Why Union Matters

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

the eyes tell our stories

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.

Image
via https://twitter.com/MikeJToronto/status/1520175065333219329?s=20&t=NLlivpQQu-yLApHE3_iEUA

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.

…and in this corner

….weighing in at the size of that giant elephant in each of your classrooms.

Yup, with a sense of timing so impeccably ironic, that it is only achievable by elected officials, we are once again face to face with maskless learners and colleagues.

Oh the freedom!

This all despite numbers related COVID19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths) increasing across the province. Despite a strategic throttling of information from the current government and an ineptly duplicitous media incapable of calling out the “horse hockey” being shovelled at an unwitting public who is either happily oblivious learning how to live with COVID19 or now scrambling to avoid a negative patient outcome for someone in their life who is immuno-compromised.

Another struggle took centre stage the moment the masks were allowed to come off in Ontario. We are once again facing government sanctioned chaos when it comes to public health policy and education in our province and there are signs of  trouble in nearly every public school. #Onted via Twitter reveals numerous schools with growing numbers of COVID19 cases and exposures among their youngest learners. That means more absences (students and staff), more missed learning opportunities, and more uncertainty in schools/homes.

To no one’s surprise who has actually taught in a school over the past 2 years, students, teachers, and support staff  once again find themselves at greater risk of being exposed to COVID19 now that masking has become optional in public schools.*

Thankfully, at the school where I teach, the number of students and staff still choosing to mask up each day remains around 90%. Odd though how that figure corresponds to another public health statistic at 90%. Hint, it rhymes with vaccination rate. Hmm? Yet, that is not the case inside of many other schools and has the potential to be problematic on a number of fronts. I’ve seen this movie before and as I recall, it ain’t a comedy.

The removal of required masking, limited cohorting, mandatory hand sanitizing protocols, and social distancing have not provided me with the peace of mind that the return of such “freedoms” pretends to promise. So what is can a health conscious public educator do while they are now placed on the frontlines of learning to live with germ warfare?

Psst. Running away and hiding are not options.

The safest moves are to continue limiting our own exposure to potential infections by keeping our distance, masking at all times, sanitizing, and limiting our social interactions. Overcoming a global pandemic entering its 6th wave is going to take a little more time. We have gone through so much and have learned an equal amount about ourselves and others.

I can sense that students are still concerned about this too. I have noticed them still sanitizing their hands and trying to maintain their distances with students who have chosen to go maskless in class. Thankfully, I have not observed any social shunning as of yet which makes me hopeful that this will be the case in the general public when ideologies collide as legislated social expectations are gone. It is in this spirit of care and respect that I encourage you all to stay safe and strong as you continue to serve and shine in your classrooms.

* I was going to make a snappy comment about how private schools did not have  to remove their mask mandates while all public schools were ordered to do so, but I could not think of a good way to phrase it without the use of profanity.

Protect Full-Day Kindergarten

The data does not lie.

As Ontario’s Full-Day Kindergarten Program heads into its 11th successful year, several studies have shown the positive and long-lasting effect Ontario’s Kindergarten Program has had on students, families and communities. 

In a longitudinal study by Janette Patricia Pelletier & James E. Corter comparing full-day and half-day Kindergarten programs, it was discovered that students who attended the full-day Kindergarten programs scored higher in the areas of reading, writing, number sense and self-regulation.  

The Kindergarten Program document itself sources countless resources and empirical studies revealing the importance of play and inquiry based learning programs for young children. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) are quoted in The Kindergarten Program (2016) as stating “the benefits of play are recognized by the scientific community. There is now evidence that neural pathways in children’s brains are influenced by and advanced in their development through the exploration, thinking skills, problem solving, and language expression that occur during play” (p. 19). 

 

What is the real price to pay?

Dr. Gordon Cleveland’s executive summary of The Kindergarten Program from January 2021 reads: “Our conclusion is that high-quality Kindergarten is very good for children. Well-trained teachers and small effective class sizes are important in producing this quality. The effects of high-quality Kindergarten experiences are long-lasting, and socio-emotional support is a key part of providing positive Kindergarten experiences”.

