Curtis Carmichael- an inspiring teacher and activist

On March 4th, my school staff was lucky enough to listen to one of the most passionate guest speakers I have ever heard. His name is Curtis Carmichael and a talented author, teacher, speaker and activist. He is best known for his bike ride across Canada, striving for change in his Toronto community. He is also known for writing Butterflies in the Trenches, the first augmented reality book of its kind. I will include his website here in case you wish to learn more about his story and specifics.

Carmichael discussed many powerful topics with us, the first one being our job as educators. Here are the things he highlighted:

  • Unwrap each child’s gift
    • Carmichael is a firm believer that every single child has a gift and its our job to “unwrap it” and see for ourselves what makes them so special.
  • Prepare them for the real world
    • Carmichael mentions the importance of not running away from the community where they grew up but looking for ways to make it better. The real world will introduce new challenges for them after their educational journey and we need to prepare them for those

As for his book Butterflies in the Trenches, Carmichael encourages educators to read it with their class and to use the teacher guide it comes with. As he puts it,

    Butterflies in the Trenches is the candid story of Curtis’ life in the public housing projects in Scarborough, Ontario, where he grew up surrounded by trap houses, attending underfunded schools, and avoiding drive-by shootings. He shares raw and intimate stories from his childhood as a drug dealer and hustler and explores the effects of poverty, systemic racism, and police brutality on Black and low-income communities.

His story is so important for other children to hear as they grow up in similar surroundings. Hearing what he did was a meaningful story that all in the room were beyond inspired by. The opportunities he is presenting for young Black Canadians is outstanding and I shared his story with my class the Monday following this presentation. They had many questions about his journey across Canada and all that he has gone through.

Other ideas he speaks about are co-creating classroom activities with your class. Asking them what works and what doesn’t and going from there. I know the year is quickly wrapping up but there is still time to get everyone on the same page. He also mentions “Gamification” which is turning educational premises into games. This will encourage participation from the students in your class and will get them more engaged in their learning.

After Carmichael’s Zoom call ended, I thought about how to continue inspiring community in my classroom. I did an activity with them on the Monday where I asked them about their definition of community. These were their answers:

  • big group of people
  • BLM
  • a large amount of people in a group that agree on a specific topic
  • civilization
  • a place where people work, live and get along

I was saddened to see that “our class” or “a school” didn’t quite make it on the list. I will work harder to create community in my classroom and continue to look at activities that will engage all. The more initiatives that we take on as a class, I find it brings us closer together. We look forward to perhaps celebrating another spirit day as a class or creating a “Pink Day” for the entire school with the other 7/8 students. I was grateful for Carmichael as he reminded me of the importance of community and how co-creation is such a great way to start.

I look forward to sharing about how my students react to his book after we receive our copy next week.

Carmichael on Twitter: @CurtisCarmicc
Instagram: curtiscarmicc

 

Why I Teach Through an Equity and Anti-Oppressive Lens

Lately, it seems that all I hear throughout the education system is about equity and anti-oppression. These seem to be the latest buzzwords in our profession and they permeate throughout everything we do. Teachers are encouraged to develop a belief statement about equity and anti-oppression work and to embed it into their philosophy, pedagogy and teaching practices. However, have you ever stopped to seriously ask yourself, what does it really mean to teach through an equity and anti-oppressive lens? I have, and the answer was quite revealing. 

 

First, I had to reflect upon my own understanding of equity and anti-oppression in order to truly recognize my role and position as an educator. To me, equity is liberation of the mind, body and soul. It is a human right to have the freedom to think, act and feel in your true authentic self, without fear and discrimination. Equity is a sense of being included, valued and respected in all spaces and in all communities. Inequality and discriminations occur when certain spaces and communities deny you of your rights as a human being. Equity and Anti-oppression is a framework used to address and dismantle these inequities and discriminatory practices, which are often systemic in nature and deeply embedded into our habits and norms. Honestly, that took years for me to understand and to define through my own lens. I had to reflect upon how, and acknowledge that, my own (limited as they are) power and privilege (as a middle-class male educator) contributed to the systemic inequalities that exist in our society and throughout the education system. I also had to think about what role I could play to be an agent of change. I think my understanding of equity and anti-oppression align strongly with ETFO’s Equity Statement

