Building Better Schools: The Plan

ETFO represents approximately 83,000 members, including public elementary teachers, occasional teachers, education support personnel, professional support personnel and designated early childhood educators. ETFO provides protective and professional services for members and promotes equity and social justice within the education system and the broader society. ETFO is a social justice and equity-seeking organization” (ETFO, 2023).

Did I need to introduce ETFO to you? I don’t think so, but I wanted to ensure I shared that with you in case you did not know. ETFO advocates for equitable educational practices and equitable justice for all public elementary educators to position these educators as the changemakers we need in the education system.

Conferring on July 1, 1998, “ETFO continued the work of two federations that had worked to promote and protect the interests of public school educators for 80 years. ETFO’s two predecessors were the Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario (FWTAO) and the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation (OPSTF).” There was much in the works, and much at stake during the time of this transition, but “elementary teachers proved once again they were up to the challenge” (Ritcher, 2006).

I urge you to take some time to get to know ETFO’s history, mainly to understand the consistency of ETFO as a social justice advocate and equity-seeking organization that has remained steadfast through the ages. Becoming familiar with ETFO’s history will provide a deeper understanding of ‘The Plan’ that ETFO has launched as a guide for revitalizing public elementary education.

As stated in It’s Elementary (2018), the following are five frames by which you can understand the position in the fight for social justice and equity for public elementary school educators.
1) Federations work steadfastly to promote and protect the interests of their members.
2) Federations were, and continue to be, leaders in advocating for the rights of teachers and the broader society.
3) Funding for elementary education has been an issue since the 1800s.
4) Legal or collective agreement rights are never entirely secure; the union and its members have had to be vigilant in keeping elementary education issues in the public eye and on the government agenda.
5) The union’s strength depends on its ability to build member trust and solidarity for its work” (ETFO, 2018).

These have been ETFO’s guiding principles since its inception. This is the work ETFO continues to do, Building Better Schools by creating and fostering opportunities for culturally responsive growth and development within the Elementary Public school system for educators and learners.

Let us take the time to look closely at the 9-pronged plan for building better schools.

  • Addressing Anti-Black Racism
  • A funding formula that works for kids
  • A single secular school system for Ontario
  • A stronger voice for your educators and their union
  • Enriching student learning
  • Inclusive classrooms
  • Smaller classes for everyone
  • Support for students with special needs
  • Testing rooted in learning

As educators who desire equitable learning environments for all students, let us all take the time to ‘Join the Campaign’ and “protect our public education system so we can build better schools for everyone.”

Take a moment to reflect:

  • How does this challenge you to get involved with your union?
  • What attitudes, beliefs, or ideas do you need to change or adopt to bolster this needed plan?
  • What challenges do you think might arise as this plan unfolds?
  • How can you support ETFO (your union) in surmounting these challenges?
  • What skills/attributes can you contribute to your local or provincial office?

As Sharon O’Halloran (Deputy General Secretary, ETFO) said in the ETFO Voice, winter 2022 edition, “Our Victories Prove We Are Stronger When We Work Together.”

“Join one of ETFO’s provincial Standing Committees and provide your perspective and expertise in developing provincial policies, positions, programs, and initiatives. Vacancies for the 2023-2025 term are listed on the website. The deadline to apply is March 1. Apply online at members.etfo.ca/etfo/standing-committees.”

 

Reference:

Building Better Schools. (n.d.). Retrieved January 8, 2023, from https://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/

National Ribbon Skirt Day (January 4)

“A bill put forward by Senator Mary Jane McCallum to recognize National Ribbon Skirt Day has received Royal Assent and is now an act of parliament. McCallum was inspired to create the bill after a young Saskatchewan girl named Isabella Kulak was shamed for wearing a ribbon skirt during a formal school event” (Francis, 2022).

Bill S-219 was passed to create awareness and provide an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about the importance of Ribbon Skirts to many Indigenous cultures and heritage. “National Ribbon Skirt Day will provide an opportunity for everyone in Canada to recognize, learn about, and celebrate the importance of Indigenous traditions and expressions of culture. The Ribbon Skirt is one such tradition” (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, 2022).

