On my bucket list of things to do as an educator, one of my wishes has been to have students attend a live concert. However, given the ever-evolving nature of Co-Vid as well as emerging issues of equity, this has been something that has presented a challenge, in addition to not having the same opportunities as a homeroom teacher to organize a field trip. Fortunately, given these unprecedented times, the accommodations given to still present these experiences to students have also been pivoted from various artistic organizations. Here are some of the ways students have continued applying their knowledge in new formats:
*the Toronto Symphony Orchestra digitized two concerts that my students enjoyed, The Ultimate Guide to Eating Hallowe’en Candy and Zoophony: http://www.tso.ca .One of the advantages of virtual concerts is that gives students an opportunity to pause the video and discuss what is happening, and given the nature of so many different types of student learners these days, may present an in-class version of a ‘relaxed performance.’ I even let students bring snacks and lie down in the class to listen to the music if needed. Many virtual concerts have a fee for digital rights that accompany class resources.
*the BBoyzm dance company: http://www.bboizm.ca recorded presentations and made them available to teachers along with a virtual Q and A with the artist. Students were able to connect live despite not having the advantage of seeing a live performance with audience interaction, and were able to see a presentation from a group outside of the travel area that may not have been possible in person. The funds for the presentation were provided by a cultural grant and therefore this free presentation was ideal for a community with various needs.
Naturally, we hope to return to in person presentations soon, however, if you are interested in checking low cost or free presentations for students, here are some other places to check out virtual resources:
-your local library or community/arts centre
-educational locations such as nature preserves, museums and science centres
For students and staff that have had a challenging few years, it is wonderful to see how people react to this technology integration of creativity and education.
As a new teacher, back in the day, the idea of being a part of a union was fairly new to me. I had very little idea of what unions do and how they support the professional and mental well-being of people like me. I recall hearing varying opinions about ETFO, as a union body, as well as learning about some of the ways colleagues interacted with their local and/or provincial union. However, I wanted to find out for myself what my union was all about, what they could do for me and what I could do for them.
A personal story: My very first interaction with my union came at a very pivotal point in my career. My first job in 1999 was as a LTO teacher in Toronto. It was shortly after the amalgamation of the six cities into one mega city, and many of the administrative roles and responsibilities at the various board offices were still going through reorganization. After working for a month, I realized that I wasn’t getting paid and my bills were piling up. Though I submitted all the necessary paperwork and documentation to the board on time as directed, apparently I was nowhere to be found in their payroll system. Every time I called payroll to find out what was going on, I was redirected to someone else based on my last name. At one point, I was told that I was calling the wrong board office and was given another number to call. Apparently that person was out of the office and no one else was able to respond to my issue at that time, so I was given another number to contact, and so on and so on. This continued for another two months and I had no idea what else to do to solve the problem. One day, I shared this issue with a colleague, who happened to be our school’s union steward. She gave me instructions on how to contact my union with all the necessary information and documentation of my issues with getting paid. I contacted the union and, to my surprise, the very next day I got an emergency cheque from the board. Two weeks later my regular pay was deposited into my bank account and I have had no issues with payment ever since. That was my introduction, and the start of a great partnership, with my union and the connection has grown stronger over the years.
As I got more involved in the union in my role as union steward, volunteering on various local and provincial committees, attending ETFO’s annual general meetings as a delegate and representing ETFO at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) Project Overseas program, I began to learn a lot about why union matters. I learned that ETFO not only fights for better wages and working conditions of its members, ETFO fights to improve equitable access to publicly funded public education. ETFO also advocates to ensure that members’ working conditions are safe and free from harassment and oppression. I also like the fact that members have access to professional development and quality teaching resources and support to ensure high quality student learning and achievement. I believe in a strong partnership between the union and the school boards across Ontario. A strong partnership would help to ensure that members feel safe at work and students receive high quality education in an equitable and inclusive environment.I know that not everyone might have had the same experience with their union as I did, but what remains true is that, together, our union makes us strong.