 

Now, do I feel included, valued and respected in all spaces and in all communities in which I engage? Unfortunately the answer is more often no than yes. My race, ethnicity and sexual identity often impact how I think, act and feel in certain spaces and how others interact with me in those spaces. I find myself negotiating and navigating spaces on a daily basis. It can be quite exhausting and disempowering. So, why do I endure this disheartening experience time after time? For the same reason I became an educator. I strongly believe that all people, all students in particular, should be included, valued, and respected in all aspects of life, including their school community. Unfortunately that does not happen in all spaces and for all people/students. I know this because it happened to me as a student and it continues to happen to me as an adult educator. I see the inequities in our education policies and practices, in our classroom management practices and in our assessment and evaluation practices. Most notably, as a guidance counsellor, I am constantly advocating for the rights of Black and Indigenous students, and students in the Special Education system, to receive equitable treatment and access to resources and programs during the high school transition process. Everything that I am, through my lived experiences, and everything that I do for myself and others is embedded in an equity and anti-oppressive framework. 

 

I use ETFO’s Anti-Oppressive Framework to align my thinking and practice. Here is an excerpt from ETFO’s definition and statement: 

 

An anti-oppressive framework is the method and process in which we understand how systems of oppression such as colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and ableism can result in individual discriminatory actions and structural/systemic inequalities for certain groups in society. Anti-oppressive practices and goals seek to recognize and dismantle such discriminatory actions and power imbalances. Anti-oppressive practices and this framework should seek to guide the Federation’s work with an aim to identify strategies and solutions to deconstruct power and privilege in order to mitigate and address the systemic inequalities that often operate simultaneously and unconsciously at the individual, group and institutional or union level. (ETFO’s Equity Statement)

 

Here is another quote that I would like to highlight on ETFO’s Action on Anti-Black Racism, ETFO’s Anti-Black Racism Strategy is focused on creating systemic changes to confront anti-Black racism and provide a more welcoming and inclusive union environment for Black members at provincial and local levels. Given the legacy and current prevalence of anti-Black racism in colonial systems, institutions and society, ETFO Action on Anti-Black Racism –  Building an Inclusive School Workplace and Union brochure provides information on what anti-Black racism is, ETFO’s anti-Black racism strategy and how to be an ally. You can find out more about ETFO’s Action on Anti-Black Racism here

 

Also of importance to share is ETFO’s Human Rights Statement: The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario’s is committed to providing an environment for members that is free from harassment and discrimination at all provincial and local Federation sponsored activities. Harassment and discrimination on the basis of a prohibited ground are violations of the Ontario Human Rights Code and are illegal.

 

I included these quotes and the Human Rights statement because I am proud to be a part of a union that has in place policies and practices that value and protect the rights of all its members. However, it is up to us, as members and as educators, to ensure that ETFO indeed practices what it preaches, so that we too can feel protected in our commitment to ensuring student equity and developing student excellence. 

 

I say all that to say this, know thyself, know your worth and know your passion. Use all of who you are and what you believe to challenge, support and inspire students. You don’t have to be Black to advocate for Black students, you don’t have to be Indigenous to address Indigenous rights, just like how you don’t have to identify as a woman or a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community to support those who are impacted by gender inequities and homophobia. You really just have to show students, through your actions, how much you care about them and that they do matter, regardless of their circumstances and lived experiences. In fact, I encourage you to empower students to see/use their circumstances and lived experiences as a catalyst for self-empowerment and universal change. Show them that what matters to them also matters to you.  

 

To support you in supporting students and showing them that they do matter, here are some literacy resources from ETFO’s Social Justice Begins With Me Book List that might be of great help to you.

