Class Size Matters: Then and Now

As I look back on my 1973/1974 grade 5 classroom of 29 students, there are significant differences in how we were taught.

Teacher Qualifications:

Our teacher did not have a university degree and only one year of teachers’ training. (I looked her up).

Today’s teachers must complete a 4 year university degree and two years of teachers’ training before they can become professional teachers.


I recently returned to my former grade 5 classroom and knew exactly were I sat as we were in rows in alphabetical order. There was little or no collaboration with classmates and we were expected to sit quietly and work with little or no support from our teacher. In the 1970s, I did a lot of rote learning and paperwork – it was pretty boring. I sat and worked in the same spot for my entire grade 5 year.

Today, classrooms are dynamic with flexible seating and continual student collaboration. Now learning is more active through student inquiry and the use of technology. Collaboration within groups is a key learning skill on report cards.

Class Composition:

In 1973, we did not have any students with significant special education needs as those students were placed in contained classrooms. This was before the inclusion model was implemented. Any students who struggled were likely held back by failing a grade. (I was almost held back due to my undiagnosed learning disability). We also had students who were younger as they had “skipped” a grade.

Today, there is a wide range of student abilities in classrooms. I’ve taught classes with gifted students and students with significant learning deficits. This meant that I had to modify my teaching instruction to several grade levels higher or lower to meet these students’ needs. I once had a student functioning at a grade one level in a grade 7 classroom and was fortunate to have an educational assistant and special education teacher to support this student.

Educational Assistants:

In the 1970s, classrooms with students with significant special education needs had educational assistants/teaching assistants. I can only remember ever seeing teaching assistants in the special needs’ classrooms.  I recently spoke to a retired teacher who informed me that when the inclusion model was implemented into Ontario schools, the government promised teachers significant  support with an Educational Assistant in every classroom. That was not implemented as promised.

With today’s classroom composition, teachers need significant additional supports. A full time Educational Assistant (EA) would give teachers time to work with all students. In addition, when I’ve worked with Educational Assistants, my students have been much better behaved as there are two adults watching them work. Even when students are allocated funding for Educational Assistant support, schools often place EAs with other students who have no funding – as the EA is “assigned to the school, not the student”. This means the student with EA funding never gets their allocated support and the teacher must support this student instead. Teaching in classrooms with a few students with special education needs and little EA support is doable but currently many classrooms have up to a third or more of students with special education needs. This is unmanageable and disheartening when teachers cannot provide enough support to help all students. In this case, students who are capable but need a small amount of support never get the help they need.


When I went to school, students were expected to behave themselves in class. I personally was terrified to get into trouble at school as I would have received significant consequences. I remember a few students receiving “the belt” by the principal. In order the get this consequence, the principal had to document and justify the consequence.

Today, discipline varies by administrator, school, and school board. Students who misbehave can go to a behaviour teaching assistants’ room (if this is available) or to the office. The challenge is that students with behaviour needs really require intervention supports to improve their overall behaviour and academic outcome at school. I personally know of a situation where a student, who struggled academically and with behaviour needs, got the mental health and behaviour support programs they needed and is now thriving academically and with behaviour under control. (This support happened as the teacher did a work refusal due to extreme student behaviour concerns which precipitated extra support for this student).

So why can’t we implement programs like this for all students who need behaviour supports? Funding – recent government cutbacks have meant that these safeguards of mental health and behaviour supports have disappeared leaving only the most challenging students getting this critical intervention.

The Bottom Line:

Class size matters more today than it ever has as classroom compositions are highly differentiated with students with many needs. Further, with fluid and dynamic instruction, students do not sit in orderly rows not leaving their seats. As a teacher, I prefer teaching this way as it is more organic and helps students develop critical collaborative skills they will one day use in the world of work.

The bottom line is that teachers need more support in their classroom with not more, but less students. Schools need more Educational Assistants and Special Education Teachers to support students with significant academic and behaviour needs. Boards of education need more programs and qualified adults to address mental health and behaviour needs with students. Without these supports and interventions, students’ behaviour and mental health needs will only be compounded and student outcomes will flounder.

With this blog, I advocate for all students with special education and behaviour needs to get the support they require to be successful in their education … because without these student outcomes will be grim.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD

Seniority Matters

Seniority in teaching matters because there is much documented research showing that teachers must practice up to eight years before they develop efficacy in their practice. In the British VITAE study of 300 teachers in 100 schools, authors Day, Sammons, Stobart, Kingston, and Gu (2007) showed that teachers’ levels of confidence and self-efficacy continue to grow until around the 7 to 8 year mark. After 8 years, teachers reached a significant turning point in their professional development (Day et al., 2007).

