Break open…and rise up!

Spring is a good time to reflect and pay attention to growth, change and transformation. After a long year of isolation and stillness, everyone is hopeful about the promise of movement and possibility. Planting seeds is a wonderful metaphor of the learning that we are doing together in our school communities.

Planting Seeds:
Jenny Davis is one of the parents at The Grove Community School who has supported the growth of the Rainbow Garden, by working in consultation with First Nations and Indigenous families and community members. In the fall, Jenny harvested seeds from some of the edible plants, including sunflowers, cornflowers, and marigolds. This Spring, families worked together to deliver a paper bag of soil, seeds and a pot to every student.

Jenny facilitated on-line planting with our classes, and shared what she is learning about important Indigenous protocols, such as the practice of gratitude and reciprocity. We were encouraged to sort and describe our seeds and learn their names before planting, to draw pictures on our popsicle sticks to welcome them, to “pay attention” and give them what they need to grow. During our Land Acknowledgment, I have been honouring our plant relatives, and inviting students to share what they notice about their seeds as they break open and rise up.

Me and White Supremacy:
This winter, as part of my ongoing commitment to the practice of anti-racism, I participated in a community Book Club with a small group of parents and staff. Together, we read “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla F. Saad. I highly recommend this resource to White educators. This is a powerful book that includes journal prompts at the end of every chapter to support deep reflection and action. Layla Saad first wrote the book as a 30 day Instagram challenge, with daily prompts to support readers who have White privilege to recognize and disrupt White supremacy in their lives. Our Book Club met on-line every month, and we discussed one week at a time.

Layla Saad offers a process for engaging in the work called “The Circle Way”, which was developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. The Circle Way includes guidelines and a structure for readers to follow, including rotating facilitators and a shared intention and responsibility to stay focused on the work. It was very helpful, and can easily be used to facilitate critical and courageous conversations in other contexts. I recently facilitated a discussion about the final chapters, and I invited everyone to think about their own growth, change and transformation, and how we might invite others into this work.

Root into darkness:
This work is not supposed to be easy. Layla Saad explains that feelings of devastation, anger, and confusion are important parts of the work. She writes, “Without those feelings, nothing changes, because there is no reason to heal what does not feel broken.” (page 199) As White educators who are committed to racial justice, we must recognize how we are complicit in a system that is causing harm to Indigenous, Black and racialized people, and allow the pain “to break your heart open” and work towards creating change.

Maya Angelou wrote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” After discussing what holds us back from “doing better”, such as fear, loss of privilege, confusion, or insecurity, the Book Club members made commitments to take action and disrupt White supremacy in our different communities. Each member shared “I will….” statements, and we agreed to continue the Book Club next year, and support new families to join the discussion.

Me and My Commitments:
I want to share my own commitments to anti-racism and publish them in this blog, so I can be held accountable. I will also include concrete actions that I will take towards these goals.

*I will….continue with my own on-going learning and professional development.

(I recently started the ETFO MentorCoaching program, and I am learning about intersectional feminism, anti-oppression frameworks, and transforming power. I will continue to use the reflective journaling prompts in the book to challenge my own White silence and fragility.)

*I will….share my learning with others.

(As an ETFO workshop facilitator, I meet with members from all over the province and always position myself as a co-learner. I will always join committees at school and/or in my local, that are doing racial justice and equity work.)

*I will….use my privilege to disrupt White supremacy in my classroom and school community.

(I will meet with my principal to discuss Equity goals for next year, and share recommendations at our last Parent Council meeting, including an on-going process of discussion and reflection to determine how well we are meeting our collective goals.)

*I will….center and celebrate voices of Indigenous, Black and racialized voices in the classroom.

(I have more learning to do about anti-Asian racism, and integrating curriculum to support East/South Asian students. I will dig deeper into the new ETFO resources, and implement Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy. I will teach love and pride always.)

*I will…listen and learn when I am called out and called in. I will allow myself to make mistakes, especially as I break open and rise up!!

Thank you for reading this blog. Writing and learning in community continues to be a transformative practice for me. I am deeply grateful for all of the support and nourishment I have received to keep growing.

Buiding an Inclusive Playground

I am having a lot of fun learning how to center issues of disability justice and equity throughout the curriculum.

Every week, during MSI (Math-Science Investigations) the Grade 2 students solve problems using a variety of building materials. As part of the Science curriculum, we are learning about Movement and Simple Machines. We started this inquiry when we were face-to-face and finished on-line.  We have integrated this learning with disability justice, equity and community activism. For example, we went on a walk and collected data about barriers and “bridges” in our local community. Then, the Grade 2 students designed inclusive playgrounds where everyone is welcome.

Here are some other examples of how we are deepening our understanding of Structures and Mechanisms, and making connections to the local and global community.

World Water Day:
We celebrated World Water Day on March 22, as part of our year-long inquiry about water. Throughout the year, we have explored a variety of texts, including resources from The Junior Water Walker website. After reading “The Water Princess” by Susan Verde and “Anna Carries Water” by Olive Senior, our class simulated the experience of carrying a bucket around the track for 1 km, to represent the journey taken by girls and young women every day.