Who Am I?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

OAME Math Conference 2021: Equity Counts

I am very excited to write today’s post as I had the pleasure of once again attending the OAME math conference this year. The conference ran from Monday, May 17th and ends today Friday, May 2st. There were over 160 sessions to select from so it was hard to narrow it down to three per evening. I was offered a volunteer position with OAME to assist with moderating 3-4 sessions. This gave me access to the entire conference and as usual, this year’s conference did not disappoint. I would love to tell you about the exciting sessions I went to and some details about them. I also attached resources that were made publicly available and some ways I have already used my learning inside my grade seven math classroom.

Session Name: Supporting the new Elementary Math Curriculum: Educator Learning Modules
Presenters: Moses Velasco and Chantal Fournier
Summary of my learning: Moses and Chantal shared their presentation about ELMs. They shared a great resource as well! This presentation was geared towards more of a math coach audience which as I am not was not able to connect with much of their content. The ELMs were from 2017 and I know there were some questions about making new ones with the new math curriculum. Moses let the audience know that they will be coming out soon. The examples that we saw on the website were great! Feel free to explore their resource.
Resources: https://sites.google.com/view/operation-sense/home
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Session Name: Assessment that Moves
Presenter: Jordan Rappaport
Summary of my learning: Jordan was a gifted speaker and he had so many important things to share. Many of them I implemented in my class the very next day. Jordan spoke a lot about virtues in math:

  • Being creative
  • Being a thinker
  • Curiosity
  • Perseverance
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Ability to collaborate

Jordan shared that these virtues are important to people who hire mathematicians and essential in every math classroom. We also looked at a forward thinking rubric which had three boxes and a large arrow on top. He talked about using this so students can see where they are and where they should move towards. For the topic of collaboration, on the left column on the rubric, you would put terms like excluding, not being supportive, etc. and on the far right you would put the expected behaviours (opposite of the left side). You would then circle the place where the student was at. Jordan mentioned that building a rubric should be a collaborative process and he starts jamboards and shares them with his students. They generate ideas together when talking about a specific math virtue, what you should see and not see.
How I used this in the classroom this week: The day after hearing from Jordan, I posted the virtues on my slide and asked students to share what their best math virtue is. This allowed us to engage in conversations about why they take risks, why others may not, etc. This conversation was so meaningful and I loved hearing from my students.
Resources:

https://www.francissu.com/ 

https://buildingthinkingclassrooms.com/ 

https://www.peterliljedahl.com/ 

http://fractiontalks.com/
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Session Name: Designing Classroom Explorations that Engage All Students
Presenter: Gail Burrill
Summary of my learning: During this session, Gail spoke about many exciting topics. Gail shared that in her math classroom, she has her students complete various math tasks such as: book reports, research reports (math in art, etc.), write stories from graphs and many more. This connects math to many other subjects and is meaningful for students. Some other key takeaways included:

  • Data driven tasks are important in the classroom
  • Connecting math to student’s lives
    • Gail gave an excellent example where students had to find the problem with Fred VanVleet from the Raptors as his shooting percentage was in a rut. They had to solve if there was a rut or not and look at percentages with his shooting statistics.
  • Following instructions doesn’t mean your students have learned anything
  • Turning procedures into problems because then students will want to solve them and remember them
  • Vertical non-permanent surfaces
  • Visibly random groups
  • Comments before grades; feedback should be for thinking

Gail also mentioned a great resource where you can visit https://censusatschool.ca/ and have students answer: What do you notice? What do you wonder? These real life statistics engage her students for the first fifteen students of her class and she looks at real life scenarios. Gail also left us with some things to think about:

  • How much time do your students spend..
    • in silence?
    • talking to peers?
    • listening?
    • presenting?

Resources: https://censusatschool.ca/
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Session Name: Building Math Residue with Lessons That Stick
Presenter: Graham Fletcher
Summary of my learning: Graham shared many ideas that help students engage in explorations and lessons that really make students wonder, what is the answer to that question? I loved this idea from Graham:

  • Estimation Waterfall: asking students to wait until they hit enter so that they are not just copying the student who always gets it “right”

Of course, the focus of the session was what makes a good task? Here were Graham’s steps:

  1. Simple: Is it accessible? Avoid language due to any language barriers
  2. Unexpected: Does it fire up the guessing machine? Do students actually want to know the answer?
  3. Concrete: Do your students have any prior knowledge to connect to?
  4. Credible: What validates the math?
  5.  Emotional: Does it create an ah-ha moment?
  6. Stories: How will the math story be told?

