Pushing the Wet’suwet’en conversation forward

I am inspired by students’ reflections and discussions about current events around the world, and especially last week as we learned about the arrests of land defenders and journalists on Wet’suwet’en territory. We talked about what it means for land to be unceded, and we learned that the Supreme Court confirmed through the Delgamuukw case in 1997 that the Wet’suwet’en had not given up title to their land in Northern British Columbia. Here is what we captured during our learning:

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During discussion, one of my students asked an incredible question that caught me off guard: “I thought the Supreme Court was the most important place where decisions are made, and that no one can change their decisions. Why is all of this still happening even after the case in 1997?” 

Despite thinking that I had done enough research on the issue of the Coastal GasLink pipeline passing through Wet’suwet’en land, I did not have an answer for her at that moment. I asked myself: What are the gaps in my understanding of this issue that would leave me without an answer to this question?

I spent some time finding the answer:

  • While the Supreme Court did confirm the hereditary chiefs’ right to the land and sole authority to sanction development on Wet’suwet’en territory based on pre-colonial law, there were unresolved issues regarding the divisions of power between hereditary chiefs and band councils. The band council system is imposed under the Indian Act (which falls under Canadian law) to facilitate nation-to-nation relationships, but is not recognized under pre-colonial laws and structures used by the nation’s hereditary chiefs.
  • Coastal GasLink claims that all necessary permits were acquired in order to build the pipeline, but the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation argue that they never gave express consent to build on the territory. There seems to be a loophole through which Coastal GasLink got approval for the pipeline because they negotiated an agreement with the Wet’suwet’en elected band council. This is all fine and good if we’re talking about Canadian laws and structures but Wet’suwet’en First Nation is unceded land, meaning that the land is meant to be self-governed under pre-colonial law by the hereditary chiefs (which is also recognized in Section 35 of the Constitution).

I’m happy I spent the time to find an answer to my student’s question; I learned so much and feel much better equipped to continue the conversation. Even still, I have some thoughts about how else I can move forward through the rest of this year and grow as an educator in this area. How can I constantly push myself to find the answers? How can I continue teaching about Indigenous right to self-government and sovereignty, especially on unceded land?

I teach Grade 6, so I try my best to bring these issues back to the heart of what is most important to those most affected. In this case, a commonality in what I read is that the water on Wet’suwet’en land is of utmost importance. “You could swim in that lake and just open your mouth and drink the water, it’s so pristine, and the river is so clear that you can see these very deep spawning beds that the salmon have been returning to for thousands of years,” Sleydo’ says. Whether or not a student understands the legal or historical significance of a conflict like Wet’suwet’en, they will understand the importance of clean water and a thriving ecosystem. Perhaps this fundamental understanding of what is most important could be something that brings groups together to move towards reconciliation.

Truth and Reconciliation Day Reflections

In my grade 7/8 class, we spent the month of September discussing residential schools, learning about how these schools horribly affected many people and their families to this very day. We spent the past two week doing an activity from a Canva slideshow that my principal shared with our staff. We listened to many residential school survivors tell their story and we commented on how these stories made us feel. During the time when these videos were on, my students were actively listening and not distracted by anything around them. I could tell that what they were listening to was important to them. We discussed and participated in activities from this link Canva Link

Then, during the week of September 27th to October 1st, we participated and listened to various live speakers from the Truth and Reconciliation Week activities. During these live videos and activities, my students once again were engaged and being respectful to the speakers. The events we participated in can be found by clicking on this link

After listening to all of the speakers and pre-recorded videos, my students made their own orange shirt out of felt that they could safety pin to their shirt if they did not have an orange shirt for our first Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30th. This idea was shared with me by a fellow teacher in my school (who has done this every year with her class). My students wore them with pride on September 30th as they knew the significance and importance of wearing orange.

Some questions my students had about Truth and Reconciliation Week/Day were:

  1. Why do the government officials get a holiday?
  2. Why would anyone choose to put children in a residential school?
  3. How can we learn from this?
  4. What can we do to help?
  5. Why…just why?

One of my grade eights said it best when he was commenting on the total devastation a parent would feel if their child never returned home. This comment was met with silence from my students.

We also read an article about perhaps in the future moving to make Truth and Reconciliation Day a provincial holiday as well. This brought up a great discussion about why this year it was only for federal employees. One student made a comment along the lines of, “I wonder if those employees are taking the day to reflect.” A good question from a grade eight student.

I commented on the fact that even though we may not feel as if we can do a lot to change what happened, we can respect the time we take each year to remember those children in the unmarked graves and to learn and listen from all of those who were impacted by that. I can continue to teach my class during this month about this each year and my students can continue to remember the children who were found. I enjoyed looking at Instagram and Twitter to see how schools reflected and shared their learning on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

As we move into October and learn about Islamic Heritage Month, we need to do our best to remember how to honour and respect all that we heard during September for the entire school year.