 

Then, we used building materials to investigate: How might you move water from one place to another?

We learned about a simple machine that was invented to help families carry water in rural India. We watched a YouTube video about The Wello Water Wheel, and talked about the impact it might have.



Toy Day:
On Toy Day, the MSI challenge was: Design a structure that moves or helps your toy to move.

Freda made a wheelchair for her doll.  Svea made a sled.

After building, we watched this video:
Science Max: Simple Machines

Outdoor Learning:
One day, we collected materials to bring outside to investigate simple machines. We worked with partners to explore: How might you use ramps and different balls to investigate levers and inclined planes?

Before schools went back to on-line learning, we went on a Community Walk.  I invited students to think about: “How might we make our community more accessible?  What are some of the barriers and “bridges” in our community?”  Students worked together to draw, write and collect data on clipboards.  We found ramps made by StopGap Foundation, and followed up our walk by reading books about children with different abilities.



Inclusive Playgrounds:
The summative task was: Design and build a model of an inclusive playground that includes a simple machine. The equipment must move a person up and down, or round and round or back and forth.

Students used a variety of materials to build their inclusive playgrounds, including Lego, recycled materials, clay, and Minecraft. Before building, everyone was encouraged to make a plan and draw their designs. Everyone worked on their project off-line and came together to share their VIP: Very Important Projects at the end of the week.

Clem used a glue gun to spell “PARK” in Braille letters.  Avery included an elevator.



Oral presentations have been an effective way to connect, share ideas and feedback, and assess students’ understanding. Technology/Being on-line has created space to hear each other, share our screens and look at photos of our work up close, and invite others into creative Minecraft worlds.  These integrated learning activities were engaging, fun, creative, and provided meaningful opportunities to explore inclusive design and disability justice.  

 

“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.” M. Rukeyser

April is National Poetry Month.

During this challenging year, poetry has supported critical and courageous conversations, offered some comfort and hope, while honouring pain and anger. Here are some examples of what this work has looked like and sounded like in our Grade 2 classroom:

Igniting the Spark: Amanda Gorman
The whole world was inspired by the poetry and brilliance of Amanda Gorman in January 2021. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” filled us with light during this time of “never-ending shade”. Her story about overcoming a speech impairment reminded us all to believe in ourselves and find our voice. I shared her poem and her TEDTalk with my students, and she was the spark for our inquiry about the power and possibilities of poetry.

Power Poems for Small Humans:
I have reached for poems during difficult times when I could not find the words to express my feelings. Jillian Christmas is a Vancouver-based slam-poet, who is an organizer and activist in the arts community. I have shared her poem, “On Honouring Anger” in response to racial violence and injustice that continues to impact students, staff and families, and requires educators to take action.

This poem, and other powerful voices can be found in an anthology called “Power Poems for Small Humans”, published by Flamingo Rampant. Flamingo Rampant is a micro-press that publishes children’s books that center and celebrate stories of kids taking action, disability pride, 2SLGBTQ+ voices, racial justice and more. Please check out their website and bring their books into your classroom library!

Yesterday, I Had The Blues:
When we were learning remotely, I used the Poll feature on ZOOM to check-in with students. One day, the question was: “How are you feeling today? Choose a colour to describe how you are feeling.” Students were invited to analyse the data, and share why they chose the colour. Then, we talked about different ways that people experience colour. We listened to the story, “Yesterday, I Had the Blues” by Jeron Ashford Frame, and made text-to-self connections.

Next, we read selected poems from “Hailstones and Halibut Bones” by Mary O’Neill. I love this book, but it is important to preview the poems, because there is one poem that uses outdated language, and needs to be unpacked or revised. Each poem begins with the same question, (e.g. What is Orange?) and uses the five senses to describe colour in poetic ways. I created a graphic organizer, and students were invited to write their own Colour Poems.

Pink!
On the International Day of Pink, we had a discussion about how some people think that pink is a “girl’s colour.” We talked about where these ideas come from, and how these gender rules might make people feel excluded. We created a poster using post-it notes to capture our ideas, in the style of a JAMBoard. Then, we wrote our own “What is Pink?” poems and displayed them in the hallway. 


Quick as a Cricket:
After reading, “Quick as a Cricket” by Audrey Wood, students wrote poems using the template, “I’m as ____________as a ___________.” This was a fun and accessible way to learn about the poetic device of similes. A simile compares two different things using “like” or “as” in an interesting or unexpected way.

Gratitude Poems:
After reading several poems from a collection called “ThankU: Poems of Gratitude”, we wrote our own “Dear Water,” poems. Students used the following sentence prompts to write a letter to our relative: “I love….I think….I will….I hope….You are….” On World Water Day, we read our letters to each other in the Rainbow Garden and talked about what we value, and how we might protect water. 



Splish! Splash! Splat!
One rainy day, we brainstormed different sounds that water makes. Then, we learned about Concrete poems, which are poems that take the shape of the subject that they are describing. Students chose a shape and wrote a poem about water. 



