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.

Teaching Social Justice and Equity Through Mathematics

By the time students reach high school, they are already being streamed into different academic levels that often limit their full potentials for growth and development. This streaming pathway closes the door of opportunity for many underserved and racialized students. It is important that educators develop multiple entry points, honour different ways of knowing, and provide numerous opportunities for students to experience success in mathematics.  When mathematics is introduced as a tool for understanding the world, we are helping to liberate the minds of students and championing the educational goal of creating informed citizens who will contribute to, and participate in, an inclusive and democratic society. An inquiry-based approach to mathematics with a focus on teaching for social justice and equity (which values multiple perspectives, the social construction of knowledge, and interconnects student experience with mathematics) can empower students to develop both mathematical and social/political knowledge. 

 

As an intermediate classroom teacher, as well as a special education teacher, I have learned over the years how to embed culturally relevant and responsive equity and social justice issues into my numeracy program as a form of engaging students and empowering them to understand and confront inequities inside and outside of the classroom. This personal philosophy and teaching pedagogy did not happen overnight or within my first five years of teaching. It really required, from me, a personal philosophical understanding and belief in what it means to educate young minds and to effectively prepare them for the realities of life. Over time, through my experience of navigating the educational system for myself and for the students and families I service in my numerous roles, I began to develop an equity lens approach to my teaching practices. As an avid math enthusiast, I took numerous math AQ courses and got my math specialist. These AQ courses were instrumental in my discovery of the connection between numeracy and equity. I began to see beyond the numbers in teaching mathematics to a place where the numbers themselves took on deeper societal meaning in terms of what they represented, who they represented (or did not represent) and the impact of these numbers on various groups of people within our society. I’m telling you, it was a very enlightening experience for me to reach that level of understanding about mathematical justice. If you have never taken a math AQ course, I implore you to consider taking one for your own personal and professional growth and development. 

 

Where do you begin?

Dr. Bev Caswell who works at the University of Toronto, OISE, developed an inquiry-based Math and STEM social justice program for junior and intermediate students. The Robertson Program focuses on creating a space for student voice and authentic learning experiences in the classroom and out in the community. Furthermore, the lessons incorporate 21st century competencies, universal design of learning, differentiated instruction and culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy. They are also connected to the new Ontario math curriculum and have a cross curricular approach that infuses math, STEM, history and relevant global systemic issues. As a central staff, my role is to build teacher capacity in implementing effective teaching practices in the classroom. This program is something that I recommend to teachers as a supplemental resource to their numeracy program. 

Here are some lessons I would like to highlight: 

 

  1. Historical Figures in One Minute – a lesson for students in grades 4 to 7. This lesson makes convincing arguments and informed decisions regarding the data and graphs collected to discuss why some groups appear to be over-represented while others remain severely under-represented.
  2. Water Inquiry – a lesson for students in grades 4 to 8. This inquiry-based, water-focused lesson integrates mathematics, environmental science, geography, Indigenous rights, language arts and social justice issues.
  3. Price Check – a lesson for students in grades 4 to 8. This lesson explores socioeconomic reasons for the price difference in grocery store options in different locations in Canada.
  4. Milk Bag Project – This is a Google Docs presentation of the lesson for grades 4 to 8 students. This lesson focuses on the City of Toronto’s packaging-reduction bylaws passed in 2008. Students complete a collaborative inquiry on how many plastic bags (from a 4-litre milk plastic bag) it would take to make 10 mats (as described in the lesson).

 

So what?

Sometimes it can be scary to try something new or to teach in a way that can perhaps seem foreign and unconventional. However, this is exactly why we need to take a social justice and systemic approach to our teaching practices. A social justice approach to teaching mathematics should include equitable and inclusive teaching practices, high expectations for all students, access to rich, rigorous, and culturally relevant mathematics to promote a positive learning environment. To me, the results are more rewarding than the burden of planning, documenting and evaluating. We should feel honoured to be part of the process in which we are helping to build a better future for all by empowering students to understand how to navigate the world around them and how to confront systemic inequities in all aspects of their life. 

Can the Integration of Students’ Lived Experiences in your Teaching Practices Impact Student Success?

I believe that there is a profound connection between student learning and student lived experiences and the ability of educators to embed who students are with what they are learning. I can vividly recall, as a young learner, the teachers who were most impactful in my learning. They showed genuine care for my well-being and often went above and beyond academic support,  in unconventional ways, to understand my needs, including my personal challenges based on my lived  circumstances, and to support me in all aspects of life. I can  honestly say that the relationships those teachers established with me directly helped to shape me into the person I  am today. Knowing who your students are, their identities, their barriers, their abilities and their lived experiences allow educators to create the conditions for dynamic learning opportunities that are culturally relevant and impactful to student learning.

What do experts say? 

Scholars Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay have spent decades at the forefront of researching Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogies. Their findings have been clear: “integrating a student’s  background knowledge and prior home and community experiences into the curriculum and the teaching and learning experiences that take place in the classroom are paramount to meeting the needs of all  students”.

Furthermore, research shows that learning needs of students from diverse backgrounds are not being met equitably in classrooms across the system. For example, in the current age of destreaming mathematics for grade nine students across the system, it is important that teachers are well versed and equipped with the necessary tools and strategies to support all learners in an academic classroom. When we acknowledge students’ cultural experiences and prior knowledge, we are better positioned to strengthen their ability to see themselves as doers of mathematics, language, science, history, art and so on. They are further empowered to interpret the world around them with a critical social justice lens.  

Activity

The “Where I’m From” poetry activity is a great strategy you can use to have students explore their cultural identities and values, to foster collaboration with their peers, to create a positive classroom environment and to learn about students’ lived experiences. This activity should be culturally relevant to the students in the classroom and  intentionally structured to engage all learners at multiple entry points. This will help to foster a sense of community in the classroom and help the teacher understand who the students are and how to embed their real-time lived experiences into the teaching and learning process.

My 2 Cents

I think teachers should spend the first week or two of each school year engaging students in conversations about their (the students) own identity and lived experiences and the intersectionality of their identity. This would allow students to feel comfortable and confident in sharing who they are, as well as their thoughts and opinions, with others in the classroom. Try to create a brave and nurturing space where students feel comfortable talking about their racial background, their gender identity, and their preferred name. You can use culturally relevant books, videos, posters etc. that can lead to those discussions where students are invited and encouraged to talk about their own racial, gender and cultural  identities. Teachers can then incorporate students’ identities and lived experiences into the instructional planning and teaching program. 

Whether it’s a math activity, collaborative inquiry in history or a STEM project, it is important that teachers provide opportunities for students to reflect on their interests, their passions and how they see themselves within the development of the task. Use culturally relevant and responsive resources that reflect student identities, interests and lived experiences. Providing opportunities for small group discussions and descriptive feedback will help students make meaningful connections to that task and to their real-time lived experiences. Educator’s willingness to share their own identity with students, their own experiences in school as a young learner and  how their experiences inform and influence their decision-making process are effective strategies in building strong relationships with students that engage them in embedding their own lived experiences into their learning. If we truly believe in developing young minds, creating strong leaders and critical thinkers then we must create the space for that to happen within the classroom. When we let go of the notion that we are the holder of knowledge in the classroom, we create opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate leadership, to become critical thinkers and to advocate for justice and social change.

Tone Policing

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more that it has become easier to vilify the messenger and the way in which the message was delivered, rather than to listen to and reflect on the message. While tone policing has been around forever, the experience of having my words discredited because of “how they were delivered” is something that is relatively new for me. Perhaps this is because I have been speaking up more or simply because others are tired of hearing about their discrimination. 

I remember being in a meeting and after having asked a question about an issue of equity, being yelled at by the meeting organizer because that wasn’t the place or the time for that type of question. Believe me, it’s never the time for a Black woman to ask for equality. I remember another person in the meeting coming up to me after to ask me to share my vision with her, so she could go and deliver my vision to the meeting organizer. They mentioned that I seemed angry when asking the question and that I should have been calmer when speaking. This was highly insulting because, at that moment, I realized that it wasn’t really about the message, it was about who delivered the message. My question, no matter how nicely or calmly asked, would not have been well-received because it highlighted a “problem” in the group. The other person saw my question as being valid in the meeting and rather than in that moment speaking up, they chose to capitalize on my “vision” and consider how they might better be able to communicate my simple question. To this day, years later, this question still has not been answered. To my knowledge, no steps have been taken to implement the much-needed action related to my question. The deflection worked. 

This is just one example of the way in which tone policing works to keep the status quo. It happens in many environments and also happens in schools when issues around changes in practice or policy are brought up. Often those choosing to bring up an issue are racialized and/or marginalized, and it is through our lived experiences that we try to shed light on what is problematic. In these moments we are often perceived as angry, enraged, or upset – which we have every right to be – without actually considering that we already know: that being angry, enraged or upset at work is not permissible for us. We school our words and manage our temperament to ensure we are not perceived negatively and still, any challenge to the status quo, can easily give us these labels. The focus shifts to our perceived behaviour rather than the “problem” at hand. 

In a profession that calls itself a practice, shouldn’t there be room to grow? If we are all on a “learning journey”, why are some so offended at the thought of having something to work on? If ever you find yourself getting defensive by the words of a colleague, someone you work with, or a student, might I suggest you try the following? 

Sit With the Discomfort

Take some time to sit with what you are feeling and consider that perhaps what you are feeling in this moment, might just be a fraction of what the other person might be experiencing on a more frequent basis. If ever I have highlighted a racist or discriminatory practice, know that I have probably experienced this practice many times before – both as a child and an educator. Having to experience it again is uncomfortable for me. No longer can I sit through this discomfort nor will I silently allow for students to sit through the discomfort so that others will be comfortable in their “fun”.

Understand that in education, once we become teachers or administrators, the learning doesn’t stop there. There are always new things to learn and ways to reflect on practices that are harmful and exclusionary. The discomfort that you might be feeling can lead to action and change, if you decide to do something about what was discussed. 

Consider the Message

What is it that the other person wants you to hear? Why or how might this information be valid to your practice and/or growth as an educator? What steps do you need to take in order to bring about change? Consider thinking about where you might be able to do your own learning about this issue. Remember, it’s not up to the person who brought the situation to your attention to relive the experience and teach you how to change. Change comes from doing your own work. 

Act

I can’t tell you how many people have said that they are reading and learning, with little or no action. This reminds me of the James Baldwin quote, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” It’s through action that real change occurs. If there’s all this reading and learning, shouldn’t action accompany it? Shouldn’t there be a shift in practice that is evident? It’s through your actions, that racialized and/or marginalized people will know that you have truly heard the conversations we have been trying to have. 

I do want it to be said that I am not condoning disrespectful dialogue. In no way do I believe that people should be disrespectfully spoken to by others. As someone on the receiving end of some pretty disrespectful and harassing comments, I understand this all too well.  Rather, I’m speaking to the intense need that some have to immediately discredit the words of another when they are called on their discriminatory language and/or actions. It’s easy to say that the person didn’t say what they had to say in a manner that was “nice”. For example, I’m really not sure how you tell someone “nicely” that their words or actions were racist or xenophobic. 

Sadly, tone policing is also often the precursor to campaigns of intense gaslighting in order to make the messenger consider the way in which they delivered their message and to detract from much-needed work to improve workplace conditions for all. When a conversation is one that is uncomfortable, please consider the message, rather than focusing on the messenger. Sit with the discomfort. Do your own learning and act. 

Positioning students as co-conspirators (and the fall of WE)

Since I began my teaching career six years ago, my practices of student engagement in activism and advocacy have evolved and shifted based on the community of learners I am working with. At the same time, my attitude towards this work has shifted consistently and drastically. The most notable change? My feelings toward social enterprises whose work in schools may appear charitable, but are steeped in controversy and insincerity.

In my first year of teaching, a student in my Grade Three class gave me a “Rafiki Bracelet” sold to them by the WE Charity. It was later that school year that I was sitting in a school-wide assembly, watching a promotional video for the same organization in which a group of women in Kenya were profiled as they beaded the bracelets themselves. Students were being sold the notion that they themselves would be contributing to the livelihood of these women and their communities by simply purchasing a bracelet. Colleagues and I asked ourselves: Why can’t we see the long-term impacts of these temporary solutions to a deeply systemic problem?

Many who criticize WE’s business model, through which students became a vehicle for sales and profit, point out how students were roped into the fantasy of “saving” impoverished communities with their efforts. What started with a Rafiki bracelet not only became thousands of dollars in spending on WE’s “voluntourism” programs, but also the excitement of post-graduation employment at WE without realizing that the organization overworked and underpaid its employees to a severe extreme.

As educators we can ask why students would have fallen victim to a model like WE’s, but what we should do is critically examine the ways that celebrity, fame, and ego were at the centre of WE’s initiatives, particularly WE Day, in order to convince students to join their cause. WE Day harnessed an unbelievable amount of power in numbers, but it fostered an almost cult-like manipulation and exploitation of our students who would have needed a trusted adult to help them understand more appropriate avenues for activism and advocacy work in school.

It’s been one year since WE announced it would be ceasing its Canadian programs after having been embroiled in scandal. My hope is that we use this turn of events to deepen our consciousness around what it means to be an activist in school and work hard to de-centre the ego from the work our students do to help others. Instead of portraying the student as the saviour, how might we portray the student as a co-conspirator? How might we foster a sense of humility in classroom activism? In what ways does our teaching perpetuate narratives in which non-western countries are “poor” instead of examining the systems of power that cause disparity?

These questions simply scratch the surface of the impact that WE’s programs, values, and corruption have had in our schools and on our students, here in Canada and across the world. As we reflect, we must also continue to name and unpack these problems in order to push past the fault in our practice and move forward in a good way. 

For an in-depth look into the WE scandal, listen to “The White Saviors” series by Canadaland: https://www.canadaland.com/shows/the-white-saviors/ 

 

“Pink is a Girl Colour.”

If you teach young children, you may often hear their opinions about what is meant for ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ voiced on a daily basis:

 

“Pink is for girls” 

“Boys don’t wear pink”

 

Analyzing this through a feminist lens, this ideology and the socially constructed roles and responsibilities associated with gender are forced upon children from birth – and arguably even before birth. If you don’t believe me, think about the colour of blankets given to swaddle infants in hospitals. 

This is not just about pink. It’s about creating a learning space for students to be themselves, feel empowered and continuing to challenge injustices they encounter now and every day.

How can we challenge gender stereotypes in education?

  1. In a previous post, celebrating International Women’s Day – I stated that “You cannot have feminism without intersectionality”. In order for growth to occur, we must represent all people in our pedagogy -students who are part of the ​​2SLGBTQ+  community, students who are Black, FNMI students, students who belong to racialized and marginalized groups and students who have disabilities. Not only should students see themselves reflected, but their families, their friends, their neighbours, their community members, and other humans that walk this earth with them. We cannot dismantle one single stereotype without teaching from an ant-racist, anti-oppressive framework. 
  2. We can be mindful of the learning materials we use in our classrooms. From toys to textbooks, there are hidden messages about gender everywhere. One of my favourite (but really least favourite) examples to think about is kitchen centres for young children. Kitchen centres are wonderful learning spaces in Kindergarten classrooms and provide many opportunities for developing social and emotional skills, practicing math concepts and promoting oral language. Now, think about why many of these sets are pink? 
  3. We can include critical literacy and books that challenge social norms in our program on a regular basis.
  4. We can critically reflect on our own understandings of gender as a social construct, amplify the voices marginalized people and commit to continuous learning and growth by actively listening to our students needs. 

 

Pink is for everyone. 

 

 

Why I Teach Through an Equity and Anti-Oppressive Lens

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Beginning a GSA at your school

For many school boards across Ontario, students can participate in extra curricular activities again during the 2021-2022 school year. For those of you thinking about starting a QSA or GSA in your school this fall (yeah!), here are few tools and pieces of information to get you started!

What is a QSA and GSA?

A GSA is a student-run group, supported by staff, that unites 2SLGBTQ+ and allied youth. It gives students a safer space to talk, learn and educate others about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Although the Education Act refers to GSAs as Gay-Straight Alliances, many schools are moving away from the title Gay-Straight Alliance to a more inclusive Gender-Sexuality Alliance or Queer-Straight Alliance.

Am I allowed to start a GSA or QSA at my school?

Yes, Yes and Yes!! In 2012, Bill 13 was passed that was an addendum to the Education Act that focused on Safe Schools. Included in that Bill was a section that protects a student’s right to have a GSA at their school. I’ve included it here to aid in conversations that might be happening at your school:

303.1  

(1)  Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that promote a safe and inclusive learning environment, the acceptance of and respect for others and the creation of a positive school climate, including:

(d)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.

(2)  For greater certainty, neither the board nor the principal shall refuse to allow a pupil to use the name gay-straight alliance or a similar name for an organization described in clause (1) (d).

How do I get started?

If you are not sure how to get started, that is not a problem at all! There are so many resources to support you in supporting your students. ETFO has a very extensive list of 2SLGBTQ+ videos, pamphlets, websites etc. There is also an amazing website created by a Peel District School Board committee called “Make Peel Proud” that supports educators in bringing queer identities into their classroom throughout the year and will help to get your GSA or QSA started.

What should we do in a GSA?

Ideally, it is student led and organized. At many schools it is just a safer place to hang out, chill and chat. Some schools have a group that is very active in their social justice work. It can be whatever the students and you decide it should be. Our GSA has evolved greatly over the years and every year is quite unique.

Last year, during our online GSA, the students who joined were quiet at the beginning. We were online and there was very little talking or interacting for our first session. I decided to plan a few sessions to give us some foundational info to get started and break the ice. The students took over after that.

The activities that we did in the first four or five sessions:

  • Introduced the concept of a GSA. We looked at the term 2SLGBTQ+ and figured out what students knew about each of the identities listed. We did a Menti.com word cloud which enlarged the words that the students knew really well. This told me a lot about what level of understanding and knowledge many of the students brought to the group.
  • Looked at the Peel District School Board’s student census with a particular focus on the question “What percentage of students identify as 2SLGBTQ+?” It showed us that there are many students in grade 7 and 8 that identify as 2SLGBTQ+ even though their classmates might not be talking about it.
  • Shared YouTube videos of our favourite Queer musicians.
  • Shared our thoughts about our school and how safe it is for students who identify as 2SLGBTQ+.

Why is it important?

Our students who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ are some of our most vulnerable students. They may not have a space in their school or family life that is supportive. Therefore, a GSA or QSA can play a very important role in establishing a safer space for students.

What if nobody comes?

That is okay. Give it time. By clearly identifying yourself as the coordinator of your school’s GSA, you have told students that you are a safe and supportive person that they can approach when they are ready.