The 7th year of teaching is significant as it marks about 10,000 hours of teaching practice. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, states that in order to master any skill it takes “to a large extent, a matter of practicing … for a total of around 10,000 hours” (Gladwell, 2008). This make sense because teaching is a complex and challenging profession and as a result it takes over 7 years to develop high levels of professional efficacy. Further to this, as teachers’ professional knowledge grows, so does their professional judgement.

In the early years of teaching, there is a great deal of trial and error in developing practices that work with students. I content that this process, while occurring less often, is an ongoing part of teachers’ practices as teachers must meet the needs of many students. This results in developing a myriad of strategies implemented in tandem with many students’ needs.

I personally know that if I need collegial advice, I approach the most senior teachers in my school, as they have the depth of experience and knowledge to guide me. Further, teachers with extensive experience know that the work of teaching is complex, and it is naïve to believe that simple solutions will address complex challenges with students’ learning.

To imply that older teachers should not be teaching because of declining efficacy is to imply that other professionals such as older doctors, lawyers, and politicians should do the same.

I dedicate this blog to courageous teachers who strive to work with their colleagues and do the best for their students day after day.

I believe that when working collaboratively, teachers are better together.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


Day, C., Sammons, P., Stobart, G., Kingston, A., & Gu, Q. (2007). Teachers matter: Connecting lives, work and effectiveness. Maidenhead, UK: Open University

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. Hachette UK.


Celebrating us

We did it.

We brought another amazing decade of learning to a succesful close with passion, creativity, and purpose. For ETFO it has been 21 impactful years in the service of public education, students, and educators.

It’s my 11th year as an ETFO member, and I am looking back at the past decade with some mixed feelings. Perhaps it is a function of the time of year when all of the best and worst lists are being shared in the media? Regardless, I am thankful to be an educator who works with wonderful students and amazing staff at a great school.

On the other hand, I am also intrepid about what is continuing to widening gap between student needs and the resources with which to support them. What will the future look like if government cuts and policies changes go unchallenged? This got me thinking about how instrumental the work of ETFO is to supporting us and I found myself browsing through pages of resources, messages, and initiatives via

Whether you are newer to the profession or a veteran educator, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the positive impacts made by our union that have helped us get us here, and as we prepare to for 2020.

Let’s take a moment to break down some of the numbers from 21 years of ETFO:

  1. Membership ~ Let’s use 75 000 as the mean number of teachers from past to present.
  2. Days of Instruction ~ 21 years x 190 days = 3990 days
  3. Minutes (days x 300 minutes of instructional time x membership) ~ 8.9775 x 10 ^10 minutes

For the sake of my own brain, I am going to say a lot of learning has occured as a direct result of tens of thousands of past and present caring ETFO educators. Millions of moments curated that have culminated and contributed to millions of positive impacts in and out of classrooms. Millions of moments where struggles turned into opportunities and hard work paid off. Millions of students who have gone on to do amazing things. Millions of lessons learned with millions more still to come.

Without becoming too nostalgic, I think it’s a great time to take stock of all the amazing things that have happened that have ensured the voices of elementary educators will be heard. 21 years on the shoulders of giants who have stood tall in the face of adversity to prepare a way for future teachers to succeed. To all of those who have taught before and alongside me, I am grateful.

Grateful for:

21 years of lessons learned in and out of the classroom.
21 years of remaining on the cutting edge of technology and ongoing teacher training
21 years of inclusivity and equity
21 years of looking out for the safety, mental health, and wellbeing of our membership
21 years of dispelling myths with facts
21 years of commitment to something bigger than themselves
21 years of standing up for students, their families, and to make public education better/stronger 
21 years of fighting against the malicious mandates of socially and fiscally tyrannical governments
21 years of solidarity

Such success is something to celebrate. Especially, with a strike mandate of 98% in favour this past Fall. Our collective voices and our profoundly positive professional impact will not be dismissed or ignored.

While certain media factions seek to villify our profession, we know that we possess the power to light the way for public education well into the coming decades. When elected officials undermine our collective good in the short term, we remain focused on the future by standing together now. Side by side, ours are the shoulders to stand on.

