an image of fractions made with a blend of colourful geometric shapes in the style of Picasso and Klimt via Dalle 2
Image – fractions made with a blend of colourful geometric shapes in the style of Picasso and Klimt via Dalle 2 prompts by author

Bumps, bruises, cuts, and scars dot my skin. They serve as little reminders of the life that has been lived on the outside. Whether visible to others or not, I cannot look at them without recalling most of the moments and misadventures that caused them. I see these marks as near misses and continue to add more to my collection whether it is in the kitchen, workshop, or enjoying time with others.

Call this post ‘fractures’?

In my half century plus adventure time, I have not broken many bones along the way. Other than most of my fingers, a couple of ribs (which made baseball and golfing really tough that year), and my nose back in grade 6 playing football on the school team, I have been very fortunate not to ever be fitted with an itchy or cumbersome cast – although there is still time.

My collection of near misses and minor breaks have taught me quite a bit. I have to take my physical existence seriously when it comes to my actions and inactions. Perhaps my injuries are the products of inattention on my part? Perhaps I let my guard down with what-could-possibly-go-wrong thinking? Perhaps I needed to pay closer attention going forward? Somehow I am sounding like my parents and teachers and it’s bringing me back to the purpose of this post – fractures.

There is not a single one among us who enters the classroom each day without fractures. You see, we have all endured down times, loss, failure, and disappointment at one point in our lives or another. Whether physiologically or psychologically, fractures come along with life’s other certainties such as death, taxes, and dishes(without apologies to Ben Franklin). What we make of our fractures is often where we find our strength and determination.

If a bone breaks, the body begins the healing process immediately. Once something goes snap, the cells organize themselves to start the repair process. Interestingly enough, it is not like your brain is the boss yelling at the workers to do their jobs or go faster. At this point it is along for the ride because the body already knows what to do. The brain just takes the credit. “My what a nice job we did healing that tibia over the past 6 weeks.” Despite attending to the remediating a reconstruction project, the body can still get about other daily cognitive business, but when someone’s mind or spirit becomes fractured, the body is often likely to deteriorate in the process until healing and restoration are complete. So why is this so hard?

Fractures in our personal and thought lives are never usually front and centre though. Adding to this mystique is the elusive nature of mental health in general. Our fractured spirits are not easily seen by untrained minds and are often interpreted as rude behaviour or that maybe you need a time out to gather your thoughts. This is also common in our students. It is also compounded because, many times, they are processing emotions that seem difficult to articulate due to confusion and fear of being judged, cast out, mocked, or all of the above.

The Ontario Grade 6 Health Curriculum gives us some solid teaching and learning points that I have really been trying to build into the life skillsets of students in and out of our class time. Interestingly enough, this teaching really meshes well with the book The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels which happens to be my current personal read, but that’s a blog for a different site.

So often we are faced with situations that are followed by a barrage of feelings and much more often than not we find ourselves reacting rather than responding. As our lessons have progressed, students have learned to assess the situation, identify their emotions, and then use strategies for resolution. Yet, even with the skills we are implementing into our daily interactions, the struggle to be honest and free of fear about our fractures and feelings is really hard to reckon with one another. This goes for teachers just as much as students.

We need to step outside of our comfort zones which double as camouflaged cages of social media level perfection and problem free happiness. We need to normalize that life is messy at times and that things can be and become broken. If we take time to pick up the pieces and put them back together there is a chance that these fractures can be mended.

In many cases the silence is even more deafening when it comes to issues of mental health in the classroom. Judging by recent news reports in response to the provincial budget causes me to believe we are in for more and more fractured students slipping through the cracks in our schools.

Yes, we can acknowledge it, but more often than not we are still too fractured as a society to truly support each other when there is so much need already. The keys has been and will continue to be in the hands of educators. As we walk through the hallways and curate our classrooms, take time to help the fractured around you by making time to acknowledge them (yourself), listen (talk with someone), and help them (yourself) heal.

Cultural Humility

At a recent P.A. Day, we were learning about “Cultural Humility” and how every person should somehow reflect on this on a daily basis. One definition I found is, “Cultural Humility Is: A personal lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and self-critique whereby the individual not only learns about another’s culture, but one starts with an examination of [their] own beliefs and cultural identities.” (

Cultural Humility is a lifelong process

During our discussions, we talked about how this is a lifelong process, not just something you think about for a month. You need to always be aware of your own biases, maybe based on your personal beliefs or your cultural beliefs. As educators, it is even more important that we take time to think about this on a daily basis.

