So why teach LGBTQIT human rights?

 Holding hands

 “Coming out hasn’t come as far as we think”

(Emma Teitel, national affairs columnist, Toronto Star, August 11, 2017, A8)

“Coming out” as a LGBTQIT* person, by making friends and family aware that they are not part of the heterosexual majority, has many implications. Specifically, LGBTQIT people who are not part of the “heterosexual” norm deal with great social, health, emotional, and economic barriers. Our LGBTQIT students, colleagues, and parents, regularly deal with discrimination on many levels including bullying and threats of violence. This is why not all LGBTQT people come out. According to an online Quebec survey (commissioned by the Foundation Jasmin Roy, an anti bullying/violence organization), it was reported that 45 percent of LGBTQIT respondents said they kept their sexual orientation or gender identity hidden due to worries of discrimination (Teitel, August 11, 2017). In the survey, 81 percent of LGBTQIT respondents agreed that Canadians are open-minded about gender and sexuality but 75 percent believed that more work needed to be done to support the LGBTQIT communities (Teitel,  August 11, 2017).

So why do teachers need to teach LGBTQIT human rights?

Why do teachers need to address these topics in Ontario classrooms? (especially when some parents disagree with teaching about sexuality and gender)

Health and Phy Ed 2015

The new health and physical education curriculum (Government of Ontario, 2015a), dealing with LGBTQIT topics, was updated in 2010 after remaining untouched since 1998. After protests by some religious groups, the Liberal government backed away from an attempted update of the health and physical education curriculum in 2010 (National Post, February 2015). The Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum was the most outdated curriculum in Canada (Rushowy, September 2015).

In 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynn vowed that the updated curriculum would be implemented in the 2015/2016 school year.

In September 2015, the curriculum was introduced into Ontario schools. There was a strong backlash from parents and communities. Often the groups opposed to any curriculum dealing with sexuality and gender were misinformed by the content of the contentious parts of the health curriculum. To repond to this, the Government of Ontario developed A Parent’s Guide: Human Development and Sexual Health in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum (Government of Ontario, 2015b).

The Peel Board of Education’s director, Tony Pontes, stated that “We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” who cited Ontario’s Human Rights Code as applying to people of all sexual orientation and gender identity. Mr. Pontes went on to state that “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.” (Rushowy, September 2015). Further, Mr. Pontes stated that while some parents had “genuine concerns”, the board would work to address issues brought up by the critics of the updated sex-ed curriculum. These critics misinformed parents in order to “raise fear, generate untruths and build constituencies of protest based on false information” (Rushowy, September 2015). Mr. Pontes, the director of the Peel Board of Education, found this unconscionable. In addition, Mr. Pontes stated that the Peel Board of Education was willing to lose students over its stance of inclusion for all (Rushowy, September 2015). Some school boards lost students and some teachers lost teaching positions (based on my own anecdotal observations). Often, there are costs as a result of taking a stance to uphold human rights.

In 2015, even though I was not a “Health and Physical Education” teacher, I did deal with issues around sexuality and gender. In our school, we had students and colleagues that prHuman Development Guideesented as LGBTQIT. In addition, we discussed LGBTQIT inclusion during the Day of Pink  and while discussing human rights topics. I received notes from parents asking me not to talk about same sex couples on the Day of Pink. I also had students missing from school on the Day of Pink. Some parents believed that discussions of inclusion were only limited to specific school days. Parents needed to realize that teachers talk about inclusion, as needed, especially when students rights are being suppressed. Inclusion is not limited to skin colour, culture, religion, chosen head coverings, ethnicity, ancestry, citizenship, disability, or diet.

Teachers do not get to pick and choose which topics of inclusion they will address because all issues regarding human rights apply.

Some of my teacher colleagues have stated that they do not honour LGBTQIT rights. Some students have told me that their parents do not believe in LGBTQIT rights. I have had parents phone me to tell me not to discuss LGBTQIT rights in class. Imagine what would happen if a parent, student, or teacher stated that they did not want teachers to teach about the rights of people of different races or religions.

As teachers, we must honour the rights of all people because we provide educational services within the province of Ontario. It is part of our role, as teachers, to uphold human rights and protect against discrimination as per the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, s. 1; 1999, c. 6, s. 28 (1); 2001, c. 32, s. 27 (1); 2005, c. 5, s. 32 (1); 2012, c. 7, s. 1. (Ontario Human Rights Code, updated December 5, 2016)

As teachers, there is no opting out of the Human Rights Code.