As I shared earlier in this post, the numbers show that the possibilities grow everyday an ETFO educators enters a classroom. Bring on 2020!

Cheering you on everyday and looking forward to celebrating an even better future in education. Thank you for reading.

In loco contractus

It has taken a lot of restraint to ignore the volumes of micro-aggressive, passive aggressive, aggressive, and macro-aggressive comments flying around the Twitterverse about education since our most recent contract with the government expired this past August.

And then there is the elected official du jour with the education portfolio.

I have tried not to focus on the orchards of low hanging fruit being grown by our current Education Minister at the behest of his leader and his agenda. Elected or not, it is imperative of this incumbent and every other MPP to serve the public better. This means, any disinegenous attempts to villify our profession through weak one-liners and scripted media apperances as a scare tactic have to end. Saying you want a deal and then not bargaining will never be deemed as negotiating.

Despite not having a contract, all educators continue their tireless work on behalf of students to educate, encourage, and move forward even though our government managed to cut teachers and course offerings, and then wrote themselves a nearly 5 month absence note with a retro-active pay raise for good measure. This is not a sustainable situation. It is however, a recipe for a toxic and uncertain future.

What the province’s students need now is a government that sees, supports, and serves them and not the interests of corporate bullies or privateers bent on profiting from manufactured crises in public education. Instead they are blasted with a daily dose of misinformation without consideration of the present or the future. Our youth deserve a future and the truth.

This is what they are getting.

In between not negotiating, there have been absolutely zero authentic moments when this elected official sat at the table, conducted meaningful dialogue with teachers, or made an unscripted appearance at a public school without a camera crew. Maybe he should read my Undercover Boss post.

Instead it’s a steady stream of steamy slurry being served to the public via social media and scripted segments. #somethingsmells

Ontario education minister deletes tweet after social media backlash

“Lecce’s office told Global News on Thursday that the location of the photos was chosen due to timing and convenience, saying the decision was not made in an effort to avoid going to one of the province’s public schools but instead so as not to create a disruption.”

“My negotiating team stands ready for meaningful, good-faith bargaining 24/7, to reach the deals Ontario students and families deserve. There is a path to a deal, and it requires all parties to be reasonable and fair and put the needs of our children first.”

“Strikes hurt kids. Our Government has been clear, we want deals that keep students in class. For teacher unions to leave the table, to turn their back on our children, and to escalate to the point of compromising their education, is deeply troubling for parents and our Government.”

Cue Dr Carol Campbell from OISE and a litany of very committed educators who, to no surprise, have provided the corrections and descriptive feedback. Follow the thread all the way through. I especially like the part where the OntGov will never leave the table and be available 24/7. The OSSTF is also working hard at fact checking the M.O.Ed’s claims. #onceateacheralwaysateacher

There is nothing helpful about using the hashtag #strikeshurtkids that could ever be considered conscionable compared to the budget cuts being inflicted in our province. For so many people concerned about the public purse, a vision prescription update may be forthcoming to help them see the red ink that will stain the ledgers of future generations of Ontarians. When the people are denied adequate and equitable access to the world class education system that already exists in Ontario, the costs will make the current deficit look like an OLG winfall. The shortsightedness of this will end up costing us all. #antithetical #malfeasance or #unethical #incompetance

Think of overburdened social service systems, the disenfranchisement of students who have had their course options stolen, or of the marginalized/at-risk youth who deserve more interactions with opportunities and adults who are equipped to support them. Think about the danger to the economy of an underprepared/underserved workforce. This is why we need to keep up the struggle and fight against the visionless economic tyranny of the day. #cutshurtkids

Cuts Hurt Us All

Not to be overlooked, our collective rights as a union are being threatened by a pack of budget wolves that is blind to all but the bottom line. Few if any, have ever dared to step foot into the very institutions they wish to “save” and witness the magic and miracles being performed by teachers and support staff everyday without a press conference or a contract. Now that’s putting students first. #ETFOStrong

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

From People for Education, 2019, p. 15

An Individual Education Plan …

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

Psychoeducational reports/assessments

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

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

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

What if the student has not had a psychoeducational assessment?

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

Why is the IPRC process so important?

