the minutes in between

I think about time a lot. Most of the hours and minutes in between 7 am and 5 pm are spoken for by this passion called teaching. So that leaves me with 14 hours for the many other parts of my life, give or take, depending on whether I am trying to avoid writing progress reports in lieu of writing blog posts.

Granted, those 14 hours are not all free time as they include commuting, housework, personal care (relaxing, catching up on the Bear, Slow Horses, and Reservation Dogs, exercising, avoiding exercising, etc.), eating, brewing coffee, and sleeping. Chores, meals, shows, and self care carve at least 3 to 4 hours out of my day.

When you adjust for seasonal events such as extra-curriculars, report writing, assessment, planning, and errands another couple of hours come off of that free time daily. Then there’s my need for at least 7 hours of sleep which has become an irreducible minimum amount of time to disconnect, clear my head, and recharge for the next day.

Educators are often willing to sacrifice their sleep hygiene to burn the work candle at both ends. We come by this work ethic honestly though. Think back to when you entered your faculty of education and how hard you worked to get there. Many in our calling are predisposed to getting things done regardless of the hour of the day. The problem is that it is unsustainable and begins to effect your cognitive abilities and physical well being.

My advice to you all is to try to set a sleep schedule and stick to it. Your body and mind will reward you with clarity and energy if you do. Prior to the pandemic I was lucky to get 6 hours of sleep per night, and it was beginning to catch up with me. Since then I have upped that to 7+ hours per weeknight and 8+ on the weekends. For me, the result has been a gain in alertness, focus, and creativity.

Now back to those minutes

Okay back to the math; 14 hours outside of educator life less 7 hours of sleep, take away another extra 2 hours for school related work/correspondence, and another 4 hours for life at home leaves me an entire hour or two per day of relatively unprogrammed time if you are keeping track, and that is usually spent catching up with friends, parenting, marriage maintenance, family visits, or doubling back to one of my other daily tasks. If I’m lucky.

Despite having a fairly clear vision of how my days are filled, I find myself still struggling to separate my teacher brain from my Will@home brain and it makes me wonder whether anyone else is going through the same thing? How are you managing the minutes in between the prepping, the planning, the teaching, the counseling, the assessing, and all the other moments that comprise an educator’s day?

For me the routine(s) of school provide a decent frame to parse out my minutes. I am mindful that some days are going to be longer than others, but am also working to become more organized and efficient between the hours of 7 am and 5 pm. I admit that the first 10 years of my teaching career were not as streamlined as the last three. The first step was avoiding work related correspondence outside of work hours. That simple act took a lot of self-talk and restraint at first because I had become conditioned to the fact that teachers were on the clock from the time they wake up until bed time.

I have seen this effects of this play out with many new teachers who are fresh out of their faculties who struggle with parents who for lack of a better description are time thieves with daily requests for progress updates on their children. On numerous occasions, I have encouraged new colleagues to set those boundaries from the beginning at meet the teacher night or sooner. Weekly updates are more than enough when it comes to informing families unless there are significant extenuating issues above and beyond typical classroom learning. I could not imagine what it would be like for a JK/SK educator to respond to 30 families if they all expected daily updates after a full day at the speed of kindergarten. Yet, it is not uncommon for newer teachers to get pulled into that time suck.

Perhaps I can finally find something to be thankful for as a result of the COVID pandemic? Although mentally excruciating and physically draining, the past three years taught me to create some boundaries with my time. It taught me to say “no” and “not now” a little more often. Perhaps it has been that decision to self-preserve and prioritize which has helped maintain my decorum and drive. It is precisely these actions that have allowed me to return to my classroom with a better work-life balance and an excitement and energy for voluntary extra-curricular activities as well. Perhaps this post will encourage you in that direction too.

Has the pandemic changed your approach to your teaching and personal life balance? Please share in the comments what you’ve done to bring more balance into your days.
Thank you for reading.

Social Justice Through Visual Math

Make visible what, without you, might never have been seen.

– Robert Bresson


  I noticed Samira as soon as I walked into her classroom. Students were sitting in noisy clumps, some chatting over iPads, some jostling and joking. But Samira was silent. Although seated at a table with five others, she was visibly separate from the laughter and exchanges surrounding her. 