In February 2021, I wrote a post highlighting the reasons why the pedagogical approach that is central to the Kindergarten Program should be celebrated as it establishes a strong foundation for learning in the early years. My trust in the Kindergarten Program has not changed. As we continue to live in a global pandemic, this program becomes increasingly vital for Ontario students and families. 

Removing or changing the current model of Ontario’s Kindergarten Program will disrupt the very core of students’ learning. Changes to the current Kindergarten model will leave students behind in regard to early intervention, mental health and well-being and create cracks in the foundation of academic success. 

 

Why is this program so special?

If you have never had a chance to read The Kindergarten Program document, I highly recommend you do. Rather than threatening cuts to this program, Ontario should be looking into how to weave the philosophies of teaching and learning highlighted by The Kindergarten Program into all other curriculum documents for students attending public schools. Ontario’s Kindergarten program is exemplary and visionary in the way that it supports the creation of a learning environment that allows all children to feel comfortable, is built around attainable expectations and provides all children with the kind of support they need in order to develop.

ETFO continues to fight for the current model of The Kindergarten Program in Ontario. 

Why must we continue to defend what has proven to be indispensable? 

Who Am I?

If I have learned anything from the last year and a half is that the only thing that matters is NOW. Now is the time to laugh louder, now is the time to reach a bit higher and now is the time to hold on to loved ones just a little bit longer. For me that means taking control of my life, overcoming painful obstacles and pursuing goals that I no longer wish to ignore. I have always been shy to speak my truth and to believe that my voice matters. I feel that this platform will help me to develop a meaningful voice that can inspire other educators to make a difference in the lives of the students they teach, unapologetically. 

 

As a new blogger, I want to share some of my lived experiences and to connect with you in a meaningful way. First, I must tell you that writing has never been an easy task for me to do. It took me two hours of writing, and revising my writing, just to get this far in the blog, really. Why am I doing this then, you might ask? It’s because of what I wrote in my first paragraph above. Writing has always been a huge block for me, and I have chosen to embrace writing/blogging as a form of self-empowerment, liberation and inspiration. Now is the time!

 

I have been a teacher with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) since 1999. I have taught grade 3, a split grade 4/5 class, grade 7 and grade 8 in three different elementary schools in diverse communities around the city. I have spent most of my teaching years in the intermediate grades teaching core subjects as well as a grade 7/8 special education Homeschool Program (HSP) and a grade 7/8 Intensive Support Program (ISP) which I thoroughly enjoyed. For the past five years, I have been working in a central role (except for 2020/2021 when I was redeployed as a grade 8 virtual school teacher) as a guidance counsellor, supporting the social and emotional development of grade 7 and 8 students, as well as supporting their transition into high school. 

 

This year, the role has been reformed to better support the academic needs of intermediate students, especially those whose academic successes have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. This role might look differently in different spaces, as the needs vary greatly in different communities. I am looking forward to supporting teachers, working with students and building capacity with the entire school community so that all students can succeed. 

 

I have volunteered my time and leadership to the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and my local union, Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) on numerous committees, workshops and projects. Volunteering with my local and provincial union has afforded me the opportunity to network, to find my passion and to advocate for the rights of teachers and students. One of the most rewarding experiences for me was volunteering my time and leadership with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), as a sponsored ETFO member, to participate in their Project Overseas summer in-service program. I have been a team member and team leader in a summer co-training in-service program in Sierra Leone and Uganda. Let me just say it was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. There is so much I could say about that right now, but I will leave the details for another blog. There are so many ways to get involved in your union, if interested just ask your local union rep and they will be more than happy to provide you with support and leadership.