Toronto Star national affairs columnist, Emma Teitel was accepted by her family and friends when she told them she was gay. She stated that coming out “sucks, even for the lucky ones like me” (Teitel, August 10, 2017). Yes, her family and friends accepted her for who she was. She affirmed that there is still a long way to go. Teitel stated that she still faces challenges when kissing her partner in public without getting “molested by creeps”. She hopes that one day  that “thousands of transgendered people [will] no longer fear for their lives every time they step out their doors” (Teitel, August 10, 2017). Ms. Teitel wishes this for all  people in the LGBTQIT community.

As a parent of a gay adult child, I hope one day my daughter can live her life with her partner, in peace, without being stared at every time they hold hands in public. I hope that with the work of the Ontario education system, being LGBTQIT will be part of an inclusive culture in Ontario.

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

*LGBTQIT is a short form for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, Intersexual, Two-spirited people (please note this is my most recent understanding of the term)


Government of Ontario, (2016). Ontario Human Rights Code. Downloaded from

Government of Ontario. (2015a). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education, 2015 (revised), Government of Ontario. Downloaded from

Government of Ontario. (2015b). A Parent’s Guide: Human Development and Sexual Health in the Health and Physical Education Curriculum, Government of Ontario. Downloaded from

Rushowy, K., (September 2, 2015). Peel board won’t exempt kids from learning about gay families, gender issues, Toronto Star, Downloaded from

Teitel, E., (August 10, 2017), Coming out sucks, even for the lucky ones like me, Toronto Star, Downloaded from

Teitel, E., (August 11, 2017), Coming out hasn’t come as far as we think, Toronto Star, A8. Downloaded from

The National Post. (February 23, 2015). National Post View: New sex ed curriculum should be sensitive to all sides, The National Post, Downloaded from

Get, Give or Pass

As part of our end of the week celebration my class convenes with our daily circle discussion. In addition to our debrief of the week’s events, we add our ‘Get, Give or Pass’ activity. Each person in the circle is asked whether they would like to give a compliment to another person, get a compliment from a fellow student or pass. This is truly a very powerful measure of the level of community that my class has evolved into.

In order for this level of comfort to be present in my group I have to spend time daily working on team building tasks that facilitate a comfort level between all members of the class. In addition, there is extensive time spent modelling and supporting effective communication skills. As with any other outcome, this has to be scaffolded over time in order for the activity to be successful. If this activity is done without the time spent in building to this level of trust it could and will most often produce negative results.

Two pieces of advice I would offer to teachers in implementing this strategy are first and foremost to spend daily time reinforcing the expectations you have around how people are expected to treat each other in your room. This is best done by finding and recognizing students who are exhibiting the target behaviours you seek to develop.These expectations must be clear and consistently followed through on. The second critical piece is the modelling by  you of the way to speak, to listen and how to give and receive compliments from other people.

Cancer, pink shirts, and why I hate Jell-O


Cancer is a ruthless disease. It knows no boundaries, respects no ideologies or cultures, and disrupts the lives of everyone affected by it. Cancer has a twin in education. It’s bullying.

Recently, I was creating some TED Ed lessons about bullying(in its various forms –The Cyber Bullying Virus and Bully Dance). This got me thinking about the following question;

What makes bullying so virulent that it can evade, morph, and destroy generation after generation?

What if we looked at bullying like it was a medical epidemic? If we called it a disease, which it truly is, would it be treated more seriously? Could it then be given the same attention and urgency as HIV/Aids, Ebola, and Cancer are in the medical world?

Or have we built up our immunity to the existence of bullying in our schools that says if it is not happening to us?  Like cancer, bullying is serious. Its symptoms leave lives in havoc along its path.

Yet, for all of the attention(meetings, resources, legislation), research, assemblies, and instructional time invested into eradicating bullying across multiple lifetimes it has not disappeared. With fingers pointing in all directions it is time we all look to our youth to solve the problem of bullying because the adults have made a mess out of it.

