Summer Reading -Focusing on Indigenous Authors

Reading outdoors on a summer’s day is one of my favourite activities and this year one of my goals is to read more books from the perspective of Indigenous Peoples so I can better understand my students and our community. Today I’ll share a few books by Indigenous authors for learning and pleasure.

Both Braiding Sweetgrass and the TRC Summary are books I am rereading because they are packed full of information and stories that are valuable to teachers. These texts are very helpful if you’re like me, a settler who had very little exposure or education about Indigenous ways of knowing and/or residential schools.

Daughters of the Deer was recently recommended by a friend.  I have read the author’s picture book, Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox to many classes so I’m very excited to read her first novel. When doing research for this blog I saw that Danielle Daniel has a new picture book, Sometimes I Feel Like a River, so I’ll be reading that one too!

Miichi Saagiig Nishnaabeg: This is Our Territory is a book that really speaks to me because I have lived in this territory all my life. I’m sure readers around the world will enjoy this book but also check and see if you there is a book published specifically about the territory where you live. 

These books and many more are available from Goodminds which is a First Nations owned bookstore in the Six Nations of the Grand River in Brantford. Please check out their website and follow on your socials.Goodminds – First Nations Métis and Inuit Books

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2015) by Robin Wall Kimmerer  Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. Milkweed Press

Daughters of the Deer (2022) by Danielle Daniel In this haunting and groundbreaking historical novel, Danielle Daniel imagines the lives of women in the Algonquin territories of the 1600s, a story inspired by her family’s ancestral link to a young girl who was murdered by French settlers. Penguin Random House

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Volume One Summary Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) by The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

This is the Final Report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its six-year investigation of the residential school system for Aboriginal youth and the legacy of these schools. This report, the summary volume, includes the history of residential schools, the legacy of that school system, and the full text of the Commission’s 94 recommendations for action to address that legacy. James Lorimer and Company Ltd.

Miichi Saagiig Nishnaabeg: This is Our Territory (2018) by Gidigaa Migizi (Doug Williams) In this deeply engaging oral history, Gidigaa Migizi (Doug Williams), Anishinaabe elder, teacher, and mentor to Leanne Betasamosake Simpson recounts the history of the Michi Saagiig Nisnaabeg, tracing through personal and historical events, and presenting what manifests as a crucial historical document that confronts entrenched institutional narratives of the history of the region. ARP Books

Whatever you choose to read, enjoy your summer reading, I know I will!

The grandness of July

I love the tree outside my window. I’ll look up at it from my chair while reading a book, or cast a quick glance as I’m vacuuming. I suppose it’s an unremarkable tree. Not too tall, a thin trunk. It’s a common silver birch. But there is a way it looks, especially in July and August, that has the ability to instantly pierce through whatever worry I am feeling and replace it with a little bit of serenity. 

The view through the glass only allows me to see the topmost branches of the tree, nothing else. The bright green leaves are glossed, giving their surface a bit of a shine. At the slightest breeze the little triangular leaves, like pointed teardrops, begin to wave and flutter in glittering celebration.  And the backdrop to this green and silver splendour is the mid-summer sky, usually clear and bright, its deep blue electrified by sunlight. 

Not bad for a little birch tree. 

Finding grand beauty in small moments is something I’m trying to do this summer. In noticing what is around me, what is wonderful, and what I am grateful for. It’s not unlike teaching, where the most incredible joys can come from those “small” moments: a student’s delight when they understand something for the first time … an unexpected perspective or piece of art created in class … hearing pride in students’ voices as they share important events and people in their lives … camaraderie with other educators as we work together to create the best learning environments we can for students. 

As I look back on this year’s blog entries, I see it was a long, wonderful year full of those tiny moments of joy: students recognizing and celebrating their languages, educators collaborating, conversations, translations, open houses, and pincushions …

I hope this blog entry finds you happily settled into your summer, finding those wonderfully-small, imperfectly-perfect beautiful moments throughout. 

Indigenous Peoples Day 2023

How was your celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day? We are all at different entry points as far as Indigenous education goes.  I think 99% of my learning has happened in adulthood and I still have a long way to go. I read, watch and listen to Indigenous Peoples so I can move forward as a settler in a good way but it’s not always clear what I should do next and I admit, I stumble along the way.  In 2021, the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools confirmed the horrific stories I had heard previously.  It left me feeling guilty, hollow, and unsure how to help. When attending webinars and presentations I heard Indigenous people saying that education is a critical factor in improving relations.  We are educators and we can make a difference.