 

Before you summer, take time to D.E.A.L

Drop Everything and Learn

This week, I hit the stop button on my life inside of the classroom for another school year. To quote the Grateful Dead. “What a long strange trip it’s been.” Yet, before shutting down, I need to D.E.A.L. more about how to deepen my understanding and leverage my white settler privilege in support of FNMI communities.

Heart wrenching discoveries of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada have me fighting to make sense of many things right now in this country. How and why could so much hatred and overt evil be inflicted on generations of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people for more than a century? How can a democratically empowered system built on commandments of love thy neighbour, be so obviously racist and genocidal to the very people who shared this land in the first place? And how did it come with the criminal complicity of faith based institutions to boot? These questions have me hearing some very strong internal voices telling me to stay in teacher/learner mode a little longer.

Maybe it’s time we give Canada Day a timeout for a while so we can move forward in a good way?

Can you recall reading or hearing of any treaties that included one group being subjugated to tyranny and relegated to systemic abuse and racism by the other? I can’t. Everyone in education must take time to ensure that the truth about the traumatic truth of Canada’s past no longer remains on the outside of the history books. It’s can be as simple as shifting from outdated text books and colonizer curricula, by for profit publishers, when we plan our lessons. It can be in seeking your closest FNMI partners in education. Numerous school boards are already doing this and ETFO as well. It’s time to seek out resources that include all sides of the story, and not those that fit the nauseatingly one sided Disney endings written for and by settlers.

In my mind it stands at the heart of our humanity as educators and treaty people. We must do more than acknowledging the trauma caused in the past, but to genuinely reconcile our relationships in order to build a just and inclusive future. There is work to be done and despite my momentary fatigue. This learning is a personal call to action that serves as the energy to keep going instead of heading straight for the chaise lounge on my patio. It needs to start now.

Things I can do (you can too)

I need to turn my attention to learning more about the truth that has been so strategically whitewashed out of our conversations and history books as a nation. A nation that is supposed to be the beacon of kindness and inclusion to the rest of the world. The truth, about Canada that world has been shown by our gleaming generosity and polished politeness, may not be seen the same reality as seen through the eyes and experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. It’s time to demand better from those in leadership to stop standing in the way of the truth as shared in the TRC Commission Report shared in 2015.

I need to come to terms with the dissonace from what I have been taught about Canada as a student, and ensure that it’s mistreatment of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit does not continue. As such, I am committing more time to listening to voices that have been silenced for far too long, reading books from authors who share stories from first hand experiences or who speak for elders who have been silenced, and by seeking out ways to bring this into my future classrooms.

I need to reflect in order to move forward.

Throughout this year, my grade 4/5 classroom was a space for conversations and lessons on Residential Schools, Orange Shirt Day, the Mik Maw fishery, BLM, Anti-Asian hate, and systemic racism in general. What is abundantly clear despite many meaningful moments of cleared understanding, the fires that have been lit in my students will need to be refuelled. I hope you all take some time to recharge your bodies and minds over the break, but encourage everyone, at some time over the summer, to drop everything and learn in preparation of re-igniting the fires of truth and reconciliation in the minds of students when we gather again to D.E.A.L in September.

Need a place to start?

Digital Resources:

Education – NCTR – Reconciliation through Education
ETFO First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education Resources 
First Nations Education Steering Committee – Indian Residential Schools and Reconciliation Resources
FNMI Learning Grid curated by Richard Erdmann

Important reads to deepen your understanding:

21 Things you may not know about the Indian Act – Bob Joseph
All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward – Tanya Talaga
Seven Fallen Feathers – Tanya Talaga
Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Hall Kemperer

Wisdom always found here on Twitter:

Bob Joseph @wewap
Colinda Clyne @clclyne
Pamala Agawa @agawap
Bryson the Gaytive @ArnallLabrador 
Jody Kohoko @NishVPKwe

 

 

What’s Your Superpower?

 

“What’s My Superpower” is a sweet and powerful book written by Aviaq Johnston and illustrated by Tim Mack. This is the story of Nalvana, an Inuit child who lives in a northern community, and her journey to find her own “superpower”. This book was gifted to me by my educator friend, Ellie Clin. She thought I might be able to relate to Nalvana, and she was right!

As we prepare for the end of year, some of us might be hoping to include student voice in our Report Cards and/or facilitate Student-Led Conferences. This story could inspire Writing, Drama, and Visual Arts, as well as meaningful opportunities for self-reflection and celebration of all of our “superpowers.”

