The Fall Months

The fall reminds us all of many things. The beauty of nature as leaves change from greens and browns to vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges. The wonder of the fall seasons that we get to partake in every year. The dominance of ‘Pumpkin Spice Lattes’ and all things pumpkin to consume. The excitement of new school sessions that are marked by the “ber” months. The fall months (September to November/December) bring richness, newness, and a sense of adventure. However, for some, there is a ‘sadness’ that fall brings with it.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) affects 35 percent of Canadians. “Another 10 to 15 percent have a mild form of seasonal depression, while about two to five percent of Canadians will have a severe, clinical form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It often starts with fatigue, then symptoms of sadness, lethargy, apathy and depression, said Dr. Robert Levitan, the head of depression research at CAMH” (Kwong, 2015).

The Canadian Psychological Association references “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or Depression with Seasonal Pattern, as a condition that comes and goes based on seasonal changes, appearing in the fall and going away in the spring/summer. If you have SAD, you may find yourself feeling many symptoms of depression, especially irritability, and you may be more sensitive in interpersonal relationships. People often report unusually low energy levels, causing them to feel tired, heavy, or lethargic” (Canadian Psychological Association, 2020).

This disorder may often be regarded as the ‘winter blues’ which can affect many educators who are juggling back-to-school, new schedules, classes, and sometimes responsibilities with little or limited energy to do so (let’s not yet add any home or community responsibilities teachers may have as well). How can one cope when everything just seems so S.A.D? First, it is important to note that you are not alone.

Mental health & wellness resources such as those found on the Ontario Teacher’s Federation website (titled ‘Useful Links for Wellbeing’), as well as resources and services offered by your board are ways in which educators can combat S.A.D. Some boards offer counselling, mental health professional, and community services at low or no cost to educators. These services enable educators to work with a mental health professional to develop strategies, tools, and/or action plans to mitigate/navigate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Similarly, there may be options to connect with paramedical professionals.

Part of the Building Better Schools Plan by ETFO Provincial recognizes that “As the heartbeat of public education, teachers and other education professionals play a critical role in helping to shape the system and develop our students to be the very best they can be. Ontario’s future depends on all of us to protect and build better schools” (ETFO, 2022). There is a richness, a newness, and a sense of adventure that the fall months bring. Part of ensuring Ontario’s future is using available resources and services to protect and capacitate educators’ mental well-being.

Resources to consider

 

References:
Canadian Psychological Association. (2020). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Seasonal Affective Disorder (Depression with Seasonal Pattern). Canadian Psychological Association. Available at https://cpa.ca/psychology-works-fact-sheet-seasonal-affective-disorder-depression-with-seasonal-pattern/
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2022). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Mental Illness & Addiction Index. Available at: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder
ETFO. (2022). Building Better Schools: A plan for improving elementary education. Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Available at: https://www.buildingbetterschools.ca/the_plan
Kwong, M. (2015). Sad Science: Why winter brings us down, but won’t for long. CBC News. CBC/Radio Canada. Available at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/sad-science-why-winter-brings-us-down-but-won-t-for-long-1.2981920#:~:text=About%20two%20to%20five%20per,effects%20of%20our%20chilly%20moods%3F

Photo by: Iyanuoluwa Akinrinola

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/.

Pandemic Stories in Children’s Literature

I’ve been reading books that seem to have a theme centred around the impacts of the pandemic. Children’s books and YA novels are often some of my favourite reads, whether or not I take them back to the classroom to read or study with students. In this post, I’ll share 2 books that I have recently read.

New From Here – Kelly Yang

If you have read any of my previous posts or follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a Kelly Yang fan, through and through. Her writing is real and vulnerable and I strongly believe that it’s because she writes from her own lived experiences. While I knew that I was in for a treat with New From Here, I didn’t think that I would find myself as emotional as I was while reading through the pages. 

Written from the perspective of ten-year-old Knox Wei-Evans, New From Here shares the impact of the pandemic in a real and vivid way. While not only trying to stay safe from the threat of Covid-19, we also get a real look at the anti-Asian hate experienced, not only by adults but young children. Although my heart ached for the characters in the book, seeing the bravery and advocacy of Knox, not only for himself and his family but also for his classmate, made me hopeful. I journeyed into this profession because I strongly believe that children are the very best humans on the planet. This book was a great reminder of just how great they really are. 