Indigenous Peoples Day gives us a chance to celebrate the joy, humour, music, art, dance and storytelling of Indigenous Peoples. This year we formed a committee to create a slide deck with some suggestions for the various grades in our school. I’ve included some of the links below.

It would be better to have people present in a live, interactive format rather than relying on video.  This is an improvement I would like to see made in the future at my school.  Dancers, storytellers, artists, musicians, scientists, writers and other guest speakers who are First Nation, Métis or Inuit have given fantastic presentations to my students in the past.  If you want a speaker for June 21st, you have to book months in advance and be prepared to offer alternate dates.  For example, I noticed that our local municipality offered a celebration of Indigenous Peoples on June 25 at the local library and the event included drummers, beading and food.  

Another part of our day included encouraging classes to spend time outside and reflect on their relationship with the land.  What does the land look like where you live? How is it used? What can we do to protect and give back to the land?  Similarly, what can you do to protect water where you live?  Our relationship with the land is the key part of the land acknowledgement that our school reads every day and our students can benefit from outdoor experiences that help them become more aware of the interdependence of all living things. 

I hope you were able to learn, laugh and celebrate on Indigenous Peoples Day. There are numerous events throughout the summer to celebrate with Indigenous Peoples and reconnect with the land. Hopefully we will all have plenty of opportunities to do so!  Here are some links that our staff and K-8 students used this year:

CBC Kids – What is Indigenous

Molly Of Denali – Northern Lights 

DJ Shub feat. Northern Cree Singers – Indomitable

Métis Red River Jig with Hip Hop fusion

Inuit String Game Story

ETFO Going Beyond the Land Acknowledgement

ETFO First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education 

Moving across

Inna* walked into the library confidently. She had very recently arrived in Canada and was, like so many multilingual language learners, a hands-down amazing communicator. She greeted me in both Ukrainian and English, and sat down to get to work. As we conversed, she continued speaking in Ukrainian and then added some of the English she knew to express herself, and sometimes gestures. I did the same. The conversation progressed this way naturally, as we shared our likes, dislikes, and some of our interests and hobbies. 

The classroom teacher and I had collaborated just prior to that session, a quick yet impactful dialogue about what he was teaching, and how he might make it accessible to everyone in the class. He explained his lesson, which was new learning for me, and I in turn shared some possible strategies and multilingual adaptations that might work to ensure Inna could participate as well. He chose the adaptations that worked best for his set up, and I offered to show Inna some of them in a withdrawal session.

And in this way, I found myself sitting in an empty library across from this resourceful student, using all of the tools at her disposal to communicate. I got out her teacher’s questions, prepared to show her some strategic translation tools that would help fill in anything she didn’t understand, as well as some sentence frames in English and Ukrainian for offering answers. I placed them on the table in front of her.

She regarded the questions on the paper, and then me, with calm awareness. As I reached for my iPad, my finger hovering over that familiar little icon, she gave a quick shake of her head. She swiftly took out her own device, and before I knew it had snapped a photo of the text, skillfully read the translation in Ukrainian, and concluded with an assured nod of the head, “Yes.”

I put my iPad down with a smile.

Translanguaging is a wonderful tool — not only for learning and expanding all languages the MLL speaks, but for accessing curriculum and creating inclusive learning environments. From the Latin word “trans”, meaning “across”, translanguaging is moving “across” and back and forth between languages in order to communicate, think, and learn. This intelligent student demonstrated all of this in just a few moments of interaction. She used both Ukrainian and English to express herself, to check the meaning of words, to access the classroom task, and begin to form answers. 

How much of this learning, this communication, would have been possible had we been using English exclusively?  How much of her personality, how many of her thoughts and contributions, would have been silenced? When you think about it that way, why would we want a school environment that demands answers and learning be conducted in a single language? A learning environment that posits, even unintentionally, a single language as the norm? 

We know that for learning spaces to be equitable, all students’ identities, knowledge, skills — and languages in which they are encoded — need to be centered and affirmed. As Inna demonstrated so powerfully, translanguaging is one indispensable element of such inclusive classrooms. 

*names have been changed 

that kid

Created by DALL-E
a-class-photo-of-faceless-students-in-the-styles-of-Monet-Rembrandt-Kandinsky-and-Warhol prompt by author

I was thinking about that kid and I found myself getting emotional. 

You know the one. We all do. Whether the name(s) or face(s) you thought of are in your class this year or not. We all have one or two students who popped in there almost immediately. I am not going to sugar coat this either because it got emotional. When I think about that kid, my feelings range quite widely here. Anger, joy, sadness, peace, et al have all staked their claims in my amygdalae and other rose coloured spaces in my emotional thought centre.

