The Importance of Black Student Success in Ontario

Black Student Success programs play a crucial role in Ontario’s education system, providing tailored support to Black students who often face unique challenges. Educators involved with the programs are deeply connected to Black communities and serve as mentors and advocates, offering culturally responsive guidance that is vital for Black students’ academic and personal development.

One key importance of Black Student Success educators is their ability to create a sense of belonging and representation for Black students. In an education system where Black students are underrepresented among educators and administrators, these educators act as role models, demonstrating the possibilities of academic and professional success. This representation is critical for fostering a positive self-identity and encouraging students to aspire toward their goals.

Moreover, these educators offer intensive support that goes beyond academics. They address the holistic needs of Black students, including socio-emotional well-being, cultural affirmation, and resilience building. This comprehensive support system helps students navigate challenges such as microaggressions, racial biases, and other forms of discrimination that can hinder their educational progress.

Black Student Success educators also bridge the gap between schools and Black communities, fostering stronger relationships and better communication. By understanding and incorporating their students’ cultural contexts, these coaches can effectively advocate for necessary resources and support within the school system. This advocacy ensures that Black students receive equitable opportunities to succeed academically.

Black Student Success educators are indispensable in Ontario’s efforts to promote educational equity. Their culturally responsive mentorship and advocacy support individual student success and contribute to a more inclusive and representative education system, benefiting the broader community. This holistic approach ensures that students receive consistent encouragement and resources from all facets of their lives.

Next Steps for Educators to Engage with Students:

Educators should actively collaborate with Black Student Success educators to create inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity and cultural richness. This collaboration involves integrating culturally responsive teaching practices into everyday classroom activities. Educators can start by diversifying their teaching materials to include perspectives and contributions from Black individuals and communities. They should encourage open discussions about race, identity, and social justice, creating safe spaces where students feel valued and understood.

By actively engaging with students, families, and community stakeholders, educators can contribute to building a more equitable and inclusive educational system where every student has the opportunity to thrive.

The program for Black Students is designed to provide intensive, culturally responsive support to Black students with the goal of improving their well-being and achievement. As intermediate students graduate and move to high school, they may be able to work with Black Graduation Coaches who can continue to work with students to demonstrate the possibilities of academic and professional success to promote Black Excellence.

Check out what these school boards are doing to promote Black Excellence:

YRDSB Black Excellence Program

TDSB Black Student Excellence Program

Greater Essex CYF Program

OCDSB Sankofa Centre

PDSB – ‘We Rise Together’



too darn hot

I will never complain about the heat. It is nature’s gift to all of us who have ever shovelled snow, skidded through a stop sign on a snow covered road or slipped on an icy walkway. I have never had to shovel heat nor purchase special footwear to protect my feet from freezing because of it while on duty at school.

I have never booked a tropical getaway to the Arctic Circle nor plan to in order to feel the warmth of our nearest star either. There is nothing like sitting by a pool in the shade on a hot day and reading. And by reading, I mean napping. The heat is what keeps my coffee and lunch at optimal temperatures. It is the gift that can’t stop giving.

If you’ve managed to read this far, you know what is coming next.

The heat is all well and good in its place and proportion, but the structures that we occupy and serve our students are not collectively constructed by any means close to supporting those on the inside. It’s too darn hot. 

Call it what you will; climate crisis, climate change, global warming, astronomical juxtaposition, weather shift (I made that one up). etc, there is a problem with most of the buildings where K to 8 students are being taught. So when temperatures rise to near historical highs for several days in a row, everyone feels the heat. Except for those who have deemed it acceptable that these learning conditions exist. 

I have yet to walk into a secondary school that wasn’t climate controlled. I have yet to walk into a board office that wasn’t climate controlled. I have yet to walk into a government building that wasn’t climate controlled. Why would I, that would make it hard on the students and the workers? Yet, there seems to be countless elementary schools where classroom temperatures are regularly above a reasonable 22 degrees Celsius. 

So why does it seem acceptable to decision makers to maintain such a scorching status quo?
This recent round of heat has once again revealed the resilience of students and educators (including principals) in the face of a system that seems more apathetic than unreliable. Why does it feel that we are being let down here?