I’ve used other Kelly Yang books in my classroom to talk about themes of stereotypes and racism and would use this book in a similar way. Depending on the relationships we have built, it might also serve as an opportunity for students to share their experiences during the pandemic. Hate and discrimination in a variety of forms have been experienced by many people during this pandemic. Sharing and hearing each others’ stories is essential in learning just how deep the impact of this has been. From this learning, we have an opportunity for change, if as a collective, we choose. While there are many who seem eager to shed their masks and “return to normal”, for many, this isn’t a possibility nor a desire because the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t over and the pandemic of race, rages on.

Ain’t Burned All the Bright – Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

This book came as a recommendation from a colleague – Casey MacDonald – and I’m so grateful! I listed both the name of the author and illustrator because this mixed-media work of art is just that, a work of art. 

Grounded in 2020, and beginning with the pandemic of race, Breath One reminds us of the protests that were happening in many parts of the world after the murder of George Floyd. While we saw black squares and written statements, this is a pandemic that has continued to rage on. While many were panic-stricken with the thought of something new potentially causing harm, long-term injury or death, this was an added layer to merely trying to exist for many communities. 

Breath Two delves more into the isolation of lockdown and the experience of relying on one another, within a family, to make it through. I know that during the lockdown it was challenging to compete for space to teach while others are working and still others, learning. The challenge was real and I wonder the impact this may have as we reflect back in a few years. 

Breath Three is a somewhat optimistic look at what is most important when it comes to breathing through both pandemics – Covid-19 & race. Although this text is grounded in 2020, it’s important to note that for many, not much has changed. We’ve moved on from performative statements and symbols and we’ve “opened up” and yet Black deaths are still captured on video and many still remain isolated at home because of the very real threat of Covid-19 to their lives. It’s interesting to sometimes sit and note for whom a “return to normal” is acceptable or wanted.

The imagery in this book is incredible. While the words are powerful, the combination of the two is what really makes this book a work of art. In a number of instances, I had to go back and it was as though I saw more with a second take. This might be a powerful book to support the teaching symbolism with secondary students for Visual Arts. I do love the explanation at the end of the collaboration and wonder if a similar project, perhaps about this subject or another might be an opportunity for cross-curricular learning. 

Two books, very different in style, and specific experiences of the characters and yet the themes of Covid and racism are seen throughout. As the world looks toward “reopening” what will change? What will remain the same? How might these stories help support us in searching for and creating better for and with those most marginalized? I so love how Children’s books and YA Novels can prompt us to consider how we might do better as a society.

Graduation – Perhaps Something New?

Graduation time is fast approaching! I know that it’s still early, but I’m certain that conversations are happening in schools and communities. Within the blink of an eye, we’ll be at the end of June and students will be leaving one school and heading off to new adventures. Let’s face it, the pandemic is still very much a real part of our lives. I fear that in a rush of excitement about “going back to normal”, we will miss an opportunity to do something new. While many will be looking forward to going back to “what we have always done”, I wonder what we have learned about equity of access from the last 2 years and how we might celebrate differently this year.

Equity of Access

Celebrating memorable moments with family and friends is exciting. Over the last 2 years, for many, our celebrations have looked different, whether with our friends or families and/or in school. We’ve learned that in-person celebrations are prohibitive for many, for a variety of reasons. We have made adjustments and have proven that when we consider the needs of the most marginalized, we come up with solutions that are effective for all. For this year’s graduation ceremonies, I hope that we keep this in mind. Whether due to disability or school not being a safe space, we really need to consider how we might make access more equitable. How do we ensure access to graduation celebrations for these students and their families? 

Think Outside the Box

I remember the big push a couple of years ago to “reimagine”. We were reimagining attendance and school entry and recess. All of which were great and timely, and I wonder how many of these practices have now gone to the wayside with the “reopening”? 

On a deeper scale, when it comes to issues impacting those most marginalized, I have yet to tangibly see what this reimagining actually means. Where are those conversations now?  Could we have them about graduation? Here are some questions that I have:

  • Could we start from scratch and design a ceremony that is inclusive to all and reflective of the members of our school communities? 
  • Do we have to have awards? Could they be changed in some way? Could students be involved in the selection of the awards if they must be given? Could students know ahead of time what the awards are all about so that they can have an opportunity to work towards them?
  • Speeches – Who are they for and why do they matter? 

I have to say that not much has changed during the life of my teaching career when it comes to graduations. I’ve been teaching for over a decade. Isn’t it time we think outside the box a little?