Here is how I am planning to use this book:

1. Listen to the story, “What’s My Superpower?” by Aviaq Johnston, read aloud on-line.

2. Reflect: What is your superpower?
For example: What makes you a good friend? What activities feel easy for you? What are your gifts or talents?

3. Write about your superpower. Give examples.

4. Draw a picture of yourself using your superpower.

5. Optional: Dress up as a superhero and share your superpower with the class.


I shared this idea with other teachers in the school, and invited them to co-create the template and “success criteria”. We have been talking about creating a shared writing task that can be implemented across the grades to help us build a skills continuum or exemplars of student work from Kindergarten-Grade 6. This writing sample could be considered both a self-reflection for Learning Skills and an introduction to next year’s teacher. It could be included in every students’ portfolio, and/or used for moderated marking.

Transforming Power:
I recently participated in professional learning as part of ETFO’s MentorCoaching program. One of the workshops was called “Transforming Power,” and it was facilitated by Indy Bathh and Louise Pitre. The first activity we did together was to share our superpowers in the Chat. This was a wonderful way to introduce ourselves to each other, and to practice naming our strengths.

It is always interesting to reflect on qualities of leadership with a group of educators who identify as women. As you might expect, the impact of patriarchy and misogyny, capitalism and racism reinforce the oppressive belief that women have less value. In a group of union leaders, it was still difficult for some of the women to identify their own superpowers. This reminded me of how important it is for all of our students to know their power, and to feel powerful, and to use their power to make change.


I want to encourage everyone who is reading this blog to pause and reflect. What are your superpowers? Make a list or draw them. Can you think of a time when you used your superpower to support and empower others? HINT: You do it every day with your students!

CommUNITY:
As I reflect on my own superpowers, I think about how I have been successful at creating community this year: in the classroom, in the school, and in professional learning communities.  During this time of isolation, building relationships and making connections has been the most meaningful work I have done.

In the classroom, I support everyone to feel like a VIP every day. We play together, and celebrate our strengths by giving and receiving Heartprints. In GLOW Club, I actively teach about love, pride and resistance. I organize whole-school events, like the WTF embodied Land Acknowledgment, Gender Splendour Week, sing and dance like a Mummer, and strut my stuff on the runway during our Kiki Ball. I listen and share picture books with staff, and acknowledge the powerful work they are doing with their students.

In the school, I facilitate brave conversations with families through Book Club and Community Core Values discussions, and I share resources with families about Settler Allyship and how to talk to children about anti-Black racism. As the Union Steward, I use our BBSAT (Building Better Schools Action Team) distribution list to share information about ETFO campaigns and actions by Ontario Education Workers United and Ontario Parent Action Network. 

As part of my own professional learning, I will continue to share ETFO’s Women’s Equality Project with locals, and collaborate with members in Ottawa to build relationships of equity and justice. I will continue to attend ETFO webinars and access resources.  I hope to finish my Masters of Education next year.  It has been an honour and a privilege to learn with educators in community.

Gratitude:
After 12 years, I will be leaving The Grove Community School. As one of the founding teachers, I am extremely proud of the learning we have done together to create the first public alternative elementary school with an explicit focus on environmental justice, equity and community activism. I am deeply grateful for all of the students, families, educators, and community members I have worked with at The Grove, ETT and ETFO.  Thank you!

Thank you to “The Heart and Art of Teaching and Learning” for the opportunity to document this unusual year with my Grade 2 students. This summer, my partner and I are moving to Peterborough.  I will be teaching in Kawartha Pine Ridge as an Occasional Teacher next year, which will be a humbling experience.  I will be looking for new allies and educator friends, and re-reading posts from this blog for support and inspiration.

Residential Schools

The remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at Kamloops Indian Residential School this past week. Every child found was a brother, sister, daughter, son, grandchild, and important member of their family. Every child found loved and was loved by their family. Every child found was taken from their home and stripped of their culture and dignity. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is working with the coroner’s office to determine the causes and timings of their deaths, which is currently unknown. What is known, is that no one from the school, community or government documented these deaths. It is a grave reminder that many people knew the horrors of abuse and disease that was going on at residential schools across Canada and no one stopped it. Not a member of the community, the government, a chief medical officer, a teacher or mayor stepped in to stop this horrifying situation for 150, 000 innocent children and their families. It is imperative that we share these stories so every student in Ontario knows this history and can become an advocate for Indigenous rights in Canada.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting at an outdoor theatre with my aunt watching Charlottetown’s Confederation “Centre Young Company” perform a musical that told stories from all around Canada. At the conclusion of the performance, my aunt turned to me with a surprised look on her face and said, “I didn’t know that happened.” She was referring to the powerful song, written and performed by a very talented young man from Nunavut who spoke of the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. I was incredibly surprised that my aunt had not been aware of the cultural genocide that happened at residential schools but soon realized that through conversation that she was never taught it in school and had never heard about it in other areas of her life. As our conversation continued, I saw the transformation in thoughts about our Indigenous peoples as education and the arts can do.