For more information about your union, visit: EFTO
In today’s current climate, most would agree that there has been a significant increase in the number of incidents being reported that are motivated by hate over the past few years. Our classrooms and school communities have not been spared. Many schools across the province have reported a rise in hate-based incidents. Many school boards are addressing these issues by implementing action plans to combat anti-racism within their school communities. In the many schools that I have worked in, I seldom see strategies that specifically address 2SLGBTQ+ issues in our school community. I wonder why that is so? What barriers might exist that impede the opportunity for students to learn about the 2SLGBTQ+ community? How can schools equitably teach and support 2SLGBTQ+ students and their families so that they too feel safe and welcomed in our schools?
From my understanding, it seems that 2SLGBTQ+ families are one of the fastest, if not the fastest, growing type of family structure in Canada, especially in our major cities across the province. These families are looking to us, as educators, to ensure that our classrooms and schools are welcoming spaces for their children. As such, I think that it’s important that 2SLGBTQ+ students see themselves reflected in the school environment and the curriculum.
In fact, teachers don’t need to wait for explicit curriculum expectations to teach about 2SLGBTQ+ realities in their classrooms. As educators, we have a moral and ethical obligation to do so. Many school boards across the province are implementing strategies to support 2SLGBTQ+ students and families. However, more needs to be done to ensure consistency, accountability and equitable access to support, services and resources across the province. I feel it would be helpful to have clearer expectations embedded in the curriculum that address 2SLGBTQ+ issues and the lived realities that individuals who identify as 2SLGBTQ face in the community. With funding to support this, there would greater equity across the province when it comes to having access to resources and support for teachers, students and families. This is a matter of accountability and responsibility in providing quality, inclusive education for all students. I think 2SLGBTQ+ students and families deserve better from their education system, and better must come.
ETFO has put together 2SLGBTQ+ learning materials and resources for all grades to support teachers in the classroom. These materials and resources are geared towards helping teachers address issues of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia and create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all.
I’m always looking for books to add to my library that support the inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive environment I strive to achieve in my classroom. This school year, I have been investing in books that celebrate diversity to ensure that all students see themselves reflected within the Kindergarten program. I have been in search of stories by BIPOC authors, stories that celebrate differences, and stories that share messages of inclusion to add to my collection. I decided to create an A-Z list of stories that I love. This list is far from exhaustive and there are MANY amazing books I could have added. The stories below from A-M are stories that were appropriate for my Kindergarten class, but could definitely be read to students beyond Kindergarten as well.
If you are a new teacher looking to begin your picture book collection, this one’s for you!
“I am just going to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing” – one of my Kindergarten students said as she led her peers through a step-by-step challenge where they created a DIY ‘marble run’ out of paper tubes and tape.
My DECE partner and I were blown away by her kindness, patience and commitment to the success of her classmates during this process.
We have been trying to keep an open invite for all students in our class to have the opportunity to be the “teacher” or the expert on a topic of their choice. Through online learning, fewer natural moments of teaching happen from student to student like they would in a physical classroom. Hands on collaboration between students virtually can be tricky, as they lack the opportunity to share space and materials. We decided it would be more equitable to schedule these student-led activities ahead of time, in order to allow all students time to prepare the proper materials. As I move to in person learning in the fall, it is my goal to continue this practice as a means of supporting students belonging and contributing in respect to the Kindergarten program. It is my hope to further explore the benefits of fostering students confidence as teachers in the classroom as I continue to learn from my competent and capable young learners. Here are my initial thoughts:
The classroom community
Inviting students as teachers creates a culture of learning, respect and curiosity
Students teaching their peers builds community and invites students to be vulnerable and make mistakes
Through the lens of a child
When our students stepped into the role of educators, it provided my DECE partner and I a unique opportunity: to see the world through their eyes. Through their ideas, descriptions and step-by-step processes we were able to develop a deep understanding of the way they view the world, the way they solve problems and the way they persevere through challenges.