Adapting to the situation again

In times like these, we have all needed to adapt our days to the weather: indoor recesses, less vigorous activities, more water breaks, lights off and blinds closed for the appearance of a cooler room, fan(s) whirring not so silently across seated students clambering for a brief breeze. And then there is managing students who have already begun their summer vacation a touch earlier than scheduled. It’s not like we can even go outside for a nature walk when the humidex is 40 degrees C and there are threats of severe pop up thunder/lightning storms.

Unlike the cold, the heat is a disruptor in our spaces. Sure there are inclement winter weather days, yet never a hardship due to heat and humidex day. Even if we could cram entire student populations into the few climate controlled spaces found in elementary school buildings, those spaces would heat up due to the sheer numbers alone and the problem begins all over again. 

If that wasn’t enough

I have found that the attention span of the average learner decreases as the temperatures increase. Lessons have been shortened. In the past week, I have incorporated more engineering and collaborative work as well as a longer, more in-depth art project. We have shared lessons and reflections on Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day. In between more structured lessons, there have been several Genius Hour projects where students are asked to learn about something new and share it. So far we have learned about CPUs, horticulture, glass blowing, hair types, how to fold paper into boxes, and much more. 

We also took time to discuss our growth as a classroom community and what they would like for me to do better for my students next year. Talk about feeling the heat. 

What I came away from this week of elevated temperatures was that there were some struggles happening because of the heat that required more attention. It meant looking after the physical well being of students in order to maintain their mental well being.

And then there is the time when students are not at school. All of this has me thinking that many of our students may not have any respite from the heat once they leave school. How much is that affecting them and their families? This now becomes a broader social issue that goes far beyond the scope of ensuring that students are afforded the climate controlled comfort they need.


seasons May 2024

This May seemed more like dismay, and there is not a thing we can do about it. It’s in the books.

As the sun sets on our 9th month of teaching for this school year, I am finding it hard not to mumble a bit more due to fatigue. It’s not just mumbling either. To be transparent here, I am speaking a bit more slowly, writing a bit more slowly, teaching a bit more slowly, assessing a bit more slowly, and on top of it all, I seem to be walking a bit more slowly too. Now before you dial 911 on my behalf, I am otherwise in passable physical condition. I have cut down on the caffeine, tried to be more active, and have increased my sleep times. Despite that little health flex, everything is just happening a little more slowly. 

My friend commented that I might be suffering from A.G.E.. Bwahahahahaha!

If this was my first year in the classroom, I might have needed to take a day to visit the doctor, but I know that the way I feel as June draws nigh, is largely a function of time; time of year, and time in environment. Definitively and definitely. 

So how could these two factors be the cause of my compounded confusion? It’s simple. So far, there have been 170+/- instructional days to plan, deliver, assess, and repeat subject over subject. Even with a fairly balanced amount of holidays, PA days, breaks, personal illness, family illness, and weekends this work takes its toll on body and mind. These past few weeks have come with a certain heaviness and have me feeling like it is a good time to hibernate rather than frolic in the fields. I find myself really craving quiet solace instead of seasonal solstice. 

Regardless of the current sources of my discombobulation, it seems like I can’t be the only one feeling this right now. Come to think of it, I have been noticing that there is a different set of seasons in this job. Here’s what it feels like as I type this post;

Sept to late October = Spring
late October to March = Winter
March to May = Spring, then Winter again
June = Spring, then Summer

This may not line up meteorologically or anywhere else except in my perception of education, but my physio-emotional barometer has read like this pretty consistently year over year. 

Maybe a better way to make sense of my seasons can come from acknowledging that we all have them and go through them in our own way. Truth be shared, my quasi-psyentific explanation above is quite falsifiable. Could this all be more a function of my current situation with another round of reports due soon? Is the internal weather that I am experiencing only a mental anomaly? Why am I struggling instead of dancing down the hallways with only one month of school left? I think there are three big reasons. 

First, the past 9 months have taken a toll on me mentally and physically. Running teams, mentoring sessions, and clubs in addition to the planning, instruction, and assessment comes with its costs. Time is finite and so are energy levels. The need to fill our tanks is undeniable. I also would not have it any other way. 

Secondly, there is a lot going on in June. Reports, EQAO, room moves for some, grads, school moves for others, and of course an extra demanding challenge of keeping the learning happening as the temperatures continue to rise. I have resorted to a resort styled wardrobe to beat the heat. Classy and cool. 

Thirdly, I am going to miss my students. Like every year, this group has really grown on me and we have come so far together.

