Building Better Schools: The Plan

ETFO represents approximately 83,000 members, including public elementary teachers, occasional teachers, education support personnel, professional support personnel and designated early childhood educators. ETFO provides protective and professional services for members and promotes equity and social justice within the education system and the broader society. ETFO is a social justice and equity-seeking organization” (ETFO, 2023).

Did I need to introduce ETFO to you? I don’t think so, but I wanted to ensure I shared that with you in case you did not know. ETFO advocates for equitable educational practices and equitable justice for all public elementary educators to position these educators as the changemakers we need in the education system.

Conferring on July 1, 1998, “ETFO continued the work of two federations that had worked to promote and protect the interests of public school educators for 80 years. ETFO’s two predecessors were the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) and the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation (OPSTF).” There was much in the works, and much at stake during the time of this transition, but “elementary teachers proved once again they were up to the challenge” (Ritcher, 2006).

I urge you to take some time to get to know ETFO’s history, mainly to understand the consistency of ETFO as a social justice advocate and equity-seeking organization that has remained steadfast through the ages. Becoming familiar with ETFO’s history will provide a deeper understanding of ‘The Plan’ that ETFO has launched as a guide for revitalizing public elementary education.

As stated in It’s Elementary (2018), the following are five frames by which you can understand the position in the fight for social justice and equity for public elementary school educators.
1) Federations work steadfastly to promote and protect the interests of their members.
2) Federations were, and continue to be, leaders in advocating for the rights of teachers and the broader society.
3) Funding for elementary education has been an issue since the 1800s.
4) Legal or collective agreement rights are never entirely secure; the union and its members have had to be vigilant in keeping elementary education issues in the public eye and on the government agenda.
5) The union’s strength depends on its ability to build member trust and solidarity for its work” (ETFO, 2018).

These have been ETFO’s guiding principles since its inception. This is the work ETFO continues to do, Building Better Schools by creating and fostering opportunities for culturally responsive growth and development within the Elementary Public school system for educators and learners.

Let us take the time to look closely at the 9-pronged plan for building better schools.

  • Addressing Anti-Black Racism
  • A funding formula that works for kids
  • A single secular school system for Ontario
  • A stronger voice for your educators and their union
  • Enriching student learning
  • Inclusive classrooms
  • Smaller classes for everyone
  • Support for students with special needs
  • Testing rooted in learning

As educators who desire equitable learning environments for all students, let us all take the time to ‘Join the Campaign’ and “protect our public education system so we can build better schools for everyone.”

Take a moment to reflect:

  • How does this challenge you to get involved with your union?
  • What attitudes, beliefs, or ideas do you need to change or adopt to bolster this needed plan?
  • What challenges do you think might arise as this plan unfolds?
  • How can you support ETFO (your union) in surmounting these challenges?
  • What skills/attributes can you contribute to your local or provincial office?

As Sharon O’Halloran (Deputy General Secretary, ETFO) said in the ETFO Voice, winter 2022 edition, “Our Victories Prove We Are Stronger When We Work Together.”

“Join one of ETFO’s provincial Standing Committees and provide your perspective and expertise in developing provincial policies, positions, programs, and initiatives. Vacancies for the 2023-2025 term are listed on the website. The deadline to apply is March 1. Apply online at members.etfo.ca/etfo/standing-committees.”

 

Reference:

Building Better Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved January 8, 2023, from https://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/

Teaching to Transgress: Embracing Change

“If the effort to respect and honour the social reality and experiences of groups in this society who are nonwhite is to be reflected in a pedagogical process, then as teachers – on all levels – we must acknowledge that our styles of teaching may need to change” (Hooks, 1994, p.35).

For every teacher in the classroom, there is another teacher out there who inspired them.  As teachers, we often teach as we were taught. We develop our teaching identity and teaching practice based on the teachers we admired growing up or the styles of teaching we witnessed and liked during our time at Teachers College (whether local or international). Unfortunately, many of the teaching styles we emulate are not grounded or founded in anti-oppressive teaching practice since multicultural narratives and diversity of educational perspectives were not the bedrock of learning. This is no longer the case in education. Meaningful learning has been identified as being culturally relevant to learners and responsive in fostering a learning environment that reflects all learners in their diversity. Simply put, do the students see themselves reflected meaningfully in their learning?

