What is the purpose of a bulletin board?

When you walk into a classroom what is the first thing you see? Decorated bulletin boards?

Looking at bulletin boards often reflect what is happening in a classroom. Bulletin boards often show teachers’ focus on particular curriculum and what students are doing in the classroom. But what do bulletin boards say about teachers’ practices or schools’ efficacy?

Bulletin boards as a reflection of a school or classroom

A New York Times article by Abby Goodnough, Judging a School by Its Posters; Bulletin Boards Are Scrutinized, and Fretted Over, discusses how schools’ and/or teachers’ are judged through how hallways and classrooms are decorated instead of actually examining the pedagogy that is in place.
The article goes on to state bulletin boards “have a far weightier role … as the educational standards movement has required students to master ever-longer lists of skills — and required teachers to explain exactly how they are teaching them — bulletin boards have become an intensely monitored showplace for progress. They are especially important in low-performing schools, which are constantly scrutinized by city and state education officials and under heavy pressure to show improvement.”
Teachers … “complain that administrators dwell too much on how the boards look.” “Sometimes, teachers say, principals make them redo boards that are judged too quirky or dull. Some principals also demand new displays if ” they are damaged.

Bulletin Boards to Make Learning Visible

In a Making Learning Visible Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, it states that bulletin boards make learning visible by communicating and creating “values about teaching and learning” by making “individual thinking available to the group and support collective knowledge-building” and helping “learners to make connections across units and subject matter.” Further, bulletin boards “provide opportunities to connect learning experiences across classrooms or time.” Here, the role of bulletin boards is to make students’ learning visible.

Teacher Based vs Students’ Work

Another issue with bulletin boards is not just about the audience but about the content. Some teachers put up inspirational posters and/or curriculum content which is teacher based. Other teachers put up only student work. And some teachers have a combination of both.

Student Driven Bulletin Boards

When I first started teaching, my bulletin boards centered on what we were studying in the classroom with some space dedicated to students’ work. But I have developed an approach of only student centred bulletin boards where students create them with the teacher using students’ work. This means that the space becomes the students, not driven by the teacher. I even have my students decide on the bulletin board boarders.

The Learning Environment as The Third Teacher

An important issue to consider when putting anything up in a classroom is students’ over-stimulation. Given that students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can experience over stimulation due to “too much stuff on the classroom walls”, teachers should take this into account when they choose what should go on bulletin boards and how it impacts students’ concentration and focus. Sometimes the classroom environment can just be too stimulating!

The Ontario Capacity Building Series notes how the learning environment, The Third Teacher, “can either enhance the kind of learning that optimizes our students’ potential to respond creatively and meaningfully to future challenges or detract from it.”

Finally, when considering classroom decorating, please be mindful of Health and Safety regulations about too much paper on the walls (i.e. usually less than 20%).

Here are some ideas to promote student focused, learner centred bulletin boards:

  • The Fridge – a bulletin board where each student has their own space to display their work
  • To Do List s– where students list work that needs to be done for the day/week (my students love this as they create it themselves)
  • Student developed Word Walls for curriculum topics
  • Student developed Math Walls – listing vocabulary, formulas, graphics that students find important
  • Height Wall – showing how much students have grown in the year (it’s fun to track how fast students are growing and it’s also a great visual to understand linear metric measurement)
  • Data Wall – graphs displaying classroom surveys such as “What is your favourite pizza topping?”
  • Student made calendar – tracking upcoming events for the week and month
  • Class goals for the week or month

For me, in the end what matters is that the students feel like the classroom belongs to them as they have designed it – like an extension of their home space.

I dedicate this blog to my son’s (favourite ever) grade 5 teacher, Ms. G, who recently shared with me the following:

“I can vividly remember TS –  he was such a nice boy, full of life, and so smart. It was also at the beginning of my teaching career, and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. Being a new teacher, I wanted my boards to look beautiful for my students. I went and bought all the boarders and colourful art work to decorate them. One day, TS told me he couldn’t concentrate – that the bulletin boards were too distracting. I had never even thought about how the beautifully decorated boards could have been a distraction.

From then on, I thought about my classroom set up, and how I could make it a calming place.  I stripped the boards, made them one colour and became much more thoughtful on trying to create a calming place for my students. I also  created different spaces to cater to my students’ needs. Thank you to TS who opened my eyes. The student teaches the teacher.”

Even after 20 years, I too get “taught” by my students every day. My son, TS, turns 26 years old this month!

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Empowering Readers and the Right to Read

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)  (October 2019). Recent Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test scores show over 25% of Grade 3 students and 53% of Grade 3 students with special education needs did not meet provincial standards.

The OHRC cites that students who cannot read struggle with many aspects of school and are more vulnerable to psychosocial stress, behavioural issues, bullying and much lower levels of educational achievement (Schumacher, 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; Rice, 2001).

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 inquiry wants to hear from parents, student, and educators from across Ontario to determine if school boards are using evidence-based approaches to meet students’ right to read. The OHRC will be assessing five benchmarks as part of an effective systematic approach to teach all students to read which includes:

All about Reading Disabilities

How can teachers support students with suspected reading disabilities?

  • promote early identification through tracking reading levels and psychoeducational assessments
  • develop effective interventions and accommodations support through an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • instruct through scientific evidence-based and systematic instruction in reading
  • advocate for more support via funding of psychoeducational assessments as parents may struggle financially to get assessments, interventions and accommodations for their children, and in many cases have no options, if able, to pay for services privately

Empowering Readers

As a contained Communication Classroom teacher, I am trained to use the Empower™ Reading Program provided by The Hospital for Sick Children (Sickkids). This program, developed by Maureen W. Lovett and her team, is based on a series of evidence-based reading interventions that reinforce skills in reading, comprehension, and writing. As the SickKids’ website states “ The Empower™ Reading Program  includes decoding, spelling, comprehension and vocabulary programs that transform children and adolescents with significant reading and spelling difficulties into strategic, independent, and flexible learners. The success of the program is proven through the extensive  rigorously designed research conducted by the research team.”

There are four distinct literacy intervention programs that comprise the Empower™ Reading Program:

In my classroom of Grade 4/5 students who cannot read at grade level, I’ve seen dramatic results in students increasing their reading ability several grade levels in a 2 year period. One of my students, this year, went from a Kindergarten to mid-grade 2 level in 4 months. Students usually stay in the Contained Communications class for about two years and return to a mainstream classroom.

In the 3 years I’ve used the Empower™ Reading Program Grades 2-5 Decoding and Spelling program, I typically have students entering the program reading at two or three grades below level and leaving at a grade 5 reading level. The program is well laid out for teachers and students. I appreciate that it’s a hour of my day that has already been planned. Teachers receive 3 to 5 days of training and are provided with face to face Empower support check-ins. Teachers are also required to provide assessment tracking via PM Benchmark assessment, Empower Sound and Word Assessments, and the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KTEA-III) testing.