Respond and Rebuild:
We will continue to explore poetry, self-expression and identity by writing an “I am Me….” poem. This lesson plan is from www.welcomingschools.org and can also be found in ETFO’s newest resource, Respond and Rebuild CRRP Lesson Plans. I am looking forward to integrating movement and choral reading to this work.

What are your favourite poems or poets to explore in the classroom?



Gender Splendour!

This year, our school community will celebrate Gender Splendour from April 6-9, 2021.  It will be our 11th year implementing arts-based curriculum that explores gender identity and equity, 2SLGBTQ+ communities, inclusive families, and disrupts homophobia and transphobia. 

Over the years, the Kindergarten-Grade 6 students have participated in several inclusive and intersectional workshops, including: Love Makes a Family, “The F-Word” (feminism), Kiki Ballroom and the History of Voguing, Toys Will Be Toys, LGBTQ+ Rights Around the World, Pronouns and Possibilities, and more! 

When I was in elementary school, my mother came out as a lesbian.  This was in the 1980’s and she told us not to tell anyone because she was afraid of losing her job.  I learned about the painful impact of fear, silence, and homophobia outside of the home.  I also learned about the power and strength of community and love, as we marched in the streets at parades and protests.  My young life as an activist and an ally has developed into a strong, on-going commitment to social justice.  When I became an educator, I was determined to break the silence and celebrate the pride and resistance of 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

All You Need is LOVE….and an ALLY:

When Shannon Greene joined the staff, I found an ally and an accomplice.  We were both creative and committed to transforming our pedagogy.  Together, we brainstormed ideas about how we might support students, families, and staff to explore and express their intersectional identities.  We gathered resources, including picture books and media texts to support these critical conversations.  We reached out to families and community members, and generated guiding questions to investigate.  We wanted to empower students to stand up to injustice and take action.  And we wanted to have fun!!   

Boas and Bowties:

We celebrate Gender Splendour during the second week of April, which includes the International Day of Pink.  This year, COVID-19 has pushed our celebration a week earlier.  In addition to wearing pink, we encourage everyone to dress-up in different ways.  These Dress-Up Days are always optional.  They are meant to be playful and fun, and create brave spaces for community members to express themselves without fear.  In the past, we have worn: Rainbow Colours, Wings and Capes, Boas and Bowties, Clothing Inside-Out, Spots and Stripes, Glitter and Glam, and Pink! 

Free to Be:

Every social movement needs a soundtrack.  Throughout the years, we have discovered several songs that make us think, and make us dance.  “True Colours” by Cyndi Lauper, is an anthem that honours how it feels to be seen.  “Same Love” by Macklemore, explores issues of homophobia and same-sex marriage.  “Stereotype” by Samsaya, invites us to stand up to injustice.  Recently, we collaborated with Freedom School Toronto, and learned about how dance can be a form of resistance.  Everyone enjoyed learning about Kiki Ballroom, and the five elements of voguing, before strutting our stuff on the runway. 

As we prepare to smash gender stereotypes and critically examine gender binary roles in our society, I am feeling reflective, grateful, and proud.  I am also looking forward to practicing my “death drop!”

About next month

Do not go gently into that next month. Do not close the book on the last one, and not open it up until the same time next year. Do not look at your checklist and think it is complete. There are still boxes to tick and more are being added each day. There is work to be done on behalf of equity, justice, identity and intersectionality. Do not go gently into that next month.

This past February has revealed so much to me as an educator. It has shown me that you cannot put a time frame around unlearning centuries of racism in the form of micro and macro aggressions against Black, Indigenous, Asian, and all People of Colour. February has shown me that the narratives of history have been whitewashed and buried in textbooks in the hopes that the bones of truth would not be exhumed.

February has taught me that even our collective best efforts to seed conversations, nurture thoughts, and harvest actions face unnatural forces of hatred and bigotry in the gardens of the communities we sow. There are weeds to pull that must be dug out from far below the surface hit by the light. We must dig down to uproot what is hidden in the dirt below.

March must be about continuing conversations around race and racism while celebrating black excellence beyond Rosa, Harriet, Nelson, and Martin. March needs to come in like a lion roaring the names who have fought against injustice and oppression who have yet to be mentioned in the history books. It is not just about athletes and performers, there are teachers, business owners, activists, and civic leaders who have all fought against systemic racism, injustice, and oppression with rarely a mention in our classrooms beyond the month of February: Afua, Dudley, Clotilda, and Denham.

The names above and so many more have been part of the fabric of our communities, but seem to get lost the other 11 months of the year. Please do not go gently in next month without digging deeper into the undershared stories of black excellence that exist around us beyond the worlds of sports and entertainment.

Do not go gently into that next month. It is our collective call to action to learn how to become anti-racist educators. It cannot be compartmentalized into a fraction of our instructional year. Anti-racism education cannot be reduced to a brief item at a staff meeting or a PD session either. 1 month out of 12 will never be enough when racism is working all year long. This work cannot be hefted onto someone else’s shoulders. We must all carry our share of the load.