Remember back in 2014 when school trustees, all adults, managed to create a working environment so toxic that the police needed to be called in to deal with the troubles. My students asked why the adults couldn’t get along? I couldn’t answer it with anything other than bullying.

How do we justify this behaviour to a media savvy student body when those in positions of leadership are modeling “do as I say, not as I do” by their actions?

The course of treatment for the cancer of bullying is simple. Let students lead.

Students possess limitless energy, potential, and ideas so why not equip, empower, and get out of their way to do great things? A powerful example of a student led initiative to stop bullying is Pink T-Shirt Day. It started in 2007 at a Nova Scotia high school where a grade 12 student defended a grade 9 be being bullied because of the colour of his shirt. It has since become celebrated as a national day of awareness, with schools across the country holding stand up to bullying by wearing pink events.


One of the reasons Pink T-Shirt Day is such a success comes from students leading the way. It has now fostered other wear pink events to fight bullying, homophobia, and transphobia. My school will be participating in its 2nd Day of Pink of 2016 on April 13th. At its core, pink shirt day is a way for everyone to stand together in order to focus on everything that unites us. I feel more student led events like this would set a positive and lasting example for people who have struggled with bullying at all levels of education from classroom to committee.

When students are allowed to lead they naturally rise to the task. Want proof? Look at the impact that Ryan’s Well, Free the Children, and Me to We have made on our world. Each amazing initiative inspired by a student.

Think about how you can encourage your students to be agents of change and social good in the fight against bullying in your school. I would love to hear if your school participates in Day of Pink activities. Tag me here or on Twitter @willgourley.


I had Jell-O in the title because I was looking for a silly focus point in the title. There is an explanation of my true dislike for Jell-O at …why I hate Jell-O on

Mental health in the hallowed halls.

Here’s a snippet from casual conversations playing out in school hallways everywhere.
Pick the lines you’ve heard or have used before.
Photo Credit:
WFIU Public Radio

“How are you? How’s it going? What’s up? How’s it?”

“Good. Great. All good here. Meh. No worries. Busy. So busy. Cool. Not too bad. OK. Could be worse.”

What would you do if someone answered honestly saying; “Not good. I’m being bullied by a group of students. I don’t like my body. My parents are divorcing. No one likes me. I feel alone and sad all of the time”? Would you pull out the motivational clichés and tell the person to toughen up? Would you walk away saying, “hope you’re OK?” and “things will be better with time” or would you inquire further? Would you feel comfortable finding out the truth? Do you have enough emotional energy in the tank to make a difference?

Regardless of years of experience, many new teachers feel uncomfortable, even under-equipped when facing mental health issues in the classroom After all, we’ve been taught pedagogy, not psychology, in teacher’s college. That’s not completely true. We did learn about Maszlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but that was so long ago, it was only a small series of lessons/readings, and  besides we have lessons to deliver.

In this post I want to share a side of education that Maslowdoes not get enough attention. I’m talking about mental health in schools.

Understanding and supporting students with mental health issues is as important in our classrooms as the curriculum we are instructing.

What keeps educators awake at night are the the same daily problems being encountered in classrooms around the world. I am a witness to how mental health issues are scarring education. There is a recurring generational amnesia in the hallways of educational institutions and it’s time we do more about it.

That may not seem like a light and lively subject for conversation, but discussion in all of these areas is crucial as it pertains to making our classrooms safe and inclusive learning spaces. How are you dealing with issues like this in your classroom? Here are a few ideas that have helped in my learning space.

In my classroom we have worked hard to develop a safe space for all learners. This means that we all try to support each other when times get tough. We try to use the idea of Ohana (family) where no one is alone or forgotten. We have instituted Mindfulness Moments as brain breaks. Students need time to consolidate their learning, and to be still/quiet for a few minutes. This little break in the action calms the mind, reduces anxiety and teaches students a valuable de-stressing skill.

In my classroom, there is always a little something to eat. It is amazing how a granola bar, a juice box, and some crackers can help a student who has not had enough to eat to start the day. During tests, quizzes or quests, as we call them, we have “test crackers”.  They’re tasty, crunchy, and important to helping students relax during assessment tasks. I have found that when a student has something to eat, albeit very small, they are more relaxed and perform better.*

In a follow up post I share some thoughts about mental health issues as they relate directly to educators. You’d be surprised how similar they are to those our students face. Or maybe not?