    Samira was a multilingual learner and new to English. Peer relationships are vital for all students, but Samira did not yet have the linguistic capital to easily join conversations. And on top of that, she now had to learn curriculum in a brand new language. This bright student faced many challenges — and isolation — in her new setting. 

    “All right everyone, let’s get started,” the teacher announced. Conversations trailed off and bodies settled.  After a brief review of the previous day’s math work, the teacher handed out paper, pencil crayons, and manipulatives to each group. There was one instruction: “Show 0.75.”

  The teacher and I had co-planned the day before, and decided to use visual math for the lesson. The question, “show 0.75”, prompts students to represent this number in as many different ways as they can. Some may write the fraction 75/100; others may plot it on a number line; some may colour in 3/4 of a pizza; still others may place three 25-cent coins down for the group to see. 

   Multiple studies have documented the importance of visual math, revealing a positive correlation between representing concepts pictorially and improved math performance.  On the YouCubed website, Stanford math education professor Dr. Jo Boaler describes some of these studies, as well as related neuroimaging findings. Remarkably, when people do math calculations using only symbolic digits (such as 6×3, etc), some of the neural pathways that light up in the brain are visual. As Boaler succinctly puts it, “our brain wants to think visually about maths.”1   So while visuals may help solidify conceptual understanding for all students, for multilingual learners like Samira there is an additional advantage.

    As Samira’s group attempted the question, there were several false starts. A couple of students weren’t sure what to draw. Some started sketching but then quickly erased their work. Samira however steadily jotted down fraction equivalents and drew connected visual representations for each. Before long the others noticed, and stared at her intricate work. “Is that right?” one of the boys finally asked. The classroom teacher leaned over, and smiled.  For the first time that day, someone looked at Samira and addressed her directly: “How did you know that?”

    In this simple, visual task Samira was able to demonstrate her math knowledge — free from the usual language-based constraints of our predominantly verbal linguistic classrooms. In the space of one group session, Samira had moved from near-invisibility to knowledge-holder. She had gained social currency and standing in the group.

    As the teacher bent over the group’s work, gesturing to pictures and numbers as she spoke, I could see Samira listening intently, mentally attaching English terms to math concepts she already knew. And while Samira needed this intentional highlighting of math language to learn English, all students in her group benefitted. I once heard during a seminar that 90% of the vocabulary used in math is exclusive to math. Although I have been unable to locate the original source of this data, when I think of terms such as isosceles, scalene, and divisor, anecdotally I am inclined to agree. In what other context do we ever encounter words such as these?  As for our lesson, both the visuals and vocabulary inherent in the math task were necessary for some, and undeniably good for all.

    At times, multilingual learners may be unintentionally viewed through a deficit lens.  “She can’t speak English” and “We have to help him” are common refrains. But when the bell rang that day and everyone grabbed their books for the next class, Samira rose and stood a little taller, a new confidence in expression. The task, which had been rich and beneficial for everyone, provided the first key towards unlocking her voice, and re-imagining her not as someone who needed help, but as a valued and contributing member of the class.  





(student names have been changed)

Kindergarten Communication of Learning: Initial Observations

Kindergarten Communication of Learning:  Initial Observations

Are you looking for some help writing the Initial Observations report for Kindergarten? This post is for new teachers, teachers who have changed grades, and teachers covering prep in kindergarten. I have been covering Kindergarten prep for several years and recently had a year teaching Year One of the Kindergarten program. Since we have several Kindergarten classes at my school, I can bounce ideas off many educators regarding reporting. Getting support is extremely helpful, so I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.

Collaboration is key! Like all aspects of the Kindergarten program, collecting evidence of children’s learning for reports is a responsibility that teachers and designated early childhood educators (DECEs) can share. It is an essential conversation for the educator team to have early on so that observations are collected throughout the year to demonstrate each child’s growth. We had a shared Google doc for each student, organized by frames, so we could make notes, add pictures and keep the documentation all in one place. Some teachers prefer to use a slide deck. Educators need to select the practices and strategies that work best for them.