“When I first entered the multicultural, multiethnic classroom setting, I was unprepared. I did not know how to cope effectively with so much “difference.” Despite progressive politics and my deep engagement with the feminist movement, I had never before been compelled to work within a truly diverse setting, and I lacked the necessary skills” (Hooks, 1994, p. 41).

To provide context, Bell Hooks was an author, a social activist, and an educator who examined how race, feminism, and class are used as systems of oppression and class domination. She began her career as an educator in 1976 and taught until she passed away in 2018. In her 42-year career as an educator, she emphasized the power that educating from a multi-cultural perspective (a multinarrative) brings to the learning environment.

How dynamic would our classrooms be if we created and fostered space for students to be their authentic selves? How much more engagement would there be if students engaged with learning, not just as something to do, but as a part of who they are?

“The exciting aspect of creating a classroom community where there is respect for individual voices is that there is infinitely more feedback because students do feel free to talk – and talk back” (Hooks, 1994, p. 45). Students see themselves in their learning and recognize that they are part of it.

To better understand how this can be fostered in your classroom, it is first important to understand what a multicultural classroom is. “From language barriers to social skills, behaviour to discipline, and classroom involvement to academic performance, multicultural education aims to provide equitable educational opportunities to all students” (CueMath, 2021). The teacher must be intentional about utilizing teaching styles and strategies that remove barriers and eliminate issues that students often face in trying to adopt a single narrative to teaching and learning.

“Regardless of social class, caste, gender, or creed, a multicultural classroom serves all students and nurtures young minds to learn together. It also seeks transparency and acceptance of all cultural identities in a class without bias or partiality” (CueMath, 2021). A teacher who fosters multiculturalism models acceptance of differences, encourages learning beyond a single narrative and always uplifts multiplicity in learning perspectives as they accentuate students’ diverse identities.

To learn more about how you can create an environment that ‘Teaches to Transgress” and embrace equality and diversity in our ever-changing classroom environments, read through these nine tips that have been provided by OISE Professor Ann Lopez and Richard Messina, Principal of OISE’s Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (JICS).

References

Craig, L. (2017, September 7). 9 ways to create an inclusive environment in a diverse classroom. University of Toronto Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from https://www.oise.utoronto.ca/oise/About_OISE/Dealing_with_diversity_in_the_classroom.html

CueMath. (2021, January 21). Learn about multicultural education and ways to implement. Cuemath. Retrieved December 18, 2022, from https://www.cuemath.com/learn/multicultural-education/

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York u.a: Routledge.

 

National Ribbon Skirt Day (January 4)

“A bill put forward by Senator Mary Jane McCallum to recognize National Ribbon Skirt Day has received Royal Assent and is now an act of parliament. McCallum was inspired to create the bill after a young Saskatchewan girl named Isabella Kulak was shamed for wearing a ribbon skirt during a formal school event” (Francis, 2022).

Bill S-219 was passed to create awareness and provide an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about the importance of Ribbon Skirts to many Indigenous cultures and heritage. “National Ribbon Skirt Day will provide an opportunity for everyone in Canada to recognize, learn about, and celebrate the importance of Indigenous traditions and expressions of culture. The Ribbon Skirt is one such tradition” (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, 2022).

In Indigenous communities, “Ribbon skirts are traditionally worn in ceremonies and during special events by First Nations women and represent the person’s identity, unique diversity and strength.  Women, girls and gender diverse people also wear them to express pride and confidence in their Indigenous identity and heritage.” (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, 2022).

According to the article by CBC News, A young Saskatchewan girl by the name of Isabella Kulak was targeted and shamed at a school function for wearing a ribbon skirt to the school’s formal event.  A teaching assistant told Isabella that her attire did not meet the requirements of ‘formal wear’ and that she should have worn a store-bought (mass-produced brand) to fit with the other students. Unfortunately, in Canada, this oppressive dialogue is not uncommon in the interactions of many racialized and marginalized people groups who choose to honour their culture or religion through their attire. According to Francis, 2022, while speaking at an interview On CBC Radio One, Isabella mentioned that on January 4, she would wear her ribbon skirt. She said, “It makes me really happy because lots of people can now wear their ribbon skirts proudly. I hope they are now proud of who they are” (Francis, 2022). Isabella’s father (Chris) mentioned that “No child should be treated like that regardless of where they come from or who they are” (Francis, 2022).