 

My teaching and leadership style is through an equity and anti-oppressive lens. I am passionate about advocating for equitable treatment and access for our most marginalized, black, indigenous, special education and LGBTQ2+ students, just to name a few. I am committed to building capacity for all teachers, so that they can be equipped with the necessary knowledge, tools and resources required to teach and support the needs of all students in diverse communities. In particular, I support teachers in embedding students’ lived experiences in bringing the curriculum to life in the classroom. I support using differentiated instructions (DI), culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRRP) and universal design for learning (UDL) to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all students, especially the most underserved students in our school system. I am also a strong believer that it takes a community to raise a child, and we cannot fully support students without the engagement and input from families/parents and community partners. I will share more in future posts. When we work together in a safe, nurturing and inclusive learning environment that puts students first, the possibilities for their success are endless. 

 

To our new teachers, I encourage you to take the necessary time to find your voice, and when you find it, use it to advocate for yourself and for the rights of our most vulnerable students. As a vulnerable student myself growing up in the system, I know what it means to have even ONE teacher that believes in you and accepts who you are without judgement. It was two teachers in particular who saved me from going down a very dark path in life. They may not know it, but they gave me hope and showed me that my life matters. Today, my hope is to pay that gift forward to you and to all with whom I come in contact. 

 

I hope this helps you understand a bit more about me and what I bring to the platform. Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions with me. As a new blogger and writer, I welcome your feedback and suggestions. Looking forward to learning together. Blessed!

 

Getting involved in your ETFO

Since this space is dedicated to encouraging new teachers it seems like a great time to share some of the important benefits that you can gain from getting involved early on in your careers in education. 

So here is a little list and some handy links for you to click on to get you started;

  1. Your voice matters and as such you should feel represented and included. Joining a committee and following your ETFO local news is a great way to connect and find opportunities to learn how things work as well as find ways to support and serve in your region. A quick glimpse through some of the provincial locals shows committees for social justice, political action, and new teachers. Make sure you also attend your annual general meetings too. Your votes matter too.  
  2. Find a mentor. This does not have to be someone in your building. Technology and social media have created excellent mentorship channels for new members. ETFO Provincial has a link and as mentioned above, local chapters have New Teacher Committees. New teachers might also want to check out The Mentoree website
  3. Don’t go it alone. Although many of us graduate from teacher’s college feeling we have to have it all together, the truth is that no one comes out fully prepared. Once you graduate, and enter the classroom as a teacher or occasional teacher, the real learning begins. ETFO offers the Survive and Thrive conference to new teachers within their first 5 years of their careers. Some school boards also offer summer sessions for teachers who are switching grades or taking on new roles. YRDSB has hosted its Great Beginning Conference for years and it allows attendees to meet others and gain valuable and practical resources from experienced fellow educators. 
  4. Remember you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. When you are new to teaching or even looking to update your own lessons, ETFO has curated an excellent set of resources for its members. Start with Teaching and Learning and click on a sub-topic and scroll down. ETFO members has many phenomenal resources for educators by educators. Check out:
    ETFO Action on Anti-Black Racism 
    Building a Just Society 2SLGBTQ+  
    Adressing Anti-Asian Racism resource booklet
    There are way more to share, but I will let you enjoy discovering them at your own pace. 
  5. Take ETFO AQ and other courses. They are incredibly relevant and well taught by fellow member educators. They are also affordably priced and designed to fit your schedule. 
  6. Get on social media and find other like minded folx in education. #onted is a great place to start.
  7. Subscribe to the Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning blog. 

Most importantly, don’t forget that we are a family of committed, creative, and caring professionals who share a common goal to maintain the best public education system in the world. If you would like to connect please drop a line in the comments section. Welcome to ETFO. 

Snow Day = No School Day

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

As an elementary special education teacher, I teach in a hybrid class of some students learning synchronously online and some learning in-class. It’s a juggle of competing agendas as teaching online and in-class are very different due to different ecologies of learning. Ecology is defined as “the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their physical environment; it seeks to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them.”

In-class ecology of learning

In-class learning happens in a physical environment of personal connections. In-class students learn by watching and listening to teachers while they also complete their work. Teachers can address specific students’ needs by reading body language and answering students’ questions.

Classroom learning is personal in nature.