As educators, it is imperative that we do not have more children graduate from our schools not knowing the harm that was caused by residential schools and the history of Colonialism which is still very much ingrained in our current educational and child welfare systems in Canada.

To support teaching about residential schools, there is a Bookstore in Toronto called GoodMinds. This bookstore is First Nations owned and operated. Below, I have highlighted different books that can introduce and continue to tell the horrific history of residential schools in Canada. It is important as educators that we are teaching our students that as settlers, we all have a responsibility to learn the history and advocate for our Indigenous peoples.


Primary:

When We Were Alone/Quand on était seuls by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett

This book is a very gentle introduction to the concept of residential schools that can be read to children as young as Kindergarten. The young girl asks her grandmother, Kokum,  about her brightly coloured dresses, long braided hair, Cree language, and about the times when she was a young girl. Kokum tells her about her experiences attending a residential school for a number of years as a child in a way that her granddaughter can understand.

Shi-Shi-etko/Shi-Shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell

Shi-shi-etko is a picture book about an Interior Salish child with just four more days at home until she goes to residential school. She takes time to explore her environment and spends quality time with her family. The illustrations are beautiful and conveys the connection to one’s community. Although the book is the final days at home before departing, residential schools are only mentioned on the introductory page.

Junior:

I am Not a Number/Je ne suis pas un numéro by Jenny Kay Dupuis (Ojibwe) and Kathy Kacer

This is a dual language book in English or French and Nibisiing.  Nibisiing was the language that Irene was not allowed to speak at the residential school where she was forcibly sent by the “Indian agent”. The book I am Not a Number tells the story of Irene Couchie Dupuis and her horrible and frightening experiences of being in the residential school system. The book is written by her granddaughter Jenny Kay Dupuis.

The Orange Shirt Story/L’histoire du chandail orange by Phyllis Webstad (Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band)

The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad explains the truth behind Orange Shirt Day held each September 30th. This book describes the sadness Phyllis experienced being away from her family and the cruelty she experienced in the residential school system in Canada.

Intermediate:

Residential School. With The Words and Images of Survivors by Larry Loyie(Cree)

This book honours the survivors, the former students, who attended residential schools. It offers a first-person perspective of the residential school system in Canada, as it shares the memories of more than 70 survivors from across Canada.


The trauma inflicted by residential schools is still very much a part of the lives of many of our Indigenous peoples across Canada. Below is a plea from Kelly Fraser, an outstanding Inuk musician, who spoke about the call to action for all Canadians before her tragic passing in 2019.

“Both my mothers are residential school survivors, both their father’s dogs were taken away and killed so they couldn’t go dog sledding to get their food to feed their family. TB/influenza caused our people to convert to Christianity and let go of their culture (drum dancing, tattooing, throat singing, shamanism…etc)  because the priests were the only ones with the medicine and I’m not here to say being a Christian is not right, I believe in the freedom of believing what you want to and I respect ALL religions. The Mounties were sent by the government to take away our kayaks and made my family walk thousands of kilometers to a new settlement where they were told there would be houses when there weren’t any. I believe we can rise above what has happened to us by telling each other to please find healing and help by elders, mental health workers, there’s the internet where we can learn to meditate, learn about our culture and reach out and help each other heal. Its time for us ALL people to also call onto the federal/provincial/territorial/municipal governments to give us food that is affordable, programs that will help us heal, proper housing, proper education that allows us to go straight to college after grade 12 and proper healthcare by writing to them and calling them up, this is up to ALL Canadians too!!”

Break open…and rise up!

Spring is a good time to reflect and pay attention to growth, change and transformation. After a long year of isolation and stillness, everyone is hopeful about the promise of movement and possibility. Planting seeds is a wonderful metaphor of the learning that we are doing together in our school communities.

Planting Seeds:
Jenny Davis is one of the parents at The Grove Community School who has supported the growth of the Rainbow Garden, by working in consultation with First Nations and Indigenous families and community members. In the fall, Jenny harvested seeds from some of the edible plants, including sunflowers, cornflowers, and marigolds. This Spring, families worked together to deliver a paper bag of soil, seeds and a pot to every student.

Jenny facilitated on-line planting with our classes, and shared what she is learning about important Indigenous protocols, such as the practice of gratitude and reciprocity. We were encouraged to sort and describe our seeds and learn their names before planting, to draw pictures on our popsicle sticks to welcome them, to “pay attention” and give them what they need to grow. During our Land Acknowledgment, I have been honouring our plant relatives, and inviting students to share what they notice about their seeds as they break open and rise up.