The passing of this bill is an opportunity for us as educators to gain deeper insight into the importance of traditions and practices in Indigenous culture. It is also a challenge for us to pause and think about what we deem ‘formal’, ‘proper’ or ‘acceptable’ as it has to do with how our students express themselves through their attire or nonconformity to what attires we think they should wear.

Louise Jocko of Birch Island near Manitoulin said, “Each person has their own story behind their skirts. Each person has their own colours that they bring with them when they make the skirt. I think it really does bring about the resiliency, and it shows the strength in our people that we’re reclaiming that culture and identity … wearing these skirts” (Gemmill, 2023).

There is still so much for us to learn, unlearn, and relearn. As we continue to work together to advocate for equitable learning practices and environments for all students, it is imperative that we all understand the importance of Bill S-19 in combating racism, discrimination, and oppression in all spheres, especially as it pertains to raising awareness of and celebrating Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

References

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. (2022, December 21). Bill S-219, an Act respecting a national ribbon skirt day, receives Royal Assent. Canada.ca. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/crown-indigenous-relations-northern-affairs/news/2022/12/bill-s-219-an-act-respecting-a-national-ribbon-skirt-day-receives-royal-assent.html

Francis, J. (2022, December 23). National Ribbon Skirt Day bill passed, to be celebrated on Jan. 4. CBC News. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www-cbc-ca.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.6694428

Gemmill, A. (2023, January 4). Marking 1st-ever National Ribbon Skirts Day in Northern Ontario | CBC News. CBCnews. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/marking-ribbon-skirt-day-sudbury-1.6702580

Lambert, A. (2020, July 1). Crazy Hair Day. Crazy hair day. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://heartandart.ca/crazy-hair-day/

The Ten Principles [Anti-Racism Education: Theory & Practice].

An expression used colloquially in the English language says “______ wrote the book on that subject,” can be applied to George Dei’s research on Anti-Racism Education. Though written in 1996, it outlines so many fundamental principles of antiracism education that educators must grapple with in order to do this work well.

Race has been and is being used as an identifier, a marker that sets one apart from another, which is reinforced by the perceived dominant group through deliberate erasure and omission of narratives regarding who occupies particular spaces.  Action-oriented strategies and explicit identification and naming of race and social issues that strike at the heart of the power imbalance and inequities found in our education systems are what Dei explores in this resource, this call-to-action. The ten basic principles of Anti-racism Education are summarized in the chart below. “Anti-racism education may be defined as an action-oriented strategy for instructional, systemic change to address racism and the interlocking systems of social oppression… Anti-racism education seeks to build what has been termed “communities of differences.” This task can only be undertaken successfully if educators first learn how to deal with difference and the inherent conflictual interests and power imbalances in our societies.” (Dei, 1996).

As educators committed to teaching and learning centered on anti-racism and anti-oppression, it is pertinent to examine and reflect on these basic principles.

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 these ten principles in my learning environment (classroom) to foster equitable learning?

Taking the time to intentionally examine ourselves as educators, to think about our styles and reflect on our practice is essential to consistently cultivating meaningful learning for our students, particularly racialized students who are often not reflected at the forefront.

Examine, Reflect, Refine. This is one of the ways we continue to work towards ‘Building Better Schools.’

References:
Dei. G. J. S. (1996). Anti-racism education: Theory and practice. Basic Principles of Anti-Racism Education. Fernwood Publishing. Halifax & Winnipeg, Canada.

Beyond One Day – Truth & Reconciliation through curriculum planning.

Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day Bead Work

September 30 has been earmarked as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Before this, most educators knew this day as Orange Shirt Day, which stemmed from the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc author from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who shares the story of her experiences in a residential school. The significance of September 30 is profound as it calls for us all as a nation, particularly as educators, to pause and reflect on the effects and impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples (children and adults) to this day. It is estimated that over 150000 Indigenous children attended residential schools in Ontario alone over the span of 100+ years (Restoule, 2013). We know that many of these children did not make it home, while many others still live with the trauma they faced within these schooling systems. 

Orange Shirt Day, now known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is but a starting point for us as educators. How can we collectively move beyond one day to infuse learning about Indigenous histories and present Indigenous impacts into our overall planning across different subject areas? In the ‘Calls to Action’ reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), sections 62 and 63 emphasizes the need for an educational approach that centers Indigenous histories, accounts, and perspectives in the curriculum, not as a one-off event or as an interruption to learning, but instead as an integral part of developing understanding within Canadian education. 