My first “that kid” came when I was quite new to teaching. I probably owe them an apology for pushing too hard about their studies without considering how hard it must have been to be truly trying their best, but not meeting the expectations of which I was thoroughly* convinced were so clearly taught and put within reach. Like I mentioned above, an apology has been uttered on a couple of occasions for that learner into the universe. 

There are two other feelings that happens sometimes, relief and angst. Relief that you were able to make it through a year together and grow. Angst over what I missed or, straight up, got completely wrong. My most recent that kid reads like this: 

Is quiet – too quiet.
Sticks to the sidelines as if crazy glued there.
Struggles to start something, and struggles even more to finish.
Whether it is a transition, a sentence, or a math challenge mine has got me thinking about what I need to do differently next time because there will be a next time no matter how hard I work to learn the lessons from the past to use now and in the future.

As teachers, I’ve noticed that we tend to be pretty hard on ourselves much more often than we realize or care to admit. It’s who we are as reflective practitioners who seek to make things better for our learners. I have noticed that we fret far more about any flaws in our work even when there are few if any cracks in our foundations. We are constant works in progress alongside our students and we wear it on our sleeves when it doesn’t go well. 

Sometimes, that kid gifts you some victories too. You see, all that time spent investing in that kid can turn out to be a life enriching moment for you as an educator and even more so for that kid as a scholar. Since my first that kid nearly 15 years ago, I have marveled at hearing from students who are completing degrees at amazing schools and starting to write the next chapters of their lives. This week I ran into a student who will be doing just that.

To be honest, it wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops with this particular that kid. If poor choices, bad behaviour, and work avoidance were credit courses, this learner would be top of the class. Fast forward 6 years and they are about to begin a very challenging degree program at a top university. That could have only happened with significant support, responsibility, accountability, and commitment. In other words, the exact opposite to where they were back then. So what turned this scholar around? How did the switch get flipped, and who did the flipping? I was certainly thrilled to receive such news knowing that there would be more good things to come as a result of them finding their stride as a student. Whoever helped this “that kid” turn over a new leaf has changed one young person’s life not for good, but for great. 

I am also aware that there are some who will never get to experience an about face like the that kid above, and I need to take ownership of that and work to improve going forward. Maybe my next that kid will not fall through the cracks through their education? I know that there is always room to improve what and how we do this job of ours. I know that teachers have countless conversations in order to find and fit the complex puzzle pieces we know as students together. I know that there is no single strategy or approach that will reach 100% of our students. What we need to remind ourselves is that we come pretty close to perfection, and we do it across a decade plus of siloed collaboration, between the panels, whether we realize it or not. 

When you think about it, each of our students could have as many as 50 teachers over their K to 12 careers. Of course homeroom teachers occupy the bulk of those first 10 years yet that still means there are countless points of influential interaction to be had between an entire cast of educators all working in concert to make sure each that kid gets and gives the best. 

This job asks us to accept and understand that we often will never know how the work we put in with our students will support them in the future. Closure is not a luxury many elementary teachers ever have once our students move onward and beyond our schools, but that should not bring us down because there is always that kid who takes the time, after several years have gone by, to reach out and connect again: to share how much they appreciated what was taught to them in and out of the classroom all those years ago. 


*On a random note: the word thoroughly breaks down into tho roughly. So now my idea of thorough will always be considerate of whether I was thorough or tho rough

Beginnings at the end

As I write this blog, there are two school days left. It is that strange time of year when I feel like I can finally, finally start to come up for breath — just a little bit — after a frenetic month of deadlines and demands. 

This June seemed particularly busy … then again, I think I always say that. At any rate, it is inevitably four weeks of non-stop final assessments, transition tours, summer camp sign-ups, parent interviews, presentations, and report cards. By the end of the month, exhaustion makes itself known.

Early this morning, as the sun was just starting to colour the sky, I sat with my coffee at the kitchen table and flipped open my laptop. Weak bluish light from my calendar illuminated the still-dark room, and as I stared at the familiar daily schedules I realized that, all of a sudden, the seemingly endless list of items to complete had dwindled to just a few. The monumental tasks that had stared me down at the beginning of the month, that kept me awake at night and charging full throttle during the day, had all but been taken care of. 

In that moment, I felt that first small calm before summer. And that feeling stayed with me through the day, as I went about finishing off the final errands of the year. After school, as I walked into the sunny afternoon, I could feel the warmth slowly start to pull at the the tangle of deadlines that had matted in my thoughts, unravelling them to complete. Calm.