Do not go gently into that next month. Now more than ever it is time to rage against what has caused so much harm from generation to generation. Embrace what discomforts you, be okay with the dissonance from not having all of the answers to students’ questions. Seek out others who are learning too. Walk alongside them as you learn and grow together and continue planting the seeds of equity and justice in your classrooms.

“Do not go gently into that…” and ‘rage against” phrasing borrowed from Dylan Thomas’ poem Do not go gentle into that good night

Suggested reading:

The skin we’re in – Desmond Cole

We want to do more than survive – Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom by Bettina Love

Caste – Isabel Wilkerson

G.L.O.W.

GLOW (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever) is an extracurricular club for Grades 6-8 students to explore issues related to the 2SLGBTQ+ community and their allies. We have been meeting on-line every week since April 2020. Before COVID-19, we would meet during lunch at school. GLOW is a proud and positive space for students and educators to share their own stories, ask questions, make art, and take action. It is always the highlight of my week.

There is extensive data to hold schools accountable and support students who may identify as 2SLGTBQ+. Many of these students continue to be bullied or harassed by their peers, and pushed out of school. It is critical that educators respond to homophobic or transphobic comments and actions that are harmful, and to teach diverse stories of 2SLGBTQ+ communities with pride.  There are several resources provided at the end of this blog.

WHERE DO I BEGIN?
You don’t need permission to start a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance). In fact, if a student requests a GSA, many schools are required to provide one. The first thing I did was reach out to my Grade 7/8 teacher friend, Tia Chambers. I asked her to share the role with me because everyone needs an ally. It didn’t take long before other staff wanted to join GLOW. This year, we are sharing the role of co-host with Kindergarten teacher, Nikki Kovac.

We start every meeting with an introduction, which includes our pronouns, and we answer a question. This helps us to build relationships and honour who we are. If there is a new member, we will review our GLOW Agreements. These agreements were generated together in our first meeting and describe what we hope for and what we need in order to feel comfortable.

After making our agreements, we invited students to share music that they like and we created a playlist. Some of these songs are performed by 2SLGBTQ+ performers, and other songs just make us feel good. We asked everyone for ideas about what they wanted to discuss, and the type of activities they might want to do. It is important for educators to amplify student voice, listen and respond with respect. Inspired and informed by the students’ ideas and questions, we prepare activities and questions to guide our discussion every week.

WHAT HAPPENS AT GLOW?
Here is an example of what we discussed at our GLOW meetings in February. As Valentine’s Day was approaching, I wanted to challenge the heteronormative narrative about love and romantic relationships that are reinforced by the media, and create space for more possibilities. I thought that we might discuss these issues and create our own Valentine’s Day cards with inclusive messages.

Our check-in question was about love. I asked: “What or Who do you love?” Then, I used these guiding questions: “What are the messages about love and relationships that you notice on television or in movies?” “Who do they include or exclude?” “How do these messages reinforce a “norm” about relationships that is heterosexual?” “How might we make Valentine’s Day more inclusive?” We also talked about self-love and different ways we might care for ourselves.

I shared a few examples of Valentine’s Day cards that provide a counternarrative, and I invited everyone to design their own inclusive Valentines. We talked about word play, and how Valentines often include puns and rhyme. As we drew, we listened to songs on our playlist. The following week, one of the students shared a poem that they had written about love that was inspired by our discussion. It filled my heart with pride.

RESOURCES
ETFO has created many resources to support educators who want to create brave and inclusive spaces in our schools.

My teacher friend, Melissa Major, has written two excellent articles in VOICE magazine, which can spark meaningful discussions with your students:

How to Become a Super Rad Gender Warrior reminds us that all members of a school community have the right:

To be free from discrimination and harassment.
To have a safe and inclusive learning environment.
To use the bathroom or change room they feel is the most appropriate.
To dress in a way that feels right and safe for them.
To be spoken to with their chosen name and gender pronoun.
To be treated with dignity and respect and the recognition that all gender expressions and identities are a normal and healthy part of a spectrum.
To present their gender in different ways at different times

Gender Neutral Language: An Activity for Day of Pink or Any Day explains how educators can use inclusive language to disrupt the gender binary.

Last Spring, I attended an ETFO webinar called “How to start a GSA and support 2SLGBTQ+ during Remote Learning” presented by Toronto teacher, Jordan Applebaum. It was intersectional and inspiring. You can watch the webinar in four parts here:

Be Proactive to Support Trans and LGBTQIA2S POC – Part 1
Be Proactive to Support Trans and LGBTQIA2S POC – ​Part 2​
Be Proactive: How to Start a GSA During Remote Learning – Part 3​​
Be Proactive: How to Start A GSA During Remote Learning – ​Part 4

I have also joined a few Facebook groups to support this work. Recently, I discovered that the Durham District School Board has created Pink Shirt Day and Beyond, a slide deck which is filled with lesson plans to use in the classroom or at your next GLOW meeting.

Shine on!!

 

Becoming Anti-Racist

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work Book Poster Image

One of my students gave me a book This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewel and illustrated by Aurelia Durand, published by Scholastic.

It was a winter holiday gift (December 2020) and it’s taken me until the end of February 2021 to read through it. It contains 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do The Work.

Before I go further, I identify as white with Metis heritage. I grew up in a “mixed race” family of half siblings who had ancestry that included Black heritage (i.e., slaves imported from the Congo) and East Asian heritage (i.e., indentured workers from Sri Lanka). Even though our childhood was “white washed”, there were regular occurrences of other people pointing out skin colour differences within the family. My mother was once asked why she was nursing a “brown baby.” My younger sisters were asked if they indeed were full sisters due to their different skin colouring. With this experience, I thought I had done “The Work” but I realized from reading this book that I have so much more work to do!

Each page of the book brings more light to my anti-racist stance. Page 31 defines racism as a “personal prejudice and bias and the systemic misuse and abuse of power by institutions.” It discusses how institutions and ideas of norms enforced racism such as preferences for straight hair and light skin colour. It highlights the impact history has on reinforcing racism and the need to define people by asking “Where were you born?” Page 59 includes the ancestral trauma of chattel slavery and how “The history we carry with us is in our DNA and the stories we were never told.” The book encourages people to tell their families’ stories and how to set a path to take action by “Calling in and Calling Out” (page 112.)

I have not used this resource in class yet, as I was waiting for our return to the physical classroom. I know my approach to the lessons in this book will be to start with the book’s lesson and then see where my students will take the lesson further. There are some interesting activities that include starting a notebook to promote change. Within this notebook, students can:

  • List their identities p. 14
  • Create their identity map p. 15
  • Create a list of social identity categories p. 23
  • Reflect on their own race and ethnicity p. 29
  • Create an “I AM -AND I AM” chart p. 35
  • Identifying Microaggressions p. 51
  • Identifying their history beyond their family

I’ll stop here as this book is full of ways to engage students in learning about anti-racism! This book would be great to use with students in grades 5 and up. School staff would also benefit in using this book to explore their own journey towards anti-racism.

Please post any resources that you’ve used in class along with the appropriate student age/grade.

With this book, I hope to build my role as an ally and as a person who will “spend my privilege” through building awareness, support, and amplifying change.

Still working on “Doing The Work”,

Collaboratively Yours,

Deborah Weston, PhD

This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work – Book Review

This Book Is Anti-Racist Educator Guide Written by Tiffany Jewell

Great Courses: America’s Long Struggle against Slavery via Prime Video

The Uncomfortable Truth

Africa’s Great Civilizations

 

On becoming an anti-racist educator

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. James Baldwin

2020 was like a personal worldview culminating activity that happened in slow motion. It was a merger of events and interactions that finally allowed me the ability to see race and racism more clearly than ever before. 2020 also showed me that there were many more threads woven into this tapestry and that I needed to look at them one by one in 2021. 

Although this post is not intended to be a look back, it definitely includes some reflection and understanding that are decades overdue.

Before ever becoming an ally, activist, and anti-racist there is something I have to do first. Confront my past and present racism. Whether it was implicit or explicit, recognizing the fact that racism is part of my past and present is the first step. In my past it came in the form of exclusion, cruel words, omission, inaction, fear, ignorance, and/or silence. In the present, my acknowledgement of racism in my life comes from waiting for so long to change what I do in the classroom before developing a culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy that was truly inclusive of the students I was entrusted to teach. It comes from sticking to a Eurocentric approach to history and by failing to include the voices of others who have been silenced by a whitewashed curriculum. 

I am sorry for all of it. Even though I was never called out or made to account for my actions I need to own them even though they cost me anything other that regret. This has taken decades to sink in because, ultimately, there was a cost, although so much of it went unnoticed.

Neither the bill, nor the collection agency arrived at my door demanding payback. Only after the realization that my racism accountability statement was seriously overdrawn was I moved to action. The clearest recollections come from middle school, where I remember not standing up for someone who was at the end of racist epithets and exclusion, and laughing while someone shared a racist joke. I see now a complete lack of caring, courage, and conviction to confront what I was willing to let continue by my complacency. I have to own this as part of my past because someone else always paid the price. What worries me more are the times that went by when I was oblivious yet still complicit to how racism was affecting those around me. There was a cost.

Even though it came to me without cost I was still given insight and the tools to effect necessary change each time I dived deeper into how to be an anti-racist beyond the hashtag. It started with some powerful reads such as the work of Ibraham X Kendi, Colson Whitehead, and Eddie S Glaude Jr.. Sharing Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning with a men’s book club and subsequent conversations last summer have helped me more clearly understand the history of slavery, anti-black racism, and the problems they continue to cause in a time where all men and women are created equal. It wasn’t the readings alone that have brought me to this place though.

There were the #QuarantineEd Zoom calls with Matthew Morris, Jay Williams and educators from across the continent. These weekly discussions of race, identity and Black Lives Matter happened before, during and after the murder of George Floyd and the global outrage that followed. Through all of this, it seemed more beneficial to listen than speak. This extended to one on one conversations with friends and colleagues too. I am thankful for the grace with which wisdom, truth, and insights of anti-racist activists, teachers, and seekers of justice were shared. Learning more about the words white privilege, systemic racism, and black lives matter are now anchored in deeper understanding of the hurt and pain that has been caused by racism. 

