Boys vs Girls

A friendly competition?



No no no no no. 


Boys vs girls in sports? Boys vs girls in games? Boys vs girls in math? 

No again. 


Here’s why:

  1. Boys vs girls contests assume there are only two genders and reinforces this idea to children. 
  2. This competition forces children to ‘choose’ which side they are on. For those cisgender students, the choice is simple. For students who are transgender, or identify with genders outside of the two given choices, this is much more complicated. Not necessarily because they are unsure of their gender, but because self-identifying in front of the entire class can be detrimental. Students may not be ready to discuss their gender identity, do not feel comfortable, fear being outed, or they may be working on discovering and understanding who they are. 
  3. Gender roles and societal expectations associated with those roles need to be demolished. Gone are the days where we should teach little girls exclusively to be caregivers while leaving the science, technology and math to the boys. Pinning ‘boys’ against ‘girls’ presents to students the idea that there should be some sort of contest, some sort of competition, rather than collaboration amongst all.

Educators who are seeking to make groups may use alternative approaches to divide their class in order to empower students and create a positive classroom environment. Here’s some ways I like to divide students into groups:

  1. By their birth month
  2. The amount of letters in their name 
  3. ‘This or That’ – ask students to decide, for example, “Do you like blue or green?”
  4. Good old fashioned randomization! Use popsicle sticks with student names, random name generators from the internet, student pictures, the list goes on. Use whatever works best for your classroom.

If you have any more thoughts or ideas on how to make non-gendered groups in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you!

Creating a Safe Space for 2SLGBTQ+ Students and Families

Growing up as a queer kid in a small town, my experience in school wasn’t always very welcoming. Everything felt like it was designed in a way that assumed that I – and everyone – was cis and straight, from the books we read to the forms we took home and the way everyone spoke in class. Because I didn’t fit into the world they were presenting me, it felt like there was something wrong with me.

When I became a teacher, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to avoid doing the things that made me so uncomfortable as a student. I don’t want any of my students to feel like they or their families aren’t seen, valued, and most of all, completely normal. 

There are many simple ways that you can make your classroom more welcoming to queer students, families, and colleagues. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some things I would like you to consider for your own practice:

Drop the words “Mother” and “Father” from your communication home. I still see educators doing things like sending home student information forms with a ‘Mother’ field and a ‘Father’ field. This only serves to ‘other’ students whose families don’t fit this image. While you’re at it, why not make sure you have more than two fields for parents/guardians?

Stop playing “boys versus girls” or using gender as a way to split up students in class. Not only does it reinforce archaic notions of some imaginary divide between genders, but it also puts some of your queer students in an awkward and difficult position. You should never be creating a situation where a student has to out themselves or mis-gender themselves just to participate.

Include 2SLGBTQ+ content in your class without always making being queer “the point” of the lesson. While it’s important to openly discuss queer issues and perspectives in your classroom, it’s also important to make sure that you are including queer content without feeling like you need to justify it in some way. Your students need to see themselves in your teaching, but they also need to believe that you see them as a normal part of the world that doesn’t always need to be pointed out, discussed, and defended.

Schitt’s Creek did that very well, if you are familiar with the show. The writers included queer storylines without making them about trauma. They presented the world how it should be, how it can be, and it was beautiful.

Don’t wait until you have a queer student (that you know about) to offer support to your students. My school has a few genderless washrooms and I make sure to point them out to my students in the first week of school so that they know they’re available. I have a “Positive Space” sign up in my classroom at all times. I keep my language inclusive, making sure that I’m not saying things like “your mom and dad” and instead say “your family”. I share information about Youthline the same way that I share info about Kids Help Phone.

Stop assuming kids are “too young” to talk about the 2SLGBTQ+ community. There is no such thing. Kids aren’t too young to learn about cis/het families, so what’s the difference?

Teach gender-neutral language. I teach FSL, and I introduce gender-neutral pronouns alongside “il” and “elle”. It takes no extra effort on my part – I’m already teaching pronouns in Language Arts. You know what’s really cool? When they have the language ahead of time, they often use it openly, without hesitation, and without prejudice.

There are so many other things you can do to create a more welcoming space for your queer students and families, but I’d be here all night if I tried to capture them all. Those are just a few suggestions of small but meaningful changes you can make to help your students feel safe and seen. I hope you give them some thought.

Novels That Spark Conversation and Empathy

This year, due to the ongoing job action, Forest of Reading looks quite different in our school. Rather than having a club where students read books at their leisure and then check in with the teacher who read the book for conversation, we’re reading some of the texts as a class.  Given a couple of Silver Birch texts and a brief synopsis of each, I was really interested in My Life as a Diamond. While I’m no baseball enthusiast, the storyline and the age of the main character is what drew me to the text. On their website, Orca Book Publishers Canada gives the following as a description of the book:

“Ten-year-old Caspar “Caz” Cadman loves baseball and has a great arm. He loves the sounds, the smells, the stats. When his family moves from Toronto to a suburb of Seattle, the first thing he does is try out for the local summer team, the Redburn Ravens. Even though Caz is thrilled when he makes the team, he worries because he has a big secret.

No one knows that back in Toronto, Caz used to live life as a girl named Cassandra. And it’s nobody’s business. Caz will tell his new friends when he’s ready.

But when a player on a rival team starts snooping around, Caz’s past is revealed, and Caz worries it will be Toronto all over again.

Will Caz’s teammates rally behind their star pitcher? Or will Caz be betrayed once more?

A heartwarming, funny, fast-paced story about the bravery it takes to live as your true self, no matter the cost.”

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how my students would react to the story but I knew that it would spark conversations around gender and gender identity. We’re about a week and a half into reading the text and students are really taking the time to empathize and some are even noticing their own bias as we’ve been writing reading responses.

Every day, I read the text to students – we only have 1 copy – and they are given a question to reflect upon while we read. Once finished reading a chapter or two, students get writing and talking about their thoughts on a particular section. Some of our reflection questions have included:

  • If you had the opportunity to have a conversation with one of the characters in the book so far, who would it be and why? What questions would you ask? How might those questions help to shape your understanding of what is happening?
  • What do you think Caz’s first day at school might be like? Why?
  • If Caz was coming to Sloane Public School, what 3 key things do you need to tell him about our school community? Why would those things be meaningful to him? Which teacher would you connect him to as a supportive or caring adult? Why?
  • Why is this book an important text for ALL readers?
  • Caz had his first sleepover at a friend’s house in his new city. Did he do the right thing by not telling Hank about his decision to identify as male although he was born female? Why or why not?

Earlier this week, one student was really excited that our questions haven’t been about getting the “right” or “wrong” answer but rather an opportunity to think and sometimes the chance to think something new. While we’re only about three-quarters of our way through the text, they’re making connections with the text and the real world and to their lives. It’s been pretty powerful for us as we think about Caz being just ten years old and yet so very brave. I have a number of students who are the same age and they have said they aren’t sure how they would handle such a decision.

The Gender Gap in Technology

Quote for blog

According to a recent report* by ICTC (the Information and Technology Information Council) Canadian women represent about 50% of the overall workforce but represent only 25% of the technology industry workforce.  Of the 100 major tech companies in Canada only 5 have female CEOs and 1 Co-CEO.   26% of the tech companies have no women in senior leadership at all.  There is a gender wage gap in the industry of $7,000-$20,00 per year.  When I read these statistics I wondered as educators, what can we do about the gender gap in technology?  This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place to begin:

1.  Build her confidence in her abilities.

2. Cultivate a community of supportive peers.

3.  Provide a STEM/STEAM club for girls.

4. Ensure that access to technology and computer experiences is encouraged and inclusive.

5. Foster interest in computing careers.

6. Be a role model as a LEARNER.

May 11th is National Girls Learning Code Day.  If you are looking to encourage coders in your school, why not begin on May 11th?  Below you will find links to resources for beginning coding.  Many students code on their own at home and may appreciate the opportunity to mentor fellow students.  The resources attached will get you started.  There is no special equipment or robotics required.  Teachers do not have to be expert coders to encourage their students.  Teachers can be role models of resilience, risk taking and problem solving by learning alongside their students.  Teachers only need to open the door and expose their students to the opportunities.

Girls Who Code Canada

National Girls Learn Code Day

Canada Learning Code


Hour of Code


*Cutean, A., Ivus, M. (2017). The Digital Talent Dividend: Shifting Gears in a Changing Economy. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). Ottawa, Canada.

Elaborated and written by Alexandra Cutean (Director, Digital Innovation Research and Policy). and Maryna Ivus (Senior Analyst, Research and Policy) with generous support from the ICTC Research and Policy Team.

Gender Rights = Human Rights

gender theory

Education is one of the foundations of Canadian society … and so are human rights.

In Ontario, education is a “publically funded education system to support and reflect the democratic values of fairness, equity, and respect for all” (Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools, Ministry of Education, 2013).

The Ministry of Education recognizes that factors such as race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, gender, and class can create students’ barriers to learning. There is evidence that some groups of students continue to encounter discriminatory barriers to learning. Research shows that when students feel connected to teachers and other students, they do better academically (Goleman, 2006).

So what does this mean to teachers?

Through Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, school boards must seek out barriers to learning for all students. Teachers therefore must also address barriers to learning due to factors such as race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Recently, the Ontario PC Party passed a resolution to debate recognition of gender identity which was proposed by Tanya Granic Allen of the Ontario PC party.  The resolution read as follows:

“Be it resolved that an Ontario PC Party recognizes ‘gender identity theory’ for what it is, namely, a highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology’, and, as such, that an Ontario PC Government will remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum.”

The debate of whether this “theory” is “unscientific or not”, is not meaningful to all the students in Ontario who differ in their gender identity. Students who differ in their gender identity exist in our schools and in our classrooms.

I will say this again, students who differ in gender identity are real and in Ontario classrooms. Students who differ in gender identity need to be supported through their human rights and freedoms and need to be protected against abuse and bullying.

By not discussing gender identity in classrooms presents the possibility of students who differ in gender identity not being accepted for who they are and how their difference is also real. Not discussing gender identity in classrooms puts these students at risk of abuse and bullying. Not discussing gender identity in classrooms means that teachers are being asked to pick and choose factors that can be barriers to student learning. Teachers must consider all aspects of the Ontario Human Rights code that include honouring students’ diversity in  race, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, gender, and socioeconomic status.

In not discussing gender identity, schools who ignore barriers to student learning risk violating the Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119, Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools which advocates for “democratic values of fairness, equity, and respect for all” (Ministry of Education, 2013).

In promoting to “remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum” is not going to happen as this statement is against the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Ontario Human Rights Code supersedes any curriculum and therefore teachers can promote human rights within the Ontario Human Rights Code anytime in classrooms. Discussing gender and sexual orientation issues are part of the Ontario Human Rights Code.  

Be aware, that Tanya Granic Allen has a history of odious discrimination against gender and sexual orientation rights, as well as the rights of other religious groups. The Ontario Liberals released a 2014 Granic Allen video which “spewed hatred and homophobia”. The CBC News article (May 5, 2018) states that “Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford says former party leadership hopeful Tanya Granic Allen will no longer be a candidate for the party” and followed with “We are a party comprised of people with diverse views that if expressed responsibly we would respect”. Ford goes on to state that “However, the fact is her characterization of certain issues and people has been irresponsible” but then Ford continues with “She is a welcome addition to our strong and diverse PC team.”

Granic Allen was removed by Ford “as a candidate for the party in the spring election [2018] after controversial social media messages she posted were made public” (Jeffords, November 17, 2018). Granic Allen is not a Minister of Provincial Parliament of Ontario for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound; Bill Walker, MPP holds that position. Granic Allen, in May 2018, wrote in the National Post that “The accusation by the Liberals and the press that I am somehow against the dignity and human rights of LGBT+ people is a lie” (Granic Allen, May 8, 2018).

Granic Allen also has made comments against, gay marriage and Muslin dress. CBC news cites Granic Allen tweets and blogs dating back to 2013 speaking out “against gay marriage and compares women wearing burkas to ‘ninjas’ and ‘bank robbers.’ (David Donnelly, CBC News, April 10, 2018).

Another article cites Granic Allen as a “kingmaker” for Ford. “Without Granic Allen in the race, Ford wouldn’t have had enough votes to eke out his narrow win over Christine Elliott, and he [Ford] may not have leaned as hard to the right to court social conservative members” (Fitzpatrick, March 14, 2018).

The bottom line is that it does not matter if people differ in their opinions about gay marriage or gender issues, or even Muslim dress; what does matter is that when opinions violate and impact people’s rights and freedoms according to Ontario Human Rights Code, these becomes legal issues.

Respect for all.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deb Weston, PhD


CBC News, (April 10, 2018), Tanya Granic Allen under fire for online comments against gay marriage, Muslim dress, CBC News. Downloaded from

CBC News. (May 5, 2018) Tanya Granic Allen no longer an Ontario PC party candidate after ‘irresponsible’ comments, Doug Ford says, CBC News. Downloaded from

Fitzpatrick, M. (March 14, 2018). Who is Tanya Granic Allen, the kingmaker in the Ont. PC leadership race, and what’s next for her? CBC News, Downloaded from

Goleman, D. (2006). Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. New York, NY: Bantam Dell, A Division of Random House.

Granic Allen, T. (May 8, 2018). Tanya Granic Allen: I’ve been slandered. It’s time to set the facts straight, The National Post, Downloaded from

Jeffords, S. (November 17, 2018). Social conservatives say their voice is being ignored at Ontario Tory convention, The Canadian Press. Downloaded from

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Policy/Program Memorandum No. 119: Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools, Government of Ontario. Toronto.

Ryan, R. (November 17, 2018). Ontario PC Party passes resolution to debate recognition of gender identity, Global News. Downloaded from

Drawing The Line

Each year, in Canada, approxScreenshot 2018-09-30 at 9.18.11 PMimately 460,000 women are sexually assaulted, although only a fraction of them report the assault to the police (1). In a day and age where this statistic holds true, it’s hard to imagine that our government is wanting to go back to a time where consent and gender identity aren’t being discussed in classrooms as a part of the Health Curriculum. Simply ignoring the very real issues that our students face in 2018 doesn’t make them go away, nor does it help to develop a society that is action-based and ready to implement change.

Earlier this year I was really excited to hear about ETFO’s and White Ribbon’s resource – Drawing The Line. Now I might be slightly biased as my brother is a contributing author but I was thrilled to see a resource that not only provided data-driven information for educators but also included a comprehensive guide for age-appropriate lessons for students in grades 1 to 8. I love that the guide addresses bystanders and offers students ways in which to respond to to sexual violence. Not only do the lessons connect to the Health and Physical Education Curriculum but expectations also in Language and the Arts are included in many of the lessons. This guide is truly a proactive approach to teaching students about healthy relationships and is one that every educator should read and implement in their classrooms. I know that in the past, ETFO was offering sessions on this resource and I hope that they continue.

Screenshot 2018-09-30 at 9.18.44 PM

With hotlines or tiplines being made available, it’s sad to say that we are in such a time where educators are somewhat in fear of teaching what we know to be essential for our students’ safety and healthy development. We need to be having these conversations because unless we do, nothing will change and perpetrators will feel empowered to continue. As you may already know, at the beginning of September, ETFO filed a legal injunction to pause the rollback of the 2015 Health curriculum. The union believes the government’s directive creates unsafe and unhealthy learning and working environments. In the meantime, how are you working to unpack these issues with students? They’re in the news and on the same social media platforms that students are interacting with. How will the work we do today impact the statistics in the future? In the next year, 5 or 10? If you haven’t already, please check out this resource as well as the other resources that ETFO has to offer.

1. Holly, Johnson, “Limits of a Criminal Justice Response” (University of Ottawa, 2012),

Gender Equity in 2018



The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms outlines what gender equity should look like … but do women really have gender equity in 2018?

In education and workplace participation, gender equity has made some strides.

  • in 2015, women are almost as likely to have a high school (82.5% women vs. 89.3% men) or university degree (83.1% women vs. 89.9% men)
  • in 2015, 77.5% of women were employed compared to 85.3% of men, up from 21.6% in 1950 and 65.2% in 1983
  • in 2015, women are more likely to be away from work (30.0% women vs. 23.9% men) and more likely to be away for a full week of work (38.4% women vs. 24.8% men)
  • in 2015, women are more likely to work part-time (18.9% women vs. 5.5% men)
  • in 2015, women are more likely to do volunteer work (67.2% women vs. 53.0% men)
  • In 1976 – men had higher levels of employment based on the marital status
    • 1976 men – 78.0 % employed single/never married, 92.7% employed married/common-law, and 82.3% employed separated/divorced/widowed
  • In 2015 – women employment rates of women no longer differ based on marital status
    • 1976 women – 79.4% employed single/never married, 44.6% employed married/common-law, and 59.2% employed separated/divorced/widowed

Nevertheless, challenges remain:

Too few women are advancing into leadership roles.

  • Women make up just 21.6% of Financial Post 500* board member (2016)

Women are under-represented in politics in 2015.

  • 26% of those elected to the 42nd Parliament are women
  • women made up 28% of municipal councillors and only 18% of mayors

Women continue to be responsible for the majority of care giving and household unpaid work.

  • women vs. men still spend (25.7 hrs/week) more time caring for their children (in 2010 women 50.1 vs. 24.4 hours/week on unpaid child care)
  • women vs. men are twice as likely to spend more than 10 hours per week unpaid work caring for seniors (49% women vs. 25% men)
  • women vs. men spend 5.5 hours more on housework (13.8 hrs women vs. 8.3 hrs men per week)

Women in the workforce tend to earn less than men.

  • women earn $0.876 for every dollar men earn, largely as a result of inequity between women and men within occupations (2015)

Women continue to experience high rates of gender-based violence.

  • Women have a 20% higher risk of violent victimization than men (2015)
  • Women account for 87% of victims of sexual offences and 76% of victims of criminal harassment (2015)

Some groups are at particular risk for gender-based violence.

  • 10% of aboriginal women were about three times as likely to report being a victim of spousal violence as 3% of non-Aboriginal women (2015)


How does this impact ETFO members?


As 82% of elementary teachers identify as women, women’s issues directly impact elementary teachers.


  • With too few women (21.6%) in leadership roles, women’s voices are not heard.
  • With under-representation of women in politics, women’s needs and equality are not addressed.
  • With more women spending their time, away from work, on unpaid work (caring for children and seniors, housework, volunteer work) , this unpaid work is not valued.
  • With women taking more time off work than men, this means women pay for higher sick leaves and long term leaves (on a personal note, when my children were young, I used 15 days of vacation days, before teaching, to take care of sick children and had no vacation that year). Again, women’s time at work is not valued as much as men’s time at work – if it was, more men would be taking time off to deal with family responsibilities.

Further, our ETFO colleagues are 20% more likely to be victims of violence than men and 87% of victims of  sexual violence. Our aboriginal ETFO colleagues are 3 times more likely to be victims of spousal violence.

Fortunately, female and male ETFO members are paid equitably based on experience and qualifications.

How do we change this?

  • Advocate for women leaders and leadership
  • Advocate for men to take on more caregiving and household responsibilities
  • Advocate for better, more inexpensive and supplemented childcare
  • Start small by changing attitudes and behaviours of women’s paid and unpaid work
  • Challenge gender stereotypes and subtle sexism encountered every day
  • Challenge sexism and discrimination that allow gender inequality to exist
  • Go for leadership roles and run for office

How can you change this on a personal level?

  • Expect men to take as much responsibility as women to care for children and seniors
  • Expect men to take parental leave so women to go back to work
  • Expect men to take as much responsibility as women for household chores
  • Hire house cleaners to clean your house, even if they clean part of the house
  • Advocate for better, more affordable/supplemented childcare, where the childcare workers are fairly paid


In Canada, gender equity is exists but it’s not completely equal. Let’s hope women can make similar strides in improving stats in leadership, unpaid work, and gender violence that have happened in education and employment. Let’s hope in the next 10 years, the stats noted above will look more equal, more equitable, and less biased towards women.

Happy International Womens’ Day 2018

Collaboratively Yours,

Deb Weston

Interesting Resources:


*The Financial Post’s ranking of Canada’s largest companies by revenue.

all data from Stats Canada

Weston, DPA, 2015. Downloaded from