Many children enrolled in Kindergarten programs are immersed in their first experiences of formal schooling. For some of my students, my DECE partner and I are their very first examples of educators. The way that children go about giving instructions, gaining the attention of others and providing words of encouragement can be reflective of what they see. It can be very powerful to listen to a student recite an encouraging phrase verbatim, such as “You are a problem solver!”.
Benefits for students
Teaching their peers provides students with the space to take risks while gaining confidence in their own ideas and abilities
For the students involved in this practice as the learner, it allows them to explore new ideas or approach learned concepts from a different perspective than my own or that of my DECE partner.
Inviting students to perform a new role as a teacher is inclusionary, culturally responsive, relevant and meaningful – which is the basis of everything I hope to cultivate in Kindergarten.
“Control + F” on my keyboard allows me to search the word “play” with The Kindergarten Program (2016) document. This magic word comes up 566 times.
Five HUNDRED and sixty-six times.
Play is referenced over and over again throughout the document as a vehicle for learning. Examples of play and the power it holds are woven through the Kindergarten document with references to past and present research from literature around the world that supports play. Play is highlighted as being the highest form of learning for young children and the best way for students to take ownership and responsibility over their own ideas.
The Grade 1 curriculum gives no such importance to play. These two programs lie at completely polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to the varying discourse used surrounding the view of the child.
Naturally, those who teach Grade 1 work tirelessly to ensure students continue to have a positive and hands on experience that results in growth and learning. However, the transition between Kindergarten to Grade 1 shouldn’t have to be such a gigantic leap for students, families and educators alike.
The value of wonder
Though we are beginning to see the introduction of social and emotional learning (e.g. the new math curriculum), the Grade 1 curriculum can feel rigid in the sense that students wonder, interests and inquiries are not prioritized within the documents. Educators create this space of wonder for students within their classrooms, but wonder itself is not reflected within the curriculum documents, assessments, or the evaluation of students overall learning (e.g. the report card).
I dream of a world where the Kindergarten and Grade 1 curricula compliment each other rather than repel each other.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if….
Play and the benefits of play-based learning were prioritized beyond Kindergarten?
Report cards beyond Kindergarten were designed to allow educators space to reflect on the whole child and their development as learners within a classroom community?
Graduation time is fast approaching! I know that it’s still early, but I’m certain that conversations are happening in schools and communities. Within the blink of an eye, we’ll be at the end of June and students will be leaving one school and heading off to new adventures. Let’s face it, the pandemic is still very much a real part of our lives. I fear that in a rush of excitement about “going back to normal”, we will miss an opportunity to do something new. While many will be looking forward to going back to “what we have always done”, I wonder what we have learned about equity of access from the last 2 years and how we might celebrate differently this year.
Equity of Access
Celebrating memorable moments with family and friends is exciting. Over the last 2 years, for many, our celebrations have looked different, whether with our friends or families and/or in school. We’ve learned that in-person celebrations are prohibitive for many, for a variety of reasons. We have made adjustments and have proven that when we consider the needs of the most marginalized, we come up with solutions that are effective for all. For this year’s graduation ceremonies, I hope that we keep this in mind. Whether due to disability or school not being a safe space, we really need to consider how we might make access more equitable. How do we ensure access to graduation celebrations for these students and their families?
Think Outside the Box
I remember the big push a couple of years ago to “reimagine”. We were reimagining attendance and school entry and recess. All of which were great and timely, and I wonder how many of these practices have now gone to the wayside with the “reopening”?
On a deeper scale, when it comes to issues impacting those most marginalized, I have yet to tangibly see what this reimagining actually means. Where are those conversations now? Could we have them about graduation? Here are some questions that I have:
Could we start from scratch and design a ceremony that is inclusive to all and reflective of the members of our school communities?
Do we have to have awards? Could they be changed in some way? Could students be involved in the selection of the awards if they must be given? Could students know ahead of time what the awards are all about so that they can have an opportunity to work towards them?