I can never go back in time to repay what I owe for my past actions, but I can pay up, and pay it forward – a necessary change for which I hope we will each make a contribution. For me, atonement for past mistakes will be to acknowledge the racism in my life, and to continue listening and learning what needs to be undone and done differently to overcome it. Only then can I move forward to making sure it is eliminated from the spaces I occupy as an anti-racist educator. I want to be part of the generation that ends centuries of racial injustice in our communities and schools.

The words of the next generation sum it up quite nicely, “Racism sucks! Why would anyone want to be racist?” – grade 4 student.

Big thanks to Nicolette Bryan at Adrienne Clarkson PS, @callmemrmorris, @mstrjaywill, @MrTBradford, #QuarantineEd, @chrisjcluff, and #bc4men for the discussion, wisdom, and constant inspiration. Thanks for reading.

 

Anti-Racism and the Fight for Black Lives

I recently joined educators from across the province to participate in ETFO’s powerful four-part webinar series called, “Anti-Racism and the Fight for Black Lives”.  It was an amazing professional learning opportunity, and it should be mandatory for all ETFO staff and members.

The program involves watching a short video clip each week, and engaging in courageous and critical conversations about anti-Black racism with other educators.  ETFO released the video, “Anti-Racism and the Fight for Black Lives” during the 2020 Annual Meeting, as part of the ETFO’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy.  This video is available to all members on www.etfo.ca, along with guiding questions to explore on your own or with your colleagues. 

In the video, we hear the voices of Sandy Hudson, who is a political activist, writer and the founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, and Phillip Dwight Morgan, who is a journalist, poet and researcher.  The interview is moderated by Alejandra Bravo, who has a history of working for progressive social change with grassroots, immigrant and labour groups. 

What does it mean to fight for Black lives?

Throughout the interview, Sandy Hudson and Phillip Dwight Morgan share knowledge and insights about how educators might use this moment of “awakening” to fight for Black lives and demand systemic change.  One of the issues that we discussed each week was the impact of police in schools and in communities, and the call to action to defund or abolish the police, and re-imagine different ways to respond and care for each other.

Each session was organized and facilitated by ETFO staff Alice Te and Matthew Sinclair, and included opportunities to break out into smaller groups to share ideas and reflect on the guiding questions.  The active and deep engagement of the participants was inspiring.  Educators from Kindergarten-Grade 8 leaned in to listen, learn, ask questions and share resources. 

What is your positionality?

In our first session, the facilitators shared a definition of anti-oppression work as the “active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual and systemic oppression”.  Alice Te and Matthew Sinclair acknowledged that we are all in different places on our learning journey towards equity and racial justice, and that being an ally sometimes means standing UP, standing BEHIND, or standing WITH others, depending on your positionality.  

Throughout the program, we were encouraged to move from individual to collective action, and think critically about how we can use our privilege as educators to work towards systemic change.  As an educator who is committed to learning and unlearning what anti-oppression looks like in schools, I am always grateful for the opportunity to learn from and with other educators about how to disrupt institutional racism.

How can we transform Canadian institutions?    

In order to change or transform systems of education, we must first recognize that schools are not safe or equitable spaces for all students, families, staff and community members.  Schools continue to reinforce White privilege, and create barriers for Black, Indigenous and other racialized students.  Please read the following ETFO VOICE articles about the impact of institutionalized racism in schools:

Anti-Black Racism in Education and Black Students Navigating the Pandemic by Stephanie Fearon

Sisters in the Struggles: Racialized Women and Microaggressions in the Workplace by Angelique Cancino-Thompson

Can you spare some change?

In Part #1, Sandy Hudson invites us to think about the difference between fighting FOR Black lives and fighting AGAINST anti-Black racism.  She says, “It is not enough to be a good person.  You have to be ready to accept a change in your living conditions, so that everyone else’s living conditions, in particular Black people’s living conditions can change.”  Alejandra Bravo agrees: “Solidarity is only real if it costs you something.”  

Educators have a lot of political and economic privilege, which can be used to fight against anti-Black racism.  As we consider how we might change or transform our institutions, we need to be ready to put our money where our mouth is, and fund direct action.  We also need to recognize how institutions are interconnected and advocate for change so that all communities have equal access to health care, housing, paid sick days, food security, accessible transit, etc.  

Two organizations that are working hard and deserve our financial support are: parentsofblackchildren.org and showingupforracialjustice.org  

Why defund police?

Part #2 focuses on defunding the police.  In the video, Sandy Hudson challenges us to shift how we think of safety and security in our society.  She explains that police have historically harmed many communities, including Black, racialized, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQ+, and the underhoused.  This harm and violence is still ongoing, and police actually make some folks feel less safe.  Hudson shares facts about how police budgets are allocated, and argues that funding must be provided to support services that are more effective, and to build alternatives.  

Why are police in schools?