Everyone is equal

Part of this process is to recognize that no culture is superior and to also learn about other cultures. I think we can do a great job at this by making sure our classroom libraries reflect all cultures, that we make sure we are learning about every celebration and not just one from one culture, and also making sure that the articles and curricular content we are sharing is based on more than one cultural story. This is how we can start to make sure our cultural humility is shown in our own practice.

Be honest when you are unsure

We do not have to know all the things at all times (even though students think we do). It is okay to look things up, to be aware of what we know and do not know. There are so many great resources especially within our own ETFO articles that can help us learn more about this topic. I particularily enjoyed the content during February, having discussions about the Black History Month poster, etc. So it is best to be honest when you are not sure about a specific topic.

Learn about other cultures

I remember being a 13 year old in a Catholic School unsure of the other cultures around me. I knew there were other religions and other nationalities but I had never really learned about anything outside of my inner circle (my own culture). It wasn’t until high school that I started to find out about other cultures and by then, I had already lost so much time getting to know other people. This is why I love how creating these opportunities to learn about other cultures will help others see outside of their inner circle. I have a grade eight student who is so hoping to run a Culture Day by the time she graduates and I hope we have time to get it going. I think this is important of us educators too- if there is a culture we are unsure about, we could do some more research to find out about it.

Our school board has a program that was created to help our students understand more about this topic. Our program is called “LDR (Learn, disrupt and rebuild) and our Module 3- Exploring Human Rights helps students dig deeper into these topics. I challenge you all to think about your own cultural humility as it is a personal commitment but also a lifelong one.

A Day at “Reading for the Love of It”: Thoughts on Returning to In Person Conferences

I love attending teacher conferences: meeting new people, learning new ideas and strategies, browsing the latest student resources, experimenting with new technology for the classroom. Pre-pandemic, finding a good conference was a ritual I’d perform every school year – Googling endlessly for an event that was just the right location, theme and cost for my professional learning funding for that year. Like many teachers, I love travel – so spending hours comparing accommodations, conference speakers, and transportation fees brings me a very high level of excitement and joy.

Last year I went to my first conference since the pandemic had started, and it fortunately was a virtual one – I was recovering from a bout of COVID-19 as I watched the speakers present through my screen. While I learned a lot about culturally responsive assessment, I found it a little too easy to tune out of the conversation and start researching random topics, or respond to work emails that popped up. All of this is to say that virtual conferences just aren’t the same – while they can be good learning experiences, there are a lot of pieces missing that make conferences a fully immersive professional learning experience.

Attending Reading for the Love of It

What is Reading for the Love of It? This conference is organized by the East York-Scarborough Reading Association, a group of Ontario educators who are passionate about literacy. The event and organization is entirely volunteer run, and the conference has run for 44 years. You can read all about their organization and past conferences at their website.

When an opportunity came up to attend this year’s annual Reading for the Love of It conference in downtown Toronto, I promptly signed up with several of my colleagues. Simply planning to attend was already a different experience from getting a virtual link. We excitedly chose which sessions to attend, organized a lunch meetup, and coordinated meeting points.

Arriving at the venue, a big smile spread across my face: the beautiful lobby of the Sheraton hotel was flooded with teachers carrying conference programs and swag bags, friendly volunteers appeared at every turn to guide us in the right direction. A large exhibitor section filled with booksellers and vendors provided endless browsing possibilities where I could finally thumb through student resources I had been eyeing online for months, like a decodable reader set for older students and a full trove of hi-lo fictional novels.

What was truly wonderful was running into colleagues and ETFO members, some of which I had never met in person. It struck me how easy it was to have interactions that other wise took days of planning: scheduling a zoom meeting, or planning a visit. I remembered how exchanging valuable tidbits of information about projects and sharing resources and insights could happen in the span of second – this is the real value of being at conferences like these.

The Value of Choosing Your Professional Learning Pathways

Experiencing an in person conference again also reminded me of the value of choosing our own professional learning pathways. Just as the students we teach benefit from determining their own inquiries, as educators we may also be more engaged in our learning when we can choose our own way to grow professionally.

Understanding how to access funding is critical to fostering our own growth. There are hundreds of conferences and learning opportunities happening all over Canada, and many new teachers may not be aware that some ETFO locals offer professional development funding to assist with costs. For example, at my local, we can access up to $300 for conferences and $400 for professional learning courses. I will be always grateful for the mentor that showed me this funding was available, since I have used it at every opportunity.

If you are unfamiliar with how to organize and fund your professional learning, contact your local to find out what options are available!

Mental Health Check

Happy March Break everyone!