Me and White Supremacy:
This winter, as part of my ongoing commitment to the practice of anti-racism, I participated in a community Book Club with a small group of parents and staff. Together, we read “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor” by Layla F. Saad. I highly recommend this resource to White educators. This is a powerful book that includes journal prompts at the end of every chapter to support deep reflection and action. Layla Saad first wrote the book as a 30 day Instagram challenge, with daily prompts to support readers who have White privilege to recognize and disrupt White supremacy in their lives. Our Book Club met on-line every month, and we discussed one week at a time.

Layla Saad offers a process for engaging in the work called “The Circle Way”, which was developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. The Circle Way includes guidelines and a structure for readers to follow, including rotating facilitators and a shared intention and responsibility to stay focused on the work. It was very helpful, and can easily be used to facilitate critical and courageous conversations in other contexts. I recently facilitated a discussion about the final chapters, and I invited everyone to think about their own growth, change and transformation, and how we might invite others into this work.

Root into darkness:
This work is not supposed to be easy. Layla Saad explains that feelings of devastation, anger, and confusion are important parts of the work. She writes, “Without those feelings, nothing changes, because there is no reason to heal what does not feel broken.” (page 199) As White educators who are committed to racial justice, we must recognize how we are complicit in a system that is causing harm to Indigenous, Black and racialized people, and allow the pain “to break your heart open” and work towards creating change.

Maya Angelou wrote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” After discussing what holds us back from “doing better”, such as fear, loss of privilege, confusion, or insecurity, the Book Club members made commitments to take action and disrupt White supremacy in our different communities. Each member shared “I will….” statements, and we agreed to continue the Book Club next year, and support new families to join the discussion.

Me and My Commitments:
I want to share my own commitments to anti-racism and publish them in this blog, so I can be held accountable. I will also include concrete actions that I will take towards these goals.

*I will….continue with my own on-going learning and professional development.

(I recently started the ETFO MentorCoaching program, and I am learning about intersectional feminism, anti-oppression frameworks, and transforming power. I will continue to use the reflective journaling prompts in the book to challenge my own White silence and fragility.)

*I will….share my learning with others.

(As an ETFO workshop facilitator, I meet with members from all over the province and always position myself as a co-learner. I will always join committees at school and/or in my local, that are doing racial justice and equity work.)

*I will….use my privilege to disrupt White supremacy in my classroom and school community.

(I will meet with my principal to discuss Equity goals for next year, and share recommendations at our last Parent Council meeting, including an on-going process of discussion and reflection to determine how well we are meeting our collective goals.)

*I will….center and celebrate voices of Indigenous, Black and racialized voices in the classroom.

(I have more learning to do about anti-Asian racism, and integrating curriculum to support East/South Asian students. I will dig deeper into the new ETFO resources, and implement Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy. I will teach love and pride always.)

*I will…listen and learn when I am called out and called in. I will allow myself to make mistakes, especially as I break open and rise up!!

Thank you for reading this blog. Writing and learning in community continues to be a transformative practice for me. I am deeply grateful for all of the support and nourishment I have received to keep growing.

Buiding an Inclusive Playground

I am having a lot of fun learning how to center issues of disability justice and equity throughout the curriculum.

Every week, during MSI (Math-Science Investigations) the Grade 2 students solve problems using a variety of building materials. As part of the Science curriculum, we are learning about Movement and Simple Machines. We started this inquiry when we were face-to-face and finished on-line.  We have integrated this learning with disability justice, equity and community activism. For example, we went on a walk and collected data about barriers and “bridges” in our local community. Then, the Grade 2 students designed inclusive playgrounds where everyone is welcome.

Here are some other examples of how we are deepening our understanding of Structures and Mechanisms, and making connections to the local and global community.

World Water Day:
We celebrated World Water Day on March 22, as part of our year-long inquiry about water. Throughout the year, we have explored a variety of texts, including resources from The Junior Water Walker website. After reading “The Water Princess” by Susan Verde and “Anna Carries Water” by Olive Senior, our class simulated the experience of carrying a bucket around the track for 1 km, to represent the journey taken by girls and young women every day.

 

Then, we used building materials to investigate: How might you move water from one place to another?

We learned about a simple machine that was invented to help families carry water in rural India. We watched a YouTube video about The Wello Water Wheel, and talked about the impact it might have.



Toy Day:
On Toy Day, the MSI challenge was: Design a structure that moves or helps your toy to move.

Freda made a wheelchair for her doll.  Svea made a sled.

After building, we watched this video:
Science Max: Simple Machines

Outdoor Learning:
One day, we collected materials to bring outside to investigate simple machines. We worked with partners to explore: How might you use ramps and different balls to investigate levers and inclined planes?