Celebration of Students

Graduation should be a time to celebrate students. Sometimes, there are other voices that seem to be louder in stating what the experience of students should be. I wonder if we asked students what they might like, what they would say? How might we gather student voice and have students share their input in a way that allows them to share authentically and freely their thoughts and ideas? We often expect students to disclose without creating the space or environment in order for that to be accomplished, without fear of how others may respond to those thoughts and ideas. How might we really center students and their needs during this year’s celebrations?

In conversations about graduation planning, please remember to include students and their families. They are the best at knowing what they have experienced over the last couple of years and may have key insights into making this celebration of the achievement of students, a success for all. Think outside the box as to what might and can be done. While I’m certain that school boards may share guidelines as to what they expect, there may be opportunities to highlight some specific considerations that should be made for your school community.

Understanding Gender Neutral Pronouns

There is no doubt that I am very passionate about addressing issues related to equity and social justice, especially any work related to anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia. For me to fully understand and advocate for social justice and equity, it is important that I am aware of current challenges, barriers and inclusionary practices. However, I would be the first to admit that my knowledge of gender neutral pronouns requires further learning and understanding to ensure I am respectfully honouring the identities of staff and students (in fact, all people) in my community. So, I did some research for my own professional growth and I found out some interesting facts that I would like to share with you. 

It is understood that people who identify outside of a gender binary most often use nonbinary pronouns that are not gender specific. These include: they/them/their use in the singular form. However, I learned that there are other pronouns that are used, such as: ze (pronounced “zee”) in place of she/he and hir (pronounced “here”) in place of his/him/her. This was new learning for me that opened my eyes to the ways in which I address individuals and the assumptions I often make about their identities.

Assuming one’s identity and choice of pronouns based on how they look and/or how they dress can be false and disrespectful to one’s gender identity and gender expression. I learned that pronouns may or may not match one’s gender expression, such as how the person dresses, looks, behaves or what their name is.

In recognition and commitment to equity and inclusionary practices, as well as the Human Rights policies in Canada, it is encouraging to see more people, including workplaces and organizations, supporting individual’s use of self-identified pronouns, in place of assumed pronouns based one’s sex assigned at birth or other’s perceptions of physical appearance. It might seem a simple gesture to some, but it’s an important recognition for others. It’s about letting someone know that you accept their identity as they are. 

The response to the following questions might help you better understand gender pronouns and how you can affirm someone’s gender identity:

What’s the right way to find out a person’s pronouns?

If I was introducing myself to someone new, I would say, “Hi. My name is Gary. I use he/him pronouns. What about you?” However, do keep in mind that for many people who don’t identify as cisgender, it could be more difficult for them to share their pronouns, especially in spaces where they don’t know people and/or they don’t feel comfortable or accepted.

How is “they/them” used as a singular pronoun?

“They” is already commonly used as a singular pronoun when you are talking about someone and you don’t know who they are. Using they/them pronouns for someone you do know simply represents a slightly different way of thinking. In this case, you’re asking someone to not act as if they don’t know you, but to use non-binary vocabulary when they’re communicating with/about you.

What if I make a mistake and ‘misgender’ someone, or use the wrong words?

I would simply apologize for my error. It’s perfectly natural to not know the right words to use, especially when meeting someone for the first time. Consider addressing groups of people as “everyone”, “colleagues”, “friends”, “class” or “students” instead of “boys and girls.” The important thing is making that non-assuming connection with the person and being open to learning new things and new ways of understanding one’s identity. 

What does it mean if a person uses the pronouns “he/they” or “she/they”?

That means that the person uses both pronouns, and you can alternate between those when referring to them. So, either pronoun would be fine. However, be mindful that some people don’t mind those pronouns being interchanged for them, but for others, they might use one specific pronoun in one context and another set of pronouns in another context/space, dependent on maybe safety or comfortability in the space they occupy. The best approach is to listen to how people refer to themselves.

ETFO has a wealth of resources to support your teaching and learning of gender neutral pronouns. I found their Social Justice website very helpful in my research and understanding of gender neutral pronouns. In fact, ETFO has plenty of ETFO 2SLGBTQ+ Resources for students of all ages.

Why a Black History Month?

I have often wondered why February was chosen to celebrate Black History, so I did some research and found out some interesting facts. 