As part of this program, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Phillip Dwight Morgan, and hear more about his personal experiences and his advocacy work.  Morgan encouraged us to critically reflect on the role of School Resource Officers (SRO’s) and police in schools, and to consider the impact for Black staff, students and their families.  He also questioned where police are located in Toronto schools, and the racial bias of defining “high priority” neighbourhoods as areas that have a higher percentage of racialized families.  These discussions helped me to understand where the call to defund the police comes from, and how it connects to the fight for Black lives.

What is the role of educators?

In Part #3, we discussed other forms of anti-Black racism, racial profiling and bias that need to be addressed in schools and other spaces for youth.  We also shared ideas about how we can use our position to best create and promote changes in our school and local community.  

In our break-out groups, we talked about the importance of representation, and the need to hire more Black educators.  We also talked about centering stories of Black resilience and pride, innovation, love and joy.  Educators from rural and northern communities talked about how they might teach students about anti-oppression without “othering” or reinforcing “us/them” inequities in their predominantly White communities.  Everyone agreed that addressing anti-Black racism in our schools benefits everyone.   

ETFO has developed many resources to support educators to engage in this work, including White Privilege Lesson Plans and ETFO Black 365 Canadian Curriculum.  Please share any resources that you have used in the comments below.  

What does solidarity look like?

Part #4 focuses on the need for awareness and action.  In the video, Alejandra Bravo asks if changing our individual behaviour will help make Black lives better.  Sandy Hudson and Phillip Dwight Morgan criticize the impact of individual acts of solidarity, if they do not include the call to action for systemic change.  For example, many folks are comfortable hanging a poster that says, “Black Lives Matter” or posting a black square on their social media, but they are not comfortable advocating for the abolishment of police.  

The discussion in our break-out group was interesting because we all have colleagues that are at the beginning of their learning journey, and need to do the individual work to recognize how they are impacted by and complicit in reinforcing oppression and privilege.  We talked about how we might support all members in our school community to engage in courageous conversations about racial justice and anti-oppression work.  After participating in this program, I understand that fighting for Black lives must also include advocating for systemic change and funding direct action to fight against anti-Black racism.

What are the next steps?

ETFO has a lot of privilege and political power to advocate for systemic change.  I look forward to hearing about the next steps that ETFO will take to continue to fight for Black lives.   

I am grateful to ETFO and all of the educators who created this professional learning opportunity, and I am inspired by the members who showed up every week to actively engage in this critical work.  I encourage everyone to watch the videos, and to participate in the webinar series when it is offered again.  

 

“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind….”

This term, I had the honour of working with a Master of Arts student in Child Studies and Education, in his first teaching placement. Working in collaboration as a co-learner and co-teacher is a humbling experience. It is always a lot of work, but I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my own practice, and remember what it feels like to be a new educator.

Ishai Buchbinder and I had a lot of fun creating an integrated unit about Wind for the Grade 2 students. This inquiry connects to “Air and Water in the Environment” as students “investigate, through experimentation, the characteristics of air and its uses.” (The Ontario curriculum, Grades 1-8. Toronto: Ontario, Ministry of Education, 2005.) This blog post is a documentation of our learning together.

Where Do I Begin?
Ishai asked me to describe the planning process for developing a series of lesson plans and activities that culminate in a summative assessment task. This year, I am trying to integrate Indigenous perspectives through land education and environmental inquiry. I am also trying to center stories of Black excellence and innovation throughout my pedagogy.

First, I look at the expectations in the Ontario curriculum, think about the “big ideas”, and generate a few guiding questions to support our inquiry. Then, I brainstorm several activities that might help us to explore and investigate our learning goals. Next, I gather resources, including: picture books, songs, videos, real-world examples of innovation and creativity. Then, I think about a summative task that would allow students to have choice and demonstrate their understanding in different ways. Finally, I sequence the learning activities in a way that builds on prior knowledge and connects to new learning, while also being responsive and open to following the interests, needs and questions of the students.

Who Has Seen The Wind?
We started our inquiry with an active game called “When The Big Wind Blows…” and a poem by Christina Rosetti called, “Who Has Seen the Wind?” This poem has been re-imagined as a song, which I learned from an Orff Music workshop. There is a simple ostinato that is layered underneath, and patsched on the lap: “Wind, Wind, Passing By.” We chanted and sang this song outside during our Welcoming Circle, and acknowledged the wind with gratitude.

Knowledge Building:
Ishai shared a riddle with the students: “What takes up the most space but is something that you cannot see?” After solving the riddle, the students shared what they already know about air and wind. Then, we asked the students to generate questions about what they wanted to know, using “I wonder…” inquiry cards.  These activities help to honour student voice and position all of us as co-learners,



During MSI (Math-Science Investigations), I ask students to design and build a structure that is moved by the wind. Desmond made a dragon. Ezra made an airplane. Florence made a forest. Elliot made a structure that is powered by the wind. All of these activities provided diagnostic assessment and helped to guide the next steps in our inquiry journey.