Before schools went back to on-line learning, we went on a Community Walk.  I invited students to think about: “How might we make our community more accessible?  What are some of the barriers and “bridges” in our community?”  Students worked together to draw, write and collect data on clipboards.  We found ramps made by StopGap Foundation, and followed up our walk by reading books about children with different abilities.



Inclusive Playgrounds:
The summative task was: Design and build a model of an inclusive playground that includes a simple machine. The equipment must move a person up and down, or round and round or back and forth.

Students used a variety of materials to build their inclusive playgrounds, including Lego, recycled materials, clay, and Minecraft. Before building, everyone was encouraged to make a plan and draw their designs. Everyone worked on their project off-line and came together to share their VIP: Very Important Projects at the end of the week.

Clem used a glue gun to spell “PARK” in Braille letters.  Avery included an elevator.



Oral presentations have been an effective way to connect, share ideas and feedback, and assess students’ understanding. Technology/Being on-line has created space to hear each other, share our screens and look at photos of our work up close, and invite others into creative Minecraft worlds.  These integrated learning activities were engaging, fun, creative, and provided meaningful opportunities to explore inclusive design and disability justice.  

 

Point of View

This month, we are exploring different points of view through reading and writing a variety of texts. This “big idea” has many possibilities for critical thinking and cross-curricular integration with Media Literacy, Social Studies, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

In my Grade 2 class, we have used point of view to explore issues of accessibility, anti-Black racism, Indigenous sovereignty and homophobia. Here are some of the texts that Kindergarten-Grade 8 educators can use when learning on-line and in class:

William’s Doll
During Gender Splendour Week, we read “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotov, to explore gender stereotypes and homophobia. We also watched a video from the movie, “Free to Be You and Me” that sings the story as a song. “William’s Doll” is about a boy who wants a doll to play with, but he is told that he cannot have a doll because he is a boy.

Young children receive powerful messages from family, media, clothing and toy stores about what is expected of “boys” and “girls.” These binaries reinforce heterosexism, and often cause harm and exclude students who do not fit into these boxes. It is important to give children the opportunity to name, question, and challenge these gender binaries, and create space for more possibilities.

Before reading “William’s Doll”, I asked students to share their ideas about what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl.” We talked about what a “stereotype” is and how these ideas might not include everyone. Students easily made connections to their own personal experiences of shopping, and described how different products are sorted and sold, (e.g., pink Kinder Eggs for girls). After reading, we used a graphic organizer to support our ideas with evidence from the text.  Then, students wrote about different points of view expressed in the text.  

Of Course They Do!
On the International Day of Pink, we continued to have courageous and critical conversations about how schools can be more inclusive, and how we can take action as allies. After reading texts such as, “Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Anything” by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, and “10,00 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert, students talked about their experiences of being told they couldn’t do something because of their perceived gender. For example, boys with long hair shared their experiences of being challenged in the washroom. We focussed our discussion on how we might respond to questions and/or suggestions that we don’t belong. We used Drama and role-play to practice naming and responding to behaviour.

Hey, Little Ant!
“Hey, Little Ant” by Hannah Hoose and Phillip Hoose, is a story about a kid who is about to squish an ant. The story is told from two different points of view. On each page, we hear the voice of the kid and a response from the ant. The story ends with a question, which is a great prompt for discussion and writing, “What do you think that kid should do?”

This story is a great opportunity to explore empathy and compassion, and students’ relationships with animals. “Hey, Little Ant” also includes a song, which can enrich the text. After reading, students wrote about the different points of view in the story, and then wrote about their own point of view.

The Tree
“The Tree” written by Dana Lyons is written from the point of view of a tree in the Pacific Rainforest. After writing and sharing the story, the author learned from elders of the Lummi Nation, the original inhabitants of San Juan islands, that he has written the tree’s song. Every tree has a song.

We listened to “The Tree,” drew pictures and shared stories about trees that are important to us. Then, students wrote their own poem or song from the point of view of a tree. We used sentence prompts, such as: “I live….” “I hear….” “I have seen….” “My favourite season is…..” “I wonder….” “I hope…” I found a video of Dana Lyons singing the text as a birthday present for Jane Goodall. I hope we will be able to turn our text into songs!

The Council of All Beings
I am always inspired by my teacher friends! Maria Vamvalis is currently working on her PhD, and shares her learning about climate justice with Natural Curiosity as a mentor coach. We took a course together at OISE, and Maria shared how she has used “The Council of All Beings” to allow students to connect with land and speak in-role from the point of view of other life forms, including animal, plant or natural feature, (desert, forest, etc). This article written by Joanna Macy describes the process.

I am learning that the purpose of the Council is to listen and give voice to land, which includes animals, plants, air, water, soil, etc. The process honours our shared responsibilities and relationships with more-than-humans, and helps us to remember and reconnect with land. It requires guidance and thoughtful facilitation. It sounds like a powerful teaching and learning experience.