In-class ecology is based on interactions between participants that occur face-to-face with the opportunity to directly deal with students based on need. Needs are determined by teachers being able to assess students’ needs by their knowledge of student learning profiles and emotions identified via body language. Classrooms also provide students with opportunities to interact with other students and move while learning.

Classroom learning is fostered by relationships and the interconnections between students, parents, and teachers.

Online ecology of learning

Online learning happens in a virtual environment of auditory connections. When students learning online, they learn mostly by listening through a screen via an online platform. Teachers explain concepts through images and speaking with little or no eye contact with students. As students often have their cameras off (i.e., their choice to protect their privacy at home), teachers cannot assess students’ level of engagement nor can they assess students’ understanding of lessons. Further, since students learn via camera, they miss the opportunity to engage in learning by manipulating objects such as with math manipulatives or creating experiments in science.

Online learning is void of the personal nature found in classroom learning.

Through a camera, teachers cannot develop the fulsome relationships key to the evaluation of students’ understanding and need for support. In addition, teachers are highly limited in the understanding of students’ learning profiles or emotional needs.

The assessment of work is also a challenge as teachers cannot directly witness products or collect observations in assessing success criteria. Conducting assessments via conversations is challenging as other students are literally in the same space as the student being assessed.

Online learning falls short in the building of relationships and interconnections between students, parents, and teachers. As the act of learning is fueled by personal interactions and relationships, without them learning is constrained. Online learning, especially for students with special education needs, is not an effective venue to learn. Further, online learning disproportionally impacts students who come from lower social economic backgrounds where the additional resources of time and money may not be available to support learning from home.

Online and In-Class Learning have different ecologies

Overall, it’s taken me many months to delineate what works synchronously online and in-class via the hybrid model. As learning about how to teach is based on experience, I’ve had some lessons that were not to be repeated and through this process I know what works with my current class of students.

In-class and online teaching “Flip-o-Rama”

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021 was the day my in-class students were to return to school. My online students would remain online but follow along in class via a camera (which was finally provided to me by my board of education after a year of teaching online learning.) But Mother Nature decided not to have us return to school via a big dump of snow – a snow day was announced via Twitter.

My lesson plans for this day were based on teaching in-class at school. We were to get our classroom organized, go over new Covid protocols, discuss plans for our science projects, and learn about anti-racism. I did not plan for another day of teaching online.

I was informed via Twitter by this message “On Feb. 16, 2021, all buses are cancelled & school buildings are closed to students due to inclement weather conditions. Learning will continue at home through remote, synchronous instruction, where possible.”

I understand the need for students to continue their learning and I have been working over 6 days a week to make this happen. I have been stepping up to “learning through remote synchronous instruction, where possible” by making it possible every day since September 2020. As a teacher, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I have worked hard to meet every additional expectation presented to me by my board of education. I have made “where possible”, possible.

Just Pivot In-class to Online

The challenge I face is that I cannot “just flip a switch” (i.e. or pivot) to go from planning for in-class learning to synchronous, online learning. It is not an easy, “flip of a switch”, transition. The reality is that I need to plan more for online learning by making sure students have the materials they need to participate in lessons.

My greatest concern is that, in the future, once the pandemic passes, Snow Days (i.e., inclement weather days) will automatically become online learning days. This will result in teachers having to flip from in class learning to online learning within hours of inclement weather announcements. Parents will have to arrange their day to accommodate their child’s online school by monitoring their work and supporting learning activities where possible. It’s a big ask for teachers and parents.

Setting a precedent for online learning during inclement weather days is a slippery slope.

I can see boards and ministries of education using inclement weather online learning to move more students’ learning, online.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD

Equity or Anti-Racism

Equity vs Anti-racism

As part of my advocacy for students, I’m on a school-based committee to address systemic equity issues within my school board. These board wide equity issues deal specifically with documented Black racism.

Within our committees’ discussions, a debate launched into what our committee should be called. Some members wanted the title, Equity Committee. Others preferred, Anti-Black Racism Committee. A third group of voices discussed a blend of both, Anti-Black Racism Equity Committee.