I need a granola bar.

* Maybe I’ve found a thesis to test for my M Ed?

Safe and Accepting Schools in today’s Social/Political Climate

All teachers are familiar with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s initiative for teaching inclusion;

A safe, inclusive and accepting school environment is a necessary condition for student success. Students cannot be expected to reach their potential in an environment where they feel insecure and intimidated. We are committed to providing all students with the supports they need to learn, grow and achieve.
Building a positive and inclusive school climate requires a focused effort on developing healthy and respectful relationships throughout the whole school and surrounding community, among and between students and adults. “

We respect this philosophy and we would not deny our students the full application of this mandate. And yet, for all the anti-bullying lessons, resources, activities; for all the lessons and discussions on civics and character education within our schools, I cannot help but feel as if I am complicit in perpetuating a myth that grown-ups know how to behave properly – when in fact, outside of our schools, our society is anything but civil, respectful, and devoid of bullies. For examples of intolerance and disrespect, we need look no further than the relentless doses of hysteria, stereotyping and racism in our newspapers and in our laws. The media is rife with stories pitting Us against Them, creating fear about Others, and discrimination based on clothing, skin colour, or mother tongue. Meanwhile in stark contrast in our classrooms, we are reading books such as “Children like Me”, promoting diversity and trying our best to ensure that our students learn about community and how Social Justice applies to everyone in our society.

Feeling overwhelmed by the latest news stories, I have been thinking about young students who, on the way to school, or once within its confines, may be unexpected targets of the divisive environment where ignorance, scapegoating, blaming, shaming, guilt by virtue of association, and racial profiling may have trickled down. Our anti-bullying initiatives may be only a Bandaid solution to circumstances of inconceivable scope and which are completely out of our control. Children who are subjected to this intolerance have to navigate through the quagmire with little or no grasp on the realities and myths that may be associated with their lives, and as in many cases of intimidation, because it is insidious nature, teachers may have no clue what these children have to endure. As visible minorities, or as minorities suspected of an affiliation, no matter how remote, children risk being targets of ignorance and vitriol from other children or adults in the community. Sadly, we have so many brutal historical examples of just this type of situation. Therefore, it is essential that, we as teachers, remember to be aware and have empathy to help all of our students feel secure and free from intimidation so that they can learn, grow and achieve, even when we may not fully understand the greater issues that they may be dealing with – politically, religiously or culturally.

And, without a doubt, the world has always been so. Danger from bigotry and intolerance existed long before the implementation of the Safe and Accepting Schools Act in Ontario. We can only hope that the effort we put into promoting diversity and ensuring students are educated within a safe and accepting school environment will eventually make the myth of a society of respectful, civic-minded people a reality. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to make sure that our students know we are an ally they can depend on for help should they need it.

Promoting Prosocial Behaviour

Most students, if asked, know not to bully or know not to litter. Yet, you may see those same students exhibiting behaviours that contradict what they know.

Prosocial behaviour is behaviour that uses positive words or actions to benefit others. Rather than a desire for personal gain, students are prompted to act this was by empathy, responsibility to others, or moral values. Much of the responsibility to teach this behaviour is falling on schools and teachers.

To promote prosocial behaviour, consider some of the following:

  • Encourage a caring school community that includes everyone from teachers to caretakers and lunch room supervisors.
  • Implement a positive discipline approach that includes clear expectations, discussions, and modelling.
  • Initiate school-wide programs such as “learning buddies” that match up older and younger students to work together in a variety of activities (computer lab, shared reading, picking up litter, community walks).
  • Integrate value or character education to learning in all classrooms
For more information on creating a caring community in your classroom or school that promotes prosocial behaviours, see the Principles and Practices of Responsive Classroom at
Mike Beetham

A Great Classroom Is Created When…

I had to share this with someone, so I felt this blog was the best way. At a recent class meeting we all sat down and started to talk about what makes a classroom great. This topic generated a myriad of ideas, discussion and debate. I am sharing with you the final product that came from this amazing group of students.