It so happens that Black History Month evolved from the work of Carter G. Woodson, a Black American historian and scholar in the 1920s. He actually first established Black History Week in the 1920s as a week of celebration to follow the year’s study of Black history. The week he chose contained the birth dates of two significant people to the abolition of slavery in the United States: February 12th for President Abraham Lincoln who brought emancipation into law and February 14th for Frederick Douglas who advocated for the freedom of Black people. Toronto first celebrated Black History in the 1950s when the Canadian Women’s Negro Association brought the celebration to the city. In 1978 the Ontario Black History Society successfully petitioned the City of Toronto to have the now monthly celebration formally recognized. Black History Month is now celebrated across Canada to honour the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities. 

 

But Why a Black History Month?

I think that all Canadians should be made aware of the historical contributions made by Black Canadians. It’s important to understand the social forces which have shaped and influenced the Black community and their identities as a means of feeling connected to the educational experience and their life experience in Canada. Canadian history should include all people’s history, and Black history should be no exception.

As a school community, I look forward to the day when all people are recognized, included and valued for who they are in our education system and in the broader society. Most importantly, I look forward to when everyday is a celebration of all our histories and all our contributions, and the topic of why a Black History Month would no longer be up for debate.

 

Move Away from Enslavement to Empowerment

In talking about and teaching about Black History, I find it more meaningful to focus on empowering students to become agents of change rather than victims of circumstances. One of the activities I have used is an Art/History lesson on understanding the social justice impact of Black Artists on our society. Below is an outline of my lesson that I hope might be of some use to you. The Google Doc was shared with me from another colleague, but I modified parts of it to make it culturally relevant to my school community.

 

Why are we learning about this anyway?

  1. To highlight the successes and accomplishments of Black visual artists
  2. To learn how Black visual artists use their work to address real-life, complex problems relating to anti-oppression, equity and social justice

Task: Using Google Slides – Research, analyse and recreate a piece of art from one of the Black artists discussed in class: Ernie Barnes, Varnette Honeywood, Romare Bearden, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Annie Lee

  • Describe, highlight and and explain the artist’s creative style and abilities
  • Explain how the artist’s work can be seen from an anti-oppressive, equity and social justice lens
  • Recreate the selected piece of art as a platform to represent your own interpretation and understanding of the message the art represents in the original piece

Impact: Students were able to use digital tools to make discoveries through inquiry and research. They were also able to make connections to what they are learning to current issues and their lived experiences.

Black History Artists – Assignment

 

Restorative Circle Activities

Students come to school with many issues on their minds and in their hearts. As educators, we can help them process their thoughts and feelings so they can better handle their situations and be more present in class. Restorative circles are a useful practice to do just that. While frequently used to replace punitive forms of discipline, restorative circles are equally important in proactively building the relationships and skills students need to support one another and collectively address the challenges they face, especially during these unsettling and uncertain times for many of our students. Restorative circles are most effective when they’re an integral part of school culture and are embedded in your daily classroom routines. After all, you can’t “restore” a community that you haven’t built or sustained.

Below are some steps and questions I have researched and used that can support you in initiating a Restorative Circles program in your classroom.

7 STEPS FOR FACILITATING MEANINGFUL CIRCLES

  1. Co-create a safe and supportive space: Circles work best if teachers invest time up front to build relationships, develop skills and design a bank of tools to draw upon throughout the school year.

Early in the process teachers and students together explore values—like empathy, patience, kindness, courage and open-mindedness—that are essential to understand and agree upon when sharing openly and honestly in a circle. These include honoring the talking piece, which goes around the circle as an invitation to share while everyone else listens (participants may pass if they don’t wish to talk). Participants are encouraged to speak and listen from the heart with an equitable and inclusive lens. It is important that educators inform participants at the outset that we are mandated by law to report when a student threatens to harm themselves or others, or when students divulge abuse.

  1. Be prepared: Make sure that you, the facilitator, are well rested, calm and focused.

To hold the circle space effectively, it’s important to be fully present and able to manage other people’s stories and feelings as well as your own. If you’re exploring sensitive issues that may require follow up, consider alerting support staff.

  1. Plan ahead: Decide together on a topic or theme that sustains students’ interest.

Find a relevant activity to open the circle space such as a poem, quote or piece of music. A mindfulness activity can also be used to bring students into the space after a particularly stressful event. Look for information to ground the conversation and develop questions and prompts to invite student perspectives into the circle. Keep in mind that the larger the circle the more time you’ll need for the talking piece to go around. Think about how things might unfold and be ready to adapt and adjust accordingly. Make sure to leave time for a closing activity, giving students a chance to transition into spaces that may be less conducive to being vulnerable. A closing activity can be a commitment to safeguarding the stories shared in a circle or a breathing exercise in which we provide students with prompts and time to put themselves back together again.