Equity

Equity is defined as “justice according to natural law or right specifically freedom from bias or favoritism” or “the quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality: something that is fair and just.” The idea of equity does not address the systemic issues that people face. Making all things equal does not compensate for the underlying challenges faced by groups such as oppression and socio-economic factors. Equity does not always invoke the action needed to overcome deeply rooted systemic cultural issues.

Anti-racism

Anti-racism “is a form of action against racism and the systemic racism and the oppression of marginalized groups. Being antiracist is based on the conscious efforts and actions to provide equitable opportunities for all people on an individual and systemic level.”

In order for anti-racism action to be effective, all people involved must take a conscious approach to face their own privilege by acting against acts of racial discrimination and changing personal biases.

Does equity work, really work?

Over my various careers as a Geologist, Marketing Manager, and now Teacher, I seen many equity committees come and go. Well meaning participants discussed the importance of promoting equity in organizations but in the end, they failed to meet their goals as the initiatives merely scratched the surface. These committees also did not address organizational cultures that support systemic barriers and prevent the implementing of real change.

Equity for Women’s Rights

As a Geologist, over 30 years ago, I faced many systemic walls and gatekeepers that discouraged me from moving forward in my career because I was a woman. I lost track of how many times I was told that I should “just get married and have babies.” My colleagues were mostly White privileged men with wives who did the unpaid work of managing family and home. These men had the privilege of devoting all their time to their work. They rarely faced barriers.

Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value

As a Marketing Manager for a Canadian corporation, I was part of an “equity” committee. Here we discussed ways to give more equity to women. During an “Equal Pay for Equal Work” program, my corporation rated my job title to a job title in their warehouse; it probably had more to do with what I was getting paid instead of my level of responsibility. I did not get a raise in pay.

More Workplace Equity for Women

The equity committee discussed surface level approaches to support more equity for women in the workplace. But the managers and directors of the company were all men with White privilege. I felt I was treated equally to men most of the time, until I had children. Having children unearthed the many inequities faced by all working mothers. Besides finding good daycare, I had challenges staying home with my children when they were sick. Their father refused to take time off as it was a “career limiting move.”

I started talking with women parenting while working and suggested creating a support lunch group called “MAW – Mothers At Work.” This was quickly shut down by my supervisor as the gatekeepers were not comfortable with the existence of this group. I knew then that starting a daycare at the corporation was not going to happen!

The most significant memory I have of this time was when a meeting went over time and I told my supervisor that I had to leave to go home and feed my child. I could not get home late; I was breastfeeding at the time and had an hour’s commute to Burlington. My boss told me that if I left the meeting, it would be a “career limiting move.”

The corporations’ gatekeepers pushed for the equity committee, not to promote equity, but to give the impression of promoting equity as they were comfortable in the systemic culture that kept them firmly in place.

Systemic Organizational Barriers Against Anti-racism

I cite the above personal experiences as examples of how untargeted equity work is ineffective in making real change for those who need it. Real change means unearthing barriers to equity. This means that gatekeepers can either change their ways, or be replaced. In order to effect change, this means that people, who identify as racialized, must see people like themselves in leadership roles. Having a token person who identifies as racialized does not cut it.

Parents without their Voice Being Hears

As a teacher, I attended a school board meeting where a group of parents were advocating for special education support for their children. These parents had already asked teachers, principals, superintendents, and school board trustees for support for their children and this was their next step.  Listening to their stories, I wondered why these parents had to go to such lengths to get this support. In order to support these students, resources would need to be found. It became clear to me that the school board did not want to pay for the psychoeducational assessments needed to unearth these students’ specific special education needs. The board probably noted that if these parents got this support, then it would open the flood gates of more board paid psychoeducational assessments. Providing more opportunities for board paid students assessments would be very costly. These students were Black and lived in low social-economic households.

Lack of Resources to Support Students

In my role as a teacher, I’ve witnessed Black students not getting the support they needed to be academically and socially successful. Many reasons exist. Students may be on long waiting lists for psychoeducational assessments that are paid by school boards; note that resourced parents don’t wait for these assessments and pay for them privately. A lack of funding for extra supports, such as social work, could also be an issue in getting students’ support. Additional issues could be that students’ significant socio-economic issues distract from getting to the root of academic challenges. In the end, these students still move from grade to grade without the supports they need, falling further behind.

Targeting historic, systemic legacy of racism

Here, the heart of Black racism starts with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. As early as the year 1503, the Black Slave Trade devastated African countries, making many Europeans and North Americans very rich. To what is now Canada and the United States, the Slave Trade shipped millions of people, forced into bondage into a lifetime of work in fields, households, and mills. It is estimated up to 12 million Africans were captured and forced into the slave trade as human property. Unfortunately, more that a million people never set foot on North American soil as they died on the journey.

In Upper Canada, now Ontario, a former slave, Peter Martin, brought the mistreatment of Black slaves to the attention of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe.  Simcoe pushed for the legislation of 1793 Act Against Slavery. The Upper Canada elected executive council members, “who were merchants or farmers who depended on slave labour, saw no need for emancipation”. The Assembly did pass an Act Against Slavery that legislated the gradual abolition of slavery. This meant “no slaves could be imported; slaves already in the province would remain enslaved until death, no new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, and children born to female slaves would be slaves but must be freed at age 25”. It took until another forty years, in 1833, for Britain to abolish the slavery of Black people.

Enslaving Black Africans and African Americans would not end until after the American Civil War on December 18th, 1862 (only 158 years ago). This resulted in many freed slaves becoming poorly paid sharecroppers and workers. White supremacy movements and Black Codes were launched, a year after, in 1877.

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement achieved political and social gains. This would still be not enough as the Black Lives Matter movement would rise in 2013.

A legacy 360 years of social and economic systemic oppression

The 360 years of slavery would leave a legacy of social and economic systemic oppression for all people who identify as Black.

As Dunia Nur, the president of the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council (ACCEC), states

Will Anti-racism work to overcome systemic bias?

For me, the push for equity for all is not enough. There are documented issues of racism against Black students within school boards in Ontario. It is time to dig deeper into challenging the systemic racist structures within school systems in order to give our students, who identify as Black, a chance to overcome their own barriers to social and academic success. As educators, we must take this difficult task of challenging our own biases towards those who identify as Black. Teachers work to promote the best opportunities for all students’ futures. We have more work to do.

I write this blog as a White woman with economic and educational privilege. I live my life carrying my White Backpack of privilege, never worrying about being carded or being asked to see a receipt when I leave a store. When my students, who identify as Black, complain about police bothering their families, I acknowledge that this happens and we talk about the roots of racism. When my students note that books have “all White kids” in illustrations, we talk about why this is the case and how it should change.

I will work towards Anti Black racism on an Anti-Racism committee as I unpack my White backpack …  as it is a life long task.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Teacher Advocacy Matters in the Right to Read

Ontario Human Rights Commission on the Right to Read

In the past school year (2019-2020), the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on the Right to Read has launched a public inquiry on the human rights issues affecting students with learning disabilities. This public inquiry was facilitated due to concerns from parents and recent Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test scores showing over 25% of Grade 3 students and 53% of Grade 3 students with special education needs did not meet provincial standards.

Students Struggling with Reading

The OHRC cites that students who cannot read struggle with many aspects of school and are more vulnerable to psychosocial stressbehavioural issuesbullying and much lower levels of educational achievement  (Schumacher et al, 2007.) The result of these challenges means that these students face life-long consequences including, homelessness, and involvement with the criminal justice system (Bruck, 1998; Macdonald, 2012; Maughan, 1995).

All students with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, have a right to learn how to read. The OHRC is concerned that these students are not getting the supports they need to become literate. This is particularly challenging when students are not receiving early intervention and supports that are known to be effective in increasing reading ability.

The OHRC Right to Read inquiry team assessed evidence based approaches to meet students’ right to read. As part of an effective systematic approach to teach all students to read, they cited five benchmarks including: universal design for learning (UDL), mandatory early student screening, reading intervention programs, effective accommodations, and psycho-educational assessments.

OHRC Advocacy for the Right to Read

For the 2020-2021 school year, the OHRC Right to Read inquiry team wrote to the Ministry of Education and school boards, calling on the establishment of programs that systematically address the needs of students with learning disabilities. The communication cited concerns around students’ inconsistent access to technology, professional services, screening and assessment, and specialized reading instruction and programing. In addition, the OHRC Right to Read inquiry team had concerns about the role of Identification, Placement, and Review Committees (IPRCs), the implementation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and the duty to accommodate students’ education needs.

The OHRC Right to Read inquiry team is currently analyzing the information received and is drafting a final report. The report will address concerns with how Ontario’s public education system meets the needs of students with reading disabilities. These concerns relate to curriculum and teaching, early screening, reading interventions, accommodations and psycho-educational assessments.

A final OHRC Right to Read inquiry report, which will include detailed findings and recommendations for government and education stakeholders, is now planned for release in Spring of 2021.

Teacher and Guardian Advocacy on the Right to Read

As teachers, we see the direct impact challenges with reading has on students’ learning. The lack of literacy at grade level prevents students from taking full advantage of what is being taught in the classroom. Every day of not being able to read results in another day where students fall further behind.

Waiting for Psychoeducational Assessments

Psycho-educational assessments are key to determining students’ strengths and needs in their educational profile. With this profile, students can receive the special education funding and support they need to achieve their potential as learners.

As teachers, we also know of students who have been placed on long waiting lists for psycho-educational assessments. Even with the increase in special education funding, boards of education and principals report inadequate resource funding to meet students’ needs (People for Education, Feb 2020.)

Parents and guardians must wait, for sometimes years, for their child’s name to make it to the top of the list in order to receive a board funded assessment. Parents and guardians who have resources can seek costly psycho-educational assessments from private providers. Parents and guardians who do not have resources must wait as their child falls further and further behind. Sometimes students never receive a psycho-educational assessment. This reality means that students who live in lower socioeconomic households may never get their special education needs assessed or met, thus making them more susceptible to leave school early.

It is important to note that boards of education are trying their best to support all students’ needs. Boards of Education already spend 80% more on special education than they receive from provincial educational Ontario funding (Ontario’s Auditor General, 2017.)

Teacher Advocacy Matters

When students struggle with their learning, teachers’ advocacy matters. In the Ontario College of Teachers’ (OCT) Ethical Standards for Care includes “compassion, acceptance, interest and insight for developing students’ potential. Members express their commitment to students’ wellbeing and learning through positive influence, professional judgment and empathy in practice” (OCT, 2020). This means that within teachers’ practices, they must promote students’ potential. I cannot think of anything more important than promoting literacy to promote students’ potential.

As a dyslexia learner and a teacher of dyslexic learners, I understand the struggle and emotional impact of living with dyslexia. People do not grow out of learning disabilities, they just learn how to live with them.

The bottom line is that reading is a human right and without the ability to read, students face an ambiguous future.

Teachers work to empower literacy for all students, as all our students deserve the Right to Read.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Resources for Teachers and Guardians

What are LDs?

Living with LDs

Assistive Technology and LDs

Executive Function and LDs

Reading and LDs

Writing and LDs

Math and LDs

https://www.ldathome.ca/what-are-lds/math-and-lds/

Math Waterfall Chart: Understanding Learning Disabilities- How processing Affects Mathematics Learnings

Building Math Skills at Home

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD and LDs)

Mental Health and LDs

References

Bruck, M. (1998). Outcomes of adults with childhood histories of dyslexia. Reading and spelling: Development and disorders179, 200.

Macdonald, S. J. (2012). Biographical pathways into criminality: understanding the relationship between dyslexia and educational disengagement. Disability & Society27(3), 427-440.