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of funding for psychoeducational assessments

 People for Education (2019) reported:

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

With little or no funding for psychoeducational assessments:

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

Gaps in support – Lack of equity in special education funding 

Students with psychological assessment

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

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


Students with IEPs

Students with IPRCs

2017 – 2018



2016 – 2017



2015 – 2016



2014 – 2015



2013 – 2014



2012 – 2013



2011 – 2012 14.5%


2010 – 2011



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

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

Questions about supporting students with special education needs:

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

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

Special Education Teacher,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD


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

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

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

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

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

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). Part E: The Individual Education Plan (IEP), Downloaded from

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

People for Education. (2019). Annual report on Ontario’s publically funded schools 2019. People for Education. Downloaded from


Undercover Boss

Have you ever watched a show called Undercover Boss?

An average episode of the hour long program shows a CEO or top tier exec going incognito to better understand the work flow, flaws, and family of an organization. The show makes sure that the top dog is put alongside some pre-selected employees(often outspoken) who, fearlessly or not, walk the “newbie” through a day in the life at their job.

In most episodes, there comes a moment when a budget-line-watching-number-crunching-corner-office-seat-occupier realizes how their top down edicts are negatively impacting the organization until they see it from the perspective(s) of the workers. At this point in the show, regardless of profit and loss statements, the executive works to make things right, realizing that if things were better for the workers, the bottom line would benefit too. A win win outcome right?

I love TV. It creates narratives to suit itself. Moreover, despite a proliferation of reality TV programs, the medium remains irreal. Much like any Disney offering, TV has conditioned us to expect a happy ending that is far away from everyday experiences. If all goes accordingly, good always triumphs over evil, a hero will emerge, and on the show Undercover Boss, at least, some lucky employees will help their bosses to miraculously see the light and improve the company. This is not the current case between the government and public education in Ontario.

I would love it if our elected officials had the courage and conviction to do this for longer than the time it takes to convene a photo opp or craft a sound bite. I wonder why this is rarely, if ever, true when it comes to government and education. Other than clichés about how much the students come first and the importance of educators, hollow words do not mirror the devastating actions that senseless cuts are having on public education.

As such, we have seen neither the current Premier nor the Minister of Ed spending any meanigful amount of time with the people on the frontlines like an undercover boss. Since they are making decisions that affect everyone working in education, we all deserve to see and know that they are completely aware and informed.

I have never heard genuine words of understanding from elected officials that qualify them to make the decisions they are making which will ultimately impact our society for generations to come. In its wallet.

With so much attention placed on the bottom lines of provincial budgets, it becomes an easy target for outsiders to look across a spreadsheet and proclaim cuts can be made and no one will ever feel it without duty of care or context. This is not unique to education either.

This past year has revealed many glaring differences about how information is being (mis)used, bent, and or weaponized to suit political agendas. As such this misuse of information seems like systemic micro and macro-aggressions towards our profession, the public education system, and our students.

Which leads me to this question. How can a system of the people for the people be so myopic in its duty and dilligence? Isn’t the idea of education for all to actually provide education and therefore opportunity for all? With all of the time that governments and bureaucrats spend poring over the books, they have conveniently missed the direct cost implications of intentional systematic underfunding.

Here are some things to consider.

  1. Loss of education opportunities limits the number of skilled and quality workers contributing to the economy. That means more spending and tax dollars from higher wage earners.
  2. Economic cuts reduce opportunities for many people already living on the margins of society. That means cuts to education is a form of systemic discrimination towards many communities.
  3. Cuts to course offerings hurt the wrong people when those who can afford it can simply shift to a private school.Even my elementary students are shaking their heads about how traditional courses that lead to Post Secondary Science and Engineering courses are being limited or disappearing from local high schools. (see what is happening in my board @ YRDSB)
  4. Cuts to OSAP hurt the wrong people too. Rich kids will still go to post-secondary school, while marginalized students will have their futures moved further out of reach.
  5. Refusing to fund education to the fullest is a recipe for social disaster.  If we cannot agree on this, then we are agreeing to leave the next generation worse off than the last. When private schools are advertising that they have the courses that have been eliminated from our public schools, there is a problem.

None of the above are acceptable.

Our parents did not struggle and sacrifice for this. My mom and dad did not work full and part time for this. Neither did yours. Students and their families do not make sacrifices for this. No one would ever vote to limit the future of opportunity of its youth. Neither would a sensible and caring society allow anyone to slip through the cracks. Unless they had an agenda to undermine Canada as a civil society. The actions of our elected officials appear specious at best when it comes to education.