Graham also mentioned the following ideas which are important to know and to understand:

  • Anyone can be good at math
  • Listening to a student’s thinking is more important than the answer
    • Graham showed a video of him working with a student and he was so patient, waiting to hear the student get the answer and listening to their process
  • Right answers should only matter at the end of a unit (assessment/test). The journey along the way is for making mistakes and for building understanding
  • A good math question makes you excited for the answer
  • Teachers shouldn’t jump on their students when they see a wrong answer, they should question them and wait for them to have that ah-ha moment

How I used this in the classroom this week: The day after hearing from Graham, I asked my students join a jamboard and I posed the above statements to them. I had them disagree or agree and if they wanted, they could share their reasoning on the mic. Students had such incredible things to say about all of the statements and we even got one anxious student to admit that making mistakes along the way is okay!  A huge breakthrough for this student.
Resources: https://gfletchy.com/Be sure to check out the tab “3-Act tasks” for some engaging lessons that stick!
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Session Name: Math, Social Justice and Actions
Presenter: Robert Berry
Summary of my learning: Robert Berry brought up incredible conversations that need to be had in our math classrooms. Robert shared a provocation for us: Who are our essential workers? What do you notice, wonder and how does it impact your community? Robert shared a lot of insight on how to create your own social justice math lesson:

  • Learn about relevant social injustices
  • Identify the math
  • Establish your goals
  • Determine how you will assess your goals
  • Create a social justice question for the lesson
  • Make student resources
  • Plan for reflection/action

There should be conversations about connecting math with students cultural and community histories. This was a great session and I was so engaged in his presentation, I did not take many notes!
Resources: https://padlet.com/rqb3e/sjmathresources Attached are incredible social justice mathematics resources
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Session Name: Some of my Favourite Problems
Presenter: Mike Eden
Summary of my learning: Mike is from the University of Waterloo and he shared many engaging math problems from various contests and from challenging math lessons. He asked people in the chat to share their answers and we looked at many ways to solve these challenging problems. I am sure you are all familiar with “Problem of the Week” from the University of Waterloo, well Mike took us further with these incredible problems!
Resourceshttp://: https://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/ https://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/contests/past_contests.html
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Session Name: Slow Reveal Graphs as Social Justice Provocations
Presenters: Kyle Pindar and Jennifer Fannin
Summary of my learning: This was such an engaging session that used the website https://trends.google.com/trends/ to design slow reveal graphs. The focus of the lessons are asking the questions these key questions: What? So what? Now what? Also, what do you notice? What do you wonder? Slow reveal graphs are innocently framed as hard hitting social justice questions. Kyle explained how to make these slow reveal provocations using these steps:

  1. https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=CA Make sure you are using the Canadian trends (setting on top right should say “Canada”
  2. Download the image (graph) you want to use
  3. Open up a blank google sheet
  4. Upload the download and re-size the columns
  5. Delete the top two lines
  6. Create slide show

Then, show your students these graphs, slowly revealing new features on the graph such as: the actual data, x axis information, y axis information and then eventually, the title (trend). Kyle and Jennifer discussed generating expected students responses so that you can be prepared to have these discussions as a class. They had great examples, specifically a graph showing the googling of “BLM” and you could see the spike on the day that George Floyd was murdered. Both presenters discussed how you would have that conversation with the class of what made these search results spike up in May of 2020? These are such great ways to have social justice discussions in class!
Resources: https://trends.google.com/trends/?geo=CA https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/start

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity that was this year’s OAME Math Conference. I wish I had been able to attend/moderate more sessions but as an OAME volunteer, I have the ability to listen to recorded sessions I could not attend. I will listen to some over the next few weeks and post anything else I gather. I hope this post provides a snapshot of such incredible math presentations and all of their wisdom that they wished to pass on to math educators! I know it is late in the year to take in this much incredible math information, but this post will be here to refresh your memory after a well-rested and well-deserved summer vacation!