– when everyone works as a team

– you celebrate when people do something right

– every student is a success

– tell the teacher how you care for them and they will tell you the same way

– teachers teach us how to share, cooperate and work as a team

– we have fitness in the morning

– we do different kinds of things like planting

– you don’t give too many chances

– you take the time to get to know each other

– don’t be too easy, don’t be too hard

– we set goals

– when students can be taught and entertained at the same time

– teachers discipline

– you take risks with each other

– students and teacher communicate to each other

– we give lots of smiles

– students are allowed to teach teachers

– students are allowed to learn from their mistakes

Needless to say, my students have once again taught me how valuable an asset to our classroom they are. Their collective voice has demonstrated the power of our class motto ‘Together Everyone Achieves More Success’. I hope you can read my happiness and pride!

Engaging Idea

A new year is an opportunity for introducing new routines or learning opportunities. If your routines are already established and your planning is complete, you may just want to add a new “twist” to the assignments, addressing different learning styles and increasing student engagement.

Depending on the age group that you teach, – receive infographics on a wide-range of topics at Daily Infographic, see This is a great way to get comfortable with the use of infographics. View before sharing with students.  Infographics (information graphics) are all around us in subway maps, advertisements, and historical representations. They provide students with an alternative way to read information as well as present information. An infographic is a graphic visual representation. Larger amounts of data or information are presented in a visually appealing way that the reader is able to easily retain. Infographics can include timelines, maps, charts, graphs, illustrations or photographs, making them a useful and beneficial resource for social studies, math, language, science and art.

Suggestions for introducing or integrating infographics:

– receive infographics on a wide-range of topics at Daily Infographic, see This is a great way to get comfortable with the use of infographics. View before sharing with students.

– in Google search a selected topic and “infographic” to find a reputable author/creator of an infographic that connects to your lesson or subject. Preview the infographic. Provide it to your students to read individually or have them discuss in small groups.

– use infographics for specific knowledge-building. For example, if studying First Nations treaties with the Canadian Government, a government produced infographic is provided at: This infographic provides factual information in an interesting format for students that is easy to understand.

– after using infographics and understanding the components that make them effective, have students create their own infographics. It could be their own life story, their community or outer space. It could replace the pamphlet idea for presenting information on another city, country, or issue.

– create a campaign against bullying (or address various social issues) using student created infographics modelled on a reputable resource such as the infographic at Stop Bullying Gov, see

– students can design their own infographic with pencil or paper, or electronically with tools such as or Piktochart.


Enjoy introducing something new to your students for the New Year!

Mike Beetham

Update on J

When I last shared (September), J had arrived  in a foreign school, classroom and community. After three months of focussed work to help J realize his potential, celebrate his uniqueness and work through his challenges, I am ecstatic to report on a young boy who has blossomed. He comes to school each and every day with a smile on his face (and most importantly) a belief that he is a capable learner who now views school as a safe place to be.

Our journey is not over, but rather just beginning. J is now in an emotionally safe  place where the academic and social gaps that will help him return to a regular classroom can be addressed. As with all good instruction, the front loading work established the foundation that was necessary to build the bridge to allow J to join the learning community that awaited him.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and that you are able to enjoy it with family and friends.


Mike Beetham


“If it is worth doing, it is worth celebrating”. That component is a significant part of every classroom agreement that I am a part of. As my classroom community evolves it becomes a priority that best effort is all that can be asked of the students and the teacher. As such, we do not celebrate grades, we celebrate best effort. Each and every child in the room knows and understands that as long as they are working as hard as they can, the result is always worth celebrating.

That belief began to evolve in my teaching about twenty years ago when I first began to understand the role of diagnostic assessment and how important it is to start where my students are and not be driven by grade expectations. I can best sum it up by saying, it is the juncture in my career where I began to teach children and not deliver curriculae.  My students (and classroom) began to lose the competitive edge and shifted toward a cooperative learning environment with a focus on helping everyone be successful. A significant aspect to that change was the need to redesign what celebrations looked like.

C– classroom community social events (Thanksgiving lunch, special days)

E– everyone gets to share their work in a public forum

L – lots of trips to connect learning to real life scenarios

E– extra high fives, fist pumps, sunshine calls home, notes and oral praise

B – board filled with weekly awards

R– regular positive visits from principal, parents and other staff

A – always asking for input from classroom advisors on new ways to celebrate

T – teacher models and then a gradual release of responsibility

E– every effort big or small is worth celebrating

How do you celebrate the efforts of your students? I encourage you to post your ideas for others to read.