Joanna Macy explains: “The Council unfolds in three consecutive stages. First, the beings address each other, telling of the changes and hardships they have experienced.” The second stage creates space for humans to hear from the more-than human beings directly. A few students remove their mask and are invited into the centre of the Circle to listen. The third stage of the council involves the other beings offering gifts to the humans. “As ritual guide I might cue this stage by saying, “Many humans now realize the destruction they are causing; they feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the forces they have unleashed. Yet our fate is in their hands. O fellow-beings, what strengths of ours can we share with them, what powers can we lend them?” With this invitation, the beings in the Council begin spontaneously to offer their own particular qualities and capacities. After speaking, each leaves their mask and steps in the centre as humans to receive gratitude and gifts. There is opportunity for singing, dancing and release, as well as reflection and stillness.

I think “The Council of All Beings” would enrich any Earth Day celebrations, and/or National Indigenous Peoples Day. I believe it could be adapted for on-line learning, and would be a powerful collaborative and creative experience for all members of the school community, including families.

People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus Pandemic
I have a new subscription to “Rethinking Schools”, which is an excellent magazine about social justice education. In the Winter 2020-2021 issue, Caneisha Mills describes how she organized a tribunal with her Intermediate students to explore responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Some of those on trial include: Mother Nature, Racism, the HealthCare industry, Capitalism, and the U.S. government. You can read the article, “Who’s to Blame?” here.

Caneisha Mills honours student voice and engages students in a collaborative and critical process of exploring the global pandemic from different points of view.  She honours student voice, and creates a brave space for students to “grapple with profound social injustice” and imagine different possibilities. Mills explains that the “most important part of this lesson involves students writing a 10-point program — inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, adopted in 1966 — on how to prevent crises like this in the future.”

The article includes a clear teaching plan and provides information for educators who might want to implement the People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus, on or off-line. “This people’s tribunal begins with the premise that a heinous crime is being committed as tens of millions of people’s lives are in danger due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19. But who — and/or what — was responsible for this crime? Who should be held accountable for the spread of the virus and its devastating impact?”

The teacher plays the role of the prosecutor. Students are assigned different roles, and the “defendants” are supported to work in small groups to develop a defense against the charges outlined in the indictments. A jury is selected, and each group shares their arguments at the trial. There is only one rule: They may plead guilty, but they must accuse at least one other defendant of being responsible. After the jury deliberates and explains their verdict, all students are invited to reflect on the experience. Then, they use their voice to demand and create change.

The tribunal sounds like a meaningful learning opportunity for older students to explore different points of view. I am curious to think about how this might be adapted for younger students.

In your point of view, what are some powerful texts and/or dramatic conventions that you have used in the classroom and on-line?  Please add them to the Comments below.



“Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry.” M. Rukeyser

April is National Poetry Month.

During this challenging year, poetry has supported critical and courageous conversations, offered some comfort and hope, while honouring pain and anger. Here are some examples of what this work has looked like and sounded like in our Grade 2 classroom:

Igniting the Spark: Amanda Gorman
The whole world was inspired by the poetry and brilliance of Amanda Gorman in January 2021. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb” filled us with light during this time of “never-ending shade”. Her story about overcoming a speech impairment reminded us all to believe in ourselves and find our voice. I shared her poem and her TEDTalk with my students, and she was the spark for our inquiry about the power and possibilities of poetry.

Power Poems for Small Humans:
I have reached for poems during difficult times when I could not find the words to express my feelings. Jillian Christmas is a Vancouver-based slam-poet, who is an organizer and activist in the arts community. I have shared her poem, “On Honouring Anger” in response to racial violence and injustice that continues to impact students, staff and families, and requires educators to take action.

This poem, and other powerful voices can be found in an anthology called “Power Poems for Small Humans”, published by Flamingo Rampant. Flamingo Rampant is a micro-press that publishes children’s books that center and celebrate stories of kids taking action, disability pride, 2SLGBTQ+ voices, racial justice and more. Please check out their website and bring their books into your classroom library!

Yesterday, I Had The Blues:
When we were learning remotely, I used the Poll feature on ZOOM to check-in with students. One day, the question was: “How are you feeling today? Choose a colour to describe how you are feeling.” Students were invited to analyse the data, and share why they chose the colour. Then, we talked about different ways that people experience colour. We listened to the story, “Yesterday, I Had the Blues” by Jeron Ashford Frame, and made text-to-self connections.