Speeches – Who are they for and why do they matter?
I have to say that not much has changed during the life of my teaching career when it comes to graduations. I’ve been teaching for over a decade. Isn’t it time we think outside the box a little?
Celebration of Students
Graduation should be a time to celebrate students. Sometimes, there are other voices that seem to be louder in stating what the experience of students should be. I wonder if we asked students what they might like, what they would say? How might we gather student voice and have students share their input in a way that allows them to share authentically and freely their thoughts and ideas? We often expect students to disclose without creating the space or environment in order for that to be accomplished, without fear of how others may respond to those thoughts and ideas. How might we really center students and their needs during this year’s celebrations?
In conversations about graduation planning, please remember to include students and their families. They are the best at knowing what they have experienced over the last couple of years and may have key insights into making this celebration of the achievement of students, a success for all. Think outside the box as to what might and can be done. While I’m certain that school boards may share guidelines as to what they expect, there may be opportunities to highlight some specific considerations that should be made for your school community.
The first week of May has two important pop culture events: May the Fourth and Free Comic Book Day. These fan celebrations are great ways to connect to student learning and camaraderie both in and out of the classroom. More and more, students are interacting actively with media in terms of their interest in characters and immersive communities.
When I was growing up, the May 4th “Star Wars Day” existed only as a pun and has exploded over social media the past 10 years. Most of my colleagues knew of my fondness for this space franchise and when the day began to be celebrated with fun tie-ins for kids both young and old, I naturally incorporated it into my classroom. I was particularly excited for this year’s being the first in person occasion in three years and the first since arriving to my new school two years ago. I was pleasantly surprised when colleagues showed up in some Star Wars hair and shirts with stuffies of various characters, and since our principal encouraged us to be inclusive and call it “Space Day”, there were many star and moon ensembles as well.
Students enthusiastically showed up at nutrition break to my room wearing various outfits, including some in costumes. They participated in word searches, Mad Libs, and fun poses against a galactic backdrop. What pleased me the most was that many years ago, mostly only boys would have these shirts and plushies on hand. The fan culture has catered more and more to all genders with various characters and positive representation that appeals to a wider variety of fans.
Free Comic Book Day is a wonderful opportunity to check out the local comic book store and begin the journey to learning about superheroes and villains in graphic novel form. Students enjoyed drawing using step by step videos of characters from their favourite cartoon shows and were encouraged to check out events at their local library. Once again, more inclusivity in terms of characters’ backgrounds and ethnicities leads to more children seeing themselves represented on the big and small screen and in the pages of books that are a great resource for a variety of reading styles.
The terms ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ can be used to negatively stereotype both neuro-divergent and neural typical children with interests and personalities that don’t ‘fit’ into society norms. It’s empowering to see students embrace ideas that being a fan, whether comics or sports, is something that can introduce lifelong friends and talents.
Trigger warning: This post may be triggering to some folx as it discusses the emotional and physical toll happening on our students and our profession. I hope you read on.
A student asked to speak with me the other day. They said things weren’t going so well. They didn’t have to say a word. Their eyes told the story of someone who had been going through a lot lately. They shared and I listened while resisting every urge to cry along with them. How has it come to this I thought? How have so many of life’s weights been placed on a student who deserves to enjoy these years without worry, fear, or doubt?
While they spoke, it became known that these feelings of sadness and dread have been building up for a couple of years already. It struck me a bit odd as this student comes across as one of the most well liked, bright, and optimistic persons. If they were struggling, then how many more have not found the courage to come forward? My mind raced around how best to support them in the moment, but then moved to thoughts of what needs to happen on the macro level of our classrooms.
Despite some training, my mental health first aid kit is still only partially stocked, and unless additional social workers can be added to our school, I fear things will only be getting worse. If it is happening in one school, then it is probably happening in many others. Notwithstanding the already existing immense work loads placed on centralized caregivers in school boards, it does not appear that supply will meet demand any time soon.