As a teacher, I strongly advocate for boards of education to take on the  Empower™ Reading Program, not only because of its effectiveness, but because it changes students’ lives by boosting their overall self concept and their ability to thrive as learners.

Finally, I know what it is like to not read and write well as I struggled for years in all levels of my academic studies. I failed grade 1 as I was very uncoordinated and a slow learner. In my time as a elementary, secondary, and university student, I was told that I made careless mistakes and that I needed to work harder. I had grades taken off my essays and exams due to poor spelling and grammar. I did not come out to colleagues and professors as being learning disabled until I was accepted into my PhD program as often people would not believe me.

The biggest challenge with being learning disabled was my lack of confidence in myself as a person and in my ability to read and write. I am still a poor speller. My self-worth remained low for a significant part of my life and I lived with depression and anxiety. I posit that my drive to overachieve in education is a compensary response to my life as a learning disabled person. Even though I present as being highly self confident, I still struggle with my confidence today.

I ask you as an parent, educator, and/or student to push for more support and intervention for Ontario students who deserve the Right to Read as the right to education is a Human right.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deborah Weston – B.Sc., B.Com., B.Ed., M.Ed., PhD OCT# 433144

PS: It took me 4+ hours to research and write this blog using a talking word processor.

Media contact:

Yves Massicotte
Communications & Issues Management
Ontario Human Rights Commission/Commission ontarienne des droits de la personne
416-314-4491 Yves.massicotte@ohrc.on.ca

OHRC announces locations for Right to Read public hearings

The Right to Read public hearings will run from 6 to 9 p.m., with registration beginning at 5:30 p.m. at all locations.

January 14, 2020: Brampton –   Chris Gibson Recreation Centre 125 McLaughlin Rd N, Brampton, ON, L6X 1Y7

January 29, 2020: London – Amethyst Demonstration School Auditorium, 1515 Cheapside Street, London, ON, N5V 3N9

February 25, 2020: Thunder Bay – Public Library – Waverley Community Hub Auditorium, 285 Red River Road, Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 1A9

March 10, 2020:  Ottawa – Nepean Sportsplex, 1701 Woodroffe Avenue, Nepean, ON, K2G 1W2

Members of the public can participate in three ways:

  • Filling out a survey at least two weeks before the hearing they want to participate in and being selected to make a presentation up to seven minutes long
  • Attending a public hearing and registering to speak for three minutes during the “open mic” session
  • Attending a public hearing to observe.


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.

Rice, M. (2001). Dyslexia and crime, or an elephant in the moon. In 5th BDA International Conference: At the dawn of the new century, York.

Schumacher, J., Hoffmann, P., Schmäl, C., Schulte-Körne, G., & Nöthen, M. M. (2007). Genetics of dyslexia: the evolving landscapeJournal of medical genetics44(5), 289–297. doi:10.1136/jmg.2006.046516

Math on Ontario’s Education Funding in 2019/20

In 2019/20, Ontario has experienced changes in the funding its public education system. Ontario’s Grants for Students Needs (GSN) increased slightly from $24.5 billion to $24.66 billion dollars but with significant changes in funding allocation.

Public Foundation Grant

In the Grants for Students Needs (GSN) budget, the biggest loses have been in the Public Foundation Grant which supports the salaries of teachers, early childhood educators, and other education workers. In 2019-20, the Public Foundation Grant was 5.3% lower than the 2018-19 GSN by $633 million dollars.

Learning Opportunities Grant

As part of the Learning Opportunities Grant, the Local Priorities Fund has been spent “to address a range of priorities including more special education staffing to support children in need, ‘at-risk’ students, and adult education.”  The loss of this fund resulted in the loss of “about 875 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers and about 1,600 to 1,830 FTE education workers.” 

Special Education Grant

As a Special Education teacher, I am always concerned about the funding status of the Special Education Grant. Special Education funding increased by almost 3% going from $3.01 to $3.10 billion dollars. The Special Education per Pupil Amount (SEPPA) increased from $1.54 to $1.57 billion dollars. Areas of increase include the Special Equipment Amount up 12.6% from $106.6 to $120.0 million dollars. The Differentiated Special Education Needs Amount (DSENA/previously High Needs Amount) went up by 0.9% from $1.13 to $1.14 million dollars. These increased look promising but given inflation, the special education funding is just keep up. Also it is important to note that recent funding is still not addressing the increased needs of special education students in classrooms across Ontario.

Where did the lost funds go?

In 2019/20, the cuts outlined above have been used to fund the “Teacher Job Protection Funding of $690 million dollars. “In 2019-20, the ministry is introducing a new teacher job protection funding allocation. Funding is being provided for up to four years to protect classroom teachers impacted by the proposed changes to class size and e-learning, allowing school boards to phase in these proposed changes.”

Below is my analysis of Ontario’s Grants for Students Needs between 2015-16 and 2019-20. All Grant for Students Needs data can be downloaded at the 2019/20 Education Funding, Previous Years.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Grants for Students Needs Analysis 2015-16 to 2019-20


Being Allergy Aware

In dealing with allergies in schools, it is important to be aware of potential allergens. Introducing allergens into schools can put people at risk, including students, office staff, teaching assistants, custodial staff, administrators, non-teaching professionals, teachers, and even trades people.

Allergens are not just something that can bother people, allergens can be life threatening. There are a number of life threatening allergies that can result in anaphylactic shock. In extreme cases, life-threatening allergic reactions can happen or make people really ill.

Anaphylactic shock symptoms

  • Skin reactions, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Constriction of airways and swollen tongue or throat, which can cause wheezing and trouble breathing
  • A weak and rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Dizziness and/or fainting

Causes of severe allergic reactions 

As part of a defense against diseases, people’s immune systems develop antibodies to defend against harmful foreign substances. These substances could be bacteria or viruses. But some people’s immune systems develop reactions to substances that usually don’t cause allergic reactions in others.

Some of these substances can include:

  • Medications such as antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Foods like peanuts, nuts, fish, seafood, milk
  • Bites and stings from bees, yellow jackets, hornets, and fire ants
  • Exercise
  • Cosmetics and scents, latex products
  • Air particles like plant pollen, dust mites, animal dander, mold

Allergies causing death

Some allergic reactions can be so severe that people can die from anaphylactic shock. This means that breathing can become highly constricted and, in addition, severe loss of blood pressure can occur. Due to the reality of some people dying from anaphylactic shock, laws have been put in place to protect people from dying from allergic reactions.

 Sabrina’s Law

Sabrina’s Law came about as a result of a young girl dying from anaphylactic shock after accidentally injecting peanut oil.

This act requires that every school principal establish strategies to reduce the risk of exposure to anaphylactic substances. Plans also must communicate information about life threatening allergies to school staff. Administrators must arrange for regular staff training to prepare for an emergency situation. Principals must maintain an up to date file of current information on about each student who has an anaphylactic allergy and establish an individual plan for each student who has a life threatening allergy.