In Indigenous communities, “Ribbon skirts are traditionally worn in ceremonies and during special events by First Nations women and represent the person’s identity, unique diversity and strength.  Women, girls and gender diverse people also wear them to express pride and confidence in their Indigenous identity and heritage.” (Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, 2022).

According to the article by CBC News, A young Saskatchewan girl by the name of Isabella Kulak was targeted and shamed at a school function for wearing a ribbon skirt to the school’s formal event.  A teaching assistant told Isabella that her attire did not meet the requirements of ‘formal wear’ and that she should have worn a store-bought (mass-produced brand) to fit with the other students. Unfortunately, in Canada, this oppressive dialogue is not uncommon in the interactions of many racialized and marginalized people groups who choose to honour their culture or religion through their attire. According to Francis, 2022, while speaking at an interview On CBC Radio One, Isabella mentioned that on January 4, she would wear her ribbon skirt. She said, “It makes me really happy because lots of people can now wear their ribbon skirts proudly. I hope they are now proud of who they are” (Francis, 2022). Isabella’s father (Chris) mentioned that “No child should be treated like that regardless of where they come from or who they are” (Francis, 2022).

The passing of this bill is an opportunity for us as educators to gain deeper insight into the importance of traditions and practices in Indigenous culture. It is also a challenge for us to pause and think about what we deem ‘formal’, ‘proper’ or ‘acceptable’ as it has to do with how our students express themselves through their attire or nonconformity to what attires we think they should wear.

Louise Jocko of Birch Island near Manitoulin said, “Each person has their own story behind their skirts. Each person has their own colours that they bring with them when they make the skirt. I think it really does bring about the resiliency, and it shows the strength in our people that we’re reclaiming that culture and identity … wearing these skirts” (Gemmill, 2023).

There is still so much for us to learn, unlearn, and relearn. As we continue to work together to advocate for equitable learning practices and environments for all students, it is imperative that we all understand the importance of Bill S-19 in combating racism, discrimination, and oppression in all spheres, especially as it pertains to raising awareness of and celebrating Indigenous ways of knowing and being.

References

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. (2022, December 21). Bill S-219, an Act respecting a national ribbon skirt day, receives Royal Assent. Canada.ca. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/crown-indigenous-relations-northern-affairs/news/2022/12/bill-s-219-an-act-respecting-a-national-ribbon-skirt-day-receives-royal-assent.html

Francis, J. (2022, December 23). National Ribbon Skirt Day bill passed, to be celebrated on Jan. 4. CBC News. Retrieved January 1, 2023, from https://www-cbc-ca.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.6694428

Gemmill, A. (2023, January 4). Marking 1st-ever National Ribbon Skirts Day in Northern Ontario | CBC News. CBCnews. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/marking-ribbon-skirt-day-sudbury-1.6702580

Lambert, A. (2020, July 1). Crazy Hair Day. Crazy hair day. Retrieved January 4, 2023, from https://heartandart.ca/crazy-hair-day/

The Ten Principles [Anti-Racism Education: Theory & Practice].

An expression used colloquially in the English language says “______ wrote the book on that subject,” can be applied to George Dei’s research on Anti-Racism Education. Though written in 1996, it outlines so many fundamental principles of antiracism education that educators must grapple with in order to do this work well.

Race has been and is being used as an identifier, a marker that sets one apart from another, which is reinforced by the perceived dominant group through deliberate erasure and omission of narratives regarding who occupies particular spaces.  Action-oriented strategies and explicit identification and naming of race and social issues that strike at the heart of the power imbalance and inequities found in our education systems are what Dei explores in this resource, this call-to-action. The ten basic principles of Anti-racism Education are summarized in the chart below. “Anti-racism education may be defined as an action-oriented strategy for instructional, systemic change to address racism and the interlocking systems of social oppression… Anti-racism education seeks to build what has been termed “communities of differences.” This task can only be undertaken successfully if educators first learn how to deal with difference and the inherent conflictual interests and power imbalances in our societies.” (Dei, 1996).

As educators committed to teaching and learning centered on anti-racism and anti-oppression, it is pertinent to examine and reflect on these basic principles.

Ask yourself:

  • What areas in my teaching & learning styles foster anti-racist teaching?
  • What areas in my teaching & learning styles require change?
  • How can I integrate these ten principles in my learning environment (classroom) to foster equitable learning?

Taking the time to intentionally examine ourselves as educators, to think about our styles and reflect on our practice is essential to consistently cultivating meaningful learning for our students, particularly racialized students who are often not reflected at the forefront.

Examine, Reflect, Refine. This is one of the ways we continue to work towards ‘Building Better Schools.’

References:
Dei. G. J. S. (1996). Anti-racism education: Theory and practice. Basic Principles of Anti-Racism Education. Fernwood Publishing. Halifax & Winnipeg, Canada.

kids these days – student version

What is the first song that comes to mind when you think of your students?

Is it Them Kids by Sam Roberts Band or Kids by MGMT? Solid tracks if so. However, after nearly three months in this grade six homeroom, the song that keeps playing the loudest in my head is The Kids are Alright by the Who. To be more precise, one line from the song’s chorus. La phrase juste.

“The kids are alright.” – gush warning pending in proceeding paragraphs

I am not going to dwell on the inner workings of the melody, harmony, and verses of this classic rock masterpiece, except to say that the Who provide a superbly sonic conduit to get me to the one line in the chorus that is the soundtrack to this year so far. I can’t explain it either, but I know that teachers young and old of my generation can join together in harmony knowing that the kids are alright and won’t get fooled again. Amen.

After 5 incredibly educational years as a SERT, Transitions, and FI Lang/Math teacher the return to a homeroom classroom has brought with it a breath of fresh air that I was not able to have while my role was trifurcated. I feel a bit selfish being able to teach in my own classroom all day long. It feels good to linger a little longer in a subject area when the magic is happening, safe in the knowledge that causing any changes to the daily schedule are not going to affect my colleagues.

I think that the universe agreed that the past 3 years of online, in person, and hy&r!d instruction helped me build up enough karma points this year? I would have also been good with unadulterated good fortune as an explanation, but I think there is more to it than that. I believe that it has to do with the kids these days who are walking through the door each day.

Bringers of joy

I am happy, inspired, and excited for what is going to happen each day. Sometimes it is the little things like the way they are suddenly able to pause for a moment of redirection without making it a big deal. Maybe it is when they all want to volunteer to do something and even when some don’t, they still accept their fair share of a task. Perhaps it is their willingness to share their thoughts

We have created ideal communities, solved school and global problems using design thinking models, done research/designed devices to support bees as a keystone species in great danger, discussed, read, and written about racism (anti-Black, AAPI, and anti-Indigenous) and identity, we have reviewed a lot of Math and have taken some extremely large bites out of fixed mindsets that were taking over Math learning, these growth mindset habits are happening in French class too.

Add in a lot of personal reading, writing, and constant creative opportunity time, the days are speeding by faster than I care to reckon. Each time I think I am raising the bar, my students are already figuring out how to launch themselves over and above it. It’s not perfect, but I think that’s what makes this year special. This class possesses something I haven’t seen in a while, a spirit of otherliness and collaboration that has allowed for some very positive partnerships leading to meaningful outcomes. It is their collective willingness to give their best, try out new approaches, and learn to see things through the eyes of others that makes me sing that chorus.

Do you know what makes me happiest about all of this? 

I get to do work with them tomorrow and the days after that all the way through June because the kids these days are alright.

Beyond One Day – Truth & Reconciliation through curriculum planning.

Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day Bead Work

September 30 has been earmarked as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Before this, most educators knew this day as Orange Shirt Day, which stemmed from the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc author from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who shares the story of her experiences in a residential school. The significance of September 30 is profound as it calls for us all as a nation, particularly as educators, to pause and reflect on the effects and impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples (children and adults) to this day. It is estimated that over 150000 Indigenous children attended residential schools in Ontario alone over the span of 100+ years (Restoule, 2013). We know that many of these children did not make it home, while many others still live with the trauma they faced within these schooling systems. 

Orange Shirt Day, now known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is but a starting point for us as educators. How can we collectively move beyond one day to infuse learning about Indigenous histories and present Indigenous impacts into our overall planning across different subject areas? In the ‘Calls to Action’ reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), sections 62 and 63 emphasizes the need for an educational approach that centers Indigenous histories, accounts, and perspectives in the curriculum, not as a one-off event or as an interruption to learning, but instead as an integral part of developing understanding within Canadian education. 

Simply put, Indigenous history is Canadian History. Indigenous peoples continue to shape and influence Canadian society in meaningful ways. 

“In 2015, ETFO endorsed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. ETFO understands that it is integral for educators to move forward into reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of Canada” (ETFO, 2022). Challenge yourself to learn more using the curated information provided by ETFO, and be intentional about infusing Indigenous representation in the various subject areas you may teach. Resources can be found and explored at etfofnmi.ca

Fostering further development and understanding (both in learning and teaching practices) of Indigenous accounts and narratives in K-12 learning communities not as an alternate focus or ‘alternative learning’, but as a central tenet of Canadian education is critical to moving towards reconciliation as we learn and teach about Indigenous peoples of Canada.

For more exploration and information, visit https://etfofnmi.ca/.

References:

Restoule, K. (2013). An Overview of the Indian Residential School System.’ Anishinabek.ca. Retrieved from https://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS -System-Booklet.pdf.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Reports – NCTR. NCTR – National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Retrieved from https://nctr.ca/records/reports/#trc-reports.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. (2015). First Nation, Métis and Inuit (FNMI). Etfo.ca. Retrieved from https://www.etfo.ca/socialjusticeunion/first-nation,-metis-and-inuit-(fnmi).

Schooling or Learning?

For many, when presented with both, schooling is the same as learning, and learning seems to be something that only occurs in schools. Is this the case, however?

At ETFO’s Public Symposium titled ‘Generation Black: You’re Next!’,  Dr. Carl James highlighted why educators must pause and reflect on the similarities and differences between these two concepts. 

What is schooling? According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary (2022), schooling is defined as “the education you receive at school”. When cross-referenced with various dictionaries (Marriam-Webster, Collins, and Cambridge dictionaries), they all provide the same definition – education received at an institution, whether at a primary, secondary, or tertiary level. 

Learning, however, is not as straightforward in its definition. Going back to Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, learning is given different definitions within various contexts. According to all the dictionaries mentioned above, learning is a process that occurs in multi-settings in multiple ways, beginning when an individual is born. 

“For educators, the ability to teach is a privilege, but in a broader sense, it is a privilege that runs parallel to the responsibility of teaching relative to the complete history of ideas and events that have shaped and continue to shape human growth and development” (Dei, Karumanchery, & Karumanchery-Luikb, 2004). 

Since learning is a continuous process, and schooling is one of the environments in which learning occurs, how can we, as educators, ensure that learning is facilitated meaningfully within the school environment?

Planning Matters:

In 2020, the Ontario Black History Society examined a Grade 8 history textbook and ‘blacked out‘ any information that did not mention or acknowledge Black people in Canada. Of the 255 pages of information, only 13 pages remained. Indigenous sovereignty, economics, and culture are rarely explored in the K-12 curriculum. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society. The impact and contributions of people within the 2SLGBTQ+ community and other cultural communities are erased from ‘settler’ rhetoric and in curriculum/resources used to direct learning. Thus, students absorb this information, effectively being erased within their learning, and are expected to repeat this narrative in everyday Canadian contexts as acceptable discourse within society.