I hope you are able to sit back and relax this week as we get a much deserved break from the usual day-to-day of being a teacher. I wish I was sitting on a beach right now typing this but I am enjoying a cup of coffee at my kitchen table after an action pack few days at camp with the grade eights. So for me, the peace and quiet is all the vacation I need.

On our last P.A. day at school, our Emotional Coach helped us work through some challenging feelings. She reminded us of many important things we should focus on each day. I am going to share some of the biggest take aways from the P.A. day session as I feel they would be beneficial for all teachers (and adults) to think about.

Focus on the Positives

During each school day, I am sure many of us feel especially frusturated about the students who aren’t coming to class because they are hiding in the bathroom. Or upset with the students who do not start any activity that is assigned to them. But how often are we thinking, “Wow, I am so lucky to have that student who gets right to work and takes pride in their work” or “Look how many students came to school today with a positive attitude and are excited for what lies ahead.” It is easy to focus on the negatives but take the challenge after the March Break to focus on the positives. Think about those students who are so happy to learn and will dive into just about anything that is given to them. Of course, we still need to help all of our students but with time, maybe they will find their own sense of joy in the school community.

Reflect on a “difficult thing”

Our Emotional Coach asked us all to pick one difficult thing in our life that we think is affecting our mental well being. I wanted to share my difficult thing- negative people. I was challenged last month with a few negative people that brought me down. No matter how hard I tried, their negative comments stuck with me even though I tried to think positively. So my “difficult thing” choice was negative people. We were then asked to write down three ways we could improve the situation, revising them as needed. My three ways that I hope will help me are: focusing on the positives when around these people, remaining my positive self and to not react to them. I hope that next time I am faced with a negative situation, I can use these strategies. One staff member even suggested that once you feel in control of that one difficult thing, you can move on to a second thing and try to tackle that. I am really excited for this challenge and hope it will work! I invite you all to try it and if you feel comfortable, comment your “difficult thing” on this post.


…And Still We Rise

I can remember the first time I went to …And Still We Rise. Imagine, if you will, a room filled with women who are working to empower each other, further their learning, tell their stories, and be mentors for others. I was in awe! I attended workshops and sat in amazement of the educators and the guest speakers. Listening to their experiences and views of the world, I was so inspired to think differently about women and our places as part of society as educators, co-conspirators, and disruptors. Whose voices should we uplift and whose stories should we amplify?

As every year, this one was filled with amazing women at the podium, including Funke Alexandra, who shared her research focussing on the history of Black Canadian women in education. There was Deb St Amant, the Elder-in-Residence at Queen’s University, and whom I remember being a strong advocate and leader in her time with ETFO. ETFO President Karen Brown, whose voice and presence was empowering and inspiring. We also got a chance to hear the story of the Toronto Women’s Bookstore through the eyes of Anjula Gogia. Though I was only in attendance for part of the conference, there were beautiful sentiments of solidarity and wonderful opportunities for learning. It was incredibly empowering to be part of it all.

What I love about …And Still We Rise is the space for women to come together. In life, I wear many different hats and it is hard to carve out time and space in my day to think about myself. I am busy with work, with parenting, with family and at times it feels like every spare moment is allocated to something. A women’s conference like … And Still We Rise is a place where coming together with other women who have similar experiences where we can learn from one another provides a few moments of breath.

There is time to think and connect with one another. There’s actually time to sit and eat a meal together, sharing ideas and conversation with new friends and in community with those who are already a part of our lives.

When I first started my journey with ETFO, everyone told me that going to …And Still We Rise was a must-do experience. I wholeheartedly agree! It’s the space for all women to be heard on issues that they think are important. It’s a place where women can tell women’s history and experiences that are often erased or unvoiced in history books. It’s a time to consider how women can advance social justice, build solidarity between struggles, and contribute to the broader women’s movement. If you have the opportunity to attend …And Still We Rise, I encourage you to take the time to learn, connect, and grow!

… And Still We Rise is ETFO’s signature women’s conference that runs annually in February each year.

Black Education Matters: Combat Null Curriculum

“The null curriculum refers to the things students do not have the chance and opportunity to learn. In this regard, learners learn something based on the absence of certain classroom experiences, interactions and discourses” (Kazemi, et. al, 2020).

The lack of representation of Black culture, history, and accomplishments across all subject areas from K-12 exemplifies the null curriculum. Think about the absence of information about Black Canadians and the histories of Black Canadians in your curriculum. The erasure of Blackness to students devalues and depreciates the validity of the lived experiences of Black people.

For many Black students, school is not an accepting place. It’s where they come face-to-face with the stereotypes and prejudices they face in the larger society. Students have shared their feelings of neglect, heightened surveillance, and arbitrary and often unmerited punishment for any perceived disobedience.