  1. Invite student experiences into the space: Encourage students to connect with the circle content by sharing stories from their own lived experiences.

Include storytelling rounds by asking students to talk about “a person in your life who…” or “a time when….” Share authentically with yourself. This gives others permission to do the same. Model good listening skills as the talking piece goes around the circle. Be fully present as others speak. True active listening can create the kind of welcoming space that encourages even the quietest voices to speak.

  1. Acknowledge, paraphrase, summarize and practice empathy: Listen closely to what students share so that you can build on their experiences.

When the talking piece comes back to you, touch on what you felt, noticed or heard. If you sense that there was limited substance in the first round, send the talking piece around a second or third time, asking students for deeper, more meaningful connections, reflections, or additions. If challenging or painful issues come up, model agreed-upon circle practices for students to follow. Listening mindfully and being present with other people’s ordeals and lived experiences can create supportive, healing experiences that strengthen community connections and build empathy. If needed, let students know you’re available to check in with them later in the day or week. You might also have them consider speaking with other supportive adults or students to find solace if they’re in need.

  1. Explore what it means to be an effective ally: Beyond creating a supportive listening environment, ask what else, if anything, students need from you and from each other.

Explore how to be better allies in a circle so that students know they don’t need to face their challenges alone. Invite them to talk about a person in their lives who is a good friend or ally, or a person they’d like to have as a better friend or ally. Discuss the qualities these people have (or lack) and how they make us feel. Invite students to talk about a time they’ve been a good friend or ally themselves, and what gets in the way of being our best with one another.

  1. Zoom out to promote understanding on the systems level: Explore whether there are larger systemic forces that underlie the challenges students have touched on (such as racism, sexism, homophobia or lack of access to resources). 

Introduce information, resources and voices that might shed light on how these systems operate. Look for examples of people who took action to interrupt these and other oppressive systems. Invite students to connect to this information by sharing their thoughts, feelings and related experiences. Studying larger, systemic forces in society can help students better understand their situation and can be a useful starting point for students to become more active themselves. Action and activism can inspire hope, connection and healing.

Video example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjVI-1XDX_Y

Circle time questions – Exemplars

Getting Acquainted

– What is your favourite…?

– If you had $1000 what would you do with it and why?

– How would your friend describe you, or how would you describe yourself to someone new?

– What do you like (or dislike) most about yourself?

 

Values

– Give me an example of when someone has been kind to you in your life (or when you have been kind to someone)? How did that feel?

– What do you want to contribute to the world; How do you want to be remembered?

– Share an example of when you did the right thing when others were doing the wrong thing, or when no one else was watching

 

Story Telling

– A time when you were scared to do something good/important, but you did it anyway

– A time when you laughed a lot

– What (silly/funny/crazy/weird) thing did you used to do when you were little?

 

Achievement

– One thing I couldn’t do a year ago… 

– One of my goals this year is…

– Something I can’t do but want to be able to do by the end of the year is…

 

Behaviour / Conflict

– Share one thing that makes you annoyed.

– Share a time when you were upset but then someone made you feel better.

– How can you show respect to others?

Critical Consciousness Lesson Plan Template

If you are not following her Twitter, you are seriously missing out! The incredible judy mckeown is an Equity Resource teacher in the Peel District School Board and frequently shares her resources online. Earlier this month, she shared her Critical Consciousness Lesson Plan Template and once again, I was reminded why I so appreciate the work that she does. In this post, I’m going to be digging into this resource and reflecting on some of the questions from the template.

I’m certain that we all remember lesson planning at the Faculty of Education. The tedious work of planning out each part of every lesson and the pages upon pages that you were going to share with your Associate Teacher. I know for me, my favourite part was finding my hook or the minds on but was often unsure of where the lesson might go from there. While I had my plan in mind, I found it difficult to include what I might say or specifics on our consolidation of the lesson because you never know how students might engage with the material. I remember one associate teacher who wanted to know my script for each lesson and it terrified me to think about what if I went off-script. Over the years, I changed the way I visualized my lessons and honestly got rid of the lesson plans that were pages long. 