As I try to snap myself out of this odd out of season stupor and into true June mode I am going to double up on my down time, continue to teach a little more slowly, linger longer in conversations with my learners, and take a little more time to take each of the coming moments all in knowing that another season is already on its way.

food for, as, and of thought

food for, as, of thought April 2024

Food is something we all have in common. Most of us recharge body and mind 3 times a day plus a few snacks in between. The snack drawer is topped up on the regular behind my desk. I eat. Therefore I am. Apologies to Descartes.

Our relationships to and with food come in many different forms. There are many who follow diets based on religious affiliation, allergies, health issues, or life choices too. In a past post, I shared a personal passion for snack foods, and how it felt like I was eating my feelings at times. For this post, I want to take a different approach by asking you to think about food security and how this is affecting us all at school. 

Let’s start with some observations and info

  1. Not everyone eats breakfast before they come to school. That goes for staff as much as students. One might be a function of time, but it might be a function of funds as well. Nevertheless, kids are coming to school hungry and it is showing in many different ways from lacklustre levels of energy to higher levels of distraction. Our school breakfast program is open twice a week and serves hot nutritious meals for 30 to 50 students before the first bell chimes. At recess everyone has access to fresh fruit or whole grain snacks who may be in need of a boost before lunchtime. 
  2. Not everyone who brings a lunch to school is going to have another meal until the same time tomorrow. At our school there are always extra pizza slices or pasta for students who, known to staff, might be in need when lunch is a little light that day. 
  3. Not everyone has a parent or guardian to prepare a meal for them to start or end the day. We are all aware of the hours families and caregivers must put in at work to be able to afford it all. Sometimes there are reasons when life at home has shifted, and students are left fending a little more often for themselves when that happens. 
  4. There are students in our buildings whose families are relying on food banks to make sure that there is something in the cupboards.

Food is expensive. Healthy foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables in particular, are not always an option as costs increases are continually disproportionate to most incomes. With food bank use steadily rising, access to food is becoming an equity issue as much as access to affordable housing and living wages. Not everyone is managing in this current economy when shelter, food, fuel, and necessities costs are at all time highs.

How does this look in your school? What supports are in place for students who are hungry where you teach? How do we support learners during difficult times? What if every school was able to offer breakfast and lunch programs? 

The times have changed for all of us. Being mindful of this has led me to a deeper understanding of what students and their families are facing now. 

 food = privilege

Based on what some of my students present and past have shared, it seems they spend as much time on activities in the evenings and on weekends as they do at school. What is the right amount of activity for a balanced and enjoyable life? It seems that they spend as much time on activities in the evenings and on weekends than they do at school? 

Since some students are out later in the evenings, they are coming to school tired and hungry because of sleeping in later and being rushed at the begining of each day choosing not to eat or unable to eat.This is especially difficult for students at early start schools. A recent student survey at my school echoed this fact from many students. 

What happens then is that this cycle, on repeat, can take a toll on students very quickly at a time when their physical and cognitive development depends on enough sleep and regular meals. The brain and body need time to consolidate the days events and recover to do it all again the next morning. 

Even with breakfast clubs, snack programs, and my own personal stash of peanut free healthy snacks to share with students; we are not addressing the systemic issues related to hunger in our communities. Kids can’t learn when they are exhausted and or hungry.

It is not a far-fetched notion to equate off the chart home prices in our neighbourhoods with the fact that students are not getting enough to eat. In fact the rise in housing costs, interest rates, and job insecurity have become greater factors in this problem more than ever before.

Recent statistics from the Hunger Report show that food bank usage in Ontario is steadily increasing. The reality is that more students are coming to our schools hungry. I am worried that we are near a tipping point and have yet to realize the social, mental, and physical costs around access to food are having and will have on our students over time. 

An early April 2024 announcement, by the Federal government, to address food security in the classroom has come as a timely support for this crucial health issue. As a result, there is now funding available to provide an additional 400 000 meals per year above and beyond current amounts, but still only scratches the surface of a larger issue. 

At my school, we are holding two, very well attended, breakfast club days each week. We are also managing to provide healthy snack options including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, but the funds for programs like ours are rarely infinite. The additional funds might well serve to expand the duration and number of students served while a more permanent solution can be implemented. 

In a recent response to the Federal government’s commitment to fight hunger in our schools, the Canadian Teachers Federation shared, “We know that the lack of access to food disproportionately impacts children from lower-income families and those from racialized and Indigenous communities.” It is scary to think that access to food could ever be equitable to privilege in this era. Yet, it is now a keystone issue throughout the education system. 