The Initial Observations report is intended to be an overview of student key learning and growth in learning during the first two months of school. I think of it as a snapshot and often remind myself that there is another report coming in about ten weeks that will have more detailed observations and cover a greater breadth of the Kindergarten program. In some cases, teachers have had limited time with students due to class restructuring and absences. In these cases, do your best to let the parents know how their child is adjusting to Kindergarten.

If you consult social media groups and other blogs, you will see a range of educators’ opinions about Kindergarten reporting. There is a consensus that the box on the Communication of Learning: Initial Observations is much larger than needed in Ontario. I have heard the message repeated for several years from many sources, “Don’t aim to fill the box!”

Ask yourself, what happens initially in the Kindergarten program? What is the essential information to communicate to parents? What are the most obvious strengths of the child? The following questions guide you through the child’s day at school and give you ideas to consider as you write the Initial Observations. You may wish to focus more on the Self Regulation and Well Being frame, but there is an opportunity to comment on the other three frames, especially if a child demonstrates strong skills in those areas. Choose a few areas to highlight about each child and support with real-life examples if possible. To avoid using jargon, educators should aim to refer to overall expectations in a natural way when writing initial observations about a child’s learning. Here are some prompts to help you in your writing. Do not try to answer all these questions! The variety in the list is to help you describe the strengths of different children.

Is the child:

– content to be at school?

– beginning to show more independence with their belongings as they unpack their backpack and change their shoes?

-engaging in conversation with peers and adults?

-asking questions of their peers and adults?

-answering questions with detail?

-beginning to follow routines?

-playing with a variety of learning tools inside and/or outside?

-participating in games and songs with the whole group?

-building, creating, role-playing?

-sorting? (e.g., when tidying up toys)

-making observations about the natural world?

You will have observed changes in many of the children, in the first ten weeks, as they have become more comfortable with the school environment.


I’m writing this comment with a confident, enthusiastic student in mind. Here is a sample comment based on some of the questions listed above. I would personalize this comment with the correct name and pronoun when editing.

STUDENT ONE arrives at school content and excited about the day ahead. They have adapted to the morning entry routines and often greet other students by saying, “Hi!”. STUDENT ONE uses social skills when playing with their friends (e.g., at the blocks centre and when playing soccer). He/She/They often invite(s) other students to join him/her/them, especially at his/her/their favourite activities, which are: creating with loose parts or playing at the sand table. He/She/They can identify and print the letters in his/her/their name. STUDENT ONE is excited to play games that involve counting to ten and is working on pointing at objects to count accurately. Beyond the classroom, STUDENT ONE is willing to try new activities in different locations such as the gym, library or outdoors. He/She/They often take a turn with a sit-on bouncy ball during outdoor play.   He/She/They have/has recently expanded their design skills – they has been seeking out different kinds of tools and materials to construct with. When building a tower they said: “We need something to make it stronger so it doesn’t fall down”. STUDENT ONE often contributes during class discussions and is eager to learn more about animals.


In contrast, STUDENT TWO has had some struggles adjusting to school and experiences sadness throughout the day. Since we have already communicated with parents extensively about this issue I am not dwelling on it in the Initial Observations. Instead, I deliberately frame the comments with positivity and a growth mindset.

STUDENT TWO has made progress in adjusting to the kindergarten program. He/She/They is/are independently unpacking his/her/their backpack each morning and joining the class for play. STUDENT TWO prefers the art centre where he/she/they enjoy drawing and painting. STUDENT TWO shows an interest in completing puzzles, especially when an educator is sitting nearby. She/He/They often build(s) a house using blocks or Lego. STUDENT TWO spends time outside observing his/her/their peers and often walks quietly with the educator, we will support them in making connections with their classmates. He/She/They have/has commented on the changing weather and fall colours and shows curiosity about the natural world. We look forward to helping STUDENT TWO adjust to the school environment and build his/her/their confidence and independence over the school year.  

Good luck to all educators with Initial Observations and with Progress Reports for grades 1-8. Make use of human, print and online resources.  ETFO has a website dedicated to Professional Learning in the Early Years where you will find videos and information from Kindergarten educators and their classrooms.  ETFO has also just published an engaging resource, Building and Enriching Partnerships in Kindergarten, which includes a chapter on planning and documenting.

Take care of yourselves as you take on the task of writing these reports while also planning, teaching, and assessing your students. Do a little each day to make it manageable.  I believe in you!