In case of an emergency situation, school staff are authorized to administer an epinephrine auto-injector to a student without the written consent of the student’s physician and parent or guardian or adult student. In addition, staff should call 911 and follow the directions provided by Emergency Management Systems.

There has been some research done to limit and/or prevent life threatening allergies such as the early introduction of peanuts to babies. This prevents children from developing a severe reaction to peanuts thus preventing allergen issues later in life. Early introduction of peanut to babies

Other allergies that are smelly

Besides ingesting food and/or medications, cosmetics and scented products can cause allergic reactions. For some people, scented products can cause serious reactions including asthma, migraines, and other reactions such as rashes.  A person wearing scented products to school could cause another person to become very ill – resulting in the person having to leave work. Even clothes washed in scented products such as wash-in scent balls can trigger reactions. Health and Safety legislation consider scents in the workplace as a workplace hazard. 

Scented products can be found in workplaces in:

  • air fresheners
  • hand sanitizer, hand soap, dish washing liquid, industrial and household cleaners
  • facial tissues
  • laundry detergents and fabric softeners
  • candles
  • building material, upholstery fabrics, carpeting

Being aware of scent allergies means that people do not wear perfume or cologne to work. It means not using cosmetic or laundry products that give off strong scents. It means thinking about the needs of others in schools and in workplaces.

For preventing allergic reactions in other people, be aware of what you bring to school including scents and smells. It’s kind and it’s common scents.

Always fresh and never smelly!

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

What’s up with the increase of students with IEPs in Ontario classrooms?

From People for Education, 2019, p. 15

An Individual Education Plan …

  • is a working document that is developed and maintained for a student who is deemed exceptional by an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC)
  • must be developed with input from the parent(s)/guardian(s) and from the student if he or she is 16 years of age or older
  • is developed within 30 days of the placement of an exceptional student in a particular program
  • must provide a copy to parent(s)/guardian(s)
  • must provide a copy to student 16 years or older
  • identifies the student’s specific learning expectations
  • outlines how the school will address these expectations through appropriate accommodations, program modifications and/or alternative programs as well as specific instructional and assessment strategies
  • includes accommodations (i.e. ways to support the student’s learning) and modifications to learning expectations (i.e. often changes to grade level expectations)
  • has students deemed with an exceptionality based on a psychoeducational report
  • contains IPRC recommendations when developing or reviewing the student’s IEP

Psychoeducational reports/assessments

  • completed by trained educational psychologists
  • based on testing and observations
  • identifies student’s profiles including their strengths and needs
  • suggests accommodations and/or modifications to support learning
  • includes supports such as special equipment, technology resources, and educational assistance
  • “Psychologists are a vital component of special education support in Ontario. These professionals assess students’ special education needs, design interventions for students, and provide direct support to both students and the staff supporting them (Ontario Psychological Association, 2013).” (People for Education, 2019, p. 15)
  • “Northern school boards report the highest percentage of schools (58%) without access to a psychologist – this may be due to the difficulty of traveling to more isolated schools in Ontario’s rural North. According to a 2017 report, the cost associated with travel and housing for specialized staff have contributed to a lack of support for students with special education needs in Northern and isolated First Nations communities (Ontario First Nation Special Education Working Group, 2017).”  (People for Education, 2019, p. 15)

Role of Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC)

  • consideration must be given to any recommendations made by the IPRC concerning special education programs and services that may be particularly appropriate for meeting the student’s needs
  • includes possible funding to support these recommendations made by the IPRC concerning special education programs and services that may be particularly appropriate for meeting the student’s needs

What if the student has not had a psychoeducational assessment?

  • an IEP can be developed for students who have not had a psychoeducational assessment and/or have not been identified with an exceptionality under the Special Education Act
  • students may also have an IEP developed when they require accommodations, program modifications and/or alternative programs
  • students with special needs, not formally identified with an exceptionality, may receive appropriate special education programs and/or services that will allow them to be able to achieve the grade-level learning expectations
  • IEPs can include accommodations and modifications documented in the students’ IEP
  • some students require alternative expectations, not specifically related to curriculum, that may outline specific learning needs and strategies

Why is the IPRC process so important?

  • IPRCs deem students with an exceptionality based on psychological educational assessments
  • IPRCs recommend supports and funding to support students’ learning needs
  • approximately 50% of students receiving special education support go through the formal IPRC process based on psychoeducational assessment (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018b)
  • students with IPRC identification have a legal right to special education support (Education Act, 1990)

Has there been an increase in students with IEPs in classrooms?

The Ontario Human Rights Commission 2018 policy stated that schools must accommodate students’ disability needs “whether or not a student with a disability falls within the Ministry’s definition of ‘exceptional pupil,’ and whether or not the student has gone through a formal IPRC process, or has an IEP” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2018, p. 13).

“Data from the Ontario Ministry of Education show that, while the proportion of students going through the IPRC process has remained relatively stable since 2006-2007, the proportion of students with IEPs has been steadily increasing” (People for Education, 2019).

In other words, students who are not identified via the IPRC process are increasingly receiving special education support through an IEP. With no exceptionality in place, specific supports are not always forthcoming. These supports could include educational assistants, support personnel, and specialized equipment.

Lack of funding for psychoeducational assessments

 People for Education (2019) reported:

  • “60% of elementary and 53% of secondary schools report that there are restrictions on the number of students who can be assessed each year”
  • “92% of elementary schools and 94% of secondary schools report that students waiting for an assessment are receiving some special education support”

With little or no funding for psychoeducational assessments:

  • students are put on waiting lists for assessments, sometimes for many years
  • students with the greatest needs are moved to the top of the lists leaving other students waiting longer for assessments
  • parents with resources pay out-of-pocket for each private assessments costing up to $4000
  • 94% of elementary and 81% of secondary schools reported having students on waiting lists for psychoeducational assessments (People for Education, 2019)
  • on average there can be up to 6 elementary students and 4 secondary students on waiting lists for professional assessments in their schools (People for Education, 2019)

Gaps in support – Lack of equity in special education funding 

Students with psychological assessment

Students with no psychological assessment
  • psychological assessment to develop IEP
  • no psychological assessment to develop IEP
  • psychological assessment to have student deemed with an exceptionality via IPRC
  • no guarantee of funding or support via IPRC
  • funding in the form of additional special education support for teacher and/or educational assistant time
  • no funding for special education support for teacher and/or educational assistant time
  • funding can include special equipment and technology supports
  • no funding for special equipment and technology supports

The People for Education have noted an increasing gap between students with IEPs as compared to students with IPRCs (see chart below). This means there are an increasing amount of students with special education needs in classrooms with little or no support as compared to students with special education supports.


Students with IEPs

Students with IPRCs

2017 – 2018



2016 – 2017



2015 – 2016



2014 – 2015



2013 – 2014



2012 – 2013



2011 – 2012 14.5%


2010 – 2011



It is not Ontario teachers’ imaginations that there are more students with IEPs in their classrooms. With less support for students with IEPs, teachers struggle to meet the needs of these learners and the needs of the rest of the students in their classroom.

“Large class sizes impact the teacher to student ratio. Students with special education needs require greater support and more teacher one-on-one time. Large class sizes make this challenging. Having more special education teachers would help to reduce this challenge by decreasing the teacher to student ratio. Elementary school, Peel DSB” (People for Education, 2019).

Questions about supporting students with special education needs:

  1.  Why are there so many students with IEPs in classrooms without additional adult support?
  2. What data is being used to develop IEPs without psychoeducational assessments?
  3. Given the Ontario Human Rights Code, why is the public education system condoning the lack of assess to psychoeducational assessments for students who have less assess to funding?
  4. Why are teachers solely having to support so many students with IEPs?
  5. Are Ontario public schools NOT meeting the needs of their most vulnerable students with special education needs?

As an advocate for students with special education needs, I write this blog out of concern for all students with special education needs who are not getting the support they need to learn.

Special Education Teacher,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Education Act, Revised Statutes of Ontario. (1990, c. E.2). Retrieved from the Government of Ontario.

Ontario First Nation Special Education Working Group. (2017). Ontario First Nations Special
Education Review Report. Toronto, ON: Author.

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2018). Policy: Accessible Education for Students with
Disabilities. Toronto, ON: Author.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2018a). Education Facts, 2017-2018 (Preliminary). Toronto, ON:
Government of Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2018b). 2018-19 Education Funding: A Guide to the Special
Education Grant. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). Part E: The Individual Education Plan (IEP), Downloaded from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/policy/os/2017/spec_ed_6.html

Ontario Psychological Association. (2013). Professional Practice Guidelines for School Psychologists in Ontario. Toronto, ON: Author.

People for Education. (2019). Annual report on Ontario’s publically funded schools 2019. People for Education. Downloaded from https://peopleforeducation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/PFE-2019-Annual-Report.pdf.


Did you get your flu shot yet?

Did you get your flu shot yet?

It’s a good question to ask teachers as the nature of their professional exposes them to hundreds of people each working day – this includes children who get sick on a regular basis as they are still in the process of strengthening their immune system. Unlike medical workers, teachers do not work in an environment where surfaces are continually cleaned. Flu is spread by tiny droplets from a sick person coughing, sneezing, or talking. Children openly sneeze and do not always wash their hands. This results in teachers having increased levels of exposure to colds and flu as compared to other professionals.

The Flu: A Guide for Parents

When does flu season start?

Flu season starts in the late fall as the weather changes and people spend more time inside. Starting in October, getting a flu shot is the perfect time to hold off the flu.

What’s the difference between the flu and a cold?

Getting the flu is not like getting a cold. Colds usually come on gradually with symptoms of sneezing, stuffy noses, sore throats, and a mild to moderate cough.

The flu is very different. Getting a flu virus results in an abrupt onset with fever, aches, chills, fatigue, weakness, cough, headache, and overall body discomfort which sometimes includes a sore throat and stuffy nose.

Who is most at risk?

For most people, getting the flu does not cause serious health problems. But in some cases, flu can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections. With health conditions such as asthma and heart problems, people can end up in complications resulting in much time off work and/or hospital stays. High risk groups include people with asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, blood disorders, liver disorders, diabetes, cancer, and neurological conditions. The age groups most impacted by the flu include adults older than 65 years, pregnant women, and young children under 2 years old.

Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?

“No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection. This is the case for  recombinant influenza vaccines.” Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)

Why is it so important to get a flu shot?

When a healthy person gets the flu they may spend time at home in bed and then recover relatively quickly. The challenge for a healthy person in getting the flu is that they can transmit it to people who are compromised due to health issues. When a healthy person gets a flu shot, they protect their friends and family from getting the flu. I often say to my students that getting a flu shot prevents their young and older family members from getting the flu.

What’s so special about this year’s flu season?

One hundred years ago, between 1918 to 1920, a vigilant H1N1 flu (influenza) pandemic spread across the world infecting 500 million people and killing over 50, million people. This resulted in a decrease in the world population by about 3 to 5%. This flu is often referred to as the Spanish Flu but its origins are still debated today. This deadly flu was thought to have spread from soldiers fighting in World War I. This flu was associated with high death rates of healthy young people with some dying within hours of developing symptoms

North American health professionals often look to Australia to predict the next flu season. This year, Australia had an early and severe flu season which could mean a similar outbreak in Canada. In 2017, Australia had their worst flu outbreak in 20 years which was followed by one of the worst outbreaks of flu in the United States with an estimated 79,000 dead.

Flu outbreaks can result in complications with more hospital stays that overtax health systems for people needing hospitalization for other issues. Getting the flu vaccine could prevent this from happening.

In 2009, my students invited their classmates to a birthday party. One of the students had the H1N1 flu virus. In a class of 24 students, 18 students missed a week of class due to this flu. Their teacher, me, was then hit with the flu. I missed 4 days of work. I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Upon hearing I was diagnosed with H1N1, my partner got his flu shot and slept in another room until I was well. The flu compromised my immune system and months later I contracted Whooping Cough.

Stay healthy. Be prepared. Get a flu shot this year.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2019-2020 Season

Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines



Class Size and Composition Matters

Class Size and Composition Matters

As a teacher of 19 years, I’ve seen many changes to classroom composition. When I first started teaching, students with behaviour needs where either supported through Educational Assistants (EAs) or in separate contained classes. In addition, students with significant special education needs had additional supports and/or placement options for contained classroom settings. In 2015, I noticed a change in support for students with special education needs.

Much has changed in the last few years with the promotion of student integration and inclusion of special education students into mainstream classrooms. This integration policy further resulted in closures of contained classrooms thus limiting alternate options for students with significant learning and behaviour needs.

Classrooms today are not the classrooms of the past

Classrooms today are not put together like the classrooms of the past. Teachers face teaching students with significant learning delays such as having a student functioning at a grade 1 level in grade 6 classrooms. The gaps between student achievement levels and their placement in their grade level are widening. Teachers deal with a myriad of students’ special education and behaviour needs without additional support from EAs.

Lack of funding to identify and support students with special education needs

The widening gaps may be a result of the lack of funding for students to received psychological educational assessment/testing funded by the schools boards. When parents have resources such as insurance and/or money to cover the cost of this testing, they do not wait the years it takes for their child to get to the top of list. Instead, they pay for the assessment, getting their child tested in a private organization. I had my son tested privately as I was fortunate to be able to cover this cost. This put students from lower socio-economic areas at a higher risk of getting the support they need to be academically successful.

In their annual survey of Ontario principals, The People for Education noted since 2014, “the Ministry has maintained the overall level of funding for special education, but has changed how funding is distributed among boards. The goal was to make the funding more responsive to boards’ and students’ needs. These changes have resulted in some boards getting more funding, while others receive less. Comments from schools indicate that the impact of these changes is being felt on the ground.” People for Education, 2017.

We have children in crisis…wait lists are long, we do not have the services the children require to be successful at school. It is heartbreaking. Cutting an additional million from our school board will have a catastrophic effect on the children. The Ministry needs to re-evaluate this current funding model. Elementary school, Limestone DSB” (People for Education, 2017).

The People of Education further state “Based on available resources, some boards limit the number of students that principals can put forward for assessment each year.”

“Psychological assessment services are rationed essentially to the most needy one or two students a year. System level placements for our most needy students are rationed to an extent we are creating more problems during the wait time. There is a growing parent, staff and student belief that our schools are not the positive and safe places they once were. Elementary school, Hamilton-Wentworth DSB” (People for Education, 2017).

In 2017, the People for Education noted that:

Teachers must manage students with significant behaviour needs with little or no support

In addition, teachers must manage the significant behaviour of students who may or may not have EA support. Often, even when students have funded EA support, staff are pulled to deal with other students who have greater behaviour needs and who may or may not have funded support. Administrators tell EAs that this funding is “assigned to the school, not the student.” This leaves teachers spending a great deal of time managing student behaviour instead of teaching the rest of the class.

The People for Education note that

“According to a recent study by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), more than 70% of teachers across Canada are seeing an increase in both the rate and severity of violence in schools. The study reviewed existing publications on the topic, media reports, and survey findings from five CTF member organizations, which included over 40,000 teacher respondents.” (People for Education, 2018)

“The violence educators’ face includes verbal aggression, property damage, threats, and physical assault. Non-physical (verbal/emotional) violence is most commonly experienced by educators, followed by physical violence. The survey results found that between 41% and 90% of teachers (depending on their province) report having experienced violence at some point in their careers.” (People for Education, 2018)

Further, People for Education noted that the highest rates of violence were “reported by women, teachers who work in elementary schools, special education teachers, and teachers who work in schools with lower socioeconomic status and/or large urban areas. According to the report, many teachers are unlikely to report the violence to administrators and police, either due to concerns about job insecurity, concern for student well-being, or lack of knowledge about reporting procedures/policies.” (People for Education, 2018)

Recent cuts to educational funding have further exacerbated this support gap.  Many recent studies (i.e. People for Education, University of Ottawa) have documented increases in violence in classrooms. Violence against teachers significantly impacts classroom and school cultures. When students become verbally or physically aggressive against their teachers, this creates an unsafe environment for learning. A teacher’s job is not just to teach students, their job is to also keep their students safe. When the teacher, who is the adult that keeps students safe, is dealing with aggressive student behaviour, the other students do not feel safe. Further, aggressive behaviour interrupts learning and wastes valuable classroom time.

Teachers’ working conditions = Students’ learning conditions

In one study, teacher respondents from an Ontario elementary teacher union local reported:

  • offensive behaviour with 47% of elementary teacher respondents experiencing threats of violence from students
  • 48% of elementary teacher respondents experienced physical violence from students

The survey respondents indicated that their board’s organizational culture:

  • tolerated behaviours harmful to their mental health and that they felt uncomfortable in discussing and/or reporting violence in their workplace.

In this teacher survey, it was not surprising that these teachers were experiencing signs of stress and burnout – given that the participants showed that they were dealing with significant levels of students’ offensive behaviour in a climate with poor psychological health and safety supports.

Painting a picture of poor learning conditions in classrooms

This paints a picture of teachers’ poor working conditions as they were dealing with inadequate resources and staffing to support teachers and their students. And I posit that poor working conditions for teachers result in poor learning conditions for students.

Teachers should not have to deal with workplace violence issues as part of their job. But it is becoming a commonplace occurrence in Ontario classrooms. Since 2018, during recess duty, I personally experienced being bitten, kicked, punched, and sworn at. All this behaviour came from students who were in the primary grades.

Does this imply that all adults who work with students need to receive Behaviour Management Systems (BMS) training? I personally do not feel comfortable using BMB.

Funding cuts to education, especially in supporting students with special education needs, impacts all students. And when a teacher has a student with special education needs added to their classroom, this means that no supports will follow to help these students. Students must wait for help from the one teacher in the classroom while the teacher deals with the needs of the rest of the students. With the recent cutbacks in funding, teachers’ jobs of meeting all students’ needs just got harder as there are even more students in classrooms.

Students with special education needs should have a safe, supported, and inclusive classrooms

Students with special education needs should be included in mainstream classrooms. To make this work for students and teachers, these students with special education needs must be supported with the assistance of EAs. With the support of EAs, students with special education needs can thrive in school and be with their peers.

Teachers need to teach in safe and supported inclusive classrooms. With inadequate funding, the Ontario Ministry of Education’s of inclusion policy will result in yet another poorly implemented education policy in Ontario.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD and special education classroom teacher


Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. (February 2018). Behaviour Management Systems (BMB), Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, Downloaded from http://etfo.ca/SupportingMembers/Employees/PDF%20Versions/Behaviour%20Management%20Training.pdf

People for Education. (2017).  People for Education Annual Report: 2017, People for Education, Downloaded from https://peopleforeducation.ca/report/annual-report-2017/

People for Education. (2018). National report finds teachers increasingly experience violence in schools,  People for Education, Downloaded from  https://peopleforeducation.ca/our-work/national-report-finds-teachers-increasingly-experience-violence-in-schools/ 


Violence in Ontario Schools

Violence in the classroom is emerging as a significant issue for teachers’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions.

In the United States, a national survey of 2998 teachers from 48 states noted that 80% of teachers reported at least one incidence of violence with 94% of respondents stating students as the source (McMahon, Martinez, Espelage, Rose, Reddy, Lane, & Brown, 2014). In another US study, 2324 teachers reported at least one occurrence of student generated violence against teachers. These incidences where not consistently reported even with teachers experiencing multiple occurrences. This was especially significant when there was a lack of administrative support (Martinez, McMhan, Espelage, Anderman, Reddy & Sabchez, 2016). Several authors noted an increase in students’ aggressive behaviour shifting to ever lower age brackets including those students in Kindergarten (Emmerová, 2014; Kirves & Sajaniemi, 2012).

Emerging Trends in the Media

The media has also highlighted the emerging trend of increases in students’ aggressive behaviour. In February of 2019, CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition posted a commentary, “I felt helpless”: Teachers call for support amid escalating crisis’ of classroom violence, summarizing a teacher’s reluctance to report violence in schools over “fear of repercussions”. Sherri Brown, director of research and professional learning at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), described the current state as an “escalating crisis” and also noted that much violence in the classroom goes under reported.

In 2018, a national organization compiled the results of a survey conducted by Elementary Teachers Federation (ETFO) showing that of its 81,000 members, 70% of elementary teachers reported experiencing or witnessing violence at their school workplace during the 2016-17 school year. In addition, the survey results noted that 80% of ETFO members noticed an increase in school based violence and 75% of ETFO members reported school based violence becoming more severe.