A recent ETFO media release joined in calling on the current provincial government to distribute these crucial funds in support of at risk students. I ask you all to add your voices in support of students and join in the fight against food insecurity in our schools.


lost and found

I am not sure why the title of the thought stream to follow sprung forth to wrap this month, but I will roll with it just to see where it will flow.

We have had one heck of a March at the speed of learning. With 70% of the seeds of this instructional year plan already planted, it looks to be an exciting and busy 3 months of tending, nurturing, and harvesting ahead.

It’s Spring. It’s new years and reflection and remembrance for some. It’s resurrection time and Ramadan for others. It’s also the annual rebirth of nature and reflection that we have all been waiting since the first snows of winter blanketed our outdoor spaces.

lost and found

I have been thinking a lot about what is mine and what is not. I can pinpoint the most recent moment that precipitated the throughline of this piece too.

In our school caretaker’s work room there was a dolly full of about 8 large plastic bags and a number of boxes. Curious, I took a closer look and happened to see that the bags were full of clothes that had accumulated between the Winter to Spring breaks. 8 bags. This got me wondering about a couple of things beyond the obvious: How could a kid lose boots or a winter coat and not know they were missing?

Perhaps I have gotten used to this scene playing out over the past years in schools, and have become comfortable in knowing that the thrift shops in our community always benefit from receiving the goods. Hence why they were on the dolly ready to be delivered. However, a few thoughts still linger.

I started to wonder about how much we have to lose before we realize/recognize/know it’s gone? Is it too late once we do? Have you ever found something that had been lost and forgotten about? This seems to happen each time I organize my materials, especially for science, for a new unit and when I move classrooms/schools.

In those moments I am hit with multiple memories of past lessons and classes. These times have also come with my own version of a Marie Kondo intervention. Was this item useful? Did it bring my students knowledge and understanding? Does it bring me joy when I used it? Will it still be able to serve its purpose going forward?

Many times, the answers have been no, not really, and result in a new home in the recycling bin. This has been hard for me as I have horder tendencies when viewed through the educational lens. I am guilty of keeping things even when they no longer serve or survive their purpose. It has only been recently that I have worked through this challenge.

Happy to say that my own personal dolly loads have decreased as the years go on. To this day, I do not regret recycling or giving away any of my resources although I have retained some digital versions of a few on USB.

So what about losing someone?

Spring is also the time when many educators seek new schools, get surplused, or retire. I know this very well being on my 5th school in 15 years. The necessity/choice to make a move can be exhilarating, nervewracking or both. In each of my cases, it meant losing one community and then finding it again but in a new ecosystem.

Along the way, I have tried to maintain some connection with staff from each place, but it also comes with the need to accept that absence makes you irrelevant when you are not sharing the same spaces. The pandemic really amplified this fact as we used to be able to catch up at PD or larger conferences, but those opportunities/reunions have yet to return. Whenever it does happen though, reminds me of the positive experiences gained from those times together. Despite the distances, some strong friendships have remained regardless of the bricks we work within now. Even though there are few guarantees when making a move, the opportunity for growth will be there for you.

I guess my point here is that it is worth the effort to keep in touch even if it is only once a year. Yes it can be time consuming, but it can also be a breath of fresh air, like Spring, to hear from someone you used to work with when they reach out. I also know that it can be equally joyous not to hear from others. Thankfully that is not the majority of my experience, but I won’t speak for former colleagues.

Sometimes you have to get lost to get found and whether it is in reinventing your classroom approach, moving schools, or seeking out connections with past and present Spring offers us a perfect time to weigh what is important and not so important, what brings us joy and what can be appreciated when looking back.

I wish all of this for you whether you move, move on, or stay put for another year. May yours be the joy that fills those spaces.

on paper

On paper, there are all sorts of things to see.
On paper, the letters are arranged to convey information, strengths, and next steps. 

On paper, there are always messages to read in between the lines. Although unseen, they are still there even when they between the letters on paper. Let’s face it, when it comes to reporting, most readers are not looking for messages or next steps on paper, but rather for some numbers between 80 and 100 or for a couple of individual letters and math operators between A- to A+.

It’s important that things look good. On paper. 

Is something missing?  