Maughan, B. (1995). Annotation: Long‐term outcomes of developmental reading problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry36(3), 357-371.

Schumacher, J., Hoffmann, P., Schmäl, C., Schulte-Körne, G., & Nöthen, M. M. (2007). Genetics of dyslexia: the evolving landscape. Journal of medical genetics44(5), 289-297.

#ETFOProud

Full Disclosure: I am a proud and active ETFO member who feels grateful every day for the privileges I have as an elementary educator.

In the last 17 years, I have met educators and activists from all over this province who are passionate, committed, smart, innovative, creative, and brave.  I am inspired by the collective strength of our membership, and ETFO’s ongoing commitment to equity and social justice.

Professional Development

As a classroom teacher, I have participated in many programs offered by ETFO’s Equity and Women’s Services, as well as ETFO workshops, conferences, and Summer Academy courses.  This professional learning has supported me to deepen my teaching practice, build relationships, develop leadership skills, and find my voice.  ETFO facilitators and instructors are strong, and they always bring an inclusive, anti-racist/anti-oppression framework to their practice.

I strongly recommend visiting the ETFO website regularly to find out about professional development opportunities that are available, and to work with your local union to bring ETFO workshops to your area.  Search: “Supporting Members & Local Leaders: Equity Workshops”

Mobilizing for Justice

Last year, I participated in a powerful ETFO program called “Mobilizing for Justice”.  At the time that I applied, I had no idea that our school year would be impacted by job action and COVID-19.  This program supports women members to learn what it means to be an ally in social movements, and to develop an action plan in their local communities.  I used the opportunity to create a BBSAT: Building Better Schools Action Team to increase engagement and political action.

As we prepare to return to work, I am using our BBSAT to mobilize and organize families to support what we need for a #SafeSeptember.  You can find resources to create your own BBSAT at: BuildingBetterSchools.ca.

Recently, I joined OEWU: Ontario Education Workers United.  They are actively working with Ontario Parent Action Network and other community groups to fight for the schools our students deserve.  OEWU have organized many resources to empower members to mobilize for justice in our schools.  Check out these resources: linktr.ee/oewu

Union Steward

Another way to get involved in ETFO is to become a Union Steward.  In my first year of teaching, I shared the Union Steward role with a mentor teacher.  Working in collaboration with 1-2 other staff members helps to build relationships across divisions and supports effective communication, especially in a big school.  Last year, during our contract negotiations, I really appreciated the support of my co-Stewards.

Union Stewards participate in training throughout the year, which is an excellent way to learn about your local and provincial union, and to appreciate the importance of solidarity and action.  This training has prepared me to advocate and collaborate with staff, families, and community members.  I have also made a lot of friends and allies!

Annual Meeting

If you really want to appreciate the power of the union, you should attend an Annual Meeting, which is held every year in August.  This is an opportunity to meet educators from all over Ontario, hear reports from ETFO officers and committees, ask questions, participate in elections, vote on resolutions, and receive a line-by-line financial report of how our membership dues are spent.  It is exhausting and exhilarating!  ETFO members work hard, and they know how to celebrate and honour achievement.  The annual dinner is always a highlight!

Every other year, the whole delegation participates in United Social Justice Actions.  This year, ETFO will take action on anti-Black racism and will re-affirm its commitment to develop policies, professional learning and curriculum resources to hold members accountable and push for systemic change in schools.

You will find excellent resources created by ETFO members at: www.etfo.ca.  Search: “Building a Just Society: Anti-Black Racism”.

Re-Think, Re-Connect, Re-Imagine

This year, I am honoured to be joining the writing team at ETFO’s Heart and Art Blog.  I look forward to learning with you during this transformative year as we explore pedagogies of hope and healing.

The 2020-2021 school year will be challenging for all of us, but it can also be an opportunity to transform the way we teach, learn, and assess.  It will require us to collaborate, to think critically and creatively about pedagogy and possibilities.  As my wise ETT colleague Ayesatta Conteh says, “May we rise as we re-imagine.”