How can you actively address Anti-Black Racism, combating Null curriculum by integrating Black Education into your teaching practice?

It is crucial that there are educators in the classrooms who are intentional about challenging the status quo. It is crucial that there are educators who are willing to better understand cultures they are unfamiliar with to meaningfully connect with their students. Adopt a culturally relevant pedagogical lens – “Culturally relevant pedagogy rests on three criteria or propositions: (a) Students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social” (Ladson-Billings, 1995. p. 160)

Ask yourself:

  • What areas in my teaching & learning styles foster anti-racist teaching?
  • What areas in my teaching & learning styles require change?
  • How can I integrate the ten principles of Anti-Racism Education in my learning environment (classroom) to foster equitable learning?




Ontario Black History Society. 2020. Blacked Out History. Retrieved from

Kazemi, S., Hamid, A., Motallebzadeh, K., & Zeraatpishe, M. | Jody S. Piro (Reviewing editor) (2020) Development and validation of a null curriculum questionnaire focusing on 21st-century skills using the Rasch model, Cogent Education, 7:1, DOI: 10.1080/2331186X.2020.1736849

Equitable Phonics

There has been much discussion of late about the importance of systematic, explicit phonics instruction in literacy. Decodable readers and phonics programs are popping up on book room shelves, nudging to the side the guided reading bins that have so long reigned supreme. These days, it seems acronyms such as UFLI are uttered more commonly than DRA or LLI.  And yes, systematic phonics instruction is an essential component of reading, especially for students struggling with learning disabilities such as dyslexia (there has been more than one beloved learner in my family who needed such explicit and multisensory literacy instruction to learn to read). But what about multilingual learners? Is reading instruction different for them? Should teachers jump right into phonics instruction for a student just learning English, as they would for any other student?

Perhaps the following scenario will highlight some critical considerations in this question.

Imagine you are a multilingual leaner, about to learn a new language. And more than that, you are going to learn to read in that new language. Here is your first phonics lesson:

Just three sounds, and you blend them together. Got it? Now read this:

Could you decode it? Read it out loud? You blended all the letter sounds together? Great! Good for you! You are reading.

Just a couple more questions:  

Did you get the joke in the first line? Were you moved by the revelation in the second sentence? Did you see the connection to your science curriculum at the end? Did you gain any ability to communicate in this new language you are trying to learn?


Ah. There is the difference. Native speakers of English already understand the vocabulary they are decoding. When we ask them to sound out c-a-t, they know what the word ‘cat’ means. They can use the word in a sentence for real communication. If they read a story about a cat, they can enjoy it, make connections to it, ask questions about the text. Not so for multilingual learners in the beginning stage of English acquisition. 

So is phonics instruction just as important for multilingual learners as for native speakers of English? Yes. But it is not equitable to make a student decode something they cannot understand. That is where we come in as teachers, to front load and embed oral language and vocabulary development in phonics lessons, so that multilingual learners learn the meaning of the words they are about to decode and encode. So that they can use those words for real communication, in multiple authentic situations. So that they have the same access to rich texts, ideas, and learning experiences as native speakers of English. In this sense, teaching phonics in meaningful context, rather than only as an isolated skill, is an issue of both instructional practice and social justice. 

There are far more considerations in teaching MLs to read than I have discussed here. For a deeper dive into the complexities and nuances of literacy instruction for multilingual learners, I have found Literacy Foundations for English Learners: A Comprehensive Guide by Cardenas-Hagan to be very helpful. And of course, for free insights and best practices in ML instruction, and mapping out the ways phonics and reading instruction need to be tweaked for multilingual learners, there is always which has an entire section devoted to literacy instruction for multilingual learners. 

Speaking of which, the Spanish phrase “colorin colorado” might also be a good way to conclude to this blog entry — “happily ever after”  is indeed the sentiment I wish for all readers.

Women In Action

In November, I had the opportunity to shadow some wonderful facilitators at a Women In Action workshop. I was so impressed with their ability to connect and uplift the women to see themselves as leaders. While I had already attended Women In Action Part I many years ago as a participant, being a facilitator was a completely new and inspiring experience.

When you attend Women In Action, it is the chance to be part of something special. You get the opportunity to connect with other women in a safe space. Some may be part of your local and some may not be. You will get the chance to really think about the skills and traits that you bring as a leader and recognize the strengths that you already have within you.

Women in Action is designed to inspire attendees to think more broadly about their roles as activists and unionists. Learning and setting goals for yourself is an important part of the time you spend together. As facilitators, we really worked hard to encourage the women to reflect on social justice issues and unionism as they pertained to them and consider themselves as powerful individuals capable of changing the world.