Breaking the cycle of erasure and omission within the classroom is linked to the planning stage. Before planning, take the time to know your learners. Become familiar with the communities in which they live. Foster a classroom environment wherein their experiences inside and outside of the classroom are valued and can be welcomed in their learning space. Cultivate incorporating student input, perspectives, ideas, and resources into Unit and Lesson planning. Develop connections with community members and partners inside and outside the school that can broaden your familiarity with resources that reflect the society in which we live. Approach your planning intentionally, using an anti-racist, anti-oppressive lens, which creates a window for your students to engage with often omitted members of their society and a mirror whereby they see themselves reflected in their learning.

Representation Matters:

“Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence, dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming—between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. Those who have been denied their primordial right to speak their word must first reclaim this right and prevent the continuation of this dehumanizing aggression” (Friere, 2005. p. 88).

In short, representation matters. Recentering multi-representation in learning is one of the vehicles for transformative change that can begin to shine a light on learning our whole in constructive ways.

  • Think about the resources you use and share with your class. Who is reflected? Who is erased? Who is tokenized? Who is omitted?
  • Reflect on your interactions with parents, guardians and members of your school community? Who is made to feel welcome? Who is kept at arm’s length? Whose experiences are valued? Whose experiences are often invalidated?
  • Conduct an inventory of your learning and resource plans. Are you ensuring that your plans reflect the learners in your classroom? How have you challenged yourself to plan and facilitate learning from a social justice, equity, and inclusive lens? Have you included your learners’ interests, backgrounds, and experiences as integral to planning and lesson facilitation?

Assessment Matters:

As stated in the Growing Success policy document put forth by the Ontario Ministry of Education regarding authentic assessment, “Our challenge is that every student is unique, and each must have opportunities to achieve success according to his or her own interests, abilities, and goals” (Ontario Ministry of Education Growing Success, 2010).

Assessment and Evaluation practices in Growing Success (2010) state that “the seven fundamental principles lay the foundation for rich and challenging practice. When these principles are accepted, implemented, utilized, and observed by all teachers, assessment becomes a tool for collecting meaningful information that will help inform instructional decisions, promote student engagement, foster meaningful demonstration of student understanding, and improve student learning overall.

 

References:

Dei, G. J. S., Karumanchery, L. L., & Karumanchery-Luikb, N. (2004). Chapter Seven: Weaving the Tapestry: Anti-Racism Theory and Practice. Counterpoints,244, 147–164. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42979563

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Edition (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. (Original work published 1921).

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Retrieved from https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Learning. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Schooling. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/.

read a little bell before the bell

I love to read. It wasn’t always like that though. After taking a literature heavy course load through high school and university, I swore off the printed word for a spell.

It wasn’t absolute avoidance or aversion. I did read the paper from time to time, although selectively. When I took a job in broadcasting during the early 90s, my self imposed reading embargo was over as a boatload of reading came with my job as newsreader, DJ, and local reporter. Even though reading was a key part of those workdays, there was not much desire to do so outside of work.

Fast forward to 2007. 

I’m back in university trying to finish a degree that started in 1984. The interweb had become the main source for reams of digital texts and other content from online libraries and newly prescribed course materials. Once again reading became more like work rather than a daily getaway and reward. I struggled to read anything more than what was required. 

As such, it took some time to find a genuine motivation. About 2 months in, it began to change when by some bit of fortune, the text(s) started became so much more relevant to my life as a 40 something adult. I’d like to call this my mid-life renaissance, but fear it maybe considered a bit to melodramatic. Whether it was a personal essayist, scientist, or philosopher it was as if reading no longer felt like assigned work, but rather as tools  intended to strengthen my heart and mind as an educator. It’s 2022 and my reading game is still going strong. 

Teaching Community by bell hooksThis leads me to my most recent read Teaching CommunityA Pedagogy of Hope by iconic educator bell hooks.  Although it took me a bit of penny pinching to add to my collection, it is worth every dollar. I can’t wait to share this text with others who, like me, are on a journey to create inclusive communities in their classrooms.

Please note: I am not naive enough to think that one book could be the lever that moves all barriers and mountains, but I truly believe that the ideas in this text can be leveraged to make a difference when and where they are applied in our classrooms. Be advised that this book contains much “thought fuel” and plenty of feelings too. 

The greatest feelings I had throughout reading this text were this strange sense of acknowledgement and validation. I may have thought and felt many of the ideas shared, but hooks has organized and articulated them so perfectly and has gifted us with an opportunity to reflect, respond, and put community into action. 

I guess what spoke the loudest across the chapters was an emphasis on disrupting the status quo through compassion and community in education. Reading Teaching Community encapsulated my goals as an educator in a personal and professional manner. I love how hooks puts it,
“…the most powerful learning experience we can offer students…is the opportunity to be fully and compassionately engaged with learning.” Creating this space requires 3 things; commitment, courage, and compassion. None will work unless combined with the others. Notice how curriculum wasn’t mentioned? As @callmemrmorris often reminds us via Twitter. “We teach students not curriculum.”

hooks continues, “Refusing to make a place for emotional feelings in the classroom does not change the reality that their presence overdetermines the conditions where learning can occur.” We have to see our students where they are and not in the spaces we want them to fit within. We have to acknowledge that everyday comes with a raft of emotions that rise and fall. Teachers need to be prepared to accept the highs and lows that happen at the speed of learning. Whether a student is sad, anxious, joyful, angry or a combination they are showing us that they do not feel emotionally safe in that moment and will struggle to be truly present as a result. How we choose to respond to them in those moments will determine whether they feel seen and a part of the community or like an outsider looking in. 

hooks also shares, “To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.” This is probably the hardest space to occupy as educators. We were conditioned through past experiences and pedagogy to be the centre of our classrooms in the past. However, what was thought to have worked back in the day, was really only a means of perpetuating dominant culture in order to maintain power over students rather than respecting and sharing power with them and empowering them as learners. 

Can you tell that I love this book? hooks also discusses the intersectionality of identity and identity in academia. She writes with clarity and candour that challenged my perspectives while affirming them at the same time. This is why I share that everyone should read a little bell before the bell and I know this will be one of those texts to read over and over as my career continues. 

Happy page turning.

it can wait

Welcome back. 

I’d like to start this year of posts off with a few doses of gratitude. 

Thank you for not rushing towards that photocopier.
Thank you for resisting those urges to cover desks with papers.
It can wait.

Thank you for not going willingly towards that textbook.
Thank you for resisting those urges to get down to business so quickly.
It can wait.

Thank you for not going quickly towards those tests for, as, and of learning. 
Thank you for resisting those urges to assess from the start.
It can wait.

Thank you for not going gently towards getting back to “normal”.
because whatever” normal” was, is no more. 
“Normal has left the building.” 

I share these moments of thankfulness with you as acknowledgement of the incredible work happening throughout elementary schools in Ontario. I see how you are prioritizing students above all else this month by establishing community first. It was clear from day 1 walking around my new school, from check-ins with caring and committed like-minded educators around the province, and via social media that this is exactly what is happening. I am hearing stories of caring climates coming to life where students are feeling included, welcome and connected first in classrooms everywhere. 

Thank you for choosing to establish safe, inclusive, and caring community as that crucial first cornerstone to hold up their classrooms regardless of minstry blustering and ad content. In the past, this was not the priority when law and order, worksheets, and “what did you do over the summer?” tasks were the focus during those first weeks back. Students can tell when it’s authentic, relevant, and when they feel welcome/seen. 

Thank you for thinking of these first few weeks, not as a the chance to make up for some perceived lost time, but rather as an investment in the next 40+ to follow. By taking the time to establish genuine channels of connection before all else, students are going to feel and trust that they are the ones you are teaching and not the curriculum which, by the way, will wait. 

And while I’m at it, thank you for taking the time to read this too. 
Cheers to another great year ahead at the speed and joy of learning. 
W!ll

 

Amazing Race to the End of the Year

This year, I am so excited to bring back a game I played with my French students years ago: The Amazing Race.  If you are looking for a fun activity to consolidate student learning, this is a great way to motivate your pupils in the last few days, easily adaptable to any subject or unit.

The challenge that I had the first year I tried it was determining how to make equitable ‘teams.’ I was concerned that by letting students choose a partner, the group project mentality of “don’t pick _____ so we aren’t last” would come out and two top students would dominate the standings each day. Sometimes putting kids into pairs based on “close or similar” levels can work (e.g., and A and B student, a B and C student) and eliminate the compulsion for extroverted students to dominate an activity or the frustration or a student with differential learning needs who can’t keep up with the partner. In the actual Amazing race seasons, there are tasks with various skills needed so the idea is for students to see that everyone has a strength that can be used at some point in the ‘competition.’

I also try to put in some elements of the show that give the students a chance to show good sportsmanship. One year, a particularly strong team finished in a round with an “express pass” that could be given to another team to get a head start the next day. Instead of choosing another friend pair, these students graciously gave the pass to a classmate that had found the last round challenging because “we know that he tried really hard.” I like to think that this small act of kindness showed him that like in the Olympics, there are moments for competitors to demonstrate that winning with the right attitude can be just as important.

Every year when there are Field Day or other end of the year events, I try to encourage students based on a story I heard a father tell at the memorial service for my friend, who passed away while we were still in high school. The father told a heartwarming anecdote of how his daughter, who had petit mal epilepsy, chose to compete in a foot race and came last due to a lack of physical coordination. Watching tearfully as the medals were handed out, one of the coaches took her aside and explained that instead of coming last, she had really come seventh: because there were many other students who had chosen not to participate. Whatever the reason for sitting out the race, even if they were ahead of her with physical skills, she had demonstrated that by showing up she was willing to do her best for herself intrinsically. Years later, this is the attitude I try to instill in students: if you just show up, sometimes that can be enough to prove that no matter what day you are having, you have done your best.  And yes, this is naturally something I think about in my teaching philosophy as well.

 

E is for Equity (part 2)

I am back again for part 2.

I hope you enjoyed (or planned to enjoy) some of the books from part 1 of E is for Equity.

After reading And Tango Makes Three (by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) to my Kindergarten class very recently, I need everyone to stop what they’re doing and read about the immediate reactions my young learners had to the story.

The story is about 2 penguins in the Central Park Zoo that fall in love and hatch an egg together. This story is so fun and exciting for the listeners as they watch Silo and Roy become the proud penguin parents that they always wanted to be. The penguins Silo and Roy are both boy penguins.

My students burning questions at the end of the story:

  • “What do penguins eat?”
  • “Do penguins eat polar bears?”
  • “I went to the zoo once!”
  • “Can I go to the bathroom?”

N – The Name Jar 

Written & Illustrated by: Yangsook Choi

O – One Love

Adapted by: Cedella Marley

Illustrated by: Brantley Newton

P – The Proudest Blue 

Written by: Ibtihaj Muhammad, &S.K. Ali

Illustrated by: Hatem Aly

Q – Lubaya’s Quiet Roar

Written by: Marilyn Nelson

Paintings by: Philemona Williamson

R – R.J Palacio (Author & Illustrator)

We’re all Wonders

S – Sulwe

Written by: Lupita Nyong’o 

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison 

T – And Tango Makes Three

Written by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 

Illustrated by: Henry Cole

U – Under My Hijab 

Written by: Hena Khan

Illustrated by: Aaliya Jaleel

V – Susan Verde (Author)

I am Human

Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds

W – When We are Kind

Written by: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Nicole Neidhardt

X – Except When They Don’t

Written by: Laura Gehl

Illustrated by: Joshua Heinsz

Y – Be You!

Written & Illustrated by: Peter H Reynolds 

Z – Zahra’s Blessing: A Ramadan Story

Written by: Shirin Shamsi

Illustrated by: Manal Mirza