Key resources to assist you in this work:

The Kindergarten Program, 2016

Growing Success, The Kindergarten Addendum, 2016

Communicating with Parents about Children’s Learning: A Guide for Kindergarten Educators, Revised Draft, September 2017

ETFO’s website for Professional Learning in the Early Years

ETFO’s new resource: Building and Enriching Partnerships in Kindergarten

Cross-Curricular Robert Munsch Author Study K-6

Why Robert Munsch?

*Robert Munsch’s books are familiar to many students.

*His books are entertaining and make students laugh.

*The characters and settings are from across Canada.

*You will be surprised by the diversity!

It is still early in the school year, and your class is still forming as a community. You want students to feel excited by your read-aloud choices, and if your students are reading independently, these books are accessible to many readers. They are also widely available as recordings. I am old enough to have them on cassette and a CD, but some are available from the publishers’ websites. You may think Munsch is for the youngest students only, but I encourage you to try some of these ideas for students up to grade 6!

K-2: Listening and Reflecting on the Story and Illustrations

Young children identify with the ridiculous antics of the characters in Robert Munsch’s books. Mortimer will not be quiet at bedtime. Jule Ann has a mud puddle jump on her in Mud Puddle. Kristen’s parents bring home animals instead of her new human sibling in Alligator Baby. Tina will not change her socks in Smelly Socks. And the classic, Love you Forever, is about a boy who is deeply loved even though he misbehaves. The list goes on!

The stories have much to offer regarding humour, patterns, and analysing human behaviour. With young students, you can also look at the different illustrators. The books mentioned above were illustrated by Michael Martchenko, Sami Suomalainen, and Sheila McGraw. Each has its own unique style. Use them as an inspiration to create your own illustrations.  How would you draw a mud puddle jumping on a kid?  You could also use many different Robert Munsch books to discuss rules and responsibilities since his characters have a habit of showing how not to behave.

Studying Robert Munsch’s books with a young audience can lead to creating a class book. I also recommend writing to Robert Munsch. In the past, I have always received a kind letter and story featuring students’ names from my class.

Grade 3-6: Recording Read Alouds and Critical Analysis

Once you have modeled a great read-aloud with your students, you could ask them to record their read-aloud using a Robert Munsch book. If the material is familiar, they will not be as intimidated to make a video of themselves. You can watch recordings of Robert Munsch’s storytelling and see how he emphasizes sound effects and uses pauses and volume to be highly entertaining and expressive. If you have a reading buddy class, your students could prepare a read-aloud to pass a love of reading to younger students. This activity could allow you to cover drama, media literacy, reading, and oral communication expectations.

If you dug deeper behind some of the stories, you would see that Robert Munsch’s sense of compassion comes through. Sometimes you have to infer the details from the illustrations. In some cases, you can listen to Robert Munsch giving interviews about the motivation for a story. Here are a few examples with a brief description of the story behind the story.

Smelly Socks:  This story takes place at K’atl’odeeche First Nation. K’atl’odeeche is not named in the story itself, but it is in the dedication. The illustrations are based on photographs of the area. There are details to note in the story to discuss life at this First Nation in the 1980s. Tina’s family had no car. There was only one store. The bridge to town (Hay River) was too far to walk. Many Canadians have never visited a First Nation and are not aware of the difficulties some First Nations face. This story could launch your class into an inquiry about life on First Nations.

The current website for K’atl’odeeche First Nation details its history and cultural celebrations.

From Far Away:  Saoussan wrote to Robert Munsch in grade two. She had been in Canada for about 18 months. He made up this story based on some of her experiences. I like to read it close to Halloween because it can help students new to school in Canada prepare for the occasion. I also find it helps students think critically about what it is like for someone who does not know the dominant language at school. It also can be a starting point for thinking about people’s experiences with war. Read this story with an awareness of whether or not the content could be disturbing to your students.

Where is Gah-Ning?: Set in Northern Ontario, this story has colourful illustrations by Hélène Desputeaux. Gah-Ning is a girl who is inventive and determined, although not very safe in her travel choices. You will relate to this character if you have ever lived in a time or place where not much was going on! Older students can compare life in their area to the small town of Hearst. The child in this story became Robert Munsch’s pen pal for decades. This story could inspire your class to begin a pen pal program with a faraway school. There are websites to help you find a match. 