With school ending for another year, I am looking forward to welcoming more of that calm this summer. Whether it is spending time with my family, meeting with friends, walking in the woods, or simply taking time to listen to myself, to what I need … those are the wonderful beginnings I want to focus on now.

May you also find beautiful beginnings this summer, that the months ahead bring you what you need to rest and restore. 


I have this pink schlumbergera plant.  You may have heard it commonly referred to as the ‘Christmas cactus’.  The funny thing about mine is that it blooms in June.  I know they are supposed to be in full splendour in the winter – that’s how it got its common name.  But this one is on its own time schedule. How that happened, I have no idea.  

I brought it home one spring and I’ve had it so long I can’t remember from where.   We’ve had some ups and downs together.  It took me a long while to figure out what kind of sun and watering schedule it needed to thrive.  I had to do some research and tap on the expertise of  my fellow plant friends for ideas on how to get it to bloom at all!  It took a lot more effort than my pothos plants that seem to grow in spite of my steep learning curve as an indoor gardener.  

As we just completed report card writing season, I think a lot about this little schlumbergera and not just because it always tends to bloom near my kitchen table around the time I am sitting and writing reports. Rather, I think about the journey we’ve gone through together.  Much like the students we work with, some of them will ‘bloom’ at different times than others.  Some of them might require extra time and effort; they might need us to tap on our professional colleagues for advice and resources that will help us to grow in our own professional learning. They might work really hard at different stages of growth and some of that work isn’t always visible in a final product, but in small progressive steps toward their goals. 

It’s hard to convey all of this in a single document, like a report card or a final mark.  It can be challenging to find the right words that honour a child’s learning journey and leave space to communicate how proud I am when they ‘bloom’.  I spend a lot of time thinking about how to give them the message that shows I genuinely care about who they are becoming and how hard they’ve worked to get there. 

That’s one of the beautiful things about teaching.  Learning together is really a process of getting to know students and helping them to know themselves.  And in this way, we also learn about our own selves as educators; we learn and grow right alongside them.

I’ve gone through quite a few schlumbergera plants over the years.  They typically go on to live their best lives at my mom’s house where they thrive and in her front window; growing and blooming all at the right time – but this little pink one is staying right here in my own window.  We’ve worked hard together to find our own rhythm and while we aren’t doing things at all the “right” times, we’ve found a way to bloom that works for us.

Notes of gratitude

I love a good quote. And quotes are ubiquitous in the education world, thankfully. They pop up on email signatures, inspirational posters, and in scholarly articles. Many deal with how an educator’s impact can flow through generations, reaching ahead into time beyond what we now see, and how we will never know the ways in which our teaching today shapes the lives of tomorrow. Such musings often centre on how teachers can impact the lives of students. But in this blog, I want to discuss the impact educators can have on other educators.

I have been fortunate to work with amazing colleagues over the years. And the educators I work closely with now seem a concentrated microcosm of all that is good about collaboration in education. The free flow of ideas. The dialogue. The trust in one another. The courage to say, I don’t know. The humility, and sometimes bravery, it takes to try something new. Where would I be without these conversations? These gifts? My practice and approach has changed over the years, shifting in response to new information, new needs, and inspiration from colleagues. Like any practice, teaching is one that cannot remain stagnant. We always search for the best ways to educate, to affirm. 

So, with another year nearly at the close, this blog is a thank you note to all the teachers and educators that I work with. Thank you for sharing your ideas with me. Thank you for listening when I have been stumped by a challenge. Thank you for supporting me when I set out on new waters, and for having my back when the seas are a little rough. Thank you for your dedication and excellence, the passion with which you support students every day. Thank you for challenging me to see what I previously could not. Thank you for making me a better teacher. 

With increasing demands placed on teachers and educators everywhere, finding those colleagues, those mutually-supportive communities, is more important than ever. I wish you all the most wonderful luck in finding those safe harbours, those adventurous journeys, and the unifying strength that comes from it all.


Teacher Tip: Take a Real Break This Summer

June has arrived, bringing the promise of summer and a sudden shift toward optimism in our daily routines. While I will eventually write a post about some of my favourite recommended teacher reads for the summer, I am going to encourage all of my fellow ETFO members to do something really important: take a long break from teaching.

a sunset in the trees
Take some time to disconnect this summer.