We have all seen this in our classrooms whenever assessments are returned. For me, any output that requires evaluation, where a mark gets entered of learning, has already gone through several iterations accompanied by  constructive feedback along the way. Whether this was done in one on one conferences or as a whole class activity, students are receiving several chances along the way to control what is going to go on paper.

After considerable planning, consistently paced instruction, clearly mapped out expectations/learning goals/success criteria, scaffolding, mid-unit course corrections, carefully curated choices to demonstrate understanding, and an easy to follow rubric Carefully outline the expectations, co-construct success criteria, instruct, provide access to resources to revisit, check-in to ensure understanding along the way, provide effective descriptive feedback, extend due dates, and then hope to receive a clear artefact that shows evidence of understanding from learners to assess. 

Cue the rubrics and tests. It’s marking time, or is it?

As I have discovered over these past 14+ years, assessment can be exhausting on occasion. I usually try to do this earlier in the day whenever possible as the caffeine has not reached its half-life in my system. It has also been beneficial to dwell longer in the ‘assessment as learning‘ spaces than those ‘of learning’. This has allowed my students to see overall better results along with a more applicable set of skills to bring forward to other tasks and future grades.

For every educator, regardless of years of experience, assessment as learning, formerly known as, formative assessment needs to be acknowledged and implemented with the greatest frequency in every classroom. I have found it to be the biggest lever in helping learners progress during their time in class. 

It has also allowed me a means to manage my assessment workload more effectively along with helping students develop more positive attitudes towards feedback beyond what is printed on paper. 

Rubrics…meh or more please?

With a class of 25 grade 6 students this year, I have figured out it takes 2.5 hours to read a single journal assignment, 2 hours to grade a reading response or Math check-in, and 2 to 3+ hours for projects. Keep in mind that learning skills are also being factored in daily to provide our students the next steps for their next days. This is largely due to two things: Clearer expectations and a rubric to remind students about what they are working towards. I wasn’t always this efficient. 

When I was a new teacher, assessment took considerably longer. I have also come to my senses and have sought help from some reliable sources such as our ETFO Members Sharing in Assessment portal and by working with my grade team on moderated marking tasks. As a newbie, working alongside a more experienced educator to assess was a very eye opening and important experience. It helped me see how to look at student outputs through the lens of curriculum expectations and success criteria. It is now something I do with each teacher candidate. 

It is here where we can get the information we put on paper right when it comes to assessing students. Knowing how much work goes into it all and in providing the feedback with next steps has me thinking about the most recent batch of report cards.

The buildup and aftermath from Term 1 reports has come and gone, but I am left wondering, again this year, whether if, how, and when what was printed on paper will be used that will be reflected when it happens all over again in June? How can we get our students to see themselves beyond the few letters and math operators, but as works in process and progress? 

I am not sure there is an answer in the current way we do this at a systemic level. Is there a way to lessen the addiction that students develop to marks and leverage that desire into something more edifying to their long term happiness and development of their uniquely gifted abilities even if they are not seen on paper?

is it days or daze?

Somedays come with some daze by their ends.
Not sure why or how life plays or tends.

Rises, falls,    ebbs, flows,     rips and bends,
Atop and under the waves life’s ocean sends.

Somedays are like poetry and others like prose,
When thoughts, words, and actions argue as friends.

Somedays we are run ragged and torn.
Scratched, kicked, tired, and trying to mend.
We wrestle with this calling and ache to transcend…

“How it must be so nice to work with the future.”
“How hard could it be? Just open the text book and read it with them.”
“How come you got bitten? Couldn’t you get out of the way?”
“At least you have your summers off.”
“Teaching is easy. You guys got it so good.”

Somedays flow smoothly even when they seem out of hand.
Somedays descend into chaos even when everything is planned.

Somedays the coffee and tea are all gone before the first class is done.
Somedays you are finishing them cold just to stay awake on the commute home. 

Somedays your lunch is 60 minutes to power up the body and mind dream.
Somedays you choose to dine and dash in 20 making time to meet with your club or team.

Somedays you have to deal with tears, grief, and loss.
Somedays you get to share joy, triumph, and success. 

Somedays you really need shoulders to lean on.
Somedays yours are the ones that are leaned upon. 

Somedays we witness joy in the littlest things.
A step in the right direction that makes our hearts sing.

“Thanks for inspiring and motivating my kid.”
“You made a difference for my child this year.”
“We really appreciate the time you spent supporting…
after school learning programs, teams, extra-curriculars, and arts events.”
“This must have taken up a lot of your time before and after school. Thank you.”