Next, we read selected poems from “Hailstones and Halibut Bones” by Mary O’Neill. I love this book, but it is important to preview the poems, because there is one poem that uses outdated language, and needs to be unpacked or revised. Each poem begins with the same question, (e.g. What is Orange?) and uses the five senses to describe colour in poetic ways. I created a graphic organizer, and students were invited to write their own Colour Poems.

Pink!
On the International Day of Pink, we had a discussion about how some people think that pink is a “girl’s colour.” We talked about where these ideas come from, and how these gender rules might make people feel excluded. We created a poster using post-it notes to capture our ideas, in the style of a JAMBoard. Then, we wrote our own “What is Pink?” poems and displayed them in the hallway. 


Quick as a Cricket:
After reading, “Quick as a Cricket” by Audrey Wood, students wrote poems using the template, “I’m as ____________as a ___________.” This was a fun and accessible way to learn about the poetic device of similes. A simile compares two different things using “like” or “as” in an interesting or unexpected way.

Gratitude Poems:
After reading several poems from a collection called “ThankU: Poems of Gratitude”, we wrote our own “Dear Water,” poems. Students used the following sentence prompts to write a letter to our relative: “I love….I think….I will….I hope….You are….” On World Water Day, we read our letters to each other in the Rainbow Garden and talked about what we value, and how we might protect water. 



Splish! Splash! Splat!
One rainy day, we brainstormed different sounds that water makes. Then, we learned about Concrete poems, which are poems that take the shape of the subject that they are describing. Students chose a shape and wrote a poem about water. 



Respond and Rebuild:
We will continue to explore poetry, self-expression and identity by writing an “I am Me….” poem. This lesson plan is from www.welcomingschools.org and can also be found in ETFO’s newest resource, Respond and Rebuild CRRP Lesson Plans. I am looking forward to integrating movement and choral reading to this work.

What are your favourite poems or poets to explore in the classroom?



Birds of a Feather….

….FLOCK Together!!

In preparation for the Spring Equinox, which is usually held in the Rainbow Garden, I started to think creatively about how we could gather as a whole school community and respect COVID health and safety protocols. I wanted to incorporate dance, and then I remembered about flocking.

WTF?
Flocking is a type of movement improvisation, where the whole group mirrors each other’s movement. Students can be organized in a straight line or in the shape of a diamond. In flocking, there is one student who leads a movement, which is followed by the other students.

Different students can become the leader, just like birds do when they are flying together, by changing their position. In a diamond formation, the student at the top of the diamond is the leader. When everyone rotates a quarter turn, there is a new leader at the top of the diamond. Flocking can be inspired by music that is played, but I wanted to integrate text and embody the Land Acknowledgment.

Thanksgiving Address:
We are learning that many Indigenous and First Nations communities offer greetings and gratitude at the beginning of every gathering. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes the nations of Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Oneida, share The Thanksgiving Address. Here is a video that describes the importance of this text.

In the Thanksgiving Address, all parts of creation are recognized with honour and respect. Here is a link to the text we used. We have been deepening our understanding of this important protocol by speaking and listening to the words, drawing, writing and reflecting. This was our first time exploring the text through choral movement and mindfulness. It was very powerful.

Bear Song:
As educators, it is important to build relationships with First Nations and Indigenous families, which includes consultation and collaboration, and invitations to share knowledge with the community. At our school, we are fortunate to have several parents who have shared songs, drumming and dancing at different events. After gathering in the field, Archer and Ansley sang the Anishinaabe Bear Song to welcome Spring. Here is the song performed by Turning Point Women’s drum group from Skownan, Manitoba.

Medicine Wheel Teachings:
In the article, “Teaching by the Medicine Wheel: An Anishinaabe framework for Indigenous education,” Dr. Nicole Bell (2014) describes how schools might integrate Indigenous knowledge, and create a process of education that is respectful and culturally relevant for Indigenous families. Bell explains that while there are some variations of teachings and representations of the Medicine Wheel, there are common threads of understanding, including the importance of appreciating and respecting the interconnectedness and interrelationships of all things.

I wanted to incorporate Medicine Wheel teachings into our Spring Equinox gathering. The Medicine Wheel is a circle that is divided into four parts, which represent the four directions (East, South, West, North) using four different colours. Each of the directions include teachings that are interdependent, including the four seasons, stages of life, times of day, medicines, life givers, and learning process.

We organized the students into four sections, from youngest to oldest, starting in the East. Everyone was standing in the field, facing the same direction. As the Junior students read the Thanksgiving Address, everyone followed the movements of the Junior leader at the top of the diamond. The refrain, “And Now Our Minds Are One”, was repeated in chorus, and was the signal for everyone to rotate a quarter turn to the right together. Then, we started to follow the movements of a new leader. The rotations and the movements continued until the Thanksgiving Address was finished.

It was flocking amazing to welcome the new season with movement, gratitude and respect. Happy Spring!!