Simply put, Indigenous history is Canadian History. Indigenous peoples continue to shape and influence Canadian society in meaningful ways. 

“In 2015, ETFO endorsed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. ETFO understands that it is integral for educators to move forward into reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada” (ETFO, 2022). Challenge yourself to learn more using the curated information provided by ETFO, and be intentional about infusing Indigenous representation in the various subject areas you may teach. Resources can be found and explored at etfofnmi.ca

Fostering further development and understanding (both in learning and teaching practices) of Indigenous accounts and narratives in K-12 learning communities not as an alternate focus or ‘alternative learning’, but as a central tenet of Canadian education is critical to moving towards reconciliation as we learn and teach about Indigenous peoples of Canada.

For more exploration and information, visit https://etfofnmi.ca/.

References:

Restoule, K. (2013). An Overview of the Indian Residential School System.’ Anishinabek.ca. Retrieved from https://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS -System-Booklet.pdf.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Reports – NCTR. NCTR – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Retrieved from https://nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2015). First Nation, Métis and Inuit (FNMI). Etfo.ca. Retrieved from https://www.etfo.ca/socialjusticeunion/first-nation,-metis-and-inuit-(fnmi).

Schooling or Learning?

For many, when presented with both, schooling is the same as learning, and learning seems to be something that only occurs in schools. Is this the case, however?

At ETFO’s Public Symposium titled ‘Generation Black: You’re Next!’,  Dr. Carl James highlighted why educators must pause and reflect on the similarities and differences between these two concepts. 

What is schooling? According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary (2022), schooling is defined as “the education you receive at school”. When cross-referenced with various dictionaries (Marriam-Webster, Collins, and Cambridge dictionaries), they all provide the same definition – education received at an institution, whether at a primary, secondary, or tertiary level. 

Learning, however, is not as straightforward in its definition. Going back to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, learning is given different definitions within various contexts. According to all the dictionaries mentioned above, learning is a process that occurs in multi-settings in multiple ways, beginning when an individual is born. 

“For educators, the ability to teach is a privilege, but in a broader sense, it is a privilege that runs parallel to the responsibility of teaching relative to the complete history of ideas and events that have shaped and continue to shape human growth and development” (Dei, Karumanchery, & Karumanchery-Luikb, 2004). 

Since learning is a continuous process, and schooling is one of the environments in which learning occurs, how can we, as educators, ensure that learning is facilitated meaningfully within the school environment?

Planning Matters:

In 2020, the Ontario Black History Society examined a Grade 8 history textbook and ‘blacked out‘ any information that did not mention or acknowledge Black people in Canada. Of the 255 pages of information, only 13 pages remained. Indigenous sovereignty, economics, and culture are rarely explored in the K-12 curriculum. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society. The impact and contributions of people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community and other cultural communities are erased from ‘settler’ rhetoric and in curriculum/resources used to direct learning. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society.

Breaking the cycle of erasure and omission within the classroom is linked to the planning stage. Before planning, take the time to know your learners. Become familiar with the communities in which they live. Foster a classroom environment wherein their experiences inside and outside of the classroom are valued and can be welcomed in their learning space. Cultivate incorporating student input, perspectives, ideas, and resources into Unit and Lesson planning. Develop connections with community members and partners inside and outside the school that can broaden your familiarity with resources that reflect the society in which we live. Approach your planning intentionally, using an anti-racist, anti-oppressive lens, which creates a window for your students to engage with often omitted members of their society and a mirror whereby they see themselves reflected in their learning.

Representation Matters:

“Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming—between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression” (Friere, 2005. p. 88).

In short, representation matters. Recentering multi-representation in learning is one of the vehicles for transformative change that can begin to shine a light on learning our whole in constructive ways.

  • Think about the resources you use and share with your class. Who is reflected? Who is erased? Who is tokenized? Who is omitted?
  • Reflect on your interactions with parents, guardians and members of your school community? Who is made to feel welcome? Who is kept at arm’s length? Whose experiences are valued? Whose experiences are often invalidated?
  • Conduct an inventory of your learning and resource plans. Are you ensuring that your plans reflect the learners in your classroom? How have you challenged yourself to plan and facilitate learning from a social justice, equity, and inclusive lens? Have you included your learners’ interests, backgrounds, and experiences as integral to planning and lesson facilitation?