While the food, facilities, and workshop was amazing, I think what I really enjoyed most was the bonding. Hearing the voices of women laughing and chatting and building relationships with one another is a sound unlike any other. I missed that sound over the past three years! Having the space and time together without distraction to focus on professional growth and begin the journey with peers who become friends is unparalleled.

If you have already had the opportunity to attend a Women in Action Part I session, there is also a Part II and a newly developed Part III. Each part provides space to learn more about yourself and to forge relationships that will last a lifetime. In fact, I am still friends with some of the women that I met all those years ago and we are so fortunate to connect annually at Annual Meeting together in Toronto. It’s such a pivotal experience in my work at ETFO that it still influences the way I think about myself today.

If you are able to attend a Women in Action workshop, you will not be disappointed. You will learn a lot about yourself, about issues pertaining to women, and about how to overcome them. You will be reminded of your inner power and your own strength. And you will be changed for the better. This program is organized through your ETFO local and members who identify as women can connect with their local to inquire about the chance to be part of the program.

Incorporating Tech in FSL Presentations

Presentations are always challenging, even for the best presenters. While we might feel as though we’re ready to go, sometimes in the minutes right before we are set to “take the stage”,  our nerves get the best of us and in those moments, it’s difficult for us to do as well as we would like.  If this is how we might feel as adults, I wonder how much more this might impact our students. In particular, I’m thinking of my French as a Second Language students and how we might use technology to support student presentations. 

This year, I am teaching French as a Second Language (FSL) to grade 4 students.  The class is a grade 3/4 split, so we have a small group of 9 students, many of whom are eager to learn and are growing in their confidence in speaking the language with each other. As we continue to work on pronunciation and speaking, students perform short presentations as a part of the culminating activity for our units. 

This past week, we finished our unit on clothing and students were tasked with creating a fashion show. As part of their fashion show, they were asked to make sure that they described at least 3 outfits, including the colour of each item within the outfit. Some students worked to create fashion shows in Scratch while others used Google Slides. In both instances, many students took the time to practice and record themselves so that they could just press play when it came time to present. More and more, I’m realizing the importance of giving students options when it comes to presenting so that they are able to show what they are capable of producing without the added stress of having to “present” in front of their peers and the teacher.  Because students were able to record their presentations ahead of time, some of the more reluctant students were eager to be first in presenting. 

As I continue to work with students, I’m eager to uncover additional ways in which to remove barriers to them showing what they know and are learning. By simply incorporating the option to record ahead of time, students had the time to practice and when confident, finalize their recordings and insert them in their projects. I’m eager to discover more ways in supporting students in sharing their learning and perhaps reframing what it means to present. 

Scratching the Pollution in Our Oceans

Last year I blogged about a new book – The Global Ocean. This past month we were lucky to have a virtual visit with the author, Rochelle Strauss. Rochelle gave students context on the importance of her book and read passages in order to support students in understanding the need for immediate actions for change. Students had the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about how the actions of each of us can have a significant impact on the environment, and ultimately our world.  There we a number of students who had questions and based on our visit, one student said that he was inspired to think about his passions and how he might use writing to share that with the world. It was a great visit and our learning didn’t stop there.

During our visit, students learned more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and were eager to find out how that much garbage got into the oceans in the first place. Students researched about causes and also learned about the work being done to clean up the oceans. During our visit, we learned about the Turtle Extruder and one student was particularly interested in how people who fish might use different kinds of nets so as to be more responsible when fishing. 

This term, students are furthering their knowledge of coding and are specifically learning to use Scratch. As part of our action to raise greater awareness, students were tasked with creating a story, PSA, or game in Scratch that they could share with others about what they learned. Some students were excited to remix an existing catch game, changing the sprites and adding additional text to share their learning. Other students were excited to use the program to create stories to inspire others to learn in an interactive way.  Projects were due last week and yet there are still some students who are eagerly wanting to add more information to their projects, so their work is ongoing. 

This entire experience reminded me of the importance of purposeful uses of technology. While we could have spent time learning about the different blocks in Scratch, I think this activity allowed students to learn how to use blocks in an authentic way. If they wanted their sprite to do something specifically, they learned about how they might use specific blocks to achieve the task.  Students learned how to effectively use the blocks in their code because they had a purpose for learning how to use them. They were also able to share how they used the code to perform different tasks with others, allowing them to be “the experts” in the room. 

Last year I found a great picture book that spoke to the urgency of protecting our oceans. Little did I know that a year later, students would have the opportunity to hear from the author, get inspired, and then share their learning with others in a creative way. What a great journey!