The People for Education’s Annual Report (2017) stated that principals reported significant increases in students’ mental health needs and behavioural issues. Principals stated that mental health issues were taking an increasing amount of their time and that schools had inadequate levels of support from social workers, psychologists, and guidance counsellors. The report went further highlighting that “in 2017, 47% of Ontario elementary schools reported having no access to child and youth workers, 15% did not have access to social workers, and 13% did not have access to psychologists.” People for Education also addressed the increased importance of social and emotional development for students which included self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal relations, and decision making.

At this point, I’ll state my concerns about the response of Ontario school boards in advocating for students using self-regulation and mindfulness strategies in order to address the increases in behavioural needs. Self-regulation and mindfulness strategies do help some students develop their social and emotional capacity but self-regulation and mindfulness strategies do not compensate for the myriad of causes and complex intersectionality of environmental, developmental, intellectual, social, emotional, economic, and mental health needs that may be at the root of students’ behavioural outcomes. Students’ behaviour needs have complex and multi-causal roots. Using mindfulness strategies as a treatment to these significant student behavioural issues is like putting a bandage on a gushing wound.

Violence against teachers significantly impacts classroom and school cultures. When students become verbally or physically aggressive against their teachers, this creates an unsafe environment for learning. A teacher’s job is not just to teach students, their job is to also keep their students safe. When the teacher, who is the adult that keeps students safe, is dealing with aggressive student behaviour, the other students do not feel safe. Further, aggressive behaviour interrupts learning and wastes valuable classroom time.

When dealing with aggressive behaviour, teachers have many options. Often teachers ignore aggressive behaviour to disengage the offending student. The next step in disarming student behaviour includes removing the student from the classroom, contacting administrators, and contacting parents. Even with these steps, students often continue with their behaviour. Parents may or may not engage teachers in their outreach for support. Based on personal experience, when parents hold their children accountable, student behaviour often improves. But when parents do not hold their children accountable and blame the teacher for the behaviour, students often continue forward, sometimes escalating in their actions. When aggressive behaviour significantly escalates, teachers must act to protect their students and themselves from harm.

Disciplinary actions are often a result of continuous issues with students’ behaviour and are administered by school principals. Here, progressive discipline comes into play. The approach of progressive discipline is to provide a continuum of interventions, supports, and consequences that are clear and developmentally appropriate in order to reinforce positive behaviours and help students succeed in school. Interventions include verbal reminders, contact with parents, withdrawal of privileges, referral to counselling, and possible suspension and/or expulsion. Within the context of disciplinary actions, the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) is also considered. As part of the student’s IEP a Safety Plan and a Positive Behaviour Intervention Plan (PBIP) may also be in place.

There is a list of activities that can lead to suspension which include uttering threats of bodily harm on another person, swearing at a teacher or a person of authority, bullying/cyberbullying and any other activities identified in school boards’ policies (i.e. Safe Schools). Principals must consider a number of factors before deciding upon a suspension including students’ age, cognitive ability, social/emotional history, special education needs, and ongoing education.

The challenge with progressive discipline is that students’ circumstances may dictate no suspension and instead initiate a need for increased student support. The challenge with obtaining increased support for students with behaviour needs is that there is inadequate funding to provide this support. Without support to deal with significant aggressive behaviour, students return to their classrooms and the teachers must deal with future aggressive behaviours (see Suspension and Expulsion: What parents need to know.)

Violence tends to be underreported in schools for many reasons including a lack of adequate reporting venues, a lack of time to complete requirements for reporting, a fear of reprisals from administration, and a lack of understanding of the seriousness of  the behaviour upon which it should have been documented before it escalated  (one in which I have been complicit).

Putting Students’ Aggressive Behaviour into Real Life Context.

In the late spring of 2019, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW) conducted a survey to measure the psychosocial factors of elementary teacher members in Ontario. This survey was based on the Copenhagen Psychosocial Questionnaire which was developed as part of a survey of the psychosocial work environment among Danish employees. Specifically, this survey used the COPSOQ II (Short) and COPSOQ III (Core) surveys with additional survey questions from the Mental Injury Tool (MIT) Group 2017 edition. Various versions of the COPSOQ survey have been translated into many different languages and are used to measure psychosocial factors in workplaces around the world. The survey participants were members of an ETFO teacher local.

Although the survey results are not a direct representation of the population of all members, it can be used to the gage working conditions in this ETFO teacher local. A total of 496 participants accessed the survey and 396 participants completed the survey. This accounts for an approximate response of 6% of the member population for this local. This sample of ETFO members had a variety of teaching assignments including approximately 33% Primary/Kindergarten, 15% Junior, 12% Intermediate, and 12% Physical Education/Health in participant identification. The majority of teacher participants had 16 to 20 years of experience (28%) followed by 24% of participants with 11 to 15 years, 23% over 20 years, and 19% with 6 to 10 years of experience. Over 85% of the survey participants identified as a woman which is slightly over the 81% of ETFO members who identify as a woman. The majority of participants (96%) worked full time.

In addressing issues regarding offensive behaviour, the participants indicated:

  • 47% experienced threats of violence from students
  • 48% experienced physical violence from students
  • 17% experienced bullying from students
  • 10% experienced discrimination from students
  • 86% experienced any offensive behaviour overall

Survey participants showed high levels of burnout with 69% indicating much worse than average Canadian workers as represented by feeling worn out, physically /emotionally exhausted, and tired.  Survey participants expressed significant signs of stress, irritability, problems relaxing, and feeling tense with 57% indicating much worse than average Canadian workers. Participants indicated challenges with sleeping (46% much worse), somatic symptoms to stress and anxiety (40% much worse), and  cognitive/concentration issues (46% much worse).

In measuring workplace their Psychological Health and Safety climate, participants indicated it was not so good (25%), poor (21%), or toxic (13%). Further, participants agreed (37%) or strongly agreed (28%) that their board’s organizational culture tolerated behaviours harmful to mental health. Participants disagreed (38%) or strongly disagreed (25%) that their board had enough resources and disagreed (43%) or strongly disagreed (36%) that there was adequate staffing. A total of 44% of participants never or hardly ever felt comfortable discussing workload issues with their immediate supervisor. Finally, when asked about the effectiveness of their board’s violence and harassment policies, 42% disagreed or strongly disagreed that these policies were effective.

In this survey, it is not surprising that these teachers were experiencing signs of stress and burnout – given that the participants showed that they were dealing with significant levels of students’ offensive behaviour in a climate with poor psychological health and safety supports. This paints a picture of teachers’ poor working conditions as they were dealing with inadequate resources and staffing to support teachers. And I posit that poor working conditions for teachers result in poor learning conditions for students.

Under the Workplace violence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act workplace violence is clearly outlined. Further, the Workplace violence in school boards: A guide to the law outlines specifics on how to deal with violence in schools.