Assessment Matters:

As stated in the Growing Success policy document put forth by the Ontario Ministry of Education regarding authentic assessment, “Our challenge is that every student is unique, and each must have opportunities to achieve success according to his or her own interests, abilities, and goals” (Ontario Ministry of Education Growing Success, 2010).

Assessment and Evaluation practices in Growing Success (2010) state that “the seven fundamental principles lay the foundation for rich and challenging practice. When these principles are accepted, implemented, utilized, and observed by all teachers, assessment becomes a tool for collecting meaningful information that will help inform instructional decisions, promote student engagement, foster meaningful demonstration of student understanding, and improve student learning overall.

 

References:

Dei, G. J. S., Karumanchery, L. L., & Karumanchery-Luikb, N. (2004). Chapter Seven: Weaving the Tapestry: Anti-Racism Theory and Practice. Counterpoints,244, 147–164. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42979563

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Edition (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. (Original work published 1921).

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Retrieved from https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Learning. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Schooling. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

My Experience with Project Overseas

If you are a life-long learner who believes in equity, inclusion and public education then volunteering your time and skill-sets with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) Project Overseas (PO) might just be the right experience for you. I myself have volunteered for PO for three years (2017, 2018 and 2019) and I can honestly say that it was one of the best experiences in my professional career. Overseas projects have not run in 2020, 2021 or 2022 due to the pandemic. You might be asking yourself, what is Project Overseas and how can I get involved? I will share a few things with you to get you started and also connect you with some websites for additional information.

 

What is the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)?

CTF is a national alliance of provincial and territorial member organizations across Canada (including ETFO). Its head office is located in Ottawa. The goal for CTF is to demonstrate a commitment to advancing education and building teacher solidarity worldwide. 

Here are some ways that CTF supports teachers:

  • Increased influence with government
  • Support for better working conditions
  • Research and professional development
  • Educational resources and services
  • International volunteering opportunities (i.e. Project Overseas)

For more information on CTF, please visit www.ctf-fce.ca 

 

What is Project Overseas?

PO is a collaborative learning opportunity for participating provincial and territorial teacher organizations with other progressive countries throughout Africa and the Caribbean. As a selected member from your union, you and your team of Canadian teachers/members will travel to the host country (usually for the month of July) and work in partnership directly with other facilitators from the host country to co-plan and co-deliver professional development strategies to their lead teachers and administrators in a series of workshops and presentations. In most situations, the experience will be similar to a train-the-trainer model. This is a shared approach to teaching and  learning, as you will learn as much from the host nation as they will learn from you. The goal for PO is to improve teaching and learning around the world, to ensure equitable access to higher education for young girls, and to promote equitable, high quality, publicly funded public education for all. 

 

What was my experience like with Project Overseas? 

My experiences in Sierra Leone and Uganda have been one of the best learning experiences in my professional career. I met amazing educators who were doing amazing things with very little resources, with no, or next to no access to technology and with limited opportunities for professional development. Educators were using tree bark to create soccer balls for physical education. They were using pebbles, bottle caps and seeds from fruits to support students’ learning in numeracy. They were using flattened out empty cardboard boxes as anchor charts to teach concepts in literacy, science and social studies. These amazing educators were so enthusiastic about learning new ideas and sharing their own teaching strategies with us. One of my learning highlights was understanding and appreciating their use of music in teaching new concepts and as a tool for reviewing big ideas. In fact, singing, clapping and movement were used in all aspects and subject areas throughout the learning process. Music was used to welcome people into a space, to bring the group together, to teach a new concept and to review what was taught. Music was used as an holistic and inclusive way of learning. You would certainly be moved, in more ways than one, by your shared experiences and new learning opportunities with PO. You would be certain to learn new ideas that you could bring back to your school community and incorporate into the classroom. 

 

With PO, we also had opportunities for cultural exchange. There was usually a cultural event where we shared aspects of our Canadian culture. This might have included a taste of certain food like maple syrup, a Canadian geography game or two, a game of hockey or lacrosse and of course the singing/playing of the national anthem. The host country in return would present a special event which usually included the wearing of traditional outfits, dancing, food and games/plays. In some cases, we were able to visit a cultural museum, a zoo or a school/classroom that might still be in session. 