I guess that my best move for this particular person will be to check in with them a little more frequently, contact family to construct a cohesive support plan, and to recommend seeking some help from a social worker if at all possible. I am also going to build in some wins for them throughout the week. These could be a few more affirmations or intentional opportunities to have fun in their day. Maybe this approach could help in supporting staff as well? Read on.
They didn’t have to say a word. The eyes told a story of someone who has been crying a lot lately. What happened before coming to school? How were they going to make it through another day when the sound of fast paced walks toward their door meant another part of the day, intended to plan and organize, was going to be co-opted again. How can this continue to happen when things are supposed to be safer, better, and back to normaler? Cue the tears. Cue the sadness. Cue the confusion. It’s hard to hide the stress or frustration. With all of that to manage, anger is never far behind. So when someone asks what is causing the tears specifically, the answer is nothing and everything at the same time.
Nothing because there is nothing we can do about what is happening other than mask up, make sure the kleenex box is full, and brave out the current chaos of each day. Everything because the number of issues provide more than enough straws to collapse every camel’s back. Mixed messages, inaction, anti-vaxxers, non-maskers, insane rates of infection, lost preps, fatigue, and having to complete the same system work with less time due to time that has been ‘liberated’ from one’s daily schedule.
I looked into the mirror. My eyes were dull, glassy, and dry. Thankful that another week has passed where I did not have to be out of the classroom. Thankful that I did not have to isolate. Relieved that time outside of school meant a chance to disconnect and recharge.
Although there is no single thing to attribute this current state. It could be because of the daily dread built up from what is happening in schools right now. It has gone far beyond any occasional days when OT jobs went unfilled to a sadly predicatable and unprecedented time in our profession. When was the last time you ever heard of 9 unfilled OTs at one school? Last week comes to mind.
If it hasn’t been mentioned before, the folx caring for this province’s most precious resources are having a tough time and are being pushed to the brink of exhaustion and anxiety. It seems that once again, pontificating politicians have put their heads in the sand when it comes to equipping educators to meet the realities of the day with the resources they need.
Let’s start by having more teachers available to cover the amounts of educators having to take time to quarantine due to illness/exposure to COVID19 or to care for an infected family member in the same home. As we enter the final months of the school year I am not feeling super confident that things will change and that has me worried about my own energy and emotional levels.
Despite every educator’s individual efforts, ‘things ain’t goin’ so good’. No amounts of extra time or out of pocket expenses are going to fix what is happening. We need personal supports for students and staff more than ever not affirmative memos and lipservice from elected/board leaders. Help.
May 2 will be the first Music Monday I will be celebrating live in three years and the first in my new school. Music Monday is an initiative organized by the Coalition for Music Education to promote the importance of music education in schools. You can find information at https://coalitioncanada.ca, and schools are invited to sign up internationally as well.
At the same time on the first Monday in May, schools are encouraged to virtually sing along to a song commissioned by Canadian artists. This is Music Monday’s 30th anniversary, and during the past 10 years I have participated I have sang with the students I.S.S. (Is Someone Singing), co-written by astronaut Chris Hatfield, Music is Our Medicine, and other contributions by a variety of diverse artists. We always encourage students to play along if they are shy about performing using a variety of instruments.
A book that I like to read in connection to this topic is “The Man With the Violin”, by Kathy Stinson. The author based the story on a real experiment where master musician Joshua Bell disguised himself and played for one hour in a subway station to see if passersby would pay attention to classical pieces in a non-concert setting. The beautiful illustrations convey to spirit of the children who were the most moved by the music. My students quickly recognized the importance of not judging a book by its cover and how important it is to have music occurring in everyday life from a young age.
The past few years have taught us the importance of the arts in our entertainment as well as our mental health. This year, I am video recording some of our students of various physical and neurologically divergent needs for a special slideshow on how music can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter their background and age. There are many ways to integrate music education into a variety of subjects and I hope that the choirs convey the importance of music on students’ learning and emotional well-being.