Teachers should not have to deal with workplace violence issues as part of their job. But it is becoming a commonplace occurrence in Ontario classrooms. In the 2018/2019 school year, I personally experienced being bitten, being repeatedly kicked while protecting another student, had items thrown at me, being sworn at, had my personal property damaged and destroyed, and being threatened with being stabbed and killed with a knife. All of this behaviour came from students who were in the primary grades.

I write this blog because I care deeply about the impact violence in schools has on teachers teaching and students learning. I understand what it is like to experience violence from students as I have personal stories to tell.

Below I’ve noted some excellent downloadable resources provided by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario which may help teachers, like me, deal with violence in their classrooms – I have the poster in my classroom.

As always, Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD

ETFO Action on Violence in Schools Print Resources

  • A Glossary of Workplace Violence Definitions for ETFO Members
  • Brochure – ETFO Action on Violence in Schools
  • Poster/Wallet Card –  ETFO Action on Violence in Schools

ETFO Action on Violence in Schools Video Resource

ETFO Flowchart for Reporting Workplace Violence and Serious Student Incidents


Emmerová, I. (2014). Aggressive Behaviour of Pupils against Teachers – Theoretical Reflection and School Practice. The New Educational Review, Vol. 35. No. 2, pp. 147–156.

Kirves, L., & Sajaniemi, N. (2012). Bullying in early educational settings. Early Child Development and Care182(3-4), 383-400.

McMahon, S. D., Martinez, A., Espelage, D., Rose, C., Reddy, L. A., Lane, K., & Brown, V. (2014). Violence directed against teachers: Results from a national survey. Psychology in the Schools, 51(7), 753-766.

What is the Rand Formula and why it matters to teachers?

The Rand Formula provides legislation that all members of trade unions must pay union dues regardless of the worker’s status.

The Rand Formula was established by Supreme Court of Canada Justice Ivan Rand which was introduced in 1946 as a result of the Ford Strike of 1945 in Windsor, Canada. The Rand Formula is also referred to automatic check-off or compulsory check-off meaning that in provinces where the Rand Formula is not mandatory, an automatic check-off of union dues may become part of the collective bargaining agreement if the employer and the trade union agree.

Union dues to be deducted

This means that collective agreements include  “a provision requiring the employer to deduct from the wages of each employee in the unit affected by the collective agreement, whether or not the employee is a member of the union” and that this amount will be forwarded to the union.

Religious objections

If an employee has objections to this due to “their religious conviction or beliefs, objects to joining a trade union or to paying regular union dues to a trade union”the employee and/or their Board can, directly or through a deduction from their wages, send the equivalent funds to a registered charity.

Purpose of the Rand Formula

The purpose of the Rand Formula is to establish the legality of automatically collecting dues from trade union members covered by collective agreements. This means that workers in a trade union cannot benefit from the activities and protections of their union if they choose not to pay mandatory union dues. Even when members choose not to participate in their union or are not a registered member of their collective bargaining workforce, the worker still must pay union dues.

Why do teachers pay union dues?

In Canada unions are formed when the majority of workers in a workplace vote to become unionized. Once a union is established, members gain the benefits and wages negotiated by their union through the collective bargaining process, their professional advocacy for working conditions, and with professional representation.

Unions have a legal duty to represent their members and be accountable on how these member dues are dispersed. Union dues are democratically set by the members of the union who, in turn, receive the benefits of belonging to this union. Union dues are used to fund the cost of collective bargaining, to fund the cost of enforcing the collective agreement, and to fund the cost of campaigns union members instruct their union to support. Union dues are also used to defend workers in a workplace grievance as investigations and/or arbitration can be very costly. Further, if a union strike or lockout were to occur, members receive strike pay.

Can workers dispute paying union dues?

Legal Challenge: Freedom of Association (Lavigne vs Ontario Public Service Employees Union)

In 1991, Francis Lavigne, an Ontario community college teacher, complained that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) was not using their union’s dues for purposes in which he agreed. Lavigne was not a member of OPSEU but was required to pay dues as per the Rand Formula and stated it violated his rights of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 2b).

The Supreme Court ruled that there was no violation of Lavigne’s Charter rights (Lavigne, 1991) as the use of the union dues did have an expressive content but the payments of these union dues did not imply any support of union causes and did not prevent union members from expressing their own personal views. So there was no violation of the freedom of expression under the Charter and union dues were to be continued to be paid under the Rand Formula.

Connecting the Rand Formula to Teachers’ Real Lives

Teaching is a very public profession. Even when teachers are not teaching, they are held to high ethical standards. At or away from school, teachers’ choices and behaviour can impact their employment. Regardless of how professional teachers conduct themselves, they are always at risk of adverse complaints. When belonging to a union, teacher members receive the union support and resources they need to defend themselves in the case of an adverse allegation. Due to their professional and public vulnerability in their roles, teachers need this support in order to do their jobs. When political parties put pressure on governments to abstain from the Rand Formula, this puts teachers at great risk by impacting their collective bargaining rights and privileges.

Imagine being in fear of being fired when a student complains to a parent about an assessment or an adverse statement supposedly made in class. It’s happened to me many times and my administration and my union were there to back me up. My board respects the role of all their member unions, not just those belonging to the teachers’ unions (ETFO & OSSTF). It is in following the collective agreements that boards of education and their teachers can make student success a reality.

In solidarity and collaboration,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD

 Why Collective Bargaining Matters to Teachers

CUPE Fact Sheet: Union dues and the Rand Formula

 Additional Resources

Advance Cutting & Coring (2001): The Supreme Court upheld mandatory union membership in the Quebec construction industry. R. v. Advance Cutting & Coring Ltd., 2001 SCC 70, (2001) 3 S.C.R. 209

B.C. Health Services (2007): The Supreme Court recognized collective bargaining as a constitutional right under the freedom of association guarantees. Health Services and Support – Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia, (2007) 2 S.C.R. 391, 2007 SCC 27

Lavigne (1991): The Supreme Court upheld mandatory dues. Lavigne v. Ontario Public Service Employees Union, (1991) 2 S.C.R. 211


Evaluating e-learning


Like many things in our lives, using technology to learn online does not seem out of place. In business and in education, adults take courses online to upgrade their skills and knowledge. Indeed, online e-learning for Additional Teacher Qualifications is a thriving business.

In March 2019, the Ontario government announced that high school students would be required to take four online course credits (4 out of 30 credits) as part of their high school course requirement to graduate (Government of Ontario, 2019). Before the change, school boards managed and delivered their own online courses and enrollment criteria. The boards paid a fee of about $773 per student to take online courses provided by organizations such as TV Ontario or other Ontario school boards (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2018). The Ontario government states it will centralize the delivery of high school e-learning courses (Naylor, 2019).

In order for across the province high school e-learning to be successful, the infrastructure needs to be firmly and consistently in place. This means that all high school students need to have access to technology in order to complete online course work. Access to technology means access to the hardware of computers/devices and reliable high speed Internet.