Not sure why or how life plays or tends.
Somedays come with some praise by their ends.

You got this. Keep doing the little things that no one sees that make all the difference in the lives of others. Good job. Thank you.

daring pt 2023

Saying goodbye to another year can stir up a lot of emotions. I found myself reflecting about a farewell post to share with you knowing it will be one more that brings me closer to the end of my time here on this platform.

This in itself is not yet a goodbye, as there are still 6 plus months of writing to come. It is, however, a great chance to look back and look forward from the precipice of one year’s end and towards a new year ahead. Maybe this is a function of age or some other memory related trope, but I will prattle on nevertheless.

As a result of this melancholic thinking I find myself asking, “what did I do in the past year that was daring as an educator, and what will I do in 2024 that will be daring as well”? I guess I need to consider what counts as daring because this can be construed as mere subjectivity if it does not mesh well with the minds of others as it is intended. Dare I go on? 

Daring can conjure up a lot of imaginary thinking from one to the next so before you conflate ‘daring’ with dangerous please read on.

Looking back on 2023

From an outsider’s point of view, 2023 couldn’t have been more normal considering the turmoil of the lockdown, online, and hybrid models we taught through in the years prior. The joy of not having to prepare and deliver lessons for two different grades of in-class and online learners while not having to worry so much about social distancing, masking, or illness was cause for much rejoicing. As 2023 started, it felt like we were really coming out of the pandemic and I was able to really focus on my students. 

This meant taking time to reimagine what learning needed to look like for students who experienced learning in a manner that had never been delivered to them before. Daring to go back to old(er) ways didn’t seem right with my students. They needed something else, and that came in the form of social emotional learning more than academics. 

So 2023 started off with more team oriented and collaborative projects that asked students to recapture their abilities to listen to one another to accomplish a goal with just as much importance as succeeding at learning the curriculum infused within it. My goal was to put the individual learner back into the spaces that were stolen from them by COVID19.

Admittedly, there was a lot of work to do when it came to assessment, but that in itself was also a chance to be a bit daring too. Before you dial 911, please remember that we were all given a new hand of cards to play with during the pandemic. What we knew beforehand was only going to serve as a starting point and not a return destination.

It was, to forgive the pun, like the beginning of new year. It was full of promise and without any mistakes in it. Assessment became a chance to have students see themselves reflected in how they wanted to show their learning. We took time to democratize rubrics and methods to demonstrate understanding. For us that meant fewer pencil and paper tests, more conversations and check-ins, more feedback, and many more chances to revisit learning. Instead of teaching, testing, and moving on we learned, lingered on what needed more time, unlearned, and relearned as often as needed.

Yes, we still managed to get the whole curriculum and it was a government mandated standardized testing year as well. 

I think that 2023 also allowed me to dare a little more boldly into my lessons when it came to social justice focused on BIPOC excellence and culturally responsive and relevant learning opportunities that went beyond the heroes and holidays. Instead of a single day or month, these conversations became part of our class logos, pathos, and ethos. Ultimately, it allowed my students to feel seen, heard, and empowered with greater understanding of one another which also led back to the social learning I set out to teach to start the year. 

Being able to work with my class to start 2023 carried over nicely from January to December even with my new, much quieter, cohort of students and I am seeing the fruits from taking those chances earlier in the year even though the delivery is definitely different for this group, the goal to teach to their social emotional needs first remained. 

On a personal level we sold our house, moved, and continue to unpack. In between all of that were 3 weeks of summer school teaching, and a quick trip to bury an uncle. Life did not skip a beat when it meted out the highs and lows of 2023. For all of them, I am thankful to be working in a wonderfully led and staffed school filled with caring and curious learners each daring to take the steps towards discovering and developing their talents.

My next post will look at how I might be daring in my classroom in 2024. I ask you all to consider that too and share your thoughts in the comments below.

speak up

There are a lot of privileges and responsibilities when it comes to using our voices as educators. The potential to inspire and aspire to greater things or to cause irreparable harm if and when we do should serve as a reminder of how we use our voices and who might be listening.

Sometimes, there is an urgent need to speak out against injustice. Did I type sometimes? I meant all the time when it comes to injustice, and that need to do so seems to be happening a lot more frequently in our ever connected world where it is now possible to know about everything, everywhere, and all at once.