I encourage you to do some further reading, viewing, and listening about Robert Munsch. He is 77 years old while I’m writing this blog and is dealing with dementia. He has stopped making public appearances. He has been open about his struggles with mental illness. 

I have a personal story about Robert Munsch. In 1995 I was teaching grade 2, and my class wrote letters to try and win a Robert Munsch visit. We mailed our good copies to the Quaker Oats Company and hoped for the best. Alas, we did not win. I still had the rough copies. They were a little marked up, but I packed them into an envelope and sent them off to Bob, hoping for a reply. I got more than I bargained for! He sent a fun story and a poster as usual, but he also included a card saying:

 “Dear Miss McClelland, I like it better if you don’t correct the kids spelling. Bob Munsch” 

Lesson learned! If you are sending rough copies that have editing marks to anyone – explain, explain, explain!

Enjoy your Robert Munsch adventures,


P.S. If you want more information about where some of Munsch’s characters are now, try this MacLean’s article. 

Scholastic has information about Munsch, including a mailing address at this website.

Munsch has his own website where you can send an email or learn more about him.

International Pronouns Day

International Pronouns Day is celebrated on the third Wednesday of October. This year it will be recognized on October 19th. According to the website, “International Pronouns Day seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace.” The use of pronouns represents a deeply felt sense of identity for people and using the pronouns people choose is a demonstration of respect and human dignity. Transgender and non-binary people can be especially affected by misgendering or misuse of pronouns which can be detrimental to their comfort and safety. Normalizing the sharing and educating about personal pronouns takes away any assumptions one may have about others’ identities and helps support their right to human dignity.

Most people are familiar with the pronouns he/him, she/her, they/them However, there are over 76 pronouns in usage today. You may hear of other neopronouns, such as zie/zim/zir and vi/ver/vers. The use of neopronouns or gender neutral pronouns allow for greater selection of words that people feel comfortable using to refer to themselves. Typically, you would not refer to someone with neopronouns or gender neutral pronouns unless they request you use them. However, it is acceptable to use they/them as singular gender neutral pronouns for someone who has not yet shared their pronouns with you. Good practice, in the name of allyship, is to introduce yourself and your pronouns when meeting someone for the first time. Asking in a respectful manner, such as, “If you’re comfortable sharing, I would like to be able to use your personal pronouns” would be an invitation that lets others know you are striving to create a safe and inclusive space. However, everyone needs to be aware that pronouns may change as a person learns more about their own identity or feels comfortable giving you consent to call them by pronouns that best match their lived identity.

As an educator our positionality can truly set the tone of the learning space. Egale’s Report “Every Class in Every School” found that “When all identity-related grounds for feeling unsafe are taken into account, including ethnicity and religion, more than three quarters (78%) of trans students indicated feeling unsafe in some way at school.” Those numbers are reflective of schools in Canada; the very environments in which we work. There is a lot of learning and understanding needed to make schools safer, and surely only sharing and using correct pronouns is not enough, but it is a small step toward building equity and understanding.

This year, when contemplating my own allyship in anti-Transphobia and anti-Trans Violence I am choosing to be intentional in being a visible ally. A Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) that I support is choosing to make pronoun buttons that the students choose to best represent their identities. They are also planning to invite teachers to create and wear pronoun buttons at school and emphasizing that International Pronoun Day is only the start of wearing pronoun buttons all year long. I am conscious about not making assumptions about people’s pronouns and am offering my own when I first meet new people. I am also reminding myself that it is my obligation to demonstrate respect by using everyone’s correct pronouns and it is my own responsibility to monitor my own behaviour and speech.

Understanding and accepting that people have the ability and right to choose the words that best reflect their identities is an integral part of anti-transphobic work. This October, I am encouraging you to consider how you will show up to support International Pronouns Day and how you will carry that work forward throughout the rest of the year.

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.



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.

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

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Learning. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. (2022). Schooling. Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries.
Retrieved from

Why Representation Matters in Your Teaching Practice

Growing in Ontario as a second generation Filipino largely involved learning someone else’s histories and stories – voyageurs, cowboys, settlers, fur traders, and a whole slew of white protagonists. I didn’t know that I was missing any perspectives, and happily read my way through Shakespeare, Salinger and Austen, dreaming of studying English literature in university.