The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
We learned about the true story of William Kamkwamba, who used innovation and creativity to build a windmill out of recycled materials for his community in Wimbe, central Malawi. You can listen to “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” read aloud. You can find William telling his own story by searching his name. His brilliance has also inspired a movie. After reading the book, we made our own paper pinwheels and took them outside. Everyone loved running with the wind and making the blades spin! 

Paper Airplanes!
Ishai told us about the “Super Secret Mysteries of Flight”. We learned about thrust, lift, drag, and gravity, and their relationship to air. Then, he showed us how to make a ten-fold paper airplane. Here are the step-by-step instructions. It was challenging to listen and follow each instruction carefully. After folding our paper airplanes, we tested their flight in the school yard. We experimented by changing the thrust, and adapting the wings to make it fly straight and long. This was another active and fun activity!

Mr. W
After watching this short video, we had an interesting discussion about the main character. I asked: What do we know about this character? How does this character feel at the beginning and the end of the video? What kind of things do we see the character do? Why would they do these things? Who is this character? Why was this video made? This discussion encouraged students to think critically about media texts as part of our learning about Media Literacy.

This video also inspired us to begin writing our own Wind Stories. We used a graphic organizer to organize our ideas using time-order words, (First, Next, Then, Finally). Some students wrote from the perspective of Wind, and others described the movement and impact of wind. We used a collaborative editing and revision process to share our stories and improve our writing.

Testing our Theories:
This year, we are fortunate to be working with Doug Anderson, who is the co-author of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Environmental Inquiry. After learning with Doug in the Rainbow Garden, several students wanted to know more about the relationship between the sun and the wind. Svea asked, “I wonder how the sun makes the wind?” 

We talked about how we might find the answers to our questions. We could: read books, look on the internet, ask someone. After reading a book called “Air”, which explained some facts, Ishai asked how we might test what we learned from the book. The students had different ideas about how we could prove that warm air rises and cold air is heavy. We went outside to find out. The students worked in small groups and used movement to demonstrate how the sun makes the wind. It was a great opportunity to use our bodies to express our understanding.



Learning Through the Arts
As we explored the movement of wind, we read the book, “When I Get Older: The story behind ‘Wavin’ Flag’” by K’naan. We learned that the song was inspired by his grandfather’s poem. K’naan’s family journey story supported many thoughtful discussions about civil war and refugees, settlement and anti-Black racism, how schools might be more welcoming to new families, and the impact of poetry and music to create community.  We listened to the song many times and went outside with fabric “flags” to wave in the wind. We are hoping to choreograph a dance and embody the lyrics, “Love is the answer”.

We also learned about two artists who have created complex wind sculptures that are moved in the wind. We watched a few videos about the work of Theo Jansen and Anthony Howe. The students were mesmerized and inspired by the movement of these beautiful sculptures.

Another song that we learned was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. This is a song that we sing every year during Peace Week and on Remembrance Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the “big ideas” of conflict and justice. In the past, we have written messages of hope and peace on leaves that are released from the third floor window.

This year, our Visual Arts teacher, Shannon Greene, made powerful connections to Treaty Recognition Week. After learning “A Treaty Poem” by Melissa MacLennon and students, Shannon encouraged the students to write promises of peace on paper leaves to keep in the classroom. Copy of Land Acknowledgement and Dish With One Spoon Resource

Squirrel Nests:
As the leaves continued to fall, the students began to notice piles of leaves in the branches. We learned that they were nests made by squirrels, and we started to think about how animals might protect themselves from the wind. We went on a walking excursion to a local park, and Ishai challenged the students to build their own squirrel nests with leaves, sticks and air.

After building with natural materials, we did a “Gallery Walk” and visited all of the squirrel nests. Students were asked to describe one thing that they were proud of and one thing that they might do to improve their nest next time. These “GLOW” and “GROW” comments allowed us to practice self-evaluation, and provided valuable formative assessment.

Finally, it was time to test our squirrel nests. Each student was given fluffy goldenrod seeds to represent the squirrel, which was placed inside the nest. We used straws to simulate the wind, and to test the strength of each structure. Everyone had an amazing experience learning outdoors together!



Wind Machines!
As our final summative task, the students were invited to plan, build and test a structure that can be moved by the wind. Before building, students were encouraged to think about what they had learned about wind and apply their knowledge to their structure. Everyone drew a plan and labelled the materials that they would need. We spent several days in the classroom building and revising our structures, based on descriptive feedback.



On the day that we tested our wind machines, each student had an opportunity to share their structure and make predictions about how it might move. After testing, Ishai conferenced with each student to document their thoughts and ideas about how successful their wind machine had been, and how they might improve their design next time. It requires more time to connect 1:1 with students, but conferencing provides strong summative assessment data, and supports every student to feel successful about their learning.

Journey through Inquiry
Working with a Teacher Candidate was refreshing and reminded me about the importance of play, storytelling and movement in our lesson planning. Throughout our inquiry about Wind, the students were very engaged, and they had multiple opportunities to explore and demonstrate their understanding.  As an experienced educator, I am still learning about how to integrate and make connections across the curriculum in creative ways.  I am also learning that when we trust our students and follow their natural curiosity, the journey through inquiry will be deep, meaningful and fun!