I remember my first few teaching years rather vividly: the stress, the endless classroom management, planning endlessly, and the never-ending pile of marking that only seemed to grow. It is hard to describe the feeling of absolute relief, joy and freedom that comes on that last day of school when the bell rings. Within days, I would pack my giant backpack and head on a flight to South America, where I would gleefully spend my days exploring new cities, trying new foods, and meeting people from all over the world in the hostels I would stay in. Nothing puts distance between yourself and your daily routines like immersing yourself fully in another country, especially if  you are somewhere radically different from the place you are from. Spending long weeks simply exploring was like living another life, and I relished every moment until the inevitable day I would return home and be in the same place I had left – but utterly refreshed and ready to start a new school year.

While my life has changed radically since those carefree days – it’s a little harder to live out the backpacker lifestyle with two kids in tow – I still feel it is critical to distance myself from work for as long as possible when summer arrives. Teaching is intense, and this school year was perhaps one of the most challenging. As the recent ETFO member survey points out, violence in schools is pervasive, behaviour in schools is escalating, and understaffing persists. The challenges faced by students re-entering schools after years of pandemic disruption added a whole new dimension to the work of classroom management. Self-care is absolutely critical to stay healthy in the teaching profession today.

A view of a coastal village.
Where will summer take you?

As educators, we continue to teach and support students, even in difficult circumstances: but to keep going, it is essential to take the time to distance, decompress, and refresh.

This summer – if it is possible – create as much space as you can between your personal and professional life. Get lost in a new country, the woods, the desert, a new town, a new park, or new neighbourhood. Read books or watch movies that that activate your imagination and take you to another world. When you see your teacher friends, try not to talk about work! Try it for a few days, a week, a month, or more.

a picture of the desert
Spend time in nature and clear your mind.

Of course, professional development over the summer is important, but going into a learning session when you are burnt out or frustrated may hinder you from getting an optimal learning experience. Take the time you need before pushing yourself again in your professional practice. Your body and mind will thank you for it!

Heritage Fair

Each spring, many classrooms across Ontario work hard on their heritage fair projects. If you’ve never had the opportunity to participate in the Ontario Heritage Fair, it’s a great opportunity to have students invested in learning, researching parts of Canadian history and heritage. What I love about Heritage Fair Projects is that they are Canadian focussed and can provide a real opportunity for students to critically think about what events or people are an important part of Canada.

I remember doing a similar project when I was in grade eight history class. There was a long list of men, all British or French, who were the ‘influential founders’ of Canada. My project was on Sir Wilfrid Laurier. I think I chose him because he was on the five dollar bill and that bill was the one I saw most often at 12 years old. I can’t remember learning much more about him except that he also had a university named after him in Waterloo. Perhaps I was not as invested in the assignment as I should have been.

This year, there were so many different submissions! Noteworthy Canadians, including Viola Desmond and Terry Fox, begin to really show the changing view of what makes someone influential in Canadian culture. Twelve year old me would have been excited to see a Black woman or a teenage boy with an amputated leg as people who changed Canada for the better. These activists who were visible and worked to change a challenging system of inequality are nothing short of inspirational.

It was so fascinating to see some students chose whole organizations as responsible for changing the face of Canada. Organizations such as the Toronto Raptors or Sick Kids Hospitals that have had such influence on changing the landscape of Canada, bringing people together or providing life changing services for so many children and youth. You can imagine how personal these project submissions were for the youth who chose to highlight these organizations as a defining part of Canadian Heritage.

As I start to think more about pedagogy being culturally and historically responsive, I think about how students see themselves and other identities in Canada’s heritage. I wonder how we can encourage and develop learning opportunities that are culturally sustaining – allowing students not only to celebrate and learn about their culture, but to find joy in sharing history and a place for belonging. As the daughter of a Filipina immigrant, I wonder how I could have found my heritage represented in Canada as influential and important here. Could I have learned about my own culture and found space for it to be celebrated in school? What would I have said? What story would I have told?

I am already thinking about next year’s Heritage Fair! It’s beyond exciting to think about co-creating criteria on what makes someone influential or an organization important; to encourage students to critically think and develop their own definitions about what Canada means to them. There will be endless possibilities to plan and create the conditions for students to be invested in their learning, to be excited at seeing themselves reflected in Canadian heritage. I can’t wait to hear their voices!

** The Ontario Heritage Fairs Program (OHFA) is an educational initiative that provides an opportunity for students to explore parts of Canadian history or cultural heritage in a dynamic learning environment. Teachers, community educators, and families encourage students to use a variety of research methods to explore a topic of interest, and medium of choice, to tell their stories – about the land where they live, their personal family history, or their local community stories. For more information visit: