistants in the special needs’ classrooms.  I recently spoke to a retired teacher who informed me that when the inclusion model was implemented into Ontario schools, the government promised teachers significant  support with an Educational Assistant in every classroom. That was not implemented as promised.

With today’s classroom composition, teachers need significant additional supports. A full time Educational Assistant (EA) would give teachers time to work with all students. In addition, when I’ve worked with Educational Assistants, my students have been much better behaved as there are two adults watching them work. Even when students are allocated funding for Educational Assistant support, schools often place EAs with other students who have no funding – as the EA is “assigned to the school, not the student”. This means the student with EA funding never gets their allocated support and the teacher must support this student instead. Teaching in classrooms with a few students with special education needs and little EA support is doable but currently many classrooms have up to a third or more of students with special education needs. This is unmanageable and disheartening when teachers cannot provide enough support to help all students. In this case, students who are capable but need a small amount of support never get the help they need.


When I went to school, students were expected to behave themselves in class. I personally was terrified to get into trouble at school as I would have received significant consequences. I remember a few students receiving “the belt” by the principal. In order the get this consequence, the principal had to document and justify the consequence.

Today, discipline varies by administrator, school, and school board. Students who misbehave can go to a behaviour teaching assistants’ room (if this is available) or to the office. The challenge is that students with behaviour needs really require intervention supports to improve their overall behaviour and academic outcome at school. I personally know of a situation where a student, who struggled academically and with behaviour needs, got the mental health and behaviour support programs they needed and is now thriving academically and with behaviour under control. (This support happened as the teacher did a work refusal due to extreme student behaviour concerns which precipitated extra support for this student).

So why can’t we implement programs like this for all students who need behaviour supports? Funding – recent government cutbacks have meant that these safeguards of mental health and behaviour supports have disappeared leaving only the most challenging students getting this critical intervention.

The Bottom Line:

Class size matters more today than it ever has as classroom compositions are highly differentiated with students with many needs. Further, with fluid and dynamic instruction, students do not sit in orderly rows not leaving their seats. As a teacher, I prefer teaching this way as it is more organic and helps students develop critical collaborative skills they will one day use in the world of work.

The bottom line is that teachers need more support in their classroom with not more, but less students. Schools need more Educational Assistants and Special Education Teachers to support students with significant academic and behaviour needs. Boards of education need more programs and qualified adults to address mental health and behaviour needs with students. Without these supports and interventions, students’ behaviour and mental health needs will only be compounded and student outcomes will flounder.

With this blog, I advocate for all students with special education and behaviour needs to get the support they require to be successful in their education … because without these student outcomes will be grim.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Seniority Matters

Seniority in teaching matters because there is much documented research showing that teachers must practice up to eight years before they develop efficacy in their practice. In the British VITAE study of 300 teachers in 100 schools, authors Day, Sammons, Stobart, Kingston, and Gu (2007) showed that teachers’ levels of confidence and self-efficacy continue to grow until around the 7 to 8 year mark. After 8 years, teachers reached a significant turning point in their professional development (Day et al., 2007).

The 7th year of teaching is significant as it marks about 10,000 hours of teaching practice. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, states that in order to master any skill it takes “to a large extent, a matter of practicing … for a total of around 10,000 hours” (Gladwell, 2008). This make sense because teaching is a complex and challenging profession and as a result it takes over 7 years to develop high levels of professional efficacy. Further to this, as teachers’ professional knowledge grows, so does their professional judgement.

In the early years of teaching, there is a great deal of trial and error in developing practices that work with students. I content that this process, while occurring less often, is an ongoing part of teachers’ practices as teachers must meet the needs of many students. This results in developing a myriad of strategies implemented in tandem with many students’ needs.

I personally know that if I need collegial advice, I approach the most senior teachers in my school, as they have the depth of experience and knowledge to guide me. Further, teachers with extensive experience know that the work of teaching is complex, and it is naïve to believe that simple solutions will address complex challenges with students’ learning.

To imply that older teachers should not be teaching because of declining efficacy is to imply that other professionals such as older doctors, lawyers, and politicians should do the same.

I dedicate this blog to courageous teachers who strive to work with their colleagues and do the best for their students day after day.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kingston, A., & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers matter: Connecting lives, work and effectiveness. Maidenhead, UK: Open University

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Hachette UK.