 

Regardless of which host country you attend, you will make an impact on their access to quality education and you’re certain to return with a new outlook on what it means to be an effective educator, an advocate for change. 

 

Tips on Applying for Project Overseas

  • Get involved with your local/territorial and/or provincial union (volunteer to be a member of a committee, attend local meetings, participate in/lead a workshop or conference, volunteer to be a union steward, or  volunteer as an alternate or delegate at ETFO’s AGM)
  • Check ETFO’s website for information and updates about Project Overseas.
  • Begin working on your resume (including references), as you will need to demonstrate your work experiences and leadership skills 
  • If you also speak French or another language, it would be helpful
  • Consider volunteering with a non-profit organization locally and/or internationally, to gain international and intercultural experiences
  • Reflect on your willingness/readiness to be away from home (your family) for a long period of time, with limited access to technology on a daily basis, sharing accommodations with others, working in partnership with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and experiencing food choices that may be new to you
  • Check out CTF/FCE Project Overseas website to see a list of the various partner organizations in which they participate and begin to do your own research on the culture, costumes and educational challenges of those countries

 

For more information on how to apply for PO, visit CTF/FCE Project Overseas

 

Outdoor Education

I love learning outdoors! To me, the outdoors is an extension of the learning that happens in the four corners of the classroom, except there are no walls and no  barriers to one’s imagination in the outdoors. I believe learning occurs everywhere and at all times; what better way to show students the art of experiential learning than through outdoor education. 

 

What are the benefits of outdoor education?

From all of my experiences as an educator, a physical education specialist, and from all that I have learned and read about the art of teaching and learning, there is no doubt in my mind about the positive benefits of outdoor education. From the development of physical skills, mental health, spatial awareness, self-esteem, problem solving and communication skills (just to name a few) to the love, appreciation and respect for nature and all living things, outdoor education transforms lives and student learning to a whole new level beyond the classroom. I find that, though important in student’s overall growth and development, traditional curriculum tends to focus on test-based learning, leaving less emphasis on experiential, play-based outdoor learning. When students are engaged in outdoor education, their academic performance increases, their focus and attention increase, their mental and social health increase and they develop a deeper connection with, and respect for, the environment. 

 

How can schools/teachers incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices? 

  • You can always take the lesson and/or activity outside (snow, rain or shine). As long as you prepare for the weather conditions and student safety, many activities, with some minor adjustments, can be accomplished in an outdoor setting. 
  • Consider taking part in the OPAL outdoor play education program. Schools are supplied with equipment and resources that students use in various innovative and explorative ways through free play. For example, students can build forts, balance on large wood spools, swing from tire swings and engage in pool-noodle sword play (just to name a few).  For more information, check out Outdoor Play Canada
  • I have also come across many articles that talk about the benefits of outdoor education and outdoor play in many subject areas: the arts, health and physical education, but also including literacy and numeracy. There are also many resources and organizations that are able to support teachers in building strategies to incorporate outdoor education into their teaching practices. I have used resources from Right to Play and OPHEA teaching tools and found them to be very practical and engaging for students.

If you are new to the idea of outdoor education, my suggestion would be to do a little research of your own, talk with other colleagues and/or your administrators and engage your students in a discussion about outdoor education. Another suggestion would be to start small by focusing on one subject/concept at a time and maybe just doing one activity with students. From there, you can set specific goals and measure success through feedback from participants, looking at improvements in academic performance as well as students’ emotional and social well-being. Overall, the benefits of outdoor education speak volume, in terms of student success, student development, and student mental health and well-being. Outdoor education is beneficial to every child in every school community, and it’s a strategy that I hope will one day be commonplace in all school communities across the province.

E is for Equity (part 2)

I am back again for part 2.

I hope you enjoyed (or planned to enjoy) some of the books from part 1 of E is for Equity.

After reading And Tango Makes Three (by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) to my Kindergarten class very recently, I need everyone to stop what they’re doing and read about the immediate reactions my young learners had to the story.

The story is about 2 penguins in the Central Park Zoo that fall in love and hatch an egg together. This story is so fun and exciting for the listeners as they watch Silo and Roy become the proud penguin parents that they always wanted to be. The penguins Silo and Roy are both boy penguins.