When I saw judy’s Critical Consciousness Lesson Plan Template, I immediately thought of the 3-part lessons we might be familiar with but what blew me away were the questions contained within. In every section, there are deep and meaningful questions that guide you in developing lessons that are truly student-centred.  As if that wasn’t incredible enough, the checklist on the right really prompted me to think about how this lesson relates to social issues potentially affecting students and others in the world around us.  Below I share my thoughts on a question posed in each section.

Learning Goals: How have you involved students in determining these goals?

This question is huge! When I think about learning goals, I think of taking them from the curriculum and turning the words into student-friendly language. Ultimately, it’s me looking at what they “need” to learn; deciding what we’ll be learning at that particular point in time; and posting it for them, in hopes that they understand where they are going. Upon reflection, this in no way involves students in determining these goals. Imagine the difference that could be had if students understood what they “had to learn” from the curriculum and were a part of determining what they felt ready to tackle and how this new learning might connect to recent or past learning. How might this change the learning process for that group of students? How might this also connect to student interest in terms of subject areas?

Materials: What will you need to provide for your students to create the best conditions for learning?

I consider this often when doing Science experiments in order to make sure that I have everything that I need but what about materials or resources needed for other subject areas? We know that resources are often limited in some schools. How might we get creative in using math manipulatives to help students take ideas from concrete to abstract? What are ways in which we can work together to ensure that what is available creates the best conditions for student-centred learning? How do we create environments for students to be able to retrieve materials that are readily available, when they need them, without fear of being looked at as different?

Before: Minds On: Before starting your lesson, what conditions have you created so that students will have the skills needed to engage in the learning in both meaningful and respectful ways?

It can’t just be me, but this question wowed me. I know that many times, I have walked into lessons making assumptions of what students should know without making sure that I have prepared them with what they need in order to succeed in the action portion of the lesson. I’m not saying that we automatically jump into big, brand new learning with expectations, but often there are things that I expect a Grade 5 student to be able to know, without making sure that they do know it, which leads to frustration on their part with learning new material. How different might the experience be if I really sat down and made sure that what I was planning was learning that they were ready to engage in? Might this involve extra time to make sure that there is success in the lesson? Yes and I think it would provide for deeper learning when we get there. 

During: Action: Where will you create intentional pauses for students to think through and absorb their learning?

This is huge! When planning units, I think of intentional opportunities for students to reflect but within each lesson? I can’t say that I do. The goal here isn’t for students to reflect and to show the teacher what they are learning but it’s for them to be able to absorb their own learning. To make sense of it. To process it and understand what it means for them. This might look different for every child. Some may write. Others may draw. Others may enjoy the opportunity to talk things through with peers. How might we slow down and offer more of these opportunities along the learning journey? How might this lead to an overall richer learning experience for our students?

After: Debrief and Consolidation: How can you build in ways for students to direct how the lesson is debriefed?

Another great question that takes me back to the question for the learning goals. I wonder if this is something that we talk about from the beginning? As a facilitator of the learning, I wonder how we can help students to think about different ways of debriefing or consolidating the learning. I know that many are used to gallery walks or whole group discussions, but what if we allowed students to share their ideas on methods that work best for them? Sure, it might not necessarily turn out the way in which we envisioned our lesson plan or what we think students would “get” out of the lesson but I think it could be incredible to authentically see what students have learned and have them share that with peers. 

Extension: Next Steps: How can you also find ways to follow the lead of your students and support them in the action(s) they wish to take?

I’ve always thought that the sweet spot for authentic learning is at the intersection of the curriculum and real-world experiences. When students are able to see the relevance in what is being learned, they are able to determine what, if any, action they may wish to take. This question isn’t about us as teachers thinking about the direction or action we want to take lessons or projects but following our students and supporting them. This also reminds me that I don’t need to be an expert in every issue but learning with and alongside my student is important in the role of supporter. I also love that this is more than just the lesson being over and done with in the classroom but more about thinking of using that learning for personal or social good. 

Critical Consciousness Checklist: Include the material conditions and realities of your students’ lives?

Although all of these questions are essential, this question stood out the most when I think of student-centred lesson planning. I also think that it is imperative for us to be conscious of the ways in which we bring in our bias about the realities of our students’ lives, particularly when they are not our own. So much damage is caused when we think we know something about our students but haven’t taken the time to listen to or understand members of our school community through their own sharing. By bringing the community into the classroom, and being open to learning from students and their families, we stand a better chance of creating spaces that are truly inclusive. When done correctly, I think this moves away from so much of the tokenism we see online to actually creating opportunities for students to show up as their whole selves within learning environments. 

This post is really just the tip of the iceberg of this incredible template. Since reading it, my mind has been going about my own teaching practice. I know that I will be using the questions within to reflect and interrogate why I choose to do what I do within the classroom, in hopes of becoming a better teacher. Thanks for sharing this, judy! 

Interested in finding more of judy’s incredible resources online? Check out her Linktree. I promise you’ll find some incredible resources that will help you reflect on your teaching practice and grow, if applied. 

#16Days

November 25-December 10 is internationally known as the 16 days of activism to stand against and commit to ending gender-based violence. Black women and girls, FNMI women and girls, racialized women and girls, women and girls with disabilities and members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are at high risk of gender-based violence. November 25 is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and December 10 is World Human Rights Day. Let’s amplify the voices of those who are subject to gender-based violence, listen, learn, and demand safety, inclusion and acceptance for all. Let’s begin these conversations in our classrooms. ETFO has provided some ideas here about how to get yourself and your students involved in the #16days of activism. 

The significance of the activism this year is greater than ever before due to the increasing amount of gender-based violence reported over the course of the pandemic. 

Gender-based violence facts 

Gender-based violence both directly and indirectly affects everyone. Victims of gender-based violence experience trauma that can be intergenerational in nature. To eradicate gender-based violence we must acknowledge it exists and victimizes people of all genders, races, abilities, sexualities, ages and classes in all geographic locations. We cannot advocate for feminism without intersectionality. 

What can we do?

  • Educate our students and community about gender-based violence from a trauma informed approach 
  • Educate even our youngest learners about the importance of consent and advocating for their own mental health and well-being
  • Listen and learn from experts, community organizations and survivors
  • Support local and global initiatives that commit to advocating for people of all genders and putting an end to gender based-violence 
  • Use our privilege as educators to advocate for change
  • Continue to model acceptance, inclusion and teach using an anti-oppressive framework

Not the Same Christmas

As November comes to an end and we begin to approach the holiday season, excitement fills the air. Students are excited to share their plans for the winter break, talk about the gifts they hope to receive, the people they get to visit and the positive memories of holidays past. Of course, we want to join our students in their excitement. Whether or not we share this holiday with our students, it is great to see such happiness, excitement and smiles. As many students continue to count down the days until the break begins, I reflect upon the different reasons students may not all be experiencing the ‘same Christmas’ or holiday season this year.

Not all students are celebrating Christmas

The Christmas holiday is one that is ‘in your face’ each time you visit a store, watch television or scroll through social media between the months of October and January. We must remain culturally responsive to the diversity in our classrooms, in our community and in our world. Even if each of the students in your classroom celebrate the holiday of Christmas, it is important to make students aware that this is not a holiday celebrated by all. 

Students may be worried about being away from school

Many students (and educators) are excited to have a much deserved two week break from the busy hustle and bustle of school. Many are excited to reconnect with family and friends they haven’t seen in a while as they look forward to the love and happiness that will fill their homes. Conversely, many students may feel worry, anxiety or fear in anticipation of the two weeks away from the teachers and school staff who love them, care for them and make them feel safe. 

Some students will receive gifts – some will not

Be mindful of the conversations that happen surrounding gifts and elaborate holiday feasts. Some students will receive gifts and will be excited to share about their warm family traditions, while other students’ families struggle to put food on the table. As we continue to endure a global pandemic, some families struggle to survive. Many families continue to undergo financial stress, poverty, or have difficulty accessing in demand community resources that have been depleted due to COVID-19. 

Here is how I approach holidays in my classroom:

  1. Classroom materials reflect people of all cultural backgrounds so that students can see themselves reflected in the classroom community.
  2. I offer students opportunities to participate in discussing holidays and celebrations that are special to their family. Families in my class this year were invited to share traditions, stories, songs, dances, etc. via a virtual visit to our classroom.
  3. While inviting students and families to share about their holidays and celebrations – I never put anyone on the spot to share simply because they celebrate a specific holiday.
  4. Holidays are not a theme day. Children don’t learn about a holiday by colouring a picture or completing a word search.
  5. I continue to learn from my students, their families, my colleagues and through my own research about holidays and celebrations, their significance, accompanied traditions and the history behind them. Approaching holidays from a learner lens allows me to ensure I am including quality resources in my classroom and integrating the discussion of holidays into lessons while respecting all cultures and students.