When I started teaching, I dutifully used whatever resources were provided, excitedly poring over the details of England’s glorious wars and conquests. I genuinely believed I was sharing alternative perspectives through ‘multicultural’ or ‘social justice’ texts written by white authors. I firmly subscribed to the idea that creative works of fiction could be viewed separately from an author’s lived experience, and that a text did not need to be questioned if it contained all the elements of ‘good’ storytelling.

Despite my best efforts to serve my diverse group of students, I was ultimately serving up the same perspective and worldview I had been raised with: Euro-centric, Western, and woefully one-sided.

Like many other educators over the last 5-10 years, I felt the need to decolonize my work and critically reflect on my own perspective. And while I am still largely on a journey to understand my own complex relationship with Canada and my family’s cultural ancestry, I am certain that we have the capacity and resources to ensure that the students we teach don’t have to be instilled with a worldview that undermines their own sense of identity by ignoring and devaluing their cultural assets.

Use Culturally Responsive Resources

Representation matters. When you don’t see yourself represented in the media you consume or what you learn in school, you can feel alienated from your own community or surroundings. Seeing yourself and your culture in what you learn is engaging, empowering and exciting.

Teachers today likely have access to the most diverse range of authors and stories in the history of publishing. Black, Indigenous, East Asian, South Asian, Latinx, Southeast Asian and 2SLGBTQ+ authors are writing some incredible books for kids and young adults. And no, you don’t have to read every young adult novel or picture book that hits the shelves of your local bookstore: ask the library resource, support staff or consultant in your school or board to suggest some titles, and divide the reading up with your teaching team. Build literature circles or reading units with the titles that reflect the range of identities of the students in your classroom, co-planning and co-teaching as much as possible to save time and energy.

Beyond language arts, there are so many ways to make your programming more culturally responsive and representative of the students you teach. Incorporate the voices and histories of different communities in your social studies, history, or geography teaching. Make independent research and inquiry a regular practice, scaffolding learning by providing prompts or ideas that encourage learners to discover different perspectives and to consume historical and social discourses critically.

If the class or classes you teach is monocultural, students will still benefit from learning diverse perspectives and narratives. Such texts can dispel stereotypes, enable students to develop a more balanced perspective of society, or spark interest and engagement.

Change Isn’t Easy

Doing the work of disrupting the way you teach is not easy and will certainly not happen overnight. It is easy to get triggered by ideas and perspectives that don’t align with the worldview you have held for much of your life. And it can feel onerous to invest time and energy into changing your program. So start with small changes: a new text or approach to assessment, tweaking your discussion questions to provoke a more critical discussion, or connect with other teachers that are intentionally changing their programming to be anti-racist and anti-oppressive.

The effort you place into making today’s learning environment a more inclusive place will pay off when you see students feeling seen, engaged and connected to the place they learn.

4 Ways to Welcome Students from Refugee Situations

Students that come from refugee situations are a unique group that differ from other newcomer students. Some may have fled their homes due to persecution and war. Others have endured long journeys through different countries, often without a clear destination. Some may have witnessed acts of violence against families and loved ones, or have been victims of abuse and torture. Many have experienced significant lapses in formal education.

Like other newcomer students, students from refugee situations will be experiencing the stressors of adjusting to a new country,  a new school, and learning a new language. Their families may also face systemic barriers like discrimination, Islamophobia and anti-Black racism.

It’s important for teachers to keep in mind that they already possess many teaching skills and strategies that will help these students feel safe and thrive in a new environment.

Let’s explore some ways teachers and staff can welcome and support students from refugee situations.

Learn the Background of the Student

When teachers know the backgrounds of newcomer students in their classes, they can determine appropriate program adaptations, understand their student’s unique circumstances,  and be better prepared to provide trauma-informed pedagogy if required.

What is the best way to get to know a newcomer student? If your board has an intake and initial assessment process, read through the report to get a sense of their background and a snapshot of their language, literacy and numeracy skills.

During class, ask the student to show you the places they have been on a map, or to show photos of their home country or city, using a translation tool if needed.