Our work brings value far beyond any budget lines could ever define because it brings human possibilities forward everyday. Reducing and removing opportunities also removes relationships that empower students into the future. Restricting or taking away someone’s access to education is simply an affront to all humanity. We are difference makers, miracle workers, and advocates for all of our students. We are working hard to change the narratives that have become a distraction in public education.

We are fighting to be heard and respected, let alone seen and understood, by politicians who prefer to take cover behind short sighted populist agendas that seek to serve the bosses rather than the people who work for them. It’s time for their eyes and minds to be opened.

What if every school could welcome an undercover boss(politician)? Maybe then, these decision makers would truly see the commitment, struggle, and value of our fight for students, their families, and this noble profession. My door is always open. No photographers please. It’ll disrupt the learning.

Fight on. #CutsHurtKids #ETFOStrong

Further reading

York board says bigger class sizes forced cancellation of 123 high school courses. 

What Exactly Is Happening To Ontario’s Education System? What You Need To Know

Financial facts on Canadian prisons

Violence in Ontario Schools

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

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

Emerging Trends in the Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting Students’ Aggressive Behaviour into Real Life Context.

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

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

In addressing issues regarding offensive behaviour, the participants indicated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD

ETFO Action on Violence in Schools Print Resources

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

ETFO Action on Violence in Schools Video Resource

ETFO Flowchart for Reporting Workplace Violence and Serious Student Incidents


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

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

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


Did anyone else go to sleep on the last night of school already thinking about next year? I did.

It’s not the first time either. After 10 years in education, it is now a given that I will go to sleep on the last day of school reflective, happy, and excited about the past, present, and future of this calling.

2 sleeps into the Canada Day long weekend and the reflections continue. Along with my REM time retrospectives (not the band, although they are awesome) come some big looks forward to September. It’s okay if you think this is not normal. I’m good with it. It’s not above, but it is definitely beyond what I ever expected to happen the very moment I started teaching.

For me, it is a great time to look back and recognize the growth over a school year at the speed of learning. It is also a time to reflect on the emotional highs and lows and to unpack the instructional tool kit for some much needed organization and maintenance. However, this June seems a bit different because of the current political climate in Ontario. This has me thinking even more about the importance of some advanced preparations. And why not?

I do this now because the year is still fresh in my mind. Whether I can control it or not, I remain in teacher mode – my internal alarm clock is still waking me up on teacher time. Since it takes time to wind down, I might as well wean myself off bit by bit and I know there must be many others out there as well going through eduwithdrawal. Want proof? Check out #onted on Twitter. There is still so much happening on an hourly basis directly relating to eduction.

Consider this recent tweet from Sam Hammond to our newly appointed MOE Stephen Lecce. It appears that despite going on a nearly 5 month break from the legislature, the new minister was concerned that teachers did not know their
You’ll come to your own correct conclusions about the collection of castigating contrarians currently in public office. I have. With so many educators still in teacher mode, more are becoming actively engaged in challenging the effrontery of messages like Lecce’s. This is in order to protect all students from the political dynamite intended to undermine the bedrock upon which our stable and progressive society was built. It may be Summer, but time out of the classroom can be well spent in dispelling false claims and  controversial assertions coming from the ruling party.

One of the biggest loads of misinformation in need of incineration has been the outright promise that no teacher jobs will be lost. This has been a massive cause of concern as class sizes have been co-opted. It has also come with the staggering and sad losses of positions for many amazing educators. Many who continued to go beyond the job in order to serve their students all the while holding the cards of an uncertain future.

Someone who is going beyond to inform us all is Andrew Campbell. He curates a comprehensive document that shows how the cuts to education are affecting our profession by the numbers and from board to board. Warning, this might provide many with night terrors if they read it before bedtime.

This is what keeps teachers awake at night. We have to deal with stunted salvos like the one above from Mr Lecce and disrupt its corrupted political narrative. We must take a stance for the students whose voices and opportunities are being stripped down to the basics in act that will only destabilize their future by limiting their access to education. This is beyond anyone’s mandate or scope of power. No decent citizen voted in the hope of shortchanging the future of our youth.

In order to get past it, we must go beyond signing petitions or retweeting.

So stay up late.
Write a letter to your MPP.
Support and encourage one another.
Read up on the issues via @ETFOeducators on Twitter or via the Building Better Schools website.

We must go beyond the government insults, the inexplicably random policy choices, the gutting budget cuts, the acrimony, the villification, the distrust, the disingenuous praise, and the indifference because the 2 million students who we are fighting for are worth it.