Maybe it is a bi-product of years on the frontline of interactions with learners, family members, and other educators, but teachers possess powerful voices. It is in our nature to ask questions, seek answers, and to reflect/learn/draw from it all. Whether it comes through uniting with others in the fight against racism, apathy, or injustice or in active allyship with once silenced voices historically left out of important conversations there is a need to speak up. 

Some find their voices in virtual spaces via social media posts and reposts? For others, it’s in solidarity through meetings or rallies? Our need to speak up can be triggered through moral dilemmas too. What troubles one soul may not immediately trouble another. When it comes to if, when, where, and why we speak up the results vary. How we speak up has evolved greatly.

As a blogger, I am able to use this space and others to purge my thoughts. Podcasts can also be a strong way to share too and they come with the added layer of hearing the passionate tones of the content creator. Maybe it’s because I am more of a writer now than a broadcaster, but I’m still a fan of the idea and potential of handwritten letters. Letters signify that someone took the time to write, address an envelope, and pay for postage. When written(not typed) they demonstrate a personal touch that is often lacking in an email. Talk about making a commitment to sharing a point of view. There is also an art to it when done correctly, and this is what has captured my thoughts as I plan a mini writing unit. 

 A single letter to an organization is often considered to represent anywhere from 15 to 20 other people who share the same opinion. So, my students and I are about to embark on a letter writing exercise, and I have to admit that this has me thinking of the possibilities and conversations to come. As I shared in an earlier post, my students tend to be a little quieter than most. Despite their introverted leanings, or because of them, they are pretty strong writers. Hence the idea to write letters.

For me, this unit will focus around supporting students and their needs. I want to make sure the voices (theirs) in our classrooms serve as conversational conduits that can lead others to critically examine the world around them in order to gain a deeper understanding of its numerous and nuanced issues. With our letter writing project, I am hoping students will really discover, develop, and use their voices to deliver their ideas through respectful correspondence that asks questions of their own while addressing the actions of those making the decisions right now. 

In advance of all of this, we have been considering the differences between elementary schools and secondary schools. This has ranged from chats about course offerings, extra-curricular opportunities, and facilities. It has also led to the realization that the field is not completely level. Hmm? We have also had discussions around some lighter subjects such as the way no one seems to listen anymore, academic angst, the climate crisis, geo-political strife, and playground life. Regardless of which issue they choose to address, the goal will be to amplify each of the voices in our learning space. 

Another way to look at equipping students to use their voices might also be preparing a way for the future voices of others to be heard and or to carry on once our voices are no longer present. Call it strategic succession planning if you will, but learning to speak up is an important skill to share from one generation to the next regardless of the form it takes.


Holocaust Education Week

In my school, the focus is on small group instruction, specially targeting reading. On a daily basis, I am looking at pulling small groups to focus on a literacy skill. During Holocaust Education Week (November 1-9), I pulled my small groups and we read “My Secret Camera”, an article in the Nelson literacy grade eight text that focuses on making inferences. 

With each small group, students took turns reading the photo essay. I also looked at vocabulary as on each page, students came across words that they were unsure of. So we made sure to define unknown words, especially as for some, this was new learning and a very sensitive topic. Students had some prior knowledge and were able to use that as well as looking at the photos to make inferences. Students were shocked as the photos in this photo essay were quite telling as they painted the picture of the harsh realities during the Holocaust. 

After reading the essay, I gave students a chance to answer orally. We have been doing a lot of written responses and I thought it was a great opportunity (especially seeing as I wanted to be finished with the activity in one class) to answer orally. Students were asked to answer one of the three questions:

  • Do you find it easier to make inferences by viewing the photos or reading the text?
  • How does the author want you to feel after reading this photo essay?
  • What inferences about the Łódź Ghetto can you draw from the photos? 

Students were able to refer to specific parts of the text and certain photos while answering each question. 

I was able to work with each student by the end of the week and felt that everyone learned a lot and were able to give it their all. As many schools have copies of the Nelson Literacy text, I encourage you to have your students read this photo essay as it was a very powerful lesson for my students. 

For more information about Holocaust Education, please visit this ETFO resource page which was featured in our member news on November 8th:

Additional resources can also be found here: Link


Hume, K., & Ledgerwood, B. (2008). My Secret Camera. In Nelson Literacy (pp. 20–23). essay, Nelson Education.