Invite students’ families to the schools and, if needed, enlist an interpreter to facilitate the meeting. Use the meeting as an opportunity to answer questions the family has about the school and education system in Ontario, and ask questions about their child’s educational background, interests, goals, and what language(s) they speak at home.

Support Learning Across Languages

Newcomer students with refugee backgrounds are often multilingual, arriving in Canada with oral communication and literacy skills in one or more languages. In many cases, these students will have emergent literacy skills due to interruptions in formal schooling.

Multilingual learners (MLs) will need program adaptations that will enable them to learn English, the language of instruction in their classroom, while also maintaining proficiency in the languages they already communicate with.

Providing opportunities for MLs to use the full range of their linguistic skills honours the cultural assets students bring to the school community, enables students to share their prior knowledge and experiences with their peers, and supports literacy development. Teachers can encourage students to ‘translanguage’ or use the full range of their linguistic repertoires by:

  • Informing the class/school community about the importance of home languages.
  • Making students’ languages visible in the classroom.
  • Making room for  home languages as part of the learning process.
  • Embracing languages, dialects and accents.
  • Providing access to multilingual resources.

Tools like Google Translate and Microsoft Translate support translanguaging and can be a lifeline for students who want to work alongside their peers.

Be Trauma Informed

Many students from refugee situations have experienced traumatic events, and that trauma may continue long after they arrive in Canada. Some students show many signs of trauma, some will show few signs, and some will show no signs of trauma at all. It’s important to keep in mind that as a teacher, you are not a therapist or a mental health professional that will treat the trauma symptoms of students.

You can be trauma-informed by becoming aware of the prevalence of trauma among students, what symptoms of trauma might look like, and how trauma can affect them. Creating a safe, supportive and regulated learning environment will be critical to supporting the transition of students with refugee backgrounds into the classroom.

To learn more about the signs that a student may be struggling with adjustment and trauma, and strategies for creating trauma-informed learning environments, please visit this page or check out this resource from the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Use the Steps to English Proficiency (STEP) Continua to Provide Appropriate Program Adaptations

Setting appropriate learning expectations for newcomer students who are emergent speakers of English is essential to supporting their success in school, and is mandated by ministry policy. The ESL or ELD Steps to English Proficiency (STEP) Continua is a Ministry developed resource that is very helpful for assessment and planning purposes.  STEP along with the Ontario Curriculum can be used alongside an initial assessment report (if available) and ongoing observations you have of the student.  Find out in your school and in your board what supports or staff or professional learning there is to guide and support programming for ELLs. Start by:

  • Determine whether the student will be placed on the ESL or ELD STEP Continua using recommendations from the initial assessment report and any other observations you have gathered about the student in class or communicating with the family. When a student in grades 3 or higher has had significant gaps or  interrupted learning, they should be placed on the ELD Continua.
  • Modify grade level curriculum expectations, when needed, using the appropriate STEP Continua. You may modify the depth and breadth of the learning expectation to provide the student with an entry point into the Ontario curriculum.
  • Support the student’s learning further by creating a culturally responsive learning environment and providing accommodations that facilitate English or French language acquisition. For example: use of visuals, translation tools, pairing with a peer that speaks the same language, multilingual instructions.

Your Work as a Teacher Matters

When you create a welcoming, safe and supportive environment for newcomer students, you are not just enhancing the learning environment, but playing a direct role in facilitating the success of some of the most vulnerable learners in the school community.

Professional Learning

Educators are such a hard working and dedicated lot. We spend time preparing for work and often seek opportunities to improve our learning and thinking outside of the school day. In my work as a local executive member, I am commonly asked to recommend some great professional learning that is both practical and reflective. If this is what you are looking for, then look no further than ETFO professional learning programs.

ETFO offers a variety of Additional Qualifications (AQ) courses online and even a few onsite. Throughout the year you will find that there are many opportunities to enroll in each session and the courses are taught by teachers for teachers. I have taken many AQ courses with ETFO and have always been impressed by the instructors’ knowledge and dedication to enriching the program experience. In fact, when I took Inclusive Classrooms online our instructor also had drop in Zoom meetings scheduled for us to connect with one another virtually and to help build the learning community. The instructors always connected theoretical course content to the practicality of the classroom. I had the opportunity to engage with teachers across the province and share ideas, strategies, and learning together.