If you wish to learn more about OAME or how to attend the conference next year, visit their website: https://oame.on.ca/main/index.php

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

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.

 

At a loss for words

Did anyone else have a very hard time before class Thursday, January 7th?

Thinking about how to start discussing the terrorist attacks in the United States on Wednesday, January 6th? I spent the entire evening feeling sick about the whole situation. Then, an entirely new wave of anxiety came over me knowing that I would need to address it with my grade seven students.

At first I reached out to fellow intermediate educators, asking them how they were going to start this challenging discussion. They mentioned breakout groups, article readings and then discussions. Then I spoke to some friends about it who helped me come up with careful and sensitive things to say. In this profession, it is hard to speak about these topics (without being political) and to do so in a calm and professional manner. This attack was something that was devastating towards many people, especially BLM activists who were attacked with tear gas, etc. when they peacefully protesting in 2020.

The morning of January 7th arrived and class had begun. I always start the day with morning music and I found it appropriate to play the song “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas. I found some of my students did not know what had happened the night before. A student in my class asked to speak on the mic and inform them about the terrorist attacks on the US Capitol. That student spoke very well and did a good job informing anyone who did not see the news, instagram, twitter or other social media platforms. I spoke about it for a while and explained the importance of positive role models/leaders in societies. Followers will always act on behalf of their leaders and this led to a discussion about positive leaders and how they have positively inspired change (Greta Thunberg, David Suzuki, etc.) Our conversation lasted about thirty minutes and was mostly student-led. Many grade sevens came on the mic to share their thoughts and they all did so in a respectful and calm way. Many students expressed their sadness for families that had children going through many things in the past year: forest fires, a pandemic, the death of Georg Floyd, the violent police response to BLM protestors, remote learning, election issues and then, this. We talked about how we are merely watching from Canada but imagine being in that city during this event, worrying about what may happen to you and your family. My favourite part of the discussion was when one of my students expressed her gratitude for talking about the situation rather than pretending it never happened and going about our day. This made me feel that the discussion had gone well and reaffirmed my thoughts about why current events cannot be swept under the rug (especially with intermediate students). We eventually went on with our day after first checking with all students, making sure that they were okay to move on from the challenging topic.

This week, we received an Emergency Alert on Thursday that informed us we are in a State of Emergency and a stay-at-home order is now in effect. This came during class time and many of my students own phones. We discussed what this means and I made sure to answer any questions students may have had. I discussed how the return to school date had been pushed back (that does not matter to us as we are always a remote class), plus the outdoor gathering size had changed to five and also, just to try their best to only leave home for important reasons. We had a great conversation about how the word “exercise” was now added as a reason to leave home. We continued a discussion about how mental health relates to exercise. This had tied in nicely to our healthy living presentations which had been going on during the week. We talked about how important it was that the government acknowledged that leaving your home for a walk or a run was an important thing to do.

After all the discussions were said and done, we did get back to our usual topics but as we know, the mental health of our students is the most important topic and we should always do our best to check in. This is especially important as we continue to learn online, with little to no face- to-face interactions with our students.

I am hoping everyone had a great start to 2021 so far and all that challenging conversations went as smoothly as they could go. I know I was extremely anxious about the conversations but I shouldn’t have been because my students prove to me time and time again their maturity and positive attitude towards their learning and overall outlook on our world.

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.  

 

Equity or Anti-Racism

Equity vs Anti-racism

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

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

Equity

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

Anti-racism

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

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

Does equity work, really work?

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

Equity for Women’s Rights

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

Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value

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

More Workplace Equity for Women

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

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

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

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

Systemic Organizational Barriers Against Anti-racism

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

Parents without their Voice Being Hears

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

Lack of Resources to Support Students

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

Targeting historic, systemic legacy of racism

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

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

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

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

A legacy 360 years of social and economic systemic oppression

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

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

Will Anti-racism work to overcome systemic bias?

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

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

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

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston, PhD