My students burning questions at the end of the story:

  • “What do penguins eat?”
  • “Do penguins eat polar bears?”
  • “I went to the zoo once!”
  • “Can I go to the bathroom?”

N – The Name Jar 

Written & Illustrated by: Yangsook Choi

O – One Love

Adapted by: Cedella Marley

Illustrated by: Brantley Newton

P – The Proudest Blue 

Written by: Ibtihaj Muhammad, &S.K. Ali

Illustrated by: Hatem Aly

Q – Lubaya’s Quiet Roar

Written by: Marilyn Nelson

Paintings by: Philemona Williamson

R – R.J Palacio (Author & Illustrator)

We’re all Wonders

S – Sulwe

Written by: Lupita Nyong’o 

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison 

T – And Tango Makes Three

Written by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 

Illustrated by: Henry Cole

U – Under My Hijab 

Written by: Hena Khan

Illustrated by: Aaliya Jaleel

V – Susan Verde (Author)

I am Human

Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds

W – When We are Kind

Written by: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Nicole Neidhardt

X – Except When They Don’t

Written by: Laura Gehl

Illustrated by: Joshua Heinsz

Y – Be You!

Written & Illustrated by: Peter H Reynolds 

Z – Zahra’s Blessing: A Ramadan Story

Written by: Shirin Shamsi

Illustrated by: Manal Mirza

Bring Back Specialist Teachers

Back in the day (I always feel so old whenever I say that) I remember we used to have a full-time librarian, an in-school nurse, a guidance counsellor, as well as design/technology and family study teachers. Nowadays, some of these teachers are so rare to see in elementary schools; there seems to be a huge decline in specialist teachers across the province. Instead of eliminating these specialist teachers in elementary schools, students should be having access to more of these specialist educators. By this, I also mean specialists in various subject areas such as the arts (music, visual art, drama, dance) and in core subjects (literacy, numeracy, science and social studies). Under the current provincial funding formula, the majority of Ontario schools don’t have access to these specialist educators and, to me, that is a huge detriment to the education system in our province.

 

What are specialist teachers?

While there is a formal definition by the Ontario College of Teachers, the day-to-day definition of a specialist teacher might change depending on one’s professional perspective and philosophy. Specialist teachers bring a wide range of both formal qualifications as well as informal learning and experiences to their classrooms. They are specifically trained (often through additional qualification courses) in the subject matter to which they teach. Funding for schools also plays a role in the way schools and school boards access and utilise specialist teachers. There continues to be a disparity between urban and rural schools in relation to the availability of, and access to, specialist teachers in a variety of settings and subjects. As the number of specialist teachers continues to decline across the province, it will affect the administration and organization of the education system and the allocation of resources. This will undoubtedly have a huge impact on student choices, student mental health and student success.

 

What does the literature say about specialist teachers? 

The literature seems to say that as the curriculum goes through revisions, year after year, and students move into higher grades, the subject matter increases in complexity and therefore the skills, content and expertise required by educators also increase. Specialist teachers are additionally trained to understand, interpret and deliver curriculum to students with more effective pedagogical strategies to reach all learners with diverse needs and to improve student overall success and achievement. These teachers themselves report feeling more confident in their understanding of the curriculum and more prepared to teach in their specialist field compared to other teachers. However, it is important to note that the magnitude of a well prepared, effective and confident teacher in the classroom cannot always be measured in a tangible way. The focus here is really on the overall success, achievement and wellbeing of students. 

 

What does the literature say about the relationship between specialist teachers and student achievement? 

Bring back specialist teachers to elementary education! Specialist teachers are able to deliver a high quality and rigorous program for all students. However, the evidence on whether such instruction leads directly to improved student achievement remains inconclusive. More research is needed in this area to make any substantive claims on the effectiveness of specialist teachers. I think that more specialist teachers in elementary schools, however, would likely serve to support students positively and contribute to their social, emotional and intellectual development. I think that specialist teachers are an important aspect to ensuring high quality education for all students and therefore should be a consideration for any successful education system. 

ETFO completed a literature review of research that examines the effectiveness of specialist teachers to the quality of education in elementary schools. The 2015 review reveals that, “Overall, the literature surrounding specialist teachers in a range of content areas appears to support the claim that specialist teachers can positively impact student achievement and contribute to student success at the elementary level.” You can find more information on the following ETFO website: 

The Importance of Specialist Teachers