Use of technology

In their report, Connecting to success; Technology in Ontario Schools, People for Education site that currently 97% of elementary schools and 100% of secondary schools report at least some teachers using technology to communicate with students (People for Education, 2019). In addition 33% of elementary schools (i.e., grades K to 6), 40% of middle schools (i.e.. grades 7 & 8), and 66% of secondary schools (i.e., grades 9 to 12) encourage students to bring their technology/device (i.e. BYOD – Bring Your Own Device Peel District School Board, n.d.) to school every day (People for Education, 2019).

Access to devises

For access to computers and devices, students living in high income areas will likely have this opportunity as 85% of elementary schools in high-income neighbourhoods fundraise for technology (People for Education, 2019). For students living in low-income neighbourhoods, only 54% of elementary schools fundraise for technology (People for Education, 2019). Challenges also occur in schools as technology hubs are usually facilitated by librarians. In 1998, elementary schools had at least one full-time or part-time librarian. In 2019, this number dropped to 54% of schools with librarians (People for Education, 2019). Access to technology in elementary schools develops skills in using computers and interacting with online interfaces. Cutting funding for teacher librarians cuts students’ access to technology.

Access to Internet

If students live in or near cities, these requirements will likely be fulfilled (although I have personally had trouble with my own Internet access while living within 25 km of a major city).  If students live in rural areas or in remote areas, it can be a challenge to get high speed Internet. Internet challenges in these areas include reliable access and adequate speed. Internet can also be significantly more expensive to access in rural and/or remote areas as Internet lines, cables, fiber optics, over-the-air, and phone lines may not be in place.

Lack of research to support e-learning efficacy

The idea of e-learning holds great promise, especially given that its business model advocates greater personalized student achievement with less cost. The lower costs for instructional personnel and facilities are not supported by peer-reviewed research.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder published a report Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019 suggested that there should be a moratorium on virtual education (Molnar, Miron, Elgeberi, Barbour, Huerta, Rankin Shafer, & King Rice, 2019). The report looked at the efficacy of full-time virtual and blended schools. The NEPC Virtual Schools report stated that there is little or no pedagogical evidence justifying the benefit of e-learning model or to the empowerment of student learning (Molnar et. al., 2019).

Inequity for at risk, low-income, and racialized students

Many students are not prepared for the demands of online learning as they lack the learning skills and persistence needed to complete e-learning course work. With face to face teacher support, students who are at risk have greater success in learning and completing in-person courses (Bettinger & Loeb, 2017). The NEPC Virtual Schools report also noted that fewer low-income and racialized students were enrolled in e-learning (Molnar et. al., 2019).

Lower on-time high school graduation rates

The NEPC Virtual Schools report found that the overall US 84% on-time high school graduation rates were significantly lower for virtual schools at 50.1 % and for blended schools at 61.5% (Molnar et. al., 2019). The elearning business model may cite efficiency in performance but the graduation rate numbers do not perform as well as traditional high schools.

Challenges with instructional quality and sustaining qualified teachers

The NEPC Virtual Schools report also found that there were challenges with instructional quality and sustaining highly qualified teachers in e-learning (Molnar et. al., 2019).

Linking the research to the real world

While researching this blog, I spoke to a number of teachers who have experience teaching high school courses online. The teachers agreed upon their concerns about student success and their own working conditions.

The teachers cited up to 36 students in their online courses with at least half of the students dropping out before the course end date. The teachers also stated that they could be teaching multiple subjects at the same time (e.g., teaching grade 11 Media Arts and Grade 11 & 12 Computer Science).

The teachers noted that the majority of students struggled with self discipline and completing work in a timely manner. There were many concerns about plagiarism and confirming that student work was actually being done by the student and not another person like a parent, peer, or sibling (i.e., concerns about students cheating).

Teachers faced challenging working conditions as there was an expectation that teachers were available at all times even though they were only being paid for 10 hours a week. Poor working conditions for teachers mean poor learning conditions for students. Maybe this is why the NEPC report cited e-learning having challenges in sustaining highly qualified teachers?

Finally, one online teacher wondered if there was a challenge with the pedagogy of the e-learning courses as the courses focused on curriculum and lacked the creative components, collaboration, and contextual problem solving in face to face course work.

The summary of high school e-learning challenges:

  1. Lack of access to technology for all students
  2. Lack of access to reliable Internet for all students
  3. Lack of peer-reviewed research to support e-learning claims of efficacy
  4. Lower graduation rates as compared to traditional learning
  5. Lack of inclusion and equity for low income, at risk, and racialized students
  6. Sustainability of highly qualified teachers
  7. Potential of poor working conditions for teachers
  8. Cost-benefit models show poor e-learning outcomes as an insolvent educational policy

The human factor of learning

Finally, there is the human factor to consider in education. I have always believed that school is not just about curriculum, it is about being with people. Teachers do not just teach curriculum, they also motivate students and help students discover who they are as learners. We all have stories to tell about how teachers changed our lives and inspired us to go further and to not give up when learning gets hard.

School is also about learning to play and collaborate with other students.  School is about making friends.

As I was researching for this blog, I had a Twitter comment from a parent in the US. The mother stated that her daughter, in Grade 5, was going to school only 2.5 days a week and doing the rest of her learning online. The mother stated that the child had fewer friends at school and was making most of her friends through extracurricular activities. The mother further stated that she had less time to work as her daughter was now at home instead of at school.

For my last comment I state that it is particularly sad when business models forget about the human impact e-learning can have on making friends at school.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD


Bettinger, E., & Loeb, S. (2017). Promises and pitfalls of online education. Economic Studies at Brookings Evidence Speaks Reports, 2(15), 1-4. Accessed at https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/ccf_20170609_loeb_evidence_speaks1.pdf

Government of Ontario. (2019, March 15). Education that works for you – Modernizing classrooms. Newsroom. Accessed at https://news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2019/03/education-that-works-for-you-2.html

Molnar, A., Miron, G., Elgeberi, N., Barbour, M.K., Huerta, L., Rankin Shafer, S., & King Rice, J., (2019). Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019,  National Education Policy Center (NEPC), Boulder: University of Colorado. Accessed at https://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/virtual-schools-annual-2019

Naylor, N. (2019, March 15). New Vision for Education (Memorandum to Directors of Education, Secretary/Treasurers of School Authorities). Toronto, ON: Ontario Ministry of Education. Accessed at https://efis.fma.csc.gov.on.ca/faab/Memos/B2019/B08_EN.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2018). E-Learning Ontario: Provincial Funding and Fees. Toronto, ON: Ontario Ministry of Education. Accessed at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/elearning/funding.html

Peel District School Board. (n.d.). Bring Your Own Device: How Parents Can Partner for Student Success. Mississauga, ON: Peel District School Board. Accessed at http://peelschools.org/aboutus/21stCentury/byod/Pages/default.aspx

People for Education. (2019). Connecting to success; Technology in Ontario Schools, People for Education. Accessed at https://peopleforeducation.ca/report/connecting-to-success-technology-in-ontario-schools/