If you aren’t looking for the time commitment of an Additional Qualification course, keep your eyes peeled for Professional Learning and Events run at ETFO’s Provincial Office. You will find a number of different events open for registration through the portal from single day conferences to multi-session programs. These wonderful learning spaces provide opportunities to meet in person with other like-minded individuals to learn and discuss important issues happening in education. There are specific programs for women, Indigenous Peoples, anti-Black racism, and so much more that are intentional about amplifying voices and providing safe spaces. The annual …And Still We Rise conference is a fabulous women’s conference connecting women across the province in a variety of workshops with inspirational guest speakers and opportunities to reflect and empower one another.

At times, there may be limited enrollment for provincial events, so connecting with your ETFO Local can also give you access to many opportunities right in your own geographical area. Your ETFO Local can offer a wide variety of PL workshops to service the members’ interests. Some of those workshops are provided by ETFO Provincial to locals, including Women in Action, Presenters on the Road, Summer Academy and more. In our own local, we have had local members sharing resources or engaging in conversations with members. At times, we have even had guest speakers from the community speaking to the membership about health, politics, or other pertinent topics. Getting involved and being connected with your local’s activities will give you the opportunity to lend your voice to your local team.

If you are looking to really get involved with your local executive, try volunteering for a committee, such as Professional Learning, Equity, or Status of Women. While you will be likely helping out with some events, you will also have the opportunity to attend learning sessions and have conversations together. When I first started with my ETFO Local, I was a volunteer for the PL committee. Each session was amazing, but the experience of learning how to provide an inclusive environment and the considerations that go into running an event was also invaluable. On that committee, we really got a chance to hear the topics members wanted to learn more about and it really helped me to frame some of my thinking about what was important to teachers. I learned so much from how municipal politics could directly affect education to hands-on activities to use when teaching dramatic arts. A lot of learning can come from being part of a local executive team, just from being present and involved.

As you move through this year of education and whatever it may bring, I hope that you consider participating in some of the great learning ETFO has to offer. You won’t be disappointed!

Truth and Reconciliation Part 2

Boozhoo, Aanii, Amanda Hardy ndizhinikaaz; N’Swakamok ndi-daa, Teme-Augama ndonjiba; Mukwaa Dodem, Anishinabekwe nda’awi.

Identifying myself in my language acknowledges my family, my clan, my culture and my history. It fosters a strong sense of belonging, something I sought for so long. This is not something I have always had in my life. I feel immense gratitude for the people, experiences and lessons that have afforded me the confidence, pride and the capacity to identify as an Anishinabee Kwe (Native woman).

When I introduce myself in my language, I am honouring the work of those before me who made this possible for me and so many others. Those who preserved and shared our language and culture successfully resisting acts of genocide committed against Indigenous Peoples.

Learning and sharing the truth of the impact of residential schools and other horrific acts committed against Indigenous People is a vital first step in reconciliation. Additionally, deepening our understanding of how intergenerational trauma occurs and how it manifests in our students may help us in developing a broader understanding of the current barriers our students experience. These can seem overwhelming or even unattainable tasks.

For me, I try to look at one piece at a time. I ask myself, “What is one action I can take today that might make a difference?” Speaking my language, learning and sharing my culture, and acknowledging my Indigenous identity is not something that Indigenous People across Canada have been always able to do. This seemingly simple act of identifying myself holds deep meaning for me and many others, illuminates my sense of pride and supports community healing. It is incredibly powerful to acknowledge who I am, and to speak my truth as we work towards reconciliation together.

As a suggestion for addressing difficult conversations, I’d like to offer one of my favourite ways ~ picture books. Picture books offer teachers opportunities to introduce topics, generate thinking amongst their students and to teach many concepts over the course of a unit. Below you will find the titles of some from my personal collection. Check them out:

Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes by Wab Kinew
When We Were Alone by David Robertson
Not My Girl and When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokaik-Fenton
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kasser
Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell

In the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation I continue to develop my self-understanding and I hope that as an Anishinabee Kwe, an educator and a mother, I may encourage Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and educators to embrace who they are and reflect on the actions they may take towards reconciliation, however small they may seem.