There is something each of us can do to make sure our collective voices are heard. Sharing yours in July and August while you rest, recharge, and prepare for September will ensure that our support of students will be heard loud and clear all Summer too.

When the bells ring again in September, our answer to the ruling party will be in the form of 83 000 + strong devoted educators each ready to teach far beyond the destructive discourse of a politician’s disputes, and instead straight to the hearts and minds of our students like we always do.

Best to you all this Summer. Thank you for a great year of interaction and inspiration. See you on Twitter.

Remember to breathe (as you continue to inspire others)

I checked in on a few of my former student teachers today. Each of whom are shining examples of professionalism, commitment, and creativity in their classrooms. They have been on my mind alot lately, as daily news of the government sponsored attrition games occupy headlines and conversations across the province. I am sure they represent the hundreds, even thousands of new educators who have recently joined our calling.

It’s rough out there right now, and for many new hires to school boards the uncertainties of the day are leaving many wondering what the future holds? For each one of these amazing educators, things are changing and there is not much they can do to about it until the facts and figures are finalized. It must be difficult to know that the educational landscape is shaking beneath so many feet. We all need something to hold on through the experience.

Sharing what we have in the emotional toolbox may be all that can be done for now. I encourage everyone to keep checking in on one another as we remain united and ride out the storm. A call, an email, or time for a cup of coffee could provide a little needed encouragement. I have noticed that even veteran teachers are feeling the tension of these days too. I have caught myself stress eating, acting a little more impatient than usual, and struggling for motivation. I’ve taken to breathing exercises to slow down my busy mind. Perhaps it’s the unknowns of it all that are keeping me off my game?

To get a sense of it all I have been turning to Andrew Campbell. He curates Ontario Education Cuts. This is a list of announcements and projections from school boards and grade panels that challenges the message being delivered by the province to the public and school boards about job losses, shrinking course offerings, expanding class sizes, and shifts to online instruction. information and numbers in this document seem to add up differently than political messages about job losses over time due to attrition and attrition alone. Maybe there is a Math Curriculum revision opportunity in the works here since such skewed accounting discrepancies exist?

What we all need is to have the complete set of numbers to work with before we can truly provide assurances to our new teachers that there will be jobs for them in education.

I remind myself that I am surrounded by incredibly dedicated and caring professionals whose lives are dedicated to making the world a better place. Stay informed. Stay encouraged. Be strong. We are all here to support and lift each other up when things get rough. Sometimes it might be a time for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Other times, it might be a simple reminder to breathe.




Bursting bubbles

that sound?
Fear and loss,
dreams – on hold,
watching, without a
voice as opportunity
is cut and cancelled.
For the people, or
for their bank

Doubts – fill the staffroom.
Murmurs – echo down the halls.
Uncertainties – buzz through minds.

Bubbles – bursting before they are even formed.
Cuts like needles meant to pierce hearts and minds.

Are preparations being made for a classless class war?
Why has education been made the enemy in our province?

They say the bitter pills prescribed in government cuts must be taken or else there won’t be a future and that everyone must sacrifice because this mess is nobody’s and everybody’s fault. Yet, why aren’t elected officials in line for the same medicine that they’re prescribing? We hear tonnes of sound bites and sound bluffs. We see posturing on every stump, but where are the planters and peace makers after the forest that is public education has been razed?

We see fingers pointing in every direction because everyone is worried more about the colour of the ink on the spreadsheet than the lives that it will stain to change it.

What message is being sent to our youth by the adults, who cannot get along? The same adults making decisions about their futures? We ask our students to advocate, invest, and dedicate to their potential. We teach them to think critically, consider the facts, and make good choices. We expect students to buy into a better system, but it has already been sold out by the ones elected to take care of it.

Investing in our youth and their education should never come at a cost of denying them anything less than what their predecessors and parents had before them. Opportunity cost may be a term from an Economics textbook to understand the potential for a loss by doing something else. When we consider where things are heading in schools over the next few years, the money saved will never make up for the lost opportunity, innovation, and productivity, or the imminent financial and social costs.

Remember. Quality only hurts once. Our students are worth it. The work we provide prepares and protects them to possess a future. Our youth cannot be blamed for the mistakes of those who leveraged their futures before they were ever born. We cannot let another